The Tet Offensive in Ba Ria, Viet Nam 1968

Peter KimberleyArticles, Australian Army38 Comments

By Luke Johnston, with recollections of Pte. David “Johnno” Johnston, 2Pl A Coy, 3RAR. Originally published on 3rar.com.

In January 1968, communist Vietnamese forces prepared to launch a major offensive against the Republic of Viet Nam and its supporters. The attacks were designed to coincide with the annual Lunar New Year (Tet) celebrations. The Tet celebration was traditionally a time of peace, and a cease fire had been negotiated for the holiday. However the offensive was designed to put an end to the resistance by the pro-democratic Free World Forces led by the Americans at a time when the guard was down. The communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA), Viet Cong (Viet Cong) and local town units launched attacks across southern Viet Nam in the early hours of the of February 1.

Enemy forces attacked major population centers of the Australian supported Phuoc Tuy Province. The provincial capital, Phuoc Le (commonly known as Ba Ria) was typically a quiet south-east Asian town with untidy streets and little shop fronts. Australian and New Zealand soldiers from the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) base at Nui Dat, some five or six kilometers to the north east, typically went to Ba Ria have their laundry done, and to buy fresh produce, souvenirs and ice. Ba Ria was also a prime target for the Viet Cong D445 Battalion, supported by the C610 Ba Ria Town Company, who, armed with rifles, carbines, machine guns, grenades and rocket launchers, wanted to promote a communist uprising among the local population.

At 5am two Viet Cong companies attacked the American Administration and Logistics compound in the north-east end of town and around 140 Viet Cong soldiers attacked other important installations including a major US Complex and police station. Another platoon occupied the hospital, Catholic church and town theatre. South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) troops just managed to hold their ammunition compound supported by mortars and artillery. They also prevented two Viet Cong companies from destroying the town bridge across the Song Dinh, a river in the west of town.

Early in the morning, the 1ATF Tactical Headquarters at Nui Dat received a request for help from a senior US advisor at the Sector Headquarters in Ba Ria. The Tet Offensive had begun on 1ATF‟s doorstep. No accurate information concerning the extent of the attacks was given to the Australians, they were simply told that two platoons of Viet Cong were running amok. With this limited information, they sent a small Ready Reaction Force consisting of just two platoons and company headquarters to Ba Ria. The reaction force role was regularly rotated amongst the rifle companies at Nui Dat who were ready to move at short notice. On that day it was the responsibility of “A” Company of the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) under Operational Command of Major B. W. “Hori” Howard. Colonel Don Dunstan, the acting Task Force Commander, briefed Major Howard on the report from Ba Ria. They planned to move in to secure the Sector HQ where Howard could receive further information and better assess the situation. Both Colonel Dunstan and Major Howard had only been in Viet Nam for around a month when they found themselves responsible for responding to this major situation.

2Lt Peter Fraser’s 2 platoon and Lt Harry Clarson’s 3 platoon, with Major Howard’s Company HQ were ordered to move at 7:35am. The young soldiers were told simply to get ready to move out. Rather than move unprotected on foot, it was decided that they would use the speed and shock effect of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC’s) as battering rams against their enemy. The experienced men of 3 troop A Squadron 3rd Cavalry Regiment were almost at the end of their tour and had stripped down much of the gear from their APC’s. However they scrambled together nine vehicles to load up the fresh soldiers of A Company. The value of having a reaction force at a high level of readiness was proven when by 8am, just 25 minutes later, they were out the gates of Nui Dat on their way down Route 2 to Ba Ria.

My dad, Private David “Johnno” Johnston was one of those young soldiers. Johnno was one of thousands of Australians plucked from their routine lives to fight in Viet Nam. Dad was a sign writer in his civilian life.

Once conscripted, a year of training ensued with a focus on jungle warfare. Throughout 1968 he fought alongside his mates in 2 Platoon amidst some of the major actions that the Australians are known for in Viet Nam. Following an emergency appendectomy at the end of the Battles of Coral-Balmoral he spent a few solid weeks on base creating lasting images with the brushes for the soldiers of A Company 3RAR. However on this day of his first action of his war, he had no idea of what was transpiring around him, or how those events would affect the tide of public opinion on the Free World Forces in Viet Nam. When I asked him how he felt hurtling down the road that morning, he compared being inside the APC to being inside a scary sardine tin. It was a far cry from the peaceful youth on the edge of the bush. It wasn’t even until he was inside one of the vehicles en route to Ba Ria that he first learnt about the situation ahead.

A group of Viet Cong lay in wait on the edge of the Hoa Long village, to the south of Nui Dat. They had set an ambush against the expected Australian force. They likely imagined that the Australians would come on foot as they were ill-prepared for armoured vehicles. These young Vietnamese fighters were quickly dispersed by the APC’s mounted guns and the Australians moved on toward Ba Ria. As they reached the outskirts of Ba Ria close to 9 am they were immediately peppered with sniper fire. The APC’s pushed straight through to the Sector HQ on the main road where the infantrymen deployed. As the soldiers sprung from the relative safety of the vehicles, they took up defensive positions in the roadside monsoon drains and behind walls while Major Howard went inside Sector HQ for briefing. The force immediately came under semi-automatic and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire from prepared positions inside nearby houses to which they responded with rifle and machine gun fire.

Johnno remembers seeing the Vietnamese firing their AK47’s, and that there were RPG’s going everywhere. He took cover behind a 12‟ high wall at the front of Sector HQ and was shooting out with his SLR over the top of it at the vietcong who seemed to be everywhere. Because of the chaos he still isn’t even sure if he hit anyone. This was the first time the newly arrived soldiers had been exposed to enemy fire, let alone the particularly aggressive nature of this fight. Ironically he had been trained at an elite level for jungle warfare, yet here Johnno found himself in the middle of the provincial capital of Phuoc Tuy receiving fire from dense buildings and about to undertake house to house combat. I asked him if he was scared but he said the same thing most veterans will tell you, that he was just doing his job. Training in basic fire and movement, sound weapon handling and good junior leadership would serve the troops well in the fights throughout the ensuing day, and beyond through the conflicts of the coming weeks and months.

While initial reports from Sector HQ suggested that there were just two enemy platoons causing minor havoc in the village, the Australians found themselves facing at least two companies of local guerrillas, supported by Viet Cong. These were concentrated around the Sector HQ, Administration and Logistics Compound and a US Complex that housed the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) and adjoining staff bungalows. Furthermore an estimated Viet Cong battalion (D445) was just north of the city, while two more companies were to the immediate south. In total an estimated 600 enemy troops were operating in the area but at that stage Sector HQ still believed only two enemy platoons were active.

