Long Tan – A quest for Honour and Integrity

By David Ellery – Defence Reporter

*This article appeared in The Canberra Times on 15 January 2011 but as there is no online version it has been reproduced here.

Long Tan Gordon Sharp
The Fallen: 19 August 1966. The body of 11 Platoon Commander Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp on the battlefield of Long Tan. In the background is the body of another unidentified Australian soldier from 11 Platoon, 6RAR.

The greatest impediment to an honest assessment of the way honours were allocated after the battle of Long Tan is a concept that dates back to Roman times. ”De mortuis nil nisi bonum” effectively translates as ”of the dead, (speak) nothing but good”.

Long Tan is a special challenge in that many of those honoured as well as those denied honours are dead.

There has been an apparent reluctance by some of those charged with making tough calls on these issues to dig too deeply.

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Facts and Figures About the Battle of Long Tan

**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.

Click on this link to download The Battle of Long Tan Fact Sheet (.pdf document).

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 –

Australian
  • 18 killed (17 from D Coy, 6RAR and 1 from 3Trp, 1APC Squadron)
  • 24 wounded
A wounded Corporal Buddy Lea in hospital
A wounded Corporal Buddy Lea from, 10 Platoon, D Company in hospital shortly after the battle. He was shot twice while helping the injured Sgt Paddy Todd back to the D Company aid post.

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