The conflict in Vietnam was the longest war in Australia’s history. It lasted ten year from 1962 to 1972 and involved some 60,000 personnel.
In the early 1960s, under the threat from a growing communist insurgency, South Vietnamese government repeatedly sought security assistance from the U.S. and its allies. Following the U.S.’s footsteps – its most valued ally, Australia responded with civil and military support for South Vietnam.
In 1962, Australian government formed up the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), also known as “the Team”, which included 30 qualified and experienced officers, led by Colonel Ted Serong. The team would provide their experience in jungle warfare, which they had gained from the Malayan Emergency, to American forces. By the end of 1964, Australia increased the number of military personnel up to 200, including a larger AATTV team as well as a new engineer and surgical team.
Following the arrival of the first U.S. combat units in Da Nang, South Vietnam in March, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the commitment of an infantry battalion for service there on April 29, 1965. He firmly believed in Domino Theory and argued that if South Vietnam lost to the communists, Australia would be under a direct threat. On May 27, 1965, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) departed Australia for South Vietnam. Throughout 1965, the 1st Battalion fought a number of battles in Bien Hoa province, including Gang Toi, Operation Crimp, Suoi Bong Trang as a part of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade. After that, Australian and U.S. military leaders agreed to deploy future Australian forces in a discrete province so that they could deploy their own tactics, independently from the U.S. army.
In April 1966, the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) consisting of two infantry battalions, a troop of armored personnel carriers (APC), a detachment of the Special Air Service Regiment and various support service, was formed and based at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province. Since then, the 1st Australian Task Force could now operate independently, enabling them to apply their own counter-insurgency tactics which was considered very effective.
On August 18 and 19, 1966, Battle of Long Tan, which is considered the most famous engagements of Australian forces in Vietnam, occurred near the Long Tan village, in Phuoc Tuy province. 108 men from D Company, 6RAR battled with around 1,500 to 2,500 men from the Viet Cong 275th Regiment, possibly reinforced by roughly 350 men from D445 Battalion and at least one regular North Vietnamese Battalion. Although Australian troops was outnumbered by more than ten to one, they only lost 18 men and had 24 wounded, while the Viet Cong lost at least 245 men. This victory is often cited as an exemplar of great combination and coordination between infantry, artillery, armor and military aviation.
Australian forces were steadily increased between 1967 and 1968. At the peak of its commitment, more than 8,500 Australian personnel including 7,672 combat troops were in Vietnam.
By late 1970, after U.S. President Nixon began to implement the “Vietnamization” policy, Australia also started to reduce their forces. In November 1970, the 8th Battalion (8RAR) departed South Vietnam under Prime Minister John Gorton’s administration. Its further reduction continued under Prime Minister McMahon’s administration between 1971 and 1972. There were only 2,300 Australian personnel present in Vietnam by the end of 1971 and less than 200 by mid 1972. The last combat troop who was supposed to guard the Australian embassy in Saigon left Vietnam in June 1973.
In summary, Australian army played a support role for the U.S. army in Vietnam War. They provided their tactical experience for the U.S. in the early years while after sending their troops, Australian forces helped the U.S. controlled Phuoc Tuy province, but did not involved so much in U.S.’s major strategies.
Australia’s involvement in Vietnam cost them 521 soldiers’ lives while 3,000 were wounded and many others were victims of various diseases. The war also caused the greatest political & social dissent since the World War I’s conscription referendums.