Interviewee: Michael Ey (ME)
Interviewer: Gary McKay (GM)
Date of Interview: Wednesday 30 May 2001
Place of Interview: Cotton Tree, Maroochydore
Transcribed by Laura Manasserian: 21 January 2002
Corrected and edited by Gary McKay: 6 March 2002
Final edit by Gary McKay & Caroline Foxon after interviewee perusal: 23 August 2002
Michael Ey was born in Strathalbyn, South Australia in 1945 and was the first of three brothers to serve in the Royal Australian Navy as a clearance diver. He joined the RAN in 1963 and saw over three years of active service from 1964-67 on the HMAS Yarra as a radar plotter, before undergoing highly selective and rigorous training as a clearance diver. He deployed to South Vietnam in Feb 1969 with CDT 3 and worked out of Vung Tau on the highly dangerous tasks of demolitions, underwater clearance and counter-mine warfare.
Subject of Interview: Australians in South Vietnam, the Vietnam war 1965-72, RAN service in South Vietnam particularly 1964-67 and 1969, radar plotting, clearance diver selection procedures and training, training for war, training courses, combat and battle, deploying to Vietnam, tactics, RAN and CDT 3 operations, casualties, morale, return to Australia. Mine incidents, casualty evacuation. Allies, socialising, leave: R & R and R & C, discipline.
TranscriptGM This is a recording of an interview with Michael Ey, recorded at Cotton Tree on Wednesday 30 May 2001. Recorded by Gary McKay for Maroochy Libraries’ Veterans’ Voices project.
Michael, firstly thanks very much for coming in and being part of the project. Could you tell us at what age and how you came to get into the Navy?
ME Well, I joined the Navy when I was 17. Prior to that I’d been sort of drifting through jobs, you know, wasn’t really sort of settled down in anything and I can remember I saw the movie, ‘Nancy Kwan’, now what was that…?
GM With William Holden?
ME Yeah, that’s right, in the Far East with Susie Wong.
GM Susie Wong. (‘The World of Suzie Wong’)
ME Susie Wong, I thought, geez that’s for me and all the pictures of Hong Kong, but this is the thing. Anyhow, so, then I saw the adverts for the Navy and I thought … a week later I was gone. So that’s how quick it was.
GM But you have two brothers who also served in the Royal Australian Navy.
GM Are they younger or older?
ME I’m the oldest. Tony is three years younger and David’s three years again.
GM So, you actually started a sequence.
ME Yeah, I did. Yeah
ME Yeah, it’s quite, they must have liked the stories I used to come back and tell them I suppose.
GM You joined at age 17. Where did you do your training?
ME Went to Melbourne, HMAS Cerebus, and done the basic, basic training, the recruit training they called it; they recruit you and stuff, so yeah. Then they sort of try and allocate you to a branch of your preference. And at that stage I wanted to be a diver and I went through all the, you know, the testing you know, blah, blah, blah and then just before - I think it was the day before - I was due to be posted to Rushcutter, this lieutenant, lieutenant doctor said to me, he said oh, you know, looking through medical stuff. He said, ‘Have you ever had concussion?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve fallen off motorbikes.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re not gonna be a diver’. And that was the end of that and knocked me for a six, yeah. So then I went on to be a RP - radar plotter - and I went to HMAS Watson for that training and then I, as a radar plotter went to Anzac for about 12 months and I went to HMAS Yarra and then I was deployed to the Far East Strategic Reserve and all that sort of stuff as an RP. And so we, in Malaysia, Borneo during the Confrontation up there and then I come back and I thought that there was usually one clearance diver attached to each ship, you know, and the ship’s doctor - I got on pretty good with him - and he said, ‘What concussion?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right. What concussion?’ I was straight in. I said, ‘Nope, that’s bullshit.’ And, well, you know, then I went through with them and turned my whole life around.
GM Why, why when you were 17, 18, why did you want to be a diver?
ME Well, my biggest pleasures of life were spear fishing, skin diving…
ME And I like motorbikes, but, you know, all the time I was in the water, so I just loved the water, yeah.
GM Okay, so, was it something from recreational…
ME Yeah, yeah.
GM …pursuits and…?
ME That sort of you know, into Mike Hunt movies, remember Mike Hunt and that?
GM There used to be a show on TV too, with Lloyd Bridges, called ‘Sea Hunt’.
ME Oh, ‘Sea Hunt’. Well, I really liked it.
ME I mean Mike Hunt was the name of the bloke, was it, no Lloyd Bridges.
ME I’ve got it all screwed up. Yeah, that’s it. ‘Sea Hunt’.
ME So, I saw that and I thought yeah, you know, like he’s fighting underwater and all that sort of stuff.
GM Yeah, that’s right
ME That’ll do me, that’s all clear water and when you get the, when you’re doing your diving it’s always dirty, dirty sort of (water).
GM Yeah, it’s a, well we’ll get …
GM On to that. Now, you went, what does a radar plotter actually do?
ME Well, you’re based in a sort of a hub of the communications part of the ship and analysing any information that comes in from radar. That’s it basically; detecting ships, you know, so you’re getting their courses, for collision and all this sort of stuff. So you’re sort of the eyes of the ship, you know what I mean.
GM And so, you give all your, you look at the screen and interpret it and then you …
ME Pass it to the bridge.
GM Tell either the principal warfare officer or the navigator or whoever’s going to get this
ME Generally that’s the way it was because the navigator - not the navigator, but the officer of the day - would be on the bridge and you’d pick up these contacts and then you’d evaluate what course and where their point, their closest point of approach, was going to be if it was a collision course, blah, blah, blah. So that was the continual sort of job.
GM So, how long is the course that you did at Watson to become a radar plotter?
ME I reckon it would have been about three months. Yeah.
GM So fairly intense?
ME Yeah, three months, about three months full time. Yeah, yeah.
GM Okay. Now the Yarra, what sort of a ship was the Yarra?
ME It was a Type 12 frigate. Would be class 12, yeah. [ME: Whitby Class Type 12]
GM How many, what would be the complement on that?
ME Oh shit, 350 and something odd blokes.
GM Oh, fairly big?
ME Yeah, yeah. It was a one 4.5 inch turret on the front and it had two rows of three mortar MARK 10s on the back with three…
GM That’s a QF gun isn’t it? Quick firing. 4.5, isn’t it?
ME Yeah, that’s right, yeah, 4.5 inch and that was the main armament
ME That was the only armament and I will tell you a little story about that too. I’m looking here at one of the questions about when we’re up in Indonesia and right on the border and we used to do all these, you know, you come up at night in hot pursuits of these vessels and you’d illuminate them and then you’d put a boarding party and all this sort of shit, you know. But anyhow, we’re chasing these two Como Class bloody patrol craft one night and were right on; we’re going over into their territory, because I was on watch at the time, you know. So, this …you’re not allowed to do this, but these two Comos have both got surface to surface missiles, one on each side, you know, so
GM Right, so we had, they’ve got these
ME Two Comos [ME: Como Class Fast Patrol Boats], right, and then they have got these great big missile launches about this big on either side of the boat. They’ve got a range of about 18 mile (30 km) and we’ve got these two, this one by 4.5 turret which we’ve got a range of about 8 mile or 9 mile (13-14 km) - I just forget - so it was, you’re thinking this is bullshit, they got to turn around, and all of sudden any one of those missiles would’ve flattened the Yarra, you know, so, yeah, that was, that was an interesting situation.
GM And, and so that was trying to stop intrusions into …
ME Yeah. [ME: Indonesian infiltrators into Borneo]
GM The territory.
ME Round about Tawau was it, Borneo, up around that area we done a lot of patrol up there. Used to do a lot of shelling as well. You know, going in and shelling whatever was going on, on shore, to assist the Army and …
GM So, naval gunfire support?
ME Yeah, that’s it naval gunfire support, yeah, yeah. So that was continuous, yeah.
GM Oh, Okay. What do you think was the most memorable incident that you can remember - apart from being looking down the barrel of a couple of missiles - when you were in the Malaysian Confrontation?
ME Nothing really, because it was all standard procedure day in day out, you know, and that’s the way it was, you know; you’re at action stations or you’re working or you weren’t.
GM So, what waters did you work in?
ME Shit, mainly around in the north of Indonesia round the Borneo, Borneo area in that area there [ME: also Malaysia].
GM So around the Sabah, Sarawak?
ME Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Around that area right up to Tawau, which is in the northern part and that was the main yeah, main areas, and as I say to you, you just see a bit of land and that’s it. You’re just patrolling up and down and shelling, you know.
GM And actually operating in concert with other craft?
ME Oh, yeah, with the Pommies, yeah, we worked with the Poms at that stage so, yeah, yeah, a lot of Poms come out of Singapore, you know.
GM Who’s the person that most stands in your memory from your time on the Yarra?
ME Oh, well, there’s a good mate of mine he was a, a tactical operator, you know, a flag waver.
GM Oh yeah
ME He was just a good mate of mine yeah, so we had a lot of good times. We always run ashore together you see and if I got in strife, he would help me and vice versa and so that’s, that was a good…
GM Why do they always say ‘run ashore’ when you’re actually only walk down the gangplank?
ME Now, I don’t know. It’s a ‘sailors’ run’… that’s a good run or that’s a bad run.
GM Yeah, they always use the word run and I’ve always wondered why. I’ve heard people say ‘we had a good run ashore’.
ME Yeah, that’s a good run, or that place was a top run, you know, or we had a good run last night, you know.
