I thought you might like to know – AN OVERDUE RECOGNITION
Fifty years on from what has been described as the largest unit-level action by Australian forces in the Vietnam war, a large crowd gathered at the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial in Canberra to witness Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester announce that a unit citation for gallantry has been awarded to those who took part in the twenty six day Battle of Coral- Balmoral, forty kilometres north of Saigon.
Heavy fighting between against North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong by United States and South Vietnam forces in the days preceding May 12th in 1968 had resulted in extensive damage to Saigon and the eventual withdrawal of the North Vietnamese due to heavy losses. On May 12th, 1 ATF was re-deployed to obstruct the withdrawal and establish a fire support base which was named FSB Coral but poor reconnaissance and inadequate planning led to an amount of confusion during the fly-in.
This meant that the base had only been partially set up and North Vietnamese carried out a number of large sized assaults during the night, exploiting the somewhat disorganised defences. The North Vietnamese 141st Regiment temporarily captured a forward gun position during the close quarters fighting but were repulsed by superior firepower in the morning. Whilst casualties had been high, this had been a convincing win for the Australians and the following day 1 RAR was deployed to defend FSB Coral and RAR established FSB Coogee to the West.
During the next few days, FSB Coral underwent a number of further regiment sized attacks but the NVA were forced to withdraw after heavy losses. In expectation of more attacks, the Australians were re-enforced with tanks and added artillery. On May 24th, 3 RAR was re-deployed to establish FSB Balmoral just over four kilometres to the North which was supported by tanks that had arrived from FSB Coral.
FSB Balmoral was immediately the target of a two-battalion attack by the North Vietnamese 165th Regiment with a rocket and mortar barrage falling mainly on D Company before being repelled by the combined firepower of the tanks and infantry. The battles in this area continued into June and, on the 6th of that month, 1 ATF was relieved by US and South Vietnamese forces.
During the twenty-six days of fighting, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had suffered very heavy losses and had to postpone any further attacks against Saigon. Whilst confirmed losses to the enemy forces are reported as 276 killed, 9 wounded and 11 captured, it is thought that these numbers would have actually been considerably higher. Twenty-six Australians were killed and a further ninety-nine were wounded during the conflict. On announcing the citation, Mr Chester said that the men who fought at Fire Bases Coral and Balmoral displayed collective gallantry which is definitely worthy of the unit citation.
‘This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Battles of Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral and it is timely that we are able to recognise the courageous service displayed by the members of the units involved,’ the Minister added. The units that were recognised at the service were the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, A Squadron of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and C Squadron of the 1st Armoured Regiment along with the 12th Field Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery and the 1st Field Squadron of the Royal Australian Engineers.
In addition, recognition was given to veterans of the RAAF 9 Squadron and 161 Reconnaissance Flight who flew support missions during the battle. There were a number of soldiers representing the New Zealand Defence Force attended the ceremony but it remains unclear how the unit citation may apply to the Kiwi troops who took part in the Battles of Coral and Balmoral.