THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the cessation of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
To commemorate this day the RSL City of Cockburn will be conducting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Service at its Sub-branch on Frederick Street, Hamilton Hill on August 18 at 10.30am.
There will also be a special Sunset Ceremony at 6pm to honour the Vietnam veterans.
Australia’s involvement in South Vietnam commenced in 1962 with Australia sending a team of 30 officers and warrant officers as infantry advisors, known as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV).
Their journey to war was very different; they travelled in civilian clothes onboard a Qantas aircraft to Singapore.
From there the team flew Air France to Saigon, beginning Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
During their 10- year tour of duty they became the highest decorated unit in the Australian Army.
They were soon followed by units of the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy, with ships such as the HMAS Melbourne (affectionately known as the “Vung Tau Ferry”), transporting troops, vehicles and equipment between Australia and the South Vietnam port of Vung Tau.
Other ships involved were the gunline destroyer group which included HMAS Hobart.
The first Australian Army unit to arrive in South Vietnam was the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.
Throughout May and June 1965, they formed part of the 1st Australian Task Force.
Throughout the following years all seven battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment carried out 12 month rotations between South Vietnam and Australia, some of the soldiers coming direct from Borneo to South Vietnam.
Australian’s were involved in numerous battles during their tours, the first major one the Battle of Long Tan on August 18, 1966.
‘D’ Company of 6RAR were attacked by a force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars.
They were out numbered 105 Australians to an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 enemy, but with reinforcements arriving supported by seven armoured personnel carriers, the enemy withdraw from the action.
During this action Australia’s casualties were 17 killed and 25 wounded.
Another major action was the Battle of Fire Support Base Coral and Balmoral, from May 13-16, 1968, where the bases were attacked and FSB Coral was overrun.
With the support of Australian and New Zealand heavy artillery fire, the Fire Support Base was retaken and the enemy driven off.
During this action Australian casualties were 11 killed and 28 wounded.
After the battle the drivers of the the Transport Platoon were given the daunting task of recovering the bodies of the fallen Australians and returning them to the base at Nui Dat.
All arms and services of the Australian Army were involved, units like the Royal Australian Engineers; some had the undesired task of going headfirst down Viet Cong tunnels, where they earned the name “Tunnel Rats”.
Around 50,000 Australians served during the Vietnam War, with 520 killed and 2,348 wounded.
Disclaimer: Arthur J Stanton OAM is patron of the RSL City of Cockburn
by ARTHUR J STANTON