The Australian Tunnel Rats: Courage in the Depths of Vietnam’s Tunnels

The Australian Tunnel Rats, a group of fearless men serving in the Engineer Field Troops during the Vietnam War, played a crucial but often overlooked role in the conflict. Tasked with exploring and clearing enemy bunker systems, these individuals faced the daunting challenge of navigating through narrow, lightless, and almost airless tunnels armed with only a flashlight, a bayonet, and unwavering courage.

The inception of the Tunnel Rats was unplanned, with 3 Field Troop being thrust into this unexpected role during Operation Crimp in the Ho Bo Woods in January 1965. Despite lacking formal training and preparation, volunteers courageously entered the tunnels, discovering valuable intelligence that marked the beginning of their unintentional career as Tunnel Rats. Astonishingly, the troopers received no prior knowledge or operational techniques from past tunnel clearance experiences, leading to unanticipated challenges.

In Ho Bo Woods as the Troop delved deeper into tunnel exploration, tragedy struck on the fourth day when Corporal Bob Bowtell, attempting to navigate the claustrophobic passages, succumbed to suffocation. The deadly realities of war became painfully apparent, but the troopers, undeterred, continued their perilous mission. Over six days on Operation Crimp, six casualties, including one fatality and five injuries, were attributed to ‘bad air’ in the tunnels. However, a closer examination suggests that tear gas remnants and insufficient ventilation were likely culprits.

Following their withdrawal from Operation Crimp, 3 Field Troop relocated to Vung Tau and then to Nui Dat, where they actively engaged in infantry support roles and various engineering tasks. Despite the troopers’ exceptional versatility and courage, the limitations of their experience and the absence of training became evident. The Troop’s exploration of tunnels continued, but as their tour of duty neared its end, a shift in focus occurred: documenting their techniques and establishing training for future Tunnel Rats.

The Australian Tunnel Rats’ legacy is one of courage and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges. Their contributions, though marked by tragedy, laid the groundwork for subsequent tunnel exploration efforts. The importance of experience, effective processes, and prior training became apparent, prompting the troopers to document their knowledge for the benefit of those who would follow in their footsteps. The Troop’s varied and busy life reflected not only their role in tunnel exploration but also their broader contributions to the war effort.

The Australian Tunnel Rats exemplified bravery and adaptability in an unexpected and perilous role during the Vietnam War. Their experiences underscore the importance of preparedness, training, and documentation in the face of unforeseen challenges. As we reflect on their contributions, we recognize the unsung heroes who ventured into the darkness, on hands and knees, to confront the hidden dangers that lay beneath the surface of the Vietnam War.


“No. 35 Squadron RAAF in Vietnam: The Unsung Heroes of ‘Wallaby Airlines'”

The year 1966 marked a significant transformation for the Royal Australian Air Force Transport Flight Vietnam (RAAF TFV) as it was redesignated as No. 35 Squadron at Vung Tau Air Base in South Vietnam on 1 June. The squadron, equipped with DHC-4 Caribous, played a crucial role in supporting Australian, South Vietnamese, and United States forces through cargo, passenger, and medevac flights. Operating in a non-offensive capacity, the squadron, nicknamed “Wallaby Airlines,” became a symbol of resilience and efficiency amid the challenges of the Vietnam War.

Operational Challenges and Dangers:

Despite its non-combatant role, No. 35 Squadron faced numerous challenges in the conflict zone. Operating in dangerous areas, often at low altitudes, the squadron’s aircraft were not spared from hostile fire. The callsign “Wallaby” echoed through the tumultuous skies, signifying the squadron’s commitment to providing essential services in perilous circumstances. On several occasions, Caribous were fired upon, resulting in aircrew injuries, emphasizing the perilous nature of their missions.

Drawdown and Reductions:

As the Vietnam War drew to a close, Australia began reducing its forces in Vietnam. By June 1971, No. 35 Squadron’s aircraft complement was reduced from seven to four. However, due to maintenance requirements, only two aircraft remained operational at any given time. Despite these challenges, the squadron continued its vital missions until its last flight on 13 February 1972. The departure from South Vietnam on 19 February 1972 marked the end of an era, with No. 35 Squadron being the last RAAF unit to leave following the decision to withdraw.

Adversities Faced:

No. 35 Squadron faced not only the dangers of enemy fire but also the treacherous weather conditions and difficult landing grounds inherent to the Caribous’ mission profile. Two aircraft were lost due to accidents caused by poor weather, highlighting the inherent risks of their operations. Additionally, a Caribou was destroyed by Viet Cong mortar fire during a resupply mission at Thất Sơn in 1970, further underscoring the constant threat faced by the squadron.

Unsung Heroes and Recognition:

While their work may not have been glamorous, No. 35 Squadron earned a commendable reputation among U.S. air commanders for its efficiency and effectiveness. The squadron’s achievements prompted U.S. personnel to study their techniques, recognizing the valuable contributions of the Australian unit. For their dedication and bravery, members of No. 35 Squadron received numerous honours and decorations, including appointments to the Member of the Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Distinguished Flying Medal, a British Empire Medal, and 36 Mentions in Dispatches.


