Two years later this first
group was followed by an aviation detachment consisting of six Caribou
aircraft with seventy-four men for maintenance and operations.
Integrated into the Southeast Asia airlift, they provided valuable
logistic support to dispersed Vietnamese military units. Over the years
the Australian cargo aircraft unit was to maintain consistently higher
averages in operational readiness and tons per sortie than did
equivalent US units.
Australia's support was not confined
solely to military assistance. Beginning in July of 1964, a twelve man
engineer civic action team arrived to assist in rural development
projects. Late in the same year Australia dispatched the first of
several surgical teams, which was stationed in Long Xuyen Province. The
second team arrived in January 1965 and was assigned to Bien Hoa.
From this rather modest beginning,
Australia went on to provide an increasingly wide range of aid to South
Vietnam under the Columbo Plan and by bilateral negotiations.
Unfortunately, not all of South Vietnam's ills could be cured by civic
action, and as the situation became more desperate the Australian
government planned to increase the size of its military contingent.
||In 1965 the Australian Minister
stated, in response to American overtures, that if the U.S. and South
Vietnamese governments would request it, the Australian government would
commit an infantry battalion to South Vietnam.
that Australia also take on the training mission for Vietnamese Regional
On this proposition the minister expressed some doubt, but
speculated that if an infantry battalion were sent to South Vietnam,
some trainers -perhaps 100- might be attached to it. The American
Ambassador in Saigon, General Taylor, then broached the subject with the
South Vietnamese Prime Minister, Dr. Phan Huy Quat.
Talks continued at various levels and
on 29 April 1965 Admiral Sharp conferred with the Australian Ambassador
at the request of Ambassador Taylor. In the course of the discussions it
was learned that the Australian government planned to dispatch to Saigon
within fourteen days a small military planning staff to work out the
logistic and administrative arrangements with U.S. Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam, prior to the arrival of the Australian battalion.
battalion force would consist of 900 men, of which 100 were to be
logistic and administrative troops; no integral support elements were
planned for it. Moving both by sea and air, the unit was to reach South
Vietnam by the first week of June. The Australian government agreed that
the battalion should be under the operational control of General
Westmoreland and that it should be used for the
defence of base areas,
for patrolling in the vicinity of base areas, and as a mobile reserve.
However, the battalion was not to accept territorial responsibility for
populated areas or to be involved in pacification operations.
|By May when the plans were finalized
they differed little from the earlier proposals.
government was to send a task force composed of a headquarters element
of the Australian Army, Far East, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian
Regiment, reinforced, the 79th Signal Troop, and a logistical support
Also included in this total of approximately 1,400 troops were
100 additional jungle warfare advisers to be used in support of the
original training detachments. The task force arrived in Vietnam during
the early part of June 1965 and was attached to the US 173d Airborne
||Operating from Bien Hoa, the 1st
Battalion was limited to local security operations during the remainder
of the year.
This restriction was a result of the Australian
government's insistence that Australian forces not be used in offensive
or reaction operations except in conjunction with the
defence of Bien
Hoa air base.
Unit Citation awarded to 1RAR
Although the interpretation of the restriction was fairly
broad in that the battalion could participate in operations within
approximately 30 to 35 kilometres of the base, General Westmoreland was
not able to plan for its wider, use. For example, on 30 July, just
shortly after their arrival, the troops of the Australian battalion were
not permitted by the Australian chief of staff to participate in an
operation with the 173d Airborne Brigade.
Instead, in order to provide
the airborne brigade with a third battalion to secure its artillery and fulfil
the reserve role, a battalion from the US 2d Brigade, 1st
Infantry Division, was used. For all practical purposes this restriction
was removed on 11 August 1965 when Brigadier O. D. Jackson, commander of
the Australian Army Force, Vietnam, notified General Westmoreland that
his superiors had expanded the Australian contingent's area of
operations to encompass those provinces contiguous to Bien Hoa Province.
A military working agreement had already been signed between Brigadier
Jackson and General Westmoreland on 5 May that gave operational control
of the Australian troops to the US commander. The United States also
agreed to provide complete administrative and logistical support.
financial agreement concluded on 7 September, the Australian Government
agreed to repay the United States for this support.
At the end of 1965 the Australian strength in South
Vietnam was 1,557.
The first contingent had hardly
settled down before the Australian government began to consider
increasing, the size of its task force. Through their respective
embassies m Saigon, the US and Australian ambassadors held low key talks
in December 1965 and again in January 1966, but the fear of public
criticism initially kept the government of Australia from openly
discussing plans to increase its military commitment to South Vietnam.
On 8 March, however, the Australian government publicly announced that
it would increase the one battalion force to a two battalion force with
a headquarters, a special air service squadron, and armour, artillery,
engineer, signal, supply and transport, field ambulance, and ordnance
and shop units. At the same time the government suggested that the
Australian Caribou flight, along with eight UH1B helicopters, be given
the primary mission of supporting the Australian task force. This
commitment raised the Australian troop strength to slightly over 4,500.
