Captain Andrew Craig: Remembrance Day 2021

Andrew Craig, a former naval officer and helicopter pilot, served with the Royal Australian Navy from 1958-1988, retiring with the rank of Captain. His service included time at sea during the Indonesian Confrontation, deployment to Vietnam with No. 9 Squadron RAAF and the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam, and command of 817 Naval Air Squadron.  Captain Craig kept a personal archive of photographs, pilot’s logbook and papers, which reveal the story of his own service as a naval officer and pilot, including his time as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, available online here.

Image of Captain Andrew Craig on Duty. 31869 Captain Andrew Craig RAN papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31869-0001-0058.

Captain Craig graduated from the Royal Australian Naval College in 1959 and was then sent to the Royal Naval College in London to continue his training. It was here that he learnt how to fly Tiger Moth Biplanes. In the 1960s, while serving on the HMAS Vendetta, he was deployed to the Indonesian Confrontation, a three-year conflict on the Island of Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, with Australian troops involved as part of a Commonwealth under British command.

In late 1966, after serving on a destroyer and a minesweeper, Craig received a call asking him to further his flying training with the United States Navy in Florida. With Australia’s increasing commitment to the Vietnam War, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) recognised the importance of having a Fleet Air Arm and the need to train more helicopter pilots.  Craig and a group of RAN mid-shipmen were sent to the US Naval Flying Training Command at Pensacola. They returned to Australia as naval aviators, qualified in fixed and rotary wing aircraft, in late 1967.  He was then deployed to Vietnam in 1968 and attached to No. 9 Squadron with the RAAF.

Captain Andrew Craig RAN Photograph Album (0005-0089). John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31869-0005-00889.

On 13 June 1968, while transporting Australian battalions north in Vietnam, Craig and his crew were injured when their helicopter was 'hit by a round from the ground', which sent his helicopter into an uncontrolled spiral dive. Craig recalls the event:

By sheer good luck we hit the ground (through jungle canopy) in a more or less level attitude- and that unquestionably saved our lives. I blacked out momentarily on impact and ‘came to’ to find the collective under my armpit, the roof of the helo down around my head...The situation was not encouraging.  We were immobile on the ground in enemy territory about ten metres from a fully armed gunship with a running engine, the exhaust from which was burning the foliage that had fallen over it. The prospect of being in the centre of a reasonably spectacular fire seemed high. Further, the engine was probably acting as an audio magnet for anyone interested enough to find us.” (31869-01-0004a04, pg. 4).

Image of Captain Craig and Crew in Hospital. Album of 31869/1 Captain Andrew Craig RAN papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31869-01-0007.

Luckily the crash was witnessed by Allied Forces, and they were winched to safety by a US Army medivac helicopter. They were flown to Blackhorse Hospital, where x-rays revealed Craig had several spinal fractures.  Due to the severity of his injuries, he was transferred back to Australia to recover before eventually returning to Vietnam to complete his tour. Craig found his deployment to Vietnam rewarding, noting:

The flying was hard and challenging and, for all its quirks and risks, unquestionably the best of my career.” (318969-01-0004a09, pg. 5).

In the early 1970s, he flew Wessex helicopters off HMAS Melbourne before bringing a squadron of Sea Kings over from their factory in the UK. Following a promotion, he became a staff officer and was involved in the procurement of Seahawk helicopters. With the rank of captain, he then decided to leave the Navy in 1988 and head up the newly formed Sikorsky Aircraft Australia.

Medals and awards, 31869/2 Captain Andrew Craig RAN papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In 1997 Craig was doing the ‘single dad thing’ when, in a moment of serendipity, he was introduced to a single mother at a school event for his daughter. He soon discovered that this woman was the daughter of the surgeon who had treated his broken back in Vietnam. The following year he married the surgeon’s daughter.

Captain Andrew Craig and his wife. 31869 Captain Andrew Craig RAN papers. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image number: 31869-01-0004a09.

In more recent times, Captain Andrew Craig has served as Chair on the Queensland Advisory Committee for the Commemoration of the Anzac Centenary (QACCAC) of World War One, 2014-2018 and is the current President of Legacy Brisbane. 

Andrew Craig’s personal story is featured in the Post 1945 Gallery at Anzac Square. He is also part of our 2021 Remembrance Day Campaign, which explores the personal stories of a range of past and present Queensland defence personnel. Each year, on 11 November, Australians observe one minute's silence at 11am, in memory of those who have died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts. This year who will you stop to remember? Share your stories in the comments.

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