The Battle of Long Tan

longtan crossOn August 18, 1966, the Battle of Long Tan took place in the Long Tan Rubber plantation, while most of 6RAR & the rest of the Task Force enjoyed the Rock concert being performed by “Col Joye” and “Little Pattie”. I could hear the gunfire in the distance; little did I know then how serious this battle was. Nor did I know that I was to become involved in the battle myself, and later to serve along side the men of 12 platoon “D” Company. I feel honoured and proud to say that I was a member of “D” Company 6RAR. A better group of soldiers you could never find. Much of what follows has been already been told by others that were actually involved in the battle, you can read other accounts of the battle some of these you may or not agree with. Being a regular in the army and being taught and practising tactics used by the Royal Australian Regiment. The Vietnamese had it all wrong then and still have, must be something to do with not losing face.

Young Australian soldiers of D Company of the 6th battalion some who had been drafted into the army the previous year, shared in the triumphant victory which cost 18 young men their lives 17 from D Company and 1 from the armoured personnel carriers (APC’s) 3 troop. D Company earned the United States Presidential Unit Citation.

The battle was Australia’s greatest victory in its ten-year involvement of the war. The newly arrived Task Force had set up a strongly defended base at Nui Dat right in the middle of VC controlled territory. This obviously got right up their nose and they reacted with the intention of giving these Australians a lesson they would never forget, and also to gain support for their own cause from the local people. The VC, who drew up the battle plans, didn’t know too much about the Australian soldier. If he had he wouldn’t have tried to do what he did. Australian soldiers have never been defeated in battle. They don’t retreat they may withdraw and attack in another direction but they never retreat. Remember the Anzac’s at Gallipoli

The Vietcong battle plan was simple enough. Colonel Nguyen Than Hong, who directed the VC attacking force was to approach the Australians at Nui Dat and fire mortars into the base, masterminded it. It was hoped that this action would lure the Australians out of their strong defensive base. The VC would be waiting to trap them from a prepared ambush position where the Australians would be easily wiped out. So 275 Regiment moved towards the 1ATF at Nui Dat and it’s appointment with destiny. Then on the night of 16-17th August they mortared the Task Force, which wounded a number of Australians. The Task Force responded with artillery, the diggers grabbed their weapons and stood to in their weapon pits ready to repulse any attack. No enemy approached. At dawn “B” Company of 6RAR was sent out to search for the enemy mortar positions, they found five mortar positions and a number of weapons pits. Next day “D” Company 6RAR took over the search from “B” Company which then made it’s way back to the Dat and the concert by Col Joye and Little Pattie.

Led by Major Harry Smith D Company left the Task Force at 11am 18th August. In the afternoon moving through low scrub, swamp and paddy fields towards the Long Tan rubber plantation they would have been able to hear the Rock concert back at the Task Force. At about 3pm the Company entered the rubber plantation when Lieutenant Sharp’s 11-platoon found a small enemy force. The platoon opened fire killing one enemy the battle of Long Tan had begun. The Company continued its advance along the edge of the rubber plantation the Vietcong attacked the whole company was under fire from mortars, rifles and machine guns. Sharp’s 11 platoon was almost surrounded. The Viet Cong attacked the platoon from the North, East and South the area to West of 11 platoon was never occupied by the enemy, at the same time torrential rain was falling. The artillery at the Task Force responded to a call for support immediately, 105 Field battery of the Royal Australian Artillery supplied the bulk of the fire support called in by the New Zealand Artillery forward observer. The American gunners from the 155mm guns along side 105 Battery assisted the Australian gunners by carrying the ammunition to the guns. 11 platoon was ordered to withdraw but it was pinned down by intense enemy fire and repeated enemy infantry assaults. Lt Sharp a national serviceman was killed shortly after, and Sergeant Bob Buick took over 11 platoon and maintained control.

The Company was unable to get air support due to the rain and canopy of the rubber trees. The American fighters could not see the smoke set off by D Company to pin point the target they were forced to divert to another target. Not only was the Company denied direct air support they were also running out of ammunition and things must have looked pretty grim. Two RAAF helicopter crews risked there lives and flew in the appalling weather conditions. Because of the rain they had to fly at a low altitude, where they were in danger of receiving enemy ground fire. It was the only way they could get the much-needed ammunition to D Company. The Choppers were at Nui Dat to transport the concert party back to Vung Tau but were promptly diverted to the vital ammunition re-supply task.

