The establishment of the Task Force base at Nui Dat had infuriated the local enemy command, whose forces up to that point had operated at will within the province. The prospects of the Viet Cong had suddenly become bleak, as the actions of the Australian Task Force were a serious threat to their efforts at extorting, taxing and recruiting from the local population.
To counter this threat, the enemy command made a decision to inflict a blow on the Task Force which it was hoped would destabilise the Australians' effort and allow them to re-establish their now diminished powers in the province. Intelligence reports were being received at Task Force HQ stating that Local Force D445 and the 5th VC Division were in the area in large numbers and that a sizeable operation against the base at Nui Dat could be expected.
On the evening and early morning of 16/17 August 1966, the Task Force base headquarters and the engineers' area were heavily bombarded with mortar shells. Damage to the base was moderate, but 24 men were wounded. During the bombardment the Squadron was placed on immediate stand to, where they remained until morning as it was thought that an attack on the base was imminent. The following morning, Task Force Commander Brigadier Jackson ordered B Company 6 RAR to locate the enemy mortar firing position. When the position had been located, B Company was ordered to return to Nui Dat and was replaced in the field by D Company 6 RAR, which was ordered to locate the enemy that had mortared the Task Force base.
Unbeknown to the Australians, the bombardment of Nui Dat was a deliberate ploy by the enemy to draw them out of the base and into a large and well-organised ambush. At 15:40 hrs on I8 August, D Company was moving through the Long Tan rubber plantation, approximately 4 kilometres east of the Task Force base, when it encountered a large enemy force. D Company became pinned down by sustained enemy fire and was unable to counterattack the enemy positions. Then one of the platoons became virtually isolated from the rest of the company and the platoon commander as well as several of his men were killed. The whole company continued to experience heavy and sustained small arms and rocket fire, the wounded could not be evacuated and the company was running desperately low on ammunition. A violent monsoonal storm prevented any air cover. The only support that could be given was an artillery bombardment of the estimated enemy positions from Australian and New Zealand 105 mm gun batteries in Nui Dat. The gunners continued their non-stop fire missions in an effort to keep the enemy at bay and stop them overrunning D Company's position. The indications were that D Company had run into a main force VC unit whose instructions were to completely destroy them and then move on to Nui Dat for an all out assault on the Australian Task Force base.
at Nui Dat, the Australian troops, including members of the Squadron, had been
attending a Col Jove concert, but the noise and the amount of artillery fire
leaving the base
it obvious to all that there was a substantial battle being
fought. At 16:40 hrs 1 APC
Squadron was placed on 15 minutes' notice to lift a company from the 6 RAR
within Nui Dat and transport them to assist D Company. The following account of
the Squadron's involvement in the relief of D Company 6 RAR in the
rubber plantation is paraphrased from an address given by Lieutenant Adrian
Roberts to a group of army officers
was still a serving member of the Australian Defence Forces.
Lieutenant Roberts' account of events has been interspersed with supporting and factual information supplied by his troop officer and since retired 2nd Lieutenant lan Savage.
The Squadron at Long Tan
The task of relieving D Company was given to 3 Troop, commanded by lieutenant Adrian Roberts, who, together with his troop, had that afternoon attended the concert. Not knowing he would be deployed he had allowed troop officer lan Savage to take his carrier and transport the entertainers. Little Patti and Col Joye and the Joy Boys, from the entertainment area to the airfield and a waiting helicopter. To win a bet, lan Savage drove Little Patti, who was sitting on the driver's hatch through the Squadron's lines, to much amusement and ribbing. At 16:50 hrs Roberts, minus his vehicle, was summoned by Squadron Leader Major Hagerty and told he was to report immediately to a Major Passey at the 6 RAR lines. Savage had just arrived at the helipad when he received an urgent radio call to return to the Squadron's lines where he immediately mounted his own vehicle, Callsign 30Bravo. All the carriers had already been fully fuelled and armed, and set off for the 6 RAR lines shortly before 17:00 hrs.