GM Were you a single man then? On board the Yarra?
ME Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
GM What sort of ports did you go into for your ‘runs ashore’?
ME Oh, Singapore, Hong Kong mainly. They wouldn’t, yeah mainly Singapore, Hong Kong then you got your Australian ports, Singapore, Hong Kong. We never got to the Philippines because we got chased out of there a couple of times with typhoons. So that was it.
GM Oh right.
ME So that was it, you know, when you’re exercising out there, you’d be in and out of port during the exercise or during not exercises, but your strategic reserve or whatever you had to do, so you might spend two or three weeks ashore, offshore, you know and doing firing strategic reserve and then you’d go in for say, maybe four or five days or something like that and let all your steam off, you know, and then…
GM What was your favourite port?
ME Singapore was then. Singapore was good them days, it was. Now it’s just so super clean, you know, used to be old Bugis Street.
GM It’s not Asia any more.
ME No, no it’s not Asia. We used to play rugby in the, used to like rugby you see, and we’d always, always playing football, so we used to go and get on the piss with the RN’s and they would all drink their Tiger (beer) you know.
ME And we’d always finish up down at Bugis Street and then it was Bugis Street was real, you know, it was the old, it was meeting place for, you know, all the poofters were down there [ME: ‘beenie boys’], and that didn’t you worry you, but you always had the Yanks and the Poms. When the Yanks were in and the New Zealanders … so you’d get the Australians - we’d be playing football - you get down on the piss and generally you’d always start and there’d be a fight, Australia versus the Yanks. If there were no Yanks, you’d fight the Poms, and if there were no Poms, you’d fight the Kiwis, and if there were none of them you’d fight each other, you know. But that’s what it was; it was just, a live place it was, you know. Shit going on everywhere and…
GM As you say, a place to let off steam.
ME Yeah, that’s right. You know, people jumping over tables and tables and things.
GM Just as a matter of interest, I mean, most ships do have a rugby team or a sporting team of some kind. It must be hard when you’re confined to a vessel, you’re at sea for say two months, I mean, how do you keep fit and all that sort of stuff, you know?
ME Well, how do you keep fit? On a small ship it’s very difficult, yeah, it’s very difficult. You used to do, you know, like during the day, you might run around the deck bit or you do your sit-ups, your push-ups and all that.
GM So, static exercises?
ME Yeah, that’s right, you did something and as soon as the ship was alongside (a wharf) - it was footy training and off you’d go, you know. You start running for fitness and going and having a few beers.
GM Yeah, oh I always used to find that the first 35 minutes or 40 minutes against a ship were really hard.
GM And then they’d blow out after half-time.
ME Yeah, that’s right. Oh, you know, you’d play hard, I mean we lost more games than we ever won, I mean, probably times that by five, that you know, but we used to go out and play football. Because the Kiwis are worse. They’d draft a football team to the bloody ships because they didn’t have any ships.
ME So you got no chance against them. But we used to play the boat’s squadron in Singapore. They were good blokes. And other people and, you know, it was a good game and then you’d have a bit of a piss up after, but the Kiwis played serious football you see. Anyhow, that was the life and then you’d go down town in the bars or whatever and just, you know, get on the slops (beer).
GM Yeah. How long did you spend in, on the Yarra?
ME Oh, about, I reckon about two and three-quarter years or something like that.
GM Okay. So that was September ‘64 to about January ‘67?
ME Yeah, yeah. And then I think,
GM And then?
ME Yeah, that’s about right.
GM What were the most hazardous operations you reckon that the Yarra did?
ME I think getting back to that patrolling because a lot of the, a lot of the vessels you were chasing right, they’d be puttin’ along and suddenly they’d fire up and they’re gone. A decent 40 knots I mean, they just out run you, so, a lot of them were carrying arms as well as that and looking back, our procedures - boarding procedures weren’t really, you know, really all that good, you know.
GM Did you have to ever partake in a boarding party?
ME No, no because I was RP, and QMGs - the gunners - used to. They’d run in there with an old Thompson, you know what I mean and it was, you know, it was very lucky none of them got shot or nothing like that. It was pretty amateurish, but that was the job we had to do.
GM What’d you think of the Poms?
ME Dirty bastards. I mean, you know, personal hygiene, but that was a standard joke, you know, Poms were always scruffy bastards. But they are good sportsmen. Great to get on the grog with because they always sing songs and yeah, I like the Poms. I did, I liked the RNs. Yeah, good memories.
GM What about the Kiwis?
ME No, never really got on with Kiwis so much, because they tend to be full of themselves. You know what I mean? There’s always a lot of conflict between Kiwis and Australians I reckon, because you know if there’s no Yanks around, oh right, who’s next you know, so. And that was it, you know. We used to wreck fuckin’ bars and everything, oh Jesus Christ. But then yeah.
GM It seems quite funny, after all this Anzac stuff we hear about.
ME Oh, yeah, all that bullshit yeah, but it was actually a lot of very, I don’t know, maybe it’s just my perception, but they were always better than you know - in sport particularly - because that was where they stood out. So that’s the only contact we’d have would be on the football and you’d get flogged, you know.
GM Did they have any contribution Navy-wise to where you were working?
ME Yeah, they did, they were up there as, yeah, I’m sure they were there … the Kiwi ships were there with the Australian ships, but I think they only had a couple of ships there, the Taranaki and the Otago. Geez it’s a long time ago, you know and ships up there were doing the same job as us with the Poms yeah. So it’s a part of the Far East Strategic Reserve.
GM Okay. Righteo. Now you, you do all that radar plotting and then came back to Australia. What were you doing between when you came back from the Yarra in the beginning of ’67?
GM Until you deployed to Vietnam in February ‘69, what were you doing then?
ME Well, I went through the changing of rank [ME: branch] you know, you gotta apply to do it and then they got to evaluate you and all this to change rank [ME: branch] because you’re going to a specialist section of the navy, so, yeah. And then I had to go away and I had to do a compressed air course, yeah, that’s right, a ship’s divers course first, so I went and done that. No problems. And then you had to apply then to change rank to CD because there’s a ship’s diver and there’s clearance divers. Ship’s divers - they’ve got a team of ship’s divers on the ship to do bottom searches and all that sort of stuff; but they’ve got the diver on (board) there if the clearance divers find any sort of explosive ordnance like mines or whatever, you know, he’s the silly bugger who’s got to pull it off. So, I went and done me ship’s divers course which is only a 3-week course and they train you to dive to a depth of 66 feet (20 metres), I think, and that’s only on compressed air, and do basic tasks.
GM Now that compressed air means you’re attached?
ME That means, yeah, and breathing air, you’re breathing compressed air, yeah.
GM In a, is this like the old suits with a big hard hat?
ME No, no, no, no, no. This is just scuba tanks, basically.
GM So it’s still scuba
ME Scuba or surface supply, yeah, through a breather, through a hose [ME: connected to large cylinders].
GM Oh. Okay.
ME Yes, so it’s still that’s what we call compressed air meaning it’s only compressed air gas, yes. Then you went onto O2 (oxygen) for ship attacks and also your mixed gases for different depths and longer bottom times and all that sort of stuff, yeah.
GM Okay. So you finished your ship’s divers’ course.
ME I come back to Yarra. Then I applied to change rank. No sorry, no wait a minute. Somewhere in there I went, I got, I was stationed off or posted from Yarra to Albatross, which was, what do you call it? (Naval) Air Station, Nowra.
GM It’s Nowra.
ME Yeah, that’s right. Based down there, I was sent down there to do their control tower work, you know, with radar and all that shit up there.
GM Oh right.
ME Just directing aircraft in and out. Well I hated there. Then I was there for about three months and in the meantime I applied for a change of rank and I got some big trouble down there, anyhow, you know, that happens. Then I went up to Rushcutters to change rank to CD. So then I done my O2 acceptance and then they give you a bit of a 8-week thing to see if you can handle it. You know what I mean, just pretty basic stuff and then I went straight onto my CD’s course, yeah, so.
GM Righto so, that the initial part of the thing, the 8-week part. What sort of stuff do you do there?
ME The eight-week compressed air course?
GM No, no, the when you went up to Rushcutters.
ME Yeah, yeah. Hate. Oh hate week.
GM Hate, oh, (spells out) H A T E, oh ‘hate week’.
ME Yeah, that’s right, yeah, because you’re going from a compressed air diver, so you want to be, to do a clearance diver’s course so they’d get you and then they’d give you a bit of flogging, like you know, like they put you through all sorts of stuff
GM To see if you can cut it?
ME Yeah that’s right, and give you your first dive on an O2 which with a rebreather it’s a, it’s a rebreather, so you’ve got a very small amount - 1.5 litres per minute - is coming through a regulator into your counter lung and you’re breathing through a counter lung. So you haven’t got this into this air that comes in so it’s a totally different experience. And it’s, first of all, you know, you think I’m gonna run out of air but you know, you don’t because you’re expending, you’re not expending any air, your CO2 has been taken out through CO2 canister absorbent and it’s been replaced by O2 so, when it’s, it’s the best diving I’ve ever done in my life.
ME But if you shallow breathe, you get CO2 build up. If you dribble down there, you get a, what they call a cocktail, which is a term that some of us used, you know, it was bad stuff. You can get hurt pretty badly.
GM So it’s a matter of…
GM Being able to keep your nerve?
ME Yeah, well that’s right.
GM And keep your heart rate down.
