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1733863 Sapper
JAMES KENNETH ROSE
Royal Australian Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2004. All Rights Reserved.

James Kenneth Rose was a two-year National Service Soldier who was called up for service in the Royal Australian Engineers (R.A.E.) at Queensland in 1968.[1] After a period of training as a Sapper, Rose was posted to the 17th Construction Squadron, R.A.E. in South Vietnam under the command of Major E.J. Wertheimer, R.A.E.[2,3] The 17th Construction Squadron, minus one troop, had been in South Vietnam since the 1st of April 1966. The full squadron served in South Vietnam from the 2nd of March 1967 to the 12th of February 1972.[4] Major Wertheimer assumed command of the squadron on the 22nd of February 1969 and remained with the unit until the 12th of February 1970.[5,6]

Sapper Rose arrived in South Vietnam on the 3rd of March 1969. At the time of his arrival in country, the 17th Construction Squadron, with headquarters at Vung Tau, was part of the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group (1 ALSG). On the 26th of May 1969 the squadron moved from Vung Tau to Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province, leaving a small detachment at Vung Tau. This move brought the squadron into the combat zone where it was assigned the missions of land clearing, an operational task in support of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), and the reconstruction of Route 44.[7]

The squadron participated in combat engineering tasks and during the Pacification period in South Vietnam it carried out much of the work done in Phuoc Tuy Province outside of Nui Dat. Typical tasks for Sapper Rose and the men of the squadron included:[8]

On the 3rd of August 1969 the squadron was assigned the mission of repairing a 40-meter gap blown in the bridge on Route 5 over the Rach Hao River.[9] The enemy had blown the gap in the bridge during the night of the 2nd of August. The needed repair work was beyond the capability of Public Works to accomplish quickly, so 1 ATF accepted the job and assigned it to the 17th Construction Squadron at 0400 hours on the 3rd of August. In coordination with U.S. Army Engineers, Major Wertheimer arranged for the construction of an M4T6 float bridge to be delivered to the site by the U.S. Army's 100th Float Bridge Company. The U.S. Army also provided an officer and eight non-commissioned officers to provide technical assistance on the assembling, launching and anchoring of the float bridge. The 17th Construction Squadron supplied the construction work parties for the bridge, with the Nui Dat element working on the north bank and the Vung Tau detachment working on the south bank of the river.

At 1400 hours on the 3rd of August the reconnaissance elements of the 100th Float Bridge Company arrived and the centerline of the bridge was laid out. The river varied in width from 150 feet to 220 feet, with a tidal range of 10 feet and an average low water depth of 4 feet. The north bank of the Rach Hao was rocky and the south bank was sandy. The centerline chosen for the float bridge was 100 feet to the west of the demolished bridge. Prior to the start of construction of the bridge, the approaches to the bridge had to be prepared and surfaced to allow a smooth entry onto the bridge.

The 17th Construction Squadron provided most of the equipment required to support the construction of the bridge. This equipment included two air compressors to inflate the pontoons, an Austin Western crane for heavy lifting, two International Harvester TD-15 tractors, a Caterpillar Model 12 grader, one wheeled tractor, a 10,000-pound vibratory roller, one wheeled Case dozer and eight dump trucks.

Protection for the bridge working parties was provided by D Company of the 9th Royal Australian Regiment (9 RAR), a troop of B Squadron of the 1st Armoured Regiment and a troop of B Squadron of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Prior to the start of construction the engineers checked the site for mines and booby traps.

The bridge parts began arriving on site at 1700 hours on the 3rd of August and construction work commenced at 1830 hours. At 2130 hours the Austin Western crane arrived on an LSM and some extra bridge parts arrived by helicopter from Long Binh at 2230 hours. Electricians from 17th Construction Squadron installed lighting so that work could proceed after dark. Although the M4T6 float bridge equipment was completely new to the squadron's sappers, they quickly learned the construction methods and efficiently undertook the erection tasks.

Because of the tidal range, two end-spans were needed for the bridge. The floating sections of the bridge were to be 195 feet long and with the two end spans the entire bridge measured just over 235 feet. At first light on the 4th of August, the sappers of the squadron's 9 Troop, who had been working for 15 hours, were replaced by sappers from the Plant Troop. The bridge was assembled, except for the end sections, by 1100 hours that morning. By 1500 hours on the 4th of August the bridge was completed and 20 minutes later it was opened for traffic.

