Signals and ACV's - Post Vietnam

By Denis Hare OAM BEM

Black Hawk memorial plaque
Dedicated to the memory of
ex 104 Sig Sqn member, CPL Mihran “Avi” Avedissian, SASR, RASigs,
 killed in the Black Hawk tragedy with seventeen other warriors, on a training mission near
 Townsville, 12th Jun 1996

1970’s Period

Home from Vietnam

 After its long and distinguished tour of South Vietnam, 104 Signal Squadron (104 Sig Sqn) returned to Australia at the end of 1971 and was co-located with the 1st Signal Regiment (1 Sig Regt) at Ingleburn, Sydney, NSW.  The unit arrived back in Australia without its M577A1 Armoured Command Vehicle (ACV) Callsign 85C as all the armoured vehicles used by the HQ 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) had to be returned to the ordnance system from South Vietnam. 

104 Sig Sqn Callsign 85C Sigcen at Courtenay Hill during Op Overlord, June 1971
104 Sig Sqn Sigcen ACV "Callsign 85C" and Radio Relay from 110 Sig Sqn plus other HQ 1 ATF ACV's at Courtenay Hill, South Vietnam during Operation Overlord, June 1971. (Photo supplied by Pete Bird)

The unit continued to operate as the Task Force Signal Squadron for the Holsworthy  based 1st Task Force  (1TF).  The first few years after the Vietnam War, the Army had downsized, was in a poor state, with the loss of the national service manpower and disinterest by the labour government of the day.  However 104 Sig Sqn managed to maintain a high esprit de corp during this period, as many of the soldiers had served with the unit in Vietnam.

Background to the Issue of ACV’s to 104 Signal Squadron

In 1975, as a result of a Defence White Paper, it was decided that the two of the three Task Forces assigned to 1st Division were to be re-organised for training and development purposes and 1TF was to develop mechanised skills.

In assigning the new operational requirements for 1TF, it was noted that initial equipment limitations would preclude full conversion of all units within the task force to support this new role, however it was expected that at least one battalion and its supporting elements would be converted by mid-1977 to permit training and development to commence.

In 1976, 104 Sig Sqn took over the old artillery barracks (Kokoda Lines) so that it was closer to the HQ that it served and away from the mothering of 1 Sig Regt.

The many lessons learned during the deployment of a TFHQ in Vietnam were not lost on Signals or the Staff and in late 1976; two ACVs were issued to 104 Sig Sqn to support the TFHQ function.  At the same time, 5/7 Battalion (Bn), Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) began equipping for mechanised infantry trials.

Barry English, the then Transport Sergeant at 104 Sig Sqn, remembered that there were a few problems, mainly because no one in Signals was trained to drive and operate the vehicles.  There was little help from the Royal Australia Armoured Corps (RAAC), either, as they were keen to keep these ‘trades’ as an armour function.

Not being able to drive and move the carriers became a pain for all involved and it was not long before some approval was given for signals personnel to be cross trained to be drivers and crew commanders.  The first of these were Ian Bardwell, Don Mackerson, Arti Koopman and Bob Martin.   John Melrose and Barry English trained as drivers only.

The first nickname for one of the ACV’s was “Sandy”, given to the Communication Centre (Comcen) vehicle as it broke down a fair bit with sand in the fuel.  Sand was also found in the floor compartment.

When Major Ken Twining (ex CMF RAAC digger and a 104 Sig Sqn Radio Troop Commander from South Vietnam) arrived as the incoming Officer Commanding (OC) of 104 Sig Sqn in January 1977 the squadron already had two ACV’s, one being for the TF Operations (Ops) Centre and the other as the TF Comcen – the Ops ACV had been allocated to the squadron, rather than the TFHQ on the basis that as one of its prime roles was communications, it was better to have it located and maintained by the signal squadron with its own vehicle.

Both vehicles had to be operated and maintained to unit level standards by 104 Sig Sqn personnel, thus necessitating the need to have selected members trained as drivers and crew commanders via RAAC resources.

