If you’ve ever wanted a more detailed understanding of The Battle of Long Tan, you should check out this fantastic, animated and interactive PowerPoint presentation created by Long Tan veteran Dave Sabben.
About Dave: as a 20 year old, Dave registered for national service but his number didn’t come up. Unperturbed, Dave packed his bags, presented himself at Victoria Barracks and volunteered, applying for officer selection training. After successfully completing the six month Officer Training course at Scheyville in NSW, Dave reported for duty to 6RAR at Enoggera Barracks in Queensland as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant to command a platoon of 28 soldiers – one day after his 21st birthday.
Dave Sabben led his mix of national service and regular soldiers of 12 Platoon, D Company 6RAR during the Battle of Long Tan and for his actions was awarded a ‘Mentioned In Dispatches’ (MID). *After a Government inquiry in 2008, Dave’s medal was upgraded to the ‘Medal for Gallantry’, the equivalent of the old imperial Military Cross. You can learn more about Dave on his own website – www.sabben.com.
There are a number of ways you can view and access this great presentation. The best experience is to download the presentation or watch it in your browser (options 1 & 2):
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.
*This article appeared in The Canberra Times on 15 January 2011 but as there is no online version it has been reproduced here.
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.
**Update: Watch Channel 7’s Sunrise Soapbox discuss this story at the bottom of this post.
The man who led Australian soldiers to victory at the bloody Battle of Long Tan 44 years ago is taking his fight for medals justice to the Federal Court.
Harry Smith, Lieutenant Colonel retired, today confirmed he will be pursuing court action in the New Year to get sign-off for the medals and commendations denied to eight members of Delta Company, two of Alpha Company 6RAR, and one of the Armoured Troop which repelled 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong enemy in an historic conflict on August 18, 1966.
Smith was the commanding officer of the 108 Australian and New Zealand troops that defied the odds in a three hour battle amid a rubber plantation deluged by monsoonal rains, and who later recommended a list of awards for gallantry that was slashed by senior officers.
Fourteen years ago he launched a campaign to gain recognition for all the soldiers on that list when the awards were denied a hearing at a formal Review in 1998, which approved 81 other Vietnam awards.
The pending class action is in support of the final 11 men “left out in the cold.”
A refurbished kindergarten has sprouted on the site where Australasian troops were headquartered for the 10 years of the Vietnam War, following a three year campaign of diplomacy and fundraising by veterans.
The new facility will accommodate 50 pre-school children and includes extensions and renovations to the original class rooms built in 2002 for the rural community at Nui Dat by the Australia Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG).
The Group, made up of ex-soldiers and people from the business sector, generated $55,000 in donations to complete the project – including $5,600 raised by Year 10 students from Epping Boys’ High School.
Construction of a new long day care centre, kitchen, dining and activity rooms, washrooms and staff rooms was completed earlier this month and will be officially opened by Australia’s Consulate-General to Vietnam on 19 October.
The AVVRG assistance works grew out of the Australian war mission and have continued ever since as part of the “healing” process for many soldiers.
Members of the RAR Association need no introduction to the Battle of Long Tan. After all, it’s a Battle Honour on their Colours and its anniversary was selected as Australia’s Vietnam Veterans’ Day. And over the years, one of the key resources in describing and explaining the battle has been Dave Sabben, the former platoon commander of 12 Platoon, Delta Company, 6RAR, at the battle.
Dave has been interviewed for all the documentaries and books on the subject including the official Military History of Australia’s involvement in South East Asia, “To Long Tan”, and the recent highly acclaimed and award winning documentary screened on The History Channel, “The Battle of Long Tan“ narrated by Sam Worthington (Avatar, Terminator Salvation). He has even written his own “faction” book, “Through Enemy Eyes”, which takes the perspective of the NVA commander in Phuoc Tuy Province when the ANZACs arrived. It explains why there was a need to wipe out the Nui Dat base and the steps taken to achieve that aim. (The book demolishes the so-called ambush theory proposed by some in the late 1980s.)
If you’ve seen the animated Powerpoint presentation on Long Tan, that’s Dave’s work too, and if you haven’t seen it, then it’s available for free download from his website.
You’d wonder what else he could do in an effort to inform interested Australians about the battle. Well, last year a new idea came from an unlikely source – the Australia Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG).
There is a great 100% volunteer organisation called the Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group (AVVRG) holding an upcoming charity dinner in Sydney at Parliament House on Friday 14th August 2009 to raise money for building a Kindergarten in Nui Dat, South Vietnam.
Guests of honour will be:
Dave Sabben MG – Commander of 12 Platoon during the Battle of Long Tan
Patricia Amphlett OAM (Little Pattie) – singer who was 17 years old at the time of the Battle of Long Tan performing on stage at the Australian base in Nui Dat as the battle began some 4 km’s away
Col Joye AM – another singer who was performing alongside Little Pattie at Nui Dat as the Battle of Long Tan began.
I urge anybody interested in supporting our veterans and the very kind and hospitable people of Nui Dat in Vietnam (this is where the Australian Task Force was based during the Vietnam War) to attend.
Date: Friday 14th August 2009
Address: NSW Parliamentary Dining Room, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney