Home' Army News : February 23rd 2017 Contents Operation Bribie
HE SNCO who fired the
first shots during Operation
Bribie said, 50 years on, he
still had mixed emotions
about what happened on the after-
noon of February 17, 1967.
Platoon sergeant of 2 Pl, A Coy,
Sgt Frank Alcorta said, on the one
hand, the battle was a disaster for his
platoon, which lost one third of its
force in the initial minutes of the
“On the other though, the courage
and fortitude of my soldiers still shines
through,” he said.
“My platoon, ably led by Lt
Graham Ackland, took the lead and
entered the thick bush.
“A few minutes later I saw a black-
clad Viet Cong soldier squatting under
a tree holding an AK47.
“I shot him and that was the shot
that began our ill-fated Battle of
“A section led by Cpl Vic Vickers
joined me and that’s when all hell
“We were met by heavy enemy fire,
which included machine guns, rocket-
propelled grenades and hand grenades.
“The section was decimated with
six soldiers, including Cpl Vickers,
a Korean War veteran and an abso-
lutely reliable and brave soldier, badly
“For a while it seemed as if not one
of us had a chance to survive the storm
of fire unleashed on us.”
Mr Alcorta said the fire was
so intense that everything around,
branches, leaves, even the underbrush,
appeared to be blowing away, while
not a single enemy was visible.
“I couldn’t see our platoon com-
mander anywhere or indeed any of my
soldiers, other than the few severely
wounded nearby, their moans of
anguish and pain hidden by the hor-
rific noise,” he said.
“It was about then that I made the
decision to stand up and shout, ‘show
your faces’, an act that attracted the
entrenched VC’s full attention.
“Miraculously I was not hit by the
torrent of bullets zipping around.
“From there on, what had been a
slaughterhouse increasingly became
a stand-off with no clear winners or
At this time, OC A Coy Maj Owen
O’Brien ordered 1 Pl to reinforce 2 Pl,
but they were unable to make it across
the field of fire.
Maj O’Brien then radioed Lt
Ackland with the order to withdraw.
Mr Alcorta said Lt Ackland asked
his men to pick up the wounded near
them and began the perilous march
back to CHQ on the edge of the jungle.
“This was a task easier said than
done because there were only 14 or
15 able diggers to carry six or perhaps
seven seriously wounded while fend-
ing off the fierce withering barrage
from the VC,” he said.
“One of our wounded, Pte Vibert,
a brave, conscientious and thoroughly
decent soldier, received another wound
during our withdrawal.
“As we withdrew, I found Pte
Laurie Bodey, a courageous soldier,
carrying my former machine gunner
Pte Ronnie Brett, the man who prob-
ably saved my life at Long Tan. One of
his legs had been shredded by machine
“Pte Bodey was of a slight build
and Pte Brett a lot heavier and so dif-
ficult to carry, so when I showed up in
the midst of the smoke and fog of the
encounter, he gratefully transferred Pte
Brett to me.”
Mr Alcorta said their battle didn’t
end when they made their way back
“While guarding BHQ after the
arrival of our CO Col Colin Townsend
I shot a sniper and, together with the
rest of the diggers in 2 Pl, fended off
repeated enemy forays,” he said.
“When night came we withdrew
from the battlefield with a heavy heart.
“Most certainly our platoon had
performed bravely but the reality was
our already depleted platoon of about
22 soldiers had lost one third of its
strength and had become little more
than a glorified section.”
Mr Alcorta later went to Vung Tau
to visit Pte Brett in hospital.
“His leg had been amputated near
the hip and he looked at me for a long
time,” he said.
“The light had gone out of his eyes.
I never saw him again.”
Lt Ackland was Mentioned in
Despatches (MID) for his leadership
during the battle.
Mr Alcorta was nominated for an
MID for his part in the battle, but later
received an MID for capturing a VC
officer “after a punch up in a creek”.
He received a belated Medal of
Gallantry in November 2015 for his
actions during the Battle of Long Tan
in August 1966, after being nominated
for a Military Medal at the time.