To support D Company, B Company of 6RAR was ordered to return to the battle area While A Company also raced out to D Company in the APC’s of 3 troop 1st APC Squadron. With the APC’s was Lt Col Townsend, who took charge of the relief force. The APC’s had to cross the Suoi Da Ban creek now in heavy flood from the heavy rain. The APC’s encountered a large enemy force. Soldiers of 2 platoon A Company dismounted and advanced on foot blazing away at the VC fighting their way towards D Company. The APC’s joined in the battle and the VC finding themselves outgunned, outclassed and facing a determined bunch of Australians, decided to call it a day and fled. At about 7pm when the relief force approached D Company the light was fading fast, the Vietcong could be seen massing for a final assault. Soon afterwards the firing and the rain stopped, the enemy troops began rising from the ground and retreated into the rubber trees. The Vietcong had suffered a defeat greater than they could have ever imagined, and hundreds of their wounded were in desperate need of medical attention. The magnitude of their defeat was not fully realised until the following day 19th August, when the Australians moved back into the battle area and counted 245 enemy bodies. By the amount of blood trails found many more dead or wounded had been dragged away.

Captured enemy documents and the interrogation of prisoners revealed the Viet Cong force was made up of 275 Regiment (reinforced by North Vietnamese regulars) and D445 battalion. Therefore D Company 6RAR about 108 men had faced approximately 2500 enemy. The Australian battle casualties were 18 killed and 24 wounded, considering the odds those men faced they acquitted themselves in a way that would ensure their achievement would be remembered in Australian military history forever.

The Vietcong having built up their hopes of crushing these Australians were not going to let facts get in the way of their propaganda. They broadcast through radio Hanoi the news of a major Vietcong victory at Long Tan in which 700 Australian soldiers had been killed and two squadrons of tanks had been destroyed. (What Tanks we didn’t have tanks in country at the time, if they meant APC’s, only 1 squadron was involved and if my memory serves me correctly we didn’t lose one that day.) To confirm the report the Vietcong D445 battalion was awarded a unit citation for bravery. More than thirty years later they still hold on to that fairy tale. There has been many myths about what happened in that rubber plantation on that fateful day these I will leave for you to discover and make up your own mind of what is fact and what is fiction. One fact that can not be disputed is this; those young Australian soldiers acquitted themselves that day in the finest Australian tradition.

The United States Presidential Unit Citation (Army) D Company, Sixth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

cit-pres

The Citation is represented by the Blue Pennant on the Regimental Colour and by the blue rectangle in a gold frame which is worn above the right hand breast pocket at all times by those who took part in the battle, and by others whilst actually serving with the unit.

The President of the United   States of America awarded the Citation on 30 May 1968 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gave formal approval for the acceptance and unrestricted wearing of the Distinguished Unit Citation on 13 June 1968.

Citation for D Company, Sixth Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment By virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I have today awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for extraordinary heroism to D Company, Sixth Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, The Australian Army.

D Company distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing armed force in Vietnam on August 18, 1966. While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, PhuocTuyProvince, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately became engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attached on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well-armed and determined foe, the men of D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties upon the Viet Cong. The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and a low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle.

After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence position of D Company.

The conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were in the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army.

A few stories of the battle

I rolled over on my side hoping that the mud would dry out the wound and help to stop the bleeding. The artillery was still coming in and it was dark by now and I knew I’d get no help till morning at least. I kept hoping that the artillery wouldn’t get me…. I was worried about my mother, and I kept thinking if I died she would be up shit creek, so I prayed a lot and made a lot of promises, but I’m afraid I never really kept any of them after I got back home. It was the longest night I’ve ever known. The artillery was still coming in and I can remember thinking, “This one’s going over, and this one’s falling short, and this one’s for you Jim.” … The other thing that was really worrying me was the thirst. I drank all my water and during the night I got painfully thirsty and reckoned if I could survive the Viet Cong troops and the artillery I’d probably finish up dying of thirst. I just lay there helpless and praying and trying to stay awake and wishing to hell it would get light soon.

(Private Jim Richmond at the Battle of Long Tan, in Terry Burstall The Soldiers’ Story, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1986, p. 129)

Vic Grice was in front of me and he got shot, and I said to someone, “What happened to Vic?” and I don’t know who it was said, “He’s dead.” About ten or twenty metres after that I got shot in the leg and went down… It was getting fairly dark, so I kept on crawling. There was enemy movement about and I saw about six or eight VC moving back through the area where we’d come. About this time I looked up and there was a Viet Cong standing over me with a grenade in his hand but no rifle. I didn’t know what to do so I just screamed at him to piss off. I think he got a bigger fright than I did, because he just ran off to the east. I found a dead Viet Cong and I pulled his gear apart and found a ground sheet, so took this with me, and looked around for some place to settle in for the night.

