Vung Tau and the Battle Of Long Tan – Vietnam

In September 2010 I went back to Australia for a while after spending months travelling in the US, Europe and Asia. My return was to catch up with family and friends, do some travel there and a few months of contract work to boost the coffers, then I had planned to move to the US. But with the economy still in the gutter I thought, what the hell, I am going to Vietnam and Laos for 2 months (via Singapore)! So I put the relocation off for a while and headed to S.E. Asia. I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 10 of that journey (Phuoc Tuy Province – the sector where the Australian military mostly fought in the Vietnam War).

November 30th, 2010

I am currently in Vung Tau on the southern coast of Vietnam. This was once the rest and recreation and supply/logistics base for the Australian military in the Vietnam War (plenty of expats, veterans and Aussie bar/restaurants here) and is nearby the former Nui Dat base and the famous battle site of Long Tan. Australia was involved in the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1972 (the longest major conflict my country has ever been involved in).
Vung Tau is a nice diversion from all the noise of the big city. To get here I took a futuristic looking hydrofoil (Jetson’s style) from Ho Chi Minh City (it was actually a 1960’s Soviet era hydrofoil). The air is fresh as it is right on the beach and surrounded by small mountains which is great too.
Vung Tau Vietnam Hydrofoil
1960’s retro Hydrofoil
There are two main mountains at Vung Tau, “Big Mountain” and “Small Mountain“. I took a cable car up to the top of “Big Mountain” which used to be a U.S. military base with radars but today it is a local tourist destination with gardens, waterfalls, amusement rides, restaurants,  camping grounds, a small zoo etc. It was pretty quiet up there so it was a nice place to enjoy a sunny day with spectacular views.
Vung Tau Vietnam Big Mountain
“Big Mountain”
In Vung Tau there are all the usual hassles of motorbike/cyclo touts and women trying to get you to buy all sorts of useless trinkets etc, but very few compared to HCMC. I have to admit this is the one thing I dislike about South East Asia, especially when you are trying to eat. May be the heat also, but after nearly 2 months they are really starting to grate on me! “Where you go?”…. “Nowhere” has become my common response!
Vung Tau sunset
Vung Tau sunset

Meeting some Aussie Vietnam veterans in a bar last night and discussing their past soon made me forget all this though! Bunch of characters on a tour, most said when they left here during the war they vowed they would never set foot in Vietnam again, but are all really glad they did (bought up a lot of emotions for all of them – some actually live here, but most are from back at home on a visit). Talking to them stirred up thoughts and images from the classic Australian band Redgum and their song “I was only 19” and they also reminded me of the crazy humour of Graham Kennedy in the movie “The Odd Angry Shot“.

Vung Tau beach sunset
Vung Tau beach sunset

Today I made the journey out to Nui Dat (Earth Mountain) and Long Tan to pay my respects to fallen countrymen. There is nothing much left of the old Australian Army Task Force (ATF) base at Nui Dat – the runway (Luscombe Field) is now a road in the nearby village, “Kangaroo Pad” (helicopter landing zone) is a farmer’s field, “SAS Hill” has corn and other crops growing on it! The “Pearly Gates” (former entrance to the base) remain in ruin. It was nice to visit a kindergarten that is funded by Aussie veterans.

Vietnam Nui Dat
Nui Dat

Along the way I also visited the third major tunnel complex in VietnamLon Phuoc Tunnels. These tunnels were different again from Vinh Moc and Cu Chi. Smaller in distance etc, but they also had some larger tunnels to walk through (I could almost stand), others I had to bend in half to walk through. They also had various “spider holes” that the VC shot at the Aussies through. A bat wasnt so impressed by my visit and kept landing and taking off just in front of the guide and myself. The guide, she wasn’t so happy about the possibility the bat might come back at her (luckily didn’t, not too keen on that myself)!

Vietnam Lon Phuoc Tunnels
Lon Phuoc Tunnels

The Long Tan Memorial cross is a simple tribute to an incredible and heroic battle. Well worth the journey, even though there is little to see – just the white cross. I placed a floral tribute to the fallen.

Long Tan Memorial Vietnam Australia
Long Tan memorial
Long Tan Memorial Vietnam Australia
Long Tan Memorial
Paying my respects to fallen countrymen

Following the previous days mortar attack on the Nui Dat base, Aussie troops and a few Kiwis (108 men in all) made contact with the Communists on the afternoon of August 18, 1966 in a rubber plantation in Long Tan 4.5 km East of Nui Dat . This engagement was part of “Operation Smithfield“. It turned out during the battle the company from 6 RAR (Royal Australian Regiment), were heavily outnumbered, but they fought off a large enemy assault of regimental strength (it is estimated that those few men with fire support fought up to 2500 Viet Cong!). The Viet Cong were not just the local guerilla forces, many of them were wearing military uniforms rather than the standard black clothing and had planned to wipe out the Australian base at Nui Dat (the base had only been established 3 months beforehand).

The battle raged throughout the night in heavy rain – 18 Australians were killed and 24 wounded, while at least 245 Viet Cong were killed (the body count was 245, but it is estimated at least another 150 were killed), approximately 500 more were wounded and 3 were captured. A Viet Cong document captured in 1969 indicated that 878 VC were KIA/MIA or later died from wounds sustained in the battle and approximately 1500 were wounded.

It was a major Australian victory and highlighted the importance of coordinating infantry, artillery, armour and aviation to defeat the enemy. The Australians in this region were never seriously challenged again in a major battle by the Communists for the rest of the war. This battle goes down in the history of Australian military as one of great courage and success.

Australian 105mm artillery

 FROM ARMY CANBERRA

TO 1 ATF

“Our forces in their latest engagement have acquitted themselves with skill effectiveness and high courage in the best Australian tradition. Please tell them that Australia is proud of them. I have publicly expressed my sympathy to the bereaved. My sympathy also goes to the wounded. I send them best wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Harold Holt

Prime Minister of Australia (1966-1967).

Hearty congratulations to the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and a company of the 5th Battalion RAR for their fine show in Operation SMITHFIELD. Your troops have won a most significant victory over the enemy and one of the most spectacular in Vietnam to date.”

General William C. Westmoreland

Commander US Military Assistance Command Vietnam (1964-1968).

RAAF UH-1 Iroquois – Luscombe Field, Nui Dat

The original memorial was removed by the Communists after they won the war. But was replaced in more recent years. Australian veterans make a pilgrimage here each Anzac day and Long Tan day.

Long Tan Original Cross Vietnam
The original Long Tan memorial

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Long Tan I recommend you watch the excellent documentary in this link.

Advertisements

4 Comments Add yours

  1. J. Fred Nesmith says:

    I served with the 5th SFG (Airborne) in Long Hai, RVN. Just up the road from our camp was a unit of Aussies. Great soldiers, great friends.

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks for taking a look at my blog. I have never been in the military (I signed up for the Airforce but due to a health issue never made it through) but have a lot of respect for those that have served their country. Good to hear about my countrymen from a different perspective!

  2. Rickj Zastrow says:

    Loved serving with the Aussies at Vung Tau. I was with the 535TAS and we partied many a time. Great People.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s