Neil Weekes (Australian Army), The Battle of Coral/Balmoral - Part 1
As a national serviceman, Neil Weekes commanded a platoon in Vietnam during the battles for the two fire support bases, Coral and Balmoral. After returning to civilian life in Australia, he chose to re-enter the Army.
Neil Weekes was a young schoolteacher when his country called him up for national service.
"I wasn't of the view that 'one in all in'. And my marble had come out, that was the luck of the draw and I thought, 'Well, I'll do my bit'."
He was trained as an officer and sent to Vietnam. It was a bit of a shock.
"The ox carts and the little Lambrettas all getting around with fifteen or sixteen people hanging off at all angles, the smells. Never knowing who was the enemy because everyone wore a conical hat and everyone dressed in black and we were taught that anyone in black and wearing this hat was a possible enemy and yeah. It was mind-boggling, to say the least."
As a platoon commander, Neil led his men on numerous patrols. Then came Australia's largest series of battles in Vietnam "" Coral and Balmoral.
"The Battle of Coral/Balmoral during the 12th of May to the 6th of June, 1968, was by far Australia's largest, longest, bloodiest battle involving more soldiers of both forces, Australian and enemy, and suffering more casualties than any other battle of the Vietnam War."
Coral and Balmoral were fire support bases "" isolated artillery emplacements protected by a perimeter of infantry. Neil's platoon was part of the battalion sent to establish Coral, but the operation went awry from the start.
"When the first infantry arrived, they were met by Americans who said, 'Hey, listen, you won't have to go looking for the enemy, they'll come looking for you.' There were burnt out hulks of APCs in the area. The Americans had just been in big, heavy contact. But no one changed the plans. The plans were made and the plans were stuck to, regardless of the changing tactical situation in the field."
Arriving too late, the Australian soldiers had no time to prepare a proper defence. That night, the North Vietnamese Army attacked.
"This is not just a little attack. This is mortars, this is rocket fire this is heavy, heavy machine gun fire; a lot of small arms fire, two Huey helicopters and a Cobra helicopter going in and firing rockets, there was a 'Spooky' which is a DC3 with Gatling gun firing; there was a great deal of firing and we knew that the fire support base was in dire trouble."
Though overrun, the Australian force prevailed, losing 9 men and 28 wounded. Over 50 NVA were killed. Two days later it would happen again, but the defences would still not be in place.