(Barry Meller in Terry Burstall The Soldiers’ Story, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1986, pp. 84-85)

‘It was eerie. The VC weren’t running and diving behind trees like you’d expect them to. They were just walking toward us like zombies and every one you knocked down there were two to take his place. It was like shooting ducks in a bloody shooting gallery. I would have killed at least forty blokes that day.’

Allen May, on the Battle of Long Tan, 1966, in Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam: Australian voices, William Heinemanne, Richmond, 1987, p.90

Thoughts of Alan L Parr, member of 12 Platoon D Company

In Terry Burstall’s book “The Soldiers Story” he quotes in his Preface (My concern was to describe what it was like to be caught in that nightmare ambush.) published in 1986.

Off the ABC Program Overnights10th August 2004, Peter Blight discussed the background to Vietnams Veterans Day with Peter Haran who is a Veteran, journalist and author.

Talking about Long Tan part of Peters talk, quote “Delta Company, from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment – who were on patrol that particular day; the enemy lay in wait for them – a huge ambush in a rubber plantation called Long Tan. End quote.

The Australian mercenaries who are no less husky and beefy than their allies, the US aggressors, have proved as good fresh targets for the South Vietnamese Liberation fighters. On the 18 August (they) wiped out almost completely one Battalion (1000men) of Australian mercenaries in an Ambush in LongTanVillage.

Announcement from Radio Hanoi, 27 August 1966,

Announcements like this helped the myth.

Rebuff to Long Tan Ambush Theory. 

It’s always annoyed me over the years how some media articles have referred to the Battle of Long Tan as an ambush. I think a few books written since the war ended and radio broadcasts from Hanoi after the battle have given this impression. Having taken part in this battle from hearing the first shots fired to seeing the armoured personnel carriers arrive that evening, I can honestly say D Company was not ambushed in the rubber plantation at Long Tan.

Ambush: meaning to wait in a concealed position to make an attack. The Battle started a short time after 11 Platoon became engaged with a small group of Viet Cong while sweeping through the rubber plantation we had just entered; it then built up to it’s peak over a period of about one and a half hours, by this time all our platoons had made contact with the enemy.

The only part of this action that could be classed as an ambush was after 11Platoon  followed up the Viet Cong they’d clashed with in the rubber plantation and ran into a large force lying in wait. Obviously alerted by the earlier contact; 10 Platoon then engaged with the Viet Cong when they moved forward to help 11 Platoon. The Viet Cong they came in contact with were trying to move in behind 11 Platoon’s position; they were surprised by 10 Platoon’s presence in the area. After 10 Platoon were recalled back to Company HQ two sections of 12 Platoon 7 and 8 moved to an area about two hundred metres behind where 11 Platoon were. We were then about four hundred metres from Company HQ and pinned down by enemy fire. From here we could see the Viet Cong moving around in the trees on the right flank of 11 Platoon’s position.

I was now facing in the direction of 11 Platoon, to my right about one hundred and fifty metres away was a rubber-tappers hut, from here I saw a large group of assembled Viet Cong moving to our right. This could have been part of the force the armoured personnel carriers and A Company ran into forming up behind us later in the evening.

After leaving Nui Dat heading for the edge of the Long Tan rubber plantation we patrolled in single file, which would have strung D Company out over quite some distance.

The only way we could have been ambushed was if they knew we were entering the rubber plantation and regrouping after our two-hour patrol out. We did stop inside the edge of the rubber plantation for quite some time after meeting B Company (about two hours). It’s quite obvious they were oblivious to our presence. If they were lying in wait for us why would they have a small group of soldiers wandering through the rubber plantation? B Company had been in the same area the previous day and harboured overnight, they never saw any Viet Cong. A and C Companies were patrolling around the area of Long Tan in the preceding days to the 18th August. All these Companies had seen evidence of Viet Cong activity in and around the area of the rubber plantation; no contact was made. The way Australian forces patrolled out in the bush would have made it extremely hard for our Companies to be ambushed as a whole unit.

All this conjecture as to the motives of the Viet Cong luring us out from Nui Dat, there were plenty of opportunities for them to try and ambush Australian patrols; they never did.

