I’ve started looking at my ANZAC project for Vietnam. I’m hoping I’ll be able to start making progress on this in 2023. But I got stuck on the tactical signs for the Australian M113s. Despite having a few books on Vietnam, I had no information on the tac signs. So I did some research. I found two pretty good sources: Ian Johnston’s “Australian M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers in the Vietnam War” and M Heaust: M113A1 APCs at Long Tan 18 August 1966 and a bunch of slightly more dodgy sources. Then I added in a bit of guess work. Here is the result.
Table of Organisation and Equipment
Tactical signs on a vehicle identify the vehicle and its position in the military structure. So tactical signs and organisation are closely related. Amongst other things tactical signs are used to facilitate supply.
According to M113 armoured personnel carriers in Australian service, an Australian cavalry squadron usually comprised a squadron headquarters, three cavalry troops, a support troop and a light aid detachment. Each cavalry troop included a headquarters section with four M113A1s and three sections each of three M113A1s, making thirteen APCs in total for the troop. Actually it is slightly more complicated than that. Johnston (n.d.) lists two orders of battle (1967, 1970) and I’ve generalised into the following:
I’ve love some help with figuring out the tactical symbols on ANZAC APCs in Vietnam.
Australian Cavalry Squadron 1970
- 1 x Squadron HQ: 2-4 x APCs
- 3-4 x Cavalry Troops 1
- 1 x Troop HQ: 4 x APCs
- 3 x Section: 3 x APCs
- 1 x Mortar Troop
- 0-1 x Mortar Troop HQ: 4 x APCs
- 2-3 x Mortar Section: 2 x APCs
- 0-1 x Support Arms Troop: 3 x APC
- 0-1 x Light Aid Detachment (fitters): 3 x APC
(1) 2, 3 and 4 Troop in 1967. 1, 2, and 3 Troop in 1970. 4 Troop was back in 1971. In July / August 1971 the first four M113A1 Fire Support Vehicle (FSV)s arrived and were grouped together as a single section in the support troop. Soon after two more FSVs arrived and the support troop was reorganised into three reconnaissance sections each with two FSVs and 2-3 standard M113A1s. That would give the support troop a similar structure to the cavalry troops. [Note: ANZAC Steel talks about “troops” but given these units had 4-5 tracks I suspect the author meant sections.]
Vehicle Tactical signs and other markings
I would expect the Australians to have tactical signs to identify each track, the section, the troop, the squadron and possibly the regiment. It seems they did.
M Heaust: M113A1 APCs at Long Tan 18 August 1966 summarises the vehicle tactical signs in the period July to August 1966 based on period photos. I’ve tweaked the list to reflect what I’ve seen from other periods of the war and what I subsequently found in Johnson (n.d.). Particular vehicles might not have all of these, although vehicles in the same unit, in the same period, tended to be similar. The tactical signs and other markings were:
- Callsign1966: The Callsign identified the vehicle within the squadron. It could appear: (1) large on the rear ramp; (2) small on both sides of the hull sometimes with a Squadron marking; (3) small above the rear ARN
- Vehicle name: As the war progressed, some units adopted vehicle names e.g. “BLOOD” (31),”SWEAT” (31B), and “& TEARS” / “& TEARS II” (31A)
- Squadron marking: blue triangle for A Squadron and red square for B Squadron ; appeared on the sides of the hull
- Unofficial logos: A number of unofficial images have been found painted on vehicles e.g. Snoopy (20A), Sir Rodney (from the Wizard of Id).
- Army Recognition Number (ARN)1966: The ARN identified the vehicle in the Australian army. It could appear on the: (1) front left in front of the driver on the glacis plate and (2) left rear hull
- National symbol1966: During the early war, some vehicles had a small white kangaroo just below the bilge pump outlet near the driver
- Unit Serial Number1966: Used for logical purposes (baggage, stores and equipment). This was the “1125” for 1 APC Squadron and 3rd Cavalry, and appeared on the right glacis plate
- Unit Plate: Some vehicles had a unit plate on the right glacis plate; for 3 Cavalry Regiment, and its predecessors 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Troop/Squadron, this was “107” over a Diagonal Red and Yellow
- Vehicle measurements1966: The dimensional and weight measurements of the M113A1 APC, necessary for transporting via ships to Vietnam, were on the top right corner of the trim vane; these wore off over time
(1966) These markings are the ones highlighted by M Heaust in use during the period July to August 1966. At that time there were no vehicle names, squadron markings and unofficial logos.