No. 35 Squadron RAAF, operating as “Wallaby Airlines,” exemplified the unsung heroes of the Vietnam War. Despite not engaging in offensive operations, the squadron faced considerable dangers and challenges, delivering crucial support to troops on the ground. Their efficient and effective performance earned them recognition and respect, highlighting the significant contributions made by Australian forces during this tumultuous period in history. The legacy of No. 35 Squadron serves as a testament to the sacrifices and dedication of those who served in the shadows, ensuring their place in the annals of military history.


Wind and solar are not environmentally safe.

Another view as to why wind and solar are not environmentally safe.

Professor Plimer aims to unravel the knowledge gap between the general public’s understanding and that of the so-called progressive elites, particularly regarding the challenges posed by wind droughts and the proposed solutions outlined in Australia’s renewable energy plan.

A brief look at Operation Coburg

Operation Coburg, conducted from 24 January to 1 March 1968, marked a joint military effort by Australia and New Zealand during the Vietnam War. The operation unfolded in the context of heightened intelligence suggesting an imminent offensive by the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) during the Tết New Year festival. This prompted the deployment of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) away from its base in Phuoc Tuy Province to reinforce American and South Vietnamese forces defending the Long Binh–Bien Hoa complex, northeast of Saigon.

American and South Vietnamese intelligence reports had signalled the likelihood of a PAVN/VC offensive, leading the Australians and New Zealanders to strategically position themselves in the vicinity of the village of Trang Bom. Anticipating attacks on their newly established fire support bases along the PAVN/VC lines of communication, 1 ATF sought to disrupt their plans.

The clash between Australian forces and the VC began with early patrols in Area of Operations (AO) Columbus, escalating when Fire Support Base (FSB) Andersen faced repeated major ground assaults. Although Operation Coburg was initiated too late to prevent attacks on Saigon, the Australians and New Zealanders effectively hampered the PAVN/VC lines of communication, limiting their ability to target the Long Binh–Bien Hoa complex. Additionally, they successfully impeded the withdrawal of PAVN/VC forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

This operation marked a milestone as the first deployment of 1 ATF beyond its Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR) in Phuoc Tuy, establishing a precedent for subsequent operations outside the province. Concurrently, Australian forces in Phuoc Tuy Province successfully repelled VC attacks against Bà Rịa and Long Điền as part of the broader Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.

On 24 January 1968, 1 ATF headquarters, led by Brigadier Ron Hughes, was air-inserted into the new area of operations between Bien Hoa and Long Khanh provinces. The force initially consisted of two battalions—2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment with Victor Company Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR) and 7 RAR—along with supporting elements. They were strategically positioned approximately 55 kilometres from Nui Dat.

The operation aimed to deny PAVN/VC access to suitable sites for launching rocket attacks on allied bases and installations, including Bien Hoa Air Base and the Long Binh Logistics Depot. The AO Columbus was assigned to 1 ATF, sparsely inhabited, and situated east of Long Binh, with the concept of operations calling for the establishment of fire support bases, including FSB Andersen and FSB Harrison, to secure strategic locations.

PAVN/VC forces identified in AO Columbus included elements from the VC 274th Regiment, 5th Division, PAVN 84A Artillery (Rocket) Regiment, and the Dong Nai Regiment. Intensive patrols and reconnaissance-in-force operations by the Australians in AO Columbus resulted in engagements with VC forces, including clashes in bunker complexes and skirmishes.

While 1 ATF effectively denied the PAVN/VC use of its AO, the role of the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) was limited due to the heavy VC presence, leading to the withdrawal of SAS patrols. Notably, on 29 January, D Company, 7 RAR engaged in a significant battle with VC forces, resulting in casualties on both sides.

Despite challenges, Operation Coburg achieved its objectives of disrupting PAVN/VC plans, safeguarding allied bases, and limiting enemy freedom of manoeuvre. The operation demonstrated the effectiveness of coordinated Australian and New Zealand military efforts during a critical period in the Vietnam War.

Alternative treatment for veterans.

A unique treatment approach incorporating ice baths, structured exercise, and cooking classes has demonstrated positive outcomes for individuals with treatment-resistant PTSD, according to military veterans. A former Afghanistan veteran, previously at a low point post-medical discharge from the army, shared his struggle with suicide attempts, imprisonment, and alcohol benders. Traditional clinical group treatments proved ineffective, leading him to seek alternative solutions.

The turnaround came when he enrolled in a 12-week program at Hope in Health, a four-bedroom home-style treatment centre in Northern New South Wales. The multidisciplinary team, including psychologists, a personal trainer, social workers, and a chef, developed a personalized plan focusing on retraining both mind and body. The daily regimen comprised yoga, ice baths, exercise, mindfulness, and cooking classes, providing a tailored approach to recovery.