Major Howard became concerned about the security of an ammunition store at the Administration & Logistics compound in the north east of town, as well as for the US aid staff and a CIA officer who were holding out less than a kilometer away at the US Complex. This prompted him to obtain guides and disperse his force towards the areas of concern. Both the armoured vehicles and troops were vulnerable in the built up area, but some protection was afforded by moving mounted at speed rather than on foot. The APC’s provided invaluable support to the infantry through increased safety during movement and also increased fire power in battle. As such, the APC and their crew may have significantly reduced what could have been a much higher casualty rate. Other heavy weaponry was discounted due to the potential risk to civilians in the built up area. Thus, the usual reaction force mortar platoon was left behind, as were the tanks and antitank weaponry. The 106mm recoilless rifles were thought to be too vulnerable because of the unprotected wheel base on the Land Rover’s upon which they were mounted.

As the troops dispersed, one section of APC’s remained in protection of the Sector HQ. Lt Clarson’s 3 platoon mounted APC’s bound for the ammunition store at the Administration and Logistics Compound. Johnno boarded an armoured vehicle and headed out with Lt Fraser’s 2 platoon and Howard’s Company HQ to the stranded Americans at the US complex. En Route both Howard and Fraser recall seeing a Viet Cong dressed in civilian clothes sitting backward on a Lambretta firing at the leading APC with an AK47. This was particularly ineffectual and the leading APC section returned fire with their 50 caliber mounted heavy machine guns, easily killing the assailant and his rider. Once at the US Complex Johnno and the others dismounted and found that the Viet Cong fighters were already well entrenched in the surrounding houses. The Australians were immediately targeted by automatic and small arms fire that raked the streets.

In this hectic and confused situation, one section of Lt Clarson’s 3 platoon had also been accidentally taken to the US complex. The main 3 platoon group radioed through that they were OK on their own and as such decided that the segregated section would remain in support of 2 platoon and HQ. Howard received information from inside the US Complex Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) that three Americans were still possibly alive in a building about 20m to the east. Johnno was amongst those from 2 Platoon that was directed to clear and occupy the nearby houses on both sides of the road, including the one containing the Americans. Lt. Fraser reportedly asked Major Howard how to go about the task, to which he promptly responded, “Just use your grenades and go in after them!”

As the group moved, Johnno saw some of his mate’s go into the bottom of a house where they blasted fire upward through the ceiling to take out the Viet Cong on the second level. He remembers seeing an APC come under attack when it pulled into a narrow street where it was fired on from the surrounding houses. The aggressive Vietnamese soldiers threw grenades over the walls from one yard to another and fired RPG’s into the surrounding roofs and trees spreading large amounts of debris for its scattering shrapnel effect.

Johnno clearly remembers he and his mate Mick Maynard shooting what he thought was about six Viet Cong as they moved through the area, but when they later went back there was no sign of them. It was common for the Vietnamese to seal bleeding wounds before being carried off by their comrades for treatment. Hearing firing in one of the houses, Johnno‟s section ran into the courtyard where they came across two Viet Cong who they promptly shot as the Australians headed inside. Johnno recalls, “The Yanks were sitting around drinking whisky and smoking cigars as though they knew that they’d be rescued already”. With the Australian‟s inside the building, further Viet Cong fled from the rear and the Americans were moved out.

Close to 10 am, the other sections moved to consolidate, when a grenade hit Pte White, while Cpl “Jock” Butchart and Pte Atkinson took shrapnel. At about that time Johnno remembers seeing Cpl “Jock” Strain take a bullet to the stomach being only metres away from him. The group returned fire and two Viet Cong were seen to fall. The Australian casualties and American agents were taken to the PRU house where they were prepared for evacuation. Meanwhile the Viet Cong took up and fired from positions in the trees and from the top of buildings. As the evacuation took place, Cpl Chapman was hit in the head by sniper fire from one of these elevated positions. Several soldiers returned fire and a sniper was seen to fall from the roof of a building. The detached 3 platoon section then cleared the house using grenades. Throughout the day, grenades proved useful in countering the enemy from behind stone walls around buildings. In particular the M79 grenade launcher was extremely effectual as the Australians fired them through the windows of enemy occupied houses.

Following the action at the US Complex there were fears of a fresh attack on the Sector HQ from the east and 2 platoon were requested to move out to the picture theatre on the corner of Route 15. Meanwhile, the situation raged on for 3 platoon at the Administration and Logistic Compound who were engaging Viet Cong entrenched in bunkers with little result. It was decided that the detached section that had fought in support at the US Complex would be sent to reinforce the main 3 platoon body. Both the redeployment of 2 platoon and regrouping of 3 platoon were complete by 11am.

While the action took place at the US Complex, the APC’s back at Sector HQ had been engaging the enemy when an RPG hit 2Lt Tingley’s Troop Command vehicle. Tingley’s radios were rendered inoperable so Sgt Murphy took command of the group. Communication difficulties were frequent during the day but there was at least always some connection on various radio nets with the Sector HQ and either 1ATF or 3RAR back at Nui Dat.

At the picture theatre Johnno remembers the contact easing off a little, The 2 platoon group encountered sporadic contact over the coming hours including sniper fire from the top of the theatre itself. At about 1pm, a request was received by 2Lt. Fraser to rescue CIA Agent Johnson, who remained trapped in his house back at the US complex. While the request had been received earlier heavy fire and unknown enemy strength at that location rendered the operation too risky. However, the APC’s there were no longer under attack and it was felt that the situation had suitably stabilised. Important documents were also known to be at agent‟s house that needed to be destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. The benefit of returning to the US Complex at this stage outweighed the risks. At 1:10pm, 2Lt Fraser left the picture theatre with two sections of 2 platoon in as many armoured carriers. The remaining section stayed to patrol in the vicinity of the theatre to keep watch for any prospective attack.

Johnno was one of this small group that remained behind and vividly remembers one point when things had quieted down, a local Vietnamese priest came out of his house opposite the theatre. The priest signalled to invite him inside for a cup of tea and although Johnno isn’t sure why, he obliged and went inside where he found a sudden total serenity. The morning fighting could have been a distant memory thousands of miles away. After the shock of being exposed to such fierce battle for the first time, the generosity of this priest and his wife has never left him and stands as hazy surreal moment stamped forever in his memory.

Overall, the Ba Ria residents appeared grateful for the Australian response during the day and on several occasions they pointed out Viet Cong locations. This may have been partly because the had been ejected from their homes by the Viet Cong, but the Australian efforts did seem to be appreciated. The medical orderly and stretcher-bearers bolstered the relationship by providing aid to many civilians during the day. Before the Australians had left the theatre a few dozen villagers who had been under attack were sheltered inside the safety of the picture theatre. Following the departure of the Australians, the communist soldiers are said to have massacred the civilians.

A different fate awaited 2Lt Fraser and the sections of 2 platoon en route to the US complex. The short journey went without incident before reaching the agent‟s house. Along the way they stopped to pick up two advisers who could aid in the recognition and destruction of any classified material. One was an American, Mr. Heidy, the other was Australian Warrant Officer Parello. The group then went on to the agent‟s house where they attended to the documents. As they prepared to evacuate Agent Johnson and his Chinese mercenary guard in an APC, a second vehicle moved out onto the road to cover their withdrawal and was hit in the engine by an RPG. The occupants scrambled back to the cover of the house as others engaged the Viet Cong.