ME Yeah, that’s right. I remember the first time they took us up to Parramatta there and it was, the blokes…
GM Is that, it’s in a river.
ME Yeah, right, yeah, that’s right, up Parramatta (River) towards the end of Sydney Harbour.
GM Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ME Yeah, up there and I was O2 acceptance so they put me on, you know, the UBA on me, which I’d never used before. So they’ve thrown me in one of these and just giving you basic searches. And what I didn’t know, there’s all these big old 44’s down there you see and it’s absolutely pitch black, I mean, it’s just a filthy black hole so you’re swimming into the 44-gallon (200 litre) drums. You’re actually swimming in these things, you don’t know what’s going on and suddenly - and this is what it’s for - so you back out [ME: of the ‘44’] you know, and there’s a plastic bag and big sheets of plastic they have on like pallets, you know.
ME It was a real garbage tip up there. So you’re in there getting covered up in this shit and they’re just seeing how you handle it, you know. So, if you, basically when you got down there, you got from A to B where you were sent with your directions because they knew all hazards and stuff down there and there’s a lot of other stuff as well, but I really remember that pretty bloody, pretty well when I first did it.
GM So, you got through this ‘hate week’?
ME Yeah, yeah.
GM And then what happened?
ME Then I went to, I was drafted to HMAS Rushcutter, or posted to do CD’s course, yeah.
GM And how long was the course?
ME CD’s course; about five to six months, if I remember.
GM Gee, that’s long.
ME Yes, a long time and they really, and see like your O2 acceptance you might get 20 or 30 people will come in and then you might get say, four or five will be accepted and the rest will get knocked out. And then you’ll go to your actual, your class, your start, you know, on that particular course and then you might have 12 people on the long course, they’ll whittle that down to at least six; so all the time they’re knocking them out you know so…
GM And what, what causes blokes to drop out?
ME Oh, everything, the cold, the physical side of it, you know, because everywhere you went was in a pair of wet overalls you know with a pair of fins on your hands and bare feet, that was it, you just, you know, you’d run for fucking miles like that, you know. They’ll drop you off somewhere and ‘Right, see you later’. You gotta be back a certain time you know. Ordinary people, they don’t help you if you were running around in a pair of wet overalls. I tell you now, they reckon you’re a complete dickhead. They just tell you to piss off! And the one time the bastards [ME: the instructors] they took us up, we were up at Port Stephens and it was during our hate, another hate week at the end of the course, so they took us up there and they took us out in the work boat and they got us in the Zodiacs you see, and there’s no outboard motor and we’re sitting in with wetsuits on, you know. And what’s going on? Yeah, okay. So took us right up Port Stephens, right up to past Lemon Tree Passage and the tide was coming, just starting to come in. Right, so they dropped us, and said: ‘Right, get back to the bloody wharfs’ (at Port Stephens), within a certain period of time. And there’s only way you could get it up there was to carry the bastard, so there was eight of us and we doubled all the way back on, with this bloody Zodiac on our shoulder and bare feet of course see, but it was that sort of thing all the time, just to test us out and all that sort of shit, you know.
GM So, it’s just trying to see who can hack it and who can’t?
ME Yes, yeah, yeah.
GM Bastardisation some people would call it.
ME Absolute bastardisation.
GM Sounds very similar to the sort of stuff they do on the SAS selection courses.
ME Probably is. Yeah, yeah. Because our blokes are over there now (training with the SAS). You know all about that.
GM So, I mean, so you’re really trying to see the guys who can handle the physical pressure, the mental pressure.
ME Mental pressure, yeah, yeah.
GM You know.
ME And throw that in with cold and freezing and no tucker and nothing in the middle of the night, going all night and day.
GM Sleep deprivation.
ME No sleep, you know what I mean and yeah, that’s right you know, give you your comforts and then they take it away and yeah.
GM So what are the basic subject areas that the course is broken up into? I mean you’ve obviously got, there’re obviously a lot of diving type skills?
ME Yeah, well that’s how it starts out. It’s just diving and fitness. You went from your air diving to your UBA, which was a self-contained breathing apparatus.
ME It’s a rebreather with a counter lung on it, and when on pure O2 was used for ship attack! [ME: Placing limpet mines on ships] - that was some of the best diving I ever did. On O2 you’re limited to only 33 feet (11 metres) or it would kill you, it was … [ME: toxic]. So yeah, you’re bonded together, you and your mate [ME: secured with a small line], and one bloke was driving and the other had to watch the depth gauge because if you swam below 33 feet, you’d die; that was it.
GM What do you mean driving? You mean…?
ME Well, you were driving with a compass, you [ME: had a bearing on a ship].
GM Oh. Okay.
ME So, when you come up and you get your compass bearing right, and so you are supposedly carrying limpets (mines) and that was the idea. That was what the training was all about. So we’re doing just endurance swimming all the time, you know. So we’re doing that continuously. So you became pretty good at it, you’d get a buoy a mile away, or something like that in Sydney Harbour, and you’d take a bearing and away you go and of course you, after a while you get to know to hear the chains rattling and this sort of thing. So if you’re a bit off course, you pull yourself in, [ME: turn towards the target].
GM Is it hard to swim in Sydney Harbour? I mean…?
ME Yeah, well you got no, all you do is concentrate on what you’re doing, you know, it doesn’t matter because you got nothin’ beneath you. You know what’s above you, you know what’s around you, so I mean… People, some people I think, oh there might be something down there a big nasty, but you don’t know. You just concentrate on what you’re going to do and night was absolutely spectacular because you get all the efflorescence in the water and fish and actually come up and you see this great big efflorescence, and you go shit, I hope that’s not what I think it was.
GM Well, I, you know, I used to row surfboats out of the Spit Bridge and we had the end of an oar taken off one time with a Noah’s ark (shark) and I mean there are Noah’s in that part of the world.
ME Oh, yeah, we’ll be swimming along and that’s it you just go, well, we got to get from here to there, you know, and so, you have your mate on your depth or you were watching the depth gauge and you would swim, oh about 12 feet (four metres) was comfortable, you know, you’d just get your bearing and away you go see, and you might come up for a check bearing or something like that.
GM So this is why there’s a great emphasis on fitness?
ME Yes, yeah, yeah.
GM Because it’s tiring work.
ME Yeah and also after that, you can for sure they’d make us swim all the back. So you would have a pair of wet overall, and then you would get out of your wet suit, put your overalls on, over the side and away you would go, you see.
GM There is a lot of drag in overalls.
ME Oh wet overalls yes, but you had fins on of course.
GM Plus the weight.
ME Plus the weight, your pockets were sticking out like this as you were going through.
GM Like air brakes.
ME That’s right and you would just switch off and away you would go. I mean you would just plod for two or three hours.
GM How many guys graduated in your group?
ME I think about six.
GM So it was about half again?
ME Yeah, yes.
GM So it was pretty selective?
ME Yeah, very selective. So we did our O2, then we went to mixture gases, which gives you a longer bottom time and deeper diving. And we worked up to 180 feet (60 metres), which is what we used to use on air only and that was the deepest we would dive then in the Navy see. But we did a lot of…
GM It’s a long way down isn’t it?
ME Oh yeah.
GM Because that then brings in all sorts of other complications doesn’t it when you are re-surfacing and that?
ME Yes, decompression and stuff like that. But mine warfare was another big part of it. First off you learnt a lot of the diving side of it, and then you went to how to use that diving. So you went and did underwater cutting, welding, you did all searches like grid searches, to search and find basically [ME: any object] in an area the size of two football fields and no visibility. You would lay your grids and you would do your pattern searches. So we were very good, very prolific at that.
GM What do you mean by laying a grid, what is that?
ME Well we would run out, if an item was somewhere on that table there and we had to find that - and it was a mine or could be anything - we would lay grids out from our base and with rope on the bottom, tied either end and you put two divers down. So you’ve got a buoy either end there and the dimensions are exact with basically the same length of rope as that end and vice versa. So you can make the grid as long as you want and then you put two divers down on each end and then you would have a line between you. It might be 50 feet long (17 metres) or it might be a 150 feet long (50 metres) - with no visibility. Then you turn around and you would be on the front side so you would swim down here and he would swim down that other side. So if you couldn’t see the shot line, which you are swimming on the bottom - the swim line as we used to call it - you would be doing it with no…
GM So you are just feeling with your hands?
ME Yeah that’s right. So you would have one hand on that rope like this (indicates by holding a line and feeling with his other hand) and away you would go. You would just continue to do that until you got to the other end. Then you would just turn around and you would move your rope back [ME: forward] and you always had to go the right way otherwise if you went the wrong way it would all go to shit, see. So you would move it along to the next – or visibility. If you had 20 feet (6 metres) of visibility you would do (move) it 20 feet, see.
GM Oh, I’m with you. So you go out a visual distance, or the distance you could feel?
ME That’s right. So you would just plod back and forth until you cover that whole area and if you find what you are looking for, then you would mark it and then you would go on. And that’s what it was all about, yeah, just swimming all the time.
GM So you did that. What else, what other subjects did you do?
GM What other subject areas on the course, you talked about the diving, and the…?
ME Oh, then you went to searching, all the different means of searching areas. Then you went to mine warfare, identifying all World War Two mines, ground mines, floating mines, how they worked, what was the guts of them, how they were launched and it was very in-depth that part of the course. Also we did fusing, [ME: identification] of all known sorts of fusing at that time, whether it was mortars, artillery, bombs. Mines and that was a very big part of our course [ME: training) you know. So then you would put that into practical side and then you went onto the rendering safe procedure of this stuff that you had found in a situation. So you know.
