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Barry Costa

Barry Costa

Able Seaman Weapons Mechanic, Royal Australian Navy


Able Seaman Weapons Mechanic Barry David Costa

HMAS Duchess and Perth, Royal Australian Navy
Service number: R66636
Rank on discharge: able seaman weapons mechanic

"I remember one night, there was a minesweeper, an American minesweeper, ran aground and they’d asked to help. So our captain decided to go and have a look. We went in, but then it got too shallow. The skipper, he decided to turn around and leave. And, as we were leaving, that minesweeper got bloody fired on from shore.

It was a trap, you know, so we hightailed it out and she got the bloody living hell blown outta her. I’d stick my head out of the gun turret between watches to see the bloody rockets and tracers. I saw that and thought, “This is for real.”"

Barry Costa always wanted to go to sea. He left school at 15 and got a job with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. Barry said, “I wanted to get on a merchant vessel, but they kept me down in the accounts department. So, when I was 17, I joined the Navy.”

“When you joined at 17, your contract was for nine years. My dad had been in the Navy and my brother had been in the Navy.”

In April 1970, Barry was drafted on the destroyer HMAS Perth and in September that year, Perth sailed to Vietnam for her third, and final, deployment on the gunline.

“I’d already been in the Far East on the Duchess. We met up with Sydney, the Vung Tau Ferry, off Malaysia and escorted her to Vietnam. She’d go in and spend the day unloading troops and bringing troops back home. We were just patrolling outside.”

Aboard the Perth, Barry was an Able Seaman and a weapons mechanic. “My duty station was the forward gun, Mount 51. I spent most of my time at Mount 51 maintaining the gun. But sometimes I’d be below sea level in the magazine, feeding big drums with ammunition and sending them up to the gun house. Maintaining and feeding the guns was my 24-hour-a-day job.”

“We used to fire 13,000 or 14,000 37kg high explosive shots. In between shoots I’d stick my head out of the gun turret, and I could see the rockets and tracer. It was an eye opener, that made it real.”

“When you’re at sea on the gunline, you’re on a two-watch system. You go on watch from 2am till 8am. You come off watch, have your breakfast and then clean for an hour. Then you’re allowed to hop in your bunk and sleep for an hour or so.”

“You had lunch at 11:15am and then you were back on watch from midday till 4pm. Then you’re off for four hours, and then you’re back on from 8pm till 2am. You did that for two to three weeks. It was very, very, very tiring.”

“During the day, if the ship needed ammunition, we’d meet up with an American supply ship and do replenishment at sea. That would take maybe six hours. So, your time off was spent loading and unloading.”

“When you got the chance, you just had to sleep. But you weren’t allowed to hop into your bunk until the executive officer inspected the ship. He’d do the rounds at 7pm every night, and you all had to stand to attention when he came through.”

“Where I was, there were about 90 blokes living in the space of a three-bedroom house. We had three-tiered bunks. I was on the top one near the steam pipes.”

“The blokes I lived with were a really top bunch of men. Sometimes, we’d play mahjong together, but mostly every chance I got, I popped into my bed just to sleep.”

Barry’s overwhelming memory of Vietnam is of being constantly tired. “But there are a few other things that stick in mind,” he said.

“I remember one night an American Minesweeper had run aground and asked us to help. We were going in but it got too shallow, so we decided to turn around. As we were leaving, the Minesweeper got fired on from the shore. It was a trap. We hightailed it out and that poor Minesweeper got blown out of the water.”

There is another incident that Barry is constantly reminded of. “One night we bombarded a Viet Cong outpost and the next day there was a trawler with eight Viet Cong soldiers waving their arms in the air wanting to give themselves up. So, a boarding party brought them on board and stripped them off and checked them all over, and they were okay.”

“Eventually some Americans and South Vietnamese came and took them away. Anyway, there was a rumour floating around the ship that they were executed. I didn’t believe it, I thought why would they execute somebody who had given themselves up? Anyway, about five years ago I met up with the officer in charge of the boarding party and he said that they were shot. That disturbs me.”

“I didn't tell many people that I'd been in Vietnam. People used to spit on you. They didn’t really understand. I still don't tell many people about what I did or about the shenanigans we used to get up to because they wouldn’t understand. My brother was my best mate. He was in Navy, and we could just talk about things, you know. We had a really good relationship.”

“Leaving Vietnam when we did was great, because it meant the day that I got home was my 21st birthday, I thought, oh well how good is that?”