Week of August 20
On August 18, 1966, near the Australian army base at Núi Đất, southeast of Sài Gòn, 108 Australians from Company D of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) were on a patrol in the Long Tân rubber plantation. Suddenly, they stumbled directly into a reinforced Việt Cộng regiment of between 1,500 and 2,500 troops on its way to attack Núi Đất.
In the midst of driving rain, the Communist force quickly surrounded D Company and pinned down the Australians with intense mortar and machine gun fire. Severely outnumbered, D Company radioed for artillery support from the New Zealand 161 Battery. Two nearby Australian units and one U.S. artillery unit also provided support, and two Australian air force helicopters later managed to drop ammunition and supplies to the beleaguered men, despite monsoon conditions and withering enemy fire. Additional Australian units moved to reinforce their comrades, including B Company and A Company aboard armored personnel carriers. They reached the surrounded men just before nightfall.
The 6RAR held out against a numerically superior enemy force for nearly four hours. All told, 18 men were killed and 21 were wounded—the most casualties suffered in a single day by Australian troops during the war. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded the 6RAR the Presidential Unit Citation for the battle.
Australia’s commitment in South Vietnam began in 1962, with the arrival of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Their numbers peaked in 1967, at some 8,000 troops, including army, navy, and air force units. Overall, 50,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War. More than 420 were killed and nearly 2,400 were wounded before Australian forces departed in January 1973.1
1Spencer Stanley Robert Larsen and James Lawton Collins, Jr., Allied Participation in Vietnam (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1985), 88–114; Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 83–86; “Australia and the Vietnam War: Battle of Long Tan,” Vietnam War Commemoration [Australia], http://vietnam-war.commemoration.gov.au/combat/battle-of-long-tan.php (accessed 8/19/15); “The Battle of Long Tan and the Vietnam War, Australia.gov, http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/battle-of-long-tan (accessed 8/19/15).