On the night of 2 March 1971, 3RAR's rifle companies settled into their night defensive positions and began the routine of posting sentries, eating, and cleaning weapons. This had now become second nature, and the riflemen were growing accustomed to the rigours of patrolling and searching for the ever elusive enemy. Many of the riflemen still felt that the training "in country" was almost like an exercise being conducted in Australia. This was to change within a few hours. By 1820 hours on the night of 2 March, “C” and “D” companies had settled into their respective night positions. “C” Company harboured up with 5 Troop C Squadron 1 Armoured Regiment. “D” Company harboured up on the edge of a narrow finger of a paddy field with a reasonable amount of visibility. At 2000 hours both “C” and “D” companies reported movement on their perimeters and probing by an enemy force of unknown strength. At 2020 hours, 11 Platoon, under the leadership of Lieutenant David Horner, sighted one to two enemy 20 to 30 metres away from their position. The claymore mines were immediately fired and the area to their front was engaged by the platoon's machine-guns. Illumination was also called for and a sweep of the area was about to commence when approximately ten enemy were sighted outside the perimeter. The machine-gunners opened fire in an effort to suppress the area with small arms fire. At almost the same time, 10 Platoon, commanded by Lieutenant John Wheeler, sighted an unknown number of the enemy in front off the south-east section of the harbour. The platoon immediately engaged the area of the sighting with small arms fire.The enemy were using whistles and flares as a means of signalling and directing their fire and movement onto the perimeter. Incoming AK47 small arms fire was being received by 10 Platoon. Suddenly a large explosion was heard in the 10 Platoon position, and, amid the flying metal fragments, two of the riflemen were killed--Lieutenant John Wheeler and Private Paul Manning-- with Private E.G. Strickland and Private Keith R. Hammond wounded. These causalities had a profound effect on the whole battalion; nobody could believe it had happened and so quickly after 3RAR's arrival. Before the explosion Lieutenant Wheeler was seen moving from position to position, at great risk to himself, giving support and encouragement to his troops. It was later suggested that for an explosion of such a magnitude it could have only been a satchel charge. A close inspection later revealed that many of the trees in the surrounding area had metal fragments embedded in them, similar to a 20 pound high explosive round.Those involved directly and indirectly in the battalion's first major contact came to the sudden realisation that Vietnam was a real war where people got killed and wounded.Many of the riflemen in the battalion came to grips with the situation very quickly, yet others never made the transition. They would, years late, become the unseen casualties of the Vietnam war.
Unit Colour Patch First Tour - November 1967 - November 1968 Second Tour - March 1971 - October 1971 3RAR