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Aug 18, 2008

Long Tan.

 Long Tan, Vietnam. 18 August 1969. Members of the 6th Battalion during the ceremony at which a white cross was erected as a memorial to those who died during the Battle of Long Tan. (courtesy Australian War Museum AWM EKN/69/0081/VN.)

The Australian mercenaries, who are no less husky and beefy than their allies, the U.S. aggressors, have proved as good fresh targets for the South Vietnamese Liberation fighters. ... On 18 August [they] wiped out almost completely one Battalion [1000 men] of Australian mercenaries in an ambush in Long Tan village.  Announcement from Radio Hanoi, 27 August 1966.

While small in the big picture of the Vietnam War, Long Tan was the battle that caught the imagination of the Australian people at the time. It seemed astonishing that such a small force (108 men) could hold out against a force that outnumbered them by at least 25 to 1 without air support, which couldn’t be used owing to weather conditions. The following is a brief account: -

In the late afternoon of 18 August 1966, D Company, 6 RAR, fought for their lives for three hours in pouring rain, amid the mud and shattered trees of the Long Tan rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam.

Facing an enemy force of some 2500 North Vietnam Army regulars and Vietcong guerrillas, this company of mostly young national servicemen -- led by a few regulars -- called upon all facets of battlefield support for survival. Above all it called heavily on the determination, professionalism and courage of the soldiers on the ground.

The Battle of Long Tan was costly for Australia. Eighteen young Australians -- the youngest was nineteen, the oldest was twenty-two -- lost their lives as a result of this battle. A further twenty-one soldiers were wounded.

The damage inflicted on the enemy was significant. Two hundred and sixty confirmed dead and evidence to suggest that several hundred wounded were carried from the battlefield.

For its ‘extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing armed force’ D Company was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Sadly I have on occasions seen efforts by revisionist history types to belittle this effort, claiming that the degree of artillery support they got means that they ‘didn’t really do it on their own’ and other such rubbish. This would have been a disaster had the men on the ground at the time not held together and pretty much done everything right at a critical time.

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