Saturday

OP CROWN YOUR SPECIALS

From Jack Castle Troop Cmd 59 Sqn 1964-65
Memories from 59 Field Squadron RE on Op Crown, Thailand
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I joined the squadron in August 1963 in Shorncliffe. We were then in 36 Engineer Regiment. We spent the next 3 months building up the squadron and on individual training. In September we were given notice to move to Singapore to spend our life on Op Crown.
Main personalities were:
OC. Major Chris Bramwell. He left the army and joined Acrow. He died in the ‘80s
2ic. Captain Terry Hardy. He had served with SAS in Malaya. He left the squadron to return to SAS, where he spent the rest of his career. He became CO of 23 SAS. Sadly he developed alzheimers about 5 years ago and is in a nursing home. He would have appreciated Cdo forces.

SSM WO2 Yates. A very old soldier who was frustrated to spend his duty on a construction site. He needed to be in a War zone. Rumour had it that he went to the Rhodesian Army, but I have no confirmation of that. He was a reformed alcoholic but I think he broke his fast in Bangkok on one occasion? He professed to be an expert in the Thai language. He demonstrated this on one occasion by addressing a crowd of Thai children. F Off he shouted - and they all disappeared!! He and Terry Hardy tended to hunt as a pair. He features in some of the photos.
( Later: A blog from his son says that he is dead)

1Tp. Lt Roger (Lt Col RJ)Hume. Left to serve with Malay engineers at some stage. Spent quite some time on the rear party. I assume that Mike Stanbridge took over the troop.

2Tp. Self. SSgt Farnworth. Photos from Duke (Cpl) Deuchar, and others.

3Tp. 2Lt Hilary (Major RHJ )Nash. Direct from Sandhurst and received quite a bit of advice!! from the SSM.

Deployment
The squadron flew by air trooping to Singapore in early January 1964 to be based in Gillman Barracks. Squadron 2ic was the advance party and set up in Cloutman Lines – named after Major Brett Cloutman VC from the first world war.
The whole squadron was deployed on Op Crown on and off until August 1965, when I was posted to 1 Training Regt.
In mid- January 1964 I sailed in an LST from Singapore to Bangkok with all the squadron vehicles and equipment. It took 4 days of peaceful cruise in the South China Sea. I suppose most of the men flew from Changi to Ubon via Bangkok. We usually flew in Beverley or Argosy aircraft.
We then drove the squadron convoy over the dirt laterite roads of Thailand for about 3 days to the Crown site. One night we stopped at the massive US airbase at Khorat, which was fighting the Vietnam war. I remember arriving in Crown where there was the tented camp. It must have been built by 11 Squadron and HQRE advance party, who had flown out from UK on a 12 month unaccompanied tour. The heavy plant must have gone up earlier with 54 squadron and HQRE. They had to build bridges over some of the river beds. The total manpower on Crown at some times was almost 700.

That was:
HQ RE – CRE was Lt Col Harry MacIntyre until August 1964 when he was replaced by Lt Col Ken Orrell (who is taking the salute at the parades in the photos, not HM). I am still in touch with the chaplain, Arthur Robinson – but he refuses to use a computer.
59 Fd Squadron
Plant troop,54 Squadron
11 Fd Squadron, incl an Australian Troop – Advance party, end 1963 to January 1964 usually rotated with 59.

Tipper troop RASC

Troop, RNZE

REME Wksp

RAMC

Pioneers

The photos on 11 Fd Squadron website give a good selection of the roles and activities of the work force. A picture is worth 10,000 words. And there are very good comments on the various blogs for Crown.
eg http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/11independentfldsqnmalaya/ThailandBrianDukeDeuchar1964196559Sqn# and others from 59 Squadron;
Jim Hopgood (Chief Clerk – a useful contact);
Buck Brown, Cliffe, Falconer, Hough are particularly good and could be copied to a 59 Sqn web site.
My photos are much like all of these. I even appear in the Deuchar photo of the Remembrance Sunday parade, 1964, as Plt comd 2 Tp!!( photo 36).
That was after I had played the Reveille and Last Post for the service.

(I am fascinated to read about recent visits to Crown on the 11 Squadron website)

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Overview copied from RE Museum Website

Operation Crown - Thailand - 1963-68As a signatory of South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) Britain had an obligation to assist Allies in the Far East. In the early 1960's the Americans (also signatories of SEATO) were becoming increasingly embroiled in preventing the march of Communism in Laos and Vietnam and requested that Britain assist in their crusade. In February 1963 it was proposed that Britain construct an airfield at Loeng Nok Tha, near Mukdahan in Thailand as part of the American's Special Logistic Aid to Thailand (SLAT). The proposal was accepted and given the code name Operation Crown.