At that time the troop was made up of 13 vehicles, of which most were the originals used by 1 Troop PWLH when they arrived in South Vietnam in 1965. Although old and well worn, they had reasonable radios and were equipped with steel MG shields. As a number of the troop's vehicles were unserviceable, the Squadron's CO, Bob Hagerty, decided to allocate a section of 2 Troop to Roberts' troop, thus making a composite troop of 10 vehicles. Unfortunately the 2 Troop vehicles did not have gun shields, which was to prove costly later that night. lan Savage states that all the carriers had radios, which meant crews were able to communicate on the troop net and intercom facilities. Adrian Roberts' vehicle also had a radio tuned to the Squadron's net.
On arrival at A Company 6 RAR lines, Adrian Roberts left to meet the battalion's second in command. Major Brian Passey. Passey had a map of the Long Tan area in front of him and directed Roberts' attention to a large circle on the map where it was thought the battalion's D Company was deployed, giving him an order to drive A Company to that area. No precise grid reference as to D Company's location was available and there was a lack of information on D Company's situation, all making for a confusing and highly dangerous situation.
Compounding these difficulties was the fact that A Company had just returned to Nui Dat from deployment, and the men were looking forward to a barbecue and a couple of beers when the order came that they were to be redeployed. It is most important (in view of later criticism) to understand that at this time the carriers of 3 Troop were lined up and waiting in A Company's lines shortly after 17:00 hrs. Until that stage the men of A Company had been relaxing after being out in the bush for the past three days. To be called on to don their equipment for an urgent deployment must have been especially confusing, not knowing the full extent of D Company's plight at that stage. The men of A Company hurriedly found something to eat and re-equipped them selves after the carriers arrived at their lines. Records show that the APCs of 3 Troop departed A Company's lines at 17:35 hrs. This means that it took at least half an hour to board the infantry, a task that would normally take two minutes with the infantry troops lined up and ready to embark (as Roberts had anticipated).
lan Savage states that the troop would otherwise have been ready to move immediately. A Company 6 RAR that evening was under its second in command, Captain Charles Mollison. It should be noted that 6 RAR had had little or no training with the APC's which resulted in a lack of appreciation of the cavalry's operational requirements when deploying with infantry. Many members of the troop found some of the infantry's commanders' inability to recognise the necessity for close cavalry/infantry cooperation frustrating. This issue might easily have been avoided had some training in Australia been devoted to this facet of operational procedures.
Given the urgency of the evolving situation, Roberts decided to head for the battle area via the most direct overland route. This involved travelling southeast from Nui Dat until they reached the Suoi Da Bang creek, where a crossing was to be attempted before heading north. However, a delay was experienced at a closed gap in the Task Force base wire defences, where they were to exit. An engineer had to be located to allow an exit from the base. At this stage, the commanding officer of 6 RAR belatedly decided that he wanted to accompany his A Company to the battle area. Roberts requested his second in command, lan Savage, on 30Bravo driven by Trooper Geoff Newman, together with Corporal Jock Fotrills, 33Alpha, to return to the 6 RAR lines. On arrival the commanding officer of 6 RAR, Lieutenant Colonel Townsend, and his HQ group were boarded and the two APCs set out in pursuit of the eight carriers that had already left the base. Townsend had his own radio communications and was in contact with D Company during the journey to Long Tan. This additional communication source proved valuable, as lan Savage was able to relay messages from the battalion commander to his troop leader.
The next obstacle that confronted Adrian Roberts was the continuing torrential monsoonal storm and the flooded Suoi Da Bang creek, which needed to be crossed to meet up with a road running north into the Long Tan rubber plantation. Roberts was familiar with the area, having previously conducted operations along the creek line in conjunction with the establishment of the Task Force base area. It was intended to cross the creek to the south of where D Company was located. In the meantime a message had been received requesting Roberts to wait at the crossing point for the 6 RAR HQ group on board 30Bravo and 33Alpha. However, while monitoring the Squadron's radio, Roberts saw that D Company's situation was becoming desperate and decided to push on. At the crossing point selected by Roberts there was a dam, which prevented the carriers from being swept downstream in the flooded and fast flowing Suoi Da Bang creek. Several of the carriers were without their pivot steering, an essential element for M113A1 waterborne operations, and the crews experienced extreme difficulty in the crossing.
