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Logistics in Vietnam - Bruce Young     [anyone can contribute to or correct this article]

This is a background article on the system that maintained W3 Coy while the Company was deployed in the bush on operations.  Military logistics is the planning for and the movement and maintenance of military forces.  Closer to the operational units it is today commonly called Combat Service Support [CSS].  The roles of land CSS cover transport, deployed medical support, supply to deployed forces, repair for deployed forces, and movement support.  Deployed medical support for W3 Coy has been covered in a separate article here.   This article generally covers supply to deployed forces.

Put simply, a soldier deployed into the bush needed a lot of 'stuff' to be effective:  broad categories of 'stuff' are weapons, radios, ammunition, clothing, water, food, camping equipment, load carrying equipment, specialist equipment, sometimes fuel, spare parts et al.  The 'stuff' was normally made or packaged differently to domestic equivalents and this meant it was probably supplied from the home country or a suitable alternative source.  Volumes of 'stuff' for a brigade group equivalent formation like 1ATF were also quite high, perhaps hundreds of tonnes per month [particularly artillery ammunition and fuel].  While the Australian forces in Vietnam were equipped with Australian scale items to a unique Australian table of equipment with items sourced either nationally or from several different countries they were entirely maintained by the Australian land CSS organisation.  Examples of the mixture of equipment are: rifles were UK-designed but MG were US M-60, light fixed-wing aircraft were Swiss, 81mm mortars were a mixture of US barrels and tripod but UK base plate and sight, British Centurion main battle tank, etc.

To cover the scale of the logistic effort properly this article is broken into two parts:

Part 1.     How supplies reached 1ATF in their base in Nui Dat Vietnam; and
Part 2.     How supplies reached W3 Coy in the field from Nui Dat.

Part 1 - How the supplies reached 1ATF in Vietnam

Two logistic systems combined to support the Australian Forces in Phuoc Tuy Province.  The major effort was provided by the US Army.  From 1965, HQ MACV [Military Assistance Command Vietnam] had assumed responsibility for the majority of logistic support for the Free World Military Assistance Force units, including units from Australia and New Zealand.  In a unique arrangement, different from the other 'free world' forces, the provision of US supplied equipment and consumerables to 1ATF was paid for in full through a financial agreement with the New Zealand and Australian governments.  [click for reference on the US logistic effort in Vietnam]

Logistic support for 1ATF entered the Australian logistic system on receipt at 1ALSG based at Vung Tau. The US supplied 1ALSG with almost all the combat ammunition and other explosive devices required by 1ATF [a likely exception the Centurion 20-pdr main gun ammunition] from their ammunition depots in the Delta area, principally Long Binh and a large ammunition supply point at Vung Tau.  Combat ammunition covers artillery ammunition, infantry small-arms ammunition, mines, rocket launchers, hand grenades, whatever.  The majority of ammunition entered Vietnam through Saigon docks and was moved by barge around the Delta. Ships also discharged into barges at Vung Tau.

The US Army also supplied 1ATF with their ‘A’ ration scale [in the US Army meaning a meal prepared using fresh ingredients] but "supplemented with marmalade and local purchase items" which was served by sub-unit chefs in unit messes in Nui Dat.  Also supplied were significant numbers of US Army combat 'C' rations and supplementary packs. The ‘C’ ration was intended for troops deployed away from bases for up to 21-days and had a caloric value of 3700 but the Australian combat ration pack was mixed in with the ‘C’ rations to provide better variety . The supplementary pack contained items not fully used within a day, such as toiletries, cigarettes, sweets, writing paper and clothing repair kits [called ‘housewife’ by the soldiers]. More ration information can be found here.

