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‘The Big Blue One’
The Battalion based at Holsworthy was warned in March 1965 for service in South Vietnam and after a rapid preparation departed by charter aircraft and HMAS SYDNEY.
After concentration at the Bien Hoa air base in early June 1965the Battalion was placed under command of the 173rd US Airborne Brigade (Separate) and formed part of the perimeter for the defence of the base. This period saw intensive training with helicopters and armoured personnel carriers (APC) and also patrolling with the US troops.
On the 25/26 June the Battalion carried out the first of many successful operations against the Viet Cong (VC) and afterwards in conjunction with the remainder of the Brigade conducted operations in such well known areas as ‘War Zone D’, ‘Ben Cat’, ‘The Iron Triangle’ and other notorious VC areas.
New Years Day 1966 saw the Battalion open Operation Marauder in the ‘Plain of Reeds’ then from there to Operation Crimp where it was the first unit to air assault into the ‘Ho Bo Woods’. It was later found that the Battalion had in fact landed on the top of the underground HQ of the VC Military Region 4. Many weapons and some 100,000 pages of documents were found in the tunnel complex which was the deepest and most elaborate found up to that time.
Until April 1966 operations continued and included two with the US 1st Infantry Division, better known as the ‘Big Red One’.
In June 1966 1 RAR returned to Australia by air and was given a tremendous ticker-tape welcome as they marched through the streets of Sydney.
The result of the years operations during the tour were 128 VC KIA plus a large number of WIA and PW with own casualties being 23 KIA and 130 WIA. Decorations for the period were two DSOs, nine MMs and seven MIDs. (See footnote.)
After vigorous training in the Holsworthy area the 1 RAR advance party departed Sydney for Vietnam on the 17th March 1968. The main body, including 130 members who had previously served in Vietnam, sailed on the HMAS SYDNEY arriving at Nui Dat on 9th April 1968 to relieve 7 RAR.
On 3rd May 1968, after two short operations the Battalion commenced Operation Toan Thang. Initially deployment was in the LongKhanProvince with a later move to fire support patrol base (FSPB) Coral. Following a probing attack estimated at battalion strength, ‘Coral’ was attacked on 16th May by a Regiment later identified as the 141 North Vietnam Regiment. Fierce fighting by the gunners of 102 Field Regiment and 1 RAR repelled the attack, ‘Toan Thang’ produced 162 KIA.
Between July and September, several operations were carried out including sweeps through the Hat Dich, Tua Tich and Baria areas.
Between 28th September – 12 October the Battalion once again deployed into the Hat Dich area. Operation Windsor was followed by Operation Capitol a giant allied sweep through the north-west of Phouc Tuy Province near the Mao Tao mountains.
Besides other major operations, 1 RAR conducted village cordon and searches, convoy escort, FSPB protection, land clearing protection, extensive TAOR patrolling and company size operations.
The Battalion returned home and marched through the streets of Sydney on 28th February 1969. During its tour of duty, 1 RAR had accounted for 276 VC KIA, and the destruction of numerous bunker complexes and caches, for the loss of 31 KIA and 165 WIA.
FOOTNOTE: In July 1991, 1 RAR on a parade at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, attended by many ex members of the Battalion’s first tour of duty, was awarded the US Army Meritorious Unit Commendation for service with 173rd Airborne Bde (Separate) US Army 1965-66, the citation reads:
Citation for The First Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment Group
By the direction of the Secretary of the Army, the Meritorious Unit Commendation is awarded to the 1st BATTALION, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT GROUP for exceptionally meritorious achievement in the performance of outstanding service:
The 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, distinguished itself in the conduct of military operation in the Republic of Vietnam from 5 May 1965 to 16 May 1966 while attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) of the United States Army. As the first ground combat unit in-country, the 173rd Airborne Brigade and its assigned and attached units conducted extensive combat manoeuvres in the Bien Hoa area and in the Viet Cong strongholds of War Zone D and the Iron Triangle during the period 5 May 1965 to 4 May 1967. In every confrontation with the stubborn insurgents, the 173rd Airborne Brigade displayed marked aggressiveness which enabled them to neutralize enemy strongholds and capture thousands of logistical items. In addition to remarkable skill and tenacity in combat, the sky soldiers of the brigade carried on an extensive civic action program characterised by sincere compassion for the suppressed local populace. During each of the brigade’s combat operations, the sky soldiers immeasurably aided the allied counterinsurgency effort by winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. The remarkable proficiency and devotion to duty displayed by the members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect distinct credit upon themselves, the Armed Forces of the United States, and the Armed Forces of Australia and New Zealand.