1966 – 1967
1 RAR returned home in June 1966 and on the 8th June marched through the streets of Sydney. The battalion was the first to serve in Viet Nam and was a fully volunteer regular unit. Thousands of people lined the streets to applaud and cheer with only a few demonstrators in sight. One idiot woman threw red paint but was quickly hustled away by the police. This incident did not spoil the welcome the people of Sydney gave to the men of 1 RAR.
The battalion returned to Gallipoli Barracks at Holsworthy and went on leave. In July and August 1966 1 RAR began to reform with many of the more experienced members being posted out to other battalions and as instructors at different training centres. The Menzies Government had introduced conscription in 1964 and the first National Servicemen had marched into the battalion. The battalion had to refit, retrain and re-arm from the ground up. This was a period of re-thinking / re-organizing for the battalion with the ever present reminder of the war in Viet Nam through the funeral services for those killed in 5 RAR and 6 RAR.
The new Commanding Officer was Lt Col K.P. Outridge and the new RSM was WO 1 D.C. Dalton who served with the battalion until 1970. Over the next few months the battalion was bought up to strength with an influx of officers and NCOs and began training at platoon and company level. The U.S. President, Lyndon Johnson, visited Australia in September 1966 and 1 RAR was involved with Honour Guards and other official duties. The battalion also detached “enemy forces” to assist in the training of other battalions for service in Viet Nam.
The battalion mascot, Septimus,(regimental number H201) had returned to his rightful place in the unit lines and had been involved in several ceremonial duties. However at 1530hr on the 1st April 1967 Septimus died exactly 30 minutes after the RSM WO 1 Dalton was married. (Was it because Seppie was not invited to the reception?) The second unit mascot was a white Shetland stallion, Septimus Secundus, regimental number H202 and was presented to 1 RAR on the 12th October 1967 by Mr. Abrahams. When the battalion was serving overseas in South Viet Nam, Malaysia and Singapore he was quartered at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College.
On the Easter week-end 1967 the battalion began to move into the new barracks at Holsworthy, Finschaffen Lines. These were the first of the new style barracks, which allowed the soldier more personal space as opposed to the old lines where 10 men would share one open floor hut.
VIET NAM 1968-1969
The new CO, Lt Col Phillip Bennett assumed command on the 15th July 1967 and commanded the battalion through the 1968-69 tour of Viet Nam. 1 RAR had been warned for service in Viet Nam in 1968 and now the training began in earnest. Companies were put through the jungle-training centre at Canungra. Specialist courses such as Radio, Mortars, Pioneers and Weapons were conducted to bring the battalion up to the required standard. The final training exercise was “Grass Parrot” at Shoalwater Bay early 1968.
The advance party left for Viet Nam on 17th March 1968 with the main body sailing on the HMAS Sydney and arriving on the 9th April. 1 RAR relieved 7 RAR and immediately began initial acclimatization training.
Lt Col Bennett addressing the battalion
Capt Sullivan, C Sqn,1 Armd Regt
Lt Col Bennett – Maj T Hammett
CO and Gen Westmoreland
Operation PEGASUS (22 Apr 68)
Op Pegasus was the first operation conducted by the Battalion in the second tour of Vietnam. This was an air-mobile assault to practice the battalion in air operations. It was an opportunity to shake the battalion out and become familiar with some supporting elements, the terrain and people in the area of operations. It was a shake-down operation that brought to light some faults, yet it was a good opportunity to refine operating procedures. There were no notable incidents during the operation.
Operation BLAXLAND (24 Apr – 1 May 68)
Op Blaxland was the first major operation conducted by the Battalion. It commenced shortly after the unit had arrived in Vietnam and was designed to locate and destroy enemy camps in the Nui Dinh hills. It was quite a productive operation with A Company achieving the first enemy KIA. Across the Battalion there were a number of enemy camps and caches discovered. Broadly speaking it was quite a successful operation.
Operation TOAN THANG I (3 May – 6 Jun 68) – CORAL
Operation Toan Thang 1 was to become what was probably the Battalion’s defining operation. Whilst the operation name itself is not widely recognised, an action within the operation is probably the Battalion’s most revered action. It became known as the Battle of Coral. Fire Support Base (FSB) Coral was one of 2 FSBs established within adjacent AO’s. AO Bondi and AO Manly were allocated to I RAR and 3 RAR respectively. AO Bondi contained FSB Coral and AO Manly contained FSB Coogee. The FSBs were positioned to provide indirect fire support to the two Infantry Battalions, which were patrolling and ambushing at company and platoon strength with the respective AO’s.
