All the way with LBJ

The Vietnam War, in essence a conflict between North Vietnam and South Vietnam, had wider implications because of North Vietnam's communist associations. In the wake of the Second World War, with Russia ascendant in Eastern Europe and China dominant in north Asia, western fears of a communist expansion throughout Asia were running high. The United States was concerned that, should North Vietnam prevail and turn Vietnam into a communist state, neighbouring countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Thailand were also likely to succumb in what was called the 'domino effect'. As an ally of the United States and with its own interest in seeing the South-East Asian region free of communism, Australia was an enthusiastic supporter of American policy in Vietnam.

America's fear of a North Vietnamese victory and its implications for regional politics led to its involvement in the war in Vietnam as an ally and supporter of the anti-communist South Vietnamese regime. Australia quickly followed suit, offering military trainers to assist South Vietnamese forces in a move aimed at supporting United States policy and addressing Australia's own regional concerns.

Over the following years both the United States and Australia increased their commitment to South Vietnam, including the use of conscripts in combat. Military might was not, however, sufficient to prevail over either southern communist insurgents nor the North Vietnamese Army. Even when United States and South Vietnamese forces did inflict a major battlefield defeat on their enemies during the 1968 Tet offensive, popular opinion in the United States and Australia turned against the war. The propaganda victory won by the communist forces ultimately proved to be of greater moment than their military defeat. After 1968 the United States began withdrawing its forces from Vietnam until, by late 1972, carriage of the war had been placed in the hands of South Vietnam which, in 1975, was defeated by the North.

A military policeman holding a gun stands on vigilance as a group of male troops disembark from a naval carrier.

Troops of 1RAR landed in June 1965, with military police from the American 173rd Airborne Brigade keeping watch. The battalion was comprised entirely of regular troops during its first deployment, and was maintained and supplied by the Americans. Unfortunately, much of its equipment was old or not well suited to the war, and it was found that Australian and American doctrine and tactics differed markedly. The battalion saw some hard fighting and lost 23 men killed before returning to Australia in June 1966. AWM DNE/65/0002/VN


Last updated: 10 March 2020

Was this page helpful?