I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW
THEY LEFT THEIR EGOS AT THE DOOR
Following extensive requests for consideration by a tribunal, a Royal Australian Navy helicopter squadron has been awarded a Unit Commendation for their four-year deployment in Vietnam from October 1967 until June 1971. When the unit which was formed in July 1967 and designated as the Helicopter Flight Vietnam (HFV) arrived in Vietnam, it was integrated with the United States Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Squadron (AHC) and the combination became officially an “Experimental Military Unit” (EMU).
Featured Image(above): The HFV inserted and extracted troops in hazardous
This rather unusual pairing of two vastly different units had many wondering if it would work considering the vastly different training and operational skills that were thrown together. In the first year, the ranks of the HFV personnel were superior to the normal AHC command and, although the commanding officer of the EMU ended up being a Lieutenant Colonel, many of the navy personnel still outranked the members of the 135th and were also more highly qualified in most areas.
Despite any misgivings that were voiced, the combination certainly did work and this can be attributed to all involved wanting it to work and working hard to achieve recognition as one of the best units in Vietnam. The motto of the unit was “Get the Bloody Job Done” and when asked why the EMU was so special, a spokesperson said, “We left our egos at the door.” He went on to comment that the unit’s success could be attributed to the leadership that they had and also mentioned that others could always identify them by the way that they flew in a tight formation.
The AHC and the HFV spent more than forty-two months together and during that time was stationed at four different bases. Like other units, they were asked to achieve the impossible every day and they went out, were shot at and lost crews but always got the job done. Over the time that the HFV were deployed in Vietnam, five members of the unit died and twenty-two more were wounded in action. While exposed to hostile fire and at a high degree of personal risk, HFV aircrews flew fifty per cent more operational hours per month than any other Australian aircrew in a comparative role.
A fitting monument
They were constantly called on to carry out troop insertions and extractions from battle zones and this included executing that role in the battles at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. I recently had the opportunity to chat with RAN Lieutenant Commander (Ret) Ray Godfrey who was attached to the HFV for twelve months and was one of the pilots involved in that battle. Ray joined the navy in 1960 and as well as his time in Vietnam, he flew tracker aircraft from the HMAS Melbourne and for a time was the Commanding Officer of 816 Squadron.
Earlier in 2018, the army and air force units that were involved in the Coral and Balmoral affair were awarded a Unit Citation for Gallantry and in part due to a submission by Lieutenant Colonel Fred Dunaway who was the commanding officer of 135 AHC in 1971, on June 1st, the equivalent award was issued to the RANHFV. Dunaway’s submission stated that “The RANHFV carried out tasks and tasks which bore no relationship to those of any other navy air squadron.
Its personnel were fully integrated into a unit from another country and they were required to perform tasks for which they had limited specific training and at levels that were well above their rank and experience. In continually hazardous combat conditions, they filled critical leadership, training and support roles, providing knowledge and dedication in the performance of their duties. They provided the stable core of the 135 AHC and infused maturity and professionalism, as well as dedication to duty and desperately needed leadership in many vital areas of the command structure.”
The result of this and other submissions was a recommendation by the Awards Tribunal which stated that “the Tribunal was of the view that, whilst the award of the Unit Citation for Gallantry to the HFV is appropriate recognition for those Australian sailors who were posted to the 135th AHC, the collective gallantry displayed by the entire assault helicopter company should also be acknowledged.” The tribunal, therefore, made the recommendation that the Australian Government considers offering the UCG to the United States Army’s 135th AHC in recognition of the extraordinary gallantry of the unit.