GM It sounds like it is a sort of demolition supervisor’s course.
ME Yeah, but you would go down and you would find that thing and then you would get the dimensions of it, whether it was on the surface or the bottom, and you would draw it all. You would feel it all over and then you would come back and you would have to identify that in the system. And you would say aha! That’s a such and such bomb you know, and whatever fuse, whether it was a nose fuse or a tail fuse. You had to identify everything, you just didn’t sort of say ‘Oh that’s a bomb’ or ‘that’s a shell, let’s blow it’, you know. In Vietnam it was a bit different, but you were trained to do that identification, to identify that thing, then what are the dangers involved in rendering that safe, if it can’t be done then you just blow it in situ, see. And that’s what it was. And then we went on to SME, the School of Military Engineering at Liverpool with your blokes [ME: the Army] and then after that or during the course we went out to 3 CAD (Central Ammunition Depot) at Marangaroo and we did all our heavy demolitions out there. So we used to blow up to 1000 pound (500 kilograms) bombs out there, and open up bomb cases because we used to specialise in that – we had to because if you had a 500 pound bomb or a mine in the middle of Maroochydore, you can’t move it, and the idea of course was too open it up like a can with explosive. So you had to calculate… That’s why you had to be able to identify the thing in the first place, you know, the case, the thickness and your top bit, centre and [ME: how much explosive to use] and then you would open it up. And literally you would open it up at the site like it’s been opened up with a big can opener.
GM Just using a cutting charge?
ME Yeah, we would just make shaped charges up and just open it up and then we would either burn it out using other means of burning or chemical – there was phenyl; other stuff too to get the explosive out of it. So you just carried the bloody bomb (casing) away you know. Also if a mine was dropped [ME: and penetrated] 20 feet in the ground, another way was to dig the bastard out, you know, so that was another means. That was being phased out just after I did my course. What else?
GM What was the hardest part of the course?
ME Probably the ‘hate week’ event, which was at the end of the course, you know. It was called operational and it was a two-week operational period. So everything you had done they put you right through the straps. So you had a lot of people during the different stages. They were all there hammering the shit out of you while you were doing it and that was operational. So that was it and again that was maximum physical, flog, just wear you out, not much sleep, continuous diving. Different things, different this, do all this. So that was just again to see if you could get through that. Okay well put your rate up, you know [ME: you were accepted into the Branch].
GM It must have felt pretty good when you got through?
ME Oh yeah, of course you do.
GM Very proud.
ME Oh yeah, bullet proof.
GM Ten foot tall.
ME Oh yeah that was the greatest thing you do probably, right up there, and you think shit.
GM It sounds very similar to the SAS selection course. It needs to be. What was the scariest part of the course?
ME Um, probably it wasn’t fear - you had so much faith in your instructors it eliminated fear. It wasn’t there you know, but probably one of the worst situations I think was when we done this deep dive up in Port Stephens and it was a very fast running current, you know. This was just another way of seeing whether we could hack it and work in this. So anyhow we had to go down probably about 120 feet of water and it was stinking, absolutely pitch black in this very fast current. So they said Okay and dropped a [ME: 120 pound - 56kg] shot (rope) over the side and you had to go down and you had to do a task down there. Well the thing was you had to hang onto this shot rope as well as do your task and that was (tough). If you let go that was it; that was ‘off the course’, if you couldn’t go down and stay on that shot line. It was like the inside of a … (expletive). Seriously, it was just as black as ace. And you had this tide just absolutely racing, just about pulling you inside out. And you had to do your task, and that was probably, the biggest fear was ‘if I let go of that bloody shot, I am off course and I have failed, so I have to do my best’. So that would have been it and that was probably only, but to do that you have got to have complete confidence in your supervisor and stand-by divers and the system, and it was. You had your hand over here and your legs around here and ‘Oh shit, whatta I do?’ and where’s my task whatever it might be and that’s the way it was. Yeah.
GM Okay, now you came off your course.
ME Yes, and I was posted to HMAS Supply as a diver on there and I done a couple of trips, one to Perth, Portland and the next thing - as soon as I came off the course - I went to sea and then I was put on standby for Team 3 (CDT 3). There were always seven goes to Team 3 and one stays back in case some one is killed and then the other one will fly over and replace that team member see.
GM Okay so you were a standby for a deployment?
GM What did you know about Vietnam at that time?
ME Um, well there was a shit fight going on there and that was the sort of the ultimate, you know, everybody wanted to go. To go to Team 3 to Vietnam was a real pat on the back, you know. So everybody was busting to go there. So I am pretty lucky. The other thing was that the bosses selected their own teams too - you know what I mean - which was pretty good. We found out later that they selected whom they wanted.
GM So the ‘bosses’ were basically lieutenants were they?
ME Yeah, yeah and my lieutenant was my boss of my course, when I did my CD’s course, so that was good.
GM So it’s a lieutenant and five ratings?
ME Yeah, yeah.
GM Okay, what is the rank structure within the team?
ME Well there was a lieutenant, usually a chief a (C)PO or two POs, so that’s three bosses as such and three working hands, three ABs.
GM And when you go out on jobs, do you normally work in pairs or as a team?
ME No, no. You always had only two men on any operation we went on, we only went two at a time. So there was always a supervisor, so there was the boss, the chief petty officer or the PO and me, Cowboy or Andy (Sherlock) and we always did the work of course. But that’s just the way it was.
GM Well you have got to get your rank, haven’t you?
ME Yeah that’s right, yeah exactly.
GM That’s the incentive.
ME Yeah it was. So we worked our arse off.
GM So how did you get to Vietnam?
ME Flew up by Qantas.
GM So, out of Sydney?
ME Yes, flew up with the Army, a lot of Army blokes and we went up.
GM So you went up as a team?
ME Yep, six of us.
GM Righto, flew into Saigon?
ME Uhuh, stopped in Singapore, then went through to Saigon and then we went through the American system in Saigon, which was to get all our kit and all our outfit and all that sort of stuff because we had all American stuff [ME: equipment]. We were under US EODMUPAC 33. (United States Explosive Ordnance Disposal Maritime Unit Pacific Number 33). We weren’t up there under any sort of Australian jurisdiction at all. I mean we…
GM EOD MUPAC was Explosive Ordnance Disposal…?
GM Something Pacific was it?
ME Yeah, Military Air Command or something.
GM I will look it up in the book.
ME Yeah, so EOD headquarters for Vietnam was at a place called Tennessee. That was the name of the big building, Tennessee, in Saigon. So we went there of course and, you know, and they took us out on the piss and all that and then we flew down to Vung Tau on the Caribou. Then we met the team we were going to relieve there.
GM So, your detachment spent most of their time in Vung Tau did they?
ME Oh yes, that’s where we were, we were based in Vung Tau. But our set up was that we were under US EODMUPAC, we were an EOD team and we were also a diving team. So we would do any diving work that came up if it was EOD oriented, otherwise the UDT would do it. The UDT compared to us was … I mean, was crap.
GM So - for the tape - EOD is explosive ordnance disposal or demolition and UDT…?
ME Yeah, explosive ordnance disposal. No, we would do all the diving see, but the American UDT, the underwater demolition teams they were called, well they tried to get in and sort of match us up somehow, but they were too dangerous. I mean they were total fuckwits, you know.
GM Because they didn’t have the skills?
ME No skills, useless. So we wouldn’t work with them and that was it, we wouldn’t have anything to do with their UDT. So yeah, our EOD, we had our training, which was similar to an American EOD, but we had the extra skills, which was our diving capability as well. So we had more to do. We were better trained than them.
GM So your EOD was really land-based stuff?
ME Basically land-based. They did have some Navy blokes in there but I didn’t, can’t really recall much about that, but it was mainly to do with… No that’s not right, because they must have had some Navy-trained there. They had both Navy and ARMY EOD there and I think Marine EOD there.
GM So whereabouts did you live in Vung Tau?
ME ‘The Cave’. Down on the … [ME: in the cave].
GM The Cave?
ME Yeah, The Cave. It was a cave at the harbour entrance control post. Yeah the harbour entrance control post; the American base there - half way up the hill. It was old French bunkers and that’s where we lived. We actually had an old Quonset-type hut in a bunker, but it was covered in dirt, no windows of course, just one way in and one way out and it was all just concrete inside you know. But that was it, it was nice and cool. It was pretty comfortable, yeah.
GM So that was your home, where you lived, where you slept and ate?
ME Yeah, no. Where you went in we had our museum, and then we had our bar and then there was the boss’s office and then out the back was the accommodation with just the old stack bunks and the three ABs used to stay up there. The boss, the PO and the Chief, they had separate quarters over with the Americans – they were a bit different, you know. We used to eat in the American Mess, eat with the Yanks and so on.
GM And that was down in Vung Tau?
ME No that was up there on the hill. [ME: VC Hill, above Vung Tau]. Yeah the harbour entrance control base used to control the shipping and that was to do with guiding shipping around the port of Vung Tau. We were just based there, so we used to go and do our own thing.
GM Because it’s quite a big harbour isn’t it?
ME Huge, yes.
GM And it’s got a big dirty river flowing in and out of it.
ME That’s right. It goes around to Cat Lo and De Long Pier. And then there was Long Son Island and over there we used to do all our demolitions there and that’s part of the Rung Sat [ME: Special Zone] there and that was a pretty strong sort of (VC) area.