The build up of the Battalion into AO Bondi occurred slowly over the day of 12 May and was just complete by last light. The rifle companies were deployed into independent AO’s and the remainder of the Battalion Group was at Coral. Coral was defended by Battalion HQ, Mor P1, Pnr PI, Anti-Tk PI, 102 Fd Bty and HQ 12 Fd Regt.
During the night of 12/ 13 May, an enemy force of approximately Battalion strength attacked FSB Coral. Much of the Mor P1 was overrun along with one gun of 102 Fd Bty. Support in the form of helicopter gunships and ‘Spooky’ air fire support aircraft as well as the integral weapons enabled Coral to remain defended until first light when the enemy broke contact and withdrew.
During the period 13 -15 May, the development of FSB Coral continued. After the action on the night of 12-13 May all the rifle companies were recalled to the FSB in anticipation of a more substantial enemy attack. The attack came on the night of 15-16 May when a regimental strength attack developed against the part of the perimeter defended by A and B Companies. Whilst some of the fighting pits of A Coy were occupied, no substantial penetration of the Battalion occurred. Just prior to first light a second major assault developed in front of A, B and C Companies. This attack was ultimately repelled causing the enemy to break contact and withdraw at first light.
Over the next two weeks, I RAR was involved in ongoing contacts at and around FSB Coral. These actions and the major engagements at Coral were important in developing an understanding of the NVA’s strategic objectives and large-scale troop dispositions. The Battalion can lay claim to the destruction of a substantial element and major disruption to the plans of the 7th NVA division, which at the time was poised to move on Saigon.
Operation TOAN THANG II (13 Jun – 3 Jul 68)
Operation Toan Thang II was conceived as a result of continued rocket attacks on Saigon throughout 1968. The operation’s objectives were to deny enemy infiltration routes into Saigon and to identify rocket-launching sites. The Battalion patrolled and ambushed relentlessly for 3 week from Fire Support Base “Kiama” without enemy contact or sighting. On the 3rd July the Battalion was relieved by 3 RAR.
Operation BLUE MOUNTAINS 3 July – July
A Company and elements of Support Company under command of C Squadron,1 Armoured Regiment patrolled in the Long Hai hills.
Operation ALBANY 12 July – 16 July
B and D companies patrolled areas southern Phuoc Tuy Province with SAS and APC units in support.
Operation ARUNTA 19 July – 22 July
D Company under command of C Squadron 1 Armoured Regiment patrolled the Ngai Giao and Cam My areas north of Nui Dat.
Operation MERINO 18 July – 24 July
C Company in support of 4 RAR patrolled in the Hat Dich area and secured the assembly area and start line for a battalion attack.
Operation ELWOOD 23 July
A battalion cordon and search on La Van and Vinn Thanh with armour, APCs and Engineers.
Operation PLATYPUS (29 Jul – 6 Aug 68)
Operation Platypus was a two Battalion operation that was conducted in the Hat Dich area to the West of the Phouc Tuy province. The aim was to disrupt the activities of the regional VC organisations including D445 Battalion, which 6 RAR had fought at Long Tan in 1966. 3 RAR established blocking positions in the North of AO Kimberly and 1 RAR was inserted to the south. I RAR then patrolled towards the 3 RAR positions with the aim of pushing any VC in to them. D Company secured FSB “Gladstone” with the APCs on 29 July. C Company discovered and attacked an enemy base camp. A number of C Company were wounded but two heavy machine guns were captured and several of the enemy killed.
D Company was traveling in APCs when a mine detonated with the loss of 2 killed and 5 wounded.
The operation was costly for 1 RAR in that 2 soldiers were killed and numerous were injured. None-the-less, it was successful due to the fact that numerous VC had been accounted for and material and base camps had been seized or destroyed. The operation concluded suddenly when the Battalion was recalled to Nui Dat for a subsequent operation.
Operation NOWRA (8 Aug – 6 Sep 68)
Operation Nowra arose as the result of a threat to the capital of the Phuoc Tuy province, Baria and the smaller nearby villages of Dat Do and Long Dien. A Company moved into the Baria Stadium supported by Tanks and APCs on the 8th August. C Company was positioned to the south-east. This threat materialised throughout the duration of Operation Nowra as the VC occupied and attempted to occupy various parts of the regional capital. These attempts at occupation were met with strong opposition from I RAR whose companies had been positioned to react swiftly to the imminent threat.
The enemy attacked and held the market place at Dat Do and Long Dien on the 22nd August. They used the refugees as shields as B and C companies moved with the tanks to block their escape. The enemy losses were put at 29 dead and an unknown number wounded. C Company lost 7 wounded men by mortar fire.
