History Overview

40th Anniversary Battle of Coral/Balmoral Reunion

Operation Toan Thang
(Final Victory)


Signals in Vietnam
This remarkable painting "Signals in Vietnam" proudly hangs at the Defence Force Signal of Schools (DFSS),
Watsonia.   The painting is a representation of Signal Units deploying to support HQ 1ATF
after Operation Toan Thang, using the lessons learnt from FSPB Coral and Balmoral.  

Signals at Coral

(Edited from Chapter 6 - Pronto in South Vietnam 1962-1972)

Operations by 1 ATF increased in size and in distance from Nui Dat during 1967.  Then during the period 24th January - 2nd March 1968, Operation COBURG was conducted in Bien Hoa Province some 50 kilometres from Nui Dat.  It was the most extensive operation independently undertaken by 1 ATF since its arrival in South Vietnam and it involved the main headquarters of 1 ATF being away from its base longer than on any previous occasion. 


Photo 6.6 - 104 Signal Squadron reconnaissance group for Operation COBURG. 
From left - Sig Robert Parkyns, ?, Maj Norm Munro, ?, Sig Geoffrey Molineaux and ? (1968)
 


Photo 6.7 - 104 and 110 Signal Squadron vehicles at start point Nui Dat for deployment on Operation Toan Thang.   Note first truck (21/2 ton) AN/MTC-7 and AN/MGC-17 Shelters,
second truck  (5 ton) AN/MRC-69 Shelter (April 1968)

The lessons learned by 104 Signal Squadron from this operation were put to good use in Operation TOAN THANG 25th April - 6th June 1968.  This operation in turn exceeded COBURG in size and distance from Nui Dat (80 kilometres). 

Initially 1 ATF operated with two battalions about 15 kilometres east of Long Binh on Highway One in Long Khan Province and one battalion in the Nui Dat area in Phuoc Tuy Province.  HQ 1 ATF (Main) was established at a US Army base BEARCAT and the communications were much the same as for Operation COBURG. 

On 12th May 1968 major elements of 1 ATF were airlifted into an area north of Saigon eventually to be known as Fire Support Patrol Base (FSPB) Coral.  This was to intercept the movement of 7 NVA Division to Saigon and cut off its withdrawal.  The advance party of HQ 1 ATF included Major Norm Munro, OC 104 Signal Squadron and 5 other ranks from the Squadron.  This TF HQ advance party had to establish a task force headquarters area. 

The party was landed some 1500 metres from the proposed headquarters location and so the small signals element had to manpack its equipment which was to operate initially as a substation on the task force command net.  This was no mean task as the equipment included an RT-524 radio (the receiver/transmitter of the vehicular borne AN/VRC-12 series VHF equipment), 150 amp hour batteries, 300 watt charger, RC-292 antenna, AN/GRA-39 remote control unit and an AN/PRC-25 radio.  It was an effort to prove well worthwhile.  Early on the morning of 13th May 1968 the base came under attack from enemy mortar, rocket and small arms fire, causing signals casualties to men and equipment (including the RC-292 antenna).  Temporary repairs enabled the radio station to remain operational and it was the means by which Spooky (DC3 aircraft equipped with illumination and six miniguns) and helicopter gunships (Light Fire Teams) were called in to support the units under attack.  The FSPB Coral being partly over-run by the enemy during this action.  Signalman Gamble was WIA during the fighting. 

The main body of 1 ATF arrived later on 13th May 1968 bringing the strength of the signals group to 51 including two 3 man detachments from 110 Signal Squadron and the 7 man detachment of  53 Signal Battalion (US Army).  Also a three man detachment from 547 Signal Troop arrived by air in this period.

Signals began digging in, including bulldozing 2 metre deep holes for the signal centre and VHF radio bunker.  Next day an unexpected rain storm flooded the radio bunker swamping most of the radio equipment, but after draining the water out all operated satisfactorily.  The signal centre was also flooded but not so badly. 