By the time the troop had crossed the Suoi Da Bang creek and were on the road leading into the Long Tan rubber plantation, daylight had begun to fade. Roberts saw that with the coming darkness an all out assault on D Company's position by the enemy was his most immediate problem. The overall situation was confused, with both D Company and enemy positions guessed at rather than known. There was no opportunity to undertake a reconnaissance of the area. Radio reports from D Company indicated that they were experiencing assaults, primarily from the southeast but also from the east, west and north. The enemy were clearly 'tightening the noose' on D Company, and they faced the prospect of being overrun.
Roberts therefore decided to press on towards D Company's position. It was decided that one carrier commanded by Lance Corporal J.J. (Tiny) O'Shea would be left to guard the creek crossing while the remaining seven carriers that had crossed the creek advanced. Roberts lined his under strength troop in 'two-up' assault formation with his own carrier astride the northern road. The three carriers on the right-hand side were commanded by Sergeant R.E. Richards while the left was commanded by Sergeant J.T. O'Reilly. Each section leader's vehicle was between the two other carriers in the section for control purposes, while Roberts in the centre of the two sections had overall control of the seven vehicles.
Roberts had estimated that the point where the artillery shells were exploding was about 1000 metres to the north, so the troop started to advance in that direction hoping to rendezvous with D Company along the way. The troop and section control training that the troop had undertaken on the Puckapunyal range without radios would prove invaluable that evening.
Meanwhile lan Savage, on board 30Bravo, together with 33Alpha was racing with
the 6 RAR HQ party to join the rest of the troop. The terrain surrounding the
plantation where Roberts began to advance consisted mainly of young rubber trees
at about crew commander's eye level, with visibility severely hampered by the
driving monsoonal rain.
As the troop moved towards the plantation the height of the now mature plantation stock rose substantially.
Joining the Battle
the line of APCs from 3 Troop advanced, first contact was made with the enemy on
the right-hand side of the formation. The unit commander's log records that
first contact was made at 18:05 hrs with an enemy of at least company sized
strength. At first it was thought they had suddenly come across D Company's
position, by virtue of the number of men sighted and the disciplined manner in
which they were moving.
This illusion was quickly shattered when Corporal R.J. Gross, the crew commander on Callsign 32Bravo, commenced firing his machine gun at the enemy after recognising camouflaged clothing items not carried by Australian infantry. The troop had come across an enemy company of about 100 men moving across their front from east to west. Once Gross, who was on the right-hand side of the advance, had opened fire, the rest of the troop engaged the enemy with their .50 cal. machine guns while continuing to advance. The enemy were taken completely by surprise because the rain was so heavy it had muffled the sound of the APC's engines. This allowed the troop an advantage as they intercepted the enemy column. Another large group of enemy troops were engaged as they attempted to withdraw to the north. The commander's log records that the troop killed at least 25 enemy during this contact. Without stopping, the troop pressed northwards, sweeping through the rubber trees and dispatching the enemy as they went. It was later disclosed that the enemy troops were from the D445 Battalion and were headed to assist with the encirclement of D Company. From the troop's radio net, lan Savage could tell that the fighting between the seven APCs ahead of him and the enemy was extremely fierce.
Corporal J.A. Carter on board Callsign 39Mike (fitted out as an ambulance but without the red cross), which was also on the right-hand side of the troop's formation, detected men in what appeared to be green uniforms. Aware that they might be D Company he hesitated briefly, but immediately came under fire. Roberts observed a .57 mm recoilless anti-tank rifle team attacking Carter's carrier. Both radio antennas on Carter's vehicle were shot away after two rounds fired by the RCL team exploded in a rubber tree next to his carrier. Despite this Carter opened fire with his .50 cal. machine gun, which subsequently jammed. Carter instructed his driver. Trooper P.S. McNamara, to stop the vehicle, and calmly climbed out of the crew commander's hatch with McNamara's Owen machine gun. With total disregard for his own safety Carter engaged the enemy, killing the RCL team just before another round was fired at his carrier. The round exploded, dazing McNamara and the infantry on board the carrier. Undeterred, Carter continued to engage the enemy while McNamara threw ammunition magazines to him, enabling him to kill a further five. Carter's action effectively drew attention away from other members of the troop, who continued to advance to the north.