At no time heading out to the rubber or after our rendezvous with B Company were we in a position for the Company to be ambushed as a complete unit; after we left B Company we fanned out into quite a large area.

The reason I know it was not an ambush, the Company as a whole never became engaged with the enemy at the same time.

All our platoons made contact with the enemy at different times and in different locations of the rubber plantation over a period of about one and half hours. When we all returned to our final positions we were then in a reasonably small area, the surprise of an ambush had long gone by then. It had now turned into a full frontal assault on D Companies position. I was now on the extreme left of our area just inside the plantation; past the edge of the rubber trees I could see it was all thick scrub. The enemy were now coming straight at us down through the rubber trees, there were no VC or small arms fire coming from the left of my position. From where we were earlier in the day behind 11 Platoon to our position late in the battle would have been six hundred meters.

I think people researching the history of Long Tan who come to the conclusion we were ambushed don’t fully understand that D Company could not have survived a well-prepared ambush due to the amount of Viet Cong in the area of the rubber plantation and also the time taken for reinforcements to arrive at our location from our base at Nui Dat.

My name is Alan L Parr and I was a member of 12 Platoon D Company on the 18th August 1966. I carried the M60 machine gun in 7 Section.

Honour Roll – Battle of Long Tan

 Pte Aldersea, Richard A. Unit:   6RAR; Age: 20; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Perth, WA
Civ: Lube attendant; Married
KIA – Chest wounds
Commem: Karrakatta Cemetery,    WA
Cpl Clements, Peter E Unit:   1 APC Sqn; Age: 21; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Cunderdin, WA
Single
WIA – died at hospital
Commem: Moora Cemetery, WA
Pte Drabble, Glenn A Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Brisbane, Q.
Civ: Blinds installer; Single
KIA – Gunshot wound to head
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Pinnaroo    Cemetery, Q
Pte Gant, Kenneth H Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Brisbane, Q
Civ: Butcher; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden    of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Mt Gravatt Cemetery, Q
Pte Grant, Ernest F Unit:   6RAR; Age: 20; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Thurgoona, NSW
Civ: Farm hand; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: AlburyCemetery, NSW
Pte Grice, Victor R Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Ballarat V
Civ: Storeman; Single
KIA
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Pinnaroo    LawnCemetery,   Q
Pte Houston, James M Unit:   6RAR; Age: 22; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Wallsend, NSW
Civ: Station hand; Married
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden    of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Mt Thompson Crematorium, Q
L/Cpl Jewry, Jack Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: St Mary’s NSW
Civ: Apprentice electrician; Married
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, NSW
Buried at: Pine    GroveMemorial     Park, NSW
Pte Large, Paul A Unit:   6RAR; Age: 22; National Serviceman
Born: Wellington, NSW
Civ: Manager; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, NSW
Buried at: Coolah    Cemetery, NSW
Pte McCormack, A F Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Launceston, Tas
Civ: Clerk; Single
WIA – Died at hospital
Pte McCormack, Dennis J Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Adelaide, SA
Civ: Labourer; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Pinnaroo    Cemetery, Q
Pte Mitchell, Warren D Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Dalby, Q
Civ: Clerk; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden    of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Mt Gravatt Cemetery, Q
Pte Salverton, Douglas J Unit:   6RAR; Age: 20; National Serviceman
Born: Brisbane, Q
Civ: Student; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden    of Remembrance, Q
Buried at: Mt Gravatt Cemetery, Q
2Lt Sharp, Gordon C Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Tamworth, NSW
Civ: Television cameraman; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, NSW
Buried at: Tamworth    Memorial Park, NSW
Pte Thomas, David J Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Bendigo, V
Civ: Skilled labourer; Single
KIA – Chest wounds
Commem: Kangaroo    FlatCemetery,   V
Pte Topp, Francis B Unit:   6RAR; Age: 19; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Toowoomba, Q
Single
KIA
Commem: Helidon    Cemetery, Q
Pte Wales, Maxwell R Unit:   6RAR; Age: 22; Regular Army enlistee
Born: Goondiwindi, Q
Single
KIA
Commem: MoreeCemetery, NSW
Pte Whiston, Colin J Unit:   6RAR; Age: 21; National Serviceman
Born: Sydney, NSW
Civ: Postman; Single
KIA – Gunshot wounds
Commem: Garden of Remembrance, V
Buried at: Crib    PointCemetery,   V

A powerpoint presentation of The Battle of Long Tan is available here (5mb).

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