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The Battle of Long Tan

Tour Of Duty
The Battle of Long Tan:
Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966.
with Sean Ireland

“In the rainy season 1966, the command of the 5Th Division coordinated with the headquarters of Ba Ria-Long Khanh Province to annihilate the Australians in the Ba Ria battlefield.”
~ From the official history of the VC D445 battalion.

“Our intentions were to decimate you, to knock you out.”

~ Ngyuen Ham Lung, commander 274 VC Regiment.
The Australians of 1 Australian Task Force, (1 ATF) deployed to the Phuoc Tuy province in Vietnam in early 1966 to secure the port and airfield at Vung Tau, and to secure a province heavily influenced by the Viet Cong (VC).
They selected a site to become, more or less, a permanent base of operations near the village of Nui Dat. This area was developed to contain a purpose built airfield and a defended location for 1 ATF. By August it housed the following major combat units; two infantry battalions,( 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (5 RAR), and a sister battalion, 6 RAR); an APC Troop (1 APC Troop), with 15 M113 APC’s; and three batteries of artillery, 103 and 105 Field Batteries of the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA) and one  battery of M109 SP 155mm guns from 35th Field Artillery Regiment (United States). Due to the lack of stores and the amount of time spent on operations, the base was not well prepared or protected from attack. There were no mines, concrete bunkers, reinforcements or overhead protection for weapons pits - all things to be added later. As a result active patrolling was needed to prevent VC forces mounting a concerted attack to destroy the base.

Right: The Battle of Long Tan.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966
The area to mortar range, about 5000 metres around the base was cleared of South Vietnamese villages, including the village of Long Tan, whose inhabitants were relocated.

Australian intelligence reports indicated that at least one unit of 1000 strong local VC were in the area, near the Long Tan rubber plantation, and SAS patrols detected NVA forces in the area. The Australian commander dismissed the intelligence reports for two reasons; he had been criticised earlier in the year for over reacting, and he failed to understand that the VC wanted to have a major victory in the province, to secure local population support and provide a propaganda victory against the US led forces.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966 In reality there were two full VC Main Force regiments in Phuoc Tuy province, 275 VC Main Force Regiment, and 274 VC each with between 1800 and 2500 men. 275 Regt were deployed to attack the Australian base and Nui Dat, and 274 were a few kilometres to the North. The VC commanders deployed this way as they expected the Australians to call for help from the Americans, which would come in the form of the 11th Armoured Cavalry Regiment (11ACR), down the main highway. 274 Regiment were positioned to try and ambush and inflict a major defeat on the 11th ACR. These dispositions indicate that the VC commanders were very confident they could crush the Australian Task Force and the Americans in a single action.

Left: An Australian soldier in Phuoc Tuy Province.
For all this, the base at Nui Dat was a relatively safe place for the Australian units, until the early hours of 17 August, when approximately 100 mortar and Recoilless Rifle (RCL) rounds struck the base, in a bombardment lasting around 20 minutes. The Australian and New Zealand artillery batteries immediately returned fire until the VC fire stopped, and at the end 24 Australians were wounded. Later that morning a patrol from B Coy, 6 RAR was sent to patrol and find the mortar base plates. They found them, along with trails leading into the rubber plantation, the location of the RCL firing point, and blood trails and dressings. Later than afternoon D Coy replaced B Coy, and continued the search.

D Coy set off following trails into the rubber plantation and came across a group of 6-8 VC and NVA soldiers, armed with AK47’s. The VC/NVA ran away to the East, and 11 platoon gave chase, soon opening up a gap of about 300 metres from the rest of D coy. After moving through to the far edge of the rubber plantation, 11 platoon were engaged by very heavy fire, and suffered many casualties almost immediately. They called for artillery fire, which was accurate and devastating, stopping assaults that would have overrun the platoon. About the same time torrential rain started pouring down limiting visibility. Very soon after the two other platoons of D Coy were engaged, as was the Coy HQ.
By this time all 3 platoons were separated and fighting isolated battle against larger enemy forces, and the enemy seemed to be growing in strength. Radio contact had been lost with 11 platoon and 10 platoon and it was proving difficult to convince the task force commander that he was in very dire straits. Major Harry Smith, D Company commander knew he needed to extract 11 platoon and consolidate his position, or risk losing his company. Smith tasked 2Lt Dave Sabben to take a reduced 12 platoon forward and get 11 platoon, and ordered 10 platoon to move back in position with the Coy HQ.

