Battle of Nui Le

The Battle of Nui Le (21 September 1971) was the last major battle fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in South Vietnam.[1] The battle was fought in the former Phuoc Tuy Province between elements of the 33rd Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army and 'B' and 'D' Companies of the 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion (4 RAR/NZ) and during Operation Ivanhoe.[1] Nui Le, a hamlet of Quang Thanh commune in Chau Duc District, is today in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

Background

The decision for the Australian withdrawal from Vietnam, was made by the Australian Government and commenced in November 1970, and combat forces were to be reduced gradually during 1971.[2] Intelligence pointed towards a major buildup of Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army forces in the north of Phuoc Tuy Province and abductions and assassinations had increased in the adjacent Long Khanh Province.[3] The Vietcong and North Vietnamese were preparing for the withdrawal of the 1st Australian Task Force from Phuoc Tuy Province, which was gradually being withdrawn from August 1971, and were hoping to defeat the Australians.[1]

Prelude

4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion (4 RAR/NZ), consisting of two companies of Australian infantry (B and D Companies) and one company of New Zealand infantry (V Company), was committed to a reconnaissance in force operation, named Operation Ivanhoe against any North Vietnamese or Viet Cong forces in the north of former Phuoc Tuy Province. D Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, 1st Troop, A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Troop, C Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 2 Troop, 104th Field Battery, elements of 104th Signal Squadron and 161st (Independent) Recce Squadron were also committed to the operation.

North Vietnamese Army forces fired rockets and mortars at a South Vietnamese Regional Force outpost at Cam My village on Route 2 on 19 September 1971. The Australian M113 armored personnel carriers sent to investigate and relieve the outpost were ambushed and came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire from what was considered to be large force.

11 Platoon of D Company 4 RAR/NZ made contact with an NVA platoon on 20 September and after a half hour skirmish, four dead NVA soldiers were found on the battlefield. Their uniforms and equipment and study of the tactics used during the skirmish pointed toward the unit being from the North Vietnamese Army. Tracks made by the NVA force indicated about two hundred soldiers had passed through the area.[1]

The commander of the 33rd Regiment NVA set a number of ambushes for the expected Australian relief forces, however the Australians did not follow the route that was expected by the North Vietnamese and went around the ambush sites instead.[1]

Battle

Patrols by 11 Platoon, D Company 4 RAR/NZ on the morning of 21 September, found sawn logs near the south eastern part of the Courtenay rubber plantation which suggested that there were major fortified bunker positions nearby.[1] B and D Company 4 RAR/NZ moved forward near Nui Le to attack these fortifications.[4]

12 Platoon, D Company 4 RAR/NZ made first contact with a bunker system, suffering one dead from a rocket-propelled grenade and four wounded. An estimated platoon strength assault attacked 11 Platoon, and after a 15-minute firefight the North Vietnamese forces withdrew to their bunkers after removing their dead and wounded form the battlefield.[1] The Australian and New Zealand platoons were ordered to withdraw to an area to the south so airstrikes and artillery could be called in to soften up the bunker systems.

Under the control of the Forward Observer, United States Air Force air strikes were called in and F-4 Phantoms and A37 Dragonflys bombed the area with napalm, air to surface missiles, flechette and 500 pound bombs.[4] Iroquois and Cobra helicopter gunships and Australian artillery strikes also hit the bunker system.[1] The American pilots reported NVA forces fleeing to the north.

At 14:00, D Company was ordered forward to search and destroy the bunker systems.[5] The North Vietnamese let the Australians advance some 50 metres (55 yd) into the bunker complex before opening up with everything they had. 11 Platoon, suffered three killed and two wounded. Many grenades thrown by the North Vietnamese did not explode, reducing casualties.[5] This was fought hand to hand as the Centurion tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment had previously been withdrawn from Vietnam. 12 Platoon was also pinned down and could not move forward.

The bodies of the three killed Australian soldiers could not be recovered and orders were given to pull back, which under heavy fire did not happen until 16:00. Just as the sun was setting the ANZAC forces ran into another NVA force, with the commanding officer of 11 Platoon, Gary McKay being hit twice by a sniper's bullet in the shoulder.[5] The bunker system they had come across was found later to be the 33rd Regiment's Headquarters. It was now pitch black and the Forward Observer brought artillery fire to within 25 metres of the company under difficult circumstances as more North Vietnamese forces joined the battle.[5] To compound the artillery problem the company was in range of only three guns and these were at the limit of their range. The North Vietnamese disengaged at 21:00 just as the Australians were running low on ammunition.

Aftermath

After a number of hours of fighting the elements of the 33rd Regiment NVA pulled out of the bunker system and moved north after recovering the dead and wounded they could carry. The Australian wounded were evacuated by helicopter in the morning of 22 September.[5] Five Australians had been killed and 30 wounded. Total North Vietnamese losses are unknown, however fourteen bodies were found on the battlefield. At 1739 hours the New Zealanders of V Company moved up to reinforce D Company. On 23 September, D and V companies moved back into the area of the bunkers. V Company began the assault on the NVA bunker system at 1105 hours moving in very short bounds in torrential rainfall through bomb and artillery craters and fallen timber and it was not until 1725 hours that they reached the bunkers where they found the bodies of three Australians from 11 Platoon who had been killed in the previous bunker assault by D Company.[6] V Company cleared a track to a helicopter winch point and the New Zealand riflemen shouldered arms and formed an impromptu "guard of honour" in tribute as members of D Company moved forward with litters for the fallen.[7] For his role in the battle, Second Lieutenant Garry McKay, who was badly wounded, received the Military Cross.[4]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Rowe 1989, p.159.
  2. ^ "Vietnam War 1962–1972". Website. Army History Unit. Archived from the original on 5 September 2006. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  3. ^ Ham 2008, p.552.
  4. ^ a b c Ham 2008, p. 553.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rowe 1989, p.160.
  6. ^ Price, Alan. "The Battle of Nui Le". The Fighting Fourth: 4 RAR Associations of Australia. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
  7. ^ Ekins, Ashley (3–4 March 2012). "Surrounded By Enemy: Last Stand in Vietnam". Weekend Australian: 17. Retrieved 18 December 2014.

References

  • Ham, Paul (2008). Vietnam: The Australian War. Sydney: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-7322-8237-0.
  • Rowe, John (1989). Vietnam: The Australian Experience. Sydney: Time–Life Books Australia and John Ferguson. ISBN 0-949118-07-9.

Further reading

  • 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 9781865088242.
  • McKay, Gary (1996). Delta Four: Australian Riflemen in Vietnam. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-905-7.
  • Taylor, Jerry (2001). Last Out: 4RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion's Second Tour in Vietnam. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-561-8.

External links

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.

4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment

The 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR) was an Australian Army infantry battalion and part of the Royal Australian Regiment. The battalion was formed on 1 February 1964 and was renamed the 2nd Commando Regiment on 19 June 2009.

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.

Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment

The Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment is the parent administrative regiment of regular and reserve infantry battalions in the New Zealand Army. It is the only regular infantry regiment of the New Zealand Defence Force.

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