General Westmoreland tentatively
decided that the Australian task force would be based at Ba Ria, the
capital of Phuoc Tuy Province, and placed under the control of the II
Field Force commander. He felt that this arrangement would place a large
force in the area of Highway 15, a priority line of communication, and
at the same time keep the Australian task force well away from the
Australia maintained diplomatic relations with
Cambodia and for that reason had requested US assurance that Australian
units would not be used in operations along the Cambodian border.
Additional artillery support, as needed, would be provided by the II
Field Force. It was also decided that the eight UH1B helicopters would
come under the command of the task force; however, the request for task
force control of the Australian Caribou units was denied because the
Caribou units had a lift capacity in excess of the task force needs. It
was agreed that reinforcing aircraft would be provided as needed.
During the first half of March 1966
the MACV staff and an Australian joint service planning team developed
new military working arrangements and planned for the deployment of the
task force. The agreement signed by both parties on 17 March superseded
the previous agreement of 5 May 1965. The new agreement confirmed the
mission of the Australian task force in Phuoc Tuy Province; the area of
operations in the province was along Highway 15 and in the eastern
portion of the Rung Sat Special Zone. Days later a financial arrangement
was made by which Australia agreed to reimburse the US government for
support provided to Australian troops in South Vietnam.
The advance party for the 1st
Australian Task Force left for South Vietnam on 12 April and the main
body followed in several increments. After a brief training period,
operational control of the task force passed from the Commander,
Australian Force, Vietnam, to the Commanding General, II Field Force,
Discussions were meanwhile under way
concerning a U.S. proposal that would bring an Australian squadron of
twelve Caribou aircraft to South Vietnam to make up shortages in air
sorties expected to result from US deployment plans. General
Westmoreland planned to employ the unit in support of South Vietnamese,
South Korean, and US ground operations as well as those conducted by the
Australians. Operational control of the squadron would be given to the
Seventh Air Force and, if politically acceptable to the Australian
government, General Westmoreland planned to use the squadron against
targets in Laos. On the sixth of May Admiral Sharp took the proposal to
the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The State Department concurred in the
request and contacted the Australian Embassy in Washington to confirm
that the squadron was available for deployment. The plan was never
With the arrival of reinforcements,
the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, left South Vietnam, having
completed almost a full year of combat duty. In leaving, the
"diggers" could point with pride to a creditable performance
during their stay, highlighted by participation in no fewer than
nineteen major operations. Of particular note was an operation conducted
in January 1966 which resulted in one of the biggest intelligence coups
of the war up to that time. During a sweep of the so-called Iron
Triangle, an area near Saigon heavily fortified and controlled by the
Viet Cong, the Australian unit discovered a vast complex of tunnels, dug
60 feet deep in some places, which turned out to be a Viet Cong
headquarters. In addition to capturing five new Chinese Communist
anti-aircraft guns, the Australians discovered 6,000
revealing names and locations of Viet Cong agents.
The effectiveness of the new
Australian contingent was clearly demonstrated during the remainder of
the year during which Australian troops killed more than 300 of the
enemy, captured large stores of material, and helped secure Highway 15.
Particularly successful was a battle conducted on 18 August 1966.
Sweeping through a French rubber plantation called Binh Ba, (actually
southeast of Saigon, Delta Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian
Regiment, ran head on into a force estimated as 1,500 North Vietnamese
and Viet Cong.
In the initial exchange and at
point-blank range the
Aussies suffered most of their casualties. For three hours and in a
blinding monsoon rain this company of approximately 108 men fought the
enemy to a standstill. Taking advantage of their numbers, the enemy
troops tightened the noose around the company, charged in human wave
attacks, but were beaten back continually. The fighting became so
intense that the Australians ran low on ammunition and their helicopter
pilots braved both the rain and heavy enemy fire to effect resupply.
With the noise deadened by the downpour, a company of Australian
reinforcements in armoured personnel carriers moved unseen through the
surrounding terrain and provided supporting fires with .50 calibre machine guns.
US Presidential Unit
Citation awarded D/6RAR
At the same time Australian and other allied artillery
units found the range to the targets. In the end, Delta Company routed
the enemy troops from the battlefield, forcing them to leave behind 245
of their dead. During roughly four hours the Aussies killed more of the
enemy than they had in the entire preceding fourteen months.
Because of the forthcoming Australian
elections, the Commander, Australian Force, Vietnam, did not expect to
see any additional troops until after November. While Australian
officials, both military and civilian, were aware of the task force's
need for a third battalion, they did not wish at that time to add fuel
to the fires of the critics of Australia's Vietnam policy. This course
proved to be wise. Throughout the fall heated exchanges took place in
the Australian House of Representatives over the troop question.
