History | Unit
Deployment | Post
Vietnam | Callsign
Possum | Sequence
First World War introduced Australia to the operational capability of
the military aircraft and the Australian Flying Corps set the standards
for all Australian Service Flying. From this humble beginning the RAAF
carried on a proud tradition. While the Australian Flying Corps was
manned by members of the Australian Army it was not until the 1960s
that the Australian Army was again to have an interest in the operation
of its own aircraft in support of the Army.
the 1st December 1960, 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron was formed at
Amberley, Queensland, with a role to support Army activities while at
the same time, to train Army pilots - and later technical ground staff -
for a planned increase in Army Aviation strength over the following few
period from 1960 to 1966 is in itself a history of 16 Army Light
Aircraft Squadron and its subsequent changes to become on 26 April 1966
the 1st Divisional Army Aviation Regiment.
war in Vietnam and Australia's decision to support the allies in this
war saw for the first time since 1919 a flying unit of the Australian
Army enter into combat.
Reconnaissance Flight was raised at RAAF Base Amberley in June 1965
under the command of Major Paul Lipscombe for deployment to South
had deployed to Vietnam during June 1965 and was complete on the ground
at Bien Hoa on 10 July 1965.
the authorization of a substantial increase in American Forces the
United States Government sought greater efforts from its Allies.
President Johnson wrote to Prime Minister Menzies on 26 July 1965,
seeking a further Australian contribution.
Defence Committee considered the matter three days later and recommended
to the Government that additional forces should be provided. The
committee favoured sending a second Battalion which, with the
Battalion already allotted to Vietnam and the addition of supporting
arms and services, would form a task force.
the military program was not to be seriously disrupted, this force could
not be ready before March 1966. In the meantime, it proposed an
immediate addition of approximately 300 troops to the Battalion already
in Vietnam. This figure was later increased to 350 following Brigadier
Mackay's reconnaissance and discussions in Vietnam from 1 to 3 August
increment would consist of a Field Artillery Battery, a Troop of
Engineers, a Reconnaissance Flight, a Signals Troop and additions to the
existing Headquarters and Logistic Support Company.
17 August 1965, the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of Cabinet
approved the additional force of 350 personnel but not the second
force itself and the plan to assemble and move it were both code named
troops departed Sydney aboard HMAS Sydney on 11 September, and from
Brisbane on 14 September arriving at Vung Tau, South Vietnam, at 0630
hours on 28 September, one hour ahead of schedule.
the Engineers and the Reconnaissance Flight came under command of 1RAR
to form the 1RAR Group, with the 161 Field Battery (RNZA) already in
direct support of 1RAR. 105 Field Battery remained under the command of
Commander Australian Army Force Vietnam (COMAAFV) and placed under
operational control of the US 3rd Artillery Battalion, 319th Artillery,
supporting 173 Airborne Brigade.
deployment of the Australian Task Force into Vietnam occurred in stages
from mid April to mid June 1966.
was essential to reduce the opportunities for enemy interference. The
first stage was the occupation of the Logistic Base and transit areas on
the Vung Tau Peninsula. Then the clearance of Nui Dat and its environs
began in preparation for the move into the Phuoc Tuy Province. The third
stage was the occupation of the forward base and the start of intense
patrolling. Overall security from the arrival of the advance parties to
the deployment at Nui Dat was the responsibility of the 173 Airborne
Army Airfield, the airstrip at Nui Dat, was built by 1 Field Squadron,
Royal Australian Engineers, and officially opened on 5 December 1966 by
the Commander of the 1 ATF, Brigadier O.D. Jackson.
13 September 1965, the General Officer Commanding Northern Command,
Major General T.F. Cape, DSO, MBE, visited RAAF Base Amberley to review
the farewell parade of 161 Reconnaissance Flight.
and members of the Flight departed Brisbane on 14 September 1965 aboard
HMAS Sydney. The trip to Vietnam took 14 days, stopping at Manus Island
and Subic Bay on the way to Vung Tau.
aircraft, two Cessna 180s and two Bell 47G-3B1 Sioux helicopters were
off-loaded at Vung Tau where compass swings were carried out on the
Siouxs and the wings refitted to the Cessnas before the aircraft were
flown to Bien Hoa Airbase.
Flight became an integral part of the 1RAR Group, under operational
control of 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate).
first day in South Vietnam for 161 Recce Flt was 28 September 1965.
operational sortie carried out by 161 Recce Flt for 1RAR in the Tactical
Area of Responsibility (TAOR) occurred on 22 October 1965.
strength increased with "march ins" on the 30 Apr and 26 May
13 May 1966, the Main Body of the Flight (three Officers, 33 Other
Ranks, five Land Rovers and Trailers)
re-deployed to Vung Tau. Moving out at first light from Bien Hoa
for Saigon to embark on the LSM Clive Steele for Vung Tau. The aircraft
arrived at Vung Tau on 16 May 1966 except for a rear party of one
officer and four other ranks who remained at Bien Hoa until 23 May 1966.
strength increased with "march ins" on 27 and 29 May and 7
June 1966. Total strength of the Flight at 1600 hrs on 7 June 1966 was 15
Officers and 78 Other Ranks.