Roberts was aware that the enemy troops who operated the RCL weapons usually worked in teams of two, so he again halted the advance and looked for the other anti-tank team. The acting company commander of A Company 6 RAR, Captain Mollison, who up to this stage had been riding down inside Roberts' carrier to monitor the 'radio traffic', emerged and urged him to continue. After what he described as a heated exchange, Roberts refused Mollison's request and elected to wait until he was certain there were no more RCL teams in the area. Roberts was aware of the Viet Cong ploy of deliberately creating maximum confusion and then ambushing troops as they tried to recover the situation. Here it should be pointed out that a protocol had previously been established which dictated that, while infantry were on board the APCs, the troop leader had overall authority, even if the APC commander was outranked by the infantry commander on board his vehicle.
Compounding this problem was the action of some members of A Company, who had taken it on themselves to dismount from their carriers once the fighting had started, adding to Roberts' annoyance at the issues raised by Mollison. The infantrymen dismounting had added to the confusion confronting the troop leader. The members of A Company up to this stage had been in the back of the carriers, and were totally disoriented when they emerged. Their actions, while admirable, only impeded the crew commanders' ability to fire their .50 cal. machine guns without hitting infantrymen on the ground. Additionally, it had slowed up the progress of the troop to its objective. The instructions given to Roberts by Major Passey were to take A Company to relieve D Company, how he got the men there was his problem. At no time was an order given by either Roberts or the infantry command to dismount the infantry before they reached D Company's position.
On the left hand side of the road, between the rubber plantation and the Suoi Da Bang creek, the section being led by Sergeant O'Reilly, Callsign 23, was receiving continued heavy enemy small arms fire. O'Reilly, whose section was on loan to 3 Troop from 2 Troop, was knocked unconscious when he was grazed on the head by a small arms round fired by the enemy. At that stage O'Reilly's driver, Trooper RE. 'Boots' Turner, was unaware that Adrian Roberts had been attempting to contact his crew commander on the troop radio net. Further out, on the left-hand side of O'Reilly's section, Corporal Peter Clements on board 23Bravo had been seriously wounded when he was shot in the stomach and fell down into the carrier. His driver, undeterred, drove the APC over the enemy machine gun crew that had wounded his crew commander.
Roberts, realizing that Clements' carrier was in serious trouble, requested his troop sergeant. Sergeant Noel Lowes, who had been travelling on board his carrier, to take command of Clements' carrier. This meant that Lowes had to run about 200 metres across open ground under sustained enemy fire. Lowes, whose complexion Roberts describes as almost Asian in appearance, was almost shot by one of the infantrymen on Clements' carrier as he raced over the ground. On reaching the APC, Noel Lowes reported that Peter Clements' wounds were very serious. Roberts immediately ordered Lowes to withdraw the carrier with Clements and two other wounded infantrymen, so he swung back to the west. Despite Lowes incredible act of bravery his feat was never recognised, regardless of a recommendation by Roberts and Savage. Unbeknown to Roberts, Clements' carrier contained part of A Company's HQ which was carried back with the wounded Clements. Roberts' compassionate stance in ordering Noel Lowes to withdraw the carrier was criticised by the acting commander of A Company, Captain Alollison, a criticism Roberts later acknowledged. However, it was noted that not one of the troops in the Company HQ on board the vehicle made any attempt to disembark from the carrier before it withdrew. It might also be noted that Peter Clements' carrier was one of the 2 Troop carriers 'on loan' to Roberts that evening, and that Roberts may thus have felt some added responsibility to evacuate him.
On the left hand side of the advance the enemy had brought the carriers to a halt. A bullet had jammed in the barrel of one of the carriers .50 cal. machine guns. This necessitated the APC crew's changing the barrel under the direct observation of the enemy. The two crew members felt that the best option in the circumstances was to pretend the enemy could not see them, so they hastily changed the barrel in full view of the enemy troops but under cover of the infantry on board. Fortunately, the enemy did not have a commander on the spot or the capability to take advantage of the situation, and as soon as the barrel was changed the crew again opened fire on the enemy.