The Engineer units involved in the project were:· 11 Independent Field Squadron RE · 59 Field Squadron RE · Detachment 54 Corps Field Park Squadron RE · Detachment 84 Survey Squadron RE · Detachment 302 Postal Unit RE · A field troop from the Royal Australian Engineers and detachment from the Royal New Zealand Engineers were also involved. Crown airfield at Loeng Nok Tha, near Mukdahan, Thailand constructed by the Royal Engineers - 1964-65

The airfield with its 5,000ft long air strip, control-tower, airfield fencing and lighting was completed in time for an official opening ceremony on 17 June 1965, but work continued on improving the landing strips long after the ceremony.After the airfield was completed a second project, to build a road north west from Loeng Nok Tha to a village (Ban Khok Klang), was started in December 1966 by 34 Field Squadron RE, who were relieved by 59 Field Squadron RE in August 1967, who in turn were relieved by 11 Field Squadron RE. The road was completed in April 1968 by a composite workforce that included:· 54 (FARELF) Support Squadron RE · 51 (Airfields) Squadron RE - one troop · 59 Field Squadron RE - one troop A Royal Engineers' Forces Post Office atttached to the British Embassy remained in Bangkok after the last of the Royal Engineers involved in Operation Crown departed Thailand in 1968.59 Squadron tasks.January 1964. Complete Squadron arrived in Thailand. All 3 troops supplied working parties who worked on the full mix of tasks. As I remember, Troops only really existed on first parade and probably in the Naafi or village bars. Initially for 3 months we built the hutted camp and all facilities, including water and electricity as per RESPB. Tradesmen were allocated to appropriate tasks. I have found a notebook I kept listing the tasks!C & J, P&D and non- tradesmen to hut construction. 2 Tp ( about 50%) were allocated a number of buildings. Concrete mixer team, Cpl +6.Electricians and fitters to elecricity supply. A power station with 25 KVA generators and a poled supply was constructed.Plant Ops attached to 54 Squadron to clearing airfield site. The outstanding plant were the 13 Caterpillar DH8H - the only new plant on the airfield. After about 9 months they began to fail because the fine dust defeated the air filters and caused wear in the engines. Combat engineers also worked on clearing trees and building culverts.Plumbers to water supply. For about 2 months water was shipped in by bowser. A Thai drilling team was searching for water and drilled about 300 wells before finding a suitable source. A photo attributes the final well find to an Australian Sapper with a hazel twig. Then there was much laying of heavy cast iron water pipes around the camp and airfield. Built the 40 ft water tower and dug the swimming pool.Drivers. To MT. Daily resupply runs to Ubon, 70 miles on dirt road. For POL, rations, spares etc. Resupply was by a weekly Argosy flight from Singapore to Ubon RAAF airfield. Fitters to REME workshop. ( In 1964 LCpl Rex was awarded BEM for his tireless work on nightly repairs to the Starmix machine. He regularly welded new gear teeth due to lack of spares.)Many other camp duties, eg RP, messes, cooks, storemen.In about March 1963 a regimental cook- name ??- was filling a hydra burner and covered himself with petrol which caught alight. He was very severely burned and needed casevac. At the time the camp was not in radio contact with any where??. Squadron 2ic drove down the road towards Ubon until he found a telephone which worked and was able to contact the US airforce at Khorat. They sent a single seater aircraft next day. As we did not have any runway at the time the plant had to level a temporary strip overnight for the arrival of the plane. I can picture the dust storm as the plane took off and then emerged in the clear sky to fly the casualty to Khorat and Singapore. Spr ?? survived the ordeal. (How different from casevac in Afghanistan today)June 1964 approx. 59 Squadron returned to Singapore as it was the monsoon season and considered too wet to work on the airfield. In fact with all the storm drains that were dug the water drained quickly between storms and the rear party were most frustrated that no work was carried out.September 1964. 59 Squadron complete returned to Op Crown and worked as tradesmen on the variety of tasks to complete the airfield for the opening ceremony in June 1964. Once the plant completed levelling the base, the famous Howard Trains took over for about 3 or 4 months. These were antiquated machines for soil stabilisation using cement and laterite. 2 Tp provided a section to operate the train.The second famous and yet more antiquated machine was the Starmix tarmac production equipment. The machine would normally have been used for repairing a few potholes but on Crown it was required to work 16 hours a day for about 3 or 4 months. Hence it was a testimony to the plant fitters who maintained it. I assume that the technical report for all the work must be in an Specialist Team archive somewhere. No doubt some of the photographers in the troops will have a good memory for what they did in detail.The photos show much of the work and the 59 sappers involved.June 1964. Opening ceremony by Prime Minister of Thailand, Field Marshall Kittikatchorn. Guard of honour from Scots Guards in Terendak, Malaya. Bands of Scots Guards and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, plus Thai guard of honour and band. 23 aircraft on the runway. It was after lunch that an RAF pilot ( said to be ex Battle of Britain) flew an Argosy with 50 passengers around the airfield in a very hairy fashion. I was on board and the G forces were powerful. We took photos from the forward observation window.I noticed that aviation fuel from the aircraft fell onto the tarmac and it disintegrated. Also the tarmac developed serious ruts. Problems were laid at the quality of the cement stabilised laterite sub base. It also rained an inch in 12 minutes on that day.Extra Mural activities. Football and Rugby played on a baked bullock field in 30 degrees. Badminton, volleyball, athletics, golf(sort of). And the weekly ‘Hash House Harrier’ runs around the local villages where we distributed army biscuits and sweets.
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FRANK FIRTH'S ROUTE TO BAN KOK THALAT
From the airport as point of reference, the best way by road in my opinion as below:
Take Route 9 to Bang-Pa-In.
This takes you to Route 1 and Saraburi.
Then take Route 2 to Nakhon Ratchasima.
From Route 2, turn on to Route 24 just before Nakhon Ratchsima.
Don’t miss this or you’ll experience millions of traffic lights and you’ll be staying the night.
Carry on Route 24 past Surin, and follow all the way to Ubon Ratchathani.
Go through Ubon and find Route 212, and takes you towards Loeng Nok Tha,
Follow signs for Amnart Charoen and Ban Kok Samnam, and the Airfield entrance.
As you know it’s a long drive, about 700 km, but you should get to Ubon in around 7-8 hours from Bangkok taking it easy, then another 2-3 hours or so to Loeng Nok Tha. A little better than in the 60’s.
Up to almost Surin the roads are good with dual carriageways,
thereafter still pretty good going on two-way roads.
You will find metal coming at you from time to time so just move away onto the shoulder,
there’s almost always room. But do be careful on the roads, they still drive like kids.
If Frank wants to go by bus from Bangkok,
go to Ekamai Bus Station on Sukhumvit Road, not far from the Emporium on Soi 24 and head off to Ubon.
After that you’ll have to get a local bus or taxi to Loeng Nok Tha.
Hope that helps.
Best regards,
Jack. Firth
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2 comments:

  1. Memories of Thailand 1964/65 by Alan Myers

    It was way back in 1964, when I was posted to BFPO 656, a place I had never heard of. Even on the flight to Singapore, no one seemed to know where we were going.

    When I arrived at Bankoktalat it seemed like the end of the world, but I and the other lads in the ACC soon got used to the heat and settled in well.

    Things I remember were that after a couple of months, Lenny Bruce, myself and a couple of other chefs started the Radio station which was situated at the back of the church. Not long after the beginning one of the Officers managed to contact BFBS Singapore and they arranged for tapes to be sent up with requests for the troops from the families of those usually stationed in Singapore. A good morale booster.

    Pattaya beach was a respite from the life we encountered at camp doom, as it was affectionally known. I recall that on one occasion whilst there with the 10 man ration packs, I asked the Americans, who had a bungalow next to ours, if they liked Corned beef. The response was an overwhelming yes. I negotiated a swap and gave them 10 tins of bully in exchange for 10 cooked chickens. The lads were amazed but we fed well that week. I even had time to learn to water ski.

    The children in the village loved the squaddies and a guy called Hippo Hall, would come to the kitchen at the end of the day to collect any left over food and take it to the kids, who formed straight lines, so that they could munch on pies, pasties, sausages and anything else Hippo could scrounge from us. A daily ritual.

    Christmas 1964, or early January 1965 was a great time for the village school. It was decided that the camp would put on a party for them and tins were put around the camp asking the guys for all their spare Bahts so that gifts could be bought. Soldiers going on leave to Singapore would take the cash raised back with them and purchase presents and bring them back. When the day of the party arrived schoolchildren were divided into two groups and half would watch films in the school while the others would play sports and vice versa. Food was laid on by the chefs and when the time came to give out the presents an ambulance fully loaded with the presents arrived and all the children received a gift, a novelty and a hat. What a day and a credit to all who contributed or helped make it a success.

    My involvement with the children, in teaching them the basics of scouts was something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

    It was a sad day when I finally left Thailand, but the 12 months I was there were some of the best in all the years I was in the army.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Hank, not that it bothers me too much, but I was looking for the pictures of the airfield at Leong Nok Tha and the US communications base on Phu Mu which I took in August 2008. I found some of these amongst 'FRANK TOPHAM PHOTOS 2009'. If you like I can tell you which ones I took and give them the right attribution.

    No worries, I know you are very busy.

    Cheers
    Willy Bach
    My email willybach60@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete

Please use this comment facility to communicate with each other if you wish. Can be used like a guest book but contact me with your contact details rather than showing them here, unless you are happy to do so
hank. and for those advertising wedding dresses please stop as its such a pain having to remove all the time