5 June 1966 the Flight ceased being under command of 173rd Airborne
Brigade and was in direct support of 1 Australian Task Force.
7 June 1966, four additional Bell 47 G3B-1 Siouxs and a Cessna 180
arrived at Vung Tau aboard HMAS Sydney.
the increase in manpower, aircraft and maintenance capability, the Flight
was re-designated 161 (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight.
22 March 1967 the Flight commenced the move to Nui Dat and except for
those in a rear party the
Flight was on the ground at Nui Dat on 24 March 1967.
29 November 1969, the first Pilatus Porter aircraft arrived in South
Vietnam for operations with the Flight.
1 October 1971, the control of the Flight Command Net was passed to the
CP at Vung Tau and the Main Body of the Flight departed Nui Dat for Vung
Tau in preparation of the withdrawal of the Flight from South Vietnam.
move to Vung Tau was completed on 5 October 1971 when the rear party
handed over the unit area at Nui Dat to 4RAR.
strength at the end of November 1971 was 13 Officers and 65 Other Ranks.
advance party commanded by Captain Monteith returned to Australia
(Oakey) on 9 December 1971.
16 December 1971, the Residual Element (Rear Party) consisting of
Captain Matheson, 2Lt Triplett, 2Lt Mecham and 12 ORs, assumed
responsibility for all operational flying tasks.
main body of 161 (Indep) Recce Flt departed Vung Tau during the early
hours of 23 December 1971, leaving Tan Son Nhut, Saigon, by Defence
Charter at 1100 hours.
rear party departed Vietnam from Tan Son Nhut Airport for Australia on 7
March 1972 by RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft.
161 Recce Flight Detachment (Rear Party) had the distinction of being
the last 1ATF unit to leave Vietnam. (The last Australian unit to leave
Vietnam was the Australian Army Training Team in December 1972).
operations in South Vietnam the Flight flew in excess of 72,000 hours
and the unit Call-Sign was "Possum".
return from Vietnam 161 Reconnaissance Flight was located at Oakey,
Queensland, from January 1971 until January 1974.
31 January 1974, 171 Air Cav Flight, Holsworthy, was re-designated as
161 Reconnaissance Squadron, with an authorised establishment of 13
officers and 27 other ranks.
Reconnaissance Flight, Oakey, was re-designated 171 Operational Support
Squadron, with an authorised establishment of 12 officers and 27 other
May/June 1975, the Flight was relocated from the old ANZAC Rifle Range
(Holsworthy Army Airfield) to new facilities at Orchard Airfield, which
had been built on an old gun position on the northern end of the
Holsworthy Range near the 2 Cav Regt area.
4 July 1991, the 161 Recce Sqn was awarded the U.S. Army Meritorious
Unit Commendation (MUC) for
the services of the Flight in South Vietnam during 1965 - 1966 as part
of the 1 RAR Battalion Group. The MUC is worn by all current serving
members of 161 Reconnaissance Squadron.
5 November 1994, the Squadron ceased operations at Luscombe Army
Airfield Holsworthy and commenced a relocation to RAAF Base Darwin
resuming operations on 1
Reconnaissance Squadron facilities in Darwin were officially opened on
03 May 1995 by Brigadier
A.J. Molan AM, Commander 1st Brigade.
Recce Sqn operates as part of 1 Aviation Regiment, providing Land Base
Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Operational Support to the Army
throughout the Area of Direct Military Interest. With the move to
Darwin, 161 Recce Sqn has again become a composite Squadron, now
operating nine rotary wing helicopters and a Fixed Wing Troop.
Squadron adopted the "Possum"
as its mascot and uses "Possum"
as its formation Call-Sign today. The Squadron's motto is PARAGON,
meaning a model of excellence, which the Squadron strives to demonstrate
and maintain in all activities
SIGN - POSSUM?
"POSSUM" was born into the annals of Army Aviation in Vietnam
161 Recce Flt arrived in Vietnam waters off the coast of Vung Tau aboard
HMAS Sydney the two Bell 47 Sioux helicopters were flown from the ship
to Vung Tau airfield in the hands of two intrepid aviators. The aircraft
were desirous of some swinging, compass-wise that is, and this intricate
exercise necessitated an over-night stay at Vung Tau.
Recce Flt was to be part of the 1 RAR Group at Bien Hoa under the
operational control of the
US Army 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The Brigade had a tradition
that units on the Brigade command net both radio and line used pro-words
to their call-signs beginning with the letter 'P'. For example, the
Brigade HQ switch board was 'Parachute Switch', the Support Battalion
was 'Provide' with others like 'Punch' and 'Prowler' being used.