Diagram 6.1 - Communications Operation TOAN THANG (May 1968)

At 0240 hours on 16th May 1968 an NVA regimental attack was launched against FSPB Coral.  It started with 50 minutes of mortar and rocket barrage which included the signals area and was followed up by ground attacks, one enemy party coming within 50 metres of the signals perimeter which was directly protecting the task force command post.  The enemy finally broke contact at 0645 hours.  Signalman Alex Young was KIA during this action and two other Signalmen (John Koosache and Ian Crosthwaite) were WIA. 

Signals at FSPB Coral - May 1968
Signals at Fire Support Patrol Base Coral by Denis Hare

Painting Left: 104 Sig Sqn SIGCEN (Signal Centre) bunker that has the Telegraph Circuits and the Switchboard “Ebony Forward”. The Terminal Telegraph Shelter AN/MGC-17 is buried in the bunker with the encryption equipment still installed but the teleprinters are dismounted on tables in the bunker. In the bunker are the operators manning the equipment and technicians to keep the equipment running. Its a very hot work area. SDS (Signals Delivery Service) operates from the bunker to all the other units at the FSPB.    Behind the bunker is the 11 x 11 tent housing the 104 Sig Sqn COMMS CON (Communication Control) , with overhead protection in the tent. The Antennas in the bunker area are RC-292 for the VHF Command and other Radio Nets.

Painting Centre:  The 104 Sig Sqn Signalman is manning one of the fighting pits with a M60 machine gun and has a K Phone connected back to COMMS CON. He may have just completed a 12 hour shift manning either communication equipment, running line or sandbagging the communication faculties or line runs. After his turn on the gun he has to do more work on his own underground sleeping bay and get some sheep before his next 12 hour shift in a few hours.

Painting Right: Radio Terminal AN/MRC-69, with its Mk5 Truck from 110 Sig Sqn, providing the multi-channel voice links back to Nui Dat. It’s “Pan Cake” antenna was used as an aiming point by the enemy to direct mortar and rocket fire into the Signal and HQ areas. The Shelter has sandbags over the air vents to stop light at night.

The Deputy Commander of 1 ATF at the time wrote later. "For a period of approximately three weeks the task force was exposed to some of the heaviest fighting seen by Australians in Vietnam.  Throughout these engagements' and a number of subsequent attacks by fire, the signals squadron not only held their ground but continued to maintain communications". 

  
Photo 6.9 (left) - Entrance to 1 RAR CP at FSPB Coral (1968)
Photo 6.10 (right) - Weapons captured at FSPB Coral by 1 RAR - Sig Robert Parkyns
 M16 Rifle on the pile (1968) | All the other weapon owners are dead!

Subsequently FSPB Coral was developed and new bunkers constructed, radio relay vehicles lowered and bunkered and strong defences developed.  Three more mortar/rocket attacks were experienced but damage was limited to soft equipment and exposed cables. 

Operation TOAN THANG tested the task force signal squadron under most contingencies likely to arise in the theatre.  Whilst maintaining all communications facilities at Nui Dat base, it undertook a deployment from Nui Dat to one field base (Bearcat) and from there to another base (Coral) in an enemy controlled area.  It required the provision of the full range of communications facilities available to the squadron, and it involved maintenance of communications whilst under enemy fire.  It is a credit to those concerned that at no time was there a loss of command communications.  This saved many Australian lives.

  
Photo 6.11 (left) - 1 RAR Switchboard (SB-22) at FSPB Coral (1968)
Photo 6.12 (right) - 1 RAR and Radio Detachment (104 Signal Squadron) returning
 to Nui Dat from FSPB Coral (1968)

110 Signal Squadron

110 Signal Squadron had two detachments in support of the communication effort at FSPB Coral.  One Radio Relay (RR) and the other Secure Radio Teleprinter (RATT).  The RR bearer equipment was a AN/MRC-69 Radio Terminal Shelter System under the command of Cpl Mal Stevens. The Shelter took a number of hits and the enemy used the "pancake" antenna to direct rockets and mortar into the Signals and HQ area.

