Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War began in 1962, when Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies sent a small force of 30 military advisers, which were dispatched as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), also known as “the Team”. Since Australian military had gained valuable experience in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency tactics after their involvement in the communist insurgency war in Malaysia, which was known as Malayan Emergency (1948 – 1960), it was felt that initially Australia could contribute to the situation by providing advisors who were experts in the tactics of jungle warfare.
In the early 1960s, Australian support for South Vietnam was in keeping with American policy of stemming the tide of communism, initially enjoying broad popular support. However, as Australia’s military involvement increased, a strong anti-war movement developed, especially when the Australian government announced in 1964 the dispatch of a taskforce which included conscripts called up under the National Service Scheme. To a large extent, this new opposition to the war focused upon conscription, which had been an issue in Australia dating back to the First World War. Considerable portions of Australian society were opposed to the war on political and moral grounds. The Vietnam War was the longest and most controversial war Australia has ever fought.
In April 1965, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced the government had received from South Vietnam a request for further military assistance. As a result, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) was attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, participating in several operations in Bien Hoa province, in 1965. One of the most famous military engagements in the war was the Battle of Long Tan, which took place on August 18, 1966. During the battle a company from 6RAR, despite being heavily outnumbered, fought off a large enemy assault of regimental strength. 18 Australians were killed and 24 wounded, while at least 250 Viet Cong were killed. It was a decisive Australian victory and is often cited as an example of the importance of combining and coordinating infantry, artillery, armor and military aviation. Another unit which took part in the military operations in Vietnam was the Australian SAS, which operated behind enemy lines. Cerebral and audacious, the men of these elite unit wreaked havoc on the Viet Cong infrastructure, causing a lot casualties. In 1969, the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR) fought a combined communist force of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong in the village of Binh Ba, about 4 miles north of Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province; this is known as the Battle of Binh Ba, which was a another decisive Australian victory; 110 VC guerrillas were killed, but only 1 Australian soldier got killed.
Despite their victories obtained in the jungle, Australia’s involvement in Vietnam had become extremely unpopular at home by 1970. Accordingly, one can say, as is the case with the US, the brave Australian troops had been defeated at home by their country-men who had been swayed by naive pacifist hippies, socialists and anarchists who used the mass media as a means to convince the majority. The withdrawal of Australia’s forces from South Vietnam began in November 1970 when 8 RAR completed its tour of duty and was not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed, and by January 11, 1973, Australian involvement in hostilities in Vietnam had ceased. Nevertheless, Australian troops from the Australian Embassy Platoon remained deployed in the country until 1 July 1973. Australian forces were deployed briefly again in South Vietnam in April 1975, during the Fall of Saigon, to evacuate personnel from the Australian embassy. Approximately 60,000 Australians had served in the conflict. About 500 had been killed and more than 3,000 wounded.