The Comcen ACV at the time of Ken’s  arrival had been converted to a near mirror image fit out of the old Comcen ACV (less air conditioning) used by 104 Sig Sqn in South Vietnam despite protests from Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) and Ordnance elements about what was being done to the normal internal fittings.  With the Ops ACV, it was left virtually untouched in its standard fit due the Ops Staff not coming up with a modus operandi for it (this required the headquarters to actually undertake some set up drills so the internal requirements for the Ops ACV could be determined).

104 Sig Sqn ACV in the late 1970s
Photo:  One of the 104 Sig Sqn ACV’s in the late 1970s.
(Supplied by Colin Chappell, 104 Sig Sqn Facebook Site)

During the next eighteen months both ACV’s underwent at least three major internal refits by the squadron techs to meet the changing needs of the TFHQ as critical lessons were learned, particularly about the speed and requirement to move often in mechanised operations (two night moves in total darkness became a regular event along with the need to operate the ACV’s in a closed up mode for extended periods during night moves).

Adapting the ACV

Some of the innovations adopted involved swapping the standard ACV auxiliary generator mounted on top of the vehicle for a 240 volt 2.5 KVA model (this provided through convertors the required voltage and amperage to meet radio, teleprinter, crypto, switchboard, lighting and general power requirements), external connection plugs to accommodate multi pair cable and cutover mains power (the generator on top of the ACV was rarely removed, and it could actually be used on the move, although the two operators inside ended up with a fair degree of bruising) - one of the things never practically solved  in the 1970s was the overheating problem in the ACV’s when operating in the closed up mode (the techs had come up with a number of ideas, however the stumbling block was caused by the need to install an outlet vent in the rear of the vehicles that met military specs for the ACV).

In the end, it was decided not to modify either vehicle further on the grounds that changes to a number of supplementary services and equipment had either been deferred, or could not be made available (eg the 1 Sig Regt radio relay vehicles were still wheeled vehicles, none of the step up tracked vehicles could be provided, design changes to the ACV interconnecting tents had not taken place) – it was also fairly clear that the mechanised brigade development trial had reached a state of limbo as it was beyond the Army’s then budget to take it to the next level.

As well as being deployed on military exercises in the late 1970’s, the 104 Sig Sqn ACV’s were used in aid to the civil power operations which included the Commonwealth Heads of Government protection task at Bowral following the Hilton bombing in Feb 1978 (not true that the majority of the 28,000 cats eyes reflectors destroyed on the night move down the Hume Highway between Liverpool and Bowral was done by the two 104 Sig Sqn ACV’s – Ian “China Royal” Royale driving the lead ACV only owned up later to about 3,000, blaming 5/7 Bn RAR armoured personnel carriers (APC) for the rest).  The quick reaction of HQ 1Bde  and its 5/7 Bn RAR convincingly demonstrated the advantages of mechanisation.  104 Sig Sqn  ACV’s were also used to assist in the Blue Mountain Bushfires in 1978.   

   Hilton Hotel bombing scene       Armed soldiers patrolling Boweal
Photo Left:  Hilton Hotel bombing scene
Photo Right:  Bowral, NSW [Feb 1978] with armed Australian Soldier patrolling the main street
(Photos:  Left sourced from Sydwalker Internet.  Right from NAA online collection)

The requirement for selected 104 Sig Sqn personnel to be qualified ACV/APC drivers and crew commanders was the subject of a special allowance claim for them on the basis that infantrymen at 5/7 Bn RAR undertaking similar duties had been reclassified to the higher for them pay scale APC/ACV driver – the claim was still in the system when  Ken left the unit.

Brassard Incident 104 Sig Sqn Brassard

Ken Twining gives some background on the 104 Sig Sqn brassard used in the late 1970’s.

