Navy divers refloat Vanuatu fisheries boat.

Photo: Members of Australian Clearance Diving Team One conduct a salvage diving operation in Port Vila Harbour during Operation Vanuatu Assist. Story by Lieutenant Geoff Long. Photo by Able Seaman Michaela Bennett.

By Mike Hughes

Royal Australian Navy clearance divers have helped the Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) salvage one of their small boats, which sunk in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclones Judy and Kevin.

The FV Scabra, a timber boat built locally in Vanuatu, was partially submerged near the police maritime wing’s RVS Mala Base wharf in Port Vila Harbour.

Australian Clearance Diving Team One Operations Officer Lieutenant Matt Bailey said it was important to remove the boat as it had presented a navigational hazard to other vessels.

“We were able to work with the VFD to lift the boat, pump the water out and then get it on a boat trailer so that it no longer posed a risk to other users around the wharf,” Lieutenant Bailey said.

“The divers put lift bags underneath the boat and then used a submersible pump to get the water out so that it could be moved onshore.”

The VFD will look to repair the boat, which was first built in the fisheries boat yard on the island of Espiritu Santo before sailing to Port Vila.

Eleven members of the Sydney-based diving team are embarked on HMAS Canberra to support Operation Vanuatu Assist.

Through taskings from Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), the divers have been undertaking damage inspections on vessels in the harbour.

The team has also been conducting underwater surveys and clearance of major wharves to ensure maritime safety for all vessels using the area and will soon commence a survey of the harbour’s navigational markers.

1RAR boning up on anti-armour weapons.

Photo: Private Jack Sewell, of Direct First Support Weapons Platoon, demonstrates a one-man reload of the 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. Story and photo by Warrant Officer Class 2 Max Bree.

By Mike Hughes

Their cannons, heavy machine guns and impressive speed make armoured vehicles perfect for annihilating dismounted infantry.

Their cannons, heavy machine guns and impressive speed make armoured vehicles perfect for annihilating dismounted infantry.

But they are vulnerable when operating alone.

That’s why there’s more to destroying them than firing a rocket and receiving high-fives from your section.

Hours go into setting fire positions, exfil routes and mutually supporting arcs of fire, which is why soldiers from 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), went through a week of anti-armour familiarisation and revision with the battalion’s Direct First Support Weapons (DFSW) Platoon in Townsville.

Soldiers were taken through the basics of anti-armour theory and engagement, including vehicle recognition, to know what capabilities an enemy might bring.

They also planned anti-armour ambushes with the 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle and were briefed on how DFSW can use Javelin missile launchers to provide support.

DFSW section commander Corporal Oliver Drews said modern militaries were primarily mechanised or motorised units, so it was important to engage armour as well as dismounts.

“For the 84, you could have between two to six tubes in an engagement, depending on the availability of manpower and weapons,” Corporal Drews said.

“Ideally, the more the better. And the larger space we have for the engagement, the better it is for us.”

Weapons need a good line of sight, but obstacles and vegetation should also be set between attackers and their targets, to slow any vehicles who may try and charge at the anti-armour team.

“If the enemy isn’t sure where they’ve been attacked from, you’ve got the advantage,” Corporal Drews said.

“Recon and terrain are always going to be your friend.”

An anti-armour team will usually have a high-value target list dictating which vehicle to engage. But when attacking a column, they may target the first or last vehicle to pin the formation.

“That means they’ll have less manoeuvrability and if you can identify the command variant, you want to target that as well,” Corporal Drews said.

While the battalion’s rifle companies don’t carry Javelins like DFSW, they do have the 84s.

An anti-armour team’s effectiveness depends on what weapons they have and what vehicles they’re up against, according to Corporal Drews.

“You need the element of surprise and a well-drilled section to engage successfully,” he said.

“I feel like we could engage very effectively from long distances, before we’d be noticed.”

The week of training with DFSW was part of 1RAR’s month-long training package in February and March that included rifle company soldiers being refreshed on first aid, combat shooting, and communications.



