Battle of Binh Ba: The battle winds down
Captain Hugh Roberton, Regimental Medical Officer, 5RAR, treats a wounded enemy soldier during the Battle of Binh Ba. Waiting to move into Duc Trung. [First image courtesy of Hugh Roberton, second image courtesy of Mo Hancock, not be reproduced without permission]
By the evening of 6 June the fighting had died down. An exhausted D Company and armoured corps personnel took up a defensive position for the night. Binh Ba, however, was still not secure. Late in the afternoon, while the fighting in the village continued, B Company set up a harbour on the edge of the nearby rubber plantation. A gentle rain began to fall, just enough to make the night uncomfortable. All was quiet until 3:20 am on 7 June, when an Australian platoon killed two enemy troops as they tried to escape to the south.
B Company’s Bill O’Mara, from 6 Platoon, spent the night taking his turn on sentry duty and then sleeping. Early the following morning he was awakened by the sound of shooting. The sentries had noticed troops moving through the rubber in assault formation. Thinking at first that the approaching figures were from D Company, they soon recognised them as enemy and let fly. O’Mara recalled seeing the flash from incoming RPGs and the sound of shrapnel hitting the rubber trees above his head. No Australian was hit, and when some of the platoon went over to where the NVA had been there was no trace, not a single blood trail. O’Mara thought that everyone had fired too high.
At 7:00 am a company of NVA were seen heading towards Binh Ba. B Company opened fire and the enemy fled. When the Australians swept the area they found a body and blood trails indicating that six others had been wounded. An hour later a section of APCs travelling north towards Duc Trung came under RPG fire and a large group of enemy troops were seen moving between houses. The 5RAR Assault Pioneer Platoon, although readied for action, were not needed in the hamlet and moved to form a blocking force to Binh Ba’s north-east. Local Regional Force troops went into the hamlet and found the NVA had gone.
Just before 10:00 am the Australians—D Company; 5 Platoon from B Company; two combat engineer teams from 1 Field Squadron, along with the tanks and APCs—lined up for another sweep of Binh Ba. They had to make sure that no more NVA or Viet Cong had infiltrated the village during the night and flush out any who remained from the previous day. By midday the western half of the village was clear; the enemy was gone. The search was then handed over to Popular Force troops who swept the eastern half of the village.
Binh Ba was quiet, but shortly afterwards fighting flared again in Duc Trung. The Regional Force company, having earlier found the hamlet empty, was being overrun. Artillery fire from 105 Battery began falling among the enemy troops, a light fire team flew in support and B Company prepared to go in with the APCs. They lay in a line amidst the trees, every man facing the village, weapons at the ready. On command the line rose and, spread out between the APCs, moved in from the south, covering the hundred metres or so of open ground before the hamlet without incident. In front of them the tanks approached Duc Trung in extended line, but not a living soul remained in the southern part of the village. The damage, wrote Bill O’Mara ‘had been well and truly done’. In the north, enemy troops were mingling with civilians. Wanting to avoid casualties among the villagers, the Australians left the task to local Popular Force troops.
Pursued by shell fire and helicopters, the enemy withdrew to the north-west. They left behind six dead and a series of tell-tale blood trails. Perhaps these unfortunate men were those buried later in the day by O’Mara and another soldier. He recalled being detailed to bury six enemy dead, a ‘grisly task’ during which he noticed that they were wearing the black clothes of the VC rather than the NVA khaki.
The night of 7 June also passed without contact and a final sweep the following morning confirmed that the enemy had gone. A few hours later the men who had fought the battle returned to Nui Dat. Australian Civil Affairs personnel were already in Binh Ba when they left. Hours of heavy fighting, from street to street, house to house and finally even room to room, had destroyed much of the village. The villagers returned to find that large holes had been blown through the walls of many houses, and in others the door was gone; the wreckage told of violent combat and the weight of firepower directed against those inside.