During the Vietnam War wounded were generally speedily evacuated by helicopter. If war movies are to be believed, scarcely has a soldier been hit before a medical evacuation helicopter appeared over the horizon.
But sometimes the reality was quite different. This recording shows how difficult medical evacuation could be.
To follow the action, print out the text file which lists the radio call signs and the units they represent, then click on the audio file.
This recording contains graphic descriptions which, together with the actual sounds of battle in the background, may be disturbing to some Vietnam veterans. Those who choose to proceed further and listen to the recording do so at their own risk.
"Recording of contact with enemy"
During the Vietnam War wounded were generally speedily evacuated by helicopter. But this recording, made in 1969 during a contact between Australian troops and the enemy, shows how, on occasion, medical evacuation could quite difficult. The tape has been edited to compress time - the whole event takes place over about an hour to an hour and a half.
Events begin as 7 Platoon, C Company, whose call sign is Three-One, is about to make a routine report. You will hear in the background the first rifle shots being fired and Three-One reporting 'contact', meaning the platoon has encountered enemy forces.
Three-Zero, Three-One (sounds of rifle fire) Contact! Over.
Three-Zero, Contact. Out.
Bushranger Seven-One. This is Niner. Did you acknowledge Three-One's contact. Over.
Niner, Seven-One, we acknowledge.
Three-Zero, Three-Zero, this is Three-One. Hit casualties. Over
Roger, roger. Out.
Three-One now calls for a 'dustoff'', the codeword for a helicopter medical evacuation.
Three-Zero, Three-One. Dustoff. Over.
Roger, Got you.
Niner, this is Bushranger Seven-One. We will arrange through our means for a dustoff.
This is Three-One. Over.
Two/three casualties. Dustoff. Over.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero. Yes, we've got you. We've got dustoff standing by.
Three-Zero, this is Three-One. Can we get gunships in? Over.
Roger. Are you able to pull back and allow the Bushranger to go in?
This is Three-One. Roger.
This is Three-One, can we get dustoff now? Over.
Yes, no problems. What's the situation with cas? Over.
This is Three-One. Two bad. Over.
This is Niner. Tell Three-One to get those casualties back towards your loc as far as he can, so if he can move back we can get the Bushrangers in, (unintelligible) but get those casualties back where they can be safely dusted off. Over.
Roger. Yes, I've got him extracting himself now and as soon as he gets them back, we'll call in dustoff.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero. Start pulling yourself back and getting those casualties out and we'll be standing by with dustoff.
This is Three-One. Roger. We're firing (unintelligible) to get the other blokes back. Over.
Roger. What are your cas? All litter or two litter and one sitting?
This is Three-One. (Sound of firing in background). Both will finish up being litter, I think. Over.
Have you got two at this stage?
This is Three-One. Roger. One very bad. Over.
But things are not going as smoothly as hoped. Niner, the commanding officer, who is overhead in a helicopter, has to leave the area because he is running out of fuel, and Seven-One, the airborne light fire team, is no better off. Unless something can be done quickly, the troops on the ground could be left with no air support.
Bushranger Seven-One, this is Niner, We have to leave this loc now. Thank you very much for your assistance. Would you keep talking to callsign Three and Three-One and do what you can until the other fire team arrives. Over.
Bushranger Seven-One. Roger. We'll have to leave in about two zero minutes due to fuel problems.
That's understood. Thank you. (unintelligible)This is Niner. Would you acknowledge that and tell Three-One that if he can get smoke down as soon as possible, they've only got two zero minutes and at least they can fire to his east. Over.
While this radio conversation has been going on, the troops have been fighting for their lives. Three-Zero now attempts to call Three-One to pass on Niner's message.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero, over.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero, over.
Three-One, Three-One, this is Three-Zero, this is Three-Zero, over.
This is Three-One (sounds of rifle fire). Dustoff to our rear. Over.
Three-Zero, get them up here. We have dustoff arranged and we can do it as soon as you get up here. Over.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero. If you can tell your Sunray as soon as he is clear enough he can throw smoke and we can get the Bushranger to come in. Bushranger hasn't got terribly much more left with him. Over.
Niner, roger. Wait out.
Three-One, we need bushranger now! Over.
Three-One, I'll throw smoke now.
Ah, roger. Three-One, what direction from your smoke will it be?
Three-Zero, this is Three-One (sounds of rifle fire) Throw smoke, throw smoke, now. Over.
Roger. Bushranger is on his way.
What distance from the smoke, Three-One?
Three-One, (sounds of rifle fire) they are assaulting against us. Over.
Roger, how far are they from the smoke and we'll get the Bushranger straight in.
Three-One, I don't know how far they are from the smoke. Over.
Three-One, Bushranger Seven-One. We're rolling in twenty seconds. We'll start about 50 to 100 metres out initially.
Joe, could you bring him in 50 metres in front of the smoke?
No sidegun suppression on this.
Three-One, Bushranger Seven-One's rolling in now.
