Australia and the Vietnam War

This book looks at Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. The stories of the men and women who served there are used as ways to investigate the conflict. Those stories relate to frontline experiences and the influence of the home front on the war. Media coverage of the conflict and Australia's eventual withdrawal are also examined.

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At the time of Federation in 1901 the British colonies of Australia each had contingents serving in the Boer War in South Africa. The first units deployed under the Commonwealth were the first soldiers in Australian uniform to serve overseas. Since then Australians have been involved in many of the major conflicts of the 20th century. From the First and Second World Wars to Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Afghanistan, men and women have served. The Vietnam War (1962–1975) became the longest conflict of the twentieth century in which Australia was involved.

The war in Vietnam was not the first time that the country had faced turmoil. During the nineteenth century the French colonised Vietnam by taking over the south first before moving north. They maintained control of the colony until the Second World War, when Japan invaded Vietnam. After Japan's defeat in 1945 the French returned. Vietnamese nationalists, who were also communists, fought to prevent French rule being re-established. Eventually the French withdrew in 1954 having suffered a humiliating military defeat.

Vietnam became a divided country, between the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the United States (US) backed Republic of Vietnam in the south. The communists in the north wanted to unify Vietnam under communist rule. US leaders were worried about communism spreading to the surrounding countries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaya.

The US soon began to supply aid to South Vietnam, including a limited number of military personnel. The aim was to resist the threat from a North Vietnamese-backed communist insurgency. The South Vietnamese and the Americans looked to their allies for support in Vietnam. Australia responded in 1962 by sending 30 military advisors. By 1965 it was clear that more support was needed. As the US increased its troops in Vietnam, Australia sent a battalion of soldiers, which increased to a task force in 1966. Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War had reached a significant level, including thousands of conscripts known as national servicemen. Australia's war in Vietnam carried on into the early 1970s.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) were all part of Australia's military involvement in Vietnam. The Australian Army dominated, but the RAN and RAAF still had vital roles in the war. Australian military operations in Vietnam were extensively reported by newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news programs. Australians serving in Vietnam found themselves at the centre of much media attention. Some 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam. More than 500 of them lost their lives during the conflict.

This book looks at Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. The stories of the men and women who served there are used as ways to investigate the conflict. Those stories relate to frontline experiences and the influence of the home front on the war. Media coverage of the conflict and Australia's eventual withdrawal are also examined. More information about Australians who served in Vietnam can be found on the Anzac Portal.

A single column of soldiers dressed in khaki uniforms and carrying rifles walks away from tall green foliage through a field of long dry grass.

Ken McFadyen, Back from patrol, 1968, oil on canvas on hardboard, 24.6 cm x 47.4 cm. AWM ART40740

The origins of the conflict

Civil war between the two Vietnams broke out in the early 1960s.

A long history

The region that is now known as Vietnam has a history of prehistoric human habitation stretching back more than 10,000 years. The tribes of the region entered written history when Chinese people made contact with them in the third century BCE (Before Common Era). This began a long history of struggles against foreign countries. The centuries of Chinese rule strongly influenced the culture and life in Vietnam. The Vietnamese aristocracy in particular retained many of China's cultural and civic traditions. The peasant population continued with their ancient customs and ways of life.

Cultural influences

Vietnam's culture continued to evolve through the centuries. The first Catholic missionaries visited Vietnam early in the sixteenth century. They arrived from Portugal and Spain hoping to convert the locals to Christianity. It was not the success for which they were hoping.

Adventurers and missionaries from France also began to arrive in Vietnam. One Frenchman in particular gained some fame after he arrived. This was the missionary Alexandre de Rhodes. He transcribed the Vietnamese language into Roman script. That script was later adopted by the Vietnamese people as their modern writing system. His story is an example of how France came to dominate many areas of life in Vietnam.

Near the end of the seventeenth century the two main Vietnamese families controlling the north (the Trinh family) and south (the Nguyen family) lost interest in relations with European countries. French influence began to wane. During his rule from 1820 to 1841, the Vietnamese emperor Minh Mang dismissed all the French advisers in Vietnam. Seven French missionaries were executed around the same time. After 1840, the French Roman Catholic church demanded military action to stop the persecution of missionaries. It would be 10 years before France took steps toward that action.

Discussion question

Why did the French government take 10 years to eventually respond to the persecution of missionaries?

A group of Asian people gathered in a village, with an ox and chickens.

A poster depicting an illustration of the Nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh visiting a peasant family. The poster artist has used a social-realist style. Unknown artist, Ho Chu Tich Den Tham [President Ho calls on a peasant family], 1955, offset lithograph on paper, 34 cm x 37.6 cm. AWM ARTV09302

French colonisation

In July 1857 French emperor Napoleon III decided to invade Vietnam. His decision wasn't just about stopping the persecution of missionaries. The French were looking to increase their trade opportunities and join the colonisation of Asian countries by European nations. The French naval commander Charles Rigault de Genouilly attacked and seized the harbour city of Tourane (Da Nang) in August 1858. His forces seized Saigon in 1859. The Vietnamese signed a peace treaty with the French in 1862. The French named the colony Cochinchina. The colony which included present-day Laos and Cambodia became known as French Indochina in the early twentieth century.

The French colonisation saw the resources of Vietnam exploited for the gain of the colonisers. A few Vietnamese people became wealthy under the French, but many remained poor as they worked for the colonisers. The early twentieth century saw a desire in Vietnam for national liberation. That desire increased as the decades passed. Groups of Vietnamese nationalists set out to attack the French, but they had limited success. It wasn't until 1930 that significant change began via a new political figure in Vietnam. That figure was Nguyen Ai Quoc, better known as Ho Chi Minh.

A mature Asian man with short grey hair and a straggly beard.

A portrait of Ho Chi Minh, probably mass-produced during the Vietnam War. Artist unknown, Ho Chi Minh, 1960s, oil screenprint on canvas, 45.5 x 32.2 cm. AWM ART40875

Two Vietnams emerge

Ho Chi Minh formed the Vietnamese Communist Party in 1930. The party took advantage of some political freedoms offered by the French in 1936. Those freedoms allowed the party to extend its influence in the Vietnamese population. The French withdrew the political freedoms at the start of the Second World War. Members of the Vietnamese Communist Party went into hiding, but they had gained much experience and organisational skills which were later put to effective use.

