Describing a User Trial
(a Section Commander's story)
In Vietnam I most enjoyed the ambush because it is static.
And if you use your head you can **** from comfort without the need
For fire-and-movement which is a physical business at the best of times.
And in ambush you are often placed as part of a group, without responsibilities; Because they are assumed by that particular ambush commander,
Which is a relief and relaxing.
Most ambushes are triggered at night, but this one happened by day.
It was company sized, and memorable for other reasons too.
3 Section, my section, was deployed in three groups like an elbow:
Two being part of the killer-group and the other one part of flank-protection.
That's where I was, on the flank.
It was the Dry-Season.
Although it was a good killing-ground I was concerned by the
Lack of cover to our particular front; that is the part of the ambush for which I was
Responsible. My concern was the track because it curved about my section's elbow, And we, the flank-protection, could not see more than six feet through the thick, Secondary growth that grew between it and us.
It made for good concealment, but would never hinder an assault.
The plan was that the Platoon Commander would trigger the ambush with his M16.
He would know when to do this because our Platoon Sergeant had been given
Some sort of box dial, attached by wire to two metal spigots. These were
Buried in the ground one hundred metres to either flank of our position to transmit, They said, the ground vibration of the enemy's approach. It was on trial and had not Been used before. A neat devise for early-warning we supposed.
Our Claymores were sited to cover the killing-ground.
They were to be detonated so soon as the Platoon Commander fired his weapon.
3 Section's mines were under the control of lance-corporal Frank Chambers.
He was clever. He could compile workable, section piquet lists, with staggered sentry times. Try doing that in the rain. I never could.
So I was content with my lot, excepting this patch of secondary growth to my front.
As I remember it the day was hot and very lazy. We had a man alert in every group
And the guns were manned. Otherwise we sprawled at ease, hunting shade,
Fantasy, mind-escape. Sergeant Maloney will give plenty of warning;
Remember the o-group? Those spigots live on the end of one hundred metres of wire And will transmit the ground vibration of any approaching footfalls.
One hundred metres is a fine, relaxing distance - we thought.
But then it happens; without warning the day erupts:
With a shattering, terrifying, and continuing roar the daylight turns black.
A rolling, cloud of grey dust puts out the Sun. Something hot plinks my side. There is Too much noise. And in the raging dark my mind begins to scream:
'What happened to the ****** signal, John? The ******* early warning'.
And I begin to hurl hand-grenades as high and as far to my front as I can:
Take up the grenade.
Rotate the safety bail (Why didn't we have these in Australia?).
Ease out the pin, rise up; draw back the arm,
Let fly the lever. Hurl the grenade.
Count two, three, crouch, take up the grenade.
Ingleburn might raise its hands in horror but my air-bursting hand-grenades
Are based on the premise that we have engaged a small, advance party of the enemy.
And I want to deter it's main-body forming up on the other side of my bit of
Scrub then assault through it from the dead ground.
And remember we are blind. Hence, take up the grenade,
Rotate the safety bail, ease out the pin, etc.
Memory has the action lasting many hours, a long, long time.
But in reality it must have been all of two minutes before the noise begins to falter And the echoes of the guns slowly fade away.
And the World, unmoving in the awful silence,
Slowly turns to white
Beneath the settling dust.
Through the quiet, distant voices, begin to murmur.
‘Cease-fire’ is ordered and the day resumes.
I pass the order on then change my magazine.
Frank comes over with the Section's casualty and ammunition count.
No one has been hurt but we have used a lot of ammunition.
Frank reports 'three "Nogs" moving into the killing-ground.'
One noticed a claymore and Frank says he had no option but to fire.
He is nonchalant, unexcited about the killing.
When he has gone I lean into the shade of a tree and light up a cigarette while Reflecting on the body out there alone and still, and sweating in the Sun.
Finishing my cigarette I go to find our Platoon Commander. He is with the Major.
At CHQ, while Ronny Jarvis curses (we did use a lot of ammunition),
Guy Baggot inspects my ****** side with interest. 'A bit more to the right
Would have given you a ****** good scar.' He says.
What happened to the early warning device? The dial, the cable and the spigots
Go out with the next chopper. We never hear of them again.
This was a trial, an experiment that did not work. It was like when they wanted to trial dehydrated rations which we received - in the dry season. We hated those boffins, but in those days we hated everybody who was not us.