Battle of Binh Ba

The Battle of Binh Ba (6–8 June 1969), also known as Operation Hammer, was a battle during the Vietnam War. The action occurred when Australian Army troops from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5 RAR) fought a combined communist force of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong, including a company from the 33 NVA Regiment and elements of the Viet Cong D440 Provincial Mobile Battalion, in the village of Binh Ba, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province. The battle was unusual in Australian combat experience in Vietnam as it involved fierce close-quarter house-to-house fighting, although the majority of enemy killed was through heavy artillery and air-bombardment. In response to communist attempts to capture Binh Ba the Australians assaulted the village with infantry, armour and helicopter gunships, routing the Viet Cong and largely destroying the village itself. Such battles were not the norm in Phuoc Tuy, however, and the heavy losses suffered by the communists forced them to temporarily leave the province. Although the Australians did encounter communist Main Force units in the years to come, the battle marked the end of such large-scale clashes, and ranks as one of the major Australian victories of the war.

Prelude

Situated north of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) base at Nui Dat on the western side of Route 2, the village of Binh Ba had a population of around 3,000 people—mainly farmers and rubber plantation workers.[2] Tidy and rectangular in shape, and mainly constructed of solid brick and tile, Binh Ba was well known to the Australians.[3] Indeed, during 5 RAR's first tour in Vietnam a rifle company and a mortar section had been briefly stationed within the village itself.[4] This strategy proved to be a deterrent to the Viet Cong tax collectors and assassination squads taking control of the village.[5] The drain on the finite resources of the small Australian force proved to be too much however, and the village was later left to the protection of South Vietnamese Regional Forces.[4]

In an attempt to demonstrate that they could move freely within the province, a combined communist force including a company from the 33rd NVA Regiment, elements of the Viet Cong D440 Provincial Mobile Battalion, the Binh Ba and Ngai Giao Guerrilla Squad and the Chau Duc District Company had occupied Binh Ba on the evening of 5–6 June 1969.[6][7][Note 1] In response, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces were sent from Duc Thanh the following morning. Initial intelligence suggested that a group of about platoon strength had infiltrated the village.[6] Meanwhile, during a separate operation 6 RAR had also been engaged in a heavy contact several kilometres north of the task force base and at 08:00 on 6 June, an Australian Centurion tank and an armoured recovery vehicle moving through Binh Ba to assist 6 RAR were fired upon. A rocket propelled grenade (RPG) struck the Centurion penetrating the turret, and causing damage to the tank and severe injuries to one of the crewman. The district commander subsequently asked 1 ATF for assistance in clearing Binh Ba.[9]

Battle

The 1 ATF Ready Reaction Force under the command of Major Murray Blake consisted of an understrength D Company 5 RAR (of just 65 men), a troop of Centurion tanks from the 1st Armoured Regiment and a troop of M-113 armoured personnel carriers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and subsequently reacted to the incident. In direct support was 105th Battery, Royal Australian Artillery.[10][11] Meanwhile, elements of the 1st Battalion 33 NVA Regiment took up defensive positions within the village and prepared to fight to the death. By 10:30 the Australians approached Binh Ba from the south, and were engaged by a volley of RPG fire from a row of houses.[7] After clearing evacuating much of the town's population, D Company assaulted the village from east to west following preparation from helicopter gunships of No. 9 Squadron RAAF. South Vietnamese Regional Force troops were deployed into blocking positions. Four tanks led the assault, with the infantry remaining mounted in the APCs following behind.[10]

The Australians reached the edge of the village at 11:20, coming under light fire. Initially the tanks were effective for close action, however by the time the marketplace had been reached in the centre of the town concealed RPG-7s had caused external damage to two Centurions, whilst another was penetrated. Within an hour, three of the four tanks used in the initial assault were disabled through damage and crew casualties. It became clear that the initial assessments of communist strength had been inaccurate, and was probably closer to a battalion than a platoon. In addition helicopters overhead reported another large enemy force of up to 60 moving to the south and west. Blake subsequently decided swing the attack left, in order to clear the southern edge of the town before moving out to western side of Binh Ba. As the Australian armour moved through the rubber trees they clashed with a company forming up to counterattack, inflicting heavy casualties on the communists in the process.[10]

Battle of Binh Ba SVN 1969 (AWM BEL690387VN)
VC dead and destroyed buildings in Binh Ba during the battle.

