On 8 March 1966, the Australian government announced that the 1st Battalion, Royal Australia Regiment (1RAR), which was then a part of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa would be replaced by an independent 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF). The 1ATF would operate in a selected area and independent from the U.S. Forces. Phuoc Tuy province, located south-east of Saigon, was selected for the deployment of the Task Force.
Phuoc Tuy was chosen because there was a reasonable amount of enemy activities there. It was known as a base for Viet Minh’s anti-French activities after WWII. Phuoc Tuy had excellent air and sea access, an ensuring supply and evacuation route. In addition, the pacification of Phuoc Tuy was essential to South Vietnam and the U.S. because its location was on the supply line from Vung Tau port to Saigon and Bien Hoa.
The 1st Task Force based in Nui Dat comprised of 2 Infantry Battalions (5/6 RAR), and artillery field regiment with three batteries in which one of them was New Zealand battery, an armoured personnel carrier (APC) squadron, a field engineer squadron, an aviation reconnaissance flight equipped with light reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters; and a Special Air Service (SAS) squadron. Although 1ATF was considered as an independent force, it was reinforced by the U.S. forces with artillery, offensive air and helicopter support.
In the early days, the Australian only aimed to gain control of the area. As a result, they rarely conducted any large-scale battles. Instead they preferred searching, patrolling and ambushing the enemy. Patrolling, in this time, was the cornerstone of the Australian operations. Their infantry operations were based on small light infantry units, at a company (about 120 men) or platoon (about 30 men) level. The Australian patrols were described as discipline, stealth, and patience teams. Having experience on fighting Communist guerrillas in the jungles of South-east Asia, they were able to chase the Viet Cong without exposing themselves to lethal ambushed like the Americans. Besides patrolling, cordon and search operations were carried out to isolate and search the Viet Cong in civilians areas so as to separate them from the population.
In November 1967, 1ATF was increased in size by an extra battalion, allowing them to operate more tangible outside Phuoc Tuy province. During this time, the Australian began to conduct many search and clear operations against enemy camps. These operations, using the information from ground searching by infantry patrols, attempted to locate the enemy and then battle them with larger forces. The effective of the search and clear tactics were proved in many operations such as Operation Pinnaroo where only 5 Australians were killed compared to 40 of the Viet Cong, or Operation Hammersley where the ratio of death between Australian and Vietcong was 5:1.
By 1969, when the U.S. began to withdraw their forces from South Vietnam, the Australians also prepared to reduce their military operations. In November 1970, the 8th Battalion (8RAR) departed South Vietnam. In December 1971, as the 1ATF withdrew the Viet Cong gradually returned in Phuoc Tuy province.
In the Vietnam war, the Australian Army had achieved valuable experiences in improving their mobility, firepower, communications, and many aspects of joint warfare. They also established themselves as an expert in light infantry operations in jungle operations and counter revolutionary warfare.