Government officials continuously stated that no decision to increase
Australian forces in South Vietnam had been taken, but at the same time
they would not exclude the possibility of such a decision in the future.
The Australian government gained additional manoeuvring room when on 20
November 1966 the voters increased the ruling coalition's voting margin
in the House of Representatives from nineteen to forty-one seats.
These events and the continuing
controversy failed to interfere with other aid programs to South Vietnam
and on 29 November a third Australian surgical team arrived in Saigon.
This new group was assigned to the city of Vung Tau, and its thirteen
members brought to thirty-seven the number of Australian medical
personnel in South Vietnam.
From 1966 through 1968 Australian
economic and technical assistance totalled more than $10.5 million and
included the provision of technicians in the fields of water supply and
road construction, experts in dairy and crop practices, and the training
of 130 Vietnamese in Australian vocational and technical schools. In the
area of refugee resettlement, Australia had provided over one and a
fourth million textbooks, thousands of sets of hand tools, and over
3,000 tons of construction materials. Well recognizing the need and
importance of an adequate communications system to allow the government
to speak to the people, Australian technicians constructed a 50-kilowatt
broadcasting station at Ban Me Thuot and distributed more than 400 radio
receivers to civilian communities within range of the transmitter.
With a strong endorsement from the
voters, the Australian government acted quickly to increase the size of
the military contribution. The first step was to seek from the chairman
of the Chief of Staff Committee, Australian Force, Vietnam,
recommendation for the composition of additional forces which could be
provided to South Vietnam on short notice. With little guidance and no
knowledge of the ability of the US and Vietnam governments to
accommodate additional units, the chairman nonetheless made a
| Cognizant of the desire of the Royal Australian Air
Force and the Royal Australian Navy for action in South Vietnam and
aware of the strong support given to a tri-service contingent by the
Australian Minister of Defence, he proposed an augmentation consisting
of elements from all three services. Included in the offer was the
H.M.A.S. Hobart, a guided missile destroyer; a Royal Navy diving team; a
squadron of eight B57 Canberra bombers (see
photo), an 80-man civil affairs unit,
and a 916-man increase to the existing Australian Army units in South
Australia's three services and
defence department supported the
concept and were in accord with the idea that Australia should be the
first nation, other than the United States, to support South Vietnam
with a tri-service contingent.
With regard to the ground forces, the
916 Australian Army reinforcements were provided for integration into
units already in South Vietnam. Of that number, 466 were requested
additions to the tables of organization and equipment of established
units, and the remaining 450 constituted combat
reinforcements to the 1st Australian Task Force.
The United States welcomed the idea of
an increased Australian contingent and concurred with the request of the
Australian government that H.M.A.S. Hobart and the Canberra squadron be
deployed in conjunction with U.S. forces. It was expected that the
Hobart would remain under Australian command but under operational
control of the US Navy. Until relieved by a like vessel, the ship would
be available in all respects as an additional ship of the US Navy force
and without operational restrictions. Anticipated missions included
shore bombardment of both North and South Vietnam, interdiction of
coastal traffic, picket duties for carrier operations, and general
operations in support of naval forces at sea.
The command and control
arrangements for the Canberra squadron would be similar to those for the
Hobart, with the aircraft located where they could support Australian
forces as part of their mission. The squadron would perform routine
maintenance in Vietnam while relying on major maintenance from
Butterworth, Malaysia, where two float aircraft would be retained.
(While they were agreeable to the maintenance arrangements, the
Malaysians stressed the fact that they did not care to publicize the
matter.) The squadron was also to deploy with a 45-day stock of
500-pound bombs. Other logistical support in the form of petroleum
products, rations, accommodations, engineer stores, and common usage
items would be provided by the United States on a reimbursable basis.
The initial conference between the
Australian planning group, headed by Air Vice Marshal Brian A. Eaton,
and the staff of US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, took place in
Saigon during 37 January 1967. At this time logistical matters and
command and control arrangements were firmed up as previously discussed.
The Canberra's would be based at Phan Rang and employed in the same
manner as all other Seventh Air Force strike aircraft. Operational
control was given to the Commander, Seventh Air Force, while the
Commander, Australian Force, Vietnam, retained command and
administrative control. Deployment of the Canberra squadron was thought
ideal in view of the fact that the aircraft were considered obsolete and
were due to be replaced in Australia by F111 aircraft.
When the conference turned to naval
matter, US representatives asked for more details on the capabilities of
the Australian diving team. The general concept of employment envisioned
that the team would be integrated into operations of the Commander, US
Naval Forces, Vietnam, Rear Admiral Norvell G. Ward. Australian and US
Navy representatives were meeting meanwhile in the Philippines to
develop arrangements for the logistic and administrative support of
H.M.A.S. Hobart while it operated with the Seventh Fleet. The Saigon
conference agreed that MACV need not be involved in any arrangements
pertaining to the Hobart.
