Sunday, November 17, 2013

Australia's Increasing Involvement In the War


As mentioned in a previous post, the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam), a contingent of 30 men arrived in Vietnam with the objective of training ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) in the use of weapons, jungle warfare, tactics and strategy. Meanwhile, Australian troops were also engaged in battles in both Borneo and Malaysia (1963-66). 

The threat of the spread of communism in Southeast Asia had become a worry for countries in the region; and the economic losses that would be incurred should communist interests overcome were far more than the allies were willing to incur.

It was in 1964 that the Australian support began to grow- at least from Canberra and the military. Additionally, up until this time, AATTV personnel were prohibited from engaging in operations with those they had trained; this, it is said, created a stressful scenario for those folks and eventually, due to circumstances, were forced to engage regardless. By the end of their tour, the AATTV unit would become the most highly decorated in the war.
A member of AATTV, Capt. Peter Shilston, confirming by radio
that the village he is about to search with South Vietnam troops
has been properly cordoned off.
[AWM FAI/79-0/0595/VN]

In August of 1964 the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) would send a "flight" of Canadian-built deHavilland Caribou, a tough, stocky utility STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft. Designated CV-2 and  later C-7 by the US Air Force, the stocky aircraft, with its upswept tail was capable of maneuvering on short runways. The Caribou saw intense duty during the Vietnam War, used by both the US and Australia. The aircraft could carry 32 troops, two jeeps or other light vehicles. It's tail gate allowed for paratroopers' use as well. The RAAF retired its last Caribou, A4-140 on 27 November 2009. It was donated to the Australian War Museum.

By the end of 1964 there would be 200 military personnel in Vietnam - including en engineer and surgical team as well as a larger AATTV team. In November 1964 conscription by ballot began and by April 1965 after some pressure by the Johnson administration, which had deployed US Marines to defend air bases, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announces he will send 1 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) to assist in defense of American bases. The 1RAR served under the US  173rd Airborne Brigade defending Bien Hoa AFB.

In May 1965 the first combat force of 1,100 Australian soldiers were deployed to the Republic of South Vietnam.

It would be in July 1965 that New Zealand would send 120 soldiers from the 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Army (RNZA). These gunners were equipped with L5 pack howitzers. L5 Pack Howitzer (link) RNZA personnel and their equipment were based at Bien Hoa air base and provided support to the American 173rd Airborne Brigade under whose operational control they were placed. Along with the gunners came a detachment of engineers who withdrew back to New Zealand soon as they had complete the task of setting up for the gunners. Clearly, New Zealand was very reluctant to go all in with their allies in Vietnam, being still engaged in confrontation in Malaysia.

Although the mission of the 1RAR was, initially, to serve in defense of the air base- by the end of 1965, Australian troops were participating in offensive actions with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Most of these sorties were confined to areas within a 20 mile range of Bien Hoa. It was clearly a struggle for the single-minded, seasoned Diggers (a term Australian soldiers used to describe themselves) to remain under the command of the American MACV out of Saigon. Different tactical strategies, outdated weapons and gear, and some other issues caused the troops and their commanders to chafe. By March 1966 Canberra would announce its plan to establish an independent Australian Task Force (1ATF).

(to be continued)

Attributions: Some information take from "Australia's Military Involvement in the Vietnam War" by Brian Ross

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