The Royal Australian Regiment(RAR) consisting of 1 RAR, 2 RAR, 3 RAR and
4 RAR was formed on the 10 March, 1949 from Regular Army Infantry Battalions after World
War II. It was not until the commitment to Vietnam that the additional battalions of 5
RAR, 6 RAR, 7 RAR, 8 RAR and 9 RAR were raised. This is their story, a story of young
Australian soldiers sent to War in Vietnam. These were the combat troops who fought the
An RAR unit was an infantry battalion generally consisting of
37 officers(offr) and 755 other ranks(OR).
1987 - Brigadier Colin Kahn DSO- Speaking of Australian Soldiers in Vietnam
" I saw a rain and sweat drenched man in green, laden like a pack mule, aged 21 going on 50, cutting his way through jungle by day to find and attack the enemy, then laying all night in paddy fields or on trails in ambush."
An Australian Infantry Battalion(RAR)
Infantry Battalions and Companies quite often operated under
strength. The main cause being battle casualties, other operational committments and end
of tour (12 months) by individual soldiers. Instances occurred where whole intakes of
National Servicemen were sent back to Australia due to their 2 year service committment
being terminated. Battalions were kept up to strength by re-inforcements from Australia.
An even balance of Regular and National Servicemen(NS) was maintained where
possible(Government Policy). Infantry Battalions were a close knit 'family' of soldiers
where mateship, friendship and camaraderie was the normal.
Supporting Arms and Services
Without the assistance of supporting Arms and Serivces an infantry battalion would not be able to operate effectively, these included;
Forward Observers - (RAA) Artillery Forward Observers (FO parties) accompanied the battalion and rifle companies on operations to co-ordinate and control artillery support fire. Many a bad situation was saved by timely and accurate artillery fire laid down by these FOs.
Engineers - (RAE) - were used for mine detection and clearance, demolition, tunnel clearance,erection of defenses and any other engineering tasks.
Tanks and APCs - (RAAC) - Armoured Personnel Carrier(APC) were used extensively by the infantry on operations. Centurion tanks also provided close support, especially in bunker and well defended installations.
Cooks - Australian Army Catering Corps (AACC) - not in an operational role.
Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - (RAEME). maintained all mechanical and radio equipment.
Medical - (RAAMC) - 1 Doctor - a fully qualified medic accompanied each company on operations. Also operated the battalion Regimental Aid Post(RAP).
Radio Operators - (RA Sigs)to maintain communications between the battalion and higher command(1 ATF). All other signal requirements were met by the battalion's Signal Platoon.
Army Padre - provided for the spiritual welfare of all soldiers regardless of religious faith.
Royal Australian Air Force(RAAF) - 9 Sqn helicopters continually supported the battalion by providing airlift, 'Dustoff"(medivac) helicopters and 'Bushranger' Gunships in close support.
The Infantry Rifle Section
Composition - 1 Cpl(Section Commander) - 1 LCpl(Section 2i/c) - Scout Group(2 Pte) - Gun Group(2 Pte) - Rifle Group(4 Pte).
Weapons Used by Infantry Rifle Sections
L1A1 Self Loading Rifle(SLR) - semi auto - fired a 7.62mm standard NATO round - weight 10lbs - magazine capacity 20 rounds - range 300metres - standard issue weapon for all soldiers in the Australian Army. Very robust and dependable weapon. Each soldier carried at least 150 rounds each.
M16A1 Armalite Rifle - fully auto - 5.56mm round - weight 7 lbs. - magazine capacity 20/30 rounds - range 300 metres - carried primarily by forwards scouts in each section of a rifle company, also issued to selected appointments in a unit.This weapon was not issued to Australian troops until stocks were obtained form US sources in 1966. Early versions of this weapon were prone to stoppages and breakage's, caused mainly by an unsatisfactory and weak alloy bolt carrier.
General Purpose Machine Gun M60(GPMG M60) - fired a 7.62mm round and fed by linked ammo belt of 100 rounds - weight 23 lb - range up to 1100 metres. This was the main fire support weapon for each section who carried 1 M60 and at least 1200 rounds. Reliable weapon , provided ammunition belts were kept clean and the weapon was well maintained. Was prone to continual stoppages if the weapon became too worn.
F1 Sub Machine Gun - fired a 9mm round - magazine capacity 30 rounds - weight 7.2 lb - range 100 metres.This weapon was totally unsuitable for conditions in Vietnam. The range (100 Metres) and low velocity of the 9mm round was not capable of penetrating the jungle and undergrowth. The M16 Armalite was eventually issued in place of this weapon.
