18 August 1971: Australia and New Zealand Announce Troop Withdrawals from Vietnam

On 18 August 1971 Australia and New Zealand – US and South Vietnamese allies – announced their plans to withdraw their troops from Vietnam. From 1964 until 1971, both Australia and New Zealand had committed troops to the conflict in Vietnam, reaching highs of 7,670 and 550 respectively.

Australian Prime minister, William McMahon, announced that 1 Australian Task Force (ATF) would cease operations in October 1971 after a phased withdrawal commencing 18 August. The Battle of Núi Le on 21 September proved to be the last major battle fought by Australian forces in the war, and resulted in five Australians killed and 30 wounded. On 16 October Australian forces finally handed over control of the base at Núi Đất (main base for 1 ATF in what is now Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province) to South Vietnamese forces, while the main body from the last Australian infantry battalion in South Vietnam (4 RAR) sailed for Australia on board HMAS Sydney on 9 December 1971. Meanwhile, 4 RAR’s D Company, finally returned to Australia on 12 March 1972.

In January 1971, the New Zealand Army sent the first of two training teams to South Vietnam to train Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers in basic warfare techniques. By the end of the year, New Zealand combat troops had left the shared base at Núi Đất. Both training teams and Saigon-based support staff followed in December 1972.

The decision by both Australia and New Zealand to withdraw their troops came partly from the Nixon administration’s policy of Vietnamisation. However, after growing protests in both countries over their involvement in the Vietnam conflict, it is generally considered that the withdrawals were also made to appease the increasing discontent among their respective general publics. In one example on 8 May 1970 a three-day anti-war rally in Melbourne attracted more than 100,000 people, thereby highlighting the anti-war sentiment in Australasia.

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