The concept design for the brassard was done by Lindsay Hough who was on doggies, bored out of his brain in the Ops ACV on an exercise in the Holsworthy Training Area.  The original design was for a wild idea he had for painting a large jimmy on the side of the ACV.  I did a surprise visit to the ACV and he tapped it on me in the hope that the OC would think it a great idea.

Whilst canning the idea on the spot, I told him to hang onto the design as I thought it might beable to be incorporated into a new unit sign for the entrance to Kokoda Barracks.

At some stage later in the exercise a few of the diggers were called out by the TFHQ RSM for having inked in the figures 104 on the pencil holder brassards that were fairly commonly worn by a lot of people when working in the scrub and although they came up with the shift worker identification excuse, the final retort was something to the effect that all you in 104 think you are different to the rest of us.

The result of course was that number of pencil brassards with 104 inked on them increased dramatically and at the post exercise debrief the Brigadier in a nice way said to me “will you do something about those brassards your troops are wearing before
 the next exercise”.

Something came up shortly after that was deemed an injury to unit pride that got up the nostril of  everyone in the unit to the point where some form of retaliation was required on the TFHQ, and thus the idea of doing something about the brassards by improving on them was deemed a suitable up you method of making a stand. Especially after a bit of research had revealed that the Army Aviation unit patches worn on flying jackets had never been officially sanctioned (probably never been questioned because Army personnel were so used to seeing Air Force and Navy pilots and crews wearing flying jackets with unit and other patches on them).

Lindsay rejigged his design with the end result being the 104 Sig Sqn unit patch, with Barry English, John Melrose and Dennis Wynne being given the job of getting around 130  made and having them sewn onto an Army green coloured brassard – I think Barry had done some preliminary costing and reckoned he could get the job done for around $5 each (in the end the unit members brought them in at a nominal $2 each after the liney’s organised a “special” raffle – for legal reasons it was necessary to make financial charge on a voluntary purchase basis and “somehow” they  had 100% of the unit purchasing the item).

Dennis Wynne explained the first use;

The ideal way to present the brassard to the TF occurred after having just done an exercise with the ACV's and at its completion the TF did a route march that was 80 kilometres over 2 days. 104 Sig Sqn got right up 5/7 Bn RAR backside grunting like piggies to keep cadence and for our enjoyment!

Just before Signals took the salute from the TF Commander, all took the brassards out of their packs and wore them on the right shoulder. The OC, Major Ken Twining was with TF Commander, as 104 Sig Sqn went by for the salute. It was quite funny to see the look of anguish on our Boss's face when he realised what was happening - he was not in the loop!

Ken, was to comment many years later;

Yes, I was totally caught out by the brassard display on the march past, seeing as it had been deemed the first showing would take place at the conclusion of the next task force exercise – admittedly the route march was a result of a snap decision by the TF Commander, however the brassard display was obviously well co-ordinated by a few evil turds in the unit (everyone knew the matter would blow up at some time, with my neck being on the block – sometimes you have to take a hit for the team).

The words the Brigadier said to me at the time are unprintable but ended with “I’ll see you in my office later”.

Luckily by the time I was summonsed the TF Ops Officer had somewhat mollified the Brigadier (David Butler) about our method of retaliation over insults suffered, along with humorously pointing out that it was the Brigadier himself who had instructed me to do something about the brassards, rather than saying get rid of any writing on them (I also learnt much later he had also told the Brigadier that he would bet that the OC of 104 Sig Sqn would have some sort of precedent to quote to him if outright disciplinary action was threatened).

As a result I got a rather mild shellacking, with the Brigadier coming right out and asking what was the precedence I intended to quote to him for not taking more drastic action – I told him about the Aviation Corps unit patches that had not been officially sanctioned and then produced a photograph from the Army newspaper showing the Commander of 1st Division in a flying jacket with Aviation Corps unit patches clearly visible.

In the end he indicated that providing the unit only used the brassards at appropriate non embarrassing times he would not push to have them officially removed.  The issue was never raised again during my time with the unit so I guess we played by the rules.