The other APC carrying Agent Johnson moved out in support but as it did Johnson poked his head out of the vehicle to fire his Swedish K submachine gun. Just as he did a well aimed RPG screamed in and took his head off. It subsequently entered the armoured vehicle where it fatally wounded Warrant Officer Parello. 2Lt Tingly and the forward observer’s signaller were also wounded but managed to get back to the house where 2Lt Fraser’s two, 2 platoon sections had barricaded themselves against the attack. As soon as the contact was reported, Howard‟s HQ team and the remaining section of APC’s moved to provide support. Sporadic sniper fire and RPG’s continued for hours against the men that remained bogged down inside the house.

Because of the situation the recovery of the damaged APC’s was seen as quite difficult. The Australians sent a request to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) who were also fighting in the city for assistance to recover the vehicles. At about 3pm, shortly before 3RAR took over command of the action from 1ATF HQ, a company of the 52nd Ranger Battalion ARVN arrived at the scene and a plan was formulated to attempt to secure the vehicles. The ARVN company initially launched a successful assault that reached the vehicles, but they drew heavy fire and quickly retreated.

Further attempts never got close enough, and all were eventually bogged down, the ARVN taking twelve casualties in the process. The ARVN company killed around 20 enemy soldiers during the afternoon, but it was thought that they claimed many more, including Viet Cong that were dead prior to their arrival. As a result of the ARVN’s failed attempts to secure the APC’s and the fact that 2Lt Fraser’s sections were still pinned down, it was decided to call back 3 platoon from the Administration and Logistics compound. An air strike was also requested to clear the offending Viet Cong but it was not immediately available and the guys were told to wait it out.

Earlier, 3 platoon had been engaging the Viet Cong who were entrenched in bunkers around the compound. Lt Clarson had launched a grenade attack against them and succeeded in clearing a few of the entrenchments. But he decided to call for an air strike to finish the difficult job. However before it arrived a mass of civilians appeared saying that Viet Cong were coming through their village to the north. The air strike was redirected accordingly. At about 1:30pm Johnno remembers three Phantoms come screaming past low overhead. They strafed and napalmed enemy in a creek bed near the 3 platoon location where the Viet Cong‟s charred remains were later found.

Denis Hare of 104 Signal Platoon recalls watching the action from SAS Hill (Nui Dat) back at the 1ATF base and remembers feeling the heat from the strike some five to six kilometers away. A second air strike by three F100’s hit Viet Cong soldiers in the village with rockets and 20mm machine guns. This action essentially lead to about 100 villagers being released who then reached the safety of a nearby ARVN compound.

Just after 5pm 3 platoon had almost broken the bunkers when they took 16 rounds of mortar fire over a period of five minutes. No casualties occurred. As the battle for the bunkers swung decidedly in favor of 3 platoon, the enemy fled across paddy fields towards a patch of bamboo. 3 Platoon took down between 14 and 17 of them, and succeeded in taking one wounded prisoner to the Sector HQ for questioning. Having done their job and received the request for support, 3 platoon moved on to the US Complex in support of the pinned down 2 platoon men.

3 platoon reached the beleaguered troops at the US Complex just after 7pm, as the requested helicopter light fire team also arrived. The troops had waited for four hours for the air support, and when it arrived it would have been a very welcome sight. 2Lt Tingley had sufficiently recovered from his earlier injury and directed accurate mini-gun and rocket fire from the gun-ships onto the offending Viet Cong positions. 2Lt Tingley had also regained command of his troop carriers and organised the withdrawal of the two damaged vehicles that the ARVN company had earlier failed to secure. The air strike sufficiently subdued the Viet Cong and allowed the 2 platoon men to escape the house under protective fire from 3 platoon and the APC’s. The damaged vehicles were towed out and the entire force across the town regrouped near the main road before heading west toward the river Song Dinh. The wounded needed to be taken for treatment but safe casualty evacuation points were difficult to find in the built up area. The group halted at the main market place 200m short of the river, which was thought to be a suitable site and a request was put in for the Dust Off.

3 platoon went ahead on foot down both sides of the road to the river while the remainder waited for the chopper to arrive. As they approached the bridge they came under friendly fire from local forces at an outpost across the river which prompted Lt Clarson to quickly identify his group. Ironically Major Howard had earlier requested the Sector HQ to warn the ARVN of their approach and he was assured it had been done. It obviously hadn’t and the platoon was lucky not to receive any casualties in the process.

By 8pm Lt Clarson’s men had taken up a defensive position on the eastern side of the bridge where they could watch for any enemy attempting to cross from the outskirts of town to the west. Back at the market place, a UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” chopper arrived to evacuate the casualties. The pilot inspected the site from the air but reported that it was simply too difficult to land. Johnno remembers the site was too small and was criss-crossed with a chaotic maze of power lines, and the large town water tower protruded above it. Following this setback a request was made for a smaller Sioux “Possum” chopper. It arrived shortly after and the pilot, Capt John Coggan, ignored all the dangers to land three times to evacuate as many casualties. Johnno recalls watching him repeatedly come in under heavy enemy fire, weaving his way through the wires. He said that “if there was one hero that day, it was the pilot of that small chopper”.

Once the final casualty was evacuated, the group moved to join 3 platoon at the bridge and radioed in their position just after 9:30pm. The damaged APC’s were towed onto the shabby narrow bridge to assist in blocking any potential enemy movement. A 50 percent stand-to was ordered, which gave much of the group a chance to recuperate and attend to the walking wounded.

By this stage Johnno felt exhausted and pulled up a patch of ground beside the north-eastern corner of the bridge where he “slept” until morning. Night had well and truly fallen and although the impetus of the Viet Cong attack had slackened, illumination rounds were requested from the artillery back at Nui Dat. The Kiwi Gunners of 161 Battery RNZA pumped over 500 rounds out during the night permitting surveillance to the west across the river throughout the hours of darkness.

The Aussie force had well and truly earned their rest after having fought hard and well through the day. The Viet Cong still remained in the area and were known to be in control of several houses in the city. To Major Howard’s absolute dread, a Viet Cong bugler was heard through the darkness as whistles blew out from the opposite side of the bridge. This sounded what could have amounted to a potential battalion size attack. The Australians had spent the vast majority of their ammunition during the day’s battles, which left them somewhat vulnerable to any further attacks. If there was one time in his career that Maj Howard thought his troops might have been done for it was when those sounds pierced the night air. However no attack eventuated and in retrospect Maj Howard felt that the placement of the APC’s on the bridge may have deterred the enemy, who possibly mistook them for tanks. The situation remained static through the night except for occasional sniper fire and at one point when a number of RPG rounds hit nearby houses. Sporadic contact occurred elsewhere throughout the city but the Aussies saw the night out without serious incident.