40 MM M79 Grenade Launcher - carried by each rifle section with 36 rounds - weight 6 lb - range 300 metres. Very effective against enemy troops and light installations.
M26 Fragmentation Grenade - carried by each member of a rifle section - lethal radius of 10 metres. Used effectively for close quarter fighting and clearing enemy bunkers and weapon pits.
No 83 Smoke Grenade - used in various colours to indicate to position of enemy and friendly troops. Used largely to indicate to helicopters and aircraft, the position of a unit. Helicopters would not land or evacuate wounded until a smoke grenade was thrown and the colour of the grenade was verified.
M49 Trip Flare - and used at night as an early warning device to detect and illuminate enemy movement.
M18 Claymore Mine - 10 carried by each rifle section - range of 50 metres. Used extensively as a defensive weapon in night harbors and was most effective when used in ambushing enemy parties.
M72 66 mm Light Anti-Tank Weapon(LAW) - weight 4.5 lbs. - range 200 metres. Light weight and simple design, this weapon was most effective against enemy installations such as bunkers and buildings. Fired a high explosive round from a disposable launcher.
A Typical Load carried by an Infantry Soldier.
Individual items included, basic webbing(harness), weapon and ammunition, a shell dressing, entrenching tool, machete, M26 grenade, nine full water bottles, five days rations, small stove and hexamine tablets for cooking, shaving gear, steel mug, shelter, lightweight blanket, hammock, spare socks and bayonet. In addition each 10 man section shared a load of, 6 x 100 round belts for the M60 MG, spare barrel for the M60 MG, M49 flares, smoke grenades, white phosphorus grenades, grenade spigots and ballastite cartridges, claymore mines, detonating cord, plastic explosive, M79 rounds, M72 LAWs, spare radio batteries, torch, starlight scope(night vision device), panel markers(for identification to aircraft), binoculars, compass, maps, protractor, pace counter, strobe light, secateurs, medical kit, watches, codes and writing equipment.
Signalers carried the ANPRC Radio with spares batteries and handset and antennas.
Platoon medics carried a comprehensive medical kit.
Dress - consisted of jungle greens with sleeves down, general purpose boots(GPs), sweat rag, floppy green hat.
Battalion Support Elements
Signals Platoon - equipped with the ANPRC 25 radio set provided and maintained all radio and telephone communication requirements for the battalion. Each rifle company HQ was allocated two radio operators. Radio Operators manned the radios and telephones in the battalion Command Post (CP) and accompanied the battalion on operations. Platoon radio operators were normally drawn from the platoon itself.
Mortar Platoon - provided mortar support for the battalion and the Task Force with six 81mm mortar tubes and generally operated from the base area or from a Fire Support Base (FSB). A Mortar FO would accompany rifle companies.
Anti-Tank Platoon - equipped with 16 Medium Anti-Tank Weapons(MAW) the Pl provided additional fire support for the battalion.
Assault Pioneer Platoon - a similiar role to engineers. The Pl provided valuable support for the battalion in defence works, mine detection and field engineering
Administration Company - provided ammunition, stores, motor vehicles, cooks and medical staff. Admin Coy was tasked to provide everything required for the battalion to operate, at base and on operations.
Summary of Tours
|Unit/Tour||Dates in Vietnam||Ops||Days||KIA||WIA|
|25 May 65-14 Jun 66
19 Jan 68-28 Feb 69
|1 Apr 66-7 Jul 67
28 Apr 70-4 Jun 71
|3 RAR-1st Tour
|12 Dec 67-5 Dec 68
12 Feb 71-19 Oct 71
|4 RAR-1st Tour
|29 Jan 68-30 May 69
1 May 71-12 Mar 72
|5 RAR-1st Tour
|1 Apr 66-5 Jul 67
28 Jan 69-5 Mar 70
|6 RAR-1st Tour
|1 Apr 66-7 Jul 67
7 May 69-28 May 70
|2 Mar 67-26 Apr 68
10 Feb 70-10 Mar 71
|8 RAR||18 Nov 69-12 Nov 70||18||102|
|9 RAR||5 Nov 68-5 Dec 69|
|Total||25 May 65-12 Mar 72||323|
The dates shown above are sourced from the Dept of Veterans Affairs
and are the recognised operational dates in Vietnam, for the purposes of Repatriation.
Dates include Advance and Rear Parties. Some data is incomplete due to records being
Between June 1965 and March 1972 there were a total of 16 Battalion Tours in Vietnam. Seven Infantry Battalions of the Regiment saw 2 tours with 8 RAR and 9 RAR serving once. 14,325 Australian Infantrymen served. Of 415(Battle Deaths) in Vietnam, 323 came from the Regiment. As is the case in all wars, it is the Infantry soldier who is expected to do the majority of fighting. Not included in the figures above are the hundreds of Tactical Area of Operational Responsibility (TAOR) patrols conducted by the battalions during their tour.