Callsigns seem to be the universal marking for Australian APCs in Vietnam. These identified the vehicle within the section, troop and squadron. The Callsign could appear: (1) large on the rear ramp; (2) small on both sides of the hull sometimes with a Squadron marking; (3) small above the rear ARN
Johnson (n.d.) gives the Callsigns for the Squadron headquarters. The Squadron leader (0A) is a Command APC, but I’m not sure of the roles the other vehicles (9, 9A, 9E) played. Having said that, one of them (9A) carried the name “SCOUT” suggesting reconnaissance. Johnson lumps track 98 and 98A into the HQ but, being fitters, these more naturally occur in the Light Aid Detachment.
KCVN144 Australian Army M113 (Two Niner Juliet) explains the Troop headquarters section had four tracks with a consistent set of call signs. The example is for 2 Troop:
- 20A (“Two Zero Alpha”): Troop Leader, usually a captain
- 20B (“Two Zero Bravo”): Troop second-in-command, a Lieutenant or 2nd Lieutenant
- 29J (“Two Niner Juliet”): Troop Sergeant
- 20M (“Two Niner Mike”): Ambulance
Johnson (n.d.) gives this Troop HQ organisation for his B Squadron 1970 order of battle but not in his A Squadron 1967 order of battle. He omits the troop sergeant and ambulance from the 1967 organisation. Personally I’m sceptical since the ambulance at least was present at Long Tan (18 Aug 1966); I suspect they had the four track organisation throughout the entire war.
The cavalry sections within the squadron also had a consistent pattern of numbers for Troop, Section and vehicle within the Section. The general rule was 1 Troop had Callsigns starting “1”, 2 Troop with “2”, 3 Troop with “3”, and 4 Troop with “4”. The section number within the troop came after that. Sections were referred to by their full number e.g. “31” section was first section in 3 Troop (Hugh Carlyle). The section Leader would only have a Callsign of the section. Other vehicles would add “A”, “B”, or “C”. For example 23 Section in 2 Troop had tracks 23 (section leader), 23A, and 23B.
The following table has the Callsigns of the Australian APCs at Long Tan (18 Aug 1966) from M Heaust, those of A Squadron (1967) and B Squadron (1970) from Johnston (n.d.), and my conjectural reconstruction of A Squadron in 1971. In 1967 A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment had an establishment of 3 Cavalry Troops, numbered 2, 3 and 4 Troop (Johnston, n.d.). By 1970, when B Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment was operating, the order of battle had expanded.
|A Squadron 1967
|B Squadron 1970
|A Squadron 1971
|11 Section||Section Leader||–||–||11||11|
|12 Section||Section Leader||–||–||12||12|
|–||–||12A||12A “HMAPC DAVID, BEN-GURION”|
|13 Section||Section Leader||–||–||13||13|
|–||–||13A “THE NYMPHO”||13A|
|HQ||Troop Leader||–||20A||20A||20A “SNOOPY”|
|21 Section||Section Leader||–||21||21||21 “CHARLIE BROWN”|
|22 Section||Section Leader||–||22||22||22|
|23 Section||Section Leader||23||23||23||23|
|31 Section||Section Leader||–||31||31 “BLOOD”||31 “BLOOD”|
|–||31A||31A “& TEARS”||31A “& TEARS II”|
|–||31B||31B “SWEAT”||31B “SWEAT”|
|32 Section||Section Leader||32||32||32||32|
|33 Section||Section Leader||–||33||33||33|
|41 Section||Section Leader||–||41||–||41 “BEWITCHED”|
|42 Section||–||42||–||42 “THE SANDGROPER”|
|–||–||–||42C “TINY TEDDY”|
|81 Section||Section Leader||–||81A||81||81|
|82 Section||Section Leader||–||82A||82||82|
|83 Section||Section Leader||–||–||83||83|
|Support Arms Troop (Air, Artillery and Engineer support APCs?)|
|N/A||Troop Leader||–||–||86||86 “THE GOOD”|
|–||–||86A||86A “THE BAD”|
|–||–||86B||86B “THE UGLY”|
|Light Aid Detachment (Fitters)|
|–||98A||98A||98A “WHITE WINGED WORRIER”|
|–||–||98B||98B “MISS HELLFINGER”|
|106 Field Workshops Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME)|
|N/A||–||–||–||“Puff the magic dragon”|
|17 Construction Squadron|
|N/A||–||–||–||83 “BUSHIES BLUEBELL MK II”|
|1 Field Squadron RAE|
|–||–||–||92S “HMAPC STEELE”|
The first Australian M113A1s in theatre lacked vehicle names, but as the war progressed some units personalised their tracks by adding names.