The Australians returned home from
South Vietnam seemingly pleased with the arrangements made and
appreciative of US assistance, especially since the Government of
Australia had allocated only limited time to get the operation moving.
The Canberra squadron had been directed to be operationally ready by 1
The Phan Rang facilities were crowded but the Australian
squadron was only a small addition and the assurances given the
Australians of their need and value made a lasting impression. In
January and February the Australian 5th Airfield Construction Squadron
left for South Vietnam to build the maintenance hangar and other
facilities for the squadron. On 19 April eight of the ten Canberra
bombers deployed to South Vietnam from Butterworth the first such
aircraft to enter the war. Personnel numbered approximately 40 officers,
90 non-commissioned officers, and 170 other enlisted men.
|| H.M.A.S. Hobart was integrated
into the war effort when she relieved a US Navy destroyer off Chu Lai on
Operational employment, logistic support, command relations,
and use of clubs, messes, and exchanges were arranged on a navy-to-navy
In January 1967 the Australian
government had indicated that ten navy anti-submarine warfare pilots
qualified in the H34 helicopter might be deployed to South Vietnam. MACV
believed that after ten hours of transitional training in UH1D aircraft
the pilots could be integrated directly into US Army aviation units. It
was not until April, however, that the offer was formalized: eight
pilots and some thirty men for maintenance and support were offered to
relieve US troops operating in support of the Australian task force. The
pay and allowances of this contingent would be paid by Australia while
the United States would provide the aircraft and logistical support. The
men would be integrated into US units and would relieve US troops on an
To facilitate administration, the US
Joint Chiefs of Staff had requested that the Australian pilots be
stationed near a Royal Australian Air Force squadron. They further asked
that, if practicable, the Australians be assigned to US units that
normally supported the Australian task force. General Westmoreland
pointed out that US Army helicopter units were not assigned
to support specific organizations or task forces and that the assignment
of the Australians would be dictated by the tactical situation.
discussions revealed that while the Australian government wished to
attach its troops to the Australian unit at Vung Tau for administrative
support, there was no official requirement for Australian pilots to be
assigned to US units supporting the Australian task force. General
Westmoreland replied that if the proposed Australian offer materialized,
the Australians would be assigned to a helicopter company of the 12th
Combat Aviation Group in the Bien Hoa-Bearcat area.
From this location
they would support units in the III Corps Tactical Zone where the
Australian ground troops were stationed. Upon the arrival of the 135th
Aviation Company in Vietnam, they would be reassigned to that unit. The
135th Aviation Company was to be stationed at Nui Dat, the location of
an Australian Air Force helicopter squadron, only 35 kilometres northeast of Vung Tau. From Nui Dat the 135th Aviation Company would
support the 1st Australian Task Force and others. Should the 135th
arrive in Vietnam before the Australian helicopter contingent it would
be assigned directly to that contingent. An Australian government
request that the pilots be permitted to operate helicopter gunships was
In October 1967 the Prime Minister of
Australia announced new plans to increase the Australian forces in South
Vietnam by another 1,700 troops, thus raising the Australian contingent
from about 6,300 to over 8,000 men. Increases in the ground forces were
to consist of one infantry battalion, one medium-tank squadron with
Centurion tanks (250 men), an engineer construction troop of 45 men, and
an additional 125 men to augment the headquarters group. The infantry
battalion, the 3d Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was to be
deployed during November and December with the other units following as
transportation became available.
| The additional air force contingent was
to consist of eight Iroquois helicopters, ten helicopter pilots, twenty
enlisted crew members, and 100 maintenance men. The helicopters and
personnel were to be assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force No. 9
Helicopter (Utility) Squadron which had deployed the previous June.
Navy was to provide the small number of antisubmarine warfare helicopter
pilots and maintenance personnel discussed earlier in the year.
The added force, deployed over an
eight month period beginning in November 1967, totalled 1,978, slightly
over the proposed figure. The 3d Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment,
with combat support and logistic elements closed in Vietnam in December
1967 and was attached to the 1st Australian Task Force in the III Corps
|| The tank squadron with its logistical support elements
arrived in late February and early March of 1968 with fifteen
operational Centurion tanks. Eleven more tanks were added in September.
The No. 9 Helicopter Squadron received its eight additional helicopters
in July, giving that unit sixteen helicopters. A cavalry troop of thirty
men was added in October 1968.
The type and degree of support
provided the additional Australian forces was in accordance with a new
military working arrangement signed on 30 November 1967. Under its terms
the Australian government was to reimburse the US government at a
capitation rate for the support provided.