Australia and Germany negotiate Boxer export deal.

Photo: Soldiers from the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) in an Australian Army Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle conduct a battle run at Townsville Field Training Area, Queensland. Photo: CPL Nicole Dorrett

By Robert Doughety

Australia and Germany have signed a letter of cooperation to start formal negotiations for exporting Boxer heavy weapon carrier vehicles in one of our largest ever defence export contracts.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy met with German Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Defence, Thomas Hitschler, for the major defence export discussion on 23 March.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said Defence will now enter into formal negotiations with the German Ministry of Defence and Rheinmetall to establish appropriate legal and commercial arrangements.

“We are excited about the prospect of Boxers for the German Army being built in Brisbane, using suppliers across Australia to assist in the production,” he said.

“This export opportunity would secure well-paid secure jobs in Queensland and across the country, helping to build Australia’s defence industry and boost our economy.

“We are keen to export this world-leading capability to a trusted and respected security partner, and to further strengthen the defence relationship between our countries.”

Vietnam Medal.

For some years people have campaigned for a change in the criteria of length of service in the country for the award of the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, a foreign award. The criteria set by the then Government of the Republic of Vietnam is six months of service in country unless KIA, RTA as a result of injuries while on operations, (including mental health issues due to operations), or being a POW and subsequently released. Note that RTA of a service person in less than 181 days for injuries or mental health issues not caused by operations does not meet the criteria.

In 2013 an Inquiry was held by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal (DHAAT) into the above matter as a result of requests for change, especially change to the period of service, ie a reduction of the 181 days to a lower period. At the time the policy of the VVAA was to oppose such a change and a submission was made to the DHAAT on that basis. The outcome of the inquiry was that the Tribunal found that the Australian government had no legal power to change the time criteria set by the government of the Republic of Vietnam.

As a result of further claims, a second DHAAT inquiry was held in 2015 with a focus on reducing the 181-day period and its conditions. Amongst other matters, some submissions queried the decision by the Government to set 181 days as the period, rather than six months as set by the Vietnamese Government – suggestions as low as two months were made. The period of 181 days and other criteria were upheld and the Tribunal again noted, on legal advice, that the Australian Government had no legal power to alter the criteria set by the Vietnamese Government.

The Defence Honours and Awards website specifically notes that, for this foreign award, there have been two DHAAT inquiries into this matter and their outcomes. The website also notes that the Australian government has “no intention for a further review”.

What was not addressed was that there were members of the permanent forces whose tours of duty were cut short of 181 days, eg, due to the withdrawal of Australian forces from the Republic of Vietnam, however, the position of the Australian Government is quite clear.



A close call in a Hercules.

By Phil Frawley

After about two years flying as a co-pilot on the venerable C-130 Hercules, I was being groomed for captaincy and as such I was doing a lot of flying with the squadron executives to ensure that I was capable of being a captain. On this particular mission I was programmed to fly with the CO of the squadron. This CO was a particularly hard man who was obsessed with being ahead of schedule at every opportunity and drove his crews harshly to achieve his aims.

The mission itself was a comparatively easy one, known as an East Coast Courier. The task was simply to fly from Richmond to Amberley and then onto Townsville and return the same way. At each stopover we would pick up general cargo and passengers as required by the RAAF Air Movements organisation, who determined what cargo and passengers needed to be transported to the various bases.

On taxiing into Amberley, the flight engineer asked me for the required fuel load to continue on to Townsville and as I gave him the necessary upload, I was countermanded by the CO who would not let me take on any fuel. The CO was trying, as usual, to get well ahead of schedule and I perceived that he was testing my ability to fly the aircraft to its maximum economical fuel burn. The problem was that the weather in Townsville was not very good.

