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The Vietnam Experience

Dustoff | Australian Military Units | RAAF Medevac | Civilian in SVN | US System | Links

Dustoff - The Helicopter Medical Evacuation Teams

Modern techniques of war in some respects bear little resemblance to the "old days". The advent of the helicopter drastically changed casualty evacuation, and many other aspects of combat. Vietnam was the helicopter war. To the wounded, no sight was more welcome than the Iroquois Helicopter with the Red Cross emblem painted on the nose, top and sides, known throughout Vietnam by the code name "Dustoff". It meant immediate treatment and a swift journey to a hospital for medical attention; the saving of valuable minutes that were for some the difference between life and death. The average time from being wounded to hospitalisation was one hour.

The UH-1 Bell Helicopters was fitted to carry 6 patients with at least one member of the crew of 4 being a fully trained first-aid man, able to give treatment from transfusions to reassurance. They sped out to evacuate the wounded, landing in the most inaccessible places, which were more often than not, under enemy fire.
In 1966 a US Dustoff helicopter was assigned to the base at Nui Dat between the hours of 0700 - 1800 daily, for dustoff duties . 9 Sqn RAAF helicopters supplemented the US aircraft when this aircraft was unable to handle large numbers of casualties.
On the 1 November 1970, 9 Sqn RAAF Iroquios helicopters took over responsibility for the role on a full time basis of maintaining an aircraft and crew at Nui Dat in readiness to respond to calls for dustoff.
No 9 Sqn RAAF Helicopters by December 1968 had evacuated 2000 casualties from the Battle field. by the end of their role in Vietnam 9 Sqn had carried 4,000 casevacs(wounded). In Vietnam only 2.5% of casualties died before reaching hospital, compared with 4.3% in Korea and 8.5% in World War 2.
On several occasions Sioux helicopters of the Army's 161 Recce Flt at Nui Dat picked up wounded.
Quite often the wounded were winched out of the jungle in litters, making the helicopter and its crew highly vunerable to ground fire. It was not unusual for helicopters to winch out seriously wounded while the battle still raged below.
The American Dustoffs were particularly well known by the Australians as being prepared to risk their aircraft and lives in assisting Australian wounded.
In 1968, 35 "Dustoff " Helicopters were hit by ground fire whilst carrying out an evacuation. In 1969 the figure was 39.

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Australian Military Medical Units.

Forming part of the Australian Military committment in South Vietnam in 1966, 2 Field Ambulance was committed to Vietnam in March 1966 to support the Australian forces in Vietnam. Stationed at Vung Tau from 1 April 1966 until 5 July 1967, the unit included a 50 bed hospital element, a hygiene squad, a medical stores component and a surgical team comprising a surgeon and anaesthetist.
A detachment of the field ambulance moved to the Task Force base at Nui Dat to establish a subsidiary minor medical facility, its main function, to provide emergency medical treatment before evacuation for more definitive treatment. Medical facilities were supplemented by Regimental Aid Posts from some Task Force units.
8 Field Ambulance( tour 2 March 1967-12 March 1972) replaced 2 Field Ambulance in April 1967 and provided medical facilities at Vung Tau and Nui Dat until 1972.
On the 1st April, 1968, 1 Australian Field Hospital was opened at Vung Tau and catered for the Austalian wounded until 21 November 1971.

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RAAF Aero Medical Evacuation Flights

During the course of the Vietnam war, 3238 Australian and New Zealand service personnel were medically evacuated from Vietnam to Australia, mainly by RAAF Hercules aircraft. The breakdown was:

Australian Army 2793
RAAF 159
RAN 24
New Zealand Army 194
Civilians 8
Status Unknown 58


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Australian Civilian Medical Teams in Vietnam.

Australia was one of fifteen nations to provide civilian or military medical aid teams to South Vietnam and were provided under the SEATO aid program.

Long Xuyen

October 1964 - October 1965 Royal Melbourne Hospital
October 1964 - October 1965 St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne
October 1966 - October 1967 Prince Henry's Hospital, Melbourne
October 1967 - February 1969 New South Wales State Team
February 1969 - July 1970 Western Australia State Team
August 1970 - January 1970 Western Australia State Team
January 1970 - August 1970 Two-Doctor Team from the Ben Hoa Team
August 1970 - December 1970 One Doctor detached from the Ben Hoa Team

Ben Hoa

January 1966 - March 1967 Alfred Hospital, Melbourne
April 1967 - October 1967 South Australia State Team
October 1967 - January 1969 Queensland State Team
February 1969 - January 1970 Alfred Hospital, Melbourne
January 1970 - July 1970 South Australian State Team
August 1970 - January 1971 Victorian State Team
January 1971 - July 1971 Queensland State Team
August 1971 - January 1972 New South Wales State Team
January 1972 - July 1972 New South Wales State Team
July 1972 - December 1972 Composite Australia Wide Team

Le Loi Hospital, Vung Tau

November 1966 - May 1967 Prince Henry and Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney.
May 1967 - November 1967 Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney
November 1967 - March 1970 Repatriation Commission

Phuoc Le (Baria)

October 1968 - March 1969 Subsidiary of Repatriation Commission Team at Le Loi Hospital Vung Tau

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The American System

The USAF Military Airlift Command(MAC) evacuated 406,022 patients, including 168,832 battle casualties, between 1965 and 1973.
Between 1965 and 1969, there were 372,947casualties evacuated
by Helicopter . This included US, Allied troops and civilians.
At the peak of Allied involvement, 116 Bell UH-1 "Dustoffs" were in service.
There were 18 hospitals scattered throughout Vietnam.
83% of wounded were able to return to military duty.
2% of wounded died in hospital compared with the Second World War death rate of 4.5%

Deaths Causes Wounded
Vietnam - 51%
World War II - 32%
Korea - 33%
small arms
booby traps/mines
punji stakes


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