Long Tan swipe does disservice

  • AUGUST 20, 2015 6:26PM

AUSTRALIANS would be hard pressed not to think the only battle of any consequence during Vietnam was Long Tan on August 18, 1966.

It has come to characterise Australia’s involvement in Vietnam and its anniversary has captured national commemorations of that war.

Delta Company 6RAR commander Harry Smith has fought an even longer battle for what he regards as “proper” recognition for his men, to the frustration if not annoyance of other 6RAR veterans, not to mention other Australian personnel who were engaged in that and other Vietnam battles.

Now, on Long Tan’s 49th anniversary, Smith has accused his CO, then Lieutenant Colonel Colin Townsend, and the Australian Task Force commander Brigadier David Jackson of “perjuring” themselves in the citations for their subsequent awards of Companions of the Distinguished Service Order.

Even for Smith, “perjury” is a word too far. Smith has long maintained he should also have received a DSO for his leadership at Long Tan, not the unusual but significant award of an “immediate” Military Cross he was given.

Only one Australian received the DSO for gallantry in Vietnam, Australian Army Training Team infantry Captain Pat Beale MC, it being usually awarded for prolonged, distinguished command. Following subsequent lobbying and a review of Long Tan awards, Smith was granted the contemporary Australian Star of Gallantry.

He has now been decorated twice for the same action but persists in campaigning for what he insists is “proper” recognition for Delta Coy.

Smith claims neither Jackson nor Townsend took “control of the battle” as he alleges their citations show, since “neither of them were there”.

Smith’s insistence that his infantrymen, supported by a New Zealand artillery forward observer party, fought the battle alone is not supported by historical facts.

When the contact was initiated late on the afternoon of August 18, it was quickly apparent this was a major engagement. Jackson’s Nui Dat-based 1st Australian Task Force consisted of two infantry battalions, not yet the three of later years, plus supporting arms and services.

Smith’s part of the battle, though critical, was now just one element as the entire task force reacted with supporting fire, reinforcements and logistic support. Townsend mobilised Alpha Coy and an APC troop to move to Long Tan to reinforce, relieve and recover Delta Coy and its wounded as an RAAF helicopter flew a courageous ammunition resupply through torrential rain.

This was exactly what was required of Townsend as CO as the battle changed from a company contact to a task force engagement.

Smith criticised the experienced TF commander Jackson for “retiring to his tent’’, but away from the cacophony of the command post he could think, plan, and communicate an appropriate response to what appeared a developing threat to the entire base.

Jackson’s and Townsend’s DSO citations as written independently by then Australian commander Major General Ken Mackay reflected their entire Vietnam service, which for Jackson also included commanding AATTV.

All three are dead but their posthumous reputations deserve much better than Smith’s selfish derision.


  1. Wow, what a disgusting swipe at the nothing but honourable, honest and gallant, Lt Col Harry Smith, former officer commanding Delta Company, 6RAR.

    Harry Smith has never sought any additional gallantry awards for himself. For many, many years when instead he could have quietly slipped into the background, he has taken up an amazing fight for justice for not just the men under his command during the Battle of Long Tan but also A Coy, 6RAR, 3 Troop, 1 APC Squadron, 9 Squadron RAAF and the Australian and New Zealand Artillery.

    Without Harry leading this fight there would never have been new inquiries and there would never have been any new or upgraded individual gallantry medals for Delta Company, 6RAR soldiers and worst of all there would never have been an Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry for Delta Company, 6RAR for their engagement at Long Tan.

    I suggest the author of this post read all the independent, third party, verified sources as to the actual role and conduct of Brigadier David Jackson and Colonel Colin Townsend in relation to the Battle of Long Tan. In particular I suggest the author read Ian McNeill’s, “To Long Tan: The Australian Army and the Vietnam War 1950-1966” an official history of Australian Army’s involvement in South East Asia. There are many sources identified and footnoted in the book as to the demeanor, conduct and role of both Jackson and Townsend.

    I also suggest the author actually speak with those who were in the FSCC whilst the battle raged or those who actually fought in the battle as to what Jackson and Townsend should have been awarded, if anything.

    I also suggest the author study the facts and timelines associated with the manipulation of events and citations immediately after the battle and in the subsequent years afterwards.

    It’s very easy to be an arm chair critic and make superficial judgments about somebody like Harry Smith based simply on ‘protecting the memory’ of senior officers after their death.

    Whitewashing the truth or twisting the narrative to suit the awarding of past medals when others went unrecognised, is a disgrace to everyone who has served, died or been wounded in the Australian Defence Forces.

    As the officer commanding D Coy, 6RAR, Harry Smith has exemplified himself as a true leader, not just in the way he prepared his men for combat, but how he led them in combat and has fought for them and the truth ever since.

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