The section on the right-hand side of the advance, not knowing what had happened on the left, continued the advance to the north and by this time had reached the point just short of where the Australian artillery shells were falling. Adrian Roberts had attempted to turn off the barrage along the line which the troop were using to try to reach D Company, but the message was misinterpreted and the wrong barrage was stopped. The noise created by the exploding shell bursts was being muffled by the rain and the crew's radio headsets, although the troop were aware of the constant grey and brown explosions of the shells in front of and around them. The APC's from Sergeant Richard's section on the right hand side of the advance raced through the artillery barrage and the Viet Cong lines, with guns firing, and fortuitously almost drove into the right hand extremity of D Company HQ's position. Realising that Roberts and the others were still some distance back, the section wheeled east past the now cheering infantrymen and in a looping maneuver raced back through the artillery barrage to Roberts' position.
It was now about 18:45 hrs and lan Savage, who had returned to Nui Dat to collect the commanding officer of 6 RAR, had caught up with Roberts. In his haste to catch up, Geoff Newman, the driver of 30Bravo, drove straight at the Suoi Da Bang creek without stopping to push out the vehicle's trim vane. He did this while the vehicle was at full speed and in mid air, just before it hit the water. The driver of 33Alpha, taking his cue from Geoff Newman, did the same, and both carriers hit the water at the same time. Once the two carriers were on the other side of the creek they were joined by 'Tiny' O'Shea and his crew, who had awaited their arrival anxiously on board 33Bravo. The three carriers linked up and again set off in pursuit of the rest of the troop. As lan Savage's section approached the edge of the artillery barrage zone where the other carriers were now located, Lt Colonel Townsend received a message from Major Harry Smith, company commander of D Company 6 RAR, stating that the enemy were lining up for an all out assault on their position and he was doubtful that the company could sustain this attack, he felt they would probably be overrun. lan Savage distinctly recalls Townsend instructing him to relay an urgent message to Adrian Roberts, alerting him to the enemy's intention and telling him to get to the company as soon as possible and break up the enemy attack. Roberts then wheeled his troop right and started moving to the east along a road that traversed the plantation.
The enemy had been continuously probing D Company's defensive perimeter, determining the strength of the Australians. The forward elements of the enemy were repeatedly calling out information on D Company's locations and estimated strength to their commanders in the rear. They knew that the Australians could not sustain an all out assault given their superior numbers, and were now preparing an assault intended to completely overrun D Company. Fortunately, the monsoonal storm had hidden the sound of the approaching APC's and the enemy were not aware that 3 Troop were now close by. lan Savage attributes the troop's ability to get so close to the enemy's position not only to the sound of the rain but more importantly to the fact that the carriers had not yet turned on their headlights despite the darkness now engulfing the area.
The troop now proceeded at a much reduced pace, owing to the fact that Roberts was not aware of the precise position of D Company's three platoons and the Company HQ. Additionally, Roberts was mindful of the fire power of the APC's main armament, the .50 cal. machine gun, and was cautious not to overshoot the enemy's position, knowing that D Company was now close by. lan Savage recalls maneuvering his carrier behind and to one side of his troop leader's vehicle. He says he had great admiration for the way Adrian Roberts was conducting himself and especially the calm and confident manner in which he was controlling the troop over the radio net.
As the troop moved slowly forward towards D Company's position the carriers began to receive continuous and heavy enemy fire. It is said that the Viet Cong command, on becoming aware of 3 Troop's position, had issued instructions that the APC's were not to be allowed to reach D Company. However, the darkness and the continuing monsoonal storm confused and hindered the Viet Cong's dangerous RCL teams from effectively stopping the push of the troop vehicles. As the carriers made their approach on and past D Company's position the infantry men observed the APC's rolling straight over a number of enemy positions, crushing the hapless victims who had never before encountered armour used to this effect.
Roberts had instructed his driver Bill O'Rourke to head for a small hut on the eastern side of the plantation, around which two D Company platoons had positioned themselves. On reaching this objective, lan Savage states, the troop continued the assault to the east, driving the enemy back from D Company's defensive perimeter. Very heavy enemy machine gun and small arms fire was received as the troop continued the assault. Roberts saw enemy tracer rounds coming straight at the carriers, and thought he could swerve to avoid the rounds. In reality the enemy were aiming their weapons too high, and the troop was lucky to avoid any further casualties. lan Savage recalls firing his .50 cal. machine guns between Adrian Roberts' carrier and another APC, but was told by Roberts to check his fire because of its closeness. Despite this, the APCs continued to charge the enemy who had no answer to these tactics and were finally forced to retreat as the attack was broken.