1 RAR joined the Brigade in mid 1965 they chose 'Platypus' which met the
'P' requirement and had a distinctly Australian National flavour.
the 29 September 1965, Captain Bevan Smith, the senior of the two
aviators with the aircraft, was advised that he had to select a suitable
call-sign beginning with the letter 'P' before the aircraft could fly
north to Bien Hoa, with a flash of brilliance, he chose 'POSSUM' and
this word has become enshrined in the annals of Army Aviation
Reconnaissance Squadron which operates from RAAF Base Darwin uses
Call-Sign 'POSSUM' as their unit call-sign for all flying tasks and
(INDEP) RECCE FLT
Recce Flight raised at RAAF Base Amberley.
Recce Flight parade at Amberley prior to departing for South
Sydney sailed from Brisbane in company with
HMAS Melbourne and HMAS ANZAC.
Officers, 42 ORs, 2xCessna 180s and 2xBell 47 Siouxs.
The Commanders Diary has it recorded as 7 Offrs and 41 ORs.
Purvis and WO2 Scafe flew to Vietnam as the advance party
for 161 Recce Flt.
Sydney refuels at Manus Island.
Manus Island with HMAS Vendetta and HMAS
Sydney berthed at Subic Bay for refuel.
off the coast of Vung Tau.
The two Sioux helicopters were flown off HMAS Sydney to
Vung Tau airfield. The two Cessnas were lifted off HMAS
Sydney to Vung Tau airfield by H-34s (US Army Sikorsky -
Siouxs depart Vung Tau for Bien Hoa.
arrive at Bien Hoa.
operational sortie – Recce for 1RAR in TAOR for next
of Sorties and Flying Hours since arriving at Vung
Tau on 28 Sep 65:
Wing: 16 Sorties and 42.55hrs.
Sorties and 41.20 hrs.
Bevan Smith in
A1-395 hit by ground fire whilst on Recce Mission, wounded in left hand, forced landing in
nearby ARVN outpost. Pilot medevaced to Australia.
Lt Don Tidd marched into the unit on detachment.
70% of unit stores plus small guard party transported to Saigon, LSM loading point.
of personnel to Vung Tau postponed to 13 May.
Body (3 Offrs, 33 ORs, 5 Land Rovers & Trailers) departed
Bien Hoa for Saigon.
Embarked by LSM arrived Vung Tau, 1700hrs.
arrived at Vung Tau. Rear party of 1 Offr and 4 ORs
at Bien Hoa.
party arrived - all 161 Recce Flt at Vung Tau.
Recce Flt re-designated 161 (Indep) Recce Flt.
ceased operating under command of 173 Airborne
Brigade (Separate) and began direct support of 1 Australian Task
additional Bell 47s and one Cessna 180 arrived in Vietnam
aboard HMAS Sydney.
Total strength of the unit at 1600 hrs was 15 Officers and 78
A98-045 with Major L.G. Doyle and Capt T.J. Wright
was the first fixed wing aircraft to land on the new
airfield at Nui Dat.
airfield at Nui Dat was officially opened by Brigadier O.D. Jackson, Commander 1 ATF when he unveiled a
commemorative plaque, naming the airfield ‘Luscombe Field’.
commenced move to new location at Nui Dat.
to Nui Dat completed except for rear party at Vung Tau.
party from Vung Tau arrived at Nui Dat. The Flight's former
living area at Vung Tau was closed and handed back to
S.C. Graham, OBE presented the Queens Commendation for brave conduct to 2Lt. R.W. Askew.
OC of the Flight, Capt George Constable, was shot down and killed whilst flying a US Army O1-G Bird Dog.
Corps of Army Aviation was formed at RAAF Base Amberley, QLD.
Pilatus Porter fixed wing aircraft arrive in Vietnam.
Barry Donald and 2Lt Alan Jellie were shot down and killed in Porter A14-686, whilst night flying.
training commenced at Vung Tau with the 5th Aviation Detachment
for conversion onto the OH58A Kiowa helicopter.
the arrival of the first of eight OH58As at the unit.
Main Body of the unit departed Nui Dat for Vung Tau.
unit area at Nui Dat was handed over to 4RAR and the rear party.
Grant Steel was shot down whilst flying one of the OH58A Kiowas. Pilot and passenger were not hurt, aircraft was
recovered back to Vung Tau.
OH58As returned to the US Army.
Pilatus Porters withdrawn from service and prepared for return
to Australia in Jan 72.
main body of 161 (Indep) Recce Flt departed Vung Tau for Tan Son
Nhut and return to Australia by Defence Charter aircraft.
Porters towed from the airfield at Vung Tau to the Do Long Pier
to be loaded aboard the Harima Maru (Japanese Freighter) to be
returned to Australia.
remaining four OH58As were handed back to the US Army prior to
the rear party returning to Australia on 07 March 1972.