GM It was called the Rung Sat Special Zone.
ME Yeah it was a Special Zone yeah and Long Son was part of that. That was a bit bloody hairy too, because we used to go over there and blow six, eight blooming tonnes of assorted ordnance, captured or stuff that had been condemned by the Yanks. The Yanks would go in and have it all loaded up on trucks on an old LST. The US Army would and put out a bit of a perimeter defence and they would walk out there with their trannies (transistor radios) and all this sort of shit, you know. Smoking their ganga – dope – and we were there sitting on a pile of bloody, maybe eleven tonne of explosives, setting it up for a bang, you know. So that wasn’t a great experience either I tell you. So we have just two or three points of initiation with safety fuse and they would drop an anchor and winch us out and away we would go down the river
GM I have actually seen some photographs of that…
ME I have some photos in here.
GM …with a column of smoke going up about a mile!
ME Oh yeah. It looks like a little nuclear blast, a little mushroom cloud, yeah.
GM Like a little atomic bomb going off.
ME Yes, and of course if there was any rockets or missiles we always pointed them off towards the local village - look after the hearts and minds of the people! It was a big bang and shit would fly everywhere you know. [ME: It was a VC island and village].
GM Who was your boss in CDT 3?
ME Lieutenant (Allan) Davis.
GM And who did he report to?
ME Um, as far as I know EOD MUPAC in Saigon.
GM So you got all your tasking from them?
ME From the Yanks yes. We got no tasking from the Australians whatever. We didn’t even go onto the Australian ships and a lot of the captains from the Australian ships would like to come up and get their photo taken in the cave with one of us, you know.
GM So when the HMAS Sydney came into port, and I remember the first night I spent in Vung Tau harbour, a rubber duckie was running around the outside of the ship and there were these bangs going off, dropping scare charges. They were really the divers or the QMGs off the Sydney?
ME They would have been divers off the Sydney. Yeah, they would have been clearance divers; there would have been a clearance diver there.
GM So they’re doing all that?
ME Yeah, they’re doing that, yeah and the ship’s divers would do the bottom searches as well, which is just a search.
GM And if they found something they would ring you?
ME That’s right yes.
GM Now, let’s say you are sitting in your cave, next to your bat phone and it goes, how did you get from where you were to various jobs and how far would you go?
ME Well bearing in mind that there were three bosses and three ABs, so you would go and always swap around and there was always a two-man team generally went somewhere. So we went as far as Da Nang, right up to the DMZ, we worked up there.
GM Oh, so you could go anywhere?
ME Yeah, we could kick up to an American commander (naval rank) off an aircraft, so we had a sort of a priority being EOD. Queuing up, [ME: when on call out] we could kick off a commander or something, yeah.
GM Okay, so I mean some of the CDTs lived in Da Nang.
ME Yeah that was later, Tony (brother) was on the last tour and he was in Da Nang.
GM But your tour, you were based in Vung Tau?
ME Yeah, we went up to Da Nang and worked with American EOD up there and also and went and did a bit of work down in Qua Viet. That was interesting because that was right in the middle of everything there and it was the first time I had seen a birdcage mine in my life, which is an incredible thing.
GM What is that, just explain it?
ME Well it was knocking all the American ships out; tugboats, LSTs, LCMs, and it was... all they had to do was go over it. Basically it was a football bladder, a sealed container made up like this a birdcage on top, just like a birdcage. It had a football bladder inside there and it was inflated and it had a bleeder valve, so air went one way into another chamber and couldn’t get back. And that would close two electric connections, so the VC would blow (inflate) this thing and go and drop it in 15 feet (5 metres) of water where the big LSTs or ships would steam up and down. They might put 180 or 200 pounds (85 –90 kilograms) of explosive in a big basket that had this thing sitting on it right. It used to have a soluble plug in there so that was sort of their safety device. So anyhow a ship would come over that mine and the bow wave – this is so clever – the bow wave would put pressure on that bag, deflate the top bag, push the air into the bottom sealed chamber and when the ship got over the top like that at its most vulnerable point, that pressure would drop off, it would expand that other chamber and every time that is when it would go off (detonate) right underneath the ship at its most vulnerable point and break the back of the ship. And so yeah that’s where we first found this mine. It’s just an initiating device you know, you could put this thing on a charge as big as this table (two metres square) or as big as this room (five metres square) and it was just a means of initiation. It was just so clever.
ME Oh yeah, cunning. Get a mine, a few tins, an old wire cage, a football bladder, a bit of wiring and…
GM Away you went.
GM What was the hardest part about being a clearance diver up there?
ME Up there, I suppose when you were in town trying to out-drink the Yanks and they were trying to out-drink you.
GM And seriously?
ME Seriously? You were always on the go. I mean there was two blokes would go on jobs - we were basically on a roster of three all the time, so if a job came up and me and Vic (Rashleigh) were duty that night, well we would go to the job. And then another two, that was their night off, and then another two would go and do the ships. So sometimes there was up to 20 ships at anchor in Vung Tau harbour and that was one of your duties was to go out there and search the anchor chain of every one of those ships every fucking night.
GM So that means you have got to go out to the ship, what in a rubber duckie or something?
ME No we would be picked up by patrol craft and this was all organised and was part of the system of … [ME: nightly searches!]
GM So you get into a wet suit?
ME No, all we had was a tracksuit on, right like a tracksuit with an inflatable vest on it with one of those fluorescent lights on it, I forget what you call it.
GM Like a strobe light?
ME Strobe light, right, inflatable vest, fins, face mask and where the ship was [ME: anchored] sometimes it was six or seven knots out there, but we still had to do it. So the patrol craft would roar in like this and then drop you off and you would just jump over the side and they would keep going and you would grab hold of the anchor chain and pull yourself down 20 or 30 feet (7-10 metres) right till what ever depth of the hull of the ship was, then you would come straight up again because as you pull yourself down – there was no visibility it was always at night – and if there was anything there you would detect by feel and then you would have to do something about it. That was a means of just seeing if the anchor cable was all right. Because the way they used to mine them (the ships) was they would have two floating charges – and they would put a long line through it [ME: between them] and release them upstream. They didn’t have the capability to carry out ship attacks as such, so they would do it that way. So that’s what we would do, we would just swim down that anchor chain – on a breath – no diving gear – straight up again – [ME: to detect any rope]
GM Oh, so you are not wearing scuba gear?
ME No, no. This was all on a breath yeah. It was hard yakka, yeah.
GM Pearl diving.
ME Oh yeah, pull yourself down the anchor chain and we didn’t wear a facemask, sorry, because it was so dirty you couldn’t see anything. So just fins and like a tracksuit, which was an undergarment for our dry suit, we used to use. It’s a special sort of cotton coverall. That’s what we used to do and of course you would bob up to the surface again and by the time the boat came around to pick you up you could be three or four or 500 yards astern of that boat. So if your strobe light didn’t work, you were in trouble. Sometimes the Yanks would have a shot at you and you would say, ‘Aw fuck, here we go again’, you know. We used to go around them with a bloody loudspeaker saying ‘We are going to check this [ME: the anchor cable], we are EOD Team 3’, we are going to do this blah blah blah, ‘we are going to check your anchor chain’. And then we would get some sort of acknowledgement and then we would do it. Otherwise the bastards would shoot you. And we would do that honestly sometimes 20 times a night.
GM So would you do 20 dives or would you split it up?
ME No, the boss, the Chief or the PO was sitting up there watching all this, you know. No, you did every one of them, and then if the whole team was in the next morning, the boss would get up and we would go down to the Badcoe Club and we would do a three or four mile (5-6 kilometres) jog along the beach and do 20 or 30 laps of the pool, just to keep us on top of things!
GM Now when you were doing other sorts of jobs and you had to dive, what sort of gear were you wearing then?
ME Oh, only on a breath. We didn’t actually do much diving up there because most of the work in Vietnam was close [ME: inshore] and it was in shallow water because of the river ways systems. I can’t recall using sort of diving gear at all, so it was just bathers and knife or whatever and generally in some sort of fatigues.
GM I envisaged that you would always be in some sort of scuba gear.
ME No, no never used it. Because it was all in relatively shallow water. Oh sorry, wait a minute, that’s not true because we did some work on some tugboats where they got … one tugboat got an 81-millimetre mortar up the tube - they have got a big funnel around the propellers to get maximum thrust. Anyhow they had an 81-mm mortar stuck up in there so we did use our diving gear yeah.
GM How did that get in there or was it put in there?
ME Oh, we don’t know. But we just had to get the bloody thing out. So we had to use our diving gear then - sorry, yeah.
GM Now what about the enemy assault swimmers, what sort of gear were they in?
ME Um, they had no gear, all they had was basically a loincloth, and that was it, you know. [ME: The two that we captured were only in shorts; they would have ditched any gear that they had]
GM No fins?
ME No, they didn’t have any fins, but they were very clever, see, because they used to make up flotation devices, you know. It was like a great big can that they had built and soldered together from whatever, [ME: light metal] they would put that over the top of a 250-pound (120 kg) bomb say and put it in the water and then let out enough air so the thing was just positive buoyant, right. And they would swim it over and that’s what they would do and they might have another couple of flotation bags on there, so they would swim over in a bit of shit and then they would just clamp it onto the keel of the ship. So they were very, very highly trained, their sappers. I forget what regiment it was, [ME: a part of Group 10 VC, reinforced by 126 North Vietnamese Navy Regiment Sapper Swimmers, based somewhere in the Rung Sat Special Zone], but their sapper swimmers were pretty good. That was their cream anyway.
