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8 RAR -The Eighth Battalion of the
Royal Australian Regiment(RAR)

Operation Atherton
8 Dec 69 - 10 Jan 70

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Operation Atherton, the Battalion's first operation in Vietnam, began with the deployment of the Battalion into AO Ashgrove. The AO was generally west of Route 2, extending from the Binh Ba rubber plantation in the south to the province boundary in the north and north west, with limited access east of the road in the vicinity of the De Courtenay rubber plantation.

On the 10th December C Company with one section of 161 Field Battery and one section of C Battery 2-35 (US) Artillery moved by road to establish a temporary Fire Support Base in the Duc Thanh military post, with a simultaneous deployment of D Company by Armoured Personnel Carriers of C Squadron 1 Cavalry Regiment into area Romeo.

A Company then deployed by air from Kapyong to secure the site of Fire Support Base Peggy and was followed shortly after by the deployment of the Fire Support Base. The following morning B Company deployed by air west of AO Tango and moved on foot into AO Quebec followed by the deployment of C Company to the same LZ.

Lieutenant Colonel O'Neill's concept of operations was to establish ambushes with D Company in the north of the AO, across known routes running north east to south west through the De Courtenay rubber and across Route 2 into the plantation area just south of the province boundary. B Company was to move within AO Quebec from west to east along the axes of the Song Ca and the Suoi Ca and C Company within AO Tango along the axis of the Suoi Soc. The purpose of both these companies was to drive enemy into the D Company ambushes to the east.

A Company was to conduct reconnaissance in force operations within AO Zulu, specifically to locate tracks and determine enemy movement patterns. 

Intelligence sources considered that elements of 3-274 Vietcong Regiment could be located astride the Phuoc Tuy Long Khanh Provincial Boundaries and it was well known that the traditional routes across Route 2 within the civilian access areas surrounding the De Courtenay rubber were in constant use. Lieutenant Colonel O'Neill considered that a concentration on these areas would be profitable and deployed accordingly.

The Battalion's first operational contact occurred at dusk on 12th December when 1 Platoon A Company contacted two enemy in AO Zulu. One was wounded but the second immediately fired an RPG which wounded six 1 Platoon soldiers. Four of the six were evacuated that evening and two the following morning.

From the period 12-20th December numerous contacts were made particularly in the D and B Company A0s, with the location of unoccupied bunker systems becoming almost a daily occurrence. D Company was particularly successful during this period killing numerous enemy from ambush positions. The pattern was broken on 20th December when 1 ATF intelligence, confirmed by B Company sightings, indicated a possible major enemy concentration just north of the Province boundary. The Commanding Officer decided to redeploy the Battalion to block the enemy location, to be followed by a drive through the area with B Company, once blocks were in position.

US and ARVN forces were to provide blocks in depth to the north and north west of the target area, with redeployment to take place on 22nd December. The concept depended on stealth for success, it was essential that enemy elements within the target area were not alerted until blocks were in position.

This did not occur, as on 21st December D Company while moving into its blocking position to the east of the target area contacted an enemy force of Platoon strength in bunkers at 390906. A fierce fire fight followed until last light, when D Company withdrew from the bunker system and formed a defensive perimeter.

During the night there was obvious enemy activity within the bunker system, however when D Company supported by tanks, moved back the following morn ing the bunkers were empty except for enemy dead.

Early on 22nd December blocks were positioned and from 22-24th December reconnaissance in force was conducted by B Company within the block positions. Some contact was made but over the next few days the companies returned to ambush and reconnaissance in force operations, with the Assault Pioneers following up and destroying all bunkers located.

Contacts were regular with small groups of enemy and numerous caches were found. This routine was broken by a patrol of trackers and mortarmen on a local patrol from Fire Support Base Peggy on the night of 8th January, which contacted a large number of enemy. The engagement continued through the night with the patrol being reinforced by the Assault Pioneer Platoon and a section of Armoured Personnel Carriers and supported by "Shadow aircraft". Results were indeterminate but drag marks were discovered in the area next morning.

 On 9-10th January the Battalion returned to Nui Dat.

The operation had been initially aimed at destroying enemy nstallations in AO Ashgrove and it was influenced by the intelligence assessment that 3-274 Regiment was attempting to re-establish itself in its old Song Ca base areas. Positive identifications of C21 and C24 identified 274 Regiment, probably 3-274.

Contact was made in the early stages of the operation with C6-D440 and documents captured on the Secretary of the Party Chapter of the Cau Su Unitindicated D6-MR7 Sapper Battalion were moving into the area. This was later substantiated by contact with a member of the Battalion.

The Battalion's operation to surround HQ 3-274 Regiment although it did not make contact with the HQ itself, did identify the Regimental Support Companies C20, C21 and C23, elements being killed in the blocking positions.

The traditional resupply routes roughly aligning the provincial boundary were found to be in constant use and the effectiveness of ambushing in these circumstances was well illustrated by the fact that forty three of the fifty two known enemy casualties were accounted for by firing from ambush positions.

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Positive results of the operation were:

Enemy Casualties

KIA 28 - WIA 24 - POW 1

Small Arms Weapons Captured 26

Mortars 1

Small Arms Ammunition Captured 2120

Grenades 26 Explosive 24 Ibs. Detonators 41

Food Captured

Rice 1067 Ibs. Salt 86 lbs. Misc. Food 349 lbs.

Own Casualties

KIA 1 - WIA 13

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Copyright 1997 VSASA
Last modified: May 12, 1998