Tuesday, November 10, 2009

1966 - 1968 Post Crown

Post Crown
This was a "Hearts & Minds" project, to link Leong Nok Tha to Ban Khok Klang, deep in the remote area, 39 kms away.
The route links up with an all weather route from Waeng to Ban Nong Phok, thus an all weather road from Mukdahan to Rol Et.

Unofficially, the route was supposedly to reach the remote areas, where Vietkong activity was increasing, using a different route through thick scrub and forest, pa\ssing no villages.
This was eventually changed by the Thai Government, to link up a number of villages, so before the Thai Government could re-change their minds, the first 5 km of road was cut through the bush, with a forward base set-up at the 10km mark, initially working back towards Crown Base.
Crown Base would remain the Sapper Camp throughout the duration, though a halfway Camp was also set-up, as it was too far to travel back each day.
This road would link-up the following villages from Loeng Nok Tha:-
Ban Wai, Ban Hong Khong (10km forward construction camp), Ban Hong Saeng (15km mark), Ban Yang, Ban Non Pa Chat (reached 9th June), Ban khok Klang, Ban Khok Khi Nak, Ban Mua, Ban Bung and finally Ban Nong Phok (reached 15th June).
The Thai ARD (Accelerated Rural Developement) Road started at Waeng and met up with the Sappers at Ban Nong Phok.
Initially, the Thais should have travelled a further 10km, but the Sappers wanted to push the extra 10km and did. If the Sappers had not worked so hard, to link the two roads, the "Official" Opening would have not been possible.
Due to the conditions, with Insurgents ahead and even making contact with the Sappers, Surveying was restricted to 2km ahead of the earthworks, rather than the normal 10km.
To off-set this, an RE Air Troop (FARELF) was brought in, to survey from above and ensure the road line was "true". The Helicopters also looked for water and laterite sources and helped with other construction problems.

CRE (Operations) FARELF/HQRE - 17th Division
Units to be used on Post Crown
11 Indep Field Squadron
34 Field Squadron
51 Field Squadron
54 (FARELF) Support Squadron
59 Field Squadron
84 Survey Squadron
522 Specialist Team (Airfields Construction)
RE Air Troop (FARELF)
302 Postal & Courier Communications

Troops Deployed at Start of Post Crown
54 (FARELF) Support Squadron..............140
11 Indep Fld Squadron................................5
51 Fld Squadron (Airfields).......................43 (Until 17th March)
59 Fld Squadron.......................................53
522 STRE (Construction)............................7
RE Air Troop (FARELF).............................11
Post Crown Force HQ...............................64
Total Workforce available.......................323 men

During the construction of this road:

70,000 tons of earth was removed
120,000 tons of Laterite used
14 Timber Bridges built, requiring 336 piles to support them
93 Reinforced Culverts built

1700 drainage pipes laid

Outside of the Guardroom, was the Road Map Progress chart.

The initial stage, was to cut through trees and undergrowth, following the rough track that already existed, widening the track to a dual carraigeway.

View from inside a Land Rover

The Earthmoving teams worked 2km ahead of the road laying teams, using D4C, D4D & D8H Bulldozers, Fordson Tractors, Michigan 75's and Graders.

The roads were levelled and laid with Laterite.
Bridges were built, copying the Thai design, for ease of maintenance.

As the Troops worked through the villages, they also:
Dug Water Wells for the locals
Built roadways around and into the villages
Put in electricity systems
Helped to construct Schools.

February 1967 - Awards
Major Mike Roberts was awarded the MBE for his part in Op. Crown.
S/Sgt Hill was awarded the BEM for his part in Op. Crown.

April 1967 - Celebrity Visit
Harry Secombe, Anita Harris, Myna Rose, Johnny Ball and Billy Budd paid Post Crown a visit, early in 1967.
34 Squadron were working on the road at the time.
They gave a fantastic show in the Camp Church, to say the audience was a 'captive' audience, was an under-statement.
The work weary soldiers, soaked everything on offer.
August 1967 - Post Crown
59 Squadron took over command of the road, who in turn were relieved by 11 Indep Sqn.
Hong Saeng Village
This village had 2,500 inhabitants, but could grow to double its size, the landscape and crop growth could support 5,000 inhabitants.
Working with the Thai Mobile Developement Team, the Sappers:
Built an Internal Street System
Built new Water Wells, with standing storage tank, lining the wells with concrete. These wells supplied 1,000 gallons of water per hour.
Built a Power Hut, with a 30KVA Generator supply and linking this to all the buildings for lighting.
Built a Village Hall
Built a Health Centre
The project took 3 months and helped enhance this village, set in lush valley fields.
January 1968 - April 1968
A composite group of: 59 Field Sqn, 54 Support Sqn and 51 Field Sqn, are tasked with completing the remaining 25 km of road.
Start of the road from Leong Nok Tha

The above pictures show the Post Road crossing bridges.

Road Hand-over Parade
When the 40km road was completed, a small hand-over ceremony was carried out.
The Ceremony was conducted in a dusty field, alongside the 40km mark, where both Post Crown and the Thai ARD roads met, at Ban Nong Phok.
Attending was:
Sir Neil Pritchard - British Ambassador
Dawee Chullasapya - Air Chief Marshall (Deputy Minister of Defence)
Major General Richard Clutterbuck -Chief Engineer
Picture - Fig 12 below, shows:-
Regular Thai Army Band
Company of Thai Regular Soldiers
Composite Sapper Squadron (11 Sqn, 54 Sqn & 59 Sqn)
54 Voluntary Corps of Drums
This volunteer Corp were made up from all ranks of Post Crown, men who had trained to play the instruments, whilst working on the road.
The Thai Air Chief Marshall, was very surprised to learn from Sir Richard Clutterbuck, that the Band was not a regular band, only a self-trained one, from Plant Operators and other ranks.
All wore No3 Uniform Dress, as the Plant Operators photo below.

British Television also sent a crew to record the Ceremony.
Soldier Magazine attended and wrote a 5 page spread.
Plant troop on parade
Plaque at the side of the road
After the road was completed, the Squadron left the Thais:-
A Michigan 75 Shovel Loader
A Massey Ferguson Tractor and a Compaction Unit.
54 Squadron drove the entire fleet of Plant, all the way from Leong Nok Tha to Bangkok, which took 3 days.
Boarding the Sir Gallahad, the lads promptly found a bunk and began to relax, some headed off to the shower.
It was not to be, for the ships tannoy called everyone to be shore-side quickly, in uniform.
On-shore a Thai Band was assembled.
A Thai General approached 54 Squadrons OC (In Civvies) Major PR Driscoll and presented the OC with a silver pair of scissors, which had cut the opening tape across the Post Crown Road.

As the Thai General concluded his speech in good Pigeon English, he finalised with "There will be FREE beer for exactly one hour"
At that, a little cart the size of an Ice Cream cart arrived. For exactly one hour, this cart produced abundant beer for the entire hour.
During the hour, the Thai Band played non-stop.

Before Re-boarding the ship, the Sqn formed a circle and linked crossed arms, to sing 'Auld Lang Syne.
The Sqn lads then swapped Cap Badges, or indeed, the full Cap with the Thai Bandsmen and even the local Police Force.

In the following years, 54 Sqn, 59 Sqn & 11 Sqn are destined top work alongside each other, in Malaya.

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