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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Decca Navigator, Vietnam. Photos, videos & notes.


For technical references to Decca Navigator and for references to the United States Army 16th Signals Company with whom we lived and operated the system please go to the following web sites:

Saigon, arrival.
July 19

I was not met when I descended from the aircraft. Perhaps it was my appearance, suit and tie, trilby (I've still got it) brief-case and furled umbrella.
I commandeered two U.S. military policemen and their jeep and we spent an hour driving around Tan Son Nhut airport looking for a building with a special twin aerial, unique to Decca, denoting the main office. We were succesful.
I learnt later one fellow in similar circumstances spent two weeks in the Caravel Hotel before he found the office. There were however many distractions between the two. One chap didn't even get off the aircraft and flew straight on to wherever. Perhaps cold feet at the last moment!
Certain arrivals have left lasting impressions on me. Berlin in 1957 after crossing East Germany by darkened troop train at night. Havana just after Castro had taken over (I then couldn't get out). Hong Kong during the cultural revolution. Saigon was another. It is a feeling related to war, communist menace or adventure. It beats tourism every time.

Decca Navigator, Vietnam

It is not my purpose to go into a highly technical explanation of the operations of Decca in Vietnam.
For a very good web site on this subject and Decca in general you should go to the site of Jerry Proc: . Let us just say here that it was a hyperbolic navigational system first used in the Normandy landings. It was originally installed in Vietnam in the early sixties for the US Air Force. Then it was switched to helicopters which were army. For some reason our mail still came through the 7th US Air Force.
It consisted of one chain in 1965, the old Mk5. A chain has a Master station (at Van Kiep, a small Vietnamese army camp in Phuc Thuy province). Three slave stations; Green (Phan Thiet, an airstrip outside the town with a base of the 101st Airborne division when I was there); Red slave station (Tay Ninh, in an old French fort, which had a platoon of 106mm Recoiless rifles, when I was there. Tay Ninh was also home to the Cao Dai sect which during the French war had its own private army. It also featured in Graham Greene's The Quiet American.); Purple slave station (On Con Son, the former French penal colony of Poulo Condore. Still reputed for its tiger cages during the current conflict). The base was at Tan Son Nhut airport.
At that time we operated with four men per station. Three technicians and a diesel mechanic.
The office had a manager, a number two who ran the stations and a local secretary who ran the office and a local employee to take care of the accounts. There were also various odd bods who seemed to live in the office without any visible function. We had a few instructors who flew in the helicopters and various cartographers stationed around the country who worked on the charts.
We had one liason officer, a major. He had his sergeant. They had a helicopter and a jeep . We possesed a minibus and driver.
Being in that somewhat grey area between civilians and the military we had grades of GS 12 for station personnel and GS13 for station commanders. A GS12 is the same level as a major and a GS13 that of a colonel. We so outranked the military that it was to cause some friction later.
Although 1965 saw the build-up of US forces it had not yet filtered down to affect our daily life.
Everything was very low key. It was what I would call a very laid back war. When one arrived at the military air base one did not have to show any papers. Nobody was in a hurry. Except for the Vietnamese who had adopted the French passion for bureaucracy we virtually ignored all regimentation.
We were all ex service personnel; who wasn't in those days of the draft and National Service. It was a job ill fitted though to men who had not known the rigours of military life. I believe we were all bachelors. The company did not like sending married men overseas. We were mostly British or American with the odd Australian etc.
All this was to sadly change. Big does not make better and the American belief that one should use a sledgehammer to swat a fly, and not to be responsible for the accompanying collateral damage was to rather poison the atmosphere later. I loathe that word "collateral". I don't think it was used then. Battles killed people. That was generally accepted. But it was the more the better that irritated me


Robert A. Kehl said...

I was an employee of Decca in Vietnam(Master Station) 3/65 through 6/66. I would love to contact some of my old cohorts. John Hanson, Cris Rose, Dave Kane, or any other person who remembers me. My name is Bob Kehl. www.citizenkehl

Rozier said...

This is Chris Rose, it's my blog although I use another name, vnrozier or rozier.
My e-mail is
I'm in contact with John Hansen. I'm trying to put a face to your name. It was long ago.
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