Australia and the Vietnam War

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Combat

Battle of Coral/Balmoral: Coral attack 2

Bombadier Larry Davenport manning a machine-gun after one of the attacks on Coral. [AWM ERR/68/0520/VN]

Bombadier Larry Davenport manning a machine-gun after one of the attacks on Coral. [AWM ERR/68/0520/VN]

By 15 May Coral had become a strong defensive position, more prepared than it had been on that first night to withstand further North Vietnamese attacks. The next one came early on the morning of 16 May and, like the earlier assault, it began with a barrage of mortar and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) fire, this time directed mainly against the guns of 102 Field Battery, A Battery 2/35th Battalion US Artillery and the headquarters and maintenance areas.

On this occasion two battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers were sent against Coral. 1RAR’s A, B and C companies bore the brunt of the onslaught but few of the assaulting troops were able to penetrate the Australian defences. Fire from Coral’s small arms, artillery and mortars, a United States battery, helicopters and the lethal spookies – C-47 aircraft equipped with flares and miniguns – stopped the North Vietnamese but only after, as one Australian said later, ‘a torrid four hours’.

  • With their artillery piece in the background, gunners occupy defensive positions at Coral.  Steel helmets have replaced the ‘bush hat’ commonly associated with the Australians in Vietnam because of the danger posed by enemy RPG and mortar fire.  [AWM ERR/68/0515/VN]
  • Private John Iwankiw at Coral.  Having experienced two heavy attacks on the base, Iwankiw has surrounded himself with belts of ammunition for the M60 machine gun that he holding.  [AWM ERR/68/0519]
  • Australian and South Vietnamese soldiers speak with a seated North Vietnamese prisoner at Coral.  He was one of fourteen prisoners taken by the Australians at Coral and Balmoral.  [AWM ERR/68/0522/VN]
  • Bombardier Keith Hyliffe, 131st Divisional Locating Battery, checks radar equipment used to pinpoint enemy mortars being used in attacks on Coral.  [AWM THU/68/0612/VN]
  • As the words ‘Fire Support Base’ imply, artillery was central to operations at Coral and Balmoral.  Although the guns played a defensive role during North Vietnamese attacks on both bases, their main purpose was to protect infantry patrolling outside the wire.  In an indication of the volume of fire provided by the guns, these shells constitute a resupply for 102 Field Battery at Coral.  [AWM P01768.007]
  • A Centurion from the 1st Armoured Regiment passes through a village on the long and hazardous drive from Nui Dat to Coral.  [AWM ERR/68/0543/VN]
  • Gunners from 102 Field Battery stand outside their shelters at Coral and watch the Centurion tanks move into their defensive positions after their arrival from Nui Dat.  [AWM P01635.004]
  • Having driven from Nui Dat, a journey of some 120 kilometres through hostile territory and across ten bailey bridges, none of which were rated to carry the weight of a 54 ton tank, relieved Centurion crews of C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, arrive at Coral on the afternoon of 23 May 1968.  [AWM P01768.010]
  • A 102 battery gun fires from Coral, spent cases lie in front of gun while an artilleryman waits to load another shell.  [AWM P01770.015]
  • An Australian soldier kneels among discarded North Vietnamese equipment after an attack on Coral.  In his hands are shovels used by North Vietnamese soldiers, some of whom may have tried to dig scrapes under the barrage of defensive fire.  [AWM ER/68/0507/VN]
  • Two Australians examine a hole made by a piece of shrapnel in a drinking mug during one of the attacks on Coral.  [AWM ERR/68/0508/VN]
  • Shirtless in the tropical heat, an Australian sits holding his weapon atop a deep dugout at Coral.  [AWM ERR/68/0511/VN]
  • A soldier checks a strand of perimeter wire at Coral in the aftermath of large North Vietnamese attacks on the base.  [AWM ERR/68/0512/VN]

By 6.30 am the battle was over; only the North Vietnamese rearguard fought on to cover the main force’s withdrawal. Five Australians had been killed and thirty-four North Vietnamese bodies were found in front of the Australian positions. A medic in C Company, 1RAR, remembered the unsettling effect of seeing the enormous amount of weaponry arrayed against the North Vietnamese only to find ‘a few bodies’ the next morning. The practice of removing as many of their dead as possible from the battlefield meant that no-one had any real idea of how many North Vietnamese had been killed or wounded in these battles.


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View a map of Coral Balmoral [DVA]

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RAAF Supplies Fire Support Base Coral
This film shows a RAAF helicopter resupplying Fire Support Base Coral on 30 May 1968. As the helicopter flies into and out of the base viewers can see something of how Coral appeared at the height of the fighting in the area.