At this time different weather forecasts for airfields were issued for military and civilian aircraft. Additionally military aircraft had access to a better landing approach guidance capability than was available to civilian airlines. This was called a Ground Controlled Approach or GCA. The GCA used specially trained Air Traffic Controllers using a very accurate radar system that could inform you of your exact tracking and glidepath down to 200 feet above the runway. To that end, the military forecast on this day for Townsville did not require military aircraft to carry any holding fuel for the bad weather affecting Townsville, but the civilian forecast did. Holding fuel requirements are detailed in airfield forecasts and may require either 30 or 60 minutes holding fuel to allow for possible weather breaks which would ensure a successful approach and landing.

At Amberley, we arrived with enough fuel to continue to Townsville on a fine weather day but not enough for any bad weather eventuality. I was concerned about the civilian forecast and told the CO that we would be wise to take on more fuel, but he refused to allow it. It is worthwhile explaining that the squadron had just recently transitioned to a newer model Hercules (H) which was more powerful and as such consumed more fuel and so the corporate knowledge of its performance was not fully understood by the older aircrew in the squadron who had operated the previous model (A) for many years. Most of the younger aircrew, including myself, were very aware of the implications of how the new aircraft performed due to the extensive training that we had been given.

So it was that we pressed on to Townsville. As we entered the cruise, the navigator received weather updates for Townsville that indicated deteriorating conditions requiring at least 60 minutes holding, but these were the civilian forecasts. I again expressed my deep concerns to the CO who quizzed me about my options, and I said that the flight leg was not long enough to conserve enough fuel to satisfy the Townsville forecast and that we should divert to Rockhampton to take on more fuel. Again, he refused. It then came to light that because we were a military aircraft and the GCA was available to us we didn’t need to have the extra holding fuel and we were perfectly legal.

I explained that even though that was technically correct, the conditions at Townsville were worsening by the minute and we might be caught out with nowhere to go.

Now let me explain the GCA at Townsville. Normally a GCA would pick you up from approach radar directly to around 10 miles but at Townsville the leg to come to this point is about 30 miles extra and a missed approach and follow on approach could be a distance of around 60 miles; a long way. This is due to the terrain in and around Townsville.

At the descent point for approach to Townsville, about 80 miles out, Air Traffic Control declared that, due to heavy rain and very low cloud, Townsville airfield was closed to all operations. We had enough fuel for a visual approach and no more. I don’t know if the sudden gravity of the situation hit the CO, but he didn’t show it. I flew the GCA and I admit I didn’t do a very good job because I was so scared. When we got to the absolute minimum descent altitude for the approach, we could not see a thing. At this point the CO took control of the aircraft and descended to approximately 100 feet above the ground. I looked out of the chin window, and I could see the houses below us that were very close and I thought that we were actually going to crash. A moment or two later the flight engineer yelled that he could see the runway off to our right and he guided the CO to the spot.

The first 1000 feet of the runway was visible, and we landed into a wall of water just beyond. We found it difficult to taxi off the runway with the poor visibility and as we made it onto the taxiway the outboard engine fuel tank empty lights illuminated. On board the aircraft was some dangerous cargo that had to be offloaded in a special area, so we taxied to that area where the inboard engine tank empty lights illuminated just prior to shut down. Following the offload of the dangerous cargo, the CO elected to start the aircraft and taxi it to the Air Movements ramp to prepare for the return leg. The flight engineer attempted to start the auxiliary power unit but there wasn’t enough fuel to even start this unit and the aircraft had to be refuelled before it could be moved. The CO did not acknowledge the danger that he had placed his crew and his passengers in, and never spoke of it at any time.

I spoke to the crew, away from the CO, and they realised the danger and expressed their concern at what had happened. They also agreed with my assessment of the situation as it unfolded way back at Amberley, although they admitted that, at the time, they believed the CO knew more about the information than any of us. I went on to gain my captaincy in what was then record time for the squadron, not because of my ability but because many pilots were leaving the RAAF for the airlines. I really enjoyed my time flying the Hercules and I look back on it with a lot of pride.



