The Vietnam War
The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
A member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, Captain Peter Shilston, confirming by radio that the village that he is about to search with South Vietnamese troops has been properly cordoned. Shilston was one of six AATTV members to be awarded the Military Cross during his service in South Vietnam. [AWM FAI/70/0595/VN]
The first contingent of the Australian Army Training Team (AATTV) arrived in South Vietnam on 3 August 1962. It numbered just 30 men and was made up of a mixture of officers, sergeants and warrant officers under the command of Colonel F.P. ‘Ted’ Serong. Team members were deployed to South Vietnam for a 12-month tour of duty with the option of extending for an additional 6 months. The AATTV’s numbers grew, as did the range of ranks held by its members, over the ten years that it served in Vietnam, peaking at 224 in 1971, shortly before Australia’s withdrawal.
From the beginning the AATTV was divided into groups and dispersed. Some worked with Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units, some with indigenous peoples in the remote, mountainous areas of the country’s north-west, some with South Vietnam’s Civil Guard which was responsible for protecting key provincial infrastructure, some with the ARVN’s elite Ranger units and some with the American Combined Studies Division which trained village militias and which was also involved in the Phoenix Program that targeted Viet Cong cells and cadres for assassination.
Until 1964 AATTV personnel were forbidden from joining those whom they trained on operations, a ban that proved completely impractical when they were caught in ambushes and which diminished their credibility in the eyes of their students. After the policy changed, allowing participation in operations, AATTV members often found themselves engaged in combat more fierce than that experienced by most other Australian units in South Vietnam. By 1965 AATTV advisers were accompanying South Vietnamese Units on patrol and helping defend bases from attack. Designated as trainers they were often leaders, demonstrating military and counter-insurgency skills in the heat of battle.
For many in the AATTV, service in Vietnam was an isolating experience. They often worked alone or in pairs in small, mainly American, advisory teams which served with Vietnamese units. Their dispersal meant Australia had a country-wide presence and with it the ability to assess the situation outside Phuoc Tuy, the province in which most Australians in Vietnam served.
The Australian army's only serving Victoria Cross (VC) winners, Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Ray Simpson of NSW, (left), and WO2 Keith Payne of Qld, in Saigon, after the announcement of WO2 Payne's VC. WO2 Payne won Australia’s highest gallantry award for an action in South Vietnam’s Kontum Province on 24 May, 1969. WO2 Simpson won his VC for his actions two weeks earlier, on 6 May 1969. [LES/69/0590/VN]
As Australia and the United States began to withdraw their forces from Vietnam the AATTV’s role changed to resemble what it had been like when they were first deployed. Training became the main priority as Vietnamese units were prepared for the time when they would have to fight without the support of allies. The last members of the AATTV to leave South Vietnam departed on 18 December 1972, a little more than ten years after the first members arrived.
During their decade in Vietnam the AATTV became the most highly decorated Australian unit to serve in the war. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded to AATTV members, along with numerous other awards and decorations, including those issued by the United States and the Republic of South Vietnam. Most awards recognised bravery in combat; some were for service to the people of South Vietnam.