At first light Johnno recalls waking up beside the river and beholding the local villagers washing and urinating in the river. The force was spread out to cover the whole block and sentries were placed on every rooftop. Shortly before 8am they radioed through to Nui Dat that they were still guarding the bridge. They were requested to remain there for the time being by Sector HQ. They added a preliminary assessment that at least 30 enemy had been killed the previous day; nine by APC’s, fourteen by 2 platoon and seven by 3 platoon, with possibly more unconfirmed. Normal civilian activity resumed for short periods throughout the morning, even though fighting was still underway elsewhere inside the city and to the west of the bridge. One sniper continued to fire at the Australians without success and sporadic contact was heard to the east of the A Company location. An ARVN outpost across the river was also seen to receive steady fire from a nearby building but the Australians now had their focus on their withdrawal from the town.

A little earlier B Company was despatched from Nui Dat to assist in the extraction of the reaction force. They passed through Hoa Long shortly before 11am and as they approached Ba Ria down Route 52, they observed a group of civilians being mortared by the Viet Cong. The forward section came under semi-automatic fire as they attempted to aid the civilians and as they moved on towards the waiting reaction force. Contact continued as they checked and cleared houses along the way. Major Howard‟s troops also reported mortar fire nearby as they began to move from their overnight location. They headed to the Sector HQ, the scene of their opening battle the previous day, and awaited the arrival of B Company.

By 3:30pm the damaged APC’s had been hooked up and the two groups began making their way out of Ba Ria in the town trench, with A Company elements on foot in front of the mounted B Company group. An enemy force had moved into a position near the picture theatre at the junction of Routes 15 and 23 and Sector HQ requested the Australians to attend to the problem. The immediate response from the Task Force base was to the negative and reinforced that their sole task was to return back to the base. A request was made for a Sioux to provide cover for the return journey and by 3:45pm, the group was clear of the city and had begun to pick up speed. By 4:40pm the group had made it back through the gates at Nui Dat where they wound down for some well earned rest.

Epilogue to Tet in Ba Ria ‘68

In the aftermath, the guys had a few days to settle back to normal duties at base. At 10am on the 6th of Feb, A Company were back test firing their weapons in the pits. D Company was deployed to Long Dien and B Company went to Ba Ria and Long Dien between the 3rd and the 6th February. There, they searched for and cleared the enemy who had retreated from Ba Ria and subsequently made attacks on Long Dien. B Company swept to Hoa Long on the 5th of Feb.

Skirmishes and some heavy actions took place in surrounding villages, in particular D Company encountered heavy fighting. On the 8th of February, after a few days back at base, A Company headed out with D Company and the Anti-Tank Platoon to Hoa Long immediately to the south of Nui Dat. There, they uneventfully swept the houses for enemy. The search began just after 8:30 and a little over an hour later. D Company reported that they initially had some trouble with the map that they were given. Although the houses were accurate, the roads and map scale were confusing. As D Company approached one area the locals rang a bell warning of the approach of the Australian soldiers. The Anti-Tank Platoon saw 3 enemy dressed in black running east from their location just before 11am. However, they couldn’t find them and suspected that they would encounter them on their search as they were heading east at the time.

Large amounts of rice were noted in buildings indicating that a good crop had been had during the preceding season. The villagers were uneasy with the Australian activity, but A Company noted that they had quieted down by early afternoon. One section of A Company found an American Training Standard Operating Instructions manual inside a house at 2:30pm. The Anti-tank platoon recorded shots fired only 200 yards away from them just after 3pm but made no action.

By this time A Company began making arrangements for transport home. In the meantime they located and detonated unexploded mortars before 5 vehicles arrived to transport them home. As there was not enough transport for both themselves and the Anti-tank group, two trips were made. At around the same time, B Company ran into heavy contact elsewhere and suffered serious consequences. Two men were killed including the commanding officer 2 platoon and five others were seriously wounded. That evening the whole of 3RAR was warned of an imminent move to the north, out of Phuoc Tuy to provide a blocking role against potential rocket attacks on major American bases in Bien Hoa Province.

The uprising that was Tet subsided in most places and turned into an overwhelming military defeat for the communist forces across the whole of Viet Nam. The Free World Military Forces had curbed the planned sharp end to the war. None-the-less, it raised the profile of the war and the shock effect on the free world had dire consequences for the outcome of the war and social conscience. However, for Johnno and his mates it was proof of what they were made of. Johnno was surprised that his induction to fighting had taken place the way it had, but tells me that he was just doing what he was trained for. It was another day in the office.


Luke Johnston is the Son of David “Johnno” Johnston
Vietnam Veteran. 3rd Battalion RAR 1967-1968

38 Comments on “The Tet Offensive in Ba Ria, Viet Nam 1968”

  1. Very interesting information. Not surprisingly, the Vietnamese communist account is quite different – hyperbolic and inaccurate. However, there are some interesting admissions in their versions including: ““On 31 January 1968, 445 Battalion ((purportedly 608-strong)) and the Châu Đức District armed forces assembled in the base east of Núi Dinh Mountain in readiness to receive orders. However, because the General Staff Section of the Province Unit had mislaid the key to our codes, the Bà Rịa forces started their operations later than other provinces.” Confusion on timings at the national level also hampered VC operations ie: “H-hour on D-Day for the whole of the South was set as 0000hrs (giao thừa) of the Lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên đán). The calendar calculation in the North that year was one day earlier than that in the South. The Nam Bộ Region (southern half of South Vietnam) opened fire according to the Southern calendar – one day late, and so the B2 battlefield (( MR3)) did not have the element of surprise as the enemy was forewarned, had organised their defences, and had ordered all their troops to remain in camp.”
    Before dawn on 1 February, the Châu Đức District Unit ((led by the former D445 commander, Bùi Quang Chánh)), fired 50 82mm mortar rounds at the Núi Đất base ((a 1 ATF Report)); and later “attacked the Long Lễ Sub-Sector Headquarters ((in Hòa Long village)) and the enemy’s post at the Long Xuyên T-Junction.”
    Regarding Long Điền, US Ambassador Bunker’s cable to the US Secretary of State on the “Situation in Phuoc Tuy Province” (11 February 1968) reported comments by the GVN Province Chief (ARVN Major Nguyễn Bá Trước) and noted “plenty of popular support” for the VC in Long Điền – where “townspeople allegedly showed enemy troops where GVN civil servants, cadre and soldiers lived, and hid the Viet Cong when Australian troops entered Long Dien. The same sources suggest that misrule by a succession of corrupt District chiefs had done much to foster anti-government sentiment in the town.”

