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The Battle of Long Tan took place in the Phuoc Tuy Province of South Vietnam on August 18, 1966 during the Vietnam War.
108 men from the D Company of 6RAR were patrolling the area of the Long Tan Rubber Plantation right after the attack on their Nui Dat Australian Task Force base. A large force of more than 2,000 Viet Cong forces attacked them after 4 p.m. with rifle fire, machine-gun fire, and mortars.
The Australian soldiers returned fire after the attack occurred from Viet Cong soldiers. The Australian soldiers took artillery support from the Nui Dat base. This happened just three months after the Australian troops arrived in Vietnam. A day earlier, enemy fire was seen and heard on the Australian Task Force operations base in Nui Dat. Australian troops, 108 of them, were called the Anzac forces. These forces actually consisted of 105 Australian army men and three New Zealanders. They had to fight around 1,500-2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. Australian soldiers were actually outnumbered 20:1. There was a relentless intense battle in the Battle of Long Tan. The peak attack lasted for around three hours and 3o minutes.
Both sides fired around 400,000 rounds of ammunition, which is equivalent to 1,000 shots a minute for hours. Soldiers reportedly passed out from the cordite fumes coming out of the guns. The battle took place in an area that was the size of two football fields. So, you can imagine how intense the battle may have been. As soon the battle began, immediately a lightning storm struck the battlefield. Even the artillery positions were struck by lightning. War veterans later said that they were blindly shooting in the dark, rainy darkness for hours without getting a proper location. The Australian veterans also said that the Vietnamese forces kept on coming in groups. The battle was the first important Australian battle in history to be covered on television back home. From 1965 onwards, around 30 Australian Broadcasting Commission correspondents and camera crew were told to cover the Vietnam War.
Australian soldiers and New Zealand soldiers were known for their bravery and courage throughout the war, while on the Vietnamese side, the Battle of Long Tan was seen as a failure and embarrassment for them. Vietnam forces said that the ANZAC forces actually lost the battle. After the battle, the Vietnamese forces never again tried to take the Nui Dat base and the Long Tan battle cemented Australia's position in the rest of the Vietnam War.
Long Tan is the only place in Vietnam to have been given permission for a foreign memorial apart from the memorial for French forces at Dien Bien Phu in the northwest. The name of the Australian memorial is called the Long Tan Cross. The Long Tan Cross is located around 68.3 mi (110 km) east of Ho Chi Minh city. The Long Tan Cross was erected to mark the site of the battle on August 18, 1969. In the Battle of Long Tan, 18 were killed and 24 were injured, which is one-third of the 108 troops from Australia who engaged in the war.
Even decades after the war, thousands of Australians have visited Long Tan to see the Australian War Memorial to remember the compatriots who fought with valor even as they faced overwhelming odds. Following the North Vietnamese victory, most memorials and monuments in Vietnam were destroyed. The Battle of Long Tan is the main symbol of Australian involvement in the war in Vietnam and the date August 18 is now celebrated as Vietnam Veterans Day. In the Vietnam war, almost 60,000 Australian soldiers served with more than 3,000 injured and a death count of 521.
Major Harry Smith, along with his company of 108 Australian and New Zealander soldiers, struck a decisive victory in the Battle of Long Tan.
The Australians had recently established the Nui Dat base in Vietnam as a stronghold in the Vietnam War. Viet Cong attacked this base with mortars and guns as a distraction. The next day, the D Company traveled to the rubber plantation where they were ambushed. They were outnumbered 10:1 but still managed to get a decisive win in the battle. However, Vietnamese people do not refer to this battle as an Australian win. You can learn more about this war and more details of the Australian war memorial established in Long Tan as you continue to read.
Here is a brief timeline of events.
At 2:43 a.m. on August 17, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops bombarded the base at Nui Dat for 22 minutes straight. 24 Australians were injured, 21 tents were damaged, and 7 vehicles were damaged.
At 2:50 a.m., the Australian counter bombardment started. At 4:10 a.m., the artillery fire from Australians stopped. At 4:50 a.m., the commanding officer of 6RAR Lt Col Townsend ordered B Company to find the enemy's firing positions. At 6:31 a.m., B Company was sent to search for the enemy and track their tracks. At 8 a.m., they found the first enemy mortar firing location. They fanned out and discovered more. At 10:30 a.m., the main enemy track faded away.
