Book brings insights into Vietnam operations

A newly published book sponsored by the 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment Association, provides insights into the Australian Army’s activities in Vietnam.

9 July 2020

It covers the commitment of the two-battalion, 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), into Phuoc Tuy Province in early 1966 and details how 5RAR settled into operations over the following six months.

The deployment of the 1ATF into Phuoc Tuy Province was the first Australian Army force larger than an infantry battalion group to be deployed into a major war since the Second World War. 5RAR was the task force’s first element committed to operations to seize and occupy Nui Dat base and establish dominance over the enemy.

Australian soldiers in the jungle in October 1966 during the Vietnam War. One soldier is injured and is being supported by two other soldiers as he walks. Another soldier is on the radio requesting help.

October 1966: Two C Company members, Lance Corporal Ron Shoebridge (left) and Lance Corporal David “Stretch” Bryan (right), support Private David Riik after 8 Platoon suffered casualties from booby traps during Operation Canberra. Private Ian Foran at left monitors the company radio net and Private Robert Birtles kneels at right. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

Vietnam Vanguard — The 5th Battalion’s Approach to Counter Insurgency 1966 has been prepared under the sponsorship of the 5RAR Association and published by the Australian National University Press. The book contains the reflections of 27 battalion members ranging in rank, at that time, from private to major. Supporting material is written by the Australian military historian, Professor David Horner, and Ernest Chamberlain, a retired Brigadier, who has written widely on the subject of enemy forces in Phuoc Tuy before and during 1ATF’s time there. The book’s contents are edited by Professor Robert O’Neill and Ron Boxall, a retired Brigadier, both of whom deployed with 5RAR in 1966.

The book has been published with the support of a Major Commemorative Grant of almost $23,000 under DVA’s Saluting Their Service program. The book gives rare insights into each author’s thoughts both at the time and, with the benefit of a half century of reflection, how they have come to view the events that then enmeshed them. Contributors include both professional soldiers and conscripted national service men.

The Association’s former president, Roger Wainwright, now vice-president, said for many reasons the Australian public knew relatively little about what our Army did in Vietnam during the war and this book attempted to make the true nature of the war clearer to readers of all backgrounds. He emphasised that the book described how hard the fighting was during major operations, while revealing the close-knit, familial nature of Australian infantry battalions at war.

Vietnam Vanguard was launched at 5RAR’s 55th anniversary reunion on the Gold Coast on 2 March by Major General Stuart Smith AO, DSC (Ret’d), who is the son of a 5RAR member killed-in-action on the battalion’s second tour of Vietnam.

Vietnam Vanguard can be read free online or purchased in hard copy for $55 plus postage. For enquiries, contact the ANU Press.