NS Pte Peter Arnold, 21, of Inverell, NSW
NS Pte Michael Birchell, 22, of Tamworth, NSW, KIA trying to save
two wounded mates during an assault on an enemy position
NS Tpr Victor Pomroy, 21, of Camberwell, Victoria, A Sqn, 3 Cav
Regt, RAAC, KIA when his APC was hit by recoilless rifle rounds
ARA Pte Adrian Rich, 21, of Morwell, Victoria
ARA Pte Wayne Riley, 19, of Perth, WA
ARA LCpl Kerry Rooney, 24, of Red Hill, Queensland, posthu-
mously Mentioned in Despatches
NS Pte Brian Waters, 21, of Guildford, WA
NS Pte David Webster, 21, of Corowa, NSW
ROLL OF HONOUR
Cpl Robin Jones, 5 Pl, B Coy
Pte Richard Odendahl, B Coy
Mentioned in Despatches
2Lt John O’Halloran, 5 Pl, B Coy
2Lt Graham Ackland, 2 Pl, A Coy
Pte Barry Bartsch, 5 Pl, B Coy
Pte Christopher Gannon, 6 Pl, B Coy
LCpl Kerry Rooney (posthumous),
LCpl David Thomas, 6 Pl, B Coy
February 23, 2017
FIERCE, FAST FIREFIGHT
HAVING served in Korea and later
in the Malayan Emergency, LCpl
Vic Otway got out of the Army in
1963 but went back for more in
After being left for dead during
Operation Bribie, he could be forgiv-
en for thinking it wasn’t his best idea.
He was wounded through both
thighs by the last round from a
machine gun burst during B Coy’s
initial assault and was left lying in
front of the Viet Cong position.
“I could hear my mates calling
out for me but I’m bloody glad I
never yelled out to them, otherwise
I’d have been dead meat,” he said.
Miraculous recovery from death
A FORMER national serviceman,
who posted to 6RAR and expe-
rienced his baptism of fire at the
Battle of Long Tan two days later,
was Mentioned in Despatches and
promoted to lance corporal as a
result of Operation Bribie.
Pte Dave Thomas was a forward
He said they had been told the
choppers would not be landing and
they should be ready to jump as the
choppers skimmed the paddy landing
“I jumped from chopper and land-
ed like a green frog in a bloody hard
paddy and made my way to the edge
of scrub on the right flank of A Coy,”
he said. “Smoke was being generated
from the initial A Coy contact and
there was some overshot of rounds
directed at landed troops.”
He said he was sent with Pte Barry
Fallon as early warning on the right
flank of A Coy.
“We weren’t long in position when
we noticed movement in the scrub, but
we couldn’t see the enemy, although
leaves were moving in the opposite
direction to the breeze,” he said.
“Pte Fallon was going to engage
them with his M-79, but I talked him
out of that idea; two against plenty is
not good odds. Then I noticed B Coy
forming up to move into the scrub and
we hastily rejoined the company.
“Our platoon was the reserve in
the assault that had started and just
as we re-joined, Pte Adrian Rich was
littered out to the landing zone – my
first thought was he was a goner.”
Mr Thomas said B Coy was now
committed to the assault and too far
advanced for him to report his obser-
vations to the OC.
“We were getting fire from our
rear and right flank,” he said.
“It was much more hectic than our
platoon assault back in Long Tan; we
couldn’t see anyone, but were receiv-
ing a horrendous amount of fire from
all angles after we’d passed through
the pinned-down 4 Pl position.
“When I heard the order to fix
bayonets, I thought the next best thing
was to create a bit of mayhem myself,
but without much success.”
At this stage Cpl Thomas and Cpl
Rutherford patched up a wounded
digger and carried him back to CHQ
“like a bag of spuds”, with machine
gun rounds dancing between them and
“I told OC B Coy to get the bloody
arty to stop hitting the trees, and told
him there were plenty of KIA and
WIA out the front.
“Then I scampered out to the front
again to find the others, eventually
getting there after much diving behind
Mr Thomas said he tried to pick
up his section 2IC LCpl Don Woolley,
who was wounded in the legs and
“I tried to get him in a fireman’s
carry but he wasn’t having that, so I
skull-dragged him back towards CHQ,
attracting plenty of attention from a
sniper,” he said.
“I was later Mentioned in
Despatches for that and was promoted
to lance corporal two days after the
The next morning, he was vol-
unteered to go with Pl Comd 5 Pl Lt
John O’Halloran as a guide for the
assaulting companies back into the
battle area and identify KIA.
“Remarkably, we found LCpl
Vic Otway, alive but WIA a couple
of times,” he said. “I identified LCpl
Mick Rooney, who was hit by napalm
during the night bombardment – not a
in thick of action
Sgt Frank Alcorta
Fifty years on, Sgt Dave Morley talks to
diggers who were part of the battle at
Hoi My in the Phuoc Tuy Province.
LCpl Vic Otway
When shot he had fallen to the
ground and discovered he was just
in front of an enemy bunker.