French Wargame Holidays (TMP) mentions M113A1s with T50 turrets being named “BEWILDERED”, “THE NYMPHO”, “GLEN”, and “FOUL BOY”. I’m not sure if these were in Troops 1, 2 or 3. “BEWILDERED” might actually have been an FSV (Prenatt, 2017) in 4 Troop.
In Squadron HQ: “SCOUTS” (9A) (TMP).
In 1 Troop: “HMAPC DAVID, BEN-GURION” (12A, ARN 138240), “MISS CARRIAGE” (TMP). I have a photo that seems to give “THE NYMPHO” the Callsign “13A” but the resolution is not clear.
In 2 Troop: According to TMP) A Squadron had “BRONWYN” (21A) and “Tinkerbell”. Dodgy evidence but Australian Army M113A1 APC with T50 Turret Vietnam War (Plastic model) has “CHARLIE BROWN” (21) and Pig (22B). The troop leader commanded “SNOOPY” (20A), at least when it was B Squadron, and this would tie nicely with “CHARLIE BROWN”. B Squadron also had “DENISE” and “SHELLY”.
In 3 Troop: 31 section showed their devotion to the band “Blood, Sweat and Tears” by naming their vehicles “BLOOD” (31), “& TEARS” / “& TEARS II” (31A), “SWEAT” (31B). The vehicles carried these names in both A Squadron and B Squadron i.e. even when the crews changed. French Wargame Holidays (TMP) says B Squadron had “CHERRYBOY” (31M) (although I thought M was the ambulance in the HQ so would be 30M), “GAYLORD” (33B). An alternative name for 31B in B Squadron is “WEE HAMISH”.
In 4 Troop: The 1967 incarnation of 4 Troop would not have had names. But the 1971 Most of the FSVs had names. I’ve got photos of “BEWITCHED” (41), “THE SANDGROPER” (42), “DENISE” (42A), “TINY TEDDY” (42C). Other FSV names were: “BELINDA”, “BOTHERED”, “BEWILDERED” (Prenatt, 2017). As far as I can tell eight FSVs served in Vietnam, and this accounts for seven of them. Different sourced disagree. French Wargame Holidays (TMP) says the FSVs were:
- DENISE 42A
- TINY TEDDY
- BEAST BOTHERED
- 134711 (UNAMED)
“Comalco” was the name of an aluminium piping company and the name was stencilled on the vehicles barrel. “Beast” was the nickname for FSVs in general and some vehicles carried this e.g. “Beast Bothered”.
In the Support Arms Troop: “THE GOOD” (86), “THE BAD” (86A), and “THE UGLY” (86B) were an “independent troop” (AMW: 86)). French Wargame Holidays thought this section was in 3 Troop (TMP), but 86 Section (with track 86, 86A and 86B) would definitely be in the Support Arms Troop.
“HMAPC GEORGE”, where HMAPC is short for “Her Majesties’ Armoured Personnel Carrier”, was a mineclearer and might have been in The Support Arms troop as well. Both “HMAPC GEORGE” and “HMAPC FLINT” had “Bukoo Boom Boom” written on the rear door.
In Light Aid Detachment: “WHITE WINGED WORRIER” (98A), “MISS HELLFINGER” (98B) (TMP although he puts them in 106 Field Workshops).
In 106 Field Workshops Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME): One of the fitters was called “Puff the magic dragon”; this vehicle had army registration number (ARN) 134377 (TMP).
In 17 Construction Squadron: “BUSHIES BLUEBELL MK II” (83).
1 Field Squadron RAE modified three M113A1s called HMAPC (Her Majesty’s Armoured Personnel Carrier) Flint, Steele and George respectively (ANZAC Steel: Military Heritage Day, Moorebank, 2003). Aside from the Callsigns, both “HMAPC GEORGE” and “HMAPC FLINT” had “Bukoo Boom Boom” written on the rear door reflecting their mine clearing function. Perhaps “HMAPC STEELE” did as well although “STEELE” (92S) was fitted with blade, making it a bulldozer (TMP).
