Long Tan swipe does disservice

  • AUGUST 20, 2015 6:26PM

AUSTRALIANS would be hard pressed not to think the only battle of any consequence during Vietnam was Long Tan on August 18, 1966.

It has come to characterise Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and its anniversary has captured national commemorations of that war.

Delta Company 6RAR commander Harry Smith has fought an even longer battle for what he regards as “proper” recognition for his men, to the frustration if not annoyance of other 6RAR veterans, not to mention other Australian personnel who were engaged in that and other Vietnam battles.

Now, on Long Tan’s 49th anniversary, Smith has accused his CO, then Lieutenant Colonel Colin Townsend, and the Australian Task Force commander Brigadier David Jackson of “perjuring” themselves in the citations for their subsequent awards of Companions of the Distinguished Service Order.

Even for Smith, “perjury” is a word too far. Smith has long maintained he should also have received a DSO for his leadership at Long Tan, not the unusual but significant award of an “immediate” Military Cross he was given.

Only one Australian received the DSO for gallantry in Vietnam, Australian Army Training Team infantry Captain Pat Beale MC, it being usually awarded for prolonged, distinguished command. Following subsequent lobbying and a review of Long Tan awards, Smith was granted the contemporary Australian Star of Gallantry.

He has now been decorated twice for the same action but persists in campaigning for what he insists is “proper” recognition for Delta Coy.

Smith claims neither Jackson nor Townsend took “control of the battle” as he alleges their citations show, since “neither of them were there”.

Smith’s insistence that his infantrymen, supported by a New Zealand artillery forward observer party, fought the battle alone is not supported by historical facts.

When the contact was initiated late on the afternoon of August 18, it was quickly apparent this was a major engagement. Jackson’s Nui Dat-based 1st Australian Task Force consisted of two infantry battalions, not yet the three of later years, plus supporting arms and services.

Smith’s part of the battle, though critical, was now just one element as the entire task force reacted with supporting fire, reinforcements and logistic support. Townsend mobilised Alpha Coy and an APC troop to move to Long Tan to reinforce, relieve and recover Delta Coy and its wounded as an RAAF helicopter flew a courageous ammunition resupply through torrential rain.

This was exactly what was required of Townsend as CO as the battle changed from a company contact to a task force engagement.

Smith criticised the experienced TF commander Jackson for “retiring to his tent’’, but away from the cacophony of the command post he could think, plan, and communicate an appropriate response to what appeared a developing threat to the entire base.

Jackson’s and Townsend’s DSO citations as written independently by then Australian commander Major General Ken Mackay reflected their entire Vietnam service, which for Jackson also included commanding AATTV.

All three are dead but their posthumous reputations deserve much better than Smith’s selfish derision.

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