Military History

This Week in History | Week 5

By The Cove January 28, 2020
Australian soldier Private Michael Grech of the 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR) on a Saigon rooftop during the Tet Offensive. The smoke in the background indicates that there is fighting close by. Savage encounters in urban areas were

27 January - 02 February
27 January 1941 - Fighting commences at Derna, Libya

Following the capture of Tobruk, two brigades of the 6th Australian Division under Major General Iven Mackay pursued the Italians westwards and encountered an Italian rear guard at Derna. Australian attempts to attack were met by massed artillery-fire. Althought the Australian artillery were rationed to ten rounds per-gun per-day, the 2/4th Australian Battalion repulsed a battalion-strength counter-attack. A column of bren gun carriers of the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment was sent south to reconnoitre the area where Italian tanks had been reported and was ambushed by a party of the Babini Group with concealed anti-tank guns and machine guns; four Australians were killed and three taken prisoner. The 11th Hussars found a gap at Chaulan, south of Wadi Derna, that threatened the Babini Group and the defenders in Derna with encirclement. As a result,General Annibale Bergonzoli ordered a retirement. The Italians disengaged on the night of 28/29 January, before the garrison could be trapped, while Babini Group rearguards cratered roads, planted mines and booby-traps and managed to conduct several skilful ambushes, which slowed the allied pursuit.

29 January 1943 - Start of the Battle of Wau, New Guinea

The Japanese recognised that Allied possession of Wau posed a significant threat to important Japanese bases at Lae and nearby Salamaua and sought to take the town. Forces of the Empire of Japan sailed from Rabaul and crossed the Solomon Sea. Despite Allied air attacks, they successfully reached Lae where they disembarked. Japanese troops then advanced overland on Wau, an Australian base that potentially threatened the Japanese positions at Salamaua and Lae. A race developed between the Japanese moving overland, hampered by the terrain, and the Australians, moving by air, hampered by the weather. By the time the Japanese reached the Wau area after a trek over the mountains, the Australian defenders had been greatly reinforced by air. In the battle that followed, despite achieving tactical surprise by approaching from an unexpected direction, the Japanese attackers were unable to capture Wau.

30 January 1942 - Japanese Attack Ambon, Netherlands East Indies

The Battle of Ambon occurred on the island of Ambon in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), during World War II. Japan invaded and conquered the island in a few days, defeating Dutch, American and Australian forces.

On 30 January, about 1,000 Japanese marines and IJA personnel landed at Hitu-lama on the north coast. Other elements of the 228th Regiment landed on the southern coast of the Laitimor Peninsula. Although the Japanese ground forces were numerically not much bigger than the Allies, the Japanese had overwhelming superiority in air support, naval and field artillery, and tanks. Allied aircraft were withdrawn, although RAAF ground staff remained. Within a day of the Japanese landings, the Dutch detachments in their vicinity were overrun and/or had withdrawn towards Paso. The destruction of bridges on Hitu was not carried out as ordered, hastening the Japanese advance.

There was a second wave of landings at Hutumori, in south-eastern Laitimor, and at Batugong, near Paso. An Australian infantry platoon was detached to reinforce the pioneers on Nona plateau. The defences at Paso had been designed to repel attacks from the north and west, but now faced assault from the south. A KNIL platoon was detached from Paso to resist the attack on Batugong, causing a gap in the Dutch lines. The Japanese took advantage of this and were assisted by the failure of a KNIL telephone line. Batugong fell in the early hours of 31 January, enabling the Japanese to encircle the eastern flank of the Passo positions. Meanwhile, Kapitz ordered the Ambonese KNIL company at Eri to take up a position at Kudamati, which appeared prone to attack.

The first land attack on Laha occurred on the afternoon of 31 January. An Australian platoon north-east of the airfield was attacked by a stronger Japanese force, which it repelled. Japanese forces were also approaching the town of Ambon from the south west. At about 04:00pm on 31 January, the Japanese captured the town, including an Australian casualty clearing unit.

After dawn on 2 February, the main Australian force on Nona plateau, commanded by Lieutenant Bill Jinkins, was in danger of encirclement. Jinkins ordered a withdrawal to Amahusu where he became aware that the Dutch had surrendered. Unable to ascertain the disposition of Lieutenant Colonel Scott's force, Jinkins decided to meet senior Japanese officers under truce at the town of Ambon. They allowed him to speak to Kapitz, who wrote another note advising the Australian commander to surrender. Meanwhile, the Japanese forces attacking Laha were reinforced and a concentrated assault on the Allies began, including naval artillery, dive bombers, fighter planes and probing attacks by infantry. A Japanese night attack in high grass near the beach, between two Allied positions, was beaten back by an Australian platoon. However, a massive Japanese offensive commenced at dawn on 2 February. By 1000 am, only about 150 Australians and several KNIL personnel were still able to fight at Laha and they were ordered to surrender.

By the morning of 3 February, the Australians around Eri were struggling to cope with increasing air and naval attacks, wounded Australians, the influx of Dutch personnel, diminishing supplies and widespread fatigue. A Japanese flag had been seen flying on the other side of the bay at Laha. By the time Jinkins reached Lieutenant Colonel Scott, the latter had himself met the Japanese and decided to surrender. The Allied position at Kudamati was surrendered separately at midday.

30 January 1968 - Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam

The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War. It was launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against the forces of the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the United States Armed Forces and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian command and control centres throughout South Vietnam. The name of the offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks took place.







01 February 1943 - Last Australian forces sail for home from the Middle East

Japan's entry into the war forced the Australian Government to decline British requests to concentrate on the war in North Africa and Europe. Australia began to 'look to America' for support and concentrated the bulk of her forces against the Japanese.

02 February 1968 - Baria recaptured, South Vietnam

The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, recaptured Baria after it fell during the Tet Offensive. The effects of the Tet Offensive were felt most acutely by the Australians when the Viet Cong attacked targets around Phuoc Tuy's provincial capital, Baria. The attacks were repulsed with few Australian casualties, though the Communists suffered heavy losses. 

As the Australian troops entered the city, evidence of the Viet Cong offensive was apparent. Sporadic fire in the north-west section of the city still continued as Vietnamese troops cleared the last pockets of Viet Cong resistance. One of the worst hit Government buildings was the Baria hospital which was taken by the Viet Cong, and most of the equipment in it broken or destroyed before they were forced out. Some of the villagers had been wounded and one of the first tasks of the Civil Aid team was their evacuation to hospital at Vung Tau. Three of the more seriously wounded civilians were loaded gently onto a truck which took them to the nearest helipad for transfer to hospital by helicopter, the fastest means possible. At the Baria High School, refugees had poured into the classrooms. Many of the people at the High School were not refugees but people who lived on the outskirts of the city and had sought the better protection which could be given in the centre of the city. Other troops were busily engaged preparing rations for distribution by the local Vietnamese Refugees Relief Organisation. Sanitation was the worst aspect of some 2000 people living at the High School and engineers with the Civil Affairs Unit had the task of preparing toilets and providing water for the people of Baria, who for the first time in three days had started to recover from the Viet Cong Tet offensive.

The following Australian War Memorial video shows members of the 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit and a section of infantry from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment in Baria, two days after it was recaptured from the Viet Cong (Note: this video has no sound).





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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