  2. The CORDS report of February 1968 on the Tet attacks on Baria and Long Dien posted by Bob Hall includes very interesting information – new to me. The “National Police Advisor” killed by an RPG while being rescued by 1ATF troops was a CIA officer: W. J. Johnson – who was the advisor to the Province Reconnaissance Unit. Euphemistically, the CIA officers were referred to as officials of the “Office of the Special Assistant to the Ambassador” (OSA) or of the “Combined Studies Division” (CSD) – and were on the distribution of 1ATF intelligence reports. The PRU Headquarters in Baria was referred to as “OSA House”.
    Regarding the attack on Long Dien District Town, a cable from US Ambassador Bunker to the US Secretary of State on the “Situation in Phuoc Tuy Province” (11 February 1968) reported comments by the Province Chief (Major Nguyen Ba Truoc) and noted “plenty of popular support” for the VC in Long Điền – where “townspeople allegedly showed enemy troops where GVN civil servants, cadre and soldiers lived, and hid the Viet Cong when Australian troops entered Long Dien. The same sources suggest that misrule by a succession of corrupt District chiefs had done much to foster anti-government sentiment in the town.”

  3. I was there! a crew commander of a M113A1, there were no Tanks in SVN at the time of Ba Ria there was no air support fixed or rotary wing despatched to Ba Ria due to the nature of the conflict, the first Urban Warfare undertaken, stories of what happened are very much that of individuals and therefore can only be seen in that light.

    Reading the Commander’s Diary of D445 you will see the enemy force was regular infantry and he wrote he was being attacked by a squadron of cavalry and a battalion of infantry, we were very fortunate to extract ourselves before he realised the truth of the matter.

  4. Hi David, I posted some commentary on Tet 68 in Baria to the Team 89 website on 6 June and 3 July 2015. The 1995 D445 History (see my translation and commentary on the Internet) has an unusually accurate account – ie for the VC, of most of the fighting – noting that their losses precipitated “negative tendencies” in D445 (ie then commanded by Nguyen Van Kiem). The D445 account also laments that the Battalion’s attack on Baria was “over a day late” – and also cites “the Chief of Staff of the Province Unit” who “mislaid the keys to the codes and consequently was unable to decode the combat orders from above.” (This is similarly related in the 2004 Chau Duc District History).The 2005 D445 History (see my 2016 translation and detailed commentary on the Internet, pp.91-98) claims that the VC were attacked by RNVAF F-5 aircraft and US armed helicopters. In 1988, D445 commander Kiem claimed that “six Australian tanks” had been destroyed – but later amended this to “APCs”. As mentioned previously, in my view the best detailed English-language accounts of the fighting in Baria at Tet 1968 are the two articles by MAJGEN (Retd) Horrie Howard who – as a major, commanded the mounted Australian infantry company from 3RAR. His articles are in the Australian Infantry Magazine Part 1 (October 2011-April 20120 pp, 76-83; and Part 2 (April 2012-October 2012), pp.72-81, Singleton, 2012. Both Magazines are “free-to-read” on the Internet. At Tet 68, D440 Battalion attacked Xuan Loc – the capital of Long Khanh Province, and believed, mistakenly, that they would be supported by NVA tanks ! Best wishes, Ernie Chamberlain.

  5. Thanks to those who replied recently. I am aware of all said various versions of this battle and I wish to state for the record I did not publish this account on this website, it was extracted from anotherznow, non-existent site, and published here by unsw team. I have asked on multiple occasions for it to be removed but the responses I’ve had are to the effect it will stay online as it provides both a talking point (as evidenced by your comments) and also a unique perspective. My father, who passed away last year, only provided the accounts quoted herein, the rest has been extracted from various published and unpublished PRINTED accounts of the battle. Nothing has been fabricated to enhance or mislead the readers. I still feel this unique action has been seriously overlooked in Australian military history, and public memory and at least in it’s appearance here there is raised awareness of the action. I will endeavour once again however to ask the unsw team to kindly remove it from this site, and if this goal is achieved, i hope the broader public finds some other way to learn about the fierce battle of Bà Rịa through some other means other than the obscure pages of a military magazine (speaking from the general public perspective).

  6. G’day David, As a crew commander of an M113 during the battle I’m sure you had other things to think about than how the Viet Cong were describing APCs and whether fixed or rotary wing airstrikes were being applied to targets in and near Baria.

    As it turns out, and as Ernie Chamberlain shows in his comments, the enemy tended to refer to any armoured vehicle as a ‘tank’. So you are correct to point out that there were no (Centurion) tanks in the battle for Baria, but APCs were involved and the enemy often referred to them as ‘tanks’.

    On the question of airstrikes, both fixed and rotary wing, the A Company 3RAR Combat Operations After Action Report for operations in Baria from 010810 hrs February 68 to 021700 hrs February 68 states that there were 3 airstrikes employed in direct support of the operation. One was against a VC company in the open. The company was attacked by three F4 ‘Phantom’ aircraft which dropped napalm and strafed the enemy causing heavy casualties. As a result, the enemy company ceased to be effective. The strike was requested by A Company and was controlled by a Forward Air Controller (FAC).

    A second airstrike was applied against VC in a houses in the north of Baria. Three F100 aircraft used rockets and machineguns on the houses. About 100 civilians who were being held by the VC were able to escape and reach the safety of an ARVN compound as a result of this strike. The strike was requested by A Company 3 RAR and, again, was controlled by FAC.

    The third airstrike was used to support the withdrawal of 2 Platoon and two damaged APCs from an area where they had previously been unable to move for about six hours. The airstrike was provided by a Light Fire Team (two helicopter gunships) using rockets and mini-guns. It was successful and enabled the platoon and the APCs to be withdrawn. It also was requested by A Company 3RAR and was controlled by 2nd Lieutenant Tingley of 3 Troop (APCs).

    The After Action Report also states that artillery support was also used during the battle but only to provide illumination.

    So it’s clear that both fixed wing and rotary wing airstrikes were called by A Company for targets in or near Baria during the battle. You can check out the full report at this URL:

    https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/awm-media/collection/RCDIG1030042/large/5863490.JPG

    How about writing your crew commander’s view of the battle for the website … and maybe uploading any photographs you may have. We want this site to be the best source of information about the Australian and New Zealand campaign in Vietnam and we encourage you and other veterans to upload your recollections. I’m sure you’ve got an important and interesting story to tell about what it was like to be an M113 crew commander in the battle. You can email your contribution direct to me, or add it as a comment to this post.

    By the way, Luke Johnston has agreed to leave the article on the website. It’s a great account of one man’s view of the battle. What would be terrific is to get other veteran’s views as well.

    Regards, Bob.

  7. No! you’ll get all I have said about Ba Ria here, there were NO air strikes, to start off fixed wing aircraft into I Corp Phuc tu province was rare due to the distance needed to be travelled, and a spotter to direct fire would be needed for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, we had no such spotter Aust/USA, especially into built up areas even then collateral damage was a concern, and I am sure everybody in my troop would have heard the screaming of jets, I have asked none heard. Artillery was also not employed, I have read the AAR and find it not correct.

    Like all things of this time stories are never the same and that is why I now regret having written a comment but will not write more it is what it is.