In September 1939 the Second World War began in Europe. Before Japan joined the war against the United States and the European powers in Asia, Japanese armed forces moved into Vietnam. This was an early step towards seizing territory throughout Southeast Asia.

French colonists were now under the Vichy French government. This government was sympathetic to the German forces in Europe. The colonists cooperated with the Japanese. By March 1945 the war was not going well for Japan. The Japanese were concerned that the French colonists might turn against them. They disarmed the French and allowed the Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai to declare independence for his country. Japan surrendered in August 1945. Ho Chi Minh led a large group of nationalists called the Viet Minh. This group seized power in the uncertainty created by Japan's defeat. Soon afterwards Bao Dai renounced his role as emperor and announced his alliance with the Viet Minh.

Asian soldiers marching and driving along a city street with crowds on both sides.

This poster illustrates a large number of People'S Army soldiers marching or driving along a crowded Hanoi street. Pham Van Don, Hoan Nghenh Tinh Than [The liberation of Hanoi in October 1954], 1955, offset lithograph on paper, 46 cm x 33 cm. AWM ARTV09301

The French wanted to restore their rule in Vietnam. At first the Viet Minh and the French cooperated with each other. Eventually their different aims led to conflict. French naval vessels bombarded the port city of Haiphong in November 1946. In December Viet Minh forces attempted to overwhelm French troops in Hanoi. The first Indochina War had begun. The Viet Minh carried out extensive guerrilla warfare as they fought for independence. Eventually a peace agreement was drawn up at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1954.

Discussion question

What benefits would the French have gained if they had restored their rule in Vietnam after the Second World War?

The peace agreement resulted in Vietnam being split in two. North Vietnam was known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The communist north was supported by the communist nations of Russia and China. South Vietnam was known as the Republic of Vietnam. It was supported by Western nations.

The United States provided a large portion of that support. Civil war between the two Vietnams broke out in the early 1960s. The war was in the form of a guerrilla conflict waged by communists in South Vietnam.

US observers in Vietnam were concerned that the North Vietnamese-backed communists would overpower the south. They feared that communism would spread in Vietnam and then through nearby countries like Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaya (present-day Malaysia). This was called the 'domino theory', as it described countries falling one after the other like dominoes.

US forces in Vietnam quickly increased along with the conflict in South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Government needed the support of their important ally, the United States. Both countries in turn appealed to other allies, including Australia. The Australian government responded in 1962 by sending a small team of 30 advisers to assist the South Vietnamese army.

The team was called the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, or AATTV. They were led by Colonel FP 'Ted' Serong. His modest team represented the beginning of more than 10 years of Australian military involvement in Vietnam.

Discussion question

Why do you think the Australian government chose to send a team of only 30 advisers in the AATTV?

Australians on their way

'When I was told I had to register, I think I was eighteen and a half, you had to register.'

[Vietnam veteran Patrick O'Hara, about registering for national service]

Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV)

After arriving in South Vietnam in August 1962, Colonel Serong and his AATTV soldiers were dispersed across the country. Some went into the remote mountains of the north-west. There they worked with local indigenous people. Others deployed with units of South Vietnam's Civil Guard. AATTV soldiers also worked with the American Combined Studies Division. This division trained militia groups in Vietnamese villages. They also carried out special operations against the Viet Cong.

Sending the AATTV soldiers to different parts of Vietnam provided opportunities to assess the conflict across the country. Australian service men and women would eventually carry out most of their work in Phuoc Tuy province (now Ba Ria-Vung Tau province). This province was south-east of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Operating in other parts of Vietnam gave the AATTV members experience that would be applied in Phuoc Tuy province.

From 1962 to 1964, Australians in the AATTV were forbidden from going on operations with the South Vietnamese soldiers they trained.

This ban proved to be a problem if AATTV members were caught in an ambush. Their credibility as trainers was at risk if they couldn't engage enemy forces. The ban on joining operations was eventually lifted. By 1965 AATTV members were going out on patrols with units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The Australians also worked with the Montagnard people of Vietnam's southern highlands.

We insisted on a code of conduct: always be polite; pay the right price for anything that you want; return what you borrow; offer to pay for anything that you lose or damage; do not be overbearing; do not damage or destroy crops; do not molest women; and treat prisoners fairly and firmly.

[Ian Teague, AATTV 1964–65; HQ Australian Army Force Vietnam, 1965; 1 SAS Squadron, 1970]

Discussion question

What might have motivated Ian Teague and his colleagues to introduce a code of conduct? How might it have helped the AATTV soldiers in their operations in South Vietnam?

An Australian soldier in traditional Vietnamese clothing in a large hut, surrounded by other soldiers.

An Australian sits on a bamboo mat while wearing Montagnard tribal clothing. He is being farewelled by the Montagnard people at one of their camps. AWM DNE/65/0437/VN

Many Australians in the AATTV worked in small American-led advisory teams, in pairs or individually. This way of working was sometimes isolating for them, but it was part of the duty they had volunteered for as professional soldiers. The AATTV was in Vietnam for just over 10 years. The team numbered some 217 troops at its maximum size in 1970. As the withdrawal of Australians serving in Vietnam came closer, the AATTV resumed its role of preparing South Vietnamese units to fight once the Australians and other allies had left the country. The AATTV finished its war in South Vietnam as the longest-serving Australian unit, and the unit with the largest number of awards for bravery and service to the people of South Vietnam.

Four team members were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). Other team members were awarded decorations such as the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the Military Medal (MM). The US forces and the Republic of South Vietnam also awarded decorations to members of the Australian team.

Serving alongside American and South Vietnamese troops showed me their methods and military cultures; while living with Vietnamese soldiers and their families in a military compound gave me insights into their thoughts and way of life, plus the effects of guerrilla warfare at village level.

[Ian Kuring, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, 1970–71]

Discussion question

How might Ian Kuring have used his insights into the thoughts and way of life of Vietnamese soldiers and their families while he served with the AATTV?