Australian logistic systemHMAS Sydney off-loading at anchor off Vung Tau port [internet]  click picture for another photo of the ship unloading
Logistic support not from the US Army was supplied from Australia under arrangements coordinated by Army HQ Melbourne.
 [Some minor items were supplied to the two New Zealand infantry companies from 1RNZIR stocks or local purchase in Singapore.]  The heavy items and bulk lots of equipment and consumerables were shipped into Vung Tau by the Royal Australian Navy.  The converted aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY transported Army personnel and equipment to and from Vietnam from May 1965 until November 1972. This ship, affectionately known to Australian veterans as the "Vung Tau Ferry", became a temporary home for some 16,000 Australian military personnel as they deployed to and from Vietnam.  In 25 round trips SYDNEY transported 5,733 tons of cargo [including explosives], 2,375 vehicles and 14 aircraft as well as the troops and steamed some 345,000 nautical miles.  Two merchant ships from the Australian National Line JEPARIT and BOONAROO also provided logistic support to the Australian forces in Vietnam, being seconded for legal reasons and temporarily commissioned as HMAS JEPARIT and HMAS BOONAROO during their tour of duty.  Resupply problems were experienced in Vietnam in later years (1968-1970) when ordnance stores and other defence supplies were delayed on the wharves in Sydney as a direct result of union dock strikes. These strikes affected not only operational activities but also interfered with the troops' comfort and recreation in that commodities, such as beer, were not arriving in theatre  [a postal strike at the end of 1969 so infuriated the Australian troops that those returning to Australia about this time all swore to 'punch a postie for Christmas'].


HMAS Sydney off-loading at anchor off Vung Tau port [internet] click picture for another photo of the ship unloading

Local Purchase.  In a bid to reduce the sheer bulk of stores required from Australia the Australian local purchase staff in Saigon procured commercially available items such as furniture, industrial gases, construction materials, stationery, steel piping and kitchen utensils; more than A$1 million was spent annually on these commodities.
'sexy' photo of Composite Ordnance Depot Vung Tau armoured & other spare vehicles park [Philp] (sexy as in all other COD facilities were warehouses)
Ordnance Chain.  The ordnance resupply system to 1ATF was based on the Ordnance Field Park [OFP] at Nui Dat providing direct or second line support, with the Composite Ordnance Depot, 1ALSG Vung Tau, providing general or third line support [stores held within a unit in Nui Dat were called 1st line].  All bulk supplies of ordnance stores and equipments were first delivered by whatever means to the Composite Ordnance Company. 

'sexy' photo of Composite Ordnance Depot Vung Tau armoured and other spare vehicles park [Philp] (sexy as in all other COD facilities were warehouses)

Categories of Demand.  There were three categories of supply demands; being Routine, Service or Staff demands. A Routine demand was submitted in the form of a request on the OFP. If the stores could not be provided from either the OFP at Nui Dat or the Composite Ordnance Depot, or from within US stocks held at Vung Tau, a signal demand would be referred back to Army HQ in Melbourne in order to satisfy the requirement.  The stores from Australia could then be delivered by military aircraft or by ship into Vung Tau according to operational priority.

Delivery.  Equipment requested on a routine demand was delivered from 1ALSG to the OFP for redistribution, or if required direct to units by Australian 2nd line transport.  Service demands covered the whole range of stores and supplies and were solely for use by 1ATF [ANZAC] units in the Nui Dat region.  These service demands were sub-categorised into maintenance demands, priority maintenance demands and operational demands.  The crucial point about the types of demands was the timing allowed for their processing - a maintenance demand delivery may be required within 48 hours of submission of that demand on the ordnance unit or depot.  Priority maintenance demands were requisitions for stores which had to be delivered to the unit within 24 hours of the identified need and operational demands were urgent requests requiring immediate action and delivery.  Obviously the operational demand took priority over all other transactions and delivery was made by either scheduled road convoys, aircraft or if dictated by the staff by alternate special delivery means using either vehicle, helicopter or watercraft to deliver the operational needs to the first line units.  Staff demands on the other hand were raised by HQ 1ATF for items such as controlled stores, vehicles, weapons or urgently required operationally significant items which were to replace equipment lost in battle, or were not on unit establishments or equipment tables, but were needed by units actively involved in field operations.

Logistic Resupply Planning.  1ALSG conducted a daily logistic conference at Vung Tau to plan the resupply program for the next day in order to provide required supplies for 1ATF.  Representatives from the support group elements attended these conferences which considered the details of current demands and determined unit and load priorities.  Transport was also scheduled and the back loading of stores and salvage was also arranged.  An intelligence officer was normally present at the conference to brief the meeting on current enemy activity, road closures, road conditions and any road detours.  Depending on the amount of such enemy activity, resupply would either be conducted swiftly, without interruption, or could be delayed for several hours awaiting a change of circumstances in the area.