The operation demonstrated to the local populace that the ATF was able to effectively secure the area. It was a costly operation for the VC whilst 1 RAR suffered 13 men wounded.
Operation HAWKSBURY (12 – 24 Sep – 68)
Operation Hawksbury initially saw 1 RAR employed in the North of the Phuoc Tuy province in an attempt to find and engage elements of the 274 Regiment. With no major success in this activity the Battalion was redeployed from FSB “Longreach” to the Hat Dich area (FSB Coolam) where the success of the operation increased dramatically. A and D Companies discovered substantial enemy camps and a number of enemy were killed and wounded.
FSB “Dampier” was established on 20 September and Lt Salter’s Platoon D company located an occupied bunker system and attacked. Losses were inflicted on the enemy and the platoon withdrew to allow an air strike to finish the job.
The Battalion was working in arduous terrain in an area that was frequently used by the enemy. But by operating in this area and using aggressive tactics the Battalion was able to take the initiative in a place that the VC and NVA had been able to call their own. It was a successful operation, but success came with the loss of 1 Australian.
Operation WINDSOR (29 Sep – 11 Oct 68)
Operation Windsor was similar in nature to Hawksbury in that again the Battalion was in search of the 274 Regiment within the Hat Dich region. It was a joint operation with 3 RAR with support from FSB “Cedar”. A and B companies both had contacts with large base camps while on the 8th October C Company made contact with and engaged a major bunker system. During this engagement 2 Australians were killed with 5 wounded. Pte Peter Fuschtei saved 1 wounded and tried several times to rescue his section commander. He was awarded the Military Medal.
The enemy camp was hit with an air strike and artillery fire and next day was found to be deserted. Operation Windsor turned up numerous enemy camps as well as a range of important equipment and documents. The Battalion lost three killed and several wounded throughout the operation, but had for the second operation in succession entered the enemy’s domain.
Operation CAPITAL (28 Oct – 29 Nov 68)
Operation Capital was a very productive yet costly operation for 1 RAR, which operated in three separate AO’s. The aim of this operation was to target the Rear Services Group 84; the presence of which had been confirmed in recent operations. AO Watson, the first of the Battalions AO’s proved to be highly productive from the start of the operation.
A Coy discovered one substantial bunker system along with many smaller ones. Although Delta Coy had similar discoveries, it appeared that the area was in the process of being hurriedly vacated. The enemy was seeking to avoid contact. Throughout the conduct of operations in AO Watson weapons, documents and bunkers continued to be found in reasonable quantities. This trend continued into the subsequent AO’s; Pearce and Farrer.
Late in the operation A Coy encountered a major bunker system in which a Platoon and Section Commander were killed. D Coy assisted at this bunker system, which was thoroughly searched just prior to the withdrawal of the Battalion to Nui Dat.
Operation GOODWOOD I (3 Dec 68 – 1 Jan 69)
Operation Goodwood 1 was a substantial operation that was conducted simultaneously with the deployment of ARVN and Thai forces aimed at securing approaches to important cities or logistic support bases. Battalion HQ with Spt Coy occupied FSB Dyke allowing the rifle companies to aggressively patrol in the remainder of AO Wondai, which was in the vicinity of the Binh San rubber plantation.
A and C Companies operated with tanks destroying many bunkers. BHQ moved with C Company to FSB “Diggers” where C Company again found the enemy. A platoon attack (C Coy) contacted the enemy killing 3 and wounding an unknown number. A store of weapons and rice was recovered. More contacts followed with the enemy losing more men. Throughout the operation much information was gained and equipment, food and weapons were captured. Also 33 VC were killed and a number of bunker systems were destroyed. Nonetheless, the enemy remained strong in this area.
Operation GOODWOOD II (13 – 27 Jan 69)
Operation Goodwood 2 was in a similar area to that of its predecessor and was as productive in terms of captured food, weapons and enemy killed. B Company killed several of the enemy in ambushes and C Company sank a enemy sampam. D Company was also successful in ambushing and killing 2 of the enemy.
This operation was successful in large finds of rice and documents and on 27th January the battalion returned to Nui Dat to prepare for the move back to Australia.
2 more Company size operations with A and C Companies followed and operations ceased on 7th February 1969. The battalion lost 31 killed and 166 wounded during the second tour. (AWM)
1 RAR was home for the second time from the war zones of Viet Nam and on the 28th February 1969 marched through the streets of Sydney with the battalion mascot “Septimus” leading.
Recommended reading: The Fighting First – Lex McAulay
The Battle of Coral – Lex McAulay
Duty First – Horner and Bou