Two senior Australian soldiers talking to a South Vietnamese soldier.

Two members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) talk with a Nung sentry at Australia House. AWM DNE/65/0345/VN

More troops to the fighting

In early 1965, the Australian government received requests from the United States (US) and the South Vietnamese government to send more troops to Vietnam. Sir Robert Menzies, the Australian prime minister at the time, announced in April 1965 that Australia would be sending an infantry battalion to Vietnam. The announcement drew criticism from Arthur Calwell, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives.

The 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) arrived in Vietnam in May 1965. The battalion arrived with supporting arms that included 1 Troop, A Squadron, 4th/19th Prince of Wales Light Horse Regiment, six Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Caribou aircraft, a surgical team and civil engineers. The Australians were attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa province, about 25 kilometres from Saigon.

The Australians began operations in the province. Their equipment was a mix of old and new weapons, boots, uniforms and accessories. Some of their gear dated back to the Korean War and even the Second World War. The soldiers had to adapt their tactics to their new circumstances. The US and South Vietnamese forces used a different approach to insurgency warfare than the Australians. This difference led to an Australian decision to commit a task force to South Vietnam with its own designated area of operations under Australian command. The result was the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), made up of two battalions (5RAR and 6RAR). The task force was sent from Australia to Phuoc Tuy province to set up the new Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat in 1966. Support for the task force came from facilities set up by the Australians at the port of Vung Tau. The port was in southern Phuoc Tuy province. It provided a place where RAAF units, engineers, ordnance units, transport sections and service personnel could support operations in the province. The hospital established at Vung Tau played an important role for the task force.

Our men will be fighting the largely indigenous Viet Cong in their own home territory. They will be fighting in the midst of a largely indifferent, if not resentful, and frightened population. They will be fighting at the request of, and in support, and, presumably, under the direction of an unstable, inefficient, partially corrupt military regime which lacks even the semblance of being, or becoming, democratically based.

[Arthur Calwell, May 1965]

Discussion question

Imagine you are an Australian soldier preparing to go to Vietnam in 1965. How would you feel about Arthur Calwell's words?

National Service and the protest movement

Australia's military commitment to the war in Vietnam had increased from 30 AATTV personnel to around 4,500 personnel with the arrival of 1ATF. This increase in the number of Australians serving in Vietnam influenced the awareness of the conflict in Australia. At first, many Australians didn't know much at all about what was happening in Vietnam, or about the country itself. As the demand for troops in Vietnam increased, Australian men aged 20 were called upon to register for compulsory national service. Australia had used the national service scheme between 1951 and 1959. The scheme was reintroduced in 1964 as Australia's commitment in Vietnam and the Indonesian Confrontation demanded more troops. The scheme randomly selected people in what was known as the 'birthday ballot'. Those who registered provided the date of their birthdays. Those birthdays were used as the basis for the ballot.

Exemptions from national service were given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, medically unfit people and anyone studying theology (the study of religious beliefs). Young men who were conscientious objectors could gain exemptions if they could prove their objections were based upon religious beliefs. People could seek a temporary deferment from national service. Those eligible for deferments included university students, apprentices and married men. Deferments were also available to those who could prove that national service would cause them financial stress.

No, didn't think at all about Vietnam. Didn't know where Vietnam was, didn't have any idea. When I was told I had to register, I think I was eighteen and a half, you had to register. I registered in a bit of, not a daze, but a lack of realism. This won't come to anything, it's just paperwork.

[Vietnam veteran Patrick O'Hara in an interview on the Anzac Portal. Patrick was speaking about registering for national service.]

Discussion question

Why would Patrick and other Australians have known so little about Vietnam at that time?

A poster with an Asian man on one side and Vietnamese text on the other side.

A propaganda leaflet that aimed to convince Viet Cong fighters to leave their units and return to their families. AWM RC02821

More than 15,000 national servicemen eventually went to Vietnam, between 1965 and 1972. Of that number some 200 were killed and more than 1,200 were wounded. Like their regular army colleagues, some of the national servicemen who came home brought psychological scars with them.

Opinion polls in Australia at the time suggested widespread support for the government's commitment of more troops. The government had said that the fall of South Vietnam would make Thailand and Malaysia vulnerable to the spread of communism. Some senior church leaders had spoken in support of more Australian troops being sent to Vietnam. Newspapers in Australia were publishing articles expressing support for Australia's increasing military commitment in the conflict.

Not all Australians were supportive of the war or the government's commitment to it. Academics in universities used their expert knowledge of South-East Asia to criticise the government's policies and lack of a defence strategy. Others expressed concerns that Australia's modest defence resources were being divided across too many conflicts in the region. These responses began to motivate more people to oppose the war.

Compulsory registration for national service also fuelled opposition to the war. The anti-Vietnam War protest movement gathered strength in 1969 and reached its peak during 1970 and 1971. Mass protests occurred as people took to the streets to voice their opposition to the war. The moratorium marches of that time united people from across Australian society. Students, academics, workers and the mothers of young Australian men were some of the people brought together during the protests.

Despite the protests, the Australian government remained involved in the war. Some public opinion might have been against the war. Other Australians still supported the Australian role in the conflict. When the US began to withdraw its troops from Vietnam, the Australian government did the same. In the end politics and international relations were perhaps bigger influences upon the Australian government's decisions about the war in Vietnam.

A difficult challenge

'I was awake 20-22 hours a day, catnapping for five and ten minutes at a time.'

[Captain Guy Griffiths, Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Captain Griffiths commanded the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart]

1st Australian Task Force (1ATF)

As Australia's role in Vietnam increased, so did the demand on Australians serving there. The arrival of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) required a change in the way Australians functioned in Vietnam. The larger force meant more operations and new challenges. Many of the personnel arriving in Vietnam had not been overseas before, including the increasing number of conscripts. They had to adjust to a new culture, a new language, new landscapes and a very different climate in which they worked. Those aspects added to the difficulty of fighting an elusive enemy who could not always be easily identified among the civilians.