British practice from World War II was to use a shape to indicate the squadron in the regiment, and the colour of the squadron symbol to indicate the regiment within the brigade. Commonwealth countries followed this pattern and the Aussies were still using a variation in Vietnam.
Australian Army vehicle Markings: Vietnam Unit Markings lists the Australian squadron markings within a cavalry regiment:
- Diamond – HQ
- Triangle – A Squadron
- Square – B Squadron
- Circle – C Squadron
- Rectangle (longest side vertical) – D Squadron
- Rectangle (longest side horizontal) – Support Squadron
The British colour scheme had blue for the “Junior Armoured Regiment within the Brigade” and red for the “Senior Armoured Regiment”, but that senior/junior thing doesn’t really seem to map to Australian usage. A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment used blue triangles and B Squadron used red squares.
Blue Triangle Squadron Marking = A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment
The vast majority of the photos with a squadron marking show a blue triangle. This is A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment. AWM: A troop of four M113A1, Fire Support Vehicles (FSVs) confirms that the blue triangle is A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. The photo is from October – November 1971, just before the withdrawal, so A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment used blue triangles for the entire war.
Red Square Squadron Marking = B Squadron
Vehicles of B Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment had a red square (Prenatt, 2017). For example the Australian M113A1 APC – “SNOOPY” (Callsign 20A) was part of B Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment so sports a red square as the squadron marking. I also have a photo of M113A1 with a T50 turret with a red square marking (Callsign 30A).
Squadron Marking location
When squadron markings were present, the Callsigns were painted either (1) inside the squadron marking, (2) beside them, or (3) around them. “Around” means the number (e.g. “30”) is to the left of the squadron symbol and the letter (e.g. “A”) is to the right of the squadron symbol. Section leaders, with their short Callsigns, had the Callsign inside the squadron marking.
Like armies of all periods, some crews painted unofficial logos on their vehicles. Examples are: Snoopy (20A), Sir Rodney (from the Wizard of Id).
Army Recognition Number (ARN)
We have a full list of the AUSTRALIAN M113 (aka ‘Cars’ aka ‘Buckets’) ARMY REGISTRATION NUMBERS (ARN). Unfortunately we have little that ties these to specific vehicles. For a minority of vehicles the list shows the section and troop.
Early on (1966) ARNs were in two places: (1) front left in front of the driver on the glacis plate and (2) left rear hull.
Judging from later photos ARNS might have moved to the right rear hull. The example, Track 20B, was photographed in 1970.
In practice, many APCs carried jerry cans on both sides of the rear ramp, obscuring the ARN.
During the early war, some vehicles had a small white kangaroo just below the bilge pump outlet near the driver. If you look closely you can see the kangaroo on the APC in the background on the right.
Unit Serial Number (USN)
The Unit Serial Number (USN) was used to deliver items to the correct unit i.e. Unit baggage, stores and equipment (Australian Army vehicle Markings: Vietnam Unit Markings). It appeared on the right glacis plate. This was:
- “1125” for 1 APC Squadron and A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment
- “1231” for A Squadron Section 3 Cavalry Regiment Light Aid Detachment
The USN seems to have been accompanied by coloured bars (The Registry of Ex Military Land Rovers: Australian Army vehicle Markings: Vietnam Unit Markings). Now this is called a “Christmas Tree” because it forms a triangle. The colour of each bar corresponds to one of the digits in the USN. Using the current code “1125” would be Red, Red, Blue, Light Grey. But the Vietnam photos appears to have only three evenly sized bars and in the pattern blue, light grey, blue. Obviously the code was different at that time.
3 Cavalry Regiment, and its predecessors 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Troop/Squadron, used a white 107 on Diagonal Red and Yellow. If present this would be on the right glacis plate.
Vehicle measurements (dimensional and weight measurements) of the M113A1 APC were necessary for transporting via ships to Vietnam. Where present they were on the top right corner of the trim vane. These wore off over time.