Part 2.     How supplies reached W3 Coy in the field from Nui Datpad party crouching over the MAINTDEM at the end of a resupply while the helicopter gets airborne again [2RAR Journal]

Deployed Unit Resupply.  The ANZAC deployed unit resupply system was often described as a 'PULL' system in that stores were only delivered into the bush after being requested, in contrast to the US Army system which was a ‘PUSH’ system where stocks were automatically delivered to units based on their strengths and combat tempo [PUSH was a more expensive and wasteful system as not all items delivered were required].  The ANZAC PULL model reflected resupply with limited RAF helicopters during the emergency in Malaysia and this UK doctrine was transferred to Vietnam where 1ATF helicopter resources were smaller than equivalent US formations [9Sqn RAAF had 10 utility UH-1 helicopters compared to a US Aviation Company with between 16-20 troop lift UH-1 helicopters].

pad party crouching over the MAINTDEM at the end of a resupply while the helicopter gets airborne again [2RAR Journal]

After-Contact Resupply.  Platoons submitted a hurried operational demand [OPDEM] following a contact with the VC so that critical ammunition supplies fired in the contact were replaced as quickly as possible.  The OPDEM request was managed by the CSM [known as pacestick] and sent on the command net and was satisfied by the W3 Coy CQMS already having pre-packaged ammunition in his store ready to immediately be delivered to the helicopter pickup point in Nui Dat.  The pre-packaging was based on usual amounts of ammunition carried by a rifle section [called a 1st line] and the request would simply identify how many 1st lines were required.  Ammunition was in most cases pre-loaded into magazines or otherwise unpacked, then placed in sandbags for easy distribution so that minimal preparation was required to use it on delivery.  Water was included in an Iroquois helicopter load if the troops requested it, and malfunctioning weapons and radios were also likely to be replaced.

Routine Resupply.  The sub-unit maintenance resupply [MAINTDEM] was intended to keep soldiers operational in the field and was usually based around a 3-day cycle so that the platoons were not tied to daily delivery which would slow them down and compromise their location and intentions.  MAINTDEM required the deployed platoons to anticipate demand and indicate their requirements to Coy HQ, who in turn passed these demands on the company administrative radio net to the CQMS in Nui Dat. 

Comparison with other Campaigns.  Doug Mackintosh [W3 pacestick] commented that for Malaya campaign veterans, the three day resupply cycle appeared as very short in comparison with their experience of a 7-day cycle.  Then they would not have been happy with security being broken every third day by one or two noisy helicopters.  But Doug also commented that the terrain and the enemy encountered in each theatre were quite different.  The weight of ammunition carried was far less in Malaya, no claymores, no HE grenades, no M72s, no spare belts for the section Bren gun and only three 20-round magazines per rifleman.  All the extra ammunition carried in Vietnam because the fighting was more intense would have been about the equivalent weight of 3-days rations.   The other big difference was whether good drinking water was available.   In Malaya good water was almost always easily accessible from local sources and sending in jerrican's of water would have been very rare indeed.  In Vietnam suitable streams were rare and carrying 7-days of drinking water would have been impossible.

Routine Resupply Process.  The MAINTDEM process started with platoons compiling a likely strength state as at the future resupply date; this created the math for rationing and water resupply calculations.  Included in the calculation would be soldiers arriving back from leave/LOB [bringing their own] and soldiers departing on leave/LOB [no resupply required], plus troops being attached from another sub-unit [did they require resupply..?].  Then each section 2ic would poll his section members as to what requirements they wanted – replacement clothing or footwear, laundry to be back loaded, equipment failures needing replacement [perhaps radio handset, or claymore mine tester, etc], finally canteen items for which the soldier paid.  The section 2ic would meet with the Pl Sgt to compile the platoon list of requirements, the Pl Sgt arbitrating on whether some items were justified [replacement Australian combat boots were popular, being collected for use as spares back in New Zexamples of the commodity codes used by W3 Coy 1970 [Mackintosh]ealand].  Finally the Pl Sgt would use the platoon radio to pass the list of commodity codes to Coy HQ Tac, attention CSM.