“I could hear the enemy talking
through the night – they were only
about 20m in front of me.
“As I was lying there I was really
hoping they wouldn’t find me.
“A couple of hours after I was
wounded in the thighs I was hit by
shrapnel below my left knee – that
was about 6pm and it was probably
from our own artillery. I was out
there on my own from about 4pm
to 8am the next morning.”
Fortunately, the VC showed
no interest in the bodies of the
Australians, lying in front of them.
“I knew from my time in the
Army that the blokes would do a
sweep next morning and I’d be
found then,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to move enough
to get a drink of water, but early the
next morning I was able to move
about 70m back to where we’d
started from and lay in a crater
there until they picked me up about
“I felt pretty good when the
blokes found me that morning and
they were pretty happy to find me
they said, ‘thank God, there’s
Mr Otway was sent back to
Australia about 10 days after he
He stayed in the Army until
1974 working in recruiting around
Pte Dave Thomas
A MEDIC who volunteered to assist
B Coy when they needed help most
was shot by a sniper just metres
from B Coy, CHQ, and then wounded
again while being casevac’d.
Cpl Doug Henderson, of HQ Coy,
6RAR, recalled flying in to Operation
“I was looking down from the
chopper and commented to the
bloke next to me, ‘my God, this looks
like the real thing’,” he said.
“We could see what turned out to
be B Coy entering a forest area and
engaging the enemy.
“At this point, A Coy had already
been under fire and had sustained
some casualties. We landed and
started to set up an aid post.”
Mr Henderson had only been on
the ground a short time when 2IC
B Coy Capt Ted Stevenson arrived
with two diggers carrying a wounded
He said, sadly, by the time they
got to him, the digger had died.
“Capt Stevenson told me B Coy
had sustained heavy casualties and
needed another medic, so the four
of us made our way back to B Coy’s
position,” he said.
“It seemed to take ages to get
there and, at one point, we saw
some enemy to our right and in front
of us, but we didn’t engage them
because Capt Stevenson said it was
more important to get back to CHQ
with a medic.
“I didn’t actually make contact
with OC B Coy Maj Mackay, as on
our arrival we came under heavy fire
and I joined with the diggers and got
on with my job.”
At this stage Mr Henderson
received a gunshot wound to the leg,
fired from a sniper above and behind
him, as he sought cover behind a
thin tree with one of his mates.
“After treating my wound with a
field dressing and a shot of mor-
phine, I just got on with it,” he said.
“Some hours later, in the early
evening, two APCs arrived.
“I remember getting into an APC
with other wounded diggers and
continuing to comfort and treat them.
“Suddenly everything went white,
a bit like looking through frosted
glass or fog.
“My ears were screaming with the
noise of the explosion and I remem-
ber making my way to the rear of the
APC – the door was still down.
“I was conscious my face was
wet, but I wasn’t yet aware I had
damage to my eye as I could still
see from my other eye.
“I likewise had little awareness of
the extent of my shrapnel wounds,
unlike my earlier gunshot wound that
hurt like hell immediately.”
Mr Henderson stumbled out of
the carrier and collapsed on the
He said his leg was shredded.
“Lying on the ground, I recall see-
ing the first APC reversing out from
in front and Capt Stevenson quickly
rolled me out of the way and saved
me from being run over,” he said.
“My next memory was being
loaded into a chopper – it was now
nightfall – and I was flown to the US
36 Evac Hospital in Vung Tau and
from there to an American hospital
“After about a week in hospital, I
was returned to 2 Fd Hosp in Vung
Tau and then tightly packed onto a
Hercules with more than 50 other
“We landed at RAAF Base
Richmond and were moved to 2 Mil
Hosp in Ingleburn.”
He spent 10 or 11 months in 2
He said, while he had lost an eye,
he was relieved he was able to walk
out of hospital once recovered.
“I could walk and I could see and
that was pretty good,” he said.
Double dose for brave medic
Cpl Doug Henderson
Australian diggers unload mortar bombs from a No. 9 Sqn Iroquois helicopter during Operation Bribie.
Photos: Australian War Memorial
Maj Ian Mackay,
tactics with US
Army Lt-Col William
Pte Leo Kucks and
Sgt Frank Alcorta
on patrol during
Pte Dave Thomas, left, with Pte Barry Fallon at Nui Dat the day after
Photo courtesy Dave Thomas
Members of 6RAR stand near A Sqn, 3 Cav Regt, APCs in a dry paddy field during Operation Bribie.
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