The Battle of Long Tan

ABC
Painting of Battle of Long Tan

 

Few other military engagements come closer to encapsulating the ANZAC spirit than the Battle of Long Tan which took place in August of 1966.

This battle has largely been forgotten by the general public due in no small measure to the unpopular nature of the war it occurred in. But the overwhelming odds which were eventually overcome in this engagement is testament to the long history of brotherhood and cooperation New Zealand and Australian forces have developed over the years.

I will not go into great detail regarding the breakdown of this battle here for there is not the time to do it justice however for a comprehensive analysis I would recommend “The Battle of Long Tan: As Told by the Commanders” written by Robert Grandin.

In short though, Long Tan has become somewhat of a byword in military circles as a good case study in the effective coordination of infantry, armour, artillery and aviation on the modern battlefield.

The main ingredient for success was the close working relationship between the Australian infantry on the ground and the 1st Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery consisting of the New Zealand 161st Battery and two other Australian batteries. This communication was only made possible by the presence of New Zealanders Captain Maurice Stanley and Lance Bombardiers Willie Walker and Murray Broomhall, who were attached to ground forces and operated as forward observers directing fire support from the rear.


FAIRFAX
BRAVE SOLDIER: Morrie Stanley in 2006.

 

The resulting contact with a far larger force of enemy combatants could very easily have resulted in total disaster for the Australian troops however the Viet Cong had not countered for the effect of well-practised artillery support directed by effective radio communications. The weather didn’t help either with an afternoon monsoon shower creating a scene more akin to a swamp than a battlefield.

The repeated waves of ground assaults by close to two thousand Viet Cong were beaten back time and time again by artillery barrages which were called in and directed by Captain Stanley who went on to receive the Order of the British Empire as a result of his cool-headed response in the face of determined enemy aggression in conditions which worsened as the afternoon progressed.

In a moving ceremony 44 years later, 79-year-old Maurice Stanley was awarded an Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry at the Browns Bay RSA. He passed away almost two months later in September of 2010.


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