The Kidnap Caper Incident

The Kidnap Caper

Ken Twining gives some details on what is known as “The Kidnap Caper” by 104 Sig Sqn and 1 Sig Regt past members;   

The incident came at the end of the unit’s infantry minor tactics exercise week in the State Forest to the west of the Naval Air Station at Nowra.

Normally these unit infantry minor tactics exercises are a bit of a walk in the park deal if you can pick a good fishing spot, however in the case of our planned jaunt, the CO of 5/7 Bn RAR (Murray Blake, later Chief of Army) decided to extract revenge for the infamous “Chooks on Parade” incident (instigated by the 104 lineys in a brilliantly planned and executed deal), by conning the Brigadier into letting his Recondo Squad provide assistance to the Squadron in perfecting our infantry minor tactics (ie you buggers will have to do it for real, because the Brigadier will be asking me for an assessment of how you went, seeing as I sent my super grunts to help you out).

To cut out all the tales of the Nowra Infantry Minor Tactics Exercise, on the last night the traditional end of exercise scrub bar-b-que was held, with the Recondo grunts deciding to come to life and throw some good natured banter at the 104 throng, with somehow a gauntlet being thrown down, and picked up by this is what we are going to do, and because you lot are still attached to us you get to participate as well - the ramifications of the expedition seemed minor as I knew that the CO (Lt Col Brian Le Dan) and  RSM (WO1 John Chenoweth) would take it in good spirit, plus the anticipated rescue mission piss up reception we had planned for the OR’s Canteen at 104 would go down well with 1 Sig Regt as a collective group.

The location of the CO and RSM at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, was well known to me as I knew they would be attending the weekly unit activities meeting held in the 1 Sig Regt conference room (and having served at 1 Sig Regt I knew the internal building layout) – this is where the snatch took place.

The CO and RSM were only informed by myself about the drinks invitation once they were inside the grab team ACV and we were moving – from halt to go the whole thing took about 75 seconds, it was that well-rehearsed and the only thing that got really damaged was the conference room door that kind of got totalled when four guys hit it at once (none of this turn the handle crap, plus we had a carpenter come in and replace it at our expense on the Monday in any case).

5/7 Bn RAR  Recondo detachment commander who was located in the lead ACV (protection party) was heard muttering as the ACV’s turned into 1 Sig Regt “you guys are not seriously going to do this, are you?”

During drinks the 104 Sig Sqn orderly room clerk came into the bar and said to our me in front of everyone "The Adjutant at 1 Sig Regt wants to know when they can have the CO back". Needless to say the bar broke up with laugher! The CO, 1 Sig Regt after hearing the message from his adjutant, phoned him back to ask about the rescue mission, only to be told, sorry everyone has gone home – he and the RSM were mortified (we did the right thing and returned them in comfort to 1 Sig Regt and I think they ended up with a complimentary brassard as well).

Unfortunately, I missed the 1 Sig Regt retaliatory raid as I was at a TFHQ conference where at the end the Brigadier (with a grin on his face) said “Murray (CO 5/7 Bn RAR), what did your Recondo guys have to say about the Sigs Infantry Minor Tactics?”

“Well” says Murray, also with a big grin. “they said that despite the lot of them (104) being absolute nutcases, they seem to know their minor tactics, it was the weirdest exercise my guys had ever been involved in, with very few rules, resulting in something which seemed like a free for all from the moment it started until it finished, and by the way, my guys do not want to go back out with them next year as they reckon by then, 104 will have taken things to the skinning prisoners alive stage”.

“Interesting” said the Brigadier, “Bit of a message here I think from 104, particularly after the little drive they took to Ingleburn after returning to Holsworthy, don’t mess with the chooks!”  

As an aside, the unit did tone down its future retaliatory type actions, probably because the unit was viewed as a bunch of crazies (we missed out on the following year’s infantry minor tactics exercise thanks to us being deployed at the time to Bowral as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government protection task).