By 14:00 the Australians were bolstered by additional troops from B Company 5 RAR, under Major Rein Harring, which took up blocking positions to south and east. The Commanding Officer of 5 RAR, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Khan, now assumed command of the battle. With a fresh troop of tanks together with APC support, D Company conducted a second assault on the village, this time with the infantry leading. One tank and two M113s accompanied each platoon in close support.[10] The lead platoon made contact with the enemy immediately and the advance was slow due to the need to clear every house. The communists occupying the houses fired on the Australians from the windows and doorways before withdrawing into tunnels as they passed. An Australian soldier—Private Wayne Teeling—was killed by a shot through the neck as his team approached the first line of houses. A tank fired one round of HE into the building occupied by the Viet Cong. The house exploded, and the clearing team assaulted immediately. Six dead were found in the ruins.[12]

This type of action was typical all along D Company's assault line and every time the Australians received fire from a building, tank rounds were used to breach the walls and a small team of infantry would conduct room clearance until all resistance was quelled.[10] During the fighting some of the VC had discarded their uniforms and weapons and attempted to mingle with the pockets of civilians that were unable to escape. The continued presence of civilians in the village required the Australians to expose themselves to extreme danger while trying to usher these groups to the rear of the battle zone. Others tried to flee the village, or hide in the small air raid bunkers attached to every house.[13] The fighting continued all afternoon and only ended at last light. With Binh Ba still insecure, D Company and their armoured support subsequently occupied a defensive harbour for the night, exhausted by the fighting.[10] Overnight B Company killed two VC trying to break out to the south.[13]

At 06:00 on 7 June B Company intercepted a communist company attempting to enter the town, and after blocking the exit and entry routes—and again supported by armour—they forced them to withdraw. On the second day the clearing of the village continued. D Company, with a platoon from B Company attached, met sporadic resistance from a number of small groups still holed up in the village. To fully clear the village every bunker, house and any likely areas of concealment had to be searched. Later in the morning South Vietnamese forces in the northern hamlet of Duc Trung came under attack, and B Company and the Assault Pioneer Platoon were deployed to provide assistance.[10] Indeed, most of the action now centred on Duc Trung, with a helicopter reporting a force of up to 80 communist troops moving between the buildings. With the pioneers blocking to the south a Regional Force reaction company cleared the village, however the VC had already left.[14] By 13:00 heavy firing again broke out in Duc Trung, with the South Vietnamese rapidly overrun by over a hundred communists. Accurate artillery fire was effective in stabilising the situation, however, and B Company with a troop of tanks swept the hamlet.[15] During the afternoon D Company continued to clear Binh Ba and further close-quarter fighting followed before the Australians withdrew to allow the South Vietnamese to complete the clearance. By the evening the village was secure, and B and D Companies adopted blocking positions overnight.[6]

Aftermath

Aftermath of Binh Ba SVN 1969 (AWM BEL690388VN)
The battlefield at Binh Ba after the fighting.

Operation Hammer concluded by 09:00 on 8 June with one final sweep carried out that morning to ensure that Binh Ba was clear.[6] By this time a large communist force had been defeated by the Australians, and the village practically destroyed.[16] Indeed, Binh Ba was so badly damaged that many of the villagers whose homes were destroyed were subsequently resettled with the help of the 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit.[15][17] Despite efforts to clear the village of civilians before the battle, a large but unknown number of civilians had undoubtedly died during the fighting. This fact, coupled with the one-sided casualty count, later led to claims in the media of an Australian atrocity.[18] One Australian had been killed and 10 wounded, while communist losses included at least 107 killed, six wounded and eight captured.[1]

The battle was one of the major victories of the Australians in Vietnam and although they would occasionally encounter communist Main Force units in the future, it effectively marked the end of such large-scale clashes. Indeed, as a result of such heavy losses suffered at Binh Ba the North Vietnamese were temporarily forced to move out of Phuoc Tuy and into the adjoining province of Long Khanh.[6] The Royal Australian Regiment, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and 1st Armoured Regiment were subsequently awarded the battle honour 'Binh Ba', one of only five presented to Australian units during the war.[19] It ranks as one of the major Australian victories of the war.[6]