US support included base camp
construction and cost of transportation within Vietnam for supplies of
Australian Force, Vietnam, arriving by commercial means; billeting and
messing facilities, but not family quarters for dependents (payment of
meals and billeting service charges were paid for by the individual in
the Saigon area); some medical and dental care in Vietnam but not
evacuation outside Vietnam except for emergency medical evacuation,
which was provided on the same basis as that for US troops; mortuary
service, including preparation of the bodies for shipment, but not
transportation outside Vietnam; transportation, including use of
existing bus, sedan, taxi, and air service operated by the United States
in Vietnam; delivery of official messages transmitted by radio or other
electrical means through established channels; use of US military postal
facilities, including a closed pouch system for all personal and
official mail (1st through 4th class); exchange and commissary service
in Vietnam; special services, including established rest and recreation
tours; necessary office space, equipment, and supplies; and spare parts,
petroleum products, and maintenance facilities for vehicles and aircraft
within the capabilities of US facilities and units in Vietnam.
Agitation in Australia for troop
withdrawals, noticeable in 1968, increased as the year 1969 came to a
close, especially in view of US redeployment plans. On 15 December 200
shop stewards and 32 labour union leaders representing over 1.5 million
Australian voters passed a resolution protesting Australian
participation in the war. Coupled with this was a second resolution
calling upon Australian troops in South Vietnam to lay down their arms
and refuse to fight. The next day the Secretary of the Trades Council
criticized the resolution as being, " . . . a call for
mutiny." On 16 December the Australian Prime Minister felt it
necessary to outline the government position on South Vietnam. In a
television address he stated:
In my policy speech before the last
election, I had this to say to the Australian people: "Should there
be developments (in Vietnam) which result in plans for continuing
reduction of United States Forces over a period, we would expect to be
phased into that program." Since I spoke, developments have taken
place, and you have today heard the announcement by the President of the
United States that a further 50,000 troops are to be withdrawn over the
next few months . . . . I have spoken directly with the President of the
United States, in accordance with arrangements made on my last visit,
and we were in complete accord in agreeing, in principle, that should
the future situation permit a further substantial withdrawal of troops,
then some Australian troops should be included in the numbers scheduled
for such reduction. Such agreement in principle is all that has been
reached, or all that can at present be reached . . . . So I wish to make
it dear: That there is no firm timetable for further withdrawal of
United States troops of which I know . . . . That there is no
arrangement made as to how great any Australian reduction, which may
take place in the future, will be . . . . But these things are clear: We
will not abandon the objects for which we entered the Vietnam War. We
will participate in the next reduction of forces at some stage, when it
comes . . . . We will remain to attain the objectives which we started
to reach, but we are glad we are able to make reductions without
endangering those objectives.
The first open talks with the
Australians concerning troop redeployment were held on 28 January 1970
when the chief of staff of the Australian Force, Vietnam, met with the
assistant chief of staff, J3, of the US Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam, to discuss Australia's intentions on troop withdrawal. The
Australian chief of staff could not confirm the existing rumours that
Australian troops would be pulled out in April or May; he indicated that
he had no knowledge of the subject other than the Prime Minister's
announcement of 16 December. He went on to add that he believed only one
battalion would be withdrawn initially and the pace of future moves
would be keyed to moves by the United States.
On the second day of April the
Military Assistance Command Training Directorate and the Central
Training Command convened a conference to discuss an Australian proposal
for increased Australian support of Vietnamese training. The exact terms
of this proposal had not yet been determined but the training would be
supplied for the Regional and Popular Forces in Phuoc Tuy Province. (Map
6) Any increased training effort on the part of the Australians was to
be linked to future withdrawals of Australian troops. No definite dates
for withdrawals or specific numbers of men to be withdrawn had been
The situation became clearer when the
Australian government announced on 20 August the pending redeployment of
the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. This unit of approximately
900 men returned home about 12 November, leaving behind a force level of
6,062. The move was accompanied by an offer of approximately $3.6
million (US) to South Vietnam as a direct grant for defence aid. This
was the first phase of the Australian withdrawal; future reductions in
troops were to be handled in much the same manner.
Almost one year later, 18 August 1971,
the Australian government announced that it would withdraw its combat
forces from South Vietnam in the next few months. Prime Minister William
McMahon stated that the bulk of the force would be home by Christmas. To
help offset the troop reduction the Australian government pledged $28
million in economic aid for civil projects in South Vietnam during the
next three years. This placed the total monetary cost to Australia for
active participation in the war in the neighbourhood of $240 million.
The forces of discontent plaguing the
Australian government's Vietnam policy were at work in New Zealand as
well, but on a smaller scale. Just as New Zealand was prompted by the
same rationale as Australia to enter the conflict in South Vietnam, it
was prompted to leave for similar reasons. The Australian announcement
of a troop reduction on 20 August 1970 was accompanied by a like
announcement from New Zealand.
