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History | The Battle of Long Tan

Updated on August 15, 2015

The Battle of Long Tan Was The Most Famous Action of Vietnam Fought by ANZAC Soldiers

For 3-1/2 hours on 18th August, 1966, the 108 men of D Company, 6th Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) faced over 2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops in a rubber plantation at Long Tan. During this action, they first endured sweltering conditions and then tropical monsoonal rainfall. At the end of the battle, there were 18 Australian soldiers killed and 21 wounded. The North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong lost up to 800 killed and more than 1,000 wounded.

Image: Public Domain. | Lens Updated: January 12th, 2013 @ 08:08 am Beijing time.

The Battle of Long Tan

... unfolded on 18th August, 1966 CE

Timeline How the Battle of Long Tan Progressed

Wounded soldier helped by his mate at Battle of Long Tan
Wounded soldier helped by his mate at Battle of Long Tan

Image: Army - The Soldier's Newspaper

15:00 D Company, 6th Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR): Patrol East through Long Tan rubber plantation.

16:08 11 Platoon pushed on further toward a clearing in the rubber. Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. Pte. V.R. Grice radios Major H A Smith: "Four Two. Contact. Wait. Out"

Sgt Bob Buick, 11 platoon - "They opened up... there's at least 2 machine guns, 7.62 (mm) RPD's, and some rifles and AK 47's.They were that good, that they were at round about 75 to 100 metres, they knocked over the left section. There were six guys there, four were killed and two were wounded."

16:09 Four section on the left was hit the hardest. Those who could return fire, did, forcing the enemy to the ground. Sharp had Buick move 6 section into an L-shape to maximise their fire-power, across 11 Platoon's front. 2Lt G.C. Sharp radios Smith: "Four Two: (Sharp) Contact. I count at least count three enemy machine guns estimate enemy my call sign size. Over."

Sgt Bob Buick, 11 platoon - "There's a creek that follows around the bottom end of Nui Dat 2. They (Platoon: 20 - 30 men) were on the other side of that creek in the Rizo creek. That would have been at the closest most probably about 100 to 125 metres from the extreme LH guide. There was no-one in front of us until possibly twenty minutes to half an hour into the battle, when they attacked us from the East straight to our front."

16:15 Buick moved 6 Section into a reverse L, protecting the left flank.

Sgt Bob Buick, 11 platoon - "So we then went into a defensive type of mode, where I got the RH section to move them around to protect the Southern flank, and We could just look after the Northern flank as much as we could, but we had to stop this attack that had been placed onto us by possibly 80 to 100 VC. I opened up on fire. We in fact done (sic) what we were trained to do is to bring fire to bear onto where the enemy is and to bring artillery down, and that would have taken them most probably 10 or 15 minutes."

Sharp radios forward observer, Maurie Stanley: "Four Two: (Sharp) Fetch Shelldrake. Over." "Three Four: (Stanley) This is three four. Over." "Four Two: (Sharp) Target. Over." "Three Four: (Stanley) Send. Over." "Four Two: (Sharp) Alsation. Right two up three. One round. Over." "Three Four: (Stanley) Alsation. Right two up three. One round. Wait. Over." (Shelldrake: Codename for artillery.)

Major Harry Smith, Commander - "It was up to Maurie Stanley, the forward observer, to react and provide artillery fire in front of 11 Platoon."

Smith continued to move Company HQ, 12 Platoon and 10 Platoon closer to 11's position, as Stanley, on the move, called in the artillery ranging fire. The six guns of the New Zealand 161 Field Battery, Maurie Stanley's battery, were 5 km away as they dropped their shells closer to 11's front.

Captain Maurie Stanley, Artillery, FO - "A lot of my work was guesswork, in the early stages. I don't deny that..."

Stanley, guessing, as he likes to put it, continues the artillery bombardment. Bravo Company, 2 km away, already knew their mates were in trouble, but they were told to hold their position.

16:20 Under enemy mortar attack, Major Harry Smith, Commander, continued to move Company HQ. Smith radios Colonel Colin Townsend at battalion HQ, asking for reinforcements, but was denied the request as there was no-one to send.5 RAR were miles to the North of Long Tan on patrol. D Company were on their own.

Major Harry Smith, Commander - "As 11 Platoon became embroiled, and were not able to move, I spoke with Geoff Kendall, who said he wasn't in contact.... and I said OK go around and attack from the North, and try to relieve the pressure on 11 Platoon so I can pull them out."

16:25 Smith radios Sharp... "Four: (Smith) This is Four. Stand by. We are sending help. Over."

Sgt Bob Buick, 11 Platoon (D Company, 6 RAR) - "Casualties, the complete LH section and a few guys around me were knocked over. Some were killed, some were wounded. There was no way I could pull out."

