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Category: Conflicts/Vietnam

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Battle of Fire Support & Patrol Base Coral (and Balmoral), May 1968
  • The biggest unit level battle of the Viet Nam war that involved Aussies.
  • It lasted for 26 days, 12 May to 6 June 1968 and was made up of several actions.
  • It cost more Aussie lives than the battle of Long Tan.
  • Aussie artillery "lost" a gun for a short period and also fired over "open sights" (point blank, directly to front). Neither of these things had happened to any British Commonwealth artillery since the Boer war. The gun was recaptured.
  • It all took place in Area of Operations Surfers and was instrumental in protecting Sai Gon and or Bien Hoa air base from attack by the NVA Units involved.
Fire Support Base Coral, Bien Hoa Province, Vietnam. 13 May 1968. The 105mm M2A2 howitzer, No. 6 gun of 102 Field Battery, 12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), and two members of the gun crew, on the morning after the first series of attacks on Fire Support Base (FSB) Coral by troops of the North Vietnamese Army's (NVA) 7th Division. This position was temporarily overrun by the NVA on the night of the 12/13 May 1968 and the gun was seriously damaged by a satchel charge and the gun was withdrawn for repair. The identity of the two soldiers is unknown. Various items of kit and equipment are gathered at left and centre, including wash basins, plastic jerry cans of water, artillery shells, helmets and the metal frame of a 11 inch x 11 inch tent. At extreme right, the gun crew's personal weapons are leaning against one of the Howitzer's wheels. (Donor G. Ayson)
Australian/New Zealand Units involved
  • 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment  (1RAR)
    • (Infantry and supports)
  • 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment  (3RAR)
    • (Infantry and supports)
  • 102 Field Battery, 12 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery 
    • (105mm howitzers)
  • 161 Field Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery (attached 12 Field Regiment RAA)
    • (105mm howitzers)
  • A Squadron 3 Cavalry Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps 
    • (Armoured Personnel Carriers)
  • C Squadron 1st Armoured Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps 
    • (Centurion tanks)
  • 104 Squadron Royal Australian Corps of Signals
  • 161 (Independent) Recce Flight
Fire Support Base Coral, Bien Hoa Province, Vietnam, 13 May 1968. Two members of 102 Field Battery, 12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), drag away the dead body of a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldier killed the previous night during attacks on Fire Support Base (FSB) Coral by the NVA's 7th Division. Another Australian soldier looks on. The dead NVA soldier will be buried with a number of his comrades in a mass grave. The identity of the Australian soldiers is unknown. (Donor G. Ayson)

The Roll of Honour in Area of Operations Surfers

Rank Initials & Surname Unit Date KIA
Pte D.E. Abbott 1RAR 30 May 68
Pte  E.J. Bailey 1RAR 13 May 68
Pte L.N. Brown 3RAR 26 May 68
Pte A.J. Cooper 3RAR 26 May 68
Cpl   I. K. Dawson 1RAR 14 May 68
Pte  J. W. Desnoy 3RAR 26 May 68
Cpl  R.B. Hickey 1RAR  13 May 68
Sgt P. E. Lewis 3RAR  13 May 68
Pte R. L. McNab               1RAR 13 May 68
L/Cpl W.H.Martin 1 RAR 16 May 68
Pte C. R. Nisbet 1RAR 14 May 68
Pte J.A. O'Brien 1RAR 13 May 68
Cpl  J.G. Pearce  1RAR 14 May 68
Gnr C.J. Sawtell  12 Fd Regt 13 May 68
Gnr I.J. Scott 12 Fd Regt 13 May 68
Pte L.R. Sheppard 1RAR 13 May 68
Pte W. M. Thomas 3RAR  26 May 68
Pte B. M. Trimble   1RAR 13 May 68
Pte  A.J. Wallis  1RAR  16 May 68
Pte R.C. Watson  1RAR 13 May 68
Pte H.W. White  1RAR  16 May 68
Cpl J.H. Whitton 1RAR 13 May 68
Pte J.T. Worle 3RAR 28 May 68
Sig  A.H. Young 104 Sig Sqn 16 May 68
Pte  B.T. Young  1RAR  16 May 68


