21 August 2007

LiberalOz to reconsider Long Tan gallantry awards

Australia's Liberal government will reconsider awards given to members of the Royal Australian Regiment who participated in the battle at Long Tan, Republic of Vietnam 41 years ago.

Left, a typically-laden Australian infantryman advances through jungle terrain, somewhere in Vietnam. [Photo: Australian War Memorial, AWM WAR/70/26/VN]

Approximately 100 Australian infantrymen, from D Company 6th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment fought off attacks by an estimated force of 2500 Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army regulars.
Operation SMITHFIELD was opened by a mortar and recoilless rifle attack on the Task Force area on the night of 16/17 Aug 66. B Company was initially dispatched to clear the area to the east of the Task Force base. D Company took over from B Company on 18 Aug 66. D Company made contact with the enemy force of regimental size and were soon under attack from three sides. The battle was fought into the night under a blanket of mist and heavy monsoonal rain, but D Company held its ground with heroism and grim determination. The remainder of the Battalion deployed to aid the beleaguered Company. With the help of armoured personnel carriers of 3 Troop, 1st APC Squadron they hit the flank of a battalion size force which was forming up to assault the rear of D Company, inflicted many casualties and forced the enemy from the battlefield. A Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to D Company by the then President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. 18 Aug is now commemorated each year as Long Tan Day, in memory of the eighteen soldiers who gave their lives in battle.

Between Aug 66 and its departure to Australia in Jun 67, 6 RAR took part in seventeen more Battalion operations and supported a number of 5 RAR operations. These operation, along with the routine patrolling around the Task Force area, graduallywrested control of the Province from the Viet Cong. Twenty three members of the Battalion received gallantry awards for the tour and 37 members gave their lives.
At the time, the Australian government downgraded the recommended decorations and prevented the South Vietnamese government from recognizing the soldiers involved. In 2004, the soldiers were permitted to wear the South Vietnamese decorations. The company commander, for example, was originally recommended for the Distinguished Service Order, but this was downgraded to the Military Medal. The United States government awarded the company a Presidential Unit Citation, which was accepted.