Commodity Codes.  Commodity codes were not intended as a secure radio code but as a means of passing complicated lists accurately.  A long list of available items would each have a designated 3-letter code assigned; medical items started with ‘M’; soluble aspirin MTA, aspirin tablets MTB.  Weapon bits started with ‘W’; a complete M60 machine gun WAL while a replacement M60 receiver [butt] WAR.  Radio parts started with ‘S’ [signals]; replacement radio handset SBK.  Clothing items started with ‘C’; socks small CCT, medium CCW.  Ammunition started with ‘A’; M72 LAW ABZ.  Personal items [canteen and cigarettes] started with P; toothpaste PAM.  Defence stores started with ‘D’; shovel GS DAK, while for some reason diesoline [RBQ] and toilet paper [RBF] were grouped under ‘R’.  Phonetic lettering was used when sending the lists to ensure accuracy; the replacement radio handset SBK was sierra bravo kilo while the replacement machine gun was whisky alpha lima.  The receiving operator always read the phonetic letters back to the sending operator to ensure an accurate copy, a time consuming business. 

Signal Format.  The MAINTDEM signal format was designed to provide standardised information:

‘MAINTDEM over’           [platoon operator sending]
‘Send MAINTDEM over’   [Coy HQ operator receiving]

[platoon operator sending]
A:      Serial number of MAINTDEM [probably callsign/date]
B:      Radio call sign requesting
C:      Stores required [signallers usually said “more later”]
D:      Time Required
E:      Latest time required
F:      Method of preferred delivery
G:      Grid reference of the LP [in security code]
H:      Radio frequency for helicopter to call [in security code]
I:       Radio call sign for helicopter to call
J:       Additional information [backload etc]

The operator would usually read the commodity codes list after ‘J’, and operators were required to stop transmitting [‘Wait over’] every 30-seconds or so in case another call sign needed to report an urgent matter like a contact. 

Once the CSM had reviewed a platoon request for obvious omissions or errors, he would have it radioed on the company administrative net to Coy HQ Rear in Nui Dat where it would be passed to the CQMS to action.  The CQMS would typically have only 18-hours to assemble the stores.  The CQMS would raise a consolidated demand on the unit Quartermaster to fill the requirements, and would assemble the loads into platoon lots ready for delivery.  Battalion HQ would request [90% of the time] for helicopter support and coordinate the movement of the stores to the platoon locations in the field [since several different unit MAINTDEM might be underway daily].  Where feasible, such as when operating from a FSPB, resupply would be by truck to relieve the pressure on helicopters, and if higher priority helicopter tasks intervened a helicopter resupply might need to be delayed until the following day [not a popular option for those in the field…].  A 2nd helicopter might also be requested later in the resupply day to remove rubbish and backload redundant stores such as empty water jerrican’s.

Where feasible before dispatch the CQMS and his storemen would break-bulk items and discard packaging and other rubbish to reduce the requirement to do so in the field. 

Canteen Items.  It is interesting to look back on what were considered delicacies; the following items don’t have a unit commodity code so must have been NZ-only favourites and passed in plain language:

I-stew [??], oysters, cigars, condensed milk, Jap Mee noodles, a variety of fruit types, sardines, steak and onion stew, coffee, spaghetti and meatballs, curry, peanuts, mushrooms, and kippers..!  Items were of course tinned.  The worst ‘fang merchants’ were probably Sgt Larry O’Brien and Tony Moran, both would have a sandbag of canteen items tied to the outside of their field packs following a resupply, and wondering what was in the sack was very distracting when patrolling in line just behind them.  The Australians must have thought that the Kiwi’s ordered too much canteen every resupply as 2RAR has a photo in their official journal [page 90] of a large 'medium lift' Chinook helicopter landing in a clearing with the caption “Kiwi Resupply” [but if true it must have been V5 Coy..!]

Delivery of the Resupply.  The CQMS party was responsible for loading the resupply helicopter and checking the pilot had the correct location and other contact details for the platoon.  The CQMS party would also ensure that soldiers returning to the field were placed on the correct helicopter.  The whole resupply now looked like this:

·    Boxes of fresh hamburger buns with salad and meat, and packets of cold milk – one per soldier deployed.

·    A mixture of cardboard boxes with twelve US ‘C’ rations, and steel canisters with five Australian ration packs – the ‘C’ rats were a variety of individual meals and needed to be divided up for each soldier as a breakfast, lunch and dinner combo, while the Australian rations were one pack per day with three meals enclosed [and ultimately a lot less rubbish].