Roberts finally broke off his troop's engagement at the request of the commanding officer of 6 RAR, and returned to D Company HQ's position where a protective cordon was formed. A Company were finally disembarked and placed between the carriers as added protection. Two of the platoons from D Company flanked Company HQ, however, the third D Company platoon (11 Platoon), which was to the east at that stage, had still not been accounted for and had been termed 'lost'. The troop waited in the darkness for the expected enemy counter assault although, despite some sniper fire, this did not eventuate. A hasty orders group was organised by Lt Colonel Townsend once it became obvious that the enemy had retreated. It was decided that the Australian dead and wounded would be loaded onto the APCs and then with D Company on board move to the west. On the western edge of the rubber plantation a landing zone was to be established and the dead and wounded evacuated. The dead infantrymen were gathered together under the supervision of D Company's Company Sergeant Major W02 Kirby, then loaded onto the first carrier with the wounded following in the other carriers. At that stage 11 Platoon remained isolated, and it was presumed that all its members had been killed.
By this time darkness had fallen, and the night was pitch black. The commanding officer of D Company 6 RAR had asked Roberts to facilitate the task of coordinating the withdrawal of the dead and dustoff flights for his wounded men. The APC's were maneuvered around without lights and formed up in a single line facing west. lan Savage states that during this move his carrier ended up as the lead vehicle and that most of the dead were loaded onto the back of his carrier. Adrian Roberts still did not know where the enemy were and whether they would ambush the carriers as they left the battlefield, so it was decided that they should leave the area as quickly as possible. To facilitate this Roberts gave an order over the troop net that all carriers were to start their engines and switch on their headlights simultaneously, then make a dash through the rubber trees to the plantation's western perimeter. In fact, this was the first time the carriers had turned on their headlights that evening. lan Savage says that it was a frightening experience, but pays tribute to his driver for leading the column away from the battle area as he steered at full speed through the rubber trees.
On reaching the western side of the rubber plantation, Roberts formed his APC's into a large protective square to make a landing zone for the helicopters. He then instructed his crews to switch on the red illumination lights inside the back of the carriers. The red glow from the interior of the APCs through the open cargo hatches identified the landing zone for the aircrews of the helicopters, who were then able to land their aircraft in the middle of the square and load the dead and wounded.
(As a sideline, at this point of his talk Roberts points out that the men of D Company 6 RAR were understandably reluctant to handle their own dead, so this task was left to the men from 3 Troop. He goes on to state that when lan Savage's carrier in which the dead had been transported was cleaned out, the area under the carrier's floor boards was awash with blood and rainwater. From that point on whenever the crew mounted the vehicle they would sense the stench that remained in the carrier.)
By this time B Company 6 RAR, which had also been deployed on foot, had reached the area in which the landing zone had been established. The troop, together with the infantry, were stood to all night awaiting further attacks by the enemy, which fortunately never eventuated. Roberts and the others who had been attached to his carrier spent the night in the back of the carrier, staring at each other in what he describes as 'dazed shock'.
Meanwhile, back at the Squadron's base in Nui Dat, warning orders were issued to 2 Troop together with Callsigns 8, 98 and 9Echo that they were to prepare to move at 06:00 hrs the next day to support 3 Troop on Operation SMITHFIELD, as the deployment was to become known.
The next morning at 06:00 hrs 2 Troop with Callsigns 8, 98 and 9Echo left the Task Force base to join 3 Troop on the edge of the Long Tan rubber plantation. 3 Troop was given the task of transporting D Company 6 RAR back to the scene of the battle to look for 11 Platoon, which had been 'lost' the previous evening. The platoon was located, with all its members dead except one. The eerie sound of the platoon's radio which had remained on squelch broke the silence that engulfed the area as they approached the platoon's position.