1980’s Period104 Sig Sqn, 1Bde Badge

In 1982, the "brigade" designations was readopted by the Australian Army and 1st Task Force was renamed 1st Brigade (1Bde).  Early that year, the 1st Armoured Regiment was placed under the 1Bde’s command, as part of the Army's ongoing mechanisation trials. The new role the 1Bde, as a mechanised force was confirmed in 1983 and following this the capability was developed. This saw 5/7 Bn RAR re-equipped with APC’s, which they began to receive in July 1983.  During the 1980’s, one of the brigade's other infantry battalions, the 3 Bn RAR began developing the Australian Army's parachute capability, and by late 1983 it had become a specialised parachute infantry battalion.  So as well as mechanised skills, 104 Sig Sqn had to also train some of its members as paratroopers to work with the airborne Bn.

In 1984 104 Signal Squadron moved into Malaya Lines.  This move encompassed the occupation of a vehicle and administration compound at Holsworthy and the acquisition of the old TFHQ building.

The squadron was amalgamated in 1986 on a trial basis with Headquarter Company 1Bde  to form Headquarter Squadron 1st Brigade under the command of the OC, 104 Sig Sqn.

1st Brigade Mechanisation

The Chief of the General Staff directed that 1Bde develop armoured and mechanized capabilities.  As a result, Headquarter Squadron (104 Signal Squadron) was issued with more M113 armoured vehicles and by 1986 had 7 x ACV, 3 x APC and 1 x M548 Tracked Load Carrier (TLC).   

In order to operate effectively it was necessary to train more signals and its other Corp members as drivers and crew commanders for the carriers.

Vehicle nicknames used including this period was “CONAN” for the Radio Troop ACV and “ARMAGEDDON” for the Comcen ACV.

Evan Ray crewing and Ian Lambert driving
Photo: Evan “Scamp” Ray crewing and Ian “Stretch” Lambert driving
(Supplied by John Guilk, 104 Sig Sqn  Facebook Site)

Greg “Happy” Kirk the Bde Ops Sergeant at the time gives some details;

Armoured vehicles were located at 104 Sig Sqn about 180 metres away from the Bde HQ.

I was seconded from 2 Cav Regt , given the job of training non-RAAC personnel, who were the "trained" drivers, in Armoured deployments, gunnery, etc.

The drivers were all from Brigade units 104 Sig Sqn, 5/7 RAR, 8/12 Mdm Bty and 1 Const Regt.  They were posted to 104 Sig Sqn (2 Cav Regt were Div troops not on Bde's orbat).  All Crew Commanders were Bde HQ officers, except for myself.  I was the Crew Commander of “Callsign OA” or Ops One as it was designated.

 There was a second ACV “Callsign OB” designated Ops Two which contained Pers/Log Br staff, but changed crews with Ops One  when step-up was required.

One APC was used for the Bde Commander and another two were used for the Bde Air Liaison Officer (BALO) and Arty Ops functions.

Arthur “Chappy” Chapman was in charge of ACV Ops 2 was bitten by Tiger snake on Exercise Tasman Warrior in Schoalwater Bay, Oct 1985. Nigel Shelton gives some details;

I think from memory Chappy had been out at the Generator that we had dug in and what he thought was a stick he brushed up against turned out to be a tiger snake. Never forget him standing at the door of the ACV ready to do a shift change and seeing him collapse in a heap. Good to see everyone and everything swing into action to get Chappy out that night. Can't think of our medics name but he did a great job.

Harbour Bridge Incident

In late 1986 the Bde was preparing to depart on Exercise Kangaroo 86 (K86), and the vehicles were loaded and parked within the 104 Sig Sqn Transport Compound.  The hatch latch of the Ops One ACV was broken so it was only dummy locked.  One of the 104 Sig Sqn LCPL drivers was having marital problems at the time.

Peter Zajac gives some details; 

The LCPL was a quiet bloke who did his job and didn't annoy anyone.  He was in fact AWOL at the time he climbed over the transport compound fence, knowing that the latch was broken, he entered the ACV started it and then drove it through the gates out of the barracks and onto the freeway towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The police escorted the ACV onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge where the LCPL stopped the vehicle. 

