David Cameron has succinctly encapsulated Australia’s most memorable battle of the Vietnam War. This work comes in three parts: background, the battle and the aftermath.
A thorough history of French Indochina from the 1850s to the days of President Diem in the South and Ho Chi Minh in the North, places in context the establishment of 1 Australian Task Force (1ATF) in Phuoc Tuy Province in March 1966.
At 11am on 18 August 1966, Delta Company (D Coy) 6 Battalion (6RAR) left 1ATF base to investigate overnight mortaring of the base, heading for the Long Tan rubber plantation five kilometres away. At 3:40pm 11 Platoon engaged Viet Cong who had walked into D Coy in the plantation.
From this point each chapter covers a 10-, 15- or 20-minute period and describes the D Coy action, other sub units of 6 RAR in the vicinity returning from patrolling, the artillery support, the reactions of 6RAR’s commanding officer and Commander 1ATF. First hand comments from interviews, personal diaries, radio logs, and North Vietnamese unit histories personalize the hours the battle raged with neither side being aware of the actual strength of their opponents. Each chapter’s title is a memorable/pithy quote made at that time.
Almost 3500 artillery rounds protected D Coy as torrential rain and ammunition shortage compounded the initial loss of most of 11 Platoon. Two RAAF helicopters literally dropped ammunition into D Coy headquarters, while non-stop heavy machine gun, mortar and rocket propelled grenades shredded the rubber trees. Human wave of attackers were kept back by very close-in artillery fire. Relief was to eventually arrive with A Coy 6RAR in armoured personnel carriers at 7:00pm.
The description of the sights confronting D Coy next morning as they cleared the battlefield, recovering two wounded and fourteen dead brings home to readers the reason why post-traumatic stress disorder is so common among returning veterans.
An exceedingly well-balanced and impeccably researched account released on the 50th anniversary of the battle of the soldiers who held out for so long against so many.
Reviewed for RUSIV by Neville Taylor, November 2016
Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.