Australia and the Vietnam War

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Combat

Battle of Coral/Balmoral: The bunkers

A Centurion tank having crushed an area of dense undergrowth under its tracks stops while infantrymen rest behind it. Tanks such as this one were involved in heavy action around a North Vietnamese bunker complex on 26 May 1968 in the vicinity of Coral and Balmoral. [AWM CRO/68/0577/VN]

A Centurion tank having crushed an area of dense undergrowth under its tracks stops while infantrymen rest behind it. Tanks such as this one were involved in heavy action around a North Vietnamese bunker complex on 26 May 1968 in the vicinity of Coral and Balmoral. [AWM CRO/68/0577/VN]

On 26 May, tanks from 1 Troop, C Squadron, and 1RAR’s D Company returned to the North Vietnamese bunker complex that had been encountered when 2 Troop’s tanks were moving from Coral to Balmoral the previous day.

When they approached the bunkers the tank crews fired canister rounds – resembling enormous shotgun shells – that shredded the jungle’s foliage and exposed the enemy positions. They were then able to fire directly into the bunkers. Men and tanks worked together for hours, fighting their way deeper into the North Vietnamese complex. Enemy fire destroyed anything attached to the tanks, but made almost no impression on their armour. The giant Centurions rolled over North Vietnamese positions, crushing some bunkers beneath their tracks, driving up to the entrances of others and killing those inside. Infantry followed up with small arms, grenades and even flame throwers while mortar and artillery pounded the North Vietnamese positions.

The battle continued for almost four hours, but the bunker complex was too large for four tanks and a few platoons of infantry to come to grips with. The risk of becoming trapped somewhere in its midst was too great and so the Australians broke off the assault and under the cover of artillery fire falling between them and the enemy they withdrew and returned to Coral.

No Australian had been hit and morale was high. The wariness that the infantry had felt about working with tanks, a new experience for Australians in Vietnam, had disappeared. They were pleased with the way the Centurions had carried out their part of the operation.


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