Notes

Footnotes

  1. ^ According to Chamberlain two battalions of 33 NVA Regiment were deployed in the area, with the move of the regiment south-west from Long Khanh Province into Phuoc Tuy having been monitored by 1 ATF's signals intelligence unit.[8]

Citations

  1. ^ a b c McKay & Nicholas 2001, p. 212.
  2. ^ O'Neill 1968, p. 30 and 66.
  3. ^ Battle 1970, p. 51.
  4. ^ a b McNeill 1993, p. 298.
  5. ^ O'Neill 1968, pp. 193–194.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Coulthard-Clark 2001, p. 291.
  7. ^ a b Odgers 1999, p. 349.
  8. ^ Chamberlain 2014, pp. 47–84 and Appendix 17.
  9. ^ Coulthard-Clark 2001, pp. 289–290.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Coulthard-Clark 2001, p. 290.
  11. ^ McKay & Nicholas 2001, p. 198.
  12. ^ McKay & Nicholas 2001, p. 209.
  13. ^ a b Battle 1970, p. 55.
  14. ^ Battle 1970, p. 56.
  15. ^ a b Battle 1970, p. 57.
  16. ^ Coulthard-Clark 2001, p. 289.
  17. ^ Palazzo 2006, p. 130.
  18. ^ Ham 2007, p. 484.
  19. ^ Horner 1990, pp. 459–461.

References

  • Battle, M.R. (1970). The Year of the Tigers: The Second Tour of 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment in South Vietnam, 1969–70. Brookvale: Printcraft Press. ISBN 0-85581-000-9.
  • Chamberlain, Ernest (2014). The 33rd Regiment – North Vietnamese Army: Their Story (and the Battle of Binh Ba). Point Lonsdale, Victoria: Ernest Chamberlain. ISBN 9780975035054.
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris (2001). The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles (Second ed.). Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-634-7.
  • Ham, Paul (2007). Vietnam: The Australian War. Sydney: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-7322-8237-0.
  • Horner, David, ed. (1990). Duty First: The Royal Australian Regiment in War and Peace (First ed.). North Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-442227-X.
  • McKay, Gary; Nicholas, Graeme (2001). Jungle Tracks: Australian Armour in Vietnam. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-449-2.
  • McNeill, Ian (1993). To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950–1966. The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975. Volume Two. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-282-9.
  • Odgers, George (1999). 100 Years of Australians at War. Sydney: Lansdowne. ISBN 1-86302-669-X.
  • O'Neill, Robert (1968). Vietnam Task: The 5th Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment, 1966/67. Melbourne: Cassell Australia. OCLC 20116.
  • Palazzo, Albert (2006). Australian Military Operations in Vietnam. Australian Army Campaigns Series. 3. Canberra: Army History Unit. ISBN 1876439106.

Further reading

  • Cameron, Bruce (2012). Canister! On! Fire!: Australian Tank Operations in Vietnam. Volume 2. Newport, New South Wales: Big Sky Publishing. ISBN 9781921941993.
  • Ekins, Ashley; McNeill, Ian (2012). Fighting to the Finish: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1968–1975. The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975. Volume Nine. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865088242.

External links

Coordinates: 10°35′24″N 107°13′48″E / 10.59000°N 107.23000°E

1st Armoured Regiment (Australia)

1st Armoured Regiment is an armoured regiment of the Australian Army and is the senior regiment of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. Formed as a tank unit in the new Australian Regular Army on 7 July 1949, the regiment subsequently saw service during the Vietnam War operating Centurion tanks. Currently the unit is based in Edinburgh, South Australia as part of the 1st Brigade. As part of the Plan Beersheba reorganisation, the unit has become one of three Armoured Cavalry Regiments (ACRs) assigned to the Army's multirole combat brigades in Brisbane, Darwin and Townsville. Each ACR is equipped with M1A1 tanks, ASLAV light armoured vehicles, and M113 armoured personnel carriers.