GM And you actually ran into some didn’t you?
ME Yeah, we ran into some. We had actually been out that night searching the ships at anchor and came back in about midnight. It was about 1 o’clock (0100 hrs) and the naval officer [ME: the US Navy executive officer on duty] said there had been a sapper swimmer attack down at De Long Pier, so anyhow me and Vic and Cowboy went down there and so we raced down there in a jeep - again with no gear - just grabbed a face mask and a pair of fins and a tracksuit and whatever. When we got down there, there was a whole lot of shooting and the Yanks were throwing scare charges and grenades everywhere [ME: they had spotted swimmers!] So we just said ‘Hold it. Stop all that right.’ And we took over. So we got that sorted out and everything stopped. And this Yank MP said he saw someone in this area and the ship was right there, and as I say there was 7200 tonnes of high explosive on it. That’s what they (the VC) were after. He (the MP) said, ‘There’s a rope; should that be there?’ So okay we had a look at it and it was a bit of nylon and it was tied onto a big tyre used as a fender. So we were looking at it - and this all happened so quick – okay what are we going to do? The next thing, karumpa! And Vic thought it was the Yanks throwing stuff [ME: scare charges] again. So he races away and he said they reckoned that they hadn’t thrown anything. So anyhow Cowboy jumped straight into the water. Sorry I stuffed it up (got the sequence wrong). Cowboy jumps into the water and he says there’s a can, which was there like a [ME: 20 gallon] kero(sene) can, hanging off a bit of rope down there. So we thought I would go and have a look. The boss got straight into the water and we were talking and then he got out and then suddenly there was this karump, you know. And we thought it was the Yanks throwing hand grenades [ME: Vic took off to see if the Yanks were still throwing grenades into the water]. So then a patrol craft came in between the ship and the wharf and I jumped on the bow. Then I jumped back in the water, swam up and this was about 1.30 – 2 o’clock in the morning. I just duck-dived straight down and I could feel the top of the mine and the bottom was all opened up like that, you see. So anyhow I grabbed the tacky homemade sort of plastic explosive that was in it and I threw it up onto the bows and I said, ‘Vic, it’s gone off!’ And then we could see what actually happened. So we were standing right above it when it went off. We later pulled it apart and the booster was badly packed. There were two detonators and we don’t know what the initiating device was because that had gone, but there were two detonators that had actually gone off and the badly packed booster had just partially detonated enough to blow the booster and blown the main charge out. But they reckoned there was about 18 kilos of explosive.
GM Really if it had gone off … I mean you would have been in strife.
ME Oh shit it would have got us, for a start and if it got the ship well … you know 7200 tonnes is a lot of bang isn’t it?
GM You would still be coming down!
ME That’s right, you would still be floating up there. And later that day then the Yanks were there and recovered two NVA sapper swimmers and then they beat the shit out of them.
GM How did they find them (the swimmers)?
ME I don’t remember. I honestly don’t remember because we were just doing what we had to do. We were in the water for about 11 hours that day and it was about 9 o’clock in the morning when some other Yank reported swimming in this area. It was a big iron fender with tyres on it alongside the other side of this ship, because the VC were really after this thing [ME: ship]. I was working off a patrol craft in just a pair of fins and a face mask. I swam under this fender and it was a big fender about the size of this room a huge long thing with rubber around it. I swam between the ship and the fender. Anyhow so I swam under that and there was a [ME: magnetic] Russian BPM limpet there. And I thought, shit!
GM That shouldn’t be there.
ME That should NOT be there, no, and this particular mine was only the second one that was found in country. And you can’t get them off; the only way to do them if they are on the ship’s hull - and it’s initiated - is to run the ship ashore, cut the plate out – you can’t get them off.
GM Is that right?
ME Oh yeah, it’s good stuff yeah. You can’t get them off [ME: Russian BPM-2 magnetic limpet mine].
GM So how are they initiated?
ME They had three time pencils; two were time-delay like a metal fatigue sort of thing, and the other was anti-removal and when it was put on the side of the ship this prong came out and had a spring tension and it was against the ship‘s hull, see. And there was no way you could put a metal shim beneath that because that would be enough to move that and … it would fire immediately.
GM So like a pressure release?
ME Oh yeah, it was Russian technology at that time. It was the best they had.
GM So what did they do with the one on the fender, how did you...?
ME Well I went back down and I thought well what are we going to do about this. And they moved the fender away from the ship, you know, because it was right up against the ship. In panic he [ME: the sapper swimmer] must have put in the wrong place, you know and I couldn’t see the pencils because the fender was right up against the ship’s side. Anyway I went and had another look at it and there was only about this much visibility, you know, about six or eight inches (150 – 200 mm). So I needed to look at like this (squeezes his face sideways) and so I went back [ME: to the patrol boat] and said give us a rope – the limpet even had a carrying handle on it this thing - that’s how good they were. I can remember it was all grey and had Russian writing all over it. So I went back to Vic and we said Okay and had a talk about it. Give us a rope and we will try and pull it off. And we moved the fender further away so all it was going to do was sink the fender. And I [ME: went back and tied a light] rope on it and the patrol craft just gave it heaps; and it’s in a pretty enclosed area. So he goes roaring off and I am sitting on the back going ‘Oh fuck!’ because the rope snapped then. By this time the fender is rolling around like this and there was all this turbulence. So I jumped back in the water again and I came up underneath it again on a breath and I saw this thing and the limpet was still there and it’s rolling like this and the fender was rolling and I thought it was shaking and the whole thing was moving in front of me. And I thought I could see that safety pins were still in the one side where the anti-removal was, so I grabbed it because I thought it was going to fall. So I grabbed it and I came up and I still had hold of it and everyone went nuts going ‘Get away, get away!’ And I said ‘Here it is.’ Anyway that was that and that’s how we got that limpet. And there was another one we could never find that was on that particular job, so they had two Russian BPM – 2s and they had this other big charge. We don’t know if there was more than that, but that two that were captured, yeah.
GM Okay, what sort of other operations did you do besides the anchor searches and…?
ME The anchor searches were a pain in the arse, we just had to do that and be there. We did river barricades because the VC used to - on their little rivers where transport went from A to B or where they wanted to keep patrol craft out of there - the VC would get these big long logs and they actually cut a thread on them like a screw – hack it out - Get that bloody thing [ME: upright in the water] and then with ropes - and I don’t know how they did it - but they would screw that into the bottom so you couldn’t pull them out. So then they would just have all these huge poles in there and the only way we could get rid of those was with what we called a Mark 8 hose charge and it was a big length of rubber hose about that (5 inches - 125mm) in diameter that was full of RDX TNT. You would take the cap off …[ME: You would screw them together, lay it all through the log barricade and then let it go]
GM It sounds like a Viper.
ME Yeah, well…
GM It sounds the Viper they used to use for blowing minefields, same sort of principle.
ME Go off like a bangalore (torpedo). That’s right, same sort of principle, so we would just get this big heavy thing and weave it through there and then just blow the shit out of it.
GM Pretty cunning weren’t they?
ME Oh yeah, they were cunning. Of course when the Yanks went in on any job or any mission or what ever they called it, we used to work out of a swift patrol craft all the time. So we would generally have to go out there with them and so when they ever wanted to go up to a river area we would have jump over the side into the water and crawl around on the banks and clear the river mainly to see if there were any wires for control of command-detonated mines.
GM What is the most memorable incident from your time in Vietnam?
ME Which way?
GM The most memorable incident, was it the…?
ME Funny or?
GM Whatever. I guess from an operational point of view the limpet mine would have been?
ME Oh yeah, I guess that was a highlight, I suppose. Two other incidents I recall, one was in Da Nang and we got a call out there one night and it was me and John went out and it was down on China Beach somewhere. There was a US Marine base there and they had an open-air picture theatre, and anyhow they [ME: the VC] lobbed a 122 mm rocket in there and they were all sitting in there. Of course the motor …when the main charge goes off on a 122 generally the motor will go in behind it; it’s not thrown everywhere. Quite often it’s found in the crater, see. So the Yanks had seen this and we had to go down there and they had got the bodies away, but all the bits and pieces and shit that was hanging out of the walls, I will never forget that.
GM It had gone off?
ME Oh yeah, big time, a 122 went in there and cranked, it spread them everywhere, so there was shit hanging everywhere on the walls ...
Break in taping.
GM When you came back from your trip, was Tony (your brother) about?
ME Tony was a clearance diver then. I caught up … I don’t know where Tony was then.
GM I mean did one clearance team brief another, was there a handover period in country?
ME Yeah, of course there was. I think there was and it was two weeks either end [ME: of our tour]. So you went for six months in country and I think you had an additional two weeks at either end.
GM So the guys you are relieving would hand over, because you guys only did six months didn’t you, because it was such an intense job?
ME Yes, it was very intense, very intense job. Everything you did was something to do with losing your life, you know.
GM What was the most hazardous part of the job?
ME Um, ordnance, working with ordnance. That was always a fear because of booby-trapping. Booby-trapping was so prolific in Vietnam, so anything that out in the bush that was anywhere, that was always the scariest party of it, yeah.
GM What was the most common thing that you did, the thing that came up more often than the rest?
