Australia in the Vietnam War
1962 – 1973
This page is dedicated to our brother Australian Soldiers
who fought and died along side us in Vietnam.
Australia's commitment to Vietnam began on the 3rd of August 1962
with 30 Military Advisors being sent to assist in training South Vietnamese Forces.
It’s commitment ended in June 1973 with the withdrawal of the last Australian Troops.
The Vietnam War was the longest war Australia was ever involved in.
Australian support for South Vietnam in the early 1960s was in keeping with the policies of other nations intending to stem the spread of communism in both Europe and Asia.
In 1961 the strength of the Australian armed forces had been scaled down from a Korean War peak of 57,243 to 46,774. Many of the military were still employed in Malaya and with tensions growing between Malaya and Indonesia, there were few to spare for deployment to Vietnam.
In 1961 and in 1962, Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of the government in South Vietnam, repeatedly requested assistance from the United States and its allies to improve its security. As a result, the Government of Australia decided to begin it's assistance modestly, eventually responding with 30 military advisers, dispatched as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, known as "the Team". Their arrival in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 was the beginning of Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam. By 1964 this number had been increased to 100.
By early 1965, when it had become clear that South Vietnam could not stave off the communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese backers for more than a few months, the United States commenced a major escalation of the war and by the end of the year had committed 200,000 troops to the conflict. As part of the build up, the United States government requested further support from friendly countries in the region, including Australia. The Australian government dispatched the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) in June 1965 to serve alongside the United States 173rd Airborne Brigade in Bien Hoa province.
The following year, the Australian government's concern grew to the point where it felt that if Australia was to be involved in the conflict, its presence should be both strong and identifiable. In March 1966 the government announced the dispatch of a taskforce to replace 1 RAR, consisting of two battalions and support services and based in Nui Dat, Phouc Tuy province. Unlike 1 RAR, the taskforce was assigned its own area of operations and included conscripts who had been called up under the National Service Scheme, introduced in 1964. All nine battalions of RAR served in the taskforce at one time or another before it was withdrawn in 1971; and at the height of Australian involvement the taskforce numbered some 8,500 troops.
In August 1966, a company of 6 RAR was engaged in one of Australia’s heaviest actions of the war near Long Tan. After a night of fierce fighting, during which it seemed that the Australian forces would be overrun by a numerically superior enemy, the Viet Cong withdrew leaving behind 245 dead and carrying away many more dead and wounded. Eighteen Australians had been killed and twenty-four were wounded, and the battle eliminated communist dominance over the province.
The year 1968 began with a major offensive by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, launched during the Vietnamese lunar new year holiday period, "Tet". Not only the timing but the scale of the offensive came as a complete surprise, taking in cities, towns and military installations in South Vietnam; while the "Tet Offensive" ultimately ended in military defeat for the communists, the very fact of it scored a propaganda victory for the communist forces. United States military planners began to question whether any kind of decisive victory could ever be achieved; the offensive likewise stepped up the American public’s growing opposition to the war. For Australian troops, the effects of the offensive were felt around their base at Nui Dat where a Viet Cong attack on targets around Baria, the provincial capital, was repulsed with few casualties.
By 1969 anti-war protests were gathering momentum in Australia. Conscription had become an increasing cause of concern as people began to believe that the war could not be won. A "don’t register" campaign took hold, an attempt to dissuade young men from registering for conscription, and some of the protests grew violent. The United States government in time began to implement a policy of "Vietnamization'’, the term coined for a gradual withdrawal of United States forces that would leave the war in the hands of the South Vietnamese. With the commencement of these phased withdrawals, the emphasis of the activities of the Australians in Phouc Tuy province shifted to providing training to the South Vietnamese Regional and Popular Forces.
At the end of April 1970, the United States and Army of the Republic Vietnam troops were ordered to cross the border into Cambodia. While the invasion succeeded in capturing large amounts of North Vietnamese arms, destroying bunkers and sanctuaries and killing enemy soldiers, it ultimately proved disastrous. The invasion, by bringing combat into Cambodia, drove large numbers of people to join the underground opposition, the Khmer Rouge, irreparably weakening the Cambodian government. When the Khmer Rouge did come to power in April 1975, it imposed a cruel regime of repression, with purges that killed several million Cambodians and left the country driven by internal conflict that continues today. Moreover, the extension of the war into a state perceived as sovereign and neutral further inflamed anti-war sentiments in the United States and provided the impetus for the first anti-war moratorium demonstrations in Australia. On one occasion, more than 200,000 people gathered to protest against the war in cities and towns throughout the country.
By late 1970 Australia had also begun winding down its military effort in Vietnam. The 8th Battalion departed in November, but to make up for the decrease in troop numbers the Team’s strength was increased and their efforts, like those of the taskforce, became concentrated in Phouc Tuy province. The withdrawal of troops continued throughout 1971. The last battalion left Nui Dat on 7 November, while a handful of advisers belonging to the Team remained in Vietnam for the following year. In December 1972 they became the last Australian troops to come home: their unit had seen continuous service in South Vietnam for ten and a half years.
From the time of the arrival of the first members of the Team in
1962 some 50,000 Australians, including ground troops and Air Force and Navy
personnel, served in Vietnam; 496 had been killed and almost 2,400 wounded. The
war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since
the conscription referendums of the First World War: Veterans returned often
only to be greeted with the hostility of those who had been against Australian
Please note that the Australlian population at the time was less than 20 million.
There were small groups of New Zealanders who also fought in the Vietnam war with the population of New Zealand less than 3˝ million.