Losing tracks. It wasn’t hard to do on our vehicles, the extra weight of the Saladin turret put a strain on the running gear. Too quick of a turn or maybe hitting uneven ground on an odd angle and the track would slip off, usually with some damage to the drive sprocket. If you have watched the video on a previous blog you would have seen the mine damaged vehicles with the tracks off and bent sprockets, that’s the running gear. At the end of last week’s blog we had been waiting for the UXB to be detonated, after it had gone off we moved out again, through the now deserted bunker system and followed the route the infantry had taken. We are talking jungle here, matted, twisted, thick green jungle with bare areas on the sides of the small hills. The below picture will give you an idea of the terrain. (This occurred at another time) That is me bending down, I’m attaching a tow rope to our vehicle. 42 Charlie is well and truly bogged, yet we continually managed to free ourselves. My shirt is wet from sweat, it hadn’t started raining yet. The place was a Botanist’s delight if nothing else. So now we know what it’s like back to the story. Our car stayed on the right flank, we passed by where I’d seen the VC in the bunker. The Boss still didn’t believe me and we made our way around the side of the system. The jungle opened up here and we were on a hillside, with about a 14 degree slope to the right and a deep expanse of mulch underfoot. Then, clank, clank, clank the left hand track came off. Wonderful, bloody wonderful. We sat there for a moment, Peter hunkered down in his seat laughing to himself I think. Boss Man looked at me, I knew the score it was going to be a one man refit.
Grabbing the socket wrench and extension bar, hammer, drift pin and grease gun I dropped down onto the jungle floor. We are talking mulch that a gardener would kill for. It was that soft and pliable I didn’t bother unfastening the shovel from the top deck. Before the track could be put back on you had to release the track tensioner at the rear, a simple matter of undoing the nut on the idler arm and letting the grease out. To reach this I had to dig through a foot of mulch with my hand. I dug furiously as the infantry came into contact with the VC over the other side of the ridge. The brrrttt brrrttt of AK 47’s then the answering deep rolling boom of the infantrymen’s SLR’s. Talk about having your arse hanging out. I managed to remove the mulch from the rear wheel and on the last handful grabbed a nest of these little beauties pictured below.
The Many Banded Krait, or the Two Step snake something of a misnomer actually. It was believed if you were bitten you took two steps and died. They are I think the third most venomous snake in the world and there they were, in my hand a wiggling and a squirming. Probably six of the blighters and I flung them as far and as fast as I could, letting out a strangled yell as I did. Getting a caring response from the Boss, ‘Stop fucking around and fix the bloody thing.’ I should have flung them at him. Inspired by this latest event and the sporadic gunfire I set too with a vengeance. Staying at the rear of the track I unfastened the track pin nut. There’s a neoprene insert in the nut and they are on tight. Nut off, place drift pin on track pin and belt the crap out of it, track pin pops out and then I use hammer to bash track links apart. Place track pin back in one side of the track link and hang on. Yell above engine noise for Peter to let the track go forward. He puts the vehicle in gear, holds the right stick on brake and slowly lets the left one forward. The drive sprocket picks up the link again and hanging onto the pin I move forward with the track. Now I’m out front of the vehicle, and struggling manfully line up the track (there are 63 links on the left track and they’re bloody heavy), then with my back to the vehicle and hanging onto the pin bring the track back to the drive sprocket. Phew. I don’t know where the rest of the section had gone, only that we were feeling very lonely and unloved. With the track link now back in its proper position on the drive sprocket, Peter put the vehicle in reverse and I guide the track back to the rear and bring it down over the back wheel. With the adjuster fully out it’s easy to get the links joined up, then slip the track pin back in position and tap it through. Put a new nut on and tighten it up. This is where the grease gun comes in, tighten the nut on the adjuster and pump it back up again, viola. ‘Mother!’ Scrambling back up with a speed born of desperation, it’s drop the tools back in the bag and leap into the turret, a disgruntled nod from him and away we go. The VC had skipped town.
A rude awakening. Naturally everybody was despondent, the infantry had moved further forward and we took up a position between them and the bunker system and patrolled there. Not a peep, not a dicky bird. Late that afternoon an ambush position was decided on and away we went. After we’d eaten, washed and changed we moved into position on a corner of thick jungle. The vehicles were backed in towards each other, something like circling the wagons, with the piquet vehicle pointing down a well used track. About fifteen claymore mines were put out in an arc in front and a couple of trip flares. These were tied to trees in front of the mines, with thin wires attached to them at ankle height. There were six vehicles and their crews of three, plus the two Mini Team engineers. As the sun sets everybody stands to, this time of day and sunrise are the best times for an attack. So until it gets dark we sat there in our vehicles, quiet, waiting. Radios are turned down and if you do talk it’s in a whisper. Nothing happens, so it’s off to bed and the piquet begins. I went on about midnight and when the next bloke took over it was back to bed. I crawled in through the back door in the ramp, found my silk sleeping bag liner and crawled onto the long bench which doubled as my bed. I had to use that one as it allowed me access straight up into my position in the turret. After the obligatory quick search of my bedding for things that bite it was off to sleep. The night seemed quieter than usual, the monkeys weren’t startling the crap out of you by screaming and carrying on. No storms tonight neither, a feeling of calm descended as consciousness slipped away.