ME We had a lot of call outs for things like American infantry or Vietnamese ARVN who were shot up and then they would take their packs - and this is just another job and we were doing that, and this is what a pain in the arse it was - so we would go down there and because they would take them off and they would leave their packs and we would have to go through and take their weapons and most of the time you would find them full of marijuana, you know, dope and all this sort of business – it was a real big problem there in 1969. But that’s not answering your question is it? I don’t know, you would spend a lot of time on patrol craft and that was always a target.
GM What sort of patrol craft were they?
ME Oh a Swift, a Swift patrol craft.
GM What is it made out of?
ME Fibreglass, sort of high speed, they had a under/over 81 mm with a .50 cal down aft and they had a single .50 or a twin .30 - I can’t remember now - on a turret up the front, plus all of your small arms. It was probably – how big – 25 feet (7.5 metres) and pretty heavily armed…
GM It was American?
ME Yeah. American Swift patrol craft and all their other patrol craft. They had jet boats [ME: for shallow water operations] and I was working out of whatever was going, you know, it was just transportation to get from A to B.
GM Did any of CDT 3 in your tour get wounded or injured?
ME No, I would have to think about that. Oh, Andy got bitten by a scorpion. We had to re-stack the sandbags around our base where we kept a lot of detonators and stuff like that and small amounts of explosive. So we were down there re-stacking and he got bitten by a bloody scorpion and he was jumping up and down and they carted him off and put him into hospital overnight. He reckons that was hell, so yeah.
GM Did you know anyone who had been wounded or killed from the Teams?
ME Yeah, a good mate of mine. Oh shit, he was a door gunner with the choppers over there.
GM The Navy helicopters?
GM The Navy Helicopter Flight?
ME Yeah that’s them and they had a pretty good reputation too.
GM Well they were in a hot area.
ME They were too and old Shippy came back and he came back into Vung Tau and he flew back in and he came out and stayed with us and I looked after him for about a week. We took him around the town and showed him some of the little jobs we did and then he went back up to Bear Cat and then it wasn’t long after that his chopper went down and he got shot out of the sky, yeah. So he got killed, yeah. Yeah, but that was a bit of kick in the guts. That’s about the only … yeah.
GM What do you think is the saddest incident that you could recall from your time in Vietnam?
ME Saddest? Oh nothing, nothing.
GM What about funny incidents?
ME The funniest would have to be the time we got called down to the Clive Steele.
GM That was an Army ship wasn’t it?
ME Yep, Army ship with a big opening [ME: doors on the bow], a tank-carrying vessel.
GM Landing craft heavy or landing ship heavy?
ME Something like that, and so anyhow they were alongside [ME: at Cat Lo] and they had damaged one of the props and they said get the Navy divers down to fix it. So anyway we go down there and it was just absolute filth and oil and you have got to imagine what the water was like down there. We thought that’s a creamy job for us - this is good.
GM This is in Vung Tau harbour?
ME No, down in Cat Lo at De Long Pier. Right down in the filthiest water you have ever seen, but this is a cushy job so we get under there and it’s got a bit of a pocket under there [ME: where the props are]. They must have had it out of the water a bit and there was an air pocket under there, which we could work in. So we got little block and tackles and tools but we couldn’t get this bloody boss nut off to get the prop off. So we used a bit of cordtex to give it a bit of a bang – a bit of det(onating) cord. Got it off. And then there was this [ME: Army] engineering officer, or whatever you would call him, on the Clive Steele didn’t like us at all because we were just sort of – not Army – so didn’t like us – anyhow he was giving us a hard time and so on. He had organized (the crane) and for the screw to be put on. So what happens he has fucked up; he had given us the port screw for the starboard side and it came down on a crane. We put it on, do our job and away we go. The next day, or two days later, there’s a phone call, the boss is getting abused and he’s wondering what the hell is going on and the shit has really hit the fan. Because when they went to sail away, full astern or whatever; one went ahead and one went astern and creamed one of the big doors on the front of the Clive Steele. They wrecked it. Anyhow so they are hollering for us, fucking divers, you know. So we had a bit of a think about it and then we realised what had happened so we had a smile on our face about this because this Army officer had said you blokes have stuffed up badly. And we said, hey you gave us the prop and you gave us the port prop to put on the starboard screw.
GM I didn’t realise that they were different.
ME Yeah they are. Yeah they are, because they revolve different ways. If they both went that way (indicates clockwise) you would go that way (indicates left) all the time.
Gm I never ever thought of that.
ME Yeah and these are big props you know.
GM And they rotate together, they counter rotate.
ME Yeah, whatever way they counter-rotate. He [ME: the ship] was alongside and put it full astern and one prop wanted to go this way and the other wanted to go that way and she just steered around and went crash and wiped out the big doors, see. So we had to go up and change it again, but the funniest part was the boss did it all official and he recommended to the captain that they paint the props - he recommended they paint one red and one green which is port and starboard! And the Army just ... We did our job and did what we had to do.
GM Now when you were underneath and doing all that, were you just free-diving again?
ME Yeah, just on a breath, because there was a big air pocket under there, see. So we just sort of had to swim under, yeah I think we were free diving. That doesn’t mean anything, you just remember the jobs not how you were doing it. That was funny, Jesus.
GM Righto, what about the Allies that you worked with, what did you think of the Allies that you worked with like the Americans?
ME Some of the senior people in EOD were pretty switched on. I mean as an AB our training to what the Allies were up there, ours was far far superior, you know. Most of them didn’t know diddly shit, but some of their lifers, some of their senior POs, their senior Chiefs or sergeants or whatever, who had been in the system, they were pretty switched on. In EOD, that’s mainly the people we dealt with see. No, but [ME: generally] they were lacking a fair bit, but they were getting more money which used to piss us off too, see, because they were getting danger pay up there. They were getting about twice our wage. We got paid in Australian dollars and that was it and the rest [ME: our equipment and victualling] was supplied by the Americans. We used to get roast lamb from the RAAF base down there on Sundays and we would go down there and bludge a couple of roasts as they came out of the oven. It was great! Get up there and pig out and get away from the Yankee tucker.
GM You also wore American camouflage gear?
ME Yeah, that’s right.
ME It was supplied to us because we came under the American system, yeah.
GM What about small arms, what sort of small arms did you carry?
ME Well anything basically. We didn’t carry AK-47s because the rounds were booby-trapped. When we were up there, occasionally with VC ammunition in caches…[ME: Special Forces guys were finding caches] and they were salting the caches with rounds of [ME: Chinese Communis] 7.62 mm (short) ammo and the caps had been taken out and the powder and replaced with a little det and little lump of C4 (explosive), so the whole idea was to demoralise the enemy, because when they fired the weapon, you see your mate’s head disappear, you know, and the rifle is stuffed. So they had these seeded and as a result of that we were not allowed to go anywhere near AK-47s. We had M-16, SLR, we had a couple of Swedish Ks and that was about it, yeah.
GM When you went out on a job, you would just take pistols, small arms?
ME You generally had a pistol but also a sidearm [ME: rifle] which was generally an M-16 because there was no problem with ammunition. And we thought the SLR was a bit heavy, a bit bulky you know and we weren’t like soldiers out in the bush. You took it with you, you know but you can’t use it underwater can you?
GM Did you deploy to many jobs by land, like jeeps or trucks or anything?
ME No, it was always by chopper or boats, or you would boat… yeah that was it always.
GM Where did you get your intel briefings if you were going to a job, who gave you the briefing and where?
ME That was prior to leaving?
ME If you went up to a certain place to work with the Yanks, you would just go up there and they would interchange two blokes and send them down to do our job for a while, so you always had this constant knowledge or upgrading of what was going on in different parts of Vietnam, so you didn’t get sort of isolated down here (Vung Tau). So you wouldn’t get caught out, you know what I mean? What was the question you asked?
GM Where you got your briefings and stuff?
ME Well that would be where ever we were going. That was for an on-site thing, this is the problem, this is the job, we have got to do this and, you know, you would just sort of head down and go and do it.
GM What do you think was the biggest job you ever did?
ME Biggest job? I suppose in terms of explosive it was the bangs [ME: demolition] we used to do out on Long Son Island yeah.
GM And that was just getting rid of …
ME [ME: Captured ordnance and suspect US ordnance]. Yeah, but you also have got to bear in mind that it would only take an RPG or a B-40 or something and so it wasn’t a comfortable feeling, although you were not very far from home. But you had these dope-smoking infantry – American Army - there and I mean you are going ‘Oh shit, this is ridiculous’. And you had Yanks there to stack it and then we just set up the charges and go. But yeah, that was a bit of an unsteady feeling I reckon so…
GM You have mentioned drugs a couple of times with the Americans…
ME Yeah, in 1969 it was everywhere.
GM Did that lower your respect for them?
ME Yes, certainly, yeah, because quite often you would be… I never found it with the EOD, but you would go somewhere and be mixed up with the Yanks and they would start smoking and so immediately you would sort of go ‘No thank you, I am not into that’ and you used to get drunk on beer.
GM You could get into enough trouble with alcohol!
ME Yeah, that’s right, I would rather drink and have a few beers and so, yeah the drugs was very bad. It was so cheap, in the bars there down in Vung Tau for a US dollar or something you could buy a packet of Winston or Marlboro, you know, the soft pack and it was sealed, it was completely sealed - and it was full of drugs. Yeah, and I think there was a lot of harder stuff around, but the Yanks were into it in a big way, yes.
GM Any other Allies that you worked with, ARVN?
