The Battle of Long TanBy Army Knowledge Centre August 17, 2017
This exercise takes you back in time to August 18, 1966, where you find yourself as the commander of D-Company (Coy), 6 Royal Australian Regiment (RAR), in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam.
Mission: 6 RAR is to conduct a Search & Destroy sweep around Nui Dat and 1 Australian Task Force (ATF) base. D Coy is supported by 105mm artillery and a troop of 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron (APC Sqn) stationed at the base.
Intelligence: Viet Cong 274 Regiment (Regt) and D445 Battalion (Bn) are usually widely dispersed over northern Phuoc Tuy and eastern Bien Hoa provinces, but are believed to be converging on the base at Nui Dat and 1 ATF. Intelligence suggests that as many as two reinforced Regts may be in the area, prompting 1 ATF to order a sweep following a Viet Cong (VC) mortar attack on Nui Dat base on 16 August.
Possible Enemy Intention: 274 Regt and D445 Bn are probably surveying the rice production capability of the local areas. However, Intelligence says VC may be planning a coordinated strike to overrun Nui Dat and 1 ATF.
Situation: Annoyed because your Coy has been sent out on patrol and will probably miss the Little Pattie concert back at base, you lead your three platoons (Pl) out of the perimeter to marry up with B-Coy on the edge of Long Tan rubber plantation, some 2.5 km away. D Coy reaches B- Coy at 1300 hrs. D-Coy sets off into the plantation in one up (11 Pl), two back formation (10 & 12 Pl) moving parallel to a well defined track. For the next 300 metres, the Coy is two up (11 and 10 Pls) and one back (12 Pl) with Coy Headquarters (HQ) in the middle of the formation.
Advancing for another 300 metres, 11 Pl scouts encounter six VC regulars armed with AK-47s, and open fire, killing one of them. The others scatter. The uniform of the dead VC suggests he is main force. 11 Pl conducts an enthusiastic follow up of the VC and after advancing a further 250 metres into the rubber plantation, is some 300 metres apart from 10 Pl on the left, with 12 Pl in the rear.
Suddenly machine-gun fire can be heard on the left-hand-side of the plantation where 11 Pl is located. 11 Pl HQ report by radio that they are pinned down by small arms and rocket- propelled grenade fire pouring in from all directions. 11 Pl reports the contact is company size. You order 10 Pl to sweep right, to relieve the pressure on 11 Pl. But 5 minutes later 10 Pl report they are pinned down by withering fire and still some 250 metres from 11 Pl.
Enemy mortars join the battle just as the monsoon begins, reducing visibility to about 20 metres. You order 12 Pl to join the battle and they get to about 75-100 metres from both 10 and 11 Pls, when they are also pinned down by withering fire from a VC force trying to get between the two forward Pl positions. Suddenly, mortar fire begins falling on D Coy HQ.
What now Commander?
Noting that your Coy is under fire, within five minutes determine your plan and issue quick radio orders to your platoon commanders.
Read about the outcome of the 1966 Battle for Long Tan here, courtesy of the Army History Unit.
Subsequent questions to consider and discuss:
- Could this situation have been prevented?
- Was the configuration optimal considering the terrain and intelligence?
- What could have been done differently?
For an in depth account of the battle, check out the book ‘The Batle of Long Tan - Australia's most Significant Battle of the Vietnam War' by David Cameron (2016)
The Defence Library Service also has a range of books available on The Battle of Long Tan