Right: The wounded being treated the day after the battle.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966
As 12 platoon moved they quickly ran into a platoon sized enemy groups and had to stop and fight. By this time 11 platoon had run out of ammunition only about half the platoon were still alive and most of those were injured.  In heavy rain and obscured by a mist of rain and mud, they waited for the inevitable. Then the VC firing slowed so they made a run for it, back the way they had come. Luckily this was exactly where 12 platoon were. Sabben had thrown a yellow smoke grenade, which helped the survivors of 11 platoon find their way. After some quick first aid for the injured of 11 platoon, then an ambush on a company sized enemy group moving to attack the HQ, the combined platoons moved back to the Coy HQ location. When there they organised into all round defence, and waited for help.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966 After a long delay the Task Force Commander had agreed that A Coy 6 RAR, mounted in M113 from 1 APC troop could move out and assist D Coy, to prevent them being overrun. B Coy 6 RAR was also moving on foot from its patrol location about half way between Nui Dat and the rubber plantation, sustaining mortar fire. D Coy, almost out of ammunition begged, pleaded and demanded helicopter resupply. After a long delay the Task Force commander agreed, and  Members of 6 RAR in two RAAF Huey helicopters and dropped ammunition wrapped in blankets to D Coy, into the lap of the Company Sergeant Major. The much needed ammunition was rapidly handed out the diggers, just in time to allow D Company to defeat several battalion sized attacks.

As these attacks were under way, the APC Troop of 7 APC’s and A Coy encountered D 445 Battalion who were moving to a blocking position to the south of D Coy. A Coy dismounted and, with the APC’s .50 calibre machine guns, decimated the VC. They remounted and fought through RCL fire and then engaged a Company to battalion sized group about to attack D Coy.

Left: Standing guard over a capture VC soldier.
By this time it was dusk, the heavily blooded VC withdrew. Medevacs were called from 9 Sqn RAAF and US Hueys to evacuate their wounded, and the Battalion consolidated for the night.

In the morning Major Smith, D Coy commander insisted that his men lead the way to find the dead from 11 platoon, in amongst many hundreds of dead VC and NVA. Miraculously they found two survivors, and took 3 North Vietnamese prisoners.

Throughout the battle Capt Morrie Stanley, the artillery Forward Observer from 161 Battery RNZA had called in close and accurate artillery fire from both the ANZAC batteries in Nui Dat and from a nearby US battery. It was this artillery fire that is credited most with stopping VC assaults from wiping out D Coy.  Stanley was able to artillery fire as close as 50 metres from the D Coy positions, due in part to the reverse slope position they occupied. Such accurate and devastating artillery fire convinced the VC commanders that they should never again try to take on the Australian Task Force in a major fight.
Another key factor in the victory was the dispersion of the platoons. VC commanders expected the Australians to operate as the French and Americans had, and to advance in columns and fight in extended line. The Australian platoons were dispersed from each other, and had wide frontages themselves, which confused the VC commanders and forced them into ever wider moves in their attempts to encircle D Coy. They then kept contacting the other platoons and had really little idea how big a force they were up against.

Right: Clearing the battlefield the morning after.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966
Radio Saigon hailed the engagement as a major victory claiming 500 ‘mercenaries’ dead and 100 tanks destroyed.  In reality D Coy lost 17 dead and 21 wounded. VC dead were reported at the time as being 245.  Documents captured from a VC hospital in 1969 revealed that 878 were killed and approximately 1500 wounded.

In reality Long Tan was a minor skirmish in the scheme of the Vietnam War.  A 3 hour battle involving a Company with some artillery and armour support, it was not untypical of many other battles in Vietnam; yet a company, defeating a Regiment is not something that happened every day.  It therefore ranks as one of Australia’s most memorable and celebrated battles.
The Battle of Long Tan: Operation Smithfield, 18 August 1966 "Hearty congratulations to the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment …. 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."

~ Signed W. C. WESTMORELAND, General, Commander USMACV.

Left: The Australian memorial at Long Tan.
For more information on the details of the battle and an excellent blow by blow report in PowerPoint format, go to:
http://www.dave-sabben.com

For official war diaries of the units involved visit the Australian War Memorial site:
https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awm95

The 6th Battalion Association website also has some information on the battle, and can be found here:
http://www.6rarassociation.com/battlelongtan.htm

Gaming The Battle of Long Tan
The Australian infantry company from Tour of Duty is perfect to recreate the battle of Long Tan. It can be used alone, with artillery support to recreate the first two hours or so of the battle, or expanded with APCs and another infantry platoon to recreate the latter parts.  Similarly the APC Troop can be used to re-play the mad dash of 1 APC Troop coming to the rescue.

For missions, the Stand Up Fight mission from Tour of Duty works very well, or to capture the gradual growth of the battle, try the Encounter mission from the main rule book, using the modified scenario rules in Phil’s article.