16:27 Sharp estimated the enemy at Company size - 80 to 100 men.

16:30 2 Lt. Geoff Kendall, 10 Platoon - "At this stage, it started to rain... and from then on... for the next hour from then on it got heavier and heavier and heavier, as it does every day in Vietnam pretty well... I suppose we had walked for maybe 100, 150 metres and we saw people going across our front... oncoming like that, in a straight line as you could imagine... in a straight line was going like that (gesticulates) across our front. When I first saw them, I wasn't exactly sure who they were, because it was bucketing down rain and everybody looks black. We'd gone another 20 or 30 metres and you could tell by the rifles by the.. some of them were wearing pith helmets, sort of thing.. they obviously weren't our guys."

As 10 platoon had moved to within 10 metres of the enemy advancing on 11, 11 Platoon's situation was worsening. Smith needed reinforcements.

Major Harry Smith, Commander - "We asked for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the Battalion advised me that they weren't going to send the reinforcements out by helicopters, which is what I'd asked. In hindsight, I don't think we had the helicopters available, but in hindsight I have to say that I don't think the task force commander really wanted to get the Americans involved."

2 Lt. Geoff Kendall, 10 Platoon - "It was difficult to get orders across, it was better to demonstrate what you wanted to get done and the guys were waiting for it anyway. Then I just got down on one knee and opened up and shouted 'fire' and started firing. We opened up across the whole right front and pretty well decimated the right hand element of their group anyway, and I don't know how many people, but quite a few... So I just said to the guys, 'Righto, we'll get up again and we'll go again' and so we went forward maybe 10 or 15 metres, not very far, and all of a sudden we got a hail of fire."

16:35 The enemy attacked from two sides, wounding three and pinning them down. As Kendall called in artillery, Radio Operator, Brian Hornung, was hit. 10's communication was dead Smith increased artillery support. As the death toll continued to rise, the wounded, who could, began to arrive at Company HQ. 11 were still out there fighting and, as the wounded continued to come in, Yank (Pte. Bill 'Yank' Akell, Radio Operator), with the only spare radio, ran out in search of the platoon.

16:50 No-one knew if 10 Platoon was even close to reaching 11 Platoon and, with 18 artillery guns firing in front of their position, the enemy kept coming. 11 Platoon had also lost their radio. 11 lost their Platoon Commander, National Service Officer Gordon Sharp (21) shot through the neck, in the layer of gunfire just above their heads. Sgt. Bob Buick took command of 11.

Colonel Colin Townsend, Commander, 6 RAR was pressing hard to send reinforcements by Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC's). But Brigadier Jackson knew, that if he released A Company, the newly established task force base itself could be exposed. There wasn't enough information coming in. He had to wait. But with each new situation, Jackson's decision got tougher.

The Task Force had lost communication with 10 and 11 Platoon's That meant if D Company was going to be overrun, there was enough reason to hold back A Company for the defence of Nui Dat. Even if Jackson said "Go", right now, it would still take 90 minutes to get there. As it was, Jackson wasn't prepared to issue the order.

16:55 Pte. Bill Akell arrives with the radio for 2 Lt. Geoff Kendall, 10 Platoon. He communicates with Major Harry Smith, and was ordered to withdraw to his position.

A Company is ordered on standby by Colonel Colin Townsend, in case they had to send a relief force to help A Company. As A Company re-kitted to go back out, 3 troop, 1APC Squadron, "the cavalry" was alerted.

17:00 For the guys still alive in 11 Platoon, it just got worse. As the radio was restored they were almost out of ammunition, Guys carrying automatic weapons were told to only fire a single round at an enemy that was coming in waves. Major Harry Smith orders 2 Lt. Dave Sabben to leave behind a section of his 12 Platoon, to protect the casualties in the Company Aid Post, and go to the assistance of 11 Platoon. Dave Sabben with the two remaining sections (20 men) of 12 Platoon swept around to the South as 11 reached breaking point.

17:15 Sgt. Bob Buick requests permission to withdraw under the cover of artillery fire. His platoon is surrounded by a battalion of enemy soldiers.

17:20 Enemy was estimated at Battalion size of 600 to 700 men. Urgent ammunition resupply by helicopter is requested. At Nui Dat, the relief force of A Company and the APC's hadn't moved. As for Brigadier Jackson, the situation in the command tent wasn't getting any better. Chopper Pilots Flight Lt.s Bob Grandin and Frank Reilly, 9 Squadron, RAAF, were in the Command Tent. Jackson asked RAAF Commander,Group Captain Peter Rourke, for the choppers to resupply D Company with ammunition. Frank Reilly stepped forward and said "I'll go."

