RAAF Vietnam Veterans Association

HOME AT LAST: CLOSE THE BRACELETS!

The Repatriation of
Flying Officer Mike Herbert and Pilot Officer Bob Carver

FLGOFF Mike Herbert (Pilot)PLTOFF Bob Carver (Navigator)2 Squadron RAAF Crest

2 Squadron Association President’s Address

BRACELET CLOSING CEREMONY
Vietnam Service Ribbons
The Vietnam Veterans National Museum
31 AUGUST 2009

Extract from the
Address by the President of No 2 Sqn (RAAF) Association Inc.
SQNLDR Graham Henry KSJ (Ret)

Malaya and Vietnam

The Squadron reformed at Amberley on 28 February 1948 with Lincoln aircraft and converted to the Canberra Jet Bomber on 18 December 1953. The first Canberra crashed on 16 April 1954 with the loss of the three crewmembers, Davis, Nicholls and Adler.

On 1 July 1958, the squadron moved to Butterworth, Malaya to take over from No 1 SQN flying Lincolns from Tengah, Singapore in the ten-year campaign against the Communist Terrorists. Two Canberra aircraft were converted to components after crashing at Butterworth. (239 and 243).

On 19 April 1967, the squadron under WGCDR Rolf Aronsen, moved to the 5ACS constructed base at Phan Rang, Vietnam, to be part of the United States 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. The personnel numbers doubled to about 300 with the addition of dedicated ADG and base support staff.

During the next four years, the squadron dropped 76,389 bombs and suffered mortar and rocket bombardments, attempted base invasions by enemy sappers, and two aircraft were lost on bombing missions. A84-231 was reported missing in action on 3 NOV 70 with Herbert and Carver as crew. A missile downed A84-228 on 14 March 1971 with the crew of Downing (CO) and Pinches quickly rescued. The last mission was on 31 May 1971 and they return to Amberley on 9 June 1971 after 13 years overseas.

Casualties: 2 KIA, 3 killed in accidents and 2 died of illness. Petith, O’Hanlon, Fitzpatrick, Wooley, Herbert, Carver, and Hewitt.

Awards: The squadron personnel received 53 Awards: 3 DSO’s, 2 MBE’s, 7 DFC’s and 1 Bar, 1 MM, 3 BEM’s, and 36 MID’s.

Citations: No 2 Squadron received the ‘Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm – Unit Citation’ and the ‘United States Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (with Combat V Device)’.

No 2 Squadron now became the most highly decorated Squadron in the RAAF and the only squadron that had participated in the four conflicts, WWI, WWII, Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War.

The Citations from USA and Vietnam show the gratitude of the Allies who fought with and saw the value of the actions of our personnel, knew of the sacrifices made and endured in the face of the enemy and publicly acknowledge the debt owed to those who served our Country and Allies so gallantly.

Such men were the two-crew members missing in A84- 231. Flying Officer Michael Herbert, from Glenelg, had already flown 198 missions for the RAAF in Vietnam, and his tour would be over in weeks. Pilot Officer Robert Carver, from Toowoomba had only been in Vietnam for a couple of months,

Herbert and Carver took off in A84-231, Magpie 91, from Phan Rang on the evening of November 3, 1970 and some time later made radio contact with the U.S. radar officer who was directing them to the target.

At 8.22pm, six bombs dropped on the target and the plane headed for home. Exactly 70 seconds later, without any warning, Magpie 91 suddenly vanished. Dozens of intensive search-and-rescue missions carried out over the next 72 hours by both Australian and U.S. aircraft failed to find any trace of it. A court of inquiry held in Vietnam in subsequent days could not find a reason for the disappearance. The weather was fine, Herbert had been flying above the range of anti-aircraft artillery, and there were no known North Vietnamese missile launch sites near the flight path. Herbert and Carver were simply gone. They were both age 24.

The Search

Then, nearly four decades later the Australian Defence Force announced that the wreckage of the Canberra bomber had been found in inhospitable jungle in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province. In April this year, Major Jack Thurgar, from the Army History Unit, and RAAF Squadron Leader John Cotterell trekked through the jungle to the crash site and found various items of equipment which determined, definitively, that the wreckage was from the plane of the last two Australians missing in action in Vietnam.