In 1966 1ATF established a base at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province. The Viet Cong had long since established bases in the mountains and jungles of the province. Their network extended into every town and village, giving them an advantage. Many of the roads of the province were dangerous, as ambushes could occur at any time. Australians and their allies had to travel with escorts. Enemy soldiers were not the only threat Australians faced.

Our main concern was with land mines and booby traps. We had our share of casualties and damage, especially when a D8 bulldozer was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, setting it on fire and destroying it. When large equipment is out of action it needs to be recovered, and this was another opportunity for the VC (Viet Cong) to harass our operations. Bringing the wrecked dozer back to Nui Dat we were again mined and suffered casualties.

[Craftsman Garry Whykes, 17 Construction Squadron Workshop, Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME)]

Discussion question

A bulldozer is not a fighting vehicle. Why did the Viet Cong choose to target bulldozers being used by the Australian forces? Why did Garry Whykes and other RAEME members put themselves at risk to recover the wrecked bulldozer?

An Australian soldier with a firearm moving through dense vegetation.

An Australian soldier makes his way through the thick Vietnamese jungle. AWM COL/67/0200/VN

Tested at Long Tan

The Australians had seen first-hand how the US military forces approached the war. The US strategy was to draw the enemy into open battle where they had the advantage. They used large amounts of ammunition, including artillery. Helicopters and other aircraft were also part of the strategy to overwhelm the Viet Cong. That approach often resulted in many US troops being killed or wounded. It rarely succeeded in controlling the way the battle was fought.

The senior Australian commanders observed and learnt from the US tactics. The Australians also drew on their experiences in Malaya and Indonesia to form their strategies. The geography of Phuoc Tuy province influenced the Australians' strategies. The tactics of the Viet Cong were also considered. The commanders decided to send out small patrols. These patrols moved quietly through the landscape. The commanders aimed to keep the number of casualties down through that method.

One series of patrols, shortly after the task force base at Nui Dat was established, ended in what became known as the Battle of Long Tan. This engagement with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces was one of the largest single encounters for Australian troops in Vietnam. The Australian task force base at Nui Dat came under enemy mortar fire on the nights of 16 and 17 August 1966. The base personnel expected an attack but none came, so D Company of 6RAR was sent out on patrol on 18 August to look for evidence of enemy activity. The 105 soldiers of D Company were joined by 3 troops from 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery.

The company moved into the nearby rubber plantation at Long Tan. It was there that they were attacked by a Viet Cong force of over 2,000 troops. The Australians came under heavy fire and several were killed or wounded in the first moments. Artillery fire from the task force base helped them to withstand the attack. Two RAAF pilots flew their helicopters from the base in fading light and torrential rain to drop ammunition and medical supplies to the troops on the ground. Infantry from the base eventually reached D Company after they were transported in Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). The APC crews were able to use their machine guns against the enemy.

I remember the deafening noise from small arms and artillery, the torrential rain making positive identification of friend and foe extremely hard, my movement forward to 10 Platoon with the radio, and when all seemed lost as the enemy assembled for a final assault (which I firmly believe would have been very difficult for us to repulse) the arrival of our APCs. The relief and joy that flooded us!

[Bill 'Yank' Akell, 6th Battalion, RAR]

Discussion question

Bill Akell and the rest of D company fought off a large unit of Viet Cong troops. How might the Viet Cong have reacted to the outcome at the Battle of Long Tan? What might the Australian troops have learned about fighting the Viet Cong after engaging with them in the rubber plantation?

A painting showing three Australian soldiers in a jungle setting.

Bruce Fletcher, Contact made by Delta Company, 7 RAR (Private Kelvin 'Curly' Schaper, Private Barry Klemm, Private Robert 'Bob' Schaeche), 1967, oil on canvas on board, 102.6 x 133.2 cm. AWM ART40574

The 'Huey' in battle

RAAF helicopter crews in Vietnam, like those who dropped ammunition at Long Tan, regularly flew into dangerous situations. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters they flew were also known as 'Hueys'. The Hueys were invaluable in several roles and were an important part of the war in Vietnam. One task often performed by Huey crews was to fly into active combat zones to pick up soldiers. The soldiers could be wounded, or needing to withdraw from action where enemy forces threatened to overrun their units. The flights into places where combat was occurring were called 'hot extractions'. These operations presented major challenges for the helicopter crews and the soldiers alike.

So you had to go back into this very tight area, not much bigger than the helicopter, with trees up to 10 metres. Go in there, and sit on this area while the … soldiers came running out of the jungle to get on board. And they were hesitant, because out there, there's a machine gun firing at you, which you could see. How they missed us, I don't know. And then once they're all on board, get out of there as fast as you could, full power, climb out over the top of the trees. And once we'd clear the trees, we'd all look at each other and just laugh: 'Ha, it's over.' They were frightening, they really were.

[Alastair Bridges, 'Huey' pilot, No. 5 Squadron RAAF, 1967–1968]

A Royal Australian Air Force aircraft with a bullet hole in it's front left windscreen.
An RAAF Caribou aircraft with a bullet hole in its left-hand windscreen. RAAF pilots often faced the threat of enemy fire while on operations. AWM P03940.001

First Nations service

First Nations people were among the Australians who served in Vietnam. Roy 'Zeke' Mundine is a Bundjalung man from the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. He grew up in an era when the civil liberties of First Nations people were significantly restricted. Like First Nations soldiers before him, Roy found that he had much more equality as a person when he joined the Australian Army. He served in Malaya in 1959 and went on to do two tours of duty in Vietnam. Roy was severely wounded while serving in Vietnam in 1969.

We saw this bunker system, so I went forward to have a look at it and I tripped a mine of some description and it just went off, bang! Blew my leg off.

[Warrant Officer Class 1 Roy 'Zeke' Mundine, 5th Battalion RAR, Vietnam 1969]

Roy was evacuated for medical treatment and ended up back in Australia, where he underwent a long period of rehabilitation. Despite losing a leg, he stayed in the army until 1995. In 2016 Roy was appointed as the army's first Indigenous Elder.

Discussion question

What might have motivated the Australian Army to appoint Roy as its first Indigenous Elder? How might his service in Malaya and Vietnam have influenced his role as an Indigenous Elder in the army?