On that date the Prime Minister stated
his intention of reducing the New Zealand contingent by one rifle
company of 144 men. Then in November 19'70 New Zealand made plans to
send a 25-man army training team to South Vietnam in early 1971. This
announcement followed closely and was intended to offset the 12 November
departure of the New Zealand rifle company. It was proposed that the
training team serve as a contribution to a joint Vietnam-New Zealand
training facility at the Chi Lang National Training Centre in Chau Doc
New Zealand again followed suit when
on 18 August 1971 its government announced with Australia that New
Zealand too would withdraw its combat forces from South Vietnam. In
Wellington, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Sir Keith J. Holyoake, said
that his country's combat forces would be withdrawn by "about the
end of this year ."
||The New Zealand contingent in Vietnam
served with the Australians.
Both nations realized that their own vital
interests were at stake.
The decline of British power had made the
security of New Zealand more dependent upon the United States and upon
damming the flood of what Prime Minister Holyoake called in 1968
"terror and aggression."
The fundamental issues, Holyoake
said, were simple: "Whose will is to prevail in South Vietnam the
imposed will of the North Vietnamese communists and their agents, or the
freely expressed will of the people of South Vietnam?"
Discussion surrounding the nature of
New Zealand's aid to South Vietnam was conducted at various levels. The
U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, became involved when
Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Gurr, a representative of New Zealand's
Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with MACV representatives during the period
510 June 1963.
The New Zealand government was interested in such
categories of assistance as workshop teams, engineers, field medical
elements, naval elements, and army combat elements. Information on the
possible use of New Zealanders in each of these categories as well as
other recommendations was provided. Colonel Gurr pointed out that while
his government was reluctant to become deeply involved in combat
operations for political reasons, the New Zealand military was
interested in gaining knowledge of Vietnam and experience in combat
New Zealand first contributed to the
defence of South Vietnam on 20 July 1964 when an engineer platoon and
surgical team arrived in Vietnam for use in local civic action projects.
Then in May 1965 the government decided to replace the detachment with a
combat force consisting of a 105-mm. howitzer battery.
This unit, the
161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, arrived on 21 July, was put
under the operational control of MACV, and was attached to the 173d
Airborne Brigade with the primary mission of supporting the Australian
task force in Phuoc Tuy Province. The following month a military working
agreement was signed under which the United States agreed to furnish
field administrative support. Although no financial working agreement
had been signed by the end of the year, New Zealand was reimbursing the
United States for the cost of support given. The contingent from New
Zealand at this time numbered 119.
The year 1966 opened with discussions
between General Westmoreland and the Ambassador of New Zealand over the
possibility of increased military aid to South Vietnam. Specifically,
General Westmoreland hoped that New Zealand could provide a battalion of
infantry for a three battalion Australian-New Zealand (ANZAC) brigade.
While sympathetic to the proposal, the ambassador said there were
political considerations governing the increase that were beyond his
In late February, a representative from the New Zealand
Ministry of External Affairs met with General Westmoreland and indicated
an interest in rounding out the 105-mm. Howitzer battery from four to
six guns. Despite election year pressure and subsequent political
considerations tending to limit aid to non-military areas, New Zealand
announced on 26 March 1966 its decision to add two howitzers and
twenty-seven men to its force in South Vietnam. In addition the surgical
team in Qui Nhon was to be increased from seven to thirteen men.
During a visit to South Vietnam the
Chief of the General Staff, New Zealand Army, told General Westmoreland
that he believed New Zealand might respond to requests for additional
military assistance, but not until after the November elections. Several
possibilities were mentioned, including an infantry battalion of four
companies and a Special Air Services company. Both units were in
Malaysia, but could be redeployed to South Vietnam. Also under
consideration was the use of an APC platoon and a truck company.
Army chief admitted that civilians and some military men in the New
Zealand Defence Ministry did not share his views, hence there was little
chance for the immediate implementation of the proposals.
The elections in the fall of 1966
seemed to define New Zealand's policy in regard to South Vietnam. With a
solid voter mandate the New Zealand Prime Minister instructed his Defence
Minister to review the entire situation and in doing so to
consider the use of all or part of the New Zealand battalion of the 28th
Commonwealth Brigade (Malaysia) for service in South Vietnam.
