18 August 1966

Battle of Long Tan

 

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The Battle of Long Tan took place on August 18th, 1966 in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. After attacks on their base at Nui Dat, 108 men from D Company of 6RAR were patrolling in the area of the Long Tan rubber plantation. Shortly after 4 pm, they were met by a large force of over 2,000 Viet Cong soldiers who attacked with mortars, rifle and machine gun fire.

 

In pouring rain, the Australians returned fire with artillery support from the Nui Dat base. At 5.00 pm, two RAAF Iroquois helicopters flew in at tree top level and delivered sorely needed boxes of ammunition. Fierce fighting continued as the Viet Cong forces continued to mass in the failing light. Just before 7.00 pm, Australian reinforcements arrived and the enemy melted away as darkness descended. The battle of Long Tan was over.

 

Both sides tried to evacuate the injured in the darkness, although several wounded Australians spent a long and terrifying night on the battlefield while the Viet Cong moved around them. The morning light revealed the full extent of the horror. 245 Viet Cong bodies were found in the battle area and it is thought that many more were removed in the night. 18 Australians were killed at Long Tan and 24 wounded – over one third of the initial force engaged. Many were National Servicemen, increasing the controversy about conscription in Australia.

 

The Battle of Long Tan has become a symbol of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and August 18th is now commemorated annually as Vietnam Veterans Day. Almost 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam; 521 died and over 3,000 were wounded.

 

Psychological adjustment to their experiences became a key issue for many Vietnam veterans in the US and in Australia. Indeed, it was due in no small part to the efforts of the Vietnam veterans in America that the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was finally accepted into the formal psychiatric literature with the advent of DSM-III in 1980. That acceptance led to increased research and understanding of the nature and treatment of this disabling condition.