Australia and the Vietnam War

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Phuoc Tuy Province

Nui Dat - Australian Task Force Base

Tents in rubber plantation, Bruce Fletcher 1967. [Drawing, black fibre-tipped pen, brush and coloured fibre-tipped wash, white gouache on paper, 26.9 x 37 cm. AWM ART40458]

Tents in rubber plantation, Bruce Fletcher 1967. [Drawing, black fibre-tipped pen, brush and coloured fibre-tipped wash, white gouache on paper, 26.9 x 37 cm. AWM ART40458]

Once Phuoc Tuy had been selected as the provincial site for Australia’s task force, a location for its base had to be chosen. There were three possibilities: Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy’s capital; the port of Vung Tau; and an area in the province’s central region known as Nui Dat, Vietnamese for ‘small hill’.

Removed from population centres but close to Viet Cong base areas, Nui Dat was considered ideal for the type of counter-insurgency warfare that Australians waged in Phuoc Tuy. Its location in the centre of the province meant that Nui Dat was in the middle of Viet Cong territory. Therefore, security was of prime importance. The villages nearest Nui Dat – Long Tan and Long Phuoc – were both considered Viet Cong strongholds and the Australian task force’s first commander, Brigadier O.D. Jackson, with the agreement of the Province Chief, had the people and livestock of the two villages forcibly resettled. The removal of the local people from the vicinity meant that the chances of the Viet Cong gathering information about the base and the movement of Australian troops were significantly reduced. However, attempts to win the support of Phuoc Tuy’s people were compromised by the decision to remove people from their homes without compensation.

'setting up'

  • The beginning of Nui Dat. When it became obvious that the Australians and Americans employed different operational methods, particularly where counter-insurgency warfare was concerned, the Australians sought to increase their presence in Vietnam from a single battalion to a self-sufficient Task Force located away from Bien Hoa where the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), had been stationed during their deployment with United States forces.  Troops from the 5th and 6th Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment, arrived in Vietnam in 1966, replacing 1 RAR. Here 6RAR diggers help to establish the new base. [Image courtesy of Peter Fischer]
  • Troops from 1RAR rest at a camp in Nui Dat. A hoochie (canvas sheet) on the left provides shelter, 1966. [AWM 04959.008]
  • The 5RAR tent lines after the monsoon rains, June 1966. [AWM P02177.002] The engineers of 1 Field Squadron under Major Warren Lennon continued with the onerous duty of rendering the base liveable in competition with the monsoonal downpours of rain each afternoon… Other tasks included establishing a drainage system throughout the base, building culverts, building latrines in the battalion lines and establishing a rock quarry… Natural drainage was particularly poor and used areas became seas of mud. [Ian McNeill, To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966, p 275.]
  • Private Bob Young, 6RAR from Tasmania, checking papers on a roadway on the outskirts of the 1ATF area, 1966. [CUN/66/0849/VN]
  • After long periods in the jungle on operations, life in the lines was relaxing for infantrymen. Each unit had a barber, sometimes trained, 'sometimes a volunteer with a good eye and a steady hand.'  Here two 6 RAR soldiers settle down for a haircut at Nui Dat, 1966. [Image courtesy of Peter Fischer]
  • In June 1967, four members of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps arrived in South Vietnam for a 12-month tour of duty with No 8 Field Ambulance at Vung Tau. Demonstrating a baby bouncinette during their visit to the village of Hoa Long are [L - R] Lieutenant (Lt) Margaret Ahern of NSW; Lt Colleen Mealy of SA; Captain (Cptn) Amy Pittendriegh of WA and Lt Terrie Roche of NSW, June 1967.  [AWM GIL/67/0484/VN]
  • Members of 16 Construction Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers  (RAE) clearing an area for a new storage hut for the 1st Ordnance Field Park at Nui Dat, March 1968. [AWM CAM/68/0288/VN]
  • A C130 Hercules taxis into Nui Dat's Luscombe Field with a new cargo of troops in 1968. Battalion lines are in the rubber at the rear of the aircraft. Luscombe Field, named after Lieutenant Brian Luscombe, the first Army pilot killed in the Korean War, was also the embarkation point for combat operations. [Image courtesy of Stephen Lewis]
  • Members of Support Company, 4RAR, repair damaged sandbags around their weapon pit during the monsoon season, 1968. The humidity and continual drenching of the men and their equipment as well as the sticky red mud meant that much of their equipment either rotted or grew fungus during the wet season.  [AWM P01219.002]
  • Operation Enoggera: 6RAR with cavalry support during the operation that began on 21 June 1966. The company signaller is in the right foreground. [Image courtesy of Peter Fischer] Operation Enoggera, the destruction of the village of Long Phuoc, was conducted by the new Australian Task Force between 21 June and 5 July 1966, soon after their arrival in Nui Dat. Troops and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) from 6 RAR, supported by helicopters from 9 Squadron RAAF, conducted sweeps of the village, about 2000 metres south-west of the Task Force Base. They cleared the area of Viet Cong and confiscated caches of supplies and equipment. These were carried out of the area by the 9 Squadron helicopters flying resupply missions to the troops on the ground.  
Long Phuoc’s inhabitants had been removed from their homes, solid dwellings reflecting the district’s prosperity, in April 1966 two months before Enoggera. They were resettled in nearby Hoa Long, but Long Phuoc continued to be used by the Viet Cong and their sympathisers as a base from which to fire on Australian positions. After Enoggera only Long Phuoc’s temples and churches remained intact.  l

The base was established by members of the United States 173rd Airborne, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) and the newly arrived 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR). The first soldiers to occupy it lived in tents and worked to establish defences. Every soldier at Nui Dat had a fighting pit. Elevated bunkers, manned 24 hours a day, were constructed around the base’s perimeter which was further defended by wire obstacles and belts of anti-personnel mines. Vegetation was cleared from a 500-metre wide area outside the wire to provide fields of fire and a clear view of approaching Viet Cong.

Iroquois helicopters (Hueys) flown by 9 Squadron RAAF arrive at Kangaroo Pad, Nui Dat from their base at Vung Tau, 1966. [Image courtesy of Peter Fischer]

Iroquois helicopters (Hueys) flown by 9 Squadron RAAF arrive at Kangaroo Pad, Nui Dat from their base at Vung Tau, 1966. [Image courtesy of Peter Fischer]

At its peak the base at Nui Dat was home to some 5,000 Australian personnel, but for much of the time most of them were deployed on operations outside the base.


Map Icon

View a map showing the layout of the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat in June 1967. The base changed in size over the period of Australia's involvement, this map thus provides a snapshot of how Nui Dat was laid out 12 months after its establishment.

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View a map of Phuoc Tuy Province.

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

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View video of Interview 1 Sgt Bob Buick, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.2181

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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 1 Lieutenant Peter Aspinall, 5RAR, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.1972

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View video of Interview 2 Lieutenant Peter Aspinall, 5RAR, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.1972

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View video of Interview 3 Lieutenant Peter Aspinall, 5RAR, Australians at War Film Archive, Interview No.1972

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