On August 18, at 7:05 a.m., B Company recommenced the search with almost half of its men. At 8 a.m., a radio message was received for Harry Smith to report with his D Company to meet B Company for patrol. At 8:30 a.m., D Company started collecting rations and ammunitions and packed all the important needs. It was at 3:15 p.m. that D Company entered the rubber plantation. At 3:35 p.m., they had their first contact when they killed one enemy. At 3:42 p.m., the first artillery rounds were fired. At 4:08 p.m., they were hit by the enemy force with at least two machine guns. Two Australians were killed. At 4:09 p.m., platoon commander Sharp ordered 11 Platoon to move forward. At 4:10 p.m., Sharp sent a radio message to NZ Forward Observer Capt. Stanley for artillery support. At 4:12 p.m., The NZ 161 Artillery battery started firing. At 4:16 p.m., Sharp ordered artillery fire and attacks from left, right, and front. At 4:20 p.m., Harry Smith requested urgent additional artillery support. At 4:25 p.m., Harry asked 10 Platoon to go support 11 Platoon. At 4:33 p.m., Sharp was killed, and Sgt Buick took over. Simultaneously, they lost radio connection. At 4:50 p.m., heavy rain started. By 4:55 p.m., some soldiers ran out of ammo. At 5:10 p.m., an airstrike arrived but could not be differentiated due to bad weather. At 5:10 p.m., Sabben asked 12 Platoon to move to the 11 Platoon location. A heavy fight broke out, and helicopters dropped ammunition. Enemies were coming from all directions. For three and half hours, an intense battle was seen. However, the Australians managed to defeat the Vietnamese forces. The last eight rounds were fired at 2:45 a.m. on August 19.
The Battle of Long Tan is considered one of the largest battles fought by Australian forces in the Vietnam War.
On August 18, 1966, the Delta (D) Company of the Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) fought a battle with enemies on the premises of the Long Tan Rubber Plantation. The rubber plantation was just a few kilometers away from Nui Dat where the first Australian Task Force base was located. There were 42 casualties in D Company while it is said that around 245 enemy troops were killed. The D Company consisted of 105 Australian men along with three New Zealand men from the 161 Battery of Royal New Zealand Artillery who fought the Vietnamese army. The D Company and Royal New Zealand Artillery fought for almost four hours against the North Vietnamese army even when the former were outnumbered 10-1.
It was in May 1966 when the first Australian soldiers of the 6th Batallion of 6RAR came to South Vietnam. By June, more troops followed. Within two months of the arrival of the Australian artillery and troops, they had to fight the biggest battle fought by Australians in the Vietnam War. By August 1966, the Australian Task Force base in Nui Dat was already three months old. Viet Cong wanted to inflict heavy fire to stop the Australian forces at the beginning. A few days before the battle, there were radio signals that indicated the presence of enemy forces within 3 mi (5 km) of the base. These signals were heard by the intelligence officers and the task force commander. However, the patrols of the Australian force found nothing. However, on the night of August 16-17, Viet Cong attacked Nui Dat with mortars, artillery fire, and recoilless rifles.
The Australians were waiting for an assault, but none came. The next day, Australians searched the area, but nothing was found except some mortar firing positions. On August 18, D Company left Nui Dat at 11:15 a.m. for the Long Tan rubber plantation. At 3:15 p.m., they entered the plantation. Viet Cong then attacked just one hour later. Viet Cong attacked with machine guns, mortars, and small arms. D Company tried contacting company headquarters but to no avail. They were saved by a New Zealand artillery battery, and with their combined force, they took the fight to Viet Cong. There was heavy rain as soon as the battle started. The Australians were surrounded with no ammo in a defensive position with no idea about the enemy's moves in this ferocious battle. Australians asked for helicopters to drop ammunition. The air support came in the form of two brave RAAF helicopters (pilots Frank Riley and Bob Grandin) in the middle of bad weather and heavy gunfire. They dropped ammunition and blankets for the wounded troops. D Company fought with the 161 Field Battery of New Zealand, the Australian 103-105 Field batteries, and a United States battery to inflict heavy damage on Viet Cong. B Company, a relief force, was on the way. Reinforcements from B Company arrived to the plantation on foot along with A Company, who arrived in armored personnel carriers. The company moved at a faster pace as all the platoons were widely dispersed.
Viet Cong was getting ready for a final assault, but due to heavy casualties, defining action was not taken. Australians did not know about their decisive victory until they returned in the early hours to the scene of battle. In the abandoned village and the nearby forests, they found 245 Viet Cong bodies. There was evidence that other bodies had been removed from the scene. D Company faced 2,500 Viet Cong and only lost 18 Australians and had 24 injured. Major Harry Smith was the commanding officer of D Company.
The Battle of Long Tan remains the biggest one fought by Australians in the Vietnam War. The battle was fought in Phuoc Tuy Province on August 18, 1966.
The battle started in the late afternoon of August 18, 1966, and intense gunfire went on for three and half hours in mud and rain. The base at Nui Dat was bombarded with heavy fire at 2:43 a.m. on August 17. At 3:35 p.m., the first contact was made with the enemy at the rubber plantation. The last eight rounds of the battle were fired at 2:45 a.m. on August 19, 1966.
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