When Australian and New Zealand forces first deployed to Viet Nam it they were initially attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in order to take part in big unit engagements of the type the US forces intended to fight. This did not suit the ANZAC experience from Malaya and the force was redeployed as the 1st Australian Task force. The area chosen for the deployment was Phoc Tuy province, a highly active area of VC activity. The base was established at Nui Dat, provocatively between the VC controlled areas and the population centres.
It was the intention to confront and deal with the enemy by separating them from the population with aggressive patrolling and it was entirely reasonable, and intended, that they would react.
On 18th of August 1966 the clash occurred in a rubber plantation where for four hours D Company 6Royal Australian Regiment faced 2,500 VC and NVA of D445 275 Regiments. I will not detail the battle because I cannot do it justice in this short space. However the battle resulted in 42 casualties for the Australian company with 11 platoon losing 2/3 of its number.
During the battle FO officer Captain Morrie Stanley controlled first 161 Battery RNZA, then a full regiment including another battery of Australian 105’s and an American battery of 155mm’s in keeping the enemy force at bay. At one point Sgt Bob Buick, who had taken command of 11 platoon when its commander 2Lt Gordon Sharp was killed, called in fire on his own position believing they were about to be overrun. Stanley refused to carry out the mission and kept his fire as close as he could to 11 platoons position (50 metres) although Buick believed that Stanley has walked it much closer. It clearly effected Stanely when Buick advised him that his platoon had been reduced to 12, however Stanley continued to direct the guns professionally allowing Buick to withdraw those of 11 platoon who were still alive.
Over 4,000 rounds were fire during the battle with the rate of fire reaching 8 rounds/minute for some guns with almost every spare body at Nui Dat helping serve the guns.
D Company was surrounded on three sides and the VC were preparing for a final assault on dusk when APC’s from 1st APC Squadron arrived and their will to fight was broken. The initial sitrep at the end of the battle was: Twenty two wounded, four conformed dead and 17 missing. Of those missing all were from 11 platoon and two were found alive the following day.
Many participants and military historians attribute a lot of the credit of D Company’s survival to Morrie Stanley’s handling of the artillery that afternoon. Certainly in the lecture I received on the battle recently it was the opinion of the lecturer that this was the case. As he had been at Nui Dat at the time I’m certainly not going to question him. It is also apparent that the members of D Company fought with great professionalism and tenacity.
The casualties taken by D445 and 275 are disputed, however the battle resulted in a reduction in their operation ability in the province and it is clear they had a bad of tangling with Australian force.
In 2006 a documentary was released for the 40th anniversary of the engagement and many of the participants were interviewed giving insights into what took place and is essential viewing for many reasons. You can see a small slice of it here.
Morrie Stanley was awarded a military MBE for his work and earlier this year received a Presidential Unit Citation, the approval of which was fast tracked due to his ill health. It was at the ceremony that he actually met Bob Buick for the first time. The Australian War Memorial also dedicated part of its Long Tan exhibition to him. Morrie Stanley died on Thursday and will be buried on Wednesday.