Battle of Long Tan 1966: The ANZAC’s Greatest Victory of the Modern Age

On this day in 1966 the Battle of Long Tan was fought in Vietnam between elements of 6th Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR), D company, and NVA/Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). The more than three and half hour battle was fought in the ruins of an old French rubber plantation between ANZAC (Australian-New Zealand, mostly Australian) forces and Viet Cong and regular North Vietnamese Army forces.

Australian soldiers prepare for evacuation in a Iroquois chopper

The forces engaged that day at Long Tan consisted of 105 Australians, plus a 3 man New Zealand artillery team, of the 161 Field Battery who fought in a vicious skirmish in the rain and mud, against a 2,500 or more strong force of Viet Cong irregulars and regular NVA forces from the North.

RAR soldier with a US M60 machinegun

While on a routine patrol in the province members of D company clashed with a VC platoon purely by chance, stumbling into one another on the trails of a rundown rubber plantation, a late 19th century or early 20th century ruin of France’s longtime dominance of what had been Indochina.

NVA platoon 1967

Both armies fought viciously from around 3pm to just before 7 o’clock on this day in 1966. One must imagine both sides struggled in the mud and rain during the bloody firefight that ensued when the combatants made contact.

The forces of 6 RAR survived annihilation from frontal assaults and fierce mortar fire through inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy which was made possible by a critical delivery of ammunition from Royal Australian Air Force Iroquois helicopters half way through the battle. Reinforced eventually by armored personnel carriers and support helicopters the 6 RAR reestablished command and counted the cost of victory.

Private David J. Collins guards a Viet Cong POW after the Battle of Long Tan

18 Australians were killed, 24 wounded, almost all of them young men, some only 18 or 19 years old. 245 and Vietnamese were killed at least, with perhaps hundreds more killed or wounded that were carried off the battlefield after.

The human cost at the Battle of Long Tan was high and though the legacy of many countries participation today in the Vietnam War is shameful, many Australian veterans & citizens celebrate August 18 as the date of one of Australia and New Zealand’s greatest military victories.

Special Air Service Regiment, (SASR) troopers in Vietnam. These were regiments which held close the doctrine of both the British SAS and Z special units of World War II. ANZAC special forces were useful in Vietnam because they had previous experience in the jungle and humid climates of Malaya, Indonesia, and Borneo in the early to mid 1960's.