Later, on the morning of 19 August 1966, lan Savage, together with Corporal John Carter and Corporal Paul Fottrill, were charged with undertaking the grim task of battlefield clearance. Together with a section from A Company 6 RAR they returned to the area where 3 Troop had fought their way through to D Company the previous evening, in order to collect the enemy's dead. On reaching this area the infantry dismounted and came into contact with three enemy. After a brief fire fight two enemy were killed and one was taken prisoner. Later, John Carter was able to recover a number of the weapons that had been fired at him during the previous evening.
The troop then
set out to sweep to the south, but one of the carriers turned over on its side when it accidentally drove into an old trench.
The rest of the day was spent attempting to get it upright. At 16:00 hrs Callsign 9Echo with Major Bob Hagerty on board was recalled to Nui Dat to organise the defence of the Task Force base, as another attack by the enemy was expected. The exhausted members of 3 Troop eventually returned to the contact area, where they spent the night and were able to get some sleep for the first time in 48 hours, many still in shock at the events of the previous evening. The troop returned to the Task Force base the next day, and thus ended the Squadron's role in one of the most decisive battles fought during the Vietnam War.
The Larger Context
The action by the cavalry was a truly remarkable effort considering the adversity in which Roberts' men had to operate. Not least was the fact received was the obscure one from Major Passey of 6 RAR to drive A Company to an ambiguous area on the map in the Long Tan rubber plantation. Added to this was the fact that the troop were forced to wait at least half an hour to mount A Company 6 RAR. All other actions taken by Roberts were on his own initiative, which for a junior officer thrust into such a situation were both thoughtful and courageous. On balance and from the evidence now available, the criticism that was leveled at Roberts at that time is inappropriate and unwarranted.
CASUALTIES AND AWARDS
Casualties inflicted on the enemy included 245 dead, several hundred wounded and large amounts of arms and ammunition captured. Australian infantry losses included 17 killed and 22 wounded in action.
From 3 Troop, Corporal P.E. Clements, who had serious gunshot wounds from the action, died on 27 August 1966 of his wounds, despite Roberts' compassionate stance in immediately evacuating him from the battle area.
Corporal J.A. Carter was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his action in neutralising the anti-tank weapon crew. The citation for his award reads
When contact was made with the enemy, Corporal Carter's vehicle was engaged by fire from .57 millimetre recoilless rifle, machine gun and small arms fire. The projectile from the .57 millimetre recoilless rifle missed his vehicle and exploded against a rubber tree. Corporal Carter returned fire using his .50 calibre machine gun. The gun jammed. He then grabbed the driver's Owen Machine Carbine and without hesitation leapt onto the top of his vehicle and returned fire, killing the .57 Recoilless Rifle team a fraction after another .57 millimetre round had been fired. This round exploded and dazed the crew and passengers. Corporal Carter still undeterred continued to fire, killing five other enemy.
By his action Corporal Carter also drew additional fire onto himself enabling the other vehicles of the Troop to advance.
the action that was fought at very close range, Corporal Carter showed outstanding courage, initiative and determination. His
actions were an inspiration to all his comrades and contributed greatly the success of the assault by the relief force, the heavy casualties inflict
on the enemy, and immediately afterwards, the relief of 'D' company
6 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.
Lieutenant F.A. Roberts received the award of Mentioned in Dispatches for his leadership of 3 Troop in the battle. The citation for his award reads:
Lieutenant Roberts' personal conduct in commanding and controlling his Troop was of the highest order. While moving to the 'D' Company location, the Troop encounter an enemy company equipped with anti-tank weapons, and at this time the Troop consisted of only seven armoured personnel carriers. After a short action the enemy withdrew to the east.
Continuing the advance the Troop moved through supporting artillery fire, as the fire could not be stopped due to a temporary loss of radio communications.
One Crew Commander was seriously wounded in the chest and was evacuated. The Troop carried out a final assault and forced the enemy to withdraw from the 'D' Company position.
Later, during the night in pitch blackness the Troop assisted evacuating 'D' Company and its casualties to a helicopter landing zone. Lieutenant Roberts, under orders from the Officer Commanding 'D' Company, acted as controller for the helicopters.
At all times Lieutenant Roberts acted with skill and judgement and led his Troop with determination and courage. The action was accomplished in spite of the poor radio communications existing in the No 3 Troop vehicles, and in spite of heavy torrential rain and poor light during the enemy contacts.