The Battle of Long Tan – Against All Odds Print + Bayonet & Replica Medal Set
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The Battle of Long Tan (18 August 1966) took place in a rubber plantation near Long Tan, in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The action was fought between Australian forces and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units after 108 men from D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) clashed with a force of 1,500 to 2,500 from the Viet Cong 275th Regiment, possibly reinforced by at least one North Vietnamese battalion, and D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion. The 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) arrived between April and June 1966, constructing a base at Nui Dat. After two months it had moved beyond the initial requirements of establishing itself and securing its immediate approaches, beginning operations to open the province. Meanwhile, in response to the threat posed by 1 ATF the 275th Regiment was ordered to move against Nui Dat.
For several weeks Australian signals intelligence had tracked a radio transmitter moving westwards to a position just north of Long Tan; however, extensive patrolling failed to find the unit. At 02:43 on the night of 16/17 August Nui Dat was heavily bombarded by Viet Cong mortars, recoilless rifles (RCLs) and artillery fired from a position 2,000 metres (2,200 yd) to the east, before being engaged by counter-battery fire. The following morning B Company, 6 RAR departed Nui Dat to locate the firing points and the direction of the Viet Cong withdrawal. A number of weapon pits were subsequently found, as were the positions of the mortars and RCLs. D Company took over the pursuit around midday on 18 August. At 15:40 the lead platoon clashed with a Viet Cong squad, forcing them to withdraw. Shortly after resuming the advance, 11 Platoon came under small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire at 16:08 from a company-sized force after drawing ahead of the other platoons and was isolated. Pinned down, they called for artillery support as a monsoon rain began, reducing visibility. Beginning as an encounter battle, heavy fighting ensued as the advancing Viet Cong attempted to encircle and destroy the Australians. After less than 20 minutes more than a third of 11 Platoon had become casualties, while the platoon commander was killed soon after. 10 Platoon attempted to move up on the left in support but was repulsed. With D Company facing at least a battalion, 12 Platoon tried to push up on the right at 17:15. Fighting off an attack on their right before pushing forward another 100 metres (110 yd) they sustained increasing casualties after clashing with several groups moving around their western flank to form a cut-off prior to a frontal assault. They opened a path to 11 Platoon yet were unable to advance further and threw smoke to mark their location. With D Company nearly out of ammunition, at 18:00 two UH-1B Iroquois from No. 9 Squadron RAAF arrived overhead to resupply them. Meanwhile, the survivors from 11 Platoon withdrew back to 12 Platoon during a lull, suffering further losses. Still heavily engaged, both platoons returned to the company position covered by artillery.
By 18:10 D Company had reformed but was still in danger of being overrun. A Company, 6 RAR was dispatched in M113 armoured personnel carriers from 3 Troop, 1st APC Squadron to reinforce them. Meanwhile, B Company headquarters and one platoon were still returning to base and were also ordered to assist. Departing Nui Dat at 17:55, the carriers moved east, crossing a swollen creek before encountering elements of D445 Battalion attempting to outflank D Company and assault it from the rear. The Viet Cong were caught by surprise as the cavalry crashed into their flank and with darkness falling they broke through, while B Company entered the position at 19:00. Arriving at a crucial point, the relief force turned the tide of the battle. The Viet Cong had been massing for another assault which would have likely destroyed D Company, yet the firepower and mobility of the armour broke their will, forcing them to withdraw. Continuing past D Company the relief force assaulted the Viet Cong, before moving back to the company position at 19:10. The artillery had been almost constant throughout and proved critical in ensuring the survival of D Company. By 19:15 the firing had ceased and the Australians waited for another attack. However, after no counter-attack occurred they prepared to withdraw 750 metres (820 yd) west. With the dead and wounded loaded onto the carriers D Company left at 22:45, while B and A Company departed on foot. A landing zone was then established by the cavalry with the evacuation of the casualties finally completed after midnight. Forming a defensive position ready to repulse an expected attack the Australians remained overnight, enduring the cold and rain. They returned in strength the next day, sweeping the area and locating a large number of Viet Cong dead.
Although initially believing they had suffered a major defeat, as the scale of the losses suffered by the Viet Cong were revealed it became clear they had in fact won a significant victory. Two wounded Viet Cong were killed after they moved to engage the Australians, while three were captured. The missing men from 11 Platoon were also recovered; their bodies found lying where they had fallen. Two of the men had survived despite their wounds, having spent the night in close proximity to the Viet Cong as they attempted to evacuate their own casualties. Due to the likely presence of a sizeable force nearby the Australians remained cautious as they searched for the Viet Cong. Over the next two days they continued to clear the battlefield, uncovering more dead as they did so. Yet with 1 ATF lacking the resources to pursue the withdrawing force, the operation ended on 21 August. Heavily outnumbered but supported by strong artillery fire, D Company held off a regimental assault before a relief force of cavalry and infantry fought their way through and forced the Viet Cong to withdraw. Eighteen Australians were killed and 24 wounded, while the Viet Cong lost at least 245 dead which were found over the days that followed. A decisive Australian victory, Long Tan proved a major local set back for the Viet Cong, indefinitely forestalling an imminent movement against Nui Dat and challenging their previous domination of Phuoc Tuy Province. Although there were other large-scale encounters in later years, 1 ATF was not fundamentally challenged again. Lest We Forget