Australian Navy in Vietnam
HMAS Hobart (II) positioned on the ‘gun line’ in its initial Vietnam deployment, led by Captain GR Griffiths, DSC, RAN.
The Royal Australian Navy’s significant contribution to the Vietnam War, often overshadowed by the Army’s larger presence, involved various roles, including clearance diving, logistical support, medical services, and fleet operations.
Australian destroyers covered nearly 400,000 miles during the conflict, firing over 100,000 rounds of ammunition. The converted aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY, dubbed the ‘Vung Tau Ferry,’ transported around 16,000 Australian troops. Clearance Divers conducted several thousand ship searches for explosives, resulting in eight RAN personnel fatalities and nearly 50 injuries over a decade.
The Navy’s involvement began with goodwill visits in 1962, and as the war escalated, the RAN played a crucial role. Clearance Diving Teams, such as CDT1 and CDT3, were deployed to clear mines and booby traps, conducting about 7,500 ship searches. In 1967, guided missile destroyer HMAS HOBART joined the US Seventh Fleet, initiating a six-month rotation of RAN destroyers until 1971. These vessels fired over 100,000 rounds and travelled almost 400,000 miles, supporting Allied forces on the ‘gunline’ and participating in Operation SEA DRAGON.
Logistical support came from SYDNEY, supported by merchant ships JEPARIT and BOONAROO. The RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam, comprising Fleet Air Arm members, provided airlift and gunship support, with LCDR PJ Vickers becoming the first fatality in 1968.
RAN medical and support personnel served at the Headquarters Australian Forces Vietnam, with Navy doctors aiding hospitals and participating in the Medical Civil Action Program. The RAN’s commitment persisted until the Australian government announced force reduction in 1971, leading to the withdrawal of clearance divers, the RANHFV, and the last gunline destroyer, BRISBANE, returning in 1971.
The final voyages of JEPARIT and SYDNEY1 occurred in 1972, aligning with the Whitlam Labor government’s decision to withdraw all remaining Australian forces and cease military aid to South Vietnam. In the decade of RAN involvement, eight officers and sailors lost their lives, while 46 suffered injuries, showcasing the dedication and professionalism that earned the respect of allies and continued the Navy’s proud traditions.
ED: Request … I’m looking for personal stories from sailors who served on ships during Vietnam, stories that I can share with the membership.