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          The Australian Royal Armed Force took small part in Vietnam War involvement; however its contribution was so successful and it left uncounted legendary stories among the local folks of Phuoc Tuy Province. Compiled from various souces of photos and articles, this webpage is assembled as a tribute to the Australian Veterans for their services in Vietnam.

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By Harry Smith (Commander of Delta Company, 6RAR, commanded the Company at the historic battle)

Lam Son Map

           Much has been written about the Battle of Long Tan by others. Many authors have dwelt on the politics of why we were sent to Vietnam; and why we were sent out to locate a small force that had shelled the Base when it was obvious, perhaps in hindsight, that a large VC Force was in the area. Some, motivated by VC propaganda, have said we walked into a deliberate ambush. I have little time for the politics, theories or criticism which detract from the outstanding performance of my Company and all the Supporting Forces involved in the Battle. We were carrying out orders given by our Government to our Senior Commanders of the time.

My orders early on the 18th August 1966 were to take D Company out to the Long Tan area, relieve B Company which had gone out the day before and located signs of vacated enemy mortar positions, and try and locate the VC force that had shelled the Base. My Commander indicated a Weapons Platoon and protection, perhaps 50-60 VC, probably long gone. Despite statements made in hindsight by various intelligence people, no indication was given to me of any larger force in the area, other than perhaps odd D445 Local Force Companies.

We quickly prepared for the operation and left Base about 1100, moving across the grassy fields to the East, to the music from the Col Joye and Little Pattie Concert. About 1300 we arrived at B Coy area. I went around with Major Noel Ford, a close friend from 1952 OCS days, and we looked at the various VC mortar positions and tracks. B Company had swept the area to the East (to a hut), and North East, and found no sign of VC in the area. They had spent a quiet night, had sent half the Company back to Base earlier, with the rest departing about 1500. There was no indication of any enemy actively in the area since the shelling on the 16th.

I discussed the situation by radio with my Battalion Commander, suggesting that despite tracks to the NE and S, that my gut feeling was to patrol East to our Artillery gun range limit. I recall saying, lightly, "On the toss of a coin, go East young man"! After giving orders, we headed East, then with new tracks in the rubber, I gave orders for a widely-dispersed two (platoons)-up advance through the rubber plantation generally ESE parallel to a formed dirt track, with 11 Platoon on the right, along the track; 10 Platoon to the left; Company Headquarters centre rear, and 12 Platoon rear [reserve).

Soon after, at about 1540, a small VC patrol walked in from the South, nonchalantly, chatting, not looking, right into the middle of 11 Platoon. 11 Platoon opened fire, killing one, capturing an AK47, and then went on to assault the hut area where it was thought the VC had withdrawn to, but the area was clear. They regrouped into three sections up and continued advancing.

A few VC 60mm mortar bombs were fired from the South, landing just East of the Company. I ordered a small move across to the West, and the Artillery FO organized Counter-Bombardment. To the best of my knowledge, no more VC 60mm or 82mm mortars, or their 75mm guns, were fired into the Company area, despite the large number that could have been used by the VC if they had been prepared for the ensuing battle.

This diversion placed the main Company group a little further away from 11 Platoon, but into a slight reverse-slope area that was to later prove invaluable, providing some protection from direct VC fire.

11 Platoon continued to advance SE, and soon ran into heavy VC MG fire, which caused casualties. 11 Platoon went into a defensive layout, and after about 20 minutes under fire were then assaulted by a large enemy force. It become obvious from radio conversations and the firing that 11 Platoon was pinned down and taking heavy casualties. Our Artillery FO called in gunfire to support 11 Platoon, and I gave orders to 10 Platoon to swing around and assault from the left (North), with the aim of taking pressure off 11 Platoon so they could withdraw back into a Company defensive position. It started to rain heavily - the usual afternoon monsoon downpour. Then radio communications with 11 Platoon ceased. My worst thoughts were that they may have been over-run.

10 Platoon then came under heavy fire and were halted. I ordered them to withdraw with their casualties while they were able, back into the Company area, and then sent 12 Platoon, less one Section to protect the casualties in the Aid Post area, to the right to try and assist 11 Platoon. Coy HQ moved off behind 12 Platoon but it soon became obvious that neither I nor the FO could control the battle on the move and we remained in what was to become the defensive area for the rest of the battle, with some protection from small arms fire by slightly higher ground between us and the VC. We had neither the time, the opportunity nor the tools to dig protection trenches in the mud between the young rubber trees.

At about this time we started running short of ammunition, and I requested helicopter re-supply. This arrived some time after, no mean feat by the pilots in monsoon rain conditions, and was dropped through the trees right into our position during a lull in the VC onslaught, and the ammunition was quickly distributed. Without this re-supply, there is little doubt we would not have survived.

The survivors from 11 Platoon eventually managed to withdraw, back to 12 Platoon, then back to the Company area, where we re-organized the platoons into a defensive layout as the VC forces started to assault in waves, to be cut down by our massive artillery fire and our own machine-gun and rifle fire.

It was also about this time that I requested B Company to return to assist, and I was informed that A Company was being sent out from the Base in APC's. I had requested air strikes, but the USAF fighters could not see the area for rain and dropped their ordnance to the East, later found to have taken heavy toll in VC rear areas, as did the US Army heavy guns.

The VC assaults continued, but each was repulsed by our Artillery and small arms fire. The VC would then withdraw, re-organise and assault again, with tremendous MG and small arms tracer fire lighting up the fading daylight like a million fireflies. Our FO moved the gunfire around onto the VC, and by this time we had the support of all 24 or so Australian, NZ 105mm and US Army 155mm guns. They fired over 3000 rounds in support of D Company that afternoon. During lulls, between VC assaults we were able to walk around, tend to casualties and re-distribute weapons and ammunition ready for the next onslaught.

At last light, B Company HQ and the one platoon arrived, just as we fired on enemy force moving around to the West trying to get to our rear. Then the APCs and A Company arrived, dispersing the VC flanking move. All the VC then withdrew, and as we later discovered, fled hurriedly East leaving behind many bodies, wounded, weapons, equipment and fortunately our own dead, wounded and weapons, untouched, in the original 11 Platoon area

During the night we withdrew West to the edge of the rubber and evacuated all the casualties sustained in the final company area. The following morning, as part of a major Task Force advance named Operation "Smithfield', we moved back into the area, recovering the 11 Platoon dead and wounded, and burying all the enemy dead. We took 3 VC prisoner. I am aware that perhaps another 2 or 3 were shot, one as an act of mercy because of horrific head-wounds, and a couple because they made a move to shoot, but not the 17 "murdered" as claimed by one misguided media report in a 1986 article.

Some say we exaggerated the enemy dead. I can say that we all saw a large number of bodies and that the 245 enemy dead were counted and buried in specific areas by different units with no reason to fabricate the numbers. VC records later captured by US Forces indicated the total VC losses at Long Tan were in the order of 500 dead and 750 wounded.

Our casualties were 17 KIA, 21 WIA, with another 1 KIA and WIA from the APCs. VC media propaganda and over Radio Hanoi and in newspapers was to the effect they had won a glorious victory over the Australians forces, destroying one complete battalion of 600, several tanks and two aircraft!

Looking Back: 30 years down the track, I am aware of other versions of the Battle, especially by cynics siding with the VC version, claiming we were ambushed. I can say without any doubt there was NO ambush. The Regimental NVA force was resting in a typical defensive area in jungle well to the East and only moved out to attack 11 Platoon after the VC contact near the hut. There was no prepared ambush killing ground into where all the VC fire, Claymore mines, RPG's, Artillery, and mortars could have been directed. In fact there were no 82mm mortars or 75mm guns used during the Battle. The VC attacks took place inside our gun range. And there was no cut-off force to attack any relief force at the only river crossing that could be used. All that adds up to - NO ambush, just a pure chance encounter. The VC were obviously aroused by the 11 Platoon contact with a "clearing patrol" which had no idea we were in the area. This was confirmed by one of the few factual VC statements - from the former Commander of D445 in a videotaped interview.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Long Tan was an encounter battle where 108 soldiers of D Coy survived continual frontal assaults mounted by battalions of a reinforced NVA Regiment in the order of some 2500 NVA and VC troops. The battle developed from a Platoon contact with a VC Patrol, to an assault on that platoon by probably two VC Companies, then to Battalion attacks on our final Company defensive position. We survived by a combination of our own training, discipline and firepower; the massive Australian, NZ and US Army artillery support; the RAAF helicopter ammunition resupply; USAF bombing in the VC rear echelons; and the eventual relief by B Coy, A Coy, and the APC's. While the VC Forces had the theoretical capacity and superiority of about 8 to 1 to reorganise and take on about two companies and some APCs, they chose to withdraw. I believe they had had enough, were not really aware of the small strength of the Australian force, and had sustained too many casualties to continue.

Why the Task Force Base was shelled has never been answered. It drew two companies of 6RAR "out of the mountain", but they were not molested while they sat around the edge of the rubber plantation on the 17th and 18th And where were all their mortars and guns on the 18th?

North Vietnamese versions of the Battle have to be treated as suspect. They do not stand up to logical examination. The VC are obviously not going to change their original story of a historic and successful ambush of a battle at Long Tan, in hindsight, there is ample evidence now available to show that the whole of VC 5 Division was in the area. To the East and North-West, and that the Mortars and Artillery not used at Long Tan were probably to the West, perhaps to be used to support an attack on the TF Base and the other Regiment to the North, as a cut-off for any US road relief force. The prisoners said at the time they were going to attack the TF Base. Former NVA Officers have followed the Party-Line of a successful ambush of the Australian Forces. With, the resources of the Internet, perhaps one day we might hear answers to all the questions from someone who was there, and who knows just what 5 Division intended, where the VC mortars and guns were and what was the factual series of events from the VC side ?

I am proud to have commanded Delta Company 6RAR. D Coy was awarded the United States Presidential Citation for the Battle. I deeply regret the loss of life on both sides, and the grief caused to the families. Both sides at the time were simply soldiers carrying out their duties as required by their respective Governments, now engaged in peaceful activities.

          The government of South Vietnam realised that this battle was significant and wished to award decorations to the Australians involved. But at almost the last moment, with the ceremony already arranged and those attending it already in place, word was received from Australia that the traditional policy of non-acceptance of foreign awards was to be observed. This was embarrassing both to the Vietnamese and to the Australians, and a compromise was reached. The Vietnamese traditional dolls and lacqued cigarette cases were presented to the decorated australian soldiers instead

Ironically, on June 26, 2004, 38 years after the battle of Long Tan, the Australian Government agreed to let the 22 Veterans of battle of Long Tan to accept the medals of gallantry once offered by the South Vietnam which now has ceased to exist (click on white thumbnail pic for Media Release from Aussie Governor General).

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By Kev Gillett

           LABOR backbencher Graham Edwards has stepped up calls for an inquiry into medals issued to veterans of the battle of Long Tan.

Mr Edwards, who lost his legs to a mine in Vietnam, maintains the men who did the real fighting on the day have not been properly recognised, and it was officers who were miles away from the fighting who unfairly won the top citations.

I know Graham well as we served in the same company in Vietnam and I know him to be committed to helping veterans whenever he can.

It may come as a surprise to the uninitiated but under the old Imperial system bravery medals were rationed in war in the same way that food, water and beer were rationed. If you had the bad luck to be involved in a major battle towards the end of the ration period then, simply put, there were no bravery medals left in the Staff Officers drawer at AHQ, Canberra.

As well as soldiering under this anomaly regulations denied soldiers being awarded foreign decorations unless HM Queen Elizabeth herself gave approval as detailed by Bob Buick, Platoon Sergeant 11 Platoon, Delta Company 6RAR in his book "All Guts and no Glory."

On 2 September 1966 a parade was assembled near the Task Force headquarters [Nui Dat] because the Vietnamese Government intended to award honours and decorations for the battle at Long Tan. I think there was a total of 22 decorations - including a posthumous award to a member of the APC Troop who came to our rescue. The whole day turned into a fiasco and I'm ashamed to say Australians primarily caused it.

The Commander of the Vietnamese Armed Forces and Chief of State, General Nguyen Van Thieu, effectively the Vice President, was told by the Australian government late on the previous night that he could not award Vietnamese decorations to Australians.

This lead to the surreal circumstances where the General's aids had to go to the local markets and buy gifts to replace the medals.

So, instead of military decorations and awards befitting warriors, the officers received laquered wooden cigar cases, sergeants were given similar cigarette cases and the corporals and privates received the dolls [Vietnamese dolls in national dress].

When I was posted out of SASR I was replaced by Bill 'Yank' Akell. Then a Captain, he had been a private signaller in 1966 and was with D Company Headquarters [CHQ] at the battle. Radio operators had difficulty being heard over the maelstrom and at one stage 10 Platoon lost their radio when Private Brian Hornung was shot through the chest [and presumably through the radio as well]

Although wounded he walked back to CHQ and Bill 'Yank' Akell raced to 10 platoon with a new radio. 'Yank' was the second company signaller in CHQ and as he dashed forward to 10 Platoon through a maelstrom of enemy bullets he killed a couple of Viet Cong with his 9 mm Owen machine carbine. He received the Mention in Dispatches [MID] award for his actions.

The MID was the lowest of all bravery awards and could also be awarded for just doing your job well. Clerks got MIDs for keeping their records straight so no way have I ever accepted that 'Yank's' actions only warranted a MID.

From the Australian editorial on 5 Aug.

A combination of incompetence, jealousy and the Imperial medal system led to many Long Tan veterans having their medal-worthy performance downgraded to mere mentions in dispatches. Even the commander of Delta Company, Harry Smith, saw his recommendation for a Distinguished Service Order knocked down to a Military Cross. Adding insult to injury, soon after the fight Canberra blocked an attempt by the South Vietnam government to honour the Australian troops who fought in the battle with bravery citations.

My old mate Graham is right. A review is called for.

Some readers may opine that us Vietnam Veterans do go on but after other wars the military held a end-of war medal review. 20 years after Vietnam the government were embarrassed into holding a similar review for Vietnam and then every success was a long and arduous fight. My father came home from his war a hero and welcomed by all of society. I came home and was asked by an attractive young woman how many babies had I killed. Graham tells how a woman, a member of the church his mother attended, told her she hoped he died of his wounds. A male phoned up parents of one of 7RAR's dead within days of his demise and told them he deserved to die. This morning's news relates that ten percent of Vietnam Veterans have committed suicide and we wonder why...and people wonder why I hate the left wing. I went to the Welcome Home march in Sydney in 1987 to see my mates, not to be welcomed home.

Two years ago I wrote a tribute to a mate I lost in Vietnam headed A Letter to Ray. You might like to read it and feel the depth of our compassion. I have also written a piece headed 'My first patrol' No heroics, no medals, just a couple of days in the life of an infantryman.

I'm taking the day off. I'll get dressed up and go find some Infantry mates. We'll go ANZAC Square in Brisbane and remember our absent friends and then maybe go off to a pub somewhere. No, not maybe...I will go to a pub and toast our mates and spit on the communist sympathisers.

Stuff 'em. I know I did the right thing.

(Source: vietamericanvets.com)

          If you want to visit Long Tan Cross site, you have to follow some rules as follows:

1. It must be remembered that Vietnam is a communist country and that foreigners cannot change the rules. Even for locals, movement can be restricted. In a nutshell, if you wish to visit the Long Tan Cross, you must have a permit.

2. Groups should not be larger than 20.

3. Medals are not appropriate in this environment and should not be worn.

Foreign Memorials in rogue nations or under tyrant regimes are likely to become a pawn. So there are other Vietnam War Memorials (and more projects to come) in the Australia where you are welcome to visit and pay proper tribute to the fallen soldiers, especially in a free spirit .

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By Mark Dodd and Patrick Walters August 14, 2008

          FORTY-TWO years after the Battle of Long Tan, Harry Smith's long campaign for due recognition for his men is over.

Mr Smith and two fellow officers will get top gallantry awards for the 100-odd men of D Company 6 RAR who on August 18, 1966, fought against 1500 North Vietnamese regular troops and Viet Cong guerillas.

This follows approval by the Rudd Government of the main recommendations of an independent review, by a panel of retired senior army officers, of the battle regarded as a classic study in the use of combined arms to defeat a superior enemy.

It restores the awards recommendations proposed shortly after the battle for the then major Smith and second lieutenants Dave Sabben and Geoff Kendall.

Eighteen Australians died and 21 were wounded in the battle, fought in monsoonal rain on a rubber plantation on the outskirts of the Australian base at Phuoc Tuy province.

Today's announcement is certain to reignite the controversy over conferring retrospective gallantry awards, despite the objections of veterans that they were denied appropriate recognition.

"It will be a bunfight, and cause a huge amount of stress among some families," a leading military historian predicted last night.

The key decisions approved by Governor-General Michael Jeffery, a former commander of the Special Air Service Regiment and holder of the Military Cross for action in Vietnam, means Mr Smith will be offered the Star of Gallantry - which is the equivalent of the Imperial Distinguished Service Order, second only to the Victoria Cross. "The fat lady has finally sung," a delighted Mr Smith told The Australian last night.

"I am extremely pleased justice has finally been done - it's been a long battle."

It is understood that as a result of the new awards, the former company commander will no longer be able to wear the MC, the downgraded award given in place of the original recommendation he receive the DSO.

Former platoon commanders Sabben and Kendall will now be offered the Medal for Gallantry - equivalent to the MC, the third highest award for valour that was originally recommended. Their original recommendations were downgraded to mentions in despatches. The Government also overruled a panel recommendation barring former D Company veterans from wearing a unit citation and gallantry medal conferred by the former Republic of Vietnam.

Speaking from his Hervey Bay home in Queensland, 74-year-old Mr Smith said that while he was happy with the outcome of the independent review panel, 42 years on it was all a bit of an anti-climax.

"But I am about to demolish one or two bottles of red tonight because it has taken such a long time," he said. "I can tell you, I and my colleagues have been very frustrated by bureaucrats in Canberra who would not believe the words of the people who fought in the battle."

Mr Smith said he owed a great debt of thanks to Vietnam veteran and former federal Labor MP Graham Edwards and Veterans Affairs Minister Alan Griffin.

"There was enough evidence gathered at Long Tan to raise serious issues as to whether injustices had been done in the awarding of gallantry medals," Mr Griffin told The Australian last night.

Unresolved concerns regarding individual South Vietnamese awards for Long Tan would be referred to the Independent Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal.

Implementation of the recommendations properly recognised the individual and collective gallantry of the diggers during the battle, a government statement said.

The Government accepted the panel's findings that documentary evidence supported claims that gallantry awards originally recommended for the three officers had been downgraded. Panel member Major General Peter Abigail said he and his colleagues were "all very comfortable" with the decisions, and he defended the panel's decision not to recommend approval on the old Republic of Vietnam awards.

"We didn't feel free in our terms of reference to recommend the setting aside of foreign awards guidelines," General Abigail said.

The Government accepted the panel's recommendations not to confer an award for service for RAAF personnel stationed at Ubon in Thailand between 1965 and 1968.

Those who ran are now applauded,
Their reticence to serve rewarded.
Their pardon's without sense or reason!
It glorifies the crime of treason!

I served; I fought; I apalozied;
Yet, I never compromised.
I served in time of national need
While others ran and disagreed.
I served with pride,
Was wounded, died.

A marker shows where I've been lain;
My sacrifice has been in vain!
No pardon will restore my life,
Transform my widow to my wife.


           From a lay person's point of view, the two bronze soldiers, the centre-piece of the Vietnam Memorial of Victoria to be unveiled at the Dandenong RSL this Saturday, are magnificent works of art.

The soldiers, one Australian, one South Vietnamese, will stand side by side, united in comradeship and dwarfed by a helicopter - a former medical evacuation chopper donated by the RSL - which will hover above them at the top of a six-metre-high pole.

But their Melbourne-based creator, Lis Johnson, who has been making figurative bronze statues for two decades, is humble about her role in the project, the culmination of 10 years' fundraising by a handful of Vietnam veterans, to mount a memorial commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

"It's their baby - they've been wanting this for a long time. My role in this public commission requires little artistic input, but lots of technical skill," Johnson explains.

Her part in the Vietnam memorial began last July with numerous discussions with the veterans, who initially wanted the soldiers standing back-to-back. Subsequent drawings and emails followed, and it was agreed they should stand side by side

Then their "drapery", another point of debate, was brainstormed. Johnson is referring to the water bottles, backpacks, grenades, bayonets, torches, ammunition and bandage packs, coiled rope, trenching tools, rifles and webbing (belts and straps) that soldiers carry in battle.

Two "real" soldiers then came to her studio to dress her models for photographs on which she would later base moulds. What was inspiring, Johnson says, is that when the models appeared in full armour, "they looked harrowed, as if they could have been at war".

"I wanted to convey the hardship and vulnerability of these soldiers' lives. I wanted the sculptures to evoke sympathy, and here they were, standing in a studio in West Footscray, hot, exhausted-looking, with sweat trickling down their faces."

From the photographs, Johnson made clay moulds of the soldiers' anatomy with and without drapery, which was moulded separately in plasticine and cast in plastic, "because there was so much of it, if I'd cast it in clay it would have fallen off".

Describing the brief as "one of the more difficult and challenging" of her career, she admits "one of my least favourite tasks was sculpting the shoelaces, which had to be threaded a special way so they could cut them in one go to remove the boot quickly, then re-touching them in wax".

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