The weather conditions during the construction of the bridge had not been optimal. Rain had come down most of the night of the 3rd of August making the heavy bridge parts very slippery and their handling somewhat hazardous. Despite these difficult working conditions and the fact that the Australian sappers were not familiar with the M4T6, no injuries occurred during the construction of the bridge. The reputation of the 17th Construction Squadron was enhanced by this successful operation and the bridge across the Rach Hao provided another example of successful cooperation between the U.S. Army Engineers and the Royal Australian Engineers.

The M4T6 bridge over the Rach Hoa River needed to be replaced as soon as possible by a more permanent structure so that the valuable float bridge equipment could be used elsewhere when required. The mission to construct this permanent structure also was given to the 17th Construction Squadron. Instead of a bridge, the squadron built a causeway. During the remainder of August of 1969, 5,090 cubic yards of quarry rock were hauled to the causeway, placed and compacted. During September and October of 1969 the squadron worked on improving the surface of the causeway and also took measures to eliminate excessive infiltration of water through the fill material. In the meantime the M4T6 float bridge remained in use until the causeway could be opened to traffic. The M4T6 was recovered in November of 1969, but by this time Sapper Rose had left the unit for home.

Sapper Rose returned to Australia on the 29th of October 1969 after serving just less than eight months in country. Since the normal tour of duty in Vietnam for Australian soldiers was 12 months, it may be assumed that he returned home early due to a wound or sickness. For his service in Vietnam he was awarded the Vietnam Medal, 1964 and the South Vietnam Campaign Medal, 1964. Both of these medals are in the author's collection.

The 17th Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers is known to have suffered two losses during the Vietnam War. 19220 Warrant Officer L.R. Banks died of unknown causes at Moorebank, New South Wales on the 10th of June 1969. His death occurred while Sapper Rose was in South Vietnam with the squadron. Banks' death may have been due to disease or wounds and it appears that he was evacuated back to Australian for treatment. 4720852 Sapper M.J.M. Schuit died in South Vietnam on the 22nd of October 1970. Sapper Schuit was listed as a non-battle casualty. His death occurred just about a year after Sapper Rose left South Vietnam and about two and a half months before the author left for the United States.

ADDENDUM NO. 1

The following information regarding Sapper Rose and 17 Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers was supplied by Ex-214772 Sapper L.W. Clampett, Royal Australian Engineers.  This information supplements and corrects some of the information presented above by the author.

Sapper Rose arrived in Vietnam on the 3rd of March 1969.  At the time of his arrival in country 17 Construction Squadron, with headquarters at Vung Tau, was part of the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group (1ALSG).  On the 26th of May 1969 the squadron moved from Vung Tau to Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province, leaving a small detachment at Vung Tau.  This move brought the squadron into the combat zone where it was assigned the missions of land clearing, an operational task in support of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), and the reconstruction of Route 44.  

Sapper Clampett arrived in South Vietnam on the 24th of October 1967 and spent some time at Vung Tau before moving to Nui Dat.  17 Construction Squadron was already at Nui Dat when he arrived in country.  He was a member of a group under Captain Wade with Sergeant "Darkie" Fadden who started the 1st Australian Land Clearing Team with four Caterpillar D8 dozers and some International Harvester TD 15B tractors.  On one operation in Long Hai the group had four Caterpillar D7 tractors fitted with Rome Plows, with some American operators and one 2nd Lieutenant.

Sapper Clampett left Vietnam for home on the 29th of May 1968.

REFERENCES:

1. Australian Army, Central Army Records Office. Letter to Mr. A.G. Moore, dated 10 August 1988.

2. BURRIDGE, J. Personal correspondence dated 19 March 1989.

3. Engineers Roll of Honour: Royal Australian Engineers, Vietnam War, 1962-1975, including Support Units. Internet web site www.powerup.com.au/~glaust/roll-1.htm

4. GREVILLE, P.J. The Royal Australian Engineers, 1945-1972. The Corps Committee of the Royal Australian Engineers, Loftus, 2002.

5. MINNICH, M. Interpreting Australian Service Numbers, publication unknown.

6. STANTON, S.L. Vietnam Order of Battle. Exeter Books, New York, 1981.

ENDNOTES

[1] According to Minnich, the first digit of Rose's service number ("1") indicates enlistment in Queensland. The second digit ("7") indicates that he was a National Service soldier.

[2] GREVILLE, p. 858.

[3] Later Colonel E.J. Wertheimer, AM, RFD.

[4] STANTON, p. 269.

[5] GREVILLE, p. 858.

[6] The author arrived in South Vietnam on the 11th of January 1970 while Major Wertheimer was still commanding the squadron. As a major, the author was assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) in Gia Dinh Province on the outskirts of Saigon.

[7] GREVILLE, pp. 672-673.

[8] Ibid., pp. 728-729.

[9] Ibid., p. 803.