This tale was compiled at my urging by Bruce ‘Issy' Isbister and is designed to put to bed once and for all the myths surrounding our ‘acquisition' of an NVA staff car.
Victor 3 Company was deployed in the area known as Hat Dich (Hut Zick) during Operation Capital Phases 1 and 11 (13 October-30 November 1968). It lasted some 48 days excluding the withdrawal feint to Nui Dat. The operation was successful with twenty-six Charlie KIA, one captured and six blood trails. Friendly casualties were two KIA and six wounded.
We returned to Nui Dat after Phase 1. The plan was to fool Charlie into thinking we had withdrawn from the area. Instead we came straight back after only a couple of days in base. The Hat Dich was the traditional home of the VC 84 Rear Services Group tasked with providing support services for the Main Force 274 Regiment. The area generally sits astride a major jungle route between Nui May Tao and Route 15 to Saigon which always ensured there was lively response whenever Task force units were deployed there. During this particular operation our company strength had been decimated by ‘Count Malaria'.
The area sat generally on the border areas between Quan Xuan Loc and Quan Phouc Tuy provincial areas. The area was difficult jungle covered jungle with many steep hills followed by downhill areas to streams immediately followed by difficult hill ascents. We could always tell the uphill parts with cracking knees and muttered curses and much slipping and sliding especially from the M60 machine gunners, M79 grenadiers and signallers.
On 27 November 1968 1 Platoon discovered a 1948 Citroën Traction Avant car hidden in the bush. Its registration number was NVA 601 (not NVA 001 as legend would have it). Traction Avant was French for ‘pulled from the front'. Citroën was owned by Michelin in those days – hardly surprising that we found the old car not too far from a Michelin owned rubber plantation.
The car was driven or pushed about 200 metres from open bush to jungle. After informing Major Hall of our find and being told to be aware of booby traps we proceeded to recover the car back to the Company lines at Nui Dat. For this we used a 9 Sqn Iroquois helicopter which the car slung underneath – strange sight to behold.
We were chuffed with our effort – normally it was AK47 rifles, RPGs, and bunkers we captured, ho hum really. We were pleased to do something 'outside the square'.
After getting the car back to Nui Dat our boys attempted to get it running. Without tools it was a long shot. We got a few back-fires from Messrs Thoreau, Mortensen and Cooper with many others shouting encouragement. Somehow the collective decision was made to give it, complete with two bullet holes in the back window, to the Kiwi nurses at 1st Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau via the RNZEME guys who managed to get it going in only a couple of days. Tools and knowledge does help.
By the time the girls at the hospital received ‘our car' it had been transformed from deadly dull black to racy pink, a proper girls car, and they rejoiced in having a vehicle that was not regulation olive drab and, shit awful, flat green. They also ‘enhanced' the paint job with flower power stickers to create a really remarkable machine that become an icon to many.
We were pretty chuffed that ‘our angels' had their otherwise tough job as nurses made a little better by having a car to use as their private taxi around the base.
Ross Miller - Sunray 5/2