The Secure RATT was commanded by Cpl Trevor Chell and used a Radio Set AN/GRC-106 as its HF bearer. 

It was at the time of the action at FSPB Coral that 110 Signal Squadron was also most extended.  It was operating in 9 locations, including several detachments in support of communications to Coral, in which 23 men were involved.  During this period the availability of the radio relay trunk bearer system to HQ 1 ATF (Main) averaged 97.5%.  Again, a highly creditable performance, but this forward communications task of 110 Signal Squadron represented only a small part of all the facilities it had to continue to provide at the same time. 

547 Signal Troop

Operating from FSPB Coral was a detachment from 547 Signal Troop that did valuable Signals Intelligence (Sigint).  Is worth noting that on the advice of 547 Signal Troop, Comd 1 ATF changed his initial insertion point for the Coral operation. The first planned insertion point was considered dangerously close to an NVA regiment, in fact probably on top of it! 

The Troop deployed a three man detachment under the command of Sgt Jim Brill (RA Sigs) by air into Coral on 13th May 1968.  Jim’s detachment members were Sgt Fred Hawkes (RA Sigs) and Cpl Tom Williams (Aust Int Corps). Jim and Fred were highly skilled Morse code radio operators and radio traffic analysts and Tom was a Vietnamese linguist and cryptographer. Their limited equipment consisted of two VHF and two HF receivers with power supplies. On arrival at the Fire Support Patrol Base they set up within 104 Signal Squadron’s defence position alongside Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force (Tactical) and commenced radio intercept operations, initially above ground, but  everything was moved underground immediately after the first ground attack against them. Between being mortared, rocketed and defending the headquarters, the detachment intercepted many High Frequency enemy radio networks and recorded them, but the main prize sought, which was enemy VHF voice radio communications using low level codes or ciphers, eluded them for they were few and far between. The fruits of their labour were returned to Nui Dat for detailed analysis, being carried by the Troop OC, Maj Peter Murray, and 2IC, Capt Steve Zagon, who took it in turns to fly between Nui Dat and Coral. They also carried into Coral signals intelligence obtained from other sources for the Task Force commander.

After six days Jim’s detachment was exhausted and a fresh team replaced them under the command of Cpl Ken Trewartha (RA Sigs). Ken’s detachment members were Cpl John Hunter (Aust Int Corps) and L/Cpl Snowy Turner (RA Sigs). The new detachment continued to dig and intercept enemy radio communications around the clock, always hoping for the main prize, but to no avail on this occasion.

The battle of Coral showed that for future deployments the Troop had to be better equipped to carry out its task away from the specialist set room at Nui Dat. Five months later the Troop was issued with its own Armored Command Vehicle (Callsign 85D).   

Footnote: 

104 Signal Squadron had radio detachments with 1RAR and 3RAR at FSPB's Coral, Coogee and Balmoral.  Also radio operators were with 1 Field Squadron at Coral and 161 (Indep) Recce Flt at Phu Loi.   Members of 104 Signal Squadron went forward to Balmoral with HQ 1 ATF.  Other members of 104 Signal Squadron provided a VHF retrans station from Bearcat and a radio operator provided communications to 1 ATF while the Australian tanks traveled to  FSPB Coral from Nui Dat on the 22nd and 23rd May 1968.  

104 Sig Sqn was also issued its own Armored Command Vehicle (Callsign 85C) as a result of the lessons for the battle and all future deployments had the COMCEN and Switchboard (Ebony Forward) equipments mounted in the vehicle.

Names of Signals Veterans at the Battles of Coral and Balmoral (PDF)
List prepared by Denis Hare from discussions with each Signal Veteran
as no records from the battle period have survived - Updated May 2015/2016

Royal Australian Corps of Signals at Coral/Balmoral (PDF)
Prepare by Denis Hare for Press and Web - 30 March 2008

Communication Report Op Toan Thang (Bearcat/Coral) (PDF)
After Action Report prepared by Maj Norm Munro (OC, 104 Sig Sqn) Jun 1968


Super 8 Film from FSPB Coral

Movie Clip taken from Super 8 of 104 Sig Sqn at FSPB Coral - WMV (4.6MB)
Film taken by Alan Ball shows the road party moving to the FSPB (Note the Shelters),
 some members of the unit, Tanks arriving and the mud.