1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit

The 1st Australian Civil Affairs Unit (1 ACAU) was raised in 1967 to coordinate the Australian Army's contribution to the US and allied Pacification Program during the Vietnam War, operating in Phuoc Tuy Province. Although other Australian units also conducted civic action projects in South Vietnam at various times, 1 ACAU had the primary responsibility for them once it was deployed. It was withdrawn from South Vietnam in November 1971.

1st Australian Task Force

The 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) was a brigade-sized formation which commanded Australian and New Zealand Army units deployed to South Vietnam between 1966 and 1972. 1 ATF was based in a rubber plantation at Nui Dat, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) north of Ba Ria in Phuoc Tuy Province and consisted of two and later three infantry battalions, with armour, aviation, engineers and artillery support. At the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966, units of 1 ATF defeated a Viet Cong force of at least regimental strength. While the task force was primarily responsible for securing Phuoc Tuy Province, its units, and the Task Force Headquarters itself, occasionally deployed outside its Tactical Area of Responsibility including during Operation Coburg and the Battle of Coral–Balmoral in 1968. Other significant actions included Hat Dich in late-December 1968 and early 1969, Binh Ba in June 1969, and Long Khanh in June 1971. 1 ATF was withdrawn in late 1971.

33rd Regiment (Vietnam People's Army)

The VPA 33rd Regiment was a Vietnam People's Army regiment that served during the Vietnam War.

3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment (Australia)

The 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment is an armoured unit within the Australian Army's Royal Australian Armoured Corps. Formed in 1981 with the amalgamation of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and the 4th Cavalry Regiment, from 1986 to 2014 the unit consisted of an independent squadron, B Squadron 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment, within the 3rd Brigade in Townsville, Queensland. From 2017, B Squadron 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment has been the training support and logistics squadron within the School of Armour at Puckapunyal in Victoria.

5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment

The 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5 RAR) is a regular motorised infantry battalion of the Australian Army. Originally established in 1965 it would serve two tours of South Vietnam before it was linked with the 7th Battalion to form the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in 1973. In late 2006 the two units were de-linked, and 5 RAR again joined the Australian Army's order of battle in its own right. It has since served in Iraq, East Timor and Afghanistan.

Battle of Hat Dich

The Battle of Hat Dich (3 December 1968 − 19 February 1969) was a series of military actions fought between an allied contingent, including the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) and the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and Viet Cong (VC) during the Vietnam War. Under the codename Operation Goodwood, two battalions from 1 ATF deployed away from their base in Phuoc Tuy Province, operating against suspected PAVN/VC bases in the Hat Dich area, in western Phuoc Tuy, south-eastern Bien Hoa and south-western Long Khanh Provinces as part of a large allied sweep known as Operation Toan Thang II. The Australians and New Zealanders conducted sustained patrolling throughout the Hat Dich and extensively ambushed tracks and river systems in the Rung Sat Special Zone, occupying a series of fire support bases as operations expanded. Meanwhile, American, South Vietnamese and Thai forces also operated in direct support of the Australians as part of the division-sized action.

On 6 February 1969, two additional battalions from the Thu Duc VC Regiment were reported to have entered the Hat Dich area and 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) was subsequently redeployed with tanks and armoured personnel carriers in support, resulting in the heaviest contacts of the operation. The fighting lasted 78 days and was one of the longest out of province operations mounted by the Australian and New Zealanders during the war. Although there were few major actions, the fighting resulted in heavy PAVN/VC casualties and forced them to abandon their permanent bases in the Hat Dich, as well as disrupting their preparations for an upcoming offensive during Tet. Immediately following the operation the ANZACs were redeployed to block the approaches towards key US and South Vietnamese bases in Bien Hoa, Long Binh and Saigon in anticipation of the 1969 Tet offensive, during Operation Federal.

Bình Ba

Bình Ba is a commune (xã) and village in Châu Đức District, Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province, in Vietnam. It was the site of the Battle of Bình Ba in June 1969.

List of allied military operations of the Vietnam War (G–L)

This article is a list of known military operations of the Vietnam War conducted by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam, the United States and their assorted allies. This is not a complete list. Operations are currently listed alphabetically, but are being progressively reorganised as a chronology.