Man sitting on bare ground leaning against a backpack holding a notepad and pen or pencil

Gunner Ernie Widders of C Company, 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC), a National Serviceman and Indigenous soldier from Armidale, New South Wales, takes time out during a break in operations to write a letter, Vietnam, 1971. AWM FOD/71/0256/VN

Care and compassion

Soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam were cared for by nurses of the Australian armed forces. One of those nurses was Rosslyn Richards, an RAAF nurse who served in Vietnam and Malaysia. Rosslyn was often on board the C-130 Hercules aircraft that flew from the RAAF hospital at Butterworth airbase in Malaysia to Vung Tau in Vietnam. Wounded troops were picked up at Vung Tau and flown back to Butterworth. Rosslyn and her nurse colleagues looked after the troops during the flights out of Vung Tau.

The medivac team usually comprised a doctor, two flight nurses and a medical orderly but was adjusted according to any special requirements of the patient load. Our regular run to Vung Tau was every second Monday, departing Butterworth at 0600 hours (6:00 am) for the two-hour flight. On arrival we were transported to the hospital in a bus with armed escort, and briefed on each patient prior to meeting them. The team introduced themselves and briefed the patients on what to expect during the flight.

[Rosslyn Richards, No. 4 RAAF Hospital, 1970–1971, 1975]

Discussion question

Why would the bus carrying the medivac team from the airport at Vung Tau to the hospital need an armed escort? Imagine you're a wounded soldier being put on a C-130 Hercules for the flight to Butterworth airbase. What thoughts might be going through your mind as you're being loaded into the Hercules?

A women in uniform attending to a man lying in a stretcher with headphones on.

RAAF nursing sister Squadron Officer Harriett Fenwick adjusts the strap of a casualty being evacuated by Hercules to Australia from Vietnam for treatment, August 1965. AWM MAL/65/0083/03, photographer Dereck B Travers

Danger underwater

Apart from providing warships and logistics vessels, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) also supplied teams of clearance divers. The teams usually consisted of around 6 divers. They were responsible for protecting. Australian and allied ships from mines being attached to their hulls. The ships were most vulnerable when they were tied up at docks or at anchor in the harbours. The divers also carried out operations in rivers and other coastal waterways. In those settings they salvaged unexploded ordnance and assisted in its disposal. Tony Ey was an Australian clearance diver who worked closely with the US Navy. He and his team wore US camouflage uniforms on land, had US weapons, used US boats and even ate US food.

On board the vessel it's not so bad but when you get underwater and search the hull, the visibility is zero, the water is dirty. Quite often it's the middle of the night, a torch isn't going to do you much good anyway, so you have no choice but to use the ten eyes on the end of each finger and that's the way we were taught. You just feel. So you progressively search the ship the best way you can. You're virtually on your own, you're isolated. You can't see anybody. You're in the water and you're below this ship and you're thinking that above you is thousands of tons of high explosives that may detonate at any second.

[Tony Ey, RAN Clearance Diver]

Discussion question

Tony Ey and his clearance diver team mates had a critical role in protecting the ships of Australia and its allies in Vietnam. Why was it important that he and his colleagues carry out this dangerous and isolated work?

The RAN's role in Vietnam extended beyond water-borne operations. Support for the allied forces also came from the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV). This unit went to Vietnam in 1967. Once there, it was integrated into the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). The RANHFV flew the 'Huey' in gunship and utility modes, providing tactical support for combat troops. The unit also contributed to army medical services and search and rescue operations. RANHFV crew also flew 'Hueys' as 'command and control' aircraft missions for various units. As with other helicopter units, the RANHFV had crew members killed or wounded during operations.

Lieutenant Dave Gibson sustained serious wounds while putting his helicopter down in a landing zone in March 1970. The zone had been booby-trapped with a 105 mm artillery shell. The shell exploded as Lieutenant Gibson hovered his 'Huey' just above the ground. The helicopter was destroyed. Two ARVN soldiers on board were killed and Lieutenant Gibson was severely wounded. He was later evacuated to Australia and didn't return to the RANHFV.

A diver resurfaces to the side of a boat with another man waiting on board
Divers from RAN Clearance Diving Team 3 (CDT3) recovering unexploded ordnance from the water at Da Nang, South Vietnam. The sailor in the water is ABCD Tony Ey and the sailor in the boat receiving the 2.75" rocket is CPOCD John Gilchrist, both of the 8th Contingent CDT3. AWM NAVYM1003/34

Media during the Vietnam War

The war in Vietnam was complex and challenging. Australians serving there had to contend with the climate, cultural aspects, the landscape and an enemy who was often elusive and very resourceful. Back in Australia, people initially showed little interest in the war, but over time that began to change. Opposition to the conscription scheme increased as national service troops were killed or wounded alongside their regular army colleagues. People at home began to question the purpose of the war. Citizens were not seeing significant progress in the campaign against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army.

Australians learned about the war through media coverage in the newspapers, on the radio and perhaps more importantly, on television. As the 1960s ended, more and more people were expressing their disapproval of Australia's involvement in the war. Emotions ran high as anti-war and anti-conscription protests became more frequent. For many Australians at home, the war was a source of disagreement as they learned more about the human cost of the conflict.

Two Australian soldiers with a tape recorder.

Two Australian soldiers in Vietnam use a tape machine to record messages to send home to their families. AWM P05620.014

The reaction at home

Increasing dissatisfaction with Australia's role in the Vietnam War led to major protests ...

The first television war

Before the Vietnam War, newspapers, the radio and cinema newsreels provided information about conflicts occurring overseas. Many Australians still remembered the long wait for news about family and friends serving during the Second World War. They usually received information about the fighting that was weeks or even months old. News from later conflicts in Korea and Malaysia was often received in the same way. Those serving overseas wrote letters home. This was one common source of information for the home front.

Television (TV) first arrived in Australia in 1956. By the early 1960s, a good portion of Australian homes had a TV in them. More Australians were staying informed of current events by watching the TV news programs being broadcast. There may have been only a handful of channels to watch, but the news was widely viewed. Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War came under more public scrutiny through the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The TV news audiences increased as more Australians bought television sets.

