Death in the Rain – The Battle of Long Tan

Death in the Rain – The Battle of Long Tan

The ferocious battle of Long Tan, fought during a blinding tropical downpour in a rubber plantation on 18 August 1966 was one of the most significant battles involving Australians in the entire Vietnam War.

It began when D Company, numbering 108 troops, was following up two suspected wounded enemy soldiers who had fled into a rubber plantation near the small village of Long Tan.

As 11 Platoon led the advance, they were suddenly swamped by large-scale automatic fire from a hidden enemy force – obviously of significant size. The battle rapidly escalated as the heavily outnumbered Australians were pinned down by heavy fire with torrential tropical rain then deluging the battlefield.

Protective artillery barrages, called in from the Australian base at Nui Dat 5 kilometres away, prevented D Company from being annihilated. As the light faded and night began to fall ammunition resupply was brought in by two Iroquois helicopters, flying at treetop height in the heavy rain and highly exposed to enemy fire.

Then, in darkness, several armoured personnel carriers arrived on the battlefield. These vehicles had been deployed from Nui Dat, having to negotiate flooded waterways and muddy tracks en route. With their headlights on and engines roaring they emerged from the gloom and commenced firing on the enemy with 50 calibre heavy machine guns.

This signalled a general retreat of the enemy forces that broke contact and melted away into the rubber plantation. The Battle of Long Tan was over after a sustained fire-fight that had lasted some three hours.

The official list of casualties later published was:

• 245 Killed in action (body count)
• 3 Captured
• 350 Wounded in action (from subsequent intelligence estimates)

Australian Casualties
• 18 Killed in action
• 24 Wounded in action

Later analysis pointed to the fact that the Australians had encountered a mixed force of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars of around 2500 troops, outnumbering the Australians by about 25 to one.

Image: The Battle of Long Tan: A painting by war artist Bruce Fletcher in 1970, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.