Military history of Australia during the Vietnam War

Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War began with a small commitment of 30 military advisors in 1962, and increased over the following decade to a peak of 7,672 Australian personnel following the Menzies Government's April 1965 decision to upgrade its military commitment to South Vietnam's security. By the time the last Australian personnel were withdrawn in 1972, the Vietnam War had become Australia's longest war, and was only recently surpassed by Australia's long term commitment of combat forces to the War in Afghanistan. It remains Australia's largest force contribution to a foreign conflict since the Second World War and was also the most controversial in Australian society since the conscription controversy during the First World War. Although initially enjoying broad support due to concerns about the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, a vocal anti-war movement developed in response to Australia's programme of conscription.

The withdrawal of Australia's forces from South Vietnam began in November 1970, under the Gorton Government, when 8 RAR completed its tour of duty and was not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed, and by 11 January 1973 Australian involvement in hostilities in Vietnam had ceased. Nevertheless, Australian troops from the Australian Embassy Platoon remained deployed in the country until 1 July 1973, and Australian forces were deployed briefly in April 1975, during the Fall of Saigon, to evacuate personnel from the Australian embassy. Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the war; 521 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.

Outline of the Vietnam War

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the Vietnam War:

Vietnam War – Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War (1946–54) and was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States, Philippines and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong (also known as the National Liberation Front, or NLF), a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle.

Royal Australian Regiment

The Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) is the parent administrative regiment for regular infantry battalions of the Australian Army and is the senior infantry regiment of the Royal Australian Infantry Corps. It was originally formed in 1948 as a three battalion regiment; however, since then its size has fluctuated as battalions have been raised, amalgamated or disbanded in accordance with the Australian government's strategic requirements. Currently, the regiment consists of seven battalions and has fulfilled various roles including those of light, parachute, motorised and mechanised infantry. Throughout its existence, units of the Royal Australian Regiment have deployed on operations in Japan, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sandy Pearson

Major General Cedric Maudsley Ingram "Sandy" Pearson, (24 August 1918 – 7 November 2012) was an Australian Army officer. He was a Commander of Australian Forces during the Vietnam War, Commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon and Director of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales.

Tanks in the Australian Army

The Australian Army has used tanks from after the First World War, through the interwar period, the Second World War, the Cold War and to the present day. Throughout this period the Army has primarily been a light infantry force, with its tanks mainly being used in the direct support role. The Australian Army's tanks have seen combat during the Second World War and the Vietnam War, where they proved successful despite some of the designs employed being considered obsolete. The first Australian tanks were a small number of British medium and light tanks which were operated mainly for training purposes during the 1920s and 1930s.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 led to a significant expansion of Australia's armoured force. From 1942 large numbers of American light and medium tanks were delivered to Australia, along with British Matilda IIs. In addition, a small number of Australian-designed Sentinel tanks were delivered to the Army during 1942 and 1943, but the type was never issued to combat units. Three armoured divisions capable of independent operations were formed during the Second World War, but none were deployed outside Australia. Many individual units later fought against the Japanese in the Pacific, although only in regimental strength.

With few modern tanks at the time of the Korean War, the Australian Army had to rely on British and US tank support. During the 1950s the Army standardised on the British Centurion tank, which saw action in Vietnam and remained in service until it was replaced with the German Leopard 1 in the mid-1970s. After an internal debate on whether the Army should continue to operate tanks as part of its force structure, the Australian Government replaced the Leopards with a small fleet of American M1A1 Abrams tanks in 2007, which are now the Army's only tanks. In addition to these types, the Army has operated small numbers of other tank designs for training and evaluation purposes.

VC D440 Battalion

The VC D440 Battalion, also known as the Viet Cong D440 Provincial Mobile Battalion, was a Local Force battalion of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The battalion operated in the Phước Tuy and Long Khánh provinces usually along Route 2. It was formed in 1968 under the command of Comrade Hai Tinh and consisted mainly of North Vietnamese Army personnel.The battalion or elements of it participated in the battle of Binh Ba against Australian Army forces, as well as a number of other actions. The unit generally performed poorly against Australian forces however, and it was eventually disbanded in August 1970 with most of its personnel transferred to D445 Battalion.

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