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Bunker Assault - South Vietnam May 1970

This week marks the 54th Anniversary of a battle that took place on 21st May 1970 North of Dat Do. Many members may have heard of the battle from a ABC documentary which aired in 2005 "Saving Trooper Gebhardt". What you may not know is the full story of the courage of two Diggers who played a key role, Craftsman Graeme "Ferret" Unmack (RAQ Life Subscriber), and Sapper Steve Wilson. The following is an edited extract of the battle and events taken from "Holdfast" No.9 April 2007. To view the full article please click on this link

Above: Horseshoe Base. Trooper John Allan Gebhardt (left) and Trooper Rodney Wilden Lynch, both members of 3 Troop, A Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment RAAC, check their Centurion ARN 169036, with call sign 3A, to ensure that it is in good working order. Date 21 May 1968 before the battle.

The Battle involved three Centurion Tanks of 3 Troop 1 Armoured Regiment (callsigns 3, 3A and 3B) supporting 7RAR operating out of the Horseshoe on Operation Concrete II. A fourth, an ARV (c/s 8A) operated by the RAEME LAD crewed by, Craftsman Graeme "Ferret" Unmack, Craftsman Wayne “Dick” Burton, Craftsman Adrian Probert, with an Engineer Mini Team onboard, completed the tank group. 1 Platoon and the Reconnaissance Platoon 7RAR loaded into APCs from 3 Cavalry Regiment, departed the Horseshoe base camp to investigate a suspected Viet Cong campsite northwest of nearby Dat Do.

On approach to the bunker system the tanks punched through some heavy bamboo, when a Centurion c/s 3A was hit a number of times by RPG fire, with one impacting just above drivers hatch, severely wounding Trooper Gebhardt in the head, back and legs. While the tanks had come to a halt, the APCs moved up and the infantry dismounted. All elements were now right on top of the bunker system and engaging the enemy, who were in numbers and putting up fierce resistance. An immediate problem for the tanks was how to prevent c/s 3A from being destroyed, and how to recover the wounded crew.

In response to their predicament, Craftsman Adrian Probert drove the ARV up behind the stricken tank through VC small arms fire. Graeme Unmack with help from Sapper Steve Wilson ran a heavy duty cable from the ARV to hook up to the rear of the motionless tank. They both jumped down and went forward, with bullets hitting the front of the ARV. 

Graeme Unmack Dick Burton

Unarmed as he was, but with covering fire from the tank group, Graeme Unmack then dashed around to the drivers hatch, and with his back to the enemy, climbed up onto the front of the Centurion and reached down into the drivers compartment and put the gear leaver to neutral. Even with covering fire, the VC fire was still getting through, and both were obviously the targets. They both ran back and climbed up onto the ARV, the rest of the ARV crew were still firing everything they had at the enemy. The ARV then towed 3A out through thick bamboo to an open area where a chopper could land to Dust-off casualties. Their actions saved the life of Trooper Gebhardt and prevented the loss of the Centurion. 

The tanks returned and destroyed many of the bunkers and a number of enemy were captured. Unfortunately Private Noel Crouch from 7RAR was killed in action on this day, we commemorate his service. There were also twelve Australian soldiers wounded.

Army Registration Number 169036

Above: The mantlet and turret of a Centurion Mk V/1 (Aust) tank, call sign 3A (three alpha), with the Army Registration Number 169036, of A Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment (1AR) RAAC, which was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fired by Viet Cong fighters on 21 May 1970. The tank was part of a combined armoured and infantry force attacking an enemy bunker system. The outline of the double penetration is circled with chalk. The canvas mantlet cover is likely to have caught on fire, leaving only tattered remains. The driver's hatch can be seen in the open position (lower left corner). The driver and gunner were both wounded by shrapnel from the strike and the crew commander had been hit by shrapnel from an earlier RPG strike.

We honour and recognise the courage under fire of Graeme Unmack (RAEME) and Steve Wilson (RAE) and all those involved in the battle. Their brave actions upheld the highest traditions of the Australian Army and their Corps. 

Editor's Note: Graeme 'Ferret' Unmack is a Life Subscriber of our Association,  we remember and honour his courage and those during the battle. Arte et Marte 

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