The second assault
Once the tanks were safely on open ground away from the village, 9 Squadron RAAF helicopters flew in replacement crewmen, evacuated the wounded, including Sullivan, and delivered fresh ammunition. D Company, having broken out of the village, lined up for a second assault, this time from the west and supported by fresh tanks from 4 Troop, B Squadron. As midday approached, B Company, 5RAR, was dispatched to assist D Company, at which point Lieutenant Colonel Khan took command of Operation Hammer, relieving 6RAR's Lieutenant Colonel David Butler.
When they reached Binh Ba, B Company established blocking positions to the south and watched as flames rose from some buildings marking the scene of the most intense combat. They then moved through the rubber to block from the east. One group, moving along the plantation's fringe, was seen by the tank crews who were still being resupplied, and brought under machine-gun fire. Then an officer ran over and identified the figures in the rubber as Australians. The firing stopped before anyone was hit.
Supported by APCs and tanks, the dismounted assault force, now back under Blake's command, divided into house-clearing teams of two to three men and advanced on the village. Fire from the first row of buildings hit Private Wayne Teeling, one of the morning's reinforcements, in the neck. Two men dragged his body from the line of fire, but nothing more could be done for the 21-year-old, killed in his first action. Climbing up to the hatch of a nearby tank, Brian London had the crew commander fire a high explosive round into the building from which the fatal shot had come. Inside the ruins the Australians found the bodies of six enemy soldiers.
Similar actions, localised fights involving small groups moving from house to house, were being fought all along the closest rows of dwellings. Fire came at the Australians from the doors and windows, from any vantage point that offered the enemy cover. By now it was clear from the uniforms that some of the dead included NVA soldiers as well as Viet Cong. That explained the heavy weapons seen that morning and the surprising intensity of the fighting in Binh Ba.
To dislodge the enemy, D Company's house-clearing teams would fire until a tank could get into position. Once the door had been blasted in or a hole put through a wall with high explosive, the tank crews fired canister through the hole, sweeping the inside with hundreds of steel projectiles. Then the infantrymen went in, clearing the houses room-by-room and throwing grenades into the bunkers dug by the villagers for shelter and now being used as cover by enemy troops. Sometimes there were terrifying close-quarter fights inside the shattered buildings.
For most of the Australians the fighting in Binh Ba was unlike any that they had yet encountered. An ungainly acronym, MOUT (military operations in urban terrain), described the experience. They were fighting in a populated area, people's homes were destroyed and civilian lives were lost. But for the Australians' bravery and discipline, many more of Binh Ba's inhabitants might have been killed or injured. More than once, when there was doubt about whether those in their sights were enemy combatants or civilians trying to flee the maelstrom, the assaulting troops held their fire, exposing themselves to mortal risk. These life and death decisions were often made by the company's youngest soldiers—twelve of the twenty-one rifle sections sent into the action were led by privates.
Many of the NVA soldiers fought to the death. Others removed their uniforms, discarded their weapons and tried to escape alongside the civilians still seeking to flee the battlefield. When the fight was about an hour old B Company dispatched a platoon to screen the civilians escaping to Binh Ba's north. Among them were two Viet Cong passing themselves off as non-combatants and another, nursing a head wound, who surrendered under the Chieu Hoi program, whereby the VC who gave themselves up were promised safety and good treatment. All three were taken prisoner along with another VC captured to the east of Binh Ba. At one point Ray De Vere watched as a man came out of the village, his raised hands exposing the webbing under his shirt. De Vere pointed at the incriminating piece of kit. The would-be escapee shrugged and smiled before surrendering.