On Thursday 18 August Australia commemorates 50 years since 108 men of Delta Company, 6th Royal Australian Regiment, took on and defeated a force of 2,500 North Vietnamese Army regulars and Viet Cong fighters.
A special commemorative Long Tan Cross pin will be worn by many veterans and politicians as a sign of respect for all who served in the war, and to mark the anniversary of the battle. Sales of the pins are supporting Soldier On and its work with younger veterans, as well as humanitarian aid projects in Vietnam.
While Long Tan was one of many battles Australians fought in Vietnam, it is probably the most noted. Today the courage and determination shown by the men of D Company, and the many who rallied to their support, has come to represent all who fought in the war. The date of the battle is Australia’s national Vietnam Veterans’ Day.
The cross at Long Tan is one of only two foreign memorials permitted by the Vietnamese Government, and while visitors will be barred from wearing medals or carrying items related to the war, the site is a sign of great respect between the once warring nations.
Martin Walsh, a former special forces soldier and filmmaker who produced the award winning and critically acclaimed documentary ‘The Battle of Long Tan’ narrated by Sam Worthington, has dedicated himself to sharing the stories of the men who served with Delta Company at Long Tan, and those who supported them in the battle.
“Today most people have at least heard of Long Tan but back in 2004 when I started working on the documentary Long Tan was a battle largely forgotten or not known about,” he said. “This is one of the most significant Australian battles of the war and a story that all Australians need to understand.”
Australia lost 18 men to the battle and 24 were wounded. Exact numbers of North Vietnamese losses have never been released but estimates based on conversations between veterans of both sides suggest more than 600 were killed in the action.
The battle started at around 4pm when a patrol from D Company came across a small band of enemy soldiers. None realised that these men were part of a massive Vietnamese force. Within minutes the whole of D Company was under intense fire.
Company commanding officer Harry Smith quickly called for artillery support from the NZ 161 Artillery Battery at Nui Dat. The now 83 year old commander says his men had limited ammunition and this initial fire from the NZ guns staved off a full assault by the enemy which might have overrun the Australian positions.
Long Tan was only 5,000 metres east of the Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, where at the time Australian entertainers Little Pattie and Col Joye were putting on a concert for the troops. Soon the roar of artillery drowned out the concert and according to Dave Sabben, who was commanding 12 Platoon in the fight, men at the base rushed to the Artillery lines to help wherever and however they could – some carried ammo to the guns, others cleared ammo boxes and spent shells from the gun positions while others still made sandwiches and hot chocolate for the gun crews – all just helping – all in support.
Two more Australian and one US Army artillery battery joined the fight, as other troops and armoured personnel carriers rallied in preparation to dash to support the beleaguered D Company. Two Royal Australian Air Force ‘Hueys’ volunteered to drop ammunition – flying over tree tops in a torrential tropical storm which reduced visibility to just 50 metres.
For three hours the battle raged. Harry Smith said the relentless and accurate shelling, as well as persistent fire from the re-supplied D Company, inflicted horrendous casualties on the enemy who finally withdrew as dusk fell. The APCs filled with reinforcement had fought through enemy positions to reach D Company and arrived in time to give chase to the withdrawing force.
People wanting more information on the battle, or to get a special commemorative keepsake to remember the Long Tan 50th Anniversary, should visit www.battleoflongtan.com
Profits from the sale of all products are donated to Soldier On, which is helping veterans of recent conflicts; and to the Australia Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG) to provide humanitarian aid in Vietnam. AVVRG also maintain the Long Tan Memorial Cross in Vietnam.