Small Wars Journal

Remembering Long Tan: Australian Army Operations in South Vietnam 1966–1971

Remembering Long Tan: Australian Army Operations in South Vietnam 1966–1971 by Andrew Ross, The Strategist

The 50th anniversary of Long Tan reminds most Australians that despite winning that iconic high intensity battle, the Australians and New Zealanders lost the Vietnam War. In fact, the First Australian Task Force (1ATF) fought at least 16 big battles, and through superior firepower from artillery, armor and airpower, won them all, sometimes by a narrow margin.

But most of the struggle in Phuoc Tuy province and South Vietnam was a prolonged low intensity guerrilla war. The big battles only mattered if the US and her allies had lost them, as big battle success allowed the allies to stay in the War. Enemy defeats just forced the enemy to revert to low intensity guerrilla war, which the allies had to control if they were to win.

Long Tan was significant in that it demonstrated, for the first time in South Vietnam, how quickly 1ATF units could reconfigure themselves from low intensity war into the combined arms team needed for high intensity battle. Although denied close air support by a tropical thunderstorm, D Company of 6RAR received supporting artillery fire that at times was directed accurately to within 30 metres of the Australians. The enemy could gain no relief by ‘hugging’ their foes’, and consequently suffered very heavy casualties from artillery fire, as well as from small arms.

1ATF units were to continue to demonstrate this ability throughout the war, with close coordination with air power, armor, and artillery fire support. So 1ATF could defeat the enemy when he escalated the intensity of the war through using his main force battalions.

But the enemy’s low intensity guerrilla war saw him disbanding many of his battalions down to small units of five to 10 men, to harass allied forces and wear them down over time. The US forces failed to adapt to the enemy’s change in strategy after the Tet Offensive in 1968. The enemy no longer presented large targets that could be attacked so effectively by American firepower…

Read on.

Comments

Wolverine57

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 4:02pm

"But the enemy’s low intensity guerrilla war saw him disbanding many of his battalions down to small units of five to 10 men, to harass allied forces and wear them down over time. The US forces failed to adapt to the enemy’s change in strategy after the Tet Offensive in 1968."

This sounds like a Nagl type comment, that I reject, which ticks off a couple of million Vietnam Vets, me included. The gist is that the US Army was not a learning organization when compared to the British, and now the Australians, as though Vietnam was some academic exercise in systems thinking or organizational behavior and change. I reject the comment that the US failed to adapt. You must be reading the present COIN manual. I probably need to remind this author that "out-think or out-adapt" are not warrior terms. The suggestion that we were worn down over time was not my experience. I believe the VC / NVA were the ones who could not cope. I also reject the idea put forth that the military (US, Australian, or New Zealand) lost the war. I believe this article is insulting to US, Australian, New Zealand, combat soldiers, and out of touch with the reality that by 1972 over 90% of the population were under GVN control.

A bit uncertain as to what the article is trying to say. Certainly the Anzacs didn't lose the war all by themselves-collectively we did that. I worked very close to the Aussies at Nui Dat in 67 and 68. They were a solid professional unit that was very adaptive.

My unit (52d Rangers) saw both ends of the combat spectrum with the RAR;small unit patrols, ambushes and population ops. Then Tet at the other end. We were tasked to clear the province chief's compound and area ICW the RAR. We acted as their light infantry as we collectively did a very conventional clearing op with armor, APC's, tac air, arty and the Thai Queen's Cobra's.

The RAR CG, Brigadier Hughes (I think), was very astute, supportive and clearly knew his game.

Whatever "lost" Vietnam, it wasn't the Anzac's.