🎖️ 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF)¶
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Australian Army casualties during the Vietnam War were 521 killed and over 3,000 wounded, the bulk of which were sustained by The 1st Australian Task Force.
The 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) was a brigade-sized formation which commanded Australian and New Zealand Army units deployed to South Vietnam between 1966 and 1972. 1 ATF was based in a rubber plantation at Nui Dat, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) north of Ba Ria in Phuoc Tuy Province and consisted of two and later three infantry battalions, with armour, aviation, engineers and artillery support. While the task force was primarily responsible for securing Phuoc Tuy Province, its units, and the Task Force Headquarters itself, occasionally deployed outside its Tactical Area of Responsibility.
Significant battles conducted by the Task Force were Battle of Long Tan in 1966, Battle of Suoi Chau Pha in 1967, and Operation Coburg and the Battle of Coral–Balmoral in 1968. Other significant actions included Battle of Hat Dich in late-December 1968 and early 1969, Battle of Binh Ba in June 1969, and Battle of Long Khanh in June 1971.
A number of 1 ATF operations resulted in major defeats for the enemy including Operation Marsden in 1969 whereupon enormous caches of weapons and supplies and the main hospital servicing the local Communist forces were discovered and destroyed; and Operation Townsville in April 1970 whereupon Australian and New Zealand platoons captured the operational signals codes and one-time cipher pads used by the VC headquarters. As a result, senior U.S commanders including General CW Abrams, Commander USMACV were alleged to have referred to it as “the biggest intelligence coup of the war.” 1 ATF was withdrawn in late 1971.
Nui Dat (Núi Đất) is a former 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) base now part of Ba Ria city in Ba Ria–Vung Tau province, Vietnam. It is not the name of an official ward, it just means “dirt hill” (núi đất).
In 1966, when the area was part of the then Phuoc Tuy Province it was the location of a prominent 1 ATF military base in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The site was chosen by Lieutenant General John Wilton in 1966 and was built mainly by men from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. The occupation of Nui Dat required the removal of all inhabitants from within a 4,000-metre (2.5 mi) radius of the base in order to ensure the security of the facility. Ultimately this policy—which was an unusual step among allied bases in Vietnam—required the resettlement of the villages of Long Tan, with a population of 1000, and Long Phuoc, with a population of 3000. Both villages were subsequently destroyed; a task which was complete by July 1966. After the withdrawal of Australian forces in December 1972, the base was “stripped bare”.
The task force began arriving at Vung Tau between April and June 1966. From 17 May to 15 June, US and Australian forces secured the area around Nui Dat during Operation Hardihood, deploying two battalions of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade and an element of 1 RAR. 5 RAR deployed from Vung Tau the same day and was tasked with clearing any Viet Cong found in an area 6,000 metres (6,600 yd) east and north-east of Nui Dat. 1 ATF occupied Nui Dat from 5 June, with Jackson flying-in with his tactical headquarters to take command. The plan to operate independently resulted in significant self-protection requirements and 1 ATF’s initial priorities were to establish a base and ensure its own security. Meanwhile, Wilton’s decision to occupy Nui Dat rather than co-locate 1 ATF with its logistic support at Vung Tau allowed the task force to have a greater impact but resulted in additional manpower demands to secure the base. Indeed, the security requirements of an understrength brigade in an area of strong Viet Cong activity utilised up to half the force, limiting its freedom of action. As part of the occupation all inhabitants within a 4,000-metre radius had been removed and resettled nearby. A protective security zone was then established, the limit of which was designated Line Alpha, and a free-fire zone declared. Although unusual for allied installations in Vietnam, many of which were located near populated areas, the Australians hoped to deny the Viet Cong observation of Nui Dat and afford greater security to patrols entering and exiting the area.
6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) is a mechanised infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was originally raised in Brisbane, Queensland, on 6 June 1965 and has since then served in a number of overseas deployments and conflicts including South Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Vietnam War, the battalion earned a US Presidential Unit Citation from the United States when members from ‘D’ Company participated in the Battle of Long Tan on 18–19 August 1966.