Finally spurred into action by Jim Bourke from Operation Aussies Home, the RAAF decided to find the lost officers and bomber. In 2007, Bourke had been central to the discovery of other Australians missing in action, and he had written an exhaustive report on Herbert and Carver. Le Ngoc Bay, then a lieutenant in command of the reconnaissance platoon North Vietnamese 141st regiment, told Thurgar he remembered the plane that had dropped six bombs near their hidden mountain headquarters in November of that year. The bombs came close to knocking out the BT44 military command unit, where an earlier transmission on a 15-watt radio revealed their position to U.S. forces setting them up as a target for Carver and Herbert’s bombs.

With this information, Thurgar zeroed in on the villages closest to the crash site. At his request, Vietnamese officials visited the villages of Thon Vinh and Ta Bhing, and three elderly KaTu men said they knew of a place deep in the jungle where they had found remnants of a plane many years before.

One young KaTu man volunteered to trek to the crash site and brought back two crumpled bits of metal for examination. One of the pieces of metal was a warped air-position indicator made by Kelvin and Hughes, from either a Canberra bomber or a U.S. B57 plane. Thurgar took the rusting indicator back to the RAAF Museum in Point Cook, near Melbourne, where director David Gardner decided it was 99 per cent certainly from a Canberra bomber, probably A84-231. Identification of a crumpled and rusting air position indicator was enough for the RAAF to approve a large expedition to the jungle crash site, to begin preliminary excavations and bring back to Australia yet more evidence.

Accompanied by two Australian scientists, 2 Australian military officers, 10 Vietnamese officials and 30 KaTu porters, Thurgar set out on the trek in April this year. Subsequent searching located the remains of the missing crew, thanks to the outstanding efforts of Aussies Home and the Search and Recovery teams with the helpful assistance of the Vietnamese people.

Tribute

We acknowledge here today, in this special place dedicated to the gallant Vietnam Veterans that Michael Herbert and Robert Carver have returned to their homeland and families and will now receive the tributes and grateful thanks of the Nation denied them for nearly 40 Years and will shortly reach their final resting places.

No 2 SQN was not alone in this war and I acknowledge the gallant and dedicated service of all Army, Navy, Air Force and Allied Forces Units and their personnel who served in the Vietnam War and past wars, particularly those who paid the supreme sacrifice and lie in distant and many unmarked places.

We pay tribute to those who also served and returned, especially those who suffered and later died from their experiences.

Lest We Forget

(Extracts from an Article by Sian Powell, The Advertiser, Adelaide 20JUN09, and references from “Highest Traditions” by John Bennett, the RAAF Museum and 2 Sqn Association Inc. websites were used in the above address.)

FLGOFF M.P. Herbert: 1946 – 1970

Michael Patrick John Herbert was born on 6 September 1946 in Freeling, South Australia and completed his secondary schooling at Sacred Heart College in Somerton Park, Adelaide.

Herbert was interested in aviation from an early age and was awarded his civil pilot’s licence at the age of 16. He served in the South Australian Flying Air Training Corp from 6 September 1960 up until he accepted a commission in the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Australian Air Force Academy on 17 January 1964.

Members of the aircrew selection board commented that Herbert was “A very keen and motivated lad”. He graduated from the RAAF Academy on 6 December 1967. He then commenced pilot training on No 67 Pilot Course on 11 December 1967 and graduated on 6 January 1969. After graduation, Herbert was posted to No 30 (B) Operational Conversion at RAAF Amberley, completing the 12-week course on 30 May 1969. He was then posted to No 2 Squadron as a pilot on Canberra Bombers.

Flying Officer Michael Herbert arrived in Vietnam on 25 February 1970. Prior to his last fateful mission, he and already flown 198 missions and he was due to return home to Australia within several weeks.

PLTOFF Robert Carver: 1946 -1970

Robert Charles Carver was born on 2 July, 1946 in Toowoomba, Queensland. He graduated from Harristown High School in 1963 and began work as a cadet radiographer with the North Brisbane Hospital Board. Gaining his Diploma of Radiology in 1965, Carver continued to work as a radiographer. He felt he wanted to make “more” of his life and stated “I would like to learn to fly”.

Members of the aircrew selection board commented that Carver was, “Most impressive as a person. Mature, steady, alert.” He was accepted into the RAAF as a Navigator and commenced training on No 37 Navigator’s Course on 13 January, 1969 at RAAF East Sale in Victoria. After graduation, Carver was posted to No 33 Bomber Operational Conversion Course at RAAF Amberley, completing the 11-week course on 22 May, 1970. He was posted to No.2 SQN as a navigator on Canberra Bombers.

Pilot Officer Robert Carver arrived in Vietnam on 17 September, 1970. Although he had been in Vietnam for less than two months, Carver had already impressed his superiors as an enthusiastic officer who was developing into an excellent navigator.