Australian Rifle Company (page 64 of Tour Of Duty)
D Coy, 6 RAR
Company HQ (Fearless Veteran)  
Major Harry Smith with Medic team.
65 points
Combat Companies (Fearless Veteran)  
10 Platoon (Lt. Geof Kendall)  
with three Rifle Squads.
260 points
11 Platoon (Lt. Gordon Sharp)  
with three Rifle Squads. 260 points
12 Platoon (Lt. Dave Sabben)  
with three Rifle Squads. 260 points
Divisional Support Platoons
 
102 Battery, RAA. (Fearless Veteran)  
with three gun sections (6 M101A1 105mm howitzer). 275 points
105 Battery, RAA. (Fearless Veteran)  
with three gun sections (6 M101A1 105mm howitzer). 275 points
161 Battery, RNZA. (Confident Veteran)  
with three gun sections (6 M101A1 105mm howitzer). 245 points
Total Points: 1640 points
PAVN TiỂu Đoàn BỘ Binh Infantry Battalion (page 22 of Tour Of Duty)
275 Viet Cong Regiment (Main Force)
Headquarters
TiỂu Đoàn BỘ Binh HQ (Fearless Trained)
Lieutenant Colonel Ut Tho. 35 points
with two Type 52 75mm recoilless guns.
40 points
with two Type 57 HMGs. 50 points
Combat Companies
BỘ Binh (Infantry) Company (Fearless Trained)
with Command AK47 Assault Rifle team & three Infantry Platoons with Type 58 LMG teams. 545 points
BỘ Binh (Infantry) Company (Fearless Trained)
with Command AK47 Assault Rifle team & three Infantry Platoons. 485 points
Weapons Companies
BỘ Binh Mortar Company (Fearless Trained)  
with Command AK47 Rifle team with two Mortar Sections & Observer AK47 team.
140 points
BỘ Binh Recoilless Gun Company (Fearless Trained)  
with Command AK47 Rifle team with two Gun Platoons.
115 points
Support Companies
 
Địa Phương Quân (Local Force) Company (Confident Trained)  
with Command Rifle team & three Infantry Platoons with one Type 58 LMG & one Type 31 60mm mortar.
285 points
Total Points: 1695 points
As either a separate fight, or a support force the following can be used to simulate the rescue of D Coy by the APCs and A Company.
Australian Cavalry Troop (page 60 of Tour Of Duty)
1 Australian APC Troop
Headquarters
Cavalry Troop HQ (Fearless Veteran)  
with four M113.
175 points
Combat Platoons
 
Cavalry Troop (Fearless Veteran)  
with six M113.
250 points
Divisional Support Platoons
 
Rifle Platoon
 
with three Rifle Squads. 260 points
Rifle Platoon  
with three Rifle Squads. 260 points
Medevac Dustoff
 
with one Medevac UH-1D Slick. 10 points
Total Points: 955 points
There were significant numbers of NVA troops found dead at Long Tan, along with AK47 Assault rifles. Later documents indicated that at least one company of NVA troops had been sent to train and stiffen the VC forces. These can be represented in the following way.
PAVN TiỂu Đoàn BỘ Binh Infantry Battalion (page 22 of Tour Of Duty)
D 445 Battalion (Commanded by Bui Quang Chanh)
Headquarters
TiỂu Đoàn BỘ Binh HQ (Fearless Trained)
with Company Command AK47 Assault Rifle team & 2iC Comand AK47 Assault Rifle team. 35 points
Combat Companies
BỘ Binh (Infantry) Company (Fearless Trained)
with Command AK47 Assault Rifle team & one Infantry Platoon. 175 points
BỘ Binh (Infantry) Company (Fearless Trained)
with Command AK47 Assault Rifle team & one Infantry Platoon. 175 points
Weapons Companies
BỘ Binh Recoilless Gun Company (Fearless Trained)
with Command AK47 Rifle team with two Gun Platoons. 115 points
Support Companies  
Địa Phương Quân (Local Force) Company (Confident Trained)  
with Command Rifle team & three Infantry Platoons. 250 points
Địa Phương Quân (Local Force) Company (Confident Trained)  
with Command Rifle team & three Infantry Platoons. 250 points
Total Points: 1000 points
In addition to forces present, Long Tan has the option for wider battles.  What if scenarios could involve D Coy being destroyed, and the VC forces moving on Nui Dat base, fighting a rolling battle with B Coy and the APC Troop moving back into the base.  Also you could get your US miniature on the table by staging a fight with the 274 VC Main Force Regiment representing the Australians calling for help and the 11th ACR being ambushed moving in to help.

~ Sean.


Last Updated On Wednesday, July 17, 2013 by Blake at Battlefront