18-21 August 1966: The Battle of Lòng Tận

After constructing a base at Núi Đất in Phước Tuy Province, South Vietnam, between April and June 1966, elements of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) engaged in battle with the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) against overwhelming odds.

Through tracking a radio transmitter belonging to the PAVN 275 Regiment to a rubber plantation just north of Lòng Tận by Australian signals intelligence, B Company of the 6th Battalion (6 RAR) departed Núi Đất base to locate the PAVN and NLF firing points. A number of weapon pits were subsequently found, as were the positions of mortars and recoilless rifles.

On 18 August, D Company of 6 RAR took over the reconnaissance mission, quickly coming into contact with PAVN’s 275 Regiment and the D445 Battalion, engaging in heavy fighting with a superior force in a monsoon downpour. After several hours, D Company was nearly out of ammunition when two UH-1B Iroquois from 9 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) arrived overhead to resupply them. Heavily outnumbered, but supported by strong artillery fire, D Company held off a regimental assault before a relief force of cavalry and infantry from Núi Đất base fought their way through to them as darkness fell and forced the PAVN troops to withdraw just as they appeared to be preparing for a final assault. The Australians withdrew and formed a defensive position overnight to establish a landing zone in order to evacuate their casualties.

The battle has gone down in Australian history, as well as in the history of the Second Indochina War, as an incredible example of a small number of soldiers holding off a much greater force. However, in the time since it took place, certain irregularities in accounts of the battle have revealed a number of controversies. Senior officers have been accused of fabricating claims about the battle, including their own involvement, by the commander of 6 RAR Harry Smith in his book, Long Tan, The Start of a Lifelong Battle, published in 2015.

Official accounts of the battle also came under question when the size of the PAVN attacking force, the numbers of PAVN dead quoted by army spokesmen and issues around alleged documentation were found to be inflated and self-serving in favour of the Australian forces. Some of the purported documents assessing casualties or impacts upon the PAVNwere not corroborated, such as alleged diaries and anecdotal evidence from “Chinese Generals”.

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