A Quora claim about Australians in the Vietnam War

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Apr 13, 2022, 2:03:32 PM4/13/22
A Quora claim about Australians in the Vietnam War

Tim Blizzard
PhD in Ancient History & War Studies, Macquarie University (Graduated
2021)Mar 30

How did the Australian Army's approach to fighting the Viet Cong
differ from that of American forces?

There were many significant differences. The Australian army not only
had different strengths and weaknesses in comparison to the Americans,
it had fought several wars from which it had learned vastly different
lessons. For example, the Australians had been part of a successful
counter-insurgency operation in Malaysia and had also fought against
pro-Indonesian insurgents in the jungles of Borneo during the
konfrontasi. Aussie troops in Borneo:

The primary American strategy was attrition; basically the US Army had
almost unrivalled firepower, especially in artillery and air support,
and thus their primary aim was simply to find the major VC formations,
draw them into battle and destroy them. They routinely conducted huge
search and destroy missions, where whole divisions would scour an area
of jungle hoping to flush the VC out. These worked reasonably well, but
it meant sustaining casualties.

When the Australians first deployed to Vietnam they started with a
battalion, which was just embedded in a US airborne brigade, where they
took part in these large scale US manoeuvres. Straight away the
Australians knew that this really didn’t suit their strengths, nor was
it how they had learned to fight in the jungle and how to conduct
counterinsurgency. It was too loud, too aggressive and too impatient for
their doctrine.

It was decided to upgrade the Australian presence to a brigade group
which was large enough to act independently. About 4,500 men strong
(including some kiwis), it included two or three infantry battalions,
artillery, armour, engineers and aviation support. The 1st Australian
Task Force deployed in 1966 to Phuoc Tuy, near Saigon, which became
Australia's Tactical Area of Responsibility. Phuoc Tuy province was
somewhat of a VC stronghold; it sat right on the VC supply line from
Saigon to Cambodia, which made it important to the enemy.

Rather than destroying the VC the Australians aimed to disrupt their
operations. After building a base at nui dat, which included removing
and rebuilding villages within artillery range, they were able to begin
operations. The main method by which the Australians disrupted VC
operations was through long and extensive patrols. In many cases
American forces would sweep an area but then not be back for quite some
time, which allowed the VC to dominate the local population once they
had gone (often through brutal acts of violence). Separating the
insurgent from the local population was the primary Australian
objective, rather than simply killing the enemy. In Phuoc Tuy, they
would have companies out on patrol for weeks, constantly ambushing and
engaging VC elements and preventing them from moving freely throughout
the province.

The Special Air Service Regiment were especially good at these kinds of
long range patrols. They would often spend weeks in the jungle stalking
the VC. Recently on the Jocko podcast, a Navy Seal veteran recalled the
time he had spent on patrol with the SASR in Vietnam; for a whole week
not a single word was spoken by anyone in the patrol, that's how strict
their noise discipline was. SASR elements were especially good at
ambushes. They claimed to have inflicted almost 600 killed for just 1
combat death. SASR in Vietnam:

These tactics immediately showed their worth. Within a year the local VC
units had been so badly disrupted that a “main force element” was
directed to attack the Australians; the 275th regiment. Their objective
was to inflict a significant defeat on one of these patrols in order to
stop the disruptive patrol activity. The idea was, if one of these
company strength patrols could be annihilated, the Australians would be
cowed into changing their tactics. Rather than guerrillas who fought in
civilian clothes and used hit and run tactics, main force elements were
armed and equipped in the style of the North Vietnamese Army, including
the typical heavy weapons such as machineguns, mortars and direct fire

The whole regiment ambushed a single Australian rifle company at a
rubber plantation called Long Tan. Outnumbered at least 10 - 1 D
company, 6RAR was almost annihilated, but by utilising a reverse slope
defence they were able to survive. The excellent Australian/American/New
Zealand artillery imposed devastating casualties on the VC. The battle
was eventually won when Australian mechanised infantry launched a
counterattack. Fully a third of D company had become casualties with 18
killed, but after the battle they buried 245 VC dead.

After the battle the VC main force units decided to largely abandon
Phuoc Tuy, avoiding direct clashes with the Australians. Most of the
other battles of the war occurred when Australian units were deployed in
support of US operations, under the command of III Corps. Generally
speaking the Australian tactics were very effective at disrupting the
insurgency. They had worked in Malaya and Borneo, and they were working
in Vietnam too.

To be fair, so did American tactics. Although it was seen as a political
turning point in the war, the Tet offensive largely destroyed the VC.
After that period the local South Vietnamese communist forces were
basically obliterated; NVA regulars had to take up the fight after that.
It all came to nought in the end, however.

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