Bushranger makes a pass at the enemy, firing at them to try to break up the attack. Three-One asks Three-Zero how effective the strafing run had been.
Three-Zero, Three One - Three-One, Three-Zero. How was that?
Three-One. That's lovely. Over.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero. Are you moving back under that fire?
Three-One, withdrawing now. Over.
Three-One, this is Three-Zero. How far away are you from our loc?
Three-One, it's approximately 1-5-0 from your loc. Over.
Roger. Are you withdrawing now?
Three One, we're getting our - this callsign in. Over.
Roger. (sound of firing in background)
(open mic - sound of gunfire)
As it attempts to withdraw to evacuate the wounded, C Company is still pressed hard by the enemy. Three-One asks if the evacuation can be made from the area it has managed to attain.
This is Three-One. We're approximately 1-5-0 to your 1-600. Over.
Ah, Roger. Are you having problems? Do you think you can make it to this loc?
That would be better this way because they can keep the other bloke's head down.
This is … (sounds of firing and shouting) this is Three-One, roger. (speaker is breathing hard from exertion) We'll move back. Over.
Will that be OK for winching?
This is Three-One. It'll have to be. We've got a bloke walking here who shouldn't be walking. Over.
Three, Bushranger Seven-One.
Seven-One, this is Three. Go.
Roger. Will the area for the dustoff be secure or will you require a light fire team?
Three-Zero, I suggest a light fire team. We'll be winching and I don't feel too happy about the whole area.
Roger. What's the expected time before they're at the LZ for the dustoff?
Probably about 1-5.
Roger. We'll have to return to refuel now and we're also out of ammo. We may be able to get you a light fire team.
At this stage now we're vacating the area.
Can you get another party in? Over.
Wait out. I think Bushranger Seven-One said he'd try. Is that correct? Over.
That's affirmative. We'll try and organise another one. It would be at least two zero minutes before we could get back.
Niner, I'm back on station now.
Niner, this is Three. They are evacuating the casualty. They are having (sound of firing in background) a bit of a fight on their hands as they evacuate right now.
(unintelligible) Bushranger (unintelligible)
Roger. We're returning now to refuel. Has another light fire team been organised for these people?
Seven-One, Eight. That's a negative at this stage. I have organised fuel for you.
Roger. They'll probably require a light fire team to cover the dustoff and it'll probably take us about two-zero to refuel and rearm before we can get back into the area at least.
Roger. I will inform.
For Bushranger Seven-One time has run out - he must return to refuel and rearm - but no replacement light fire team has been arranged. For the present, or at least until Bushranger can come back, the troops are on their own. The recording resumes as Bushranger Seven-One returns … .
Three. Bushranger Seven-One. We're back in the area now.
Bushranger Seven-One. Good to see you back. Do you think you'll be able to do a run while dustoff is in progress to keep their heads down for us? We've got Dustoff One here with us now. Do you want Three-Three to throw smoke?
Ah, that's affirmative to identify his position again.
This is Three-Three. Smoke thrown. Over.
I've got green smoke at three o'clock
This is Albatross Nine, Dustoff Two.
Dustoff Two, this is Three-Zero. We've got a contact in the area right now. I think you'd better hold while Bushranger Seven-One comes in.
Roger. Three-One, if you can throw smoke.
Smoke thrown. Over.
Roger. What colour smoke do you see? Over.
Roger. I've got purple smoke. Over.
That's affirmative. Be my guest.
Dustoff, this is Three Charlie, I'll punch smoke for you now over.
Dustoff Two, Dustoff Two, this is Three Charlie, do you see the smoke for Bushranger? Well, that's us. Can you come in on it? Over.
Charlie from Nine Dustoff Two. Understand I'm to come to your location.
Roger. I'll follow you.
Dustoff, this is Three Charlie. Do you see the smoke I threw for Bushranger? That is where I am with the medivac. Over.
The Stokes litter or the jungle penetrator first?
Charlie, jungle penetrator first. Over.
Charlie, Bushranger Seven-One. Be rolling in in twenty seconds. We're running in from the south west to the north east.
Roger, watch out for our dustoff as you probably know, Out.
Dustoff One, this is Three-Charlie, that man's fairly bad. He's got a hole right into chest above the heart. (sound of firing) We're taking fire -get out, get out, Dustoff!
Dustoff's getting fired at.
Get that chopper out of the way, you're being fired at! Dustoff, piss off!
We're taking tracer pretty heavy from that position, now.
Bushranger Seven-One, can you bring them in? Dustoff was fired at then.
Roger, If Three-One will throw smoke, we'll suppress.
Three-One, we are giving covering fire. Over.
Dustoff, be careful with those guns, we're down here too. Over.
(Sound through open mike of helicopter approaching and sustained rapid machine gun fire.)
At this point the recording tape runs out, however, the Dustoff helicopter was eventually able to get in and evacuate the wounded soldiers. They were airlifted to a hospital where they recovered.
Despite being made over thirty years ago, this recording remains a powerful reminder of the dangers faced by Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War.
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