... (continued)...

Depiction of The Battle of Long Tan in Oil

Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966. Bruce Fletcher, 1970. [Oil on canvas 152 x 175cm. AWM ART40758]
Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966. Bruce Fletcher, 1970. [Oil on canvas 152 x 175cm. AWM ART40758]

This depiction, "Long Tan Action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966 by Bruce Fletcher, 1970. This oil on canvas painting measures 152 x 175cm and hangs in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Catalogue No ART40758

Timeline, the Battle of Long Tan... (continued)

17:30 They needed it. 11 was still pinned, 12 hadn't reached them and the enemy was still coming. 12 couldn't get there. Sgt. Bob Buick admits that, at that stage, he got to a stage of hopelessness, and radios for artillery support: "Four Two: (Buick) " "Enemy within 50 yards, almost out of ammo, must withdraw. Target artillery on my call sign. Over" Sgt Buick was down to 12 men at that stage.

17:50 Maurie Stanley had been commanding the 18 guns at Nui Dat, continuously, for over an hour, and he was calling them in close. The 18 guns were firing over 6 round per minute. You do the maths. the artillery falling between 11 Platoon and the enemy was the only thing keeping them alive. And the conditions weren't helping anyone. Lightning struck twice, the first time knocking out telephone communications and rendering the telephone operator unconscious, sending him backwards 6 to 8 feet off his chair. The second time it hit the latrines, blowing them to pieces. At that point you know things have really turned bad!

18:02 Col. Colin Townsend: "I spoke to the Task Force Commander and I said 'Look, we've got to do something about D Company, because if we don't do anything they are going to be annihalated'." Jackson agreed, and Townsend finally received the orders he had been pushing for. B Company were ordered back into the rubber, as A company and the APC's were ordered to assault on D Company's position. Grandin, Reilly, Pte P.J. Doyle and Lane were ready in the two choppers, as the ammo boxes wrapped in blankets for the wounded were thrown in. No-one asked for the OK, no-one cared if they had it. They were going. On approach to D Company's position, Grandin radios Pte R L Rencher

18:05

18:10 The two choppers dived on their position, rolling on their side.

18:15 D Company had their ammunition, and 11 Platoon had their artillery back. As the 11 Platoon survivors were meeting with 12, the APC's were leaving the wire at Nui Dat when two were called backed to 6 RAR HQ to collect Townsend.

18:42 The APC's from A Company had entered the rubber and made initial contact with the enemy, who were moving into position for a final assault on D Company. The APC's engaged them,as some of the troops from A Company leapt from one of the carriers. After driving off the enemy advancing from the South-East the troops remounted the APC. It was getting desparate. The wounded coming in for treatment were piling up in a ditch. What a place to die. The Aid Post was like a garbage tip. You could hear the screams. It was endless. 22 men ended up in that ditch. Corporal Phil N. 'Doc' Dobson saved every one of them

18:45 If Maurie Stanley dropped the artillery any closer it would be on top of them. It didn't matter, They just kept coming through, climbing over their own dead and wounded to get to the Australians.

18:52 As the perimeter shrank, so did their numbers. The enemies numbers grew. The Australians were about to be overrun.

18:55 Many had already gone down fighting and many more would.

19:00 From B Company: 24 men arrive at D Company position, expecting to not see out the day when they view the enemy lining up for a final assault.

19:10 The APC's arrive and sweep through the Australian lines with 30 and 50 calibre guns blazing. The enemy bolt. The Battle of Long Tan is over.

The Battle of Long Tan on Wikipedia - See what the online reference source has to say...

The Site of the Battle of Long Tan
The Site of the Battle of Long Tan

The Battle of Long Tan was fought between the Australian Army and Viet Cong forces in a rubber plantation near the village of Long Tan, about twenty seven kilometres north east of Vung Tau, South Vietnam on 18 August 1966. It is arguably the most famous battle fought by the Australian Army during the Vietnam War.

The action occurred when D Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), encountered the Viet Cong (VC) 275 Regiment and elements of the D445 Local Forces Battalion. D Company was supported by other Australian units, as well as New Zealand and United States personnel.

The battle is often used in Australian officer training as an example of the importance of combining and coordinating infantry, artillery, armour and military aviation.

read the rest of the Wikipedia article

Battle of Long Tan Decorations & Awards...

These decorations and awards were awarded under the Commonwealth (Imperial) system.

Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Order

The Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Introduced by Queen Victoria, of England, in 1886

This is an award that was originally given 'for distinguished services under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy.'

In 1994 the award was opened to all ranks for 'command and leadership'.