Hope in Health’s co-founder emphasized treating military veterans as elite athletes, addressing the underlying causes of PTSD or addiction issues. The program aimed to repair physical and mental health by employing physiotherapy, acupuncture, massages, and specialized training techniques.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs funds such experimental rehabilitation programs for thousands of ex-military personnel annually, concerns have been raised by some experts. A psychiatrist from the Australian College of Psychiatrists questioned the long-term efficacy of alternative approaches and emphasized the need for evidence-based interventions.

Another military veteran highlighted the challenges of transitioning from a highly structured military life to civilianhood, advocating for more personalized mental health facilities. In response, the Currumbin RSL’s Veterans Support Centre introduced pilot initiatives, such as gardening, running, and wildlife-focused clubs, to engage veterans in the Gold Coast and Tweed Coast regions.

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, prompted by 13 urgent interim recommendations, urged simplification of the claims system for veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs affirmed its commitment to enhancing mental health and welfare approaches in response to the Royal Commission’s findings.

Seeking Two 1RAR Group veterans who served on Operation Hump – 8th November 1965.

Attention 1RAR Group Veterans

My name is John Doorley, and I am reaching out with request to two Vietnam veterans who served with the 1RAR Group on Operation Hump on the 8th of November 1965. I have been asked to coordinate the 1RAR Group contingent to join with members of the 173d Airborne Brigade (Sep) for a special journey back to Vietnam to commemorate the battle during Operation Hump.

The return to Vietnam tour will be held over the period March 1st to 10th, 2024.

This pilgrimage aims to honour the sacrifices, bravery, and camaraderie demonstrated by our fellow soldiers during those pivotal days. We believe that the best way to pay tribute to the past is by returning to the very grounds where history was written and forging new memories.

Event Details:

  • Battle Commemoration: March 1st to 10th, 2024
  • Location: Vietnam, the site of the Battle of HUMP
  • Expenses: All expenses will be covered

We are extending an invitation for two veterans to join the rest of the 1RAR Group contingent on this all expenses paid tour. Those interested must be able to gain their doctors clearance and be in age-appropriate fitness. You must have a current Passport, also you must have served on Operation Hump.

If you or someone you know fits the criteria and would be interested in participating, please contact John Doorley at the earliest convenience. John can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 0408 877 507.

If you have any questions, please give me a call.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to join with other members of the 1RAR Group and members of the 173d Airborne Brigade (Sep) on this fully sponsored tour.

Duty First

John Doorley

1RAR Contingent Coordinator

[email protected]

0408 877 507

The Siege of Tobruk: Defiance, Resilience, and the Rats of Tobruk.

Tomorrow, December 7th marks the 82nd anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk, a pivotal event during World War II where Australian soldiers and Allied troops defended the strategically vital harbour town from German and Italian forces. This tribute explores the resilience, bravery, and significance of the defenders, known as the ‘Rats of Tobruk,’ and their role in thwarting the Axis powers’ advance through Egypt.

In January 1941, the 6th Australian Division captured Tobruk from the Italians, marking a crucial victory in the North African campaign. This success turned the town into a garrison for Australian and British forces, setting the stage for the subsequent siege. The term ‘Rats of Tobruk,’ initially coined as an insult by Nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw, became a badge of honour for the besieged troops.

Tobruk’s strategic importance lay in its harbor, a critical supply route for the Allies. The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, known as the ‘Tobruk Ferry’ service, played a vital role in maintaining the link to the outside world despite the constant threat of attacks on incoming ships. Holding Tobruk meant forcing the enemy to transport supplies overland, hindering their advance through Egypt.

From April to December 1941, Tobruk endured relentless ground assaults, shelling, and bombing by the Axis forces. The defenders, particularly the men of the 9th Division and the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, exhibited unwavering determination, earning the moniker ‘Rats of Tobruk.’ The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the ‘scrap iron flotilla’ of the RAN contributed significantly to the town’s defence during this arduous period.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy, acting as the ‘Tobruk Ferry,’ faced significant challenges, with many ships lost or damaged during supply runs into Tobruk harbour. Despite these sacrifices, the Allies recognized the importance of holding Tobruk to prevent the enemy’s advance.

Evacuations of troops began in August 1941, with the 2/13 Battalion and two companies of the 2/15th Battalion remaining in place until the siege’s end in December. The 9th Division and attached troops, during their eight-month presence in Cyrenaica, lost over 830 soldiers and witnessed more than 2,170 wounded. A memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra pays tribute to all those who served during this crucial period of the Second World War.

The Siege of Tobruk stands as a testament to the resilience and courage of the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ and their Allied counterparts. Their unwavering defence of the strategically important town not only thwarted the Axis powers’ advance but also became a symbol of defiance that raised morale throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth during the challenging year of 1941. The legacy of Tobruk and the sacrifices made by the defenders continue to be honoured through memorials and remembrances.