·    Sandbags with canteen items enclosed.  Some canteen items were from US supplementary ration packs which had shaving items, American cigarettes and other luxuries [but the chewing tobacco was usually discarded…] and were issued to supplement ‘C’ rations.

·    Sandbags with replacement clothing items, spare parts, radio batteries and anything else requested on the MAINTDEM

·    Around twelve water jerrican’s sufficient to fill all soldiers’ water bottles.  A jerrican held 4-gallons of water and weighted 44 Lbs when full.

·    Individual mail in a clearly marked sandbag which was closely guarded and could normally only be opened by the Pl Sgt.

'throw smoke..!'  LP marshall on left, chopper approaching LP, soldier with pack on is waiting to return to Nui Dat, possibly for leave [Rowsell]Once loaded the helicopter crew were expected to fly in a manner that did not directly give away the position of the platoon in case the VC had a chance to react to the landing.  They would not approach the LP until they had good communications with the waiting platoon and had established that the LP was secure.

The Platoon would prepare for the resupply by moving to the LP designated in the MAINTDEM, and placing security around the LP to watch for any VC reaction.  The Pl Comd would be concerned for security leaving the Pl Sgt with a small group of soldiers to manage the LP and the unloading of the helicopter.  Included with the Pl Sgt group was a platoon radio operator and any soldiers leaving the field for leave, medical treatment or other matters.

'throw smoke..!' LP marshal on left, chopper approaching LP, soldier with pack on is waiting to return to Nui Dat, possibly for leave [Rowsell]

Once the LP was secure [usually well before the helicopter was expected] the helicopter would ask the platoon to ‘throw smoke’ at which time the Pl Sgt would release a M18 smoke grenade and report ‘smoke thrown’.  At the same time a LP marshal from the Pl Sgt's party would move into the clearing to guide the helicopter with hand signals to land in the area the platoon was protecting.  The helicopter crew would look for and report back the colour of the smoke.  If the smoke colour was agreed by the platoon the helicopter would make a final approach and land under the guidance of the pad marshal.  The check of what colour smoke was throwntypical single UH1 resupply for a platoon, usually every 3 days was a security measure in case the VC also threw smoke as a decoy.


It was standard that the helicopter was not on the ground for longer than 30-seconds, requiring the unloading party and helicopter crew chief to work quickly to off-load the stores and load the outgoing soldiers.  The unloading party would usually pile and lie across the unloaded stores to prevent the rotor downdraught blowing them away, and only when the helicopter was airborne again did the movement of stores from the LP begin. The troops were exposed in the open with the stores and needed to clear the ‘pad’ and get into shelter with some degree of urgency.


typical single UH1 resupply for a platoon, usually every 3 days


Once the stores were inside the platoon perimeter the Pl Sgt continued to break the pile into section lots, assisted by the section 2ic.  If a backload of rubbish was planned the platoon needed to collect the rubbish and other stores into suitable containers, sandbags mainly, while empty jerrican’s were lclearing the LP following MAINTDEM - the white water bladders were an experiment to replace green jerricans and therefore eliminate the return helicopter flight - the experiment was not a success  [King]ashed together into bundles for ease of handling.  [Rubbish was never left in the field as a security measure.]  The 2nd visit to the LP by the helicopter was managed in the same way as the original visit.


clearing the LP following MAINTDEM - the white water bladders were an experiment to replace green jerricans and therefore eliminate the return helicopter flight - the experiment was not a success due to bladders bursting[King]


Once the sections had their pile of stores their soldiers would quickly circulate into the section admin areas to uplift their portion of the resupply, before moving back to the perimeter to both pack their gear and continue to watch their arcs.  While the arrival of a resupply removed a number of stressors from the soldiers [who would otherwise be low on water and rations] it also reintroduced other issues such as heavier packs, the requirement to move quickly to get away from the compromised LP, and issues from home by way of mail.  To alleviate the issues the Pl Comd might not move a great distance from the LP before harbouring and might occasionally remain in ambush the following morning to allow rest and the opportunity to eat down some of the individual weight.  Otherwise for the soldiers it was 'business as usual' as they restarted the operational tempo of patrolling and ambushing.


'I Was There' - add a comment    anyone can contribute to or correct this article


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