Latest official suicide-figures.

A report released recently into the rate of suicide among current and former serving Australian Defence Force personnel reaffirms that suicide prevention must be a matter of national priority. The report, Serving and ex‑serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985 suicide monitoring: 1997 to 2020, prepared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, is the fifth annual suicide monitoring report commissioned by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Matt Keogh says the death of any current or former serving ADF member is a tragedy felt deeply by all in the Defence and veteran communities. “Sadly, this latest report found that 1,600 ADF members and veterans with service after 1985 died by suicide between 1997 and 2020,” he said.

“This reveals an additional 327 deaths by suicide since last year’s report, largely due to an expanded study period, which now includes an additional five years of data and does not reflect an increased rate of suicide overall.”

The 2022 report found the most common risk factors for permanent, reserve, and ex-serving ADF members who died by suicide were experiencing a mood affective disorder, such as depression, and problems in spousal relationships.

For males, suicide ideation was also found to be a risk factor while a personal history of self-harm was found to be more common for women. “A single suicide by a veteran or serving ADF member is one too many, and we are committed to making every possible effort to prevent any further tragedies of this nature”, Minister Keogh said.  “After fighting for a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide for many years, our government welcomed the Commissioner’s Interim Report in August 2022, responding to each of the 13 recommendations swiftly.

“The research in this report, coupled with the work of the Royal Commission, is critical to deepening our understanding of the sad reality of suicidal ideation in our veteran community, enabling us to undertake the necessary reform to save lives.”

Anyone who has completed a single day of service in the ADF can access a comprehensive range of services to support their mental health and wellbeing. This support is needs-based and uncapped. Immediate financial assistance is also available to veterans submitting mental health claims, and, additionally, veterans can access health treatment for 20 commonly claimed physical conditions while their mental health claim is being considered.

Free and confidential mental health support for veterans and families is available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling service, and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 1800 011 046.

Defence personnel can contact their local health centre, the All-Hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or the Defence Member and Family Helpline on 1800 624 608.

You can help by contacting a mate and checking to ensure they’re ok – do it today.

Access to the Defence, Veterans’ and Families Acute Support Package

Legislation was passed in Parliament late last year to enable the Defence, Veterans’ and Families’ Acute Support Package. This package expands the existing Family Support Package to provide more practical services and flexibility for families.

Requirements for veterans to have warlike service or be participating in rehabilitation have been removed. Eligibility has been expanded to working age families of veterans eligible for certain payments under all three Acts, who are at risk of or are in crisis. Working age widowed partners of veterans whose death was related to service, including suicide, under all three Acts are now also eligible. This eligibility expansion allows veteran families to access important support when they need it most.

Support for widowed partners will be improved by allowing them to access support for two years from the date of acceptance into the program, rather than the date of death of the veteran.

Financial limits for each service category of childcare, counselling and household services will be replaced with an overall yearly cap, providing families with greater flexibility. Additionally, a range of new practical supports will be available to help families build independence and resilience including but not limited to financial literacy, mental health first aid, academic and wellbeing support for children, resilience development and counselling.

Services that are available are:

  • child care (including home based care, centre based care, family day care, occasional care and outside school hours care)
  • counselling for adults and children (including clinical, financial and other life skills counselling where required)
  • household assistance (including meal delivery and preparation, cleaning, and household and garden maintenance)
  • services to build capacity (including financial literacy, relationship skills, cooking lessons and mental health first aid)
  • wellbeing, academic and extra-curricular support for children (including tutoring, music lessons and sporting activities)
  • transport for children to attend school and services provided through the program if required.

Access to the Defence, Veterans’ and Families’ Acute Support Package commenced 14 October 2022.

There is further information HERE.



Suez Crisis 1956

In 1956, an international crisis over control of the Suez Canal put Britain and France into direct conflict with President Nasser of Egypt, a proud Arab nationalist determined to stand up to foreign powers meddling in Egyptian affairs.