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The Battle of Long Tan

In 1986, an excellent book was written about the Battle of Long Tan by Lex McAulay.

It contained a simple yet comprehensive account of the lead-up, conduct and after-effects of the battle and included accounts by many of the participants of all ranks. Subsequently, some other books were published, of diminishing value and introducing errors of interpretation and emphasis.

One of the errors introduced was the concept that the battle of Long Tan may have been a planned VC ambush of the Australian forces.

The evidence given for this theory was only hearsay and oral accounts originating mostly in Viet Nam, where the authors went to obtain the VC (or rather, the North Vietnamese Army [NVA]) version of the battle.

The evidence does not stand up to scrutiny, but the ‘damage’ had been done – the unsupported theory had been proposed and published.

In an effort to counter this unsupportable theory, the men who actually commanded the troops involved in the battle got together and decided to write the definitive account. This is probably a first in military history.

The action involved an Australian Infantry company (D/6RAR) supported by Australian, New Zealand and American artillery, all being directed by an NZ artillery Forward Observer on the ground with the infantry.

An armoured reinforcement column with the best part of another infantry company (A/6RAR) aboard experienced two separate contacts with the enemy as it made its way to the battlefield. And two RAAF 'Huey' helicopters flew a vital ammo resupply mission into the battlefield at the height of the action.


































The commanders of each of these elements were:

  • Major Harry Smith - officer commanding Delta Company, 6RAR;
  • Lt Geoff Kendall - officer commanding 10 Platoon, Delta Company;
  • Sgt Bob Buick - Platoon Sergeant of 11 Platoon, Delta Company who took command of his platoon when his platoon commander was killed;
  • Lt Dave Sabben - officer commanding 12 Platoon, Delta Company;
  • Capt Morrie Stanley - Forward (Artillery) Observer attached to Delta Company from 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery;
  • Lt Adrian Roberts - officer commanding 3 Troop, 1APC Squadron who had aboard the APCs most of Alpha Company, 6RAR;
  • Flt Lt Bob Grandin - co-pilot of one of the 9 Squadron RAAF helicopters
    (who contributed the resupply account as his lead pilot had since died).
Buick Kendall Sabben Grandin Roberts Smith Stanley

2005: L to R: Buick, Kendall, Sabben, Grandin, Roberts, Smith, Stanley

These seven direct commanders each contributed their first-hand accounts of the prelude, conduct and results of the battle. It would be impossible to get an account of the battle from anyone closer to the action, or from anyone who knew more of what was actually happening on the battlefield.  In fact, even the oblique diagram/maps were designed and drawn by Dave Sabben from his maps of the time.

Their separate accounts were edited into a continuous narrative by Bob Grandin.  A summary of biographies and a conflict background were added, and a number of issues resulting from the battle were also included (the 'ambush theory', the pathetic scale of Imperial awards etc).

The result is not only a highly readable account of Australia’s iconic Viet Nam battle. It is also a study in how seven individuals prepared them-selves and their troops for war, how they experienced it, and how it affected them. As the book says – seven ordinary soldiers thrown together in an extraordinary event.


“By presenting the first-hand accounts of the six men who commanded the units that actually did the fighting … (the book provides) a different and thoroughly engrossing perspective of the battle.”
”Clearly the most important memoir is Harry Smith’s. …  His account alone makes this new book worthwhile.”
”As a feat of arms, Long Tan can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything any Australian warriors have ever achieved.”
... The Battle of Long Tan is a real page-turner; and throughout, it enjoys the distinction of presenting first-hand the views of the handful of men who commanded, fought for, and ultimately won a great victory. At a different level, it could serve as a tactics guide for infantrymen. This unusual book makes an important contribution to our appreciation of the most significant Australian experience during the decade of the Vietnam war.”

- Dr Alan Stephens, "Defender" (Australian Defence Assn), Spring 2004.
- reprinted by Boomerang Books:
"The book doesn't just detail ... the Long Tan battle but also the lives of the commanders before and after the battle, providing the reader with a portrayal of life in the 1960s."
"The most important thing is that it's easy to read."
- SEQ Defence Magazine, #25, 07 March 2005

This book was the basis of a new documentary titled "The Battle of Long Tan" produced by Animax Films and Red Dunes Films and screened by Foxtel on their History Channel in August 2006 and several times since.
See the website: