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The Battle of Long Tan

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The Battle of Long Tan - 8/18/2003 4:15:30 PM   

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From: Melb. Australia
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Today, 37 years ago, just over 100 Australian troops fought their way into the history books at a place called Long Tan in Vietnam.

I have posted the following from the web site of digger history

Here is what happened.

Major Harry Smith, the original Company Commander of Delta Company, 6RAR, commanded the Company at the historic battle.

Harry was aged 33; had served in field or command postings for 15 years, including 2 years operational service as a Platoon Commander in Malaya 1955-57, and 3 years with 2 Commando Company 1962-65.

Apart from a few Regular Officers and NCO's, his Company was mainly National Servicemen. He trained them along Special Forces lines to be extremely physically fit and to endure hardships and strict discipline, engendering a team spirit which contributed to their survival at Long Tan.

Harry left the Army in 1976 after 24 years service following serious injury in a parachuting accident while Commanding the Parachute School. He then become involved in the marine trade on a casual basis, driving and delivering boats and researching FNQ areas for Guide Books. He now lives at Nambour, Queensland, Australia.

This is Harry Smith's brief account of the Battle:
"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 l 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."

Delta Company 6 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment

By virtue of the authority invested in me as the 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, Phuoc Tuy, Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately 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 attacked 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 on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on 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 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 positions of D Company.

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

Lyndon B Johnson

The White House May 28, 1968

Lest we forget.


Never argue with an idiot, he will only drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
Post #: 1
Bravo - 8/18/2003 6:38:25 PM   


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From: OZ
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(in reply to Raverdave)
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- 8/18/2003 10:14:36 PM   


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From: Tasmania, Australia
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I personally know a few of the vets from this battle and none like to talk too much about it. The one that sticks out in my mind most is Private (at the time) Smith. The shortest soldier ever to live at all of 4'10". He was a member of 12 plattoon. Covered in Tats and with a mouth that would disgust a sewer he's also one of the nicest men I've ever had the pleasure to know. Last I heard he was still serving as 41st RNSWR's Padre of all things.

All in all I have the greatest respect for all those Australians who served.


If it moves - shoot it
If it doesn't move - push it
If it still doesn't move - use explosives

(in reply to Raverdave)
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Of Non US Forces in Vietnam - 8/19/2003 12:25:08 AM   

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Thank you, sir, for bringing to light an engagement that featured realitively no US forces. Now I plan to study up some more about the non US Forces in Vietnam. That was a fantastic site, I especially thought the photo of the Vietnamese weapons being piled up, in the last photo was especially interresting.


"Perserverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages."

~General George Washington

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