Thanks to Wikipedia for image. This looks like it was taken in the daytime but you get the idea of how bright they can get.
0300 hours. Fizzzzzzz! I sat up quickly from a deep sleep wondering what the sound was, then a light resembling a super nova shone in through the access door. A trip flare had gone off. Still groggy I wasn’t prepared for the mines going off. Because they were close together and the vehicles were in the position they were, the back blast channelled straight into us. Imagine being half asleep, wondering why it’s fireworks night then you’re hit in the chest by a giant fist. So hard that it picks you up from your bed and drives you backwards against the inside engine hatch cover. The light has gone, you hear and see nothing then the pain begins. It’s in the centre of your chest crushing you, cutting off your breath. You can’t breath in or out. You can hear your name being called in the distance, none too nicely I might add. You’re called a cowardly bastard, a slacker, useless. You can feel your back against a solid wall and something else is slowly crushing your chest. There are explosions outside, the steady thrum of machine gun fire and the whoomph of the main armament being fired in other vehicles. Another flare goes off and you open your eyes which are already clouded by lack of oxygen. The Boss is in his side of the turret. He’s turning his traverse over-ride lever to bring the gun to bear down the track and cursing because the turret won’t move any further. Why? Because the turret cage, now being driven on battery power is jamming me up hard against the engine hatch. The only thing stopping it now? My sternum. I manage to raise my right hand, I can’t talk, hell I can’t breathe. The light’s fading and I grasp his left ankle and dig my nails in. He looks down and yells, ‘For Christ’s sake stop fucking around and get up here.’ He turns the lever back and I manage a deep breath then yell back, ‘ Didn’t you bloody see me there, now let me in for fuck’s sake.’ He glares at me as I slide up through the cage and into the turret like a rat up a drainpipe.
Sucking in air I don’t bother with the electronic trigger, instead I cock the lever on the side of the breach and then hit the round metal knob there. Whoomph. Off goes a canister round, clink the empties ejected, clunk a new one put in. I look through the sight this time and have the electrics on, Whoomph, the car rocks a little and now there’s a gap in front of us. I slip the safety lever off the .30 cal and using the foot pedal trigger, fire controlled bursts on our arc. A couple more canister rounds then all is quiet. Extremely quiet. Then the crackle of the radio as Boss Man fills ØCharlie in on the contact. We stand-to until dawn, there are muffled grunts and groans. I can hear someone in pain, cursing. I know I’m hurting yet the adrenalin is taking care of it, I feel high as a kite. We sit in the turret trying not to stare, there isn’t much to see. Dark jungle, tattered now, the faint luminescence of fireflies that look suspiciously like tiny torches as they bob along the track. I want to yell at the Boss and tell him that I wasn’t cowardly, I was bloody stuck. He wouldn’t have listened anyway.
Dawn in the jungle is something else, it sneaks up on you like a thief. The light is filtered as it flickers and shines through the foliage, now the monkeys are back reproaching us for disturbing their night. Then the birds start, screeching and squabbling in the tree tops high above. Stand down, somebody goes out and checks where the claymores were. I slowly climb out of the access door. My ribs are killing me and I try to get the kinks out of my neck. Looking across to one of the other vehicles on our left, I see that a Mini team bloke has a long gash above his left eye, a crewman is performing first aid on him. He copped a piece of plastic shrapnel from the back of a mine. Everybody is staring at me, hmm they must have heard the yelling coming from the vehicle. If any of you blokes are reading this, I wasn’t hiding or cowardly, I was having my chest crushed thank you very much. Good, I’ve been waiting forty-two years to say that.
We moved out of that ambush position, checked the guns, had breakfast then found another position a couple of kilometres away and waited there for a while. Nothing. Now we had to use all the extra high explosive rounds we had for the bunker system. We received intel that the Viet Cong from the system had hunkered down about two kilometres away. The range of our main armament was 2,500 metres, so after some mathematical hijinks the Boss and the Troop sergeant worked out a fire mission. Each car had its own position next to a marker and away we went. Naturally I was the only gunner to get a misfire. A bit daunting but there were certain actions to follow: yell out ‘Misfire recocking,’ use the lever on the breach and fire again. Click, nothing then wait two minutes for any delay in the fuse. Nothing, so it’s open the breach and remove the round. Peter was loading for me and he gave me that, ‘You bloody well take it out look.’ Out it came and I stood up and handed it out to the sergeant. He was none too happy and he put it down next to the vehicle and buggered off. Okay back to it, another round in, then we were given a correction, an increase in distance. The elevation drum has a bubble level in it. When you set the distance on the drum you have to turn the lever back, then forward to settle the bubble. Mine was out about a quarter of an inch. I fired and watched as the round sailed away (their bottoms glow a lot) then Kaboom! It hit a branch at the top of a tree about a thousand metres away and exploded beautifully. Of course I got in trouble, ‘Who the bloody hell did that?’ I waved my hand out of the turret. Man I was used to being in the shit by now.
Next week: Back to Nui Dat and A week in FSB Robin, or what do you mean we got mortared?