LT Sabben Surveys the battle field the day after the battle of LOng Tan

LONG TAN BATTLEFIELD

Second Lieutenant David Sabben, officer commanding 12 Platoon D Company surveys the battlefield on 19 August 1966. Enemy dead lay beside their 7.62mm heavy machine-gun which had been silenced by Warrant Officer 2 Jack Kirby.

On the afternoon of 18 August and under-strength D Company 6 RAR (approximately 100 soldiers) became involved in a battle against a superior enemy force estimated as: 275 Main Force Regiment of three battalions reinforced by at least one battalion from the NVA together with D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion a total estimated strength of 2,500. Almost  every man carrying a Soviet-designed Automatic AK47 assault rifles or SKS rifle including heavy and medium machine-guns. An estimated 1,000 soldiers from this force had directly engaged D Company

For over four hours in a monsoonal downpour with support from the Australian 103 and 105 Field Batteries, 161 Field Battery (NZ) and the American 'A' Battery 2/35th Artillery the company held on as wave after wave of enemy soldiers assaulted their position. It was the artillery and an ammunition resupply by the RAAF and finally the relief force comprising A Company 6RAR in APCs from 1 APC Squadron that prevented the enemy from over-running D Company's position.

On the morning of 19 August the 6RAR battalion group (including D Company 5RAR commanded by Major Paul Greenhalgh) returned to the battlefield.

Casualties Aust: KIA 17, DOW 1, WIA 24.
Casualties VC: KIA 245, PoW 3. An extensive array of enemy weapons and ammunition were captured.

A diary of the enemy commander at Long Tan which was subsequently captured lists his losses at 500.

The response of the communists, far from concealing their defeat, trumpeted an outstanding victory, beyond even that claimed by the Australians. The units involved were awarded medals. On 27 August 1966 Radio Hanoi announced:

   "The Australian mercenaries, who are no less husky and beefy than their allies, the U.S. aggressors, have proved as good fresh targets for the South Vietnam Liberation Fighters. According to LPA [Liberation Press Agency], in two days ending 18 August, the LAF [Liberation Armed Forces] wiped out over 500 Australian mercenaries in Baria Province. LPA reported:

   On 18 August in the coastal province of Baria, east of Saigon, the LAF wiped out almost completely one Battalion of Australian mercenaries in an ambush in Long Tan village. At 1500 hours that day, an Australian mercenary Battalion and a column of Armoured cars fell into an ambush. Within the first few minutes the LAF fiercely attacked the enemy and made short work of two companies, set fire to three M113 Armoured cars, and drove the remnants into a corner of the battlefield. The LAF then concentrated their fire on them and heavily decimated the remaining company. The LAF shot down one of the US aircraft which went to the rescue of the battered Australians
."

   According to the first reports, in this battle the LAF put out of action 400 Australian mercenaries, thus annihilating two full-sized companies, heavily decimated another, set afire three M113 Armoured cars, downed one US jet fighter, and captured a great quantity of arms and munitions."
The day before, 17 August, the LAF in the same province wiped out over 100 Australian  mercenaries.

For these victories, the South Vietnam LAF Command had decided to award a Liberation Military Exploit Order Third Class to the victorious units.

One wonders how much of the truth did Ho Chi Minh really know. 

Bibliography:
Ian McNeill (1993) To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1st Ed. Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd Sydney p/ 305 - 357.

 

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