Awarded To:

* Brigadier O D Jackson

* Lieutenant-Colonel C Townsend

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

[Service award... not bestowed for gallantry]

Awarded to:

* Captain M Stanley (NZ)

Military-Cross-[MC]
Military-Cross-[MC]

Military Cross (MC)

Was Introduced in December 1914 by King George V

It was intended for lower ranking Army officers (Captain or less) and Warrant Officers 'for distinguished and meritorious services.'

Awarded to:

* Major H A Smith

Distinguished Conduct Medal
Distinguished Conduct Medal

Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

This award was created in 1854 by Queen Victoria...

It was awarded to non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Army 'for distinguished conduct in action in the field.'

Awarded To:

* Warrant Officer 2 J W Kirby

* Corporal J Carter

Military Medal
Military Medal

Military Medal (MM)

This award was created in 1916 by King George V...

Awarded for other ranks in the Army to correspond with the Military Cross instituted two years earlier, but eventually back dated in availability to 1914. Awarded to other ranks 'for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.'

Awarded To:

* Sergeant R S Buick

* Private R M Eglinton

Mentioned in Despatches
Mentioned in Despatches

Mentioned in Despatches

Is a military award for gallantry or otherwise commendable service...

Australian service personnel are no longer eligible to be Mentioned in Despatches. Since 15 January 1991, when the Australian Honours System was established, the MID was replaced by two Australian decorations:

* Commendation for Gallantry, a fourth level gallantry decoration

* Commendation for Distinguished Service, a third level distinguished service decoration.

MID Awarded To:

* Lieutenant F. A. Roberts

* 7 Second Lieutenant G. M. Kendall

* Second Lieutenant D. R. Sabben

* Corporal P. N. Dobson

* Corporal W. R. Moore

* Lance Bombadier W. Walker (NZ)

* Private W. A. Akell

Commonwealth of Australia:

Unit Citation Award

Unit Citation for Gallantry Australia
Unit Citation for Gallantry Australia

Australia Unit Citation For Gallantry

Awarded for 'acts of extraordinary gallantry in action'...

Following a review and recommendations made by the Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal, on 31st March 2010, the following award was Awarded To:

Delta Company, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) For acts of extraordinary gallantry in action at the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam on 18 August 1966.

By Her Excellency's Command

Stephen Brady

Official Secretary to the Governor-General

United States of America:

Presidential Unit Citation Award

USA Presidential Unit Citation - Long Tan Battle - D Company, 6 RAR receives award for action in battle...

US Presidential Unit Citation Award From President Johnson
US Presidential Unit Citation Award From President Johnson

Presidential Unit Citation (United States): Wikimedia

On May 28, 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded a Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) to D Company 6RAR, for the unit's actions at Long Tan. The citation reads as follows:

"By virtue of the authority invested in me as the President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I have today awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for extraordinary heroism to D Company, Sixth Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, The Australian Army.

D Company distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing armed force in Vietnam on August 18, 1966.

While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy, Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attacked on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well armed and determined foe, the men on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Cong.

The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle. After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence positions of D Company.

The conspicuous courage, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were to the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army."

"She''ll be right, mate, we can handle it".

Australian digger to General Westmoreland on being told "You've done a good job, fella's. But this is the dirty part (burying the dead)".

Did you enjoy reading about the Battle of Long Tan? Leave your comments and questions below. Please take the time to rate this hub at the top LH corner of the page. If you enjoyed it, you may care to mark it as a favourite as well.

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What Do You Think About the Long Tan Battle? - Take a moment to leave your comments, thoughts & suggestions...

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    • profile image

      Snakesmum 5 years ago

      Hadn't read about Long Tan in such detail before. Good lens.

    • ManipledMutineer profile image

      ManipledMutineer 5 years ago

      Excellent lens, engaging and moving, full of content.

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 5 years ago

      thanks for sharing this lens; an congrats on the winning of the purple star...

    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 5 years ago from USA

      This is one of the finest historical tributes I've seen in a long time. Thank you for acknowledging this battle, and remembering those who were there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Very intense, very intense.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Thanks for the information about the battle of long tan.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Our Australian colleagues in various countries we worked in always go to the embassy on ANZAC day. It is really special to them.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 5 years ago

      Many people don't realize that Australians fought in Vietnam. A very interesting story and so sad...you did a very nice job on this lens. Thank You for sharing ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

      I'm still working on my hubbies Vietnam lens

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      History facts I didn't know, so I learn a lot from your lens. Blessings!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 7 years ago from California

      Fascinating topic. As young as I am, I had no idea the ANZACs had gotten caught in the U.S.'s last quagmire! Oy. Many thanks to every one of them. I rue that war, but respect the soldiers who endured it.

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