    You may considered reading this

    https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1067863

    There is also a video Mr. Howard made some years ago when he was seeking recognition for his company, you’ll need to search for that but again no mention of aircraft.

    I miss your point about APC/Tanks my reference was to this writing in the main story

    “Other heavy weaponry was discounted due to the potential risk to civilians in the built up area. Thus, the usual reaction force mortar platoon was left behind, as were the tanks and antitank weaponry. The 106mm recoilless rifles were thought to be too vulnerable because of the unprotected wheel base on the Land Rover’s upon which they were mounted.”

    Nothing to do with the NVA description but to the fact Centurions were not yet in country.

    1. I’m fascinated with the ongoing interest generated by this article being in place. Right or wrong it’s great to see people discussing a very important part of Australian history in Vietnam. I was not there. I have read, listened to and watched every skerrick of information on the battle there is, and interviews my own father in relation to his memories of the day. I have retraced every meter of the battle in modern Ba Ria and located several local people who’ve passed on their recollections of the day, pointed me to buildings that fighting took place in and the location of those that no longer stand. If there are any errors in my writing i’d be glad for someone to actually point me to references that correct them. I’ve had some people who were there or nearby recall various aspects of the battle I have written as being precisely how they recall it and I’ve had a few people who were there tell me ‘í’m wrong’ without any suggestions on how to correct it or collaborating evidence. As mentioned I’m very happy , and would really like t, correct any errors in the document. As for the material I have collected there are even inconsistencies in people’s post-war recollections, in two interviews (Greg Swanborough and Lex McCauley) with Hori for example there are different recollections of some aspects of the battle, and other things in conflict with the AAR. Based on what Dad could recall I’ve done my best to pull it together. As Bob has suggested, it would be fantastic if anyone ELSE who was there could record their own memories.

      With reference to air support, in the interview with Greg Swanborough Hori clearly recalls the close air support provided outside the town which, and i quote ‘accounted for one at least of the companies of the battalion which was lining up to attack us’. I have spoken personally to Lt Harry Clarsen (OC 1Pl) who spoke about having the airstrike called in and the effect it had on the battle. His account is detailed in the Australian Infantry Magazine, which concludes that ‘in the space of what seemed like just a few minutes one nameless, very observant US pilot had thwarted a coordinated attack on us from two directions by a force of probably company strength’. Clarsen goes on in the article to state that later in the day that he directed a prop-driven dive bomber aircraft onto VC in towers inside the Admin & Logistics compound – the pilot scoring direct hits with bombs and napalm – the platoon the n killed several of the enemy fleeing from the site as they tried to withdraw. This air power appears to have been vital. At another location, OC 2Pl (Fraser) writes in the Australian Infantry Magazine, of an enemy company approaching the Ba Ria picture theatre from Dat Do – an airstrike was called but none were available, so were engaged by infantry, and later an ‘aircraft arrived and engaged this enemy formation’.

      The reference to the LFT is drawn directly from the AAR written post-battle. In addition the article written in Australian Infantry magazine details THREE (3) airstrikes employed by the company; two from fixed wing aircraft and one by LFT (the latter by a team from 214 US Combat Aviation Battalion, based at Bearcat).’ OC A Company Howard writes of calling in this LFT to break a deadlock in extracting the disabled APC’s which was done successfully. Interestingly in the interview with Swanborough, Howard states that there was ‘no air support inside the town’, draw your own conclusions. Regardless, and with all due respect to David, there is no doubt in my mind that there was in fact air power employed during the battle, to the best of my knowledge both outside AND within the town.

      I’m really not sure where the debate about Centurion tanks arises. These arrived in Vung Tau on 24.2.1968, almost a month after the Tet Offensive. As stated the Vietnamese use the term ‘xe tang’ to many ‘tank’, which does not generally discriminate between any armoured vehicle bearing fire power.

      1. There is a book written by Paul Anderson (deceased) called ‘When the Scorpion Stings’ I believe it is still available on Google around page 81 is all about Ba Ria but from the armoured perspective! you will see it is different from RAR.

        Yes we mention Cobra support but for the extraction of damaged carriers.

        You did a good job writing your article but like all war stories there are many versions who sunk the Bismark?

  8. Good afternoon all, In a comment yesterday I noted that the two articles in Infantry Magazine written by MAJGEN Howard were – in my view, good, first-hand accounts of the fighting in Baria at Tet 1968. David’s accounts are also valid – I wasn’t there: ie arriving at Van Kiep in June 1969. In Part 1 of MAJGEN Howard’s article, he stated: “There were three airstrikes employed by the Company; two by fixed wing aircraft and one by a Light Fire Team from the 214 US Combat Aviation Battalion, based at Bearcat. The first was against a VC company in the north of the city, which was preparing to assault. The second was against a large group of VC located in the A & L Compound. They were highly successful. The third by a Light Fire Team successfully engaged a VC company which was attempting to capture the CIA house occupied by my second platoon, and neutralised a 12.7 heavy machine gun overlooking the whole area. … Illumination was provided throughout the night of 1-2 February by 161 Field Battery RNZA … It was not possible to use any other means of indirect fire support because of the urban nature of the area of operations and the presence of civilians.” Best wishes, Ernie Chamberlain

  9. And this is why further comments by me will be useless, it will get to a dispute who is right and wrong.

    From my point of view being there, the CIA house was in the middle of town surrounded by our troops and ARVN troops it was a built up area, any fire from aircraft would have been disastrous to not only us but surrounding civilians, there were no ‘smart weapons’ back then. the same applies to the so called air strike north of the town.

    Please apply some logic to what is written.

  10. Decided to re-read the section on Tet in ‘When the scorpion stings’. One of the opening pages on Ba Ria notes that as 3Cav were transporting A Coy into Baria they noticed a great deal of air activity over the town, with F5 jets and gunships made strafing and bombing runs over the Baria

    1. Ask yourself this, as we were not yet in Ba ria who called for air support? maybe the town mayor wanting to remodel his town and reduced the population, I’m sure we had a reputation of bombing and strafing towns! Sounds rather stupid doesn’t it? you clearly were not there.

      When the Scorpion Stings, the Ba Ria section was compiled fro only 3 interviews of actual 3 Troop members, I was not one! Tingley, Wells and one other, Wells was a radio operator.

  11. So what I’m getting at is that there are conflicting versions, as you’d expect. But what I’ve done is try to corroborate the best available version based on multiple sources, to put my father’s recollections in context. Who called in air support prior to your arrival I don’t know. It was not reported elsewhere and as such i did not include it in my contextual build. I simply point out in the comment above that it was reported within Scorpion Stings. The LFT support in town for the extraction however appears in multiple reports therefore I did include it. You were right though that the story in scorpion stings does vary in perspective and occasionally content from the infantry accounts. That said the key points and objectives are the same. This is what I would expect. I also expect that evedy individual who was there (which I was clearly not) saw and recalls something different and unique, which was the entire point of writing this article so that the recollections by my own flesh and blood could be recorded and passed on to others. The fact that I coincidentally compiled a decent amount of contextual material that, prior to the infantry magazine publication i hadn’t seen anywhere, was the reason for publishing it to a previous version of a 3rar unofficial website where this present article was sourced. I’m glad it has and continues to raise awareness of the battle and hopefully encourages others to document their own experiences while they still can…

    1. I am not and never was critical of your writings, it is a good job for somebody that was not there and had no access to actual participants (many) in the conflict.