As more information about the war became available, people reacted in different ways. Some wanted to help the Australians serving in Vietnam in whatever way they could. Others found the reporting on the war reinforced their opinion that Australia shouldn't have become involved in the conflict. Media coverage of the fighting was bringing the reality of the war home.

News camera teams were in Vietnam recording the brutal nature of the war and its effect upon the combatants and non-combatants. Media personnel had almost unlimited access to the fighting in Vietnam. A press pass often meant that a reporter could just about go anywhere, especially with the US forces. That access sometimes led to some disturbing film and photographic content being gathered. The content went to media outlets in Australia, the US and other countries.

A cameraman filming Cambodian soldiers carrying a wounded soldier.

An Australian camera operator and correspodent films Cambodian soldiers helping a wounded comrade. AWM 2020.493.1.22

Neil Davis was an Australian television camera operator who covered the war in Vietnam. He had worked for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC) before going to Vietnam. He moved from the ABC to Visnews, an international media company, and became the company's South-East Asia correspondent. Neil worked by himself, taking care of both the images and the sound for his recordings. This gave him an advantage in being able to move quickly and freely while covering combat operations. Unlike other journalists, he often chose to accompany South Vietnamese troops as they fought the Viet Cong. This gave him a unique perspective on the war. Neil Davis continued to cover the fighting in Vietnam after Australian forces had withdrawn from the conflict in 1973. He filmed the dramatic action of a North Vietnamese tank smashing through the gates of South Vietnam's Presidential Palace in 1975. His film captured the symbolic end of the war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Neil stayed in the South-East Asian region and was killed in Bangkok in 1985, while filming an attempted coup.

I preferred to go with the South Vietnamese forces because it was their war. It meant a great deal to them and they were fighting it on their own terms.

[Neil Davis, Visnews correspondent in Vietnam]

Discussion question

How might Neil Davis's coverage of South Vietnamese forces in battle have affected opinions of the war back in Australia?

More media coverage of the war in Vietnam encouraged some Australian citizens to assist the country's troops in some way. Volunteer organisations based in Australia were involved in providing assistance in Vietnam. The Red Cross sent volunteers to Vietnam to help care for the wounded and sick soldiers. One such volunteer was Jean Debelle Lamensdorf. Jean was a reporter for a newspaper in Adelaide when she decided she wanted to somehow help Australians at war in Vietnam. Jean's family had a strong military service tradition. That tradition inspired her to serve in some way as well.

Jean flew to Vietnam in June 1966, on board a Qantas Boeing 707 airliner. The 707 had taken off from the RAAF base at Richmond, north-west of Sydney in NSW. Jean's flight arrived in Saigon, after picking up men from the 3 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) from their base in Perth. She then went to a US army hospital at Long Binh, where she was soon exposed to the realities of war. After Long Binh, Jean went to the large Australian Army hospital at Vung Tau. The hospital there handled many casualties and Jean found herself in contact with numerous Australian soldiers. Seeing them in distress and watching some tragically die from their wounds began to affect her.

I had grown immune to our daily reality: mutilation and the appalling waste of young men's lives. Had my sensitivities been worn away bit by insidious bit? Did others on the medical staff feel this way? Could they cope with the trauma better than I because they were men? Would I ever care deeply about anything again? I felt revulsion at the emotionless, unfeeling being I had become. Numbed by tragedies I witnessed every day, I was beyond grieving.

[Jean Debelle Lamensdorf, Australian Red Cross, Vietnam 1966–1967]

Discussion question

What effect might Jean's experiences in Vietnam have had on her opinion of the war?

Entertainers in the war zone

Another group of non-military Australians who went to Vietnam were those from the entertainment industry. Australian performers of the era would go to Vietnam to entertain the troops and provide them with a distraction from the fighting. Television celebrity Lorrae Desmond was one of many Australian entertainers who performed in Vietnam. Lorrae had already been to theatres of war before Vietnam. She had entertained troops in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya and Somalia, and in the Middle East. Lorrae believed that 'every war has its own song'. For the Australian troops in Vietnam, that song turned out to be 'Leaving On A Jet Plane'.

When I did it, I made it into an emotional song instead of the way Peter Paul and Mary did it, as just a little toe-tapper, so it had the most dramatic effect. I didn't know it was a song of that war, and I was absolutely shocked afterwards, because the audience were crying, and I thought 'Oh, I'll never do that one again' … and the guys came backstage and they said 'You've gotta do that song whenever you can, it made us think of our loved ones, made us feel good'.

[Lorrae Desmond, Australian entertainer in Vietnam, 1976–1971]

A black and white photograph showing a woman singing to a large crowd of soldiers at a concert. The concert is in an outdoor setting.

Nui Dat, Vietnam. 1967. Singer Lorrae Desmond on stage entertaining soldiers of 5th and 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR and 6RAR), and other Australian Task Force units. She was singing with the ABC dance band, to over 1000 troops on two 2-hour shows. AWM COL/67/0175/VN

Photograph by Michael Coleridge, Australian Army official photographer

A shift in public opinion

The increase in media coverage of the war provided a wider and more detailed insight into the experiences of those who were serving overseas. With a greater awareness of the realities of war, Australians at home began to form strong opinions about the conflict. Those in support of the war may well have pointed to the news reports as evidence of the need to fight the communist forces. Those in opposition to the fighting may have emphasised the human cost for the Australian forces and their allies, and for the people of Vietnam.

Broad public support for Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War began to change. Even in 1965 there was some disapproval of the federal government's decision to send troops to Vietnam. The media of the era was presenting some of the political opposition to the war.

Vietnam 'a silly little war'

It was not Australia's responsibility to protect Asia from Communism, Senator Ormonde (Lab, NSW) said last night. 'Why should Australia be one of the only nations fighting communism with arms? — you can't fight communism with arms,' he said. Australia's responsibility was to see that under-developed nations achieved such a standard of living that they were able to resist communism.

[The Canberra Times, Friday 3 September 1965]

Discussion question

What did Senator Ormonde possibly mean when he said '… you can't fight communism with arms' (arms being weapons)? Why would he say something like that?

