Australian the victim of "friendly fire"

Name: Guy Watkins
Date: 1967
Unit: 7 RAR
Location: Vietnam

When Private Guy Watkins was wounded in Vietnam, the local paper in Tasmania reported he had been shot by a Viet Cong.

But in a letter to his father written some days after the incident, it turns out Guy Watkins was hit by "friendly fire". The result was a bullet through his knee.

The Australians were taking part in Operation Santa Fe which had begun on 25 October 1967. At that stage three Australians had been killed and 10 wounded while they were reported to have killed 35 Viet Cong, wounded seven and captured five.

Telegrams to the Private Watkins' father in Tasmania gave details of his condition.

"It is learned with regret that your son Private Guy William Watkins was placed on the seriously ill list at 8 Field Ambulance, Vung Tau Vietnam on 11 November 1967 as a result of gunshot wounds causing compound fracture to left knee popliteal artery and vein STOP A progress report will be sent to you at regular intervals but if a change of condition occurs you will be notified immediately".

A second telegram three days later advised Private Watkins had been taken off the seriously ill list and was progressing satisfactorily.

In the meantime, Private Watkins wrote to his father giving details of the incident.

"They said they had sent a message telling you what happened. My leg was cut about pretty bad. The bullet went through the back of the leg and as it came out just below the knee cap, it cut the artery and vein.

"It was touch and go whether they would have to amputate it. It still aches a bit and is stiff. The doctor who fixed it knew what he was doing."

Private Watkins wrote that he had had two sessions in the operating theatre and had been in hospital about four days.

Then he came to how he had been shot.

"I suppose they told you in the message that I was shot by one of our own blokes. I was out as sentry in front of the gun. I checked my rifle to see if I had a round in the breech and one of the other sentries on the left flank shot. I stood up just before he fired the shot. Just as well or I would have copped it in the back.

"From the time I was shot till the time I reached hospital was about three-quarters of an hour."

Private Watkins was winched out by helicopter and taken to hospital.

He went on to describe the dramatic events leading up to his wounding.

"The first couple of days we were out on the operation we set an awful ambush. We had been there about two and a half days, when three rounds from an automatic weapon spattered in to about half an inch from where I was sitting.

"Apparently he had heard us in the ambush and sneaked round behind us. We never got him. That was our first contact with a VC.

"Then we had a contact with a VC a couple of days later. This bloke ran into an old hut near a river. We opened fire on it. When we went and had a look in the hut there was a VC family in there. The father had been shot four times. He died before he reached hospital. There was a little girl and boy lying dead on the floor. The mother had her right leg blown off. "The VC must be mad to have their families with them, because they always get shot."

Private Watkins was sceptical about the outcome of the war.

"They will never get rid of them (the Viet Cong). The jungle's full of them. There is going to be a hell of a lot killed or wounded before this war is over."

Following his return to Australia, Private Watkins eventually had to have his right leg amputated above the knee as a result of the injury.

The material for this article was supplied by Guy Watkins of Tasmania


Last updated: 4 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Australian the victim of "friendly fire", DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 3 December 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/australian-victim-friendly-fire
Was this page helpful?