The LCPL also did security work in his part time and unknown to all he still had his security pistol on him in the armoured vehicle.  When the police approached the carrier he pulled the pistol on the police officer.  The police officer shot the LCPL with his revolver.

From the Police Officer involved, Ron Mason;

We knew he was going to kill somebody so I ran after him and when I hopped on the front he appeared from the hatch and pulled a gun on me.  We each fired a shot during the ensuing struggle and the LCPL was killed.

1CSR Story 11    1CSR Story 11
Photos:  Taken by NSW Police on the Harbour Bridge while investigating the incident

Greg “Happy” Kirk gives his details;

In the later half of 1986 we were a week out from K86 to be held near Emerald, Queensland  when the ACV, fully fitted out for Exercise, including maps, but excluding push bikes, fishing rods, tennis racquets, golf clubs etc, was taken just on dark from the 104 Sig Sqn compound and driven onto the harbour bridge where the driver was shot dead by police.  It was my vehicle!  As one would expect, HQ produced another ACV out of thin air, because OA was impounded by the police, and we re-fitted it for the Exercise.  Two days out from the Exercise, the original was returned, unwashed from the shooting.

Hay Plain Incident

Another incident in 1986 remembered by Nigel Shelton on Exercise Predators Passage; 

We were on the Hay Plains, Darren Druitt, Brad Beaumont  and myself moved into a harbour up area, not knowing that we were under the power lines,  Darren and Brad were putting up the RC-292 antenna and a large lightning flash occurred!  Darren was thrown back through the hatch of the ACV and Brad was blown off into the side of the camouflage net.  At the same time Mihran “Avi” Avedissian was hooking up his ACV via a landline and got a chunk blown out of his finger.  Avi and Darren were evacuated from the exercise area.

  1Bde Parade with 104 Sig Sqn ACV and APC
Photo: 1Bde Parade with 104 Sig Sqn members Evan “Scamp” Ray  driving the ACV and Vince Green the APC (Supplied by Vince Green, 104 Sig Sqn)

 104 Sig Sqn ACVs on the move
Photo: 104 Sig Sqn moving to an Exercise Area at a rest stop outside a School
(Supplied by John Guilk, 104 Sig Sqn Facebook Site)

 75th Anniversary 1Bde Parade with 104 Sig Sqn ACV's
Photo: 75th Anniversary 1Bde Parade with 104 Sig Sqn ACV’s [11th Nov 1989]
(Supplied by John Guilk, 104 Sig Sqn  Facebook Site)

139 Signal Squadron

During the 1986/87 period 139 Sig Sqn also started using  ACV’s and Doug Purcell, a 104 Sig Sqn Vietnam Veteran recalls;

I had a license to drive APC and ACV when posted to 139 Sig Sqn in about 1986/7.  We first took charge of the vehicles about that time.  I got in the shit for doing wheelies in the vehicle compound (as a SGT) in the first of our ACVs.  Chewed up the bitumen.  Drove them many times on exercise (day and on night lights,(scary stuff)).  We kitted them out with VHF and HF radio setups.  Often used for step-up.

1990’s Period

Many Exercises occurred in the1990’s, using the ACV’s in support of the 1Bde and Michael Ryan recalls that one of the ACV’s had a gas leak that nearly took out ithe crew.  Also a RT-524 Radio Set came out of its cradle smacking the troop commander in the head.

104 Sig Sqn moves to Darwin

In 1992, the brigade began the process of moving to the Darwin area as part of a force structure review focused upon relocating defence assets in the north. 104 Sig Sqn held their last parade in Holsworthy on 22nd October 1996 before moving to Darwin or to be more precise, Robertson Barracks, Palmerston which is 30km South of Darwin.  The unit became fully operational again in early 1997.  However 104 Sig Sqn was absorbed into 1st Combat Support Unit (1CSU) as 'A Sqn' on 1st Jan 1998.