Increasing dissatisfaction with Australia's role in the Vietnam War led to major protests, especially around 1970–1971. Trade unionists, university students and academics, as well as other parts of Australian society, began to strongly express their opposition to the war. One group to participate in the protests was 'Save Our Sons' (SOS). This group included many mothers of Australian troops serving in Vietnam. The members came together through their mutual objection to national service and the war. They circulated petitions, became involved in political activities and worked with other anti-war groups to protest Australia's involvement in the war.

Some men of eligible age for conscription also expressed their resistance to the national service scheme. They were sometimes called 'conscientious objectors', and they faced fines or even prison sentences for their refusal to go into the armed forces.

The Tet Offensive

The Tet Offensive, a major attack by the Viet Cong, occurred in early 1968. Thousands of Viet Cong along with North Vietnamese troops simultaneously attacked cities and villages across South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese military leaders abandoned their guerrilla tactics and instead chose to confront the US forces and their allies in direct combat. The leaders thought this method might encourage the population to rebel against the South Vietnamese government. Parts of Saigon and other major urban centres were taken by the Viet Cong and held for some time. The aggression of the attacks surprised the allies, who knew via intelligence networks that they were coming. Despite sustaining heavy losses in their ranks, the Viet Cong had sent a message to the allies that the war was far from over. The US and its allies began to doubt that the war could be won.

Media coverage of the offensive showed the extent of the attacks. Citizens in Australia, the US and other nations involved in the conflict were shocked by the Viet Cong's ability to carry the war into the major South Vietnamese towns and cities. Guerrillas had broken into the grounds of the US embassy, the symbolic centre of US power in South Vietnam. Public opinion of the war was influenced by the media coverage of the offensive. People began to question whether the war was winnable. The Tet Offensive showed that the war in Vietnam needed re-evaluation by the senior allied military commanders. In Australia the offensive led the federal government to reconsider its Vietnam War policy.

By the end of 1971, the Australian task force in South Vietnam had been withdrawn, leaving only a small number of troops in the country. William McMahon, the Australian prime minister at the time, had decided that Australia's involvement in the war should be greatly reduced. Public unrest about Australia's involvement had increased. Political pressure made the decision necessary. McMahon was replaced by Gough Whitlam as prime minister in 1972. Whitlam had campaigned for an end to conscription and Australia's involvement in the war. It was towards the end of 1972 that his government decided that the small number of AATTV Australian troops still in Vietnam would be withdrawn.

The conscription program was suspended, ending the 'birthday ballot' selection method. Young Australian men who had been conscripted were permitted to leave the army. The scene was set for the remaining Australian troops to come home, to their families, friends and to lives beyond the fighting.

An anti-conscription poster showing a cartoon of four men in civilian clothes and one man in an army uniform.

Four out of five of these men chose their careers. Abolish conscription now. Vietnam Moratorium September 18.' A poster protesting the National Service Act (1964) and the conscription scheme. AWM ARTV00866

Beyond the fighting

Adjusting to civilian life was not as easy as some had thought ...

We were going home … Walking through empty buildings, this seemed a special moment in time – doors banging in the wind and the base eerily deserted. Vietnamese workers were crying and distressed. I lied to them, reassuring them that we would be back 'if the VC come'. As it turned out, the Viet Cong did come – four weeks later – but we were never going to go back. I never really got over the friends I lost in Vietnam, nor the desertion of those we had so comprehensively fought to support and protect. The last of us formed the final convoy and headed down to De Long Pier, then by landing craft out to HMAS Sydney.

[Bill Denny, 86 Transport Platoon, Royal Australian Army Service Corps, 1971–1972]

Australian Vietnam veterans marching along a street lined with a large crowd.

Australian Vietnam War veterans march along a street during the 1987 'welcome home' parade. AWM PAIU1987/261.11

When Whitlam became prime minister in 1972, he quickly moved to bring the remaining Australian soldiers home from Vietnam. A formal proclamation was issued by Sir Paul Hasluck, the Governor-General, on 11 January 1973. The proclamation stated that Australian forces in Vietnam would cease hostilities. People opposing the war and conscription were pleased to learn of the proclamation. Those who had supported Australia's role in Vietnam were disappointed, as they thought the withdrawal was happening too soon. Australians who had served in Vietnam during the war felt let down by the decision to withdraw while the war continued.

Those who had served in Vietnam arrived back in Australia to mixed receptions. Families and loved ones were happy to have them back and no longer in harm's way. Feelings of anxiety and concern in families were replaced with relief and gratitude. The returning soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses were home. They had survived the dangers of the war in Vietnam. Coming home was to be celebrated, but the cost of their service in Vietnam had to be counted. Adjusting to civilian life was not as easy as some had thought.

I got back to Melbourne, Victoria, and I was in the kitchen with my mother-in-law and my wife and they were talking about matters domestic and all my head said was 'I want to go back. This is foreign country. I don't belong here'.

[Adrian Roberts, Officer Commanding 3 Troop 1st Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron and later a captain adviser Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.]

Discussion question

Adrian Roberts served twice in Vietnam. His quote above relates to when he came home to Australia after his first period of service. Why would he have felt that home was like a 'foreign country'? What might have motivated him to leave the relative safety of home and go back to Vietnam?

Families who had lost loved ones to the fighting were faced with the heartache of life without them.

Those returning from service in Vietnam often had different experiences when they arrived. Troops returning as part of battalions or regiments would often arrive to welcoming crowds. Family and friends would be there to celebrate the return of their loved ones. For troops returning in smaller groups, their experiences were often different. They would sometimes fly in to one of Australia's major airports late at night. There they were quickly processed by army and immigration officials and then transported to a military base. Once at the base they would undergo preparation to be discharged from the defence force. Those who were remaining in the armed forces sometimes wouldn't have much time to reflect upon their Vietnam service. Those service men and women would soon start the next phase of their military careers.