The New Zealand government then
summarized the possibilities for military aid to Vietnam. The army
possibilities for deployment were a 40-man Special Air Services company
(squadron), or five 20-man troops to alternate 6-month periods of duty
with an Australian counterpart organization. An armoured personnel
carrier troop of 30 men and 12 carriers was another possibility, but not
for the immediate future. Also considered was an infantry rifle company
from the battalion in Malaysia or the entire battalion.
additional administrative and logistical support units were suggested by
Likely Air Force increases were from four to six
Canberra (B-57) flight crews supported by forty to fifty ground
personnel to be integrated into either US or Australian Canberra
squadrons. Because it was not practical to use the B-57's of the New
Zealand Air Force with U.S. bombers, it was decided to leave them in New
Zealand with a training mission. Other Air Force possibilities were a
few fully qualified Canberra or Vampire pilots for a US sponsored
training program for F4 aircraft and subsequent combat operations; the
addition of a few operations, intelligence, and forward air controller
personnel; several Bristol freighter transports with crews and necessary
ground support personnel; and finally, air crews and ground support
personnel for Iroquois helicopters.
Possible naval contributions ranged
from the deployment of the frigate Blackpool from Singapore to a
station with the Seventh Fleet off the coast of Vietnam to the man for
man integration of from 20 to 40 men on US patrol craft. Besides all
this, the government of New Zealand had been considering the likelihood
of substituting a medical team drawn from the armed forces for the three
civilian medical teams previously programmed for Binh Dinh Province.
The views of officials of the Military
Assistance Command, Vietnam, and the office of the Commander in Chief,
Pacific, on these proposals were passed to New Zealand in order of their
battalion from Malaysia could be used effectively in any corps tactical
zone, but it would probably be most effective if attached to the
Australian task force, thereby doubling the force's capacity to conduct
search and clear operations. Moreover the move would enhance security in
the Vung Tau area and aid the revolutionary development program.
existing two battalion force had limited the size of the task force
operations to one reinforced battalion, the other battalion being
required for base camp security. If only an infantry rifle company were
available, it would be employed as part of the Australian task force.
The Special Air Services company (squadron) would help fill the need for
long-range patrols and reconnaissance as the allied offensive gained
momentum. The company could be used effectively in any corps area, but
its use was preferred in the III Corps Tactical Zone under the
operational control of II Field Force headquarters. The unit was to be
employed alone, in a specified remote area, to observe and report on
enemy dispositions, installations, and activities. The armoured personnel
carrier troop would be employed with the Australian task force, where
its presence would increase the force's ability to safeguard roads as
well as to conduct operations to open lines of communication.
With regard to New Zealand Air Force
contributions, a Canberra squadron was believed to be the most
desirable, followed by the Bristol freighter transports, support for
Iroquois helicopters, F4 pilots, intelligence specialists, and forward
air controllers. The bombers would operate with the Australian squadron
while the Bristol freighters would provide logistic support in Vietnam
as well as lift for the Australian task force. Up to 25 officers and 25
enlisted men could be used in conjunction with the Iroquois helicopter
company and it was hoped that the men would be available for a minimum
of six months. Intelligence specialists and forward air controllers
would be used to coordinate and direct tactical air and artillery
support for ground forces.
Augmenting the Seventh Fleet with a
Blackpool type of destroyer would be especially desirable, as would the
integration of a New Zealand contingent with US crews on either MARKET
TIME Or GAME WARDEN patrol craft. No command and control problems were
anticipated in any of these proposals.
The reviews and discussions
surrounding increased New Zealand Air Force contributions finally
resulted in some action. On 8 March 1967 the Australian government
announced that it intended to send a sixteen man tri-service medical
team to Binh Dinh Province in late May or early June to replace the US
team at Bong Son. At the same time a decision was made to double New
Zealand military forces in South Vietnam through the deployment of a
rifle company. Accompanied by support troops, this unit would be drawn
from its parent battalion in Malaysia and rotated after each six-month
tour of duty.
||2RAR, 4RAR & 6RAR
all had 1 or 2 Companies from RNZIR attached to make ANZAC
As well the Kiwis had Artillery,
SAS, Medical and Admin and Support units.
The first element of V Company, Royal New Zealand Infantry
Regiment, arrived in South Vietnam on 11 May 1967. In October General
Westmoreland learned that the New Zealand government would add still
another rifle company to its contingent some time before Christmas. This
unit, W Company, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, plus engineer and
support troops arrived during the period 1617 December 1967. Both rifle
companies were integrated with an Australian unit to form an ANZAC
battalion. A platoon of New Zealand Special Air Services also arrived in
December and was integrated into a similar Australian unit. These
deployments brought the New Zealand troop strength up to its authorized
level for a total commitment of approximately 517 men.
Logistical support accorded the New
Zealand forces was provided in a military working arrangement signed 10
May 1968. Under the terms of this arrangement, the New Zealand
government was to reimburse the US government at a capitation rate for
the support provided. US support included base camp construction and
transportation costs within Vietnam for New Zealand force supplies
arriving by commercial means; billeting and messing facilities (but not
family quarters for dependents); some medical and dental care in Vietnam
but not evacuation outside Vietnam except emergency medical evacuation,
such as that provided for US troops; use of US operated bus, sedan,
taxi, and air service; delivery of official messages transmitted by
radio or other electrical means through established channels; use of US
military postal facilities, including a closed pouch system for all
personal and official mail; exchange and commissary service in Vietnam;
special services, including established rest and recreation tours;
necessary office space, equipment, and supplies; spare parts, petroleum
products, and maintenance facilities for vehicles and aircraft within
the capabilities of US facilities and units in Vietnam.