LOOKING THROUGH AN INFANTRYMAN'S EYES
Written by Gary McMahon
Civilians will never understand what the average infantry man went through in Vietnam. No one who hasn't been to Vietnam will ever know. A General once exploded to a war correspondent:
"I get so eternally tired of the lack of understanding of what the infantry soldier endures .....I get so fighting mad because of the general lack of appreciation of real heroism - which is the uncomplaining acceptance of unendurable conditions..."
VIETNAM. To the fighting men there, half a world from home, the name meant many things - none of them good.
It meant a long way from those we loved. It meant the closest place to death. It meant the place where I lost my best friend; it meant a place where we all surely and without doubt lost the last remnants of our boyhood.
Vietnam was stagnant rice paddies, red clay, jungle vines, bamboo thickets and elephant grass. It was weeks of 120 degree heat and 100% humidity. It was drought and monsoon and flood. It was two seasons, hot and dry and hot and wet. Or both. A soldier said, "This is the only place in the world where you can be shoulder deep in mud and have dust blowing in your face at the same time".
It was the red ant, the malaria mosquiti, the bamboo flea and the bamboo viper, the pit viper, the banded krait, the cobra, and a couple of other snakes that go under the alias of Mr. Two Foot and One Step Charlie, of course all were poisonous.
Spiders, flies, lizards, rats, bats, leeches and a million insects - no two alike live there. So does malaria, jungle rot, typhus, fungus, immersion foot, sunburn, dysentry, pneumonia, heat prostration, tuberculosis, leprosy and other ailments we didn't even have names for.
They lived there and they thrived. But, so did the spirit of the Infantry man. Every day he met the challenges of that cruel, agonising war. He survived. He even triumphed.
It didn't take much to make us happy. We got overjoyed at little comforts like a squirt of insect repellant on a leech eating into our skin. Or a dry cigarette.
We did everything that was asked of us and more. We fed on courage and selflessness and dedication, and a comraderie that no one who shared will ever find anywhere else again. And we got by on the most simple and pathetic, most god - awful imortant little pleasures. A sweat stained photo or a letter from home, a nights sleep in a bed or water without leeches.
We were young Australians and Americans who would have given anything to be back home doing other things, but we weren't, we were in Vietnam doing our duty for our country. By all accounts we were the smartest, strongest, best trained, most spirited and competent fighting men our country had ever sent to war anywhere.
We were young but we were old beyond our years because that war was a rush course in maturity and survival. We would do anything for a mate, anything except leave him on the battlefield. We shared our last drops of water, or our last cigarette. We patrolled together, we slept together, we laughed together and we fought together. We even died together.
We trusted each other with our lives but we learned to mistrust the slightest movement in the bushes, the snap of a twig at night, the old villager with a concealed hand, the child who looked so young and innocent. We learned to live by our senses and our instincts.
We lived like this because we were up against a tough, resourceful, tenacious and brave enemy we called "Charlie." Whether he was the local village Viet Cong (VC) we called "Victor Charles" or the main force North Vietnamese Army (NVA), we fought them both, and he was good. He stood about five feet six inches tall and weighed about eight stone wringing wet, but in my opinion he was one of the best guerilla fighters in the world.
He was a master of camouflage and concealment and surprise. He dug into holes, faded into the jungle, or submerged for hours in a rice paddy breathing through a bamboo tube. He moved a lot at night and was always agonisingly hard to find.
He was also deadly and treacherous. He would bury village people alive when they refused to help them or to pay rice taxes. He would employ assassination and torture whenever it served him. And he would kill his own wounded to keep them silent.
We could never relax because he was everywhere. He was sometimes farmer, or civilian or woman or child, and he had many, many tricks: Bombs hidden on a womans or baby's body, fruit injected with snake venom, ice for drinks filled with slivers of glass, acid in Coca-Cola.
And they were not afraid to die.
As good as they were though, so were we, and in my opinion, on the battlefield we were better. We fought the enemy at every opportunity and we never lost a battle..It was a strange, bitter, frustrating, personal war. A war of contrasts. Of modern technology and primitive conditions, of mud and dust, of outgoing and incoming, of contact and no contact and the contrasts of hit and near miss, the difference between the body bag and the good war story.
It was a war where you learned to trust fate or God. There were not many Atheists amongs infantrymen in those days...It was that kind of war.