You went full of cheer to a war torn land
a great adventure we thought you and I,
I waved you off and you were gone –
you wrote, I read the letters fond …
I did not see the coming dread
and then no more letters come,
the adventure lasted a very short time,
you were gone, you were not mine.
I tried to weep but anger came
my world was not the same.
My brother.

[The first verse from the poem Brothers by Denise Guiton. Denise's brother Allan was killed in Vietnam in October 1965 while serving with 'Charlie' Company, 1RAR]

Discussion question

How does the verse from Denise's poem express her experience of having her brother Allan go off to fight in Vietnam and then be killed in action?

The impact of war

The nature of the war in Vietnam meant that some troops came home with physical or psychological wounds. Fighting in Vietnam had produced a range of hazards that had an impact upon the returning soldiers. Booby traps, mines and underground tunnel systems for ambushes were effectively used by the Viet Cong. These methods took a toll on the Australians in the front line. Patrols were made even more stressful by the frequent threat of surprise attacks or hidden hazards. The use of chemicals in Vietnam had exposed Australians and other allied troops to toxic substances. Those substances had made some who served in Vietnam immediately sick. For others, the effects of the exposure wouldn't be felt until after the war. Even today, the effects of that exposure are still being understood. Medical science continues to investigate the long-term nature of exposure and how it is still affecting veterans.

Those returning with psychological wounds faced challenges. Troops psychologically affected by combat in earlier wars were sometimes described as having 'shell shock'. That condition was later defined as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The description better explained the ways in which combat could cause soldiers stress. The war in Vietnam exposed Australian troops to the loss of civilian lives. Those lives were sometimes taken as a result of the actions of the Viet Cong. Even the allied forces were responsible for civilian casualties.

Identifying the enemy in amongst civilian populations was not always easy. Innocent local people were killed or wounded in the confusion of battles. The Australians wanted to minimise harm to Vietnamese people living in the area of operations.

The effects of the war caused distress for some Australian troops. Seeing mates killed or wounded was upsetting for Australian troops. The frequent risk of mines, booby traps and ambushes added to the emotional costs. That distress would later contribute to the PTSD diagnosed in some Australians who served in Vietnam.

The intensity of my service as a helicopter gunner and related traumatic incidents triggered psychological problems almost immediately upon my return from Vietnam. They were diagnosed as personality deficiencies, inability to cooperate with peers, and insubordination …

[Anthony Pahl, No 1 Operational Support Unit and No 9 Squadron RAAF, 1969–1970]

Discussion question

Anthony Pahl found that writing poetry about his experiences in Vietnam helped him with PTSD. Why would poetry and other creative activities have been useful for Vietnam veterans living with PTSD?

Two legless Vietnam veterans in wheelchairs talking to each other.

Two Australian Vietnam War veterans backstage at the 1987 Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Concert in Sydney. AWM PAIU1987/265.20

Veterans making peace

Some Australian veterans chose to return to Vietnam after the war to work on projects helping the locals. The veterans wanted to contribute to the recovery of Vietnam. They helped to raise funds for schools, hospitals and housing. They would travel to Vietnam to assist in building projects and to reconnect with the people they had moved amongst as soldiers. Making these contributions assisted them in living with their feelings about the war.

The US ended its military involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973, following peace talks in Paris. This unfortunately didn't stop the fighting between North and South Vietnam. Each side still wanted to defeat the other. The communist forces seized Saigon in 1975. This meant that they now had control over the country's capital and seat of government. For Australia's Vietnam veterans, the fall of Saigon was bitterly disappointing. Some questioned the efforts they had made while others thought about their service friends who had lost their lives in the war. The conflict had always been complex and its conclusion was no different.

Back in Australia, an ad placed in the local press drew 40 people to a meeting on the Sunshine Coast. The AVVRG (Australian Veterans' Vietnam Reconstruction Group) was born. An executive was elected, the constitution accepted and we set about raising cash for the first project, the rebuilding of the primary school in Hoa Long.

[Paul Murphy, 2RAR, 1967. Paul played an important role in the establishment of the AVVRG in the 1990s.]

The Australian men and women who served in Vietnam made many sacrifices. Their service forms part of the Anzac tradition in Australia's military history. Each year Vietnam Veterans' Day is observed on 18 August. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions that some 60,000 Australians made during their service in the war. It's also a time to reflect upon the loss of 523 Australian lives and the wounding of some 3,000 soldiers. The war was a difficult undertaking in difficult circumstances. The legacy of Australia's Vietnam veterans is service, sacrifice, courage and endurance.

A painting showing a table with beer glasses, medals and an ashtray on it.

Geoffrey Jones, Moral-Immoral (imaginary conversations with my Father), 2012, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 46 cm. AWM ART96825


Alliance A joining of efforts or interests by persons, families, states, or organisations.

Booby traps A hidden or disguised bomb or mine designed to be set off by an unsuspecting person.

Conscientious objectors People who refuse to meet an obligation like compulsory military service due to their deeply held beliefs.

Conscripts A person who is made to serve in the armed forces rather than volunteering.

Coup Overthrowing of an existing government illegally or by force.

Distinguished Conduct Medal An army medal awarded to non-commissioned officers and other ranks for distinguished conduct in action. The medal was discontinued in 1993.

Distinguished Service Order An army medal awarded to officers for distinguished service in action.

Guerrilla A member of an irregular force that harasses an enemy through surprise raids and attacks on communication and supply lines.

Insurgency A situation where people rise in forcible opposition to a lawful authority or engage in armed resistance to a government.

Medivac An emergency evacuation of sick or wounded troops from a combat area, often by helicopter.

Military Medal A medal awarded for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty while under fire.

Missionaries People sent to other countries to spread their religious faith, usually where that faith is not widely practised.

Nationalists People who advocate for national independence of their country.

Newsreels Short films that presented current news events in cinemas.

Ordnance All kinds of military weapons, with their equipment and ammunition.

Persecution The act of pursuing a person or people with harassing or oppressive treatment.

Tactics The art or science of positioning military forces in battle to the best advantage.

Victoria Cross The highest military award for acts of bravery during wartime.

Viet Cong The Vietnamese military and political organisation that fought US and its allies and other Vietnamese forces between the late 1950s and 1973.


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