There was no significant change in
strength or mission for the New Zealand forces in South Vietnam during
the remainder of 1969. (Table 2)
TABLE 2 -
LOCATION, STRENGTH, AND MISSION OF NEW ZEALAND FORCES JUNE 1969
Zealand Force, Vietnam
and admin support
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
various appointments with 1st Australian Task Force
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
|V Company, RNZIR
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
|W Company, RNZIR
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
|No. 4 Troop, NZ SAS
Dat, Phuoc Tuy
Dat, Vung Tau, Phuoc Tuy
|1 NZ Svcs Med Team
Son, Binh Dinh
While there appeared to be some
hesitancy over the type and amount of New Zealand's military aid, the
country's financial assistance to South Vietnam continued unabated.
Commencing in 1966, financial aid averaged approximately $350,000 (US)
annually. This sum financed several mobile health teams to support
refugee camps, the training of village vocational experts, and the
establishment of the fifteen man surgical team deployed to the Qui Nhon-Bong
Son area. Other appropriated support funded the cost of medical and
instructional material for Hue University and the expansion of Saigon
University. During the 1967/68 period nearly $500,000 (US) of private
civilian funds were donated for Vietnamese student scholarships in New
Zealand and increased medical and refugee aid.
For a number of years the Australian
and New Zealand troops, distinctive in their bush hats, (see
photo) operated in
their own area of responsibility in Phuoc Tuy Province. Their job was
essentially to conduct offensive operations against the enemy through
Related and equally important tasks included the
the rice harvest and a civic action program.
When the Australian task
force was introduced into Phuoc Tuy Province in 1965, its commanding
general, recognizing the need to develop rapport with civilians,
directed the task force to develop an effective modus operandi for civic
action operations. After several months and considerable coordination
with other agencies a concept of operations was developed. In July 1966
the program went into effect.
In the first stage, civic action teams
composed of four men each were sent to hamlets in the area surrounding
the task force command post in Long Le District. At this time the
objective was simply to develop rapport with the local population; the
teams made no promises and distributed no gifts. The Long Le area had
been largely under Viet Cong domination since the early fifties and the
people therefore were at first somewhat reluctant to accept the
Australians, who looked and spoke like Americans, but yet were
different. This reluctance was gradually overcome.
The first stage lasted for
approximately two weeks and was followed by the preparation of a hamlet
study that outlined the type of projects to be undertaken. Some material
support was solicited from US Agency for International Development,
Joint US Public Affairs Office, and Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam. In addition, the Australians had a sizable fund at their
disposal for the purchase of materials and payment of labour.
executing the plan, priorities for project construction were set and
forwarded to the province chief for his approval. After approval,
construction commenced. The results were impressive. In a one year
period in the district town alone, eight classrooms, a Vietnamese
information service headquarters, a district market, a maternity ward, a
three-room dispensary, a town meeting hall, large warehouses, a dozen
capped wells, a district headquarters building, a police checkpoint, and
several other hard structure projects were completed.
In the execution of this program the
Australians initially committed one basic error which is worth noting.
They did not recognize sufficiently the critical importance of the
hamlet, village, and district governments and the imperative need to
consult, work with, and coordinate all projects with local Vietnamese
officials. This lack of coordination resulted in some problems. For
example, maintenance on projects was not performed because no one felt
responsible and no prior commitment had been made. And while the
projects were thought to be in the best interests of the local
population by Vietnamese officials, their precise location and design
did not necessarily match the people's desires.
The people respected the Australians
for their fine soldiering and discipline. In a study of Phuoc Tuy
Province the respondents remarked that Australians never went over the
10 miles per hour limit in populated areas, individually helped the
Vietnamese, and paid fair wages for skilled and unskilled labour.
One reason for the success of the
Australians in Vietnam was their experience of over a generation in
fighting guerrilla wars. The Australian Army, before going to Vietnam,
saw action in the jungles of Borneo against the Japanese and then spent
twelve years helping the British put down a Communist insurgency in
Malaya. Another reason for the effectiveness of the Australian soldiers
could be attributed to their training. Because of its small size the
Australian Army trained exclusively for the one kind of war it was most
likely to face guerrilla war in the jungles and swamps of Asia.
Furthermore the army, composed largely of volunteers, is a highly
specialized organization. One ranking Australian officer who advised the
South Vietnamese security forces compared his country's army to the
Versailles restricted German Army after World War I which became so
"cadreized" that even the lowest ranking private could perform
the duties of a captain.