I think it says:
The 192 is the length (actually 191.5″) (Armored Personnel Carrier M113A11). 106 is the width over track shrouds (actually 105.75″). The combat weight was 24,080lbs but perhaps the unloaded weight was 21,269. I’m not sure what the 87 is. I’m not sure what the 1002 is either, hence the “???” in lieu of a unit.
I also found Track 23B, which seem to heave measurements “192:87:106”. Again I’m not sure what the 87 is.
According to M Heaust the APCs were painted (1) US olive drab to mid 1967 and (2) Australian Olive drab lustreless from late 1967. Not that I know the difference.
Most markings were white letters/symbols painted directly on the olive drab. Vehicle names could be either white on olive drab or white on a black rectangle, although I suspect the latter was a post-war adaptation (e.g. 21A “Angus”). Squadron markings where either blue or red depending on the unit and period. Unit plate was a white 107 on Diagonal Red and Yellow.
The best evidence are period photos. There are a few above and I’m included more here.
I’ve only got a photo from 2018 of the M577 Command APC from the Squadron HQ (0A). The camouflage is late 20th Century so not appropriate for the Vietnam period (AWM: M577A1 Armoured Command Vehicle ARN 134456). But this vehicle did serve with the Australians in Vietnam from 1966 to 1971. It is ARN 134456.
I think the APC in the following photo is 9A but I could be wrong.
10A was “Santa”. The photo shows the inclination of some crews to embellish their tracks with additional slogans, seemingly in chalk. In this case, “Santa’s Black”.
The following photo is of “THE NYMPHO” in 1970, when B Squadron was in theatre. I think the Callsign is “13A” but it is a bit of a guess.
In this photo 13A has the name “KIEP-DAM”. Notice the chalk slogans: “Merry Christmas to the Pogoes”.
It is clear that Track 13A lacked a vehicle name in 1971, when it was back as part of A Squadron.
13B has the name “CUOP-GIUT” with the caveat “alias SANDGROPER” where in 1971 “The Sandgroper” was track 42. Perhaps the crew moved to the new FSV troop. The chalked slogan is “Merry Poppins is a Junkie”.
I’ve got photos of Tracks 20A, 21, 21A and 23, from July to August 1966.
“SNOOPY” (20A) was troop leader in 2 Troop B Squadron.
I’ve got photos of two M113A1 from 31 Section in 3 Troop. The blue triangle says they are from A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment. The three vehicles of the section was called “BLOOD” (31), “SWEAT” (31B), and “& TEARS” (31A) (or in this case “& TEARS II” indicating a previous “& TEARS” had been damaged)
4 Troop is part of Johnston’s (n.d.) order of battle for 1967, but missing from 1970. Given all the M113A1 FSVs I’ve seen have a Callsign starting with “4” e.g. 41, 41B, 42C, I believe they are of a new 4 Troop in 1971. I’m not sure this new 4 Troop had a HQ
The FSVs were organised into sections of four or five vehicles which would explains the need for a “C” callsign. I have found, for example, a photo of a M113A1 FSV with the Callsign 42C (“TINY TEDDY”).
I’ve got photos of two FSVs in 41 Section 4 Troop (41 “BEWITCHED”, 41B).
I’ve got photos of three FSVs 42 Section 4 Troop (42 “THE SANDGROPER”, 42A “DENISE”, 42C “TINY TEDDY”).
Actually I’ve got a lot of photos of Track 42 “Sandgroper”.
Support Arms Troop
The Support Arms Troop was a pretty skimpy affair with only 3 vehicles: “THE GOOD” (86), “THE BAD” (86A) and “THE UGLY” (86B). I’ve got photos of the latter two.
Light Aid Detachment
1 Field Squadron RAE
1 Field Squadron RAE modified three M113A1s to clear the anti-personnel minefields around Nui Dat (ANZAC Steel: Military Heritage Day, Moorebank, 2003). The three were named HMAPC (Her Majesty’s Armoured Personnel Carrier) Flint, Steele and George respectively. Aside from the Callsigns, both “HMAPC GEORGE” and “HMAPC FLINT” had “Bukoo Boom Boom” written on the rear door and perhaps “HMAPC STEELE” did as well.
Johnston, I. (n.d.). Australian M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers in the Vietnam War. Author.
Prenatt, J. (2017). M113 APC 1960-75: US, ARVN, and Australian variants in Vietnam [New Vanguard 252]. Osprey.