Few details are known for the late 1990’s period onwards but it was most likely the normal business of exercises plus rewiring and testing the ACV’s and other carriers as new communications equipment came into service.  Also all the original ACV’s were rotated through the re-build system at Bandiana, Victoria, with overhauled replacement vehicles issued to the unit.

From the late 1990’s  the Australian Defence Force has  be on continue operations and peacekeeping since the  International Forces East Timor (INTERFET) coalition began deploying to East Timor on 20th September 1999, as a non-UN force operating in accordance with UN Resolutions.  Led by Australia, who contributed 5,500 personnel and the force commander.   Members of 1Bde and its signals personal have served in East Timor, Iraq (Gulf War), Solomon Islands and the ongoing war in Afghanistan and are still serving the nation today in that war zone (2012).

 4 x ACV's from 1CSR deploying a HQ for 1Bde
Photo:  4 x ACV’s from 1CSR deploying a HQ (Supplied by 1CSR)

 2000’s Period

Rebirth of 104 Sig Sqn

On the 18th May 2001, A Sqn name was changed back to 104 Sig Sqn as part of the new 1st Command Support Regiment (1CSR).  By this time a large fleet of armoured vehicles was owned and operated by the Regt including many ACV’s and other vehicles from the M113 APC family.  1CSR was renamed the 1st Combat Signal Regiment (1CSR) in 2008 with a Regt HQ, a Support Squadron and  two operational Signal Squadron’s, 104 Sig Sqn and 105 Sig Sqn.

Final Deployment of the ACVs at 1CSR

 In May 2010, 1CSR was deployed to the Mount Bundy Training Area (East of Darwin near Kakadu) on EX Coburg.  This exercise also saw 1CSR use their ACVs for the last time. Most of the vehicles were back-loaded shortly after the end of the exercise.  This was a milestone in 1CSR’s history as, in some form or other; signals have operated the ACV vehicles since Vietnam in 1968.  However 1CSR was eagerly anticipating the arrival of replacement vehicles in the form of 30 x Bushmaster’s Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV) and the new upgraded M113AS4 APC’s to commence a new of signals using armoured vehicles.

  New M113AS4 and old ACV (M577A1) at 1CSR   Old ACV (M77A1 and new Bushmaster PMV
Photo Left: New M113AS4 and old M577A1 at 1CSR
Photo Right:  Old M577A1 and new Bushmaster PMV at 1CSR
(Photos: Left supplied by Peter Curran and right supplied by Denis Hare)

Approval was given for one ACV to remain at 1CSR and the selection process was simple.  Whichever vehicle started without the need for considerable RAEME assistance would be the worthy champion.  There was only one “Sandy”.  She started first time and rumbled her way to a safe haven, driven by Sig Daniel Banks and commanded by Maj Gareth Robinson, both Royal Australian Corps of Signal members of 1CSR.

 Sandy on last Exercise
Photo: Sandy being driven by Sig Daniel Banks and commanded by Maj Gareth Robinson, on its last Exercise (Supplied by 1CSR)

1CSR moves into new buildings at Nui Dat Lines, Robertson Barracks in 8th Dec 2011 and as a final tribute to the long service of the M577A1 ACV’s, Sandy” was positioned permanently outside the new RHQ, with a new callsign painted on the old ACV “85C”..

ACV Sandy parks up for the last time proudly flying the 104 Sig Sqn
Photo:  Chaplain Osbourne blesses ACV “Sandy” as it is parks up for the last time by
Maj Gareth Robinson and WO2 Chris Macer at 1CSR.  The vehicle is proudly flying the
104 Sig Sqn pennant and displaying the unit's South Vietnam callsign
"85C" (see insert)
(Supplied by 1CSR)

The story of the Signal ACV's in Vietnam is on the 104 Sig Sqn Web Site at Veteran Story 44A

 References (Part 2 - Post Vietnam)

