Australia and the Vietnam War

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Combat

Patrolling

Sergeant Tom Birnie (right), Platoon Sergeant of 4 Platoon, D Company, 2RAR and an unidentified soldier on patrol during Operation Coburg, Bien Hoa, January 1968. [AWM EKT/68/0083/VN]

Sergeant Tom Birnie, Platoon Sergeant of 4 Platoon, D Company, 2RAR on patrol during Operation Coburg, Bien Hoa, January 1968. [AWM EKT/68/0083/VN]

Patrolling was the cornerstone of 1 Australian Task Force’s (1ATF’s) operations in Phuoc Tuy Province. Rather than wait behind the wire for the Viet Cong to launch attacks on the Task Force base, the Australians sought to control the area around Nui Dat, denying the Viet Cong any element of surprise and making it difficult for them to move undetected.

The idea behind Australian operations in Phuoc Tuy was to drive the Viet Cong from their jungle sanctuaries and camps and to remove them from areas where they could exert influence over the local people. The Australian tactics surprised the Viet Cong who were used to meeting a South Vietnamese enemy that fought from defensive positions and rarely pursued them into the jungle.

As patrolling was so central to the Australian conduct of the war in Phuoc Tuy, newly arrived battalions were often sent out on familiarisation operations, usually into areas that were considered relatively free of enemy activity. Over the course of several days they would hone their patrolling skills, gain experience in calling in air and artillery support and see the ways in which these weapons could be used to complement counter-insurgency operations.

Australian patrols covered a range of terrains and conditions. Much of the countryside was heavily vegetated, but thousands of hectares were also covered in rubber plantations – dark, dangerous areas of evenly spaced trees that offered a hidden enemy clear fields of fire. Rice paddies posed different problems. Crossing these open fields, where men could be exposed to enemy fire many metres from cover, was a nerve-wracking experience. The weather also brought its own difficulties to patrolling; in the dry season men endured intense tropical heat, while in the monsoon they patrolled in constant rain and were rarely dry.

Patrols

  • Diggers sitting on armoured personnel carrier on patrol, Phuoc Tuy Province, Ken McFadyen, 1968. [Oil on canvas 35.5 cm x 54.8 cm, AWMART40670]
  • Private (Pte) Garry Cassidy of NSW  followed by Pte Bruce Everard of Victoria patrolling near Nui Dat during Operation Tamborine, February 1967. [AWM EKN/67/0084/VN]
  • Members of A Company, 2RAR/NZ wade through deep water to cross a paddy field south-east of Nui Dat, 1967. [AWM CAM/67/0804/VN]
  • Two members of C company, 9RAR, move through thick jungle during Operation Surfside. A Centurion tank from B Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC), follows in support, 18 April 1969.[AWM COM/69/0250/VN]
  • Sergeant Bryan Smith, 1RAR advance party, takes a break from a patrol north of Nui Dat, 1968. [AWM P01636.008]
  • A ride on a Centurion tank for 2RAR-NZ infantrymen in heavy conditions. The sea drums on the left would have been dropped in by Chinook helicopter, 1970. [Image courtesy of Leon Pavich]
  • A soldier with five members of no 1 Squadron, Special Air Service (1SAS) during a patrol out of 7RAR's Battalion Headquarters, 1968. [AWM P01979.010]
  • Dog handlers from the 1ATF move towards a RAAF Iroquois helicopter of 9 Squadron during operations against the Viet Cong, 1967. [AWM VN/67/0132/19]
  • An Australian Armoured personnel carrier (APC) patrols through a local hamlet, 1969. [Image courtesy of Jock Harvey]
  • Back from patrol, Ken McFadyen, Bien Hoa Province, 1968. [Oil on canvas 28 cm x 50 cm, AWM ART40740]
  • Troops from 1RAR disembark from armoured personnel carriers (APCs) of the 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier Troop at Bien Hoa after a patrol, 1965. [AWM P04959.003]
  • Troops of 5RAR move through a banana plantation during the final stage of Operation Hardihood in May 1966. During Hardihood, Nui Dat and the surrounding area were secured and the various tasks associated with planning and establishing a new task force base in Phuoc Tuy province completed.  [AWM FOR/66/0434/VN]
  • A soldier from 7RAR moves through a creek during a patrol on Operation Cung Chung in June 1970. [AWM EKN/70/0438/VN]


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View video of Interview 6 Lieutenant Peter Aspinall, 5RAR, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.1972

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View video of Interview 3 Sgt Bob Buick, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.2181

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View video of Interview 4 Lieutenant Peter Aspinall, 5RAR, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.1972