In the gathering dusk of 18 August 1966…


Long Tan Cross ceremony, 18 August 1969 (c) AWM

…44 years ago, D Company, 6 Royal Australian Regiment, fought a desperate battle for survival against a Viet Cong regiment, in  a rubber plantation near a little town called Long Tan. This is one of the great sub-unit battles of history, where a few stood against many. Today, it remains as an example of great junior leadership and “…of the importance of combining and coordinating infantry, artillery, armour and military aviation...” The Presidential Unit Citation tells part of the story…

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 18 August 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.

The rest of the story is well worth ferreting out, particularly the section in Mark Woodruff’s Unheralded Victory…many of the lessons from Long Tan from infantry section to coalition task force level still apply to today’s environment…Lest We Forget…

One might hope that The Battle of Long Tan, due for release in 2011, will be on  a par with We Were Soldiers and Blackhawk Down…and serve as a timely reminder to today of yesterday’s sacrifices…

…and thanks to Narelle for the reminder of this day…


2 thoughts on “In the gathering dusk of 18 August 1966…

  1. My first posting to the ADF was to 12 Pl, D Coy, 6 RAR, RAInf in mid 1985. LtCol Studley was the CO and Maj Steve Dunn my OC. Had a great time their in Enogerra and attended my first Long Tan reunion in 1986. A very moving day speaking with two of the Pl Comds, Dave Saban and Geoff Kendall and a handful of ex soldiers. Also had a chat with Morrie Stanley (FO and a legend). In the mess later that evening at a formal dinner, Maj Harry Smith (rtd) gave a very ‘matter of fact’ speech about the Long Tan battle that focussed on all the things that went right, which had any single one of them went wrong, he said he probably wouldn’t have been their talking to us. A great man.

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    • Cheers, Steve…long time, no see – we must catch up sometime…

      Agree totally with your point above…I think that our era was lucky to be able to rub shoulders with soldiers like these who had gone off and ‘done the business’…like you, the Army I joined, still had veterans of Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam in quite significant numbers and I believe that these soldiers put us through one of the best training systems in the world, both generally and as a specific training regimen for SEA close country operations.

      It’s good to see that both nations are making a conscious effort to capture the experiences of such soldiers and officers so that it is lost when they pass on from regular contact with newer generations…Lest We Forget is just as much about the future as it is about the past…

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