Arguably the backbone and discipline of any infantry company is the Company Sergeant Major (CSM). These soldiers of Warrant Officer rank are part father figure, part teacher and part principle / headmaster. Almost all of the CSM’s I’ve come across have had very strong and unique personalities made up of steadiness, humour, discipline but ultimately a sense of fairness. In the case of D Company (Coy), 6RAR, the CSM was the 31 year old WO2 (Warrant Officer) Jack Kirby.
While the short and nuggetty Major Harry Smith, Officer Commanding (OC) D Coy and the young soldiers strode out on training runs, Jack Kirby was feeling his age and weight. Kirby was a Malaya veteran and naturally a big build. Unable to keep up on the runs, he nevertheless plugged along, always finishing and earning the respect of the soldiers. At the Battle of Long Tan he was to deepen and broaden their regard with his steadiness, bravery and humour.
Throughout the battle ‘Big Jack’ Kirby disregarded his own safety while braving enemy fire to distribute ammunition. Kirby continuously exposed himself to enemy fire to carry wounded Australian’s over his shoulder back to the Company Aid Post. At a critical point in the battle Kirby rushed out of the D Coy perimeter to silence a wheeled enemy heavy machine gun which was setting up less than 50 metres away from the Australians. He knew in just a few moments this heavy machinegun would be able to strafe and decimate the Australians. Kirby killed the enemy machinegun crew, rushed back and continued to carry on handing out ammunition, moving around the entire company position and giving out words of encouragement to the D Coy soldiers.
One of the little known and fascinating aspects of the Battle of Long Tan is the intelligence that was being collected, analysed and distributed to the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) Commander Brigadier David Jackson and some of his headquarters staff.
During the Vietnam War a secret radio intelligence and tracking unit from the Australian Army – 547 Signal Troop – was stationed at Nui Dat in support of 1 Australian Task Force (1ATF).
As you will see in the diagram below, believe it or not this secret Australian Army radio tracking unit was, for 16 days right up until 4 days before the Battle of Long Tan, tracking the radio transmitter of the Vietnamese 275 Viet Cong Regiment as it moved from its base area through to when it stopped just short of the Long Tan rubber plantation. This is the regiment comprising 2,500 soldiers who would fight against D Company, 6RAR during the Battle of Long Tan only a few days later on 18 August 1966. Intelligence indicating a possible enemy regiment of 2,500 men being in the vicinity of the Long Tan rubber plantation was not shared with Australian combat commanders like Major Harry Smith who led D Coy, 6RAR during the battle. However, it is important to remember that throughout all wars and conflicts intelligence assessments are just that, assessments. It is always easy in hindsight to say certain pieces of intelligence were proven after the fact but in this case most rational people would argue that this type of information should have been shared with combat commanders as it my alter their planned force disposition, tactics, routes and even the levels of ammunition they take out on patrol.
**N.B. I’ve created a new BATTLE OF LONG TAN website with a lot more information and resources, please check it out!
As part of the work behind this project, I undertook more than 2 years of extensive research in order to ensure accuracy of our “The Battle of Long Tan” documentary and the upcoming “Long Tan” feature film. To help us inform the media about the facts and figures surrounding the battle we developed a simple .PDF document with all the information.
Here is just a sample of some of the Facts & Figures:
Total Australian and enemy casualties as a result of the Battle of Long Tan –
18 killed (17 from D Coy, 6RAR and 1 from 3Trp, 1APC Squadron)
NVA and VC
245- 800 killed (245 bodies officially counted on the battlefield but many more bodies were found over two weeks after the battle and VC tactics were to remove the dead so no accurate counts could be made.)
More than 1,000 wounded (Identified from captured documents)
2 wounded NVA soldiers were captured on the battlefield
1 wounded VC soldier was captured on the battlefield
Total number of forces opposing each other on the battlefield at Long Tan –
Australia & New Zealand
105 soldiers from D Coy, 6RAR, Australian Army
3 man New Zealand Forward Artillery Observation party, 161 Bty RNZA
Total 108 men
NVA and VC
2,000 soldiers from 275 Viet Cong Main Force Regiment (effectively an NVA Regiment as the unit was formed in North Vietnam)
500 soldiers from an unidentified North Vietnamese Army Battalion, probably from 33rd NVA Regiment
550 soldiers from D445 Viet Cong Provincial Mobile Battalion (local force VC)
A total of approximately 3,000 troops faced off against D Coy, 6RAR. But it is estimated that only around 2,500 directly took part in the battle.
Australian, New Zealand and American Supporting Units
103 Battery, Royal Australian Artillery (6 x 105mm L5 pack howitzers)
105 Battery, Royal Australian Artillery (6 x 105mm L5 pack howitzers)
161 Battery, 16 Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery (6 x 105mm L5 pack howitzers)
A Battery, 2/35th Howitzer Battalion, US Army (6 x 155mm M109 Self-propelled howitzers)
9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (8 x Bell UH-1B Iroquois ‘Huey’ choppers)
Unidentified United States Medical Company (Air Ambulance) – 1 x UH-1B Huey participated in the night airlift of wounded Australians from the edge of Long Tan alongside 9 Squadron, RAAF)
3 Troop, 1 Armoured Personnel Squadron, Australian Army (7 x M113 APC’s)
B Company, 6RAR (32 soldiers – 48 had returned to Nui Dat for R&R on 17 August – arrived during last 10 minutes of the battle)
A Company, 6RAR (108 soldiers – arrived on the APC’s as the battle ended)
United States Marine Corps, Marine Attack Squadron 542 (VMA-542) – 2 x F-4 Phantoms provided an airstrike in support of D Coy, 6RAR
Here is some video I filmed behind the scenes while we shot footage of Artillery firing in New Zealand for my Battle of Long Tan documentary with the 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery on the 23rd June 2006 at the Linton Army base.
It was actually minus 3 degrees Celsius this day and Palmerston North had the worst snow storm in living memory the day before we scheduled to film these scenes. These amazing gunners actually did the scene recreations for the entire day in the freezing cold with cold water being poured over them from an Army fire truck!
Capt. Morrie Stanley who was the Forward Artillery Observer during the Battle of Long Tan was there with us while we filmed which really spurred on the NZ gunners!
The Artillery piece is a M101A1 105mm L1A1 Howitzer and it was firing blanks.
Just imagine that 18 of these artillery guns were each firing 6-8 rounds per minute for more than 5 hours non stop in a lightning monsoon storm in support of D Company 5km’s away in the heat of the battle!