Following the defeat of the French Army at Dien
Bien Phu in May 1954 in the First Indo-China War, Vietnam was
partitioned at the 17th Parallel. The communist Democratic
Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) (DRV) took control in the northern
half of the country and the non-communist Republic of Vietnam (RVN) in
the south. From the late 1950s, a civil war developed in South Vietnam
between the communist supported National Liberation Front (NLF) with its
military arm the Viet Cong (VC) and the US backed Government of Ngo Dinh
Diem. The war intensified in 1963, following the assassination of Diem
and his replacement by a series of unstable ‘revolving door’
On 3 August 1962, following negotiations with
the United States and at the request of the RVN, 30 Australian Army
training advisers arrived in South Vietnam to join US Army advisers in
what later became Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). Their
tasks primarily were to assist in training RVN ground forces in jungle
warfare, village defence and related activities. The Australian Army
Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) strength peaked at 202 in December 1970.
Due to a deteriorating military situation in
South Vietnam in late 1964 and early 1965, the United States proposed
the introduction of sizeable ground forces. Following RVN agreement, in
May 1965, 1RAR was deployed to Bien Hoa, north-east of Saigon. It joined
the US 173 Airborne Brigade as the third battalion of the Brigade.
Australian and New Zealand artillery batteries, as well as other
supporting arms and services units, later joined. In addition to its
responsibilities for the security of the Bien Hoa air base, 173 Airborne
Brigade conducted a significant range of operations against VC forces
throughout III Corps Tactical Zone (IIICTZ). The tactical zone included
the RVN capital city, Saigon, lying between the IICTZ of the Central
Highlands and the IVCTZ incorporating the Mekong Delta.
In May 1966, a major increase in the size of
the Army's combat element occurred following the relief of 1RAR, after
one year's service, by 1 Australian Task Force (1ATF). This force was a
brigade sized formation comprising a headquarters, two infantry
battalions (5RAR, 6RAR) and elements from all supporting arms and
services. It was based at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province located on the
coast, east of Saigon, within IIICTZ.
1ATF was given tactical responsibility for the
security of the province, excluding the populated areas, working in
close coordination with RVN forces. 1 Australian Logistic Support Group
(1ALSG), located at Vung Tau, a coastal town and port immediately south
of Phuoc Tuy, provided logistic support for 1ATF. While both 1ATF and
1ALSG (as well as AATTV, RAN and RAAF units) were under national command
of Headquarters Australian Force Vietnam (HQAFV) located in Saigon, 1ATF
was under operational control of the equivalent of a US Army corps
headquarters - Headquarters II Field Force Vietnam (HQIIFFV) - located
at Long Binh, east of Saigon. No 9 Squadron RAAF, equipped with Iroquois
(UH-1) helicopters, and based at Vung Tau, supported 1ATF operations, as
did, to a much lesser degree, Caribou equipped No 35 Squadron RAAF.
Infantry battalions, artillery batteries and
SAS squadrons were relieved on a yearly basis, with the remainder of the
force being on individual replacement. Additional battalions were raised
to give the RAR a strength of nine
battalions, while additional
supporting arms and services units were raised. At its peak strength in
1969, the Australian Army in Vietnam totalled more than 7,000 personnel.
Over the ten years of the war, more than 50,000 Army, Air Force and Navy
personnel served in Vietnam.
Initially 1ATF met little serious opposition,
but on 18 August 1966, D Coy 6RAR, on a fighting patrol to clear
suspected recoilless rifle and mortar sites, encountered a large enemy
force in the Long Tan rubber plantation east of Nui
Dat. In a number of
attempts to over-run D Company, a large force of VC and North Vietnamese
suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire, the small arms fire of
the company and the machine guns of the armoured relief force. The
United States Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to D Coy 6RAR for
Over the next 18 months, 1ATF extended its
control over Phuoc Tuy Province with a range of task force and battalion
operations. Some were undertaken in cooperation with US and RVN forces,
and covered a full range of mission types from jungle patrolling to
cordon and search operations of various towns and villages. A civil
affairs unit was added to 1ATF in March 1967 to carry out and coordinate
a vast range of construction, resettlement, medical and dental,
education and welfare activities for the civil population of Phuoc Tuy.
New Zealand Army infantry companies from RNZIR were integrated into an RAR
battalion, resulting in the RAR battalion being designated 'ANZAC'. In
December 1967, 1ATF was augmented by a third RAR battalion and a
squadron of Centurion tanks.
Three major operations to secure the major
bases of Long Binh, Bien Hoa and the capital Saigon from VC and NVA
offensives involved 1ATF operating as a formation (less one battalion
and other elements securing its base) outside Phuoc Tuy Province. These
were Operation Coburg in January/February 1968, Thoan Thang I in May
1968 and Federal in February 1969. The first two operations involved
significant clashes with large enemy forces. May
1968 also saw large scale enemy attacks on Australian positions in the
battle of Fire Bases Coral and Balmoral and at the village of Binh Ba.
In 1969, growing disenchantment with the war,
as well as US attempts to reduce casualties and prepare for
disengagement, led to the emphasis in operations changing to
'pacification' - the enhancement of the security of the populated areas
of the RVN, combined with the upgrading of the effectiveness of RVN
forces. Notwithstanding this commitment, 1ATF offensive operations in
Phuoc Tuy ensured that by 1971 there were few incursions by VC and NVA
Commencing in 1968, public opinion in both
Australia and the United States began to turn against the war.
Exacerbated by the propaganda disaster of the communists’ 1968 'Tet'
Offensive, the combination of the unpopularity of conscription and the
rising casualty rates, public opposition in both the US and Australia
forced the political leaderships to announce the withdrawal of allied
forces. In November 1970, 8RAR was withdrawn and not replaced. 1ATF
withdrew from Phuoc Tuy in November 1971, followed shortly after by
1ALSG. AATTV, having been gradually reduced in strength, concentrated in
Phuoc Tuy Province with the departure of 1ATF, and continued training ARVN forces until the withdrawal of the last Australian elements in
For the Australian Army, the withdrawal from
Vietnam represented the end of 33 years of continuous operational
duties, which had commenced with World War II, continued through the
occupation of Japan, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency and
Indonesian Confrontation to the Second Indo-China War in Vietnam.
casualties in Vietnam were 413 KIA/DoW, two MIA, 2026 WIA, 64 non-battle
deaths and 999 other casualties.