50th anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe, Vietnam

DVA will hold a National Commemorative Service to mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe and the Battle of Nui Le at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade in Canberra. The service will take place on Monday, 20 September 2021 at 10.30am and will be live broadcast nationally on ABC TV.

In September 1971, Australian forces were entering the final stages of their decade-long involvement in the Vietnam War. With elements of the Australian Task Force already returning home, enemy forces — particularly the battle-hardened 33rd North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment —sought to establish themselves in Phuoc Tuy Province.

Operation Ivanhoe was intended to prevent enemy forces from gaining a foothold. Launched on 19 September 1971, it was a search-and-destroy sweep of the area south of the Courtenay rubber plantation. Operational personnel comprised members of the 4th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment/New Zealand (4RAR/NZ — the ANZAC Battalion), the 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, armoured personnel carriers from A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, engineers from 1st Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers along with artillery support from 12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery and air support from No. 9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), 161 (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight and United States aircraft. Unfortunately, the Australian tanks that had supported previous operations had departed from Vung Tau to return to Australia less than a week before.

The last major offensive operation of Australia’s war in Vietnam, Ivanhoe saw Australian forces engage in a series of heavy contacts with the 33rd NVA Regiment.

This included the last major battle fought by Australian forces in Vietnam — the Battle of Nui Le on 21 September 1971. Throughout the day and into the night, soldiers from 4RAR/NZ’s B and D companies were engaged by NVA troops across two locations about four kilometres apart. In support of the fighting on the ground, United States aircraft and helicopters from No. 9 Squadron RAAF provided substantial and effective air support, while artillery burst among the NVA positions. Overhead, helicopters from 161 (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight dropped urgently needed ammunition, and monitored activity on the ground below.

The intense fighting that day came at a cost. Five Australian servicemen were killed and many more were wounded. Clearing patrols went out at dawn the following day but the enemy had left during the night.

During the operation, crew from A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment were also engaged in contacts with the NVA, resulting in a number of Australians wounded.

The National Commemorative Service will commemorate all those who served during Operation Ivanhoe, including the six Australian servicemen killed. It is an opportunity to reflect on the qualities of courage and perseverance that characterised Australians’ service in Vietnam.

Details about the service will be available on the 50th Anniversary of Operation Ivanhoe and the Battle of Nui Le webpage of the DVA website.

Young man in battle fatigues looking at book that has bullet hole through it.

2nd Lt Graham David Spinkston contemplates a copy of Taste of Courage which had prevented an enemy AK-47 round from hitting his left leg as he led 12 Platoon, D Company, 4 RAR/NZ, in a bunker contact against 3 Battalion, 33 North Vietnamese Army Regiment, on 21 September 1971. The book is held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial. (AWM P07256.007)