ME No, we tended to shy right away from them although we did a bit of work with the ARVN Junk Force and also if we went out on a patrol craft, [ME: to do a river clearance] and that was the entrance to a waterway, and we had to get from A to B to do some work, well the ARVN would put out a perimeter defence [ME on shore]. But we sort of shied right away from the ARVN.
GM What about US Navy Seals?
ME No, we weren’t allowed to work with them although one of our Team members did do an operation with them, but the Boss sort of nipped that in the bud and said no we weren’t working with these clowns. They used to come around and they would have ears around their belt and all this sort of thing, you know. But he said ‘No you’re not working with these idiots – that’s it’.
ME Yeah cowboys.
GM I have actually heard that before.
ME No, I never worked with them although one of our blokes went out and, you know, and went on a night ambush. I don’t know whatever it was; he didn’t talk about it much. So no, one of the SAS guys - Lurch - used to come down and stuff around with us on his R & C; he used to like doing that. So he would come out.
GM Did you guys get any R & R while you were there?
ME Yeah, we got the normal rotation thing.
GM Where did you go?
ME Taipei, Hong Kong. No, I was engaged then. Yeah, that’s right and I went to Sydney.
GM Was it hard to go back to the war zone after R & R?
ME I think many of us were probably looking forward to it. I can remember being at home and I was staying with my girlfriend’s parents, we were engaged and I can remember I used to go out by myself, go and have a beer at a bar and I couldn’t talk to anybody, you know. So it had already started then, you know what I mean?
GM Yes, it (the anti-war movement) was really starting to build up.
ME It was and they had this anti-Vietnam thing and so, yeah.
GM Well describe how you felt when you finished your tour and you came back home.
ME Pretty proud actually, yeah pretty proud.
GM Were you glad to be leaving Vietnam?
ME Yeah, sort of thank God I am getting out of this joint, you know. Oh yeah, going home and all this sort of thing, because you became part of the American system, you know, the countdown and all this sort of stuff. I suppose, yeah, you wanted to get back to the diving section and sort of ‘I have been there and done that’. Going back and where was your next posting in the Navy?
GM Did they use the guys who had been on tours as instructors?
ME Well we went back into either Teams - I went to Team 1 which was immediately deployed into New Guinea getting rid of all the old World War Two explosives up there - or they went into EOD School, which was our mine clearance diving school which was bringing you up to date with what ever was going on with all sorts of ordnance whether it was underwater, surface or home made or what ever, particularly booby trapping and home-made stuff and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, it was an ongoing thing, you would come back from Vietnam and you were fed into the system again, yeah.
GM What did you think of the demonstrators?
ME Oh shit, it was absolutely disgusting you know. It would make your blood boil, you know. You just sort of shut it out of your life because I can remember that instance where some time after when that Army fellow got red paint thrown over him during a march and it was just absolute crap, you know. So yeah, I am very anti-demonstrator.
GM What do you think you learnt most from your time in Vietnam? Firstly from a diving point of view and secondly as Mike Ey the bloke?
ME Well as far as the diving work, you got to do a lot of working by yourself, because you’re working with an explosive item so you’re not talking to anyone else. That is it, so you become pretty dependant on your own knowledge and training and your own ability to solve that problem whatever that may be. So that was good and you became very independent. Very dependent on your own ability and very dependant on yeah I can do this sort of thing. Like how is this going to knock me in the arse - you evaluate something, and you just go and do it. So somehow that (created) more faith and confidence in your own ability I suppose.
GM Was it the hardest sort of work that you have ever done as a clearance diver?
ME It was probably the most exciting work I have ever done yeah, in every way. I loved it, yeah.
GM What did you think of the enemy?
ME Lot of respect for the bastards, you know, because when you see the way and their ability to make [ME: bombs, mines and] booby traps out of stuff that is left laying around and just pick up out of a garbage dump or breaking open ordnance whether it is artillery or a bomb and recover the explosives and making a weapon, a mine or a Claymore or a land mine or whatever or an underwater mine. As I said before, they were using 500-pound bombs or 250-pound bombs and to be able to float that in to a target and use that and have a negative buoyancy is absolutely top spot on.
GM Pretty resourceful?
ME Very resourceful, particularly in our area, which was to do with the water and mainly booby trapping and EOD and making use of old batteries that the Yanks would throw away.
GM What do you think you learnt most as an individual as a person from your time there?
ME Probably not to trust anyone except myself [ME: yourself or another clearance diver]. I don’t know, you become very isolated I think, I am definitely a loner. You only tend to mix with people of your own level or standard. I can’t handle dickheads or fools or incompetence and that sort of thing. I have got no time for that, although I make a lot of [ME: a few] stuff ups myself, you know, but somehow… yeah.
GM Do you have any regrets about going to Vietnam?
ME No. I have been back probably about four times since the war.
GM Why have you gone back?
ME Looking for something, just by myself and now I have been back the fifth time and I went down south to Vung Tau to where we were based in the old cave up there and that was really, I sort of can’t explain that. And then was to go back down to the Delta in all these little canals [ME: and river ways] in a little boat. Putt, putt, putting up and down and I am sitting there going like this and taking pictures of everything on my movie camera. I have just taken photos of bamboo and nepa palms and all this sort of stuff and people are saying what have you got all this shit for, but it was great. It was a real experience and getting out and walking along the banks of these waterways because on a bit of a tour of course and somehow that has just closed the book. I have got no …[ME: ambition to go back, for a while at least]
GM It is a beautiful country.
ME It’s a beautiful country.
GM Just a shame people were shooting at us while we were there!
ME Yeah that’s right, and now they are getting the money out of you now. I tell you, geez, it is tourist-oriented.
GM Okay, was Australia’s involvement worth the effort and the lives that were lost?
ME Yeah, I think it was because I think you are still trained to do a job and so you were doing your best and I think the political side of it for whatever good or bad it was right at the time so, you know, so to me to analyse it and say we shouldn’t have been there is all bullshit. If you could turn back 30 years and take me back, I would do the same thing again. Definitely, definitely.
GM Is there anything that I haven’t covered in our interview today that you would like to talk about?
ME I think the other side of the clearance divers is pretty wild like you know, we used to get into some horrible shit.
GM Social animals?
ME Oh social animals, yeah.
GM Is that because it is so dangerous?
ME Probably because of the training and running hard in high gear all the time.
GM It is a fairly adrenaline-charged job.
ME Yeah it was, it certainly was, so we used to drink hard and play hard and we would work hard. We were always working and once you got a little bit of space and you would go down town, well shit it was on. Going into bars and trouble with Yank Shore Patrols they call them. We were in American uniform and they would ask, ‘Where are your leave passes?’ and we would say, ‘We don’t need a fucking leave pass. Get the Australian MPs down here’, you know, and so they would get the Australian MPs down and they would say we will look after these blokes. They would throw us in the back of the wagon and take us up the hill and we would sit up there and have a couple of beers. We got on great with them. And they reckoned we were great because we always gave them a beer and all this sort of stuff. We had a really good rapport with the MPs there because they used to drag us out of the shit all [ME: most] of the time.
GM With such a small team for that period of time, the bond between CDT 3 members who toured together must be fairly strong?
ME Yeah, it is pretty strong. I still see quite a bit of John. I spoke to him this morning, he always rings up and he asks how am I going and we have a beer together and we keep in pretty close touch. Vic is living down the Gold Coast – he’s got a bit of a health problem. Snow has really dropped out of it he has, sort of. No one can contact him or find him. Andy died about six or seven years ago, he had a heart attack, he was a wild man; he just partied himself to death. He made a lot of money see in abalone diving, so he was a pretty high roller. Cowboy is about 20 stone (130 kg) by now. Yeah, old Zeke and Hagan and a few others who did tours before me - I keep in touch with them, so yeah there is a hell of a bonding there, but every now and then you have got to get away. And a year or two later you come back again.
GM Okay, well I think I will stop there unless there is anything else you want to talk about?
ME No, I think there is a point in looking back, but after Vietnam, after six months period all the work up and trials you did and whatever, you went to Vietnam you did your job, you came back and suddenly there was a big hole, you know what I mean? And that hole never got filled again even after I left the Navy in 1973, it was nearly four years after and I went into training for other teams at EOD School and then I was Team 1 in New Guinea and I suppose in that exciting role. Then I got out of the Navy and there was a big void you know. So I did a bit of commercial diving and then I went overseas on the [ME: oil] rigs and again you sort of become a small group. I was diving on rigs for 12 –1 8 months and I thought this is not good enough either, there was no spark in it, it was boring. So then I thought what else and I saw the drill floor which is the drilling side of oil rigs which is real hard yakka and pretty full on, so I thought that’s it. So I got out of the diving and went onto the drilling side of it and remained on drilling up until 1990, I think, and I finished up I got malaria in India and I said that’s it, I am coming back here. So I came back here and I was bored shitless and got a job doing a bit of diving and then my marriage busted up and all the family went to hell but the kids - I still get on well with the kids - and so I just get on with my life. So that six months definitely changed me, yeah.
GM Interesting times.
ME Yeah and I am still looking for that. I belong to the Association here (Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia), but I get so frustrated because I don’t want to sit down and talk about the war, so I have got to do something. I have just come back from Vietnam a while back and then I went shooting out West next. Tuesday I am going up to Townsville shooting and fishing up there and then I am heading up to Cooktown and catch up with the veterans up there. Well I will leave there and come back down through central Queensland and go out to Adavale on the other side of Charleville and do some more shooting. So I have got to keep rolling.
GM Okay Michael, well thanks very much. It has been a great interview.
ME Has it?
End of Interview