The scene frames below are time stamped and have the names, details, etc.




 0.12 Seconds - Sig Alan "Bally" Ball (Driver)
00m 12s
Sig Alan "Bally" Ball (Driver)
0.15 Seconds - Sig Ken "Blue" McDonald (Radio Op) plus AN/MGC-17 and AN/MTC-7 Shelters
00m 15s
Sig Ken "Blue" McDonald (Radio Op) plus AN/MGC-17 and AN/MTC-7 Shelters
0.17 Seconds - Sig Stan "Monty" Montefiore (TG Mech) guarding during convoy stop
00m 17s
Sig Stan "Monty" Montefiore (TG Mech) guarding during convoy stop
0.27 Seconds - Sgt John Taylor (Radio Op)
00m 27s
Sgt John Taylor (Radio Op)
           




0.29 Seconds - Sgt Scott Laycock (Stores)
00m 29s
Sgt Scott Laycock (Stores)
0.35 Seconds - Sgt Sidney "Danny" Kaye (Comcen)
00m 35s
Sgt Sidney "Danny" Kaye (Comcen)
0.38 Seconds - WO2 Ron Still (SSM)
00m 38s
WO2 Ron Still (SSM)
0.41 Seconds - Right: LCpl Mal Fergusson (Radio Op/Comcen) - others ?
00m 41s
Right: LCpl Mal "Blue"  Fergusson (Radio Op/Comcen)
           







0.43 Seconds - Sig Ian Crosthwaite (Radio Op) WIA at FSPB Coral
00m 43s
Sig Ian Crosthwaite (Radio Op) WIA at FSPB Coral
0.46 Seconds - Left: Sig Bob Lowick - Right: member of US Army 53rd Sig Bn
00m 46s
Left: Sig Bob Lowick - Right: member of US Army 53rd Sig Bn     
1.02 Seconds - Australian Centurion Tanks arriving at FSPB Coral 01m 02s
Australian Centurion Tanks arriving at FSPB Coral
1.24 Seconds - Cpl Denis "Rabbit" Hare (Draughtman) - Also driver in the last scene
01m 24s
Cpl Denis "Rabbit" Hare (Draughtman) - Also driver in the last scene
 

Other Docements of Interest

1ATF OPS35, FRAG 0 No6 to OpO 19/68 (Op Toan Thang) 10 May 1968 (PDF)
Deployment to Coral includes Enemy Situation at 10 May 1968, etc

1ATF (FWD) Enemy Situation AO Surfers (PDF)
Updates at 22 and 29 May 1968

1ATF Road and Air Movement from Coral/Balmoral (PDF)
Details include Signals in Convoy 46/68 (3 Jun 1968) and Convoy 50C/68 (5/6 Jun 1968)

Signal Instruction 3/68 (Op Toan Thang - Bearcat) (PDF)

Signal Instruction 5/68 (Op Toan Thang - FSPB Coral) (PDF)

Signal Instruction 6/68 (Op Toa Thang - Abandon FSPB Coral) (PDF)


Letter from Vietnam

 Signalman Ken Short wrote this three page letter to his sister during the period from Long Binh and FSPB Coral.  Ken was part of the 110 Sig Sqn RATT Detachment and replaced one of the original detachment members Medivac.

Letter Page 1 (PDF)    Letter Page 2 (PDF)   Letter Page 3 (PDF)


AO Surfers and Surfers II Map

Map showing AO Surfers and AO Surfers II.  North from Saigon.
Click for JPEG map (670K) of Battles of Coral and Balmoral areas, which is also marked up with AO Surfers and AO Surfers II.  Also the location of 161 (Indep) Recce Flt at Phu Loi.
Saigon also on Map.
 


Go to top of page