  • On 23 May 68, George Constable of 161 Recce Flight was flying 51-11969 when the aircraft was shot down and destroyed. George was killed in the crash. At the time he was shot down he was flying a vehicle convoy cover mission for an Australian convoy returning from Fire Support Base Coral.
Units of the NVA/VC involved in the battle
141 NVA Regiment including K2 K3 and K5 Battalions
165 NVA Regiment
85 Regiment including C8 Company D27 Battalion
32 Infiltration Group
165 Infiltration Group
233 Infiltration Group
269 Infiltration Group
275 Infiltration Group
D280 Infiltration Group
745 Infiltration Group
Nam Ha Infiltration Group
C17 Recoilless Rifle Company
C18 Recoilless Rifle Company
Enemy Losses, 12 May 1968 to 6 June in actions in AO Surfers
  • 267 NVA/VC killed in action (body count)
  • 60 possible KIA
  • 7 wounded
  • 11 Prisoners of War
  • 3 detained
  • 2 surrendered
  • Weapons captured
    • 36 crew served weapons
    • 112 small arms
    • 144 grenades
    • various mines & mortar bombs
    • food and equipment
From the AWM Encyclopedia
Fire Support Bases "Coral" and "Balmoral", Vietnam

During the "Mini-Tet" offensive mounted by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces in May 1968, the 1st Australian Task Force deployed two battalions to an area twenty kilometers north of Bien Hoa city to intercept and disrupt the approach of enemy forces towards the capital, Saigon, or the Bien Hoa-Long Binh base complex. Several fire support bases (FSBs) were established to provide defended firing points for artillery and mortars which would cover foot patrols to be sent out by the battalions (1 and 3 RAR). One of these FSBs was dubbed "Coral", situated seven kilometers north of the town of Tan Uyen.

Occupation of Coral was begun on 12 May, but the defences remained unfinished when, at about 3.30 am on 13 May, it was attacked following a brief but intense rocket and mortar barrage. The 1RAR mortar platoon position was over-run, along with one of the 102 Field Battery's six 105 mm M2A2 howitzers in the base. With the aid of extensive air support, the attack was beaten off by 6.30 am and the captured gun-pit was retaken - still with the gun in it (this howitzer is now in the Memorial's collection). 

Fire Support Base Coral, Bien Hoa Province, Vietnam. 13 May 1968. A 105 mm M2A2 howitzer, the No. 6 gun of 102 Field Battery, 12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, on the morning after the first series of attacks on FSB Coral by troops of the North Vietnamese Army's 7th Division. AWM P01769.011 AWM P01769.011
  • Nine Australians were killed and 28 wounded, while the attackers lost more than the 52 bodies they left behind.

At 2.15 am on 16 May Coral again came under attack, this time from a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force estimated at three battalions strong. The base was now defended by armoured personnel carriers of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and 1RAR's rifle companies, all of which were heavily engaged; part of the A Company position was occupied for a period, but the enemy was forced to withdraw. The attack was repelled after four hours of fighting, with the Australians having suffered five men killed and nineteen wounded. Two members of an American battery which had reinforced the base were also wounded. Only 34 enemy bodies were recovered, but blood trails and drag marks indicated that many more casualties had been removed.

On 22 May Coral was subjected to yet another rocket and mortar barrage, but this time the NVA troops were dispersed by return fire from 1RAR's mortars as they formed up to attack. Although there were further bombardments on 26 and 28 May, and patrols sent out from the base came into contact with the enemy, Coral was not seriously threatened again. During fighting on 26 May the base's defenders even turned the tables on the NVA by sending a troop of Centurion tanks from C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment (which had arrived as reinforcements three days earlier), outside the perimeter wire with infantry support; these engaged and destroyed most of a NVA bunker system that had been discovered.

Enemy efforts on 26 May were primarily focused on another FSB named "Balmoral", which was established about 4.5 kilometers further north on 24-25 May by 3RAR supported by tanks. The defenders easily threw back assaults launched against Balmoral on 26 and 28 May. On the latter occasion, the attacking NVA regiment lost at least 42 killed and seven prisoners, but again casualties were thought to have been higher. One Australian was killed and six wounded.


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