      I and RAR have tried to get the conflict recognised in the form of a Battle Honour to no avail as it is now nearly half a century old.

      Yes you are very correct!, each and every soldier in the conflict has a unique perspective and memories of what occurred in the town of Ba Ria, I know in 3 Troop very few will talk about it as it was a very difficult time for us all.

  12. Good morning all, Our discussions have included the calling-in of air support against the D445 elements attacking Baria – including before the arrival of the 1 ATF relief force. I’ve mentioned sources on this aspect in footnotes from f.350 onward in my 2016 D445 History (as mentioned, free-to-read on the Internet). This issue is also covered in the USAF CHECO Report “Air Responses to the Tet Offensive” that provides an “airman’s” view of the earlier phase eg:
    “Baria : The city of Baria, province capital of Phouc ((sic)) Tuy, was struck on the morning of 1 February 1968 by an enemy force of approximately 700.The attack was initiated at 0445 hours and the ground forces immediately called for air support. The ground units opposing the communists were the 11th ARVN Airborne Battalion and the 4/48th ARVN Infantry Battalion. Alr support was provided by FACs from Binh Thuy ((ie Binh Tuy)), Long Khanh, and Bien Hoa Provinces, whlle U.S. Army helicopter Light Fire Teams and USAF fighters provided eight strikes each. … Initial reports, however, were sketchy and all requests for air support were denIed. At 0640 hours,’ w1~h the exception of an 0-1 dropping flares, there was no air support and the enemy vanguard was soon reported in the flight line area of the Baria airstrIp. The airfield was eventually overrun, and the FACs and aircraft assigned there moved to another location, as it was like going up “Death Valley getting from the 4/ compound (living quarters) to the airplane. … The first alr support to arrive on the scene was an Army helicopter Light Fire Team (LFT) at 0710 hours, followed closely by two more LFTs. All the LFTs expended their ordnance on the enemy assault positions and in doing so attracted ground fire, which was directed at both the FACs and LFTs~ causing one helicopter to withdraw because of heavy casualties. The remaining LFTs were very effective in the close in fighting, particularly with their mini-guns. The first fighters that arrived put their heavy ordnance on suspected withdrawal routes and their softer weapons) such as napalm and CBUs, in close proximity to the troops. The pattern was indicative of fixed-wing use in urban fighting throughout the country, It was generally agreed that the fixed-wing had the firepower required for knocking out targets, but the closeness of troops and civilians left little room for error with hard ordnance, thus the heavy reliance on LFTs However, LFT rocket accuracy was considered poorer than that of fixed-wing aircraft. Throughout the day, LFTs, C-47 gunsh1ps, and fighters continued striking hostile positions similar to those just described. It was impossible to assist with air near the overrun airstrip, as the U,S, ground advisor to the 11th ARVN Airborne Battalion did not mark friendly positions in spite of repeated requests by the FACs.” … … Regards, Ernie

  13. He is a little exercise if you live in a house in a suburban environment, walk out onto the street in front of your house and try to describe the streets running parallel with yours, including the buildings on those streets, and then describe what you see a 1000 meters away.

    Ba Ria is a flat township with a river running through it, I was surprised to see it claimed it had an airfield I certainly never saw it at Tet or any other time never seen a map with it on either, but back to the practicality of directing aircraft strikes, doubtful!

  14. Hi All,
    The “Baria airstrip” was on the north-eastern edge of the Town – ie just to the north of the MACCORDS Team 89 compound (within the Van Kiep National Training Centre). In 1969, I lived in the Team 89 compound, and several times was a passenger in fixed-wing aircraft (eg Beaver) that took off/landed on that airstrip.
    Regards, Ernie

  15. Hi All, At the risk of boring even dedicated readers, I offer the following remarks:
    Understandably, Australian accounts of the “Battle for Baria” are “1 ATF-centric”, with only some mention of ARVN elements. Tom Menke was a US Army junior NCO in MACCORDS Team 89 – allocated as an advisor to the Province int/recon platoon. His account of the “early hours” of the fighting in Baria may perhaps be of interest. (Note: Luke Johnston is familiar with Tom Menke’s article – and has previously uploaded several of Tom’s photographs of Baria to this “stream”):
    “We had information that there would be an attack on the Van Kiep ARVN training camp located about 2 clicks east of Baria along with the small airstrip ((YS 402612)) nearby. We set up an ambush (25 men) on the intended entry route and waited. We had no contact but at about 0400 we could hear heavy gunfire coming from an ARVN supply depot northwest of our location. At about 0530-0600 we heard heavy fire from the ARVN training center, which was approximately 1 kilometer from our location.
    We rushed to the location (I distinctly remember running into a small house and seeing an older man and women having breakfast. I waved at them as I passed through). As I came out of the house, I started receiving fire from directly in front of me and to the right. In another five seconds we were in a culvert at the edge of the airstrip.
    There was VC running around all over the place. When we opened up they tried hiding in the sparse shrubbery in the field. We would knock them out of the shrubs with M-79 rounds and take them out when they were in the open. Actually, we were outnumbered about 4 to 1 but we were in cover and they were not. There were bullets buzzing around our heads and an occasional RPG came whooshing by.
    Some time later, I really don’t remember how long, my team leader Sgt. James Voss told me that there were some gun-ships coming along with a “Puff The Magic Dragon”. The Dragon was taking care of the VC at the supply depot and the gun-ships were coming to help us out. We popped smoke and they did a fine job of evening the odds.
    Somewhere around this time, the Province Chief ((ie Nguyễn Bá Trước)) was wounded – so a few of us were ordered to escort him to the local medical station. We had to move back and then South a ways to avoid any VC in that area. A couple hours later (1100) I was asked to help with a few other American military (AF, Marines and Army) to head out to the airstrip to find a missing airman. He was the ground crew for a FAC aircraft. The Foward Air Control aircraft is a two-seat Piper Cub used for observation.
    Charlie Brown was the pilot – and yes his real name is Charlie Brown. He just got off the ground when the VC first attacked the airstrip and the airman was there to assist him in preparation. There were still a few rounds flying around so we had to take some time to get to the airstrip about 50 meters from where I had been in the culvert. … “
    Note : Statement by a Vietnamese official in 2001 on the recovery of VC remains in Baria: “They were part of a group of 57 Viet Cong who attacked the South Vietnamese army’s Van Kiep Training Center in Ba Ria town and captured its airstrip during the offensive, she said. Only two survived a counterattack by the South Vietnamese. “

    1. I don’t think it is boring at all, just not relevant to what the lead article was written for, as I understand it, the actions of ATF, RAAC/ARA, in the Ba Ria conflict at the time of TET

      Still it is not my article and if the author is happy with it then maybe all action at TET in SVN should be included.

