Combat

Australians in Vietnam could be involved in several types of combat. Some engagements, such as when naval vessels provided gunfire support for land forces, carried relatively little risk for the Australians involved. Australian bomber crews ran slightly higher risks, but for the most part their war was also fought at a distance from those whom they engaged. Infantry, members of the armoured, artillery and engineer corps, along with helicopter crews and forward air controllers, were, however, among those who, sometimes fighting at close quarters and engaging in regular combat, were frequently in danger. For the most part these Australians in Vietnam experienced combat either in or above rural or jungle locales against experienced and skilled opponents.

While it is commonly held that United States forces sought to draw the enemy into battle, aiming to defeat them with overwhelming firepower, Australian forces used a different approach. Australian counter-insurgency tactics demanded constant patrolling, the laying of ambushes and pursuit of the enemy. Units would spend long periods patrolling, painstakingly seeking signs of the enemy. Combat, when it came, was often at close range and of relatively short duration. There were, however, occasions when Australians were involved in longer battles such as those at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral in 1968.

Air force and naval helicopter crews flew troops into and out of combat, evacuated the wounded and provided gunfire support to ground troops.They ran considerable risks to do so and were often exposed to intense enemy fire in the course of their operations.

For Australians, combat in Vietnam meant more than exposure to mortar and small arms fire. Even where there was no contact with the enemy, men could be wounded or killed by concealed landmines and booby traps. This type of warfare carried a heavy psychological burden, danger was ever-present and many of those who suffered no physical injury were nonetheless traumatised by the experience.

Troops of 1RAR move through paddy fields as American helicopters fly overhead

Troops of 1RAR move through paddy fields as American helicopters fly overhead after landing them during a search and destroy operation, Bien Hoa, January 1966. 1 RAR made up entirely of regular soldiers, was attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa. [AWM SHA/66/0007/VN]


Last updated: 14 April 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Combat, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 20 October 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/vietnam-war-1962-1975/events/combat
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