1.   Writings by Ken Twining on the use of ACV’s in 104 Sig Sqn 1977/78.
2.   Emails from Barry English, John Mines, Dennis Wynne (2N’s), Peter Zajac, Bob Bunn, Tony Roberts,
      Mike Cecil, Vince Green, Brendan Mutch (OC, 104 Sig Sqn) and
Murray Thompson (CO, 1CSR)
3.   Facebook comments by Greg Kirk (Happy), Nigel Shelton, George Venables, Doug Purcell, Tj Evans,
      Lindsay Hough, Ray Stallard, Steve Béldi, Colin Chappell, George Paterson, Mal Davis, Michael Ryan,
      David Williams, Daryl Hughes, Darrin Druitt, Redge Trouble. Peter Curran, Vince Green and John Guilk
4.   Armored Vehicle Theft, Orlando Sentinel 16 Oct 1986 (Internet Source) 
5.   Superintendent Ronald Mason BM, APM detail his involvement on his retirement, The Southern Thunderer
      (Internet Source)

6.   Article 1st Combat Signal Regiment, Signalman 2010 – Online Magazine of the Royal Australian Corps
      of Signals


Big thanks to Alan Dudley for additional information on the ACV's, as follows;

I read with interest your article particularly the background to the issue of ACV's to 104 Sig Sqn.   There appears to be some anomalies as stated by your research during the early phase in the relocation of the squadron from Ingleburn to Kokoda Lines, Holsworthy and the initial training of personal as Drivers/Signallers T0188 qualifications.   To correct some of the comments made the following information is provided:

1.   104 Sig Sqn relocation to Kokoda Line Holsworthy was in fact in June/July of 1975 as this was notable period in that I celebrated my 21st birthday on the 18/9/1975 whilst at the Kokoda Lines and a number  of significant events occurred involving members of the squadron leading up to its relocation.    The following information is provided:

      a        In Mar 1974 members of the squadron were deployed to Lord Howe Island during the
                  construction of the airstrip by 1st Field Engineer Regt from Holsworthy..
      b.       The members of the squadron were deployed to provide long range HF communications.
      c.       Those members being Ian Bardwell, Paul Woods, Don Mackerson, Alan Dudley,
                 Bob Mcnee and   name unknown with the completion of the deployment in Nov 74

2.   To add further support, during the period of 74/75 a number of personal from both 104 Sig Sqn and 1 Sig Regt were deployed to Darwin on evening of Christmas Day and arriving on Boxing Day to assist in the relief of Cyclone Tracy.  Therefore; the events that occurred during the lead up to the relocation of the squadron was only some 5 - 6 months later as previously stated as being Jun/Jul 75.    So the statement of the relocation as being 1976 as being incorrect..

3.  The comment that the first of the qualified personal was stated as being Ian Bardwell, Don Mackerson, Arti Koopman and Bob Martin along with John Melrose and Barry English and the issue of ACV's in part is incorrect. To correct this statement the two ACV's where issued in early part of 1976 resulting in the first personal to qualify as T0188 and this course comprised of the following:

      a.    16 non armoured corp personal consisting of 6 members from the squadron to include
              Ian Bardwell, Don Mackerson, Bob Martin and Graeme Woodfield along with myself and
              one other who's name at this stage I cannot recall.
      b.    This course also consisted of members from 8/12 Medium Regt and 5/7 RAR during
             the period 6 - 29 Mar 1976 for 4 weeks and the course was conducted by 2 Cav Regt.

4.   Therefore this dismisses the question of the ACV's being issued in late 1976 and the information, as stated, dismisses the claim of when and who where the first qualified T0188 within the squadron. . The statement as claimed may have been at end of 1977 where Ian Bardwell, Don Mackerson and Bob Martin would have completed their Crew Commanders course and the drivers, Barry and John, may have attended their T0188 course after a number of members were posted at the end of 1977.

I hope that the above may clarify and provide a more accurate details of events.


Alan Dudley

(Ex 104 Sig Sqn)

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