  16. In reference to the ‘airfield’ Mr. Chamberlain, This site provides excellent maps of that time, I actually found that the Feb 1 action bears the name ‘Coburg’ never read that before.

    But your airfield is elusive! is it near the stadium?

    A link to the maps in question https://vietnam.unsw.adfa.edu.au/battlemap/?basemap=mapbox-terrain&layers=detail-all,contact-individual&timeline=1965-05-28,1971-11-01&at=10.500050790933983,107.17269709949866,16

  17. Hi All, Thanks for the map David – very useful indeed to have it “Internet-accessible”. I have a copy of the original ie: Baria (Special), 1:10,000 (AFV/F7-12/2114), prepared from aerial photography flown in April 1968. Regrettably, I no longer have a map of Baria Town (circa 1966-67) with all the streets “named”. Apropos earlier postings, the Van Kiep National Training Center/Centre can be seen about 1 1/2 km to the east of the Town – ie a road runs north-east from Route 23 (just to the right of the “LTL 23” marking) up into the camp. The Van Kiep/Baria airstrip is just off the map to the right- ie to the right of Long Kien hamlet.
    Regards, Ernie

    1. I asked where it was! your image still gives no reference to the town itself, and if Mr. Chamberlain is correct it was well away from OUR centre of action and therefore any aircraft seen flying over those coordinates had no impact on us, 1 1/2 Km is a long way on the ground.

      But as you are now getting a bit ‘testy’ with the only actual person that was there I will leave you to it

      Good Bye

      1. Hi All,
        Apparently David Morgan stands by his earlier statements regarding the fighting in Baria at Tet 1968 – and he is quite entitled to do so – eg that:
        ““there were NO air strikes, to start off fixed wing aircraft into I Corp Phuc tu province was rare due to the distance needed to be travelled, and a spotter to direct fire would be needed for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft, we had no such spotter Aust/USA, especially into built up areas even then collateral damage was a concern, and I am sure everybody in my troop would have heard the screaming of jets, I have asked none heard. Artillery was also not employed, I have read the AAR and find it not correct.”
        And: “Ba Ria is a flat township with a river running through it, I was surprised to see it claimed it had an airfield I certainly never saw it at Tet or any other time never seen a map with it on either, …”
        I feel that we have had an interesting, vigorous, and informative discussion on this website. Some of us have other interpretations of events. Regards, Ernie Chamberlain Chamberlain

  18. Hi, Unfortunately, I was busy doing other things over the past few days so couldn’t contribute to this interesting and thought provoking discussion. For clarification I’d like to add the following:

    Airstrikes by both helicopter gunships and fixed wing aircraft were quite common throughout Phuoc Tuy Province. Air bases at Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa were only 50 and 60 kilometres respectively from Phuoc Tuy. The F4 ‘Phantom’, one of the aircraft types named as having been involved in an airstrike near Baria, had a combat range in excess of 350 nautical miles, so the whole of Phuoc Tuy Province was well within their range from both the above airfields. However, both Tan Son Nhut and Bien Hoa airbases were also under attack during the Tet Offensive of 1968 and therefore, air support from those bases may have been limited. The airfield at Vung Tau also supported US Army helicopter gunships including Iroquois and, for a time, armed CH-47 Chinooks but I have no information on whether fast jets were operating from there up to February 1968.

    Those familiar with the battle of Long Tan will recall that a fixed wing airstrike was used in support of D Company 6RAR during the battle on 18 August 1966 – well before the Tet Offensive of 1968 – although their contribution to the battle was limited due to the problem of identifying friend from foe in the prevailing conditions.

    US Army helicopter gunships based at Vung Tau (I think) supported every 9 Squadron RAAF SAS patrol insertion or extraction from June 1966 until the RAAF got its own helicopter gunships. The first record of US Army helicopter gunships supporting a 9 Squadron SAS patrol insertion/extraction I could find was dated 1 July 1966. 9 Squadron often did several SAS patrol insertions or extractions per day, and US Army helicopter gunships provided cover for every one of these, so they were obviously readily available for missions throughout Phuoc Tuy province.

    Fixed wing airstrikes were often called in by 9 Squadron or the SAS patrol in the case of patrol extractions under fire. The first example of these I could find is dated 16 January 1967. That particular mission was controlled by a RAAF officer, Wing Commander Powell, who was attached to the USAF as a Forward Air Controller. Two days later another extraction under fire was supported by a FAC directing another fixed wing airstrike against the enemy.

    An entry in the 9 Squadron Operations Log dated 7 September 1967 refers to ‘Jade’ which was the callsign for USAF Forward Air Controllers flying Cessna 01A aircraft out of Nui Dat. So at least as early as September 1967 there were ‘Jade’ FACs operating over Phuoc Tuy province. FAC support to 9 Squadron RAAF operations is frequently mentioned in the 9 Squadron Ops Log, so it is safe to say that there was no shortage of FAC support over the province from at least September 1967 onwards and probably earlier.

    Whenever airstrikes were requested, collateral damage was a potential concern. 1ATF sought to exclude Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) and artillery missions from built-up areas. However, if casualties were being taken by friendly forces fighting within a built-up area, then FGA or artillery could be applied. Lighter firepower, such as helicopter gunships using their 7.62mm machineguns could be applied in urban areas (such as was the case in the battle of Binh Ba on 6-8 June 1969). I suspect that is why helicopter gunship support, with its relatively light machineguns and 2.75 inch rocket fire, was used in central Baria during the battle of Tet ‘68. Fixed wing air support often delivered heavier support including 20mm cannon fire and 500 pound bombs which would have done substantial damage.

    However, it’s also worth noting that Baria did not escape without damage during the battle of Tet ‘68. Sixty-one houses were recorded as having been 100% destroyed, 47 were recorded as 50% damaged and a further 112 were 10% damaged. (For this assessment of damage see AWM98, item R569/1/112, HQ AFV Operations General VC Tet Offensive – Operations in Phuoc Tuy. 1 Aust CA Unit Aust FPO 4, Nui Dat, dated 25 Feb 68, titled ‘Civil Affairs – Phuoc Tuy Province – Situation Resulting from VC Tet Offensive as at 25 Feb 68.) The scale of the destruction suggests that heavy weapons such as FGA support were used within Baria. Regards, Bob.

  19. I was the senior advisor to the 52d ARVN BDQ and participated with the clearing of BaRia during Tet. See my posting on the FaceBook page. We had A1E Skyraider support from VNAF during the final push ICW the Thai Cobra Regiment and the Aussy Force from Nui Dat. The CG and I were together in the TOC and enjoyed his supply of cold beer.

    What this shows is that two people side by side in combat will have significantly different views of the same action.

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