Through Enemy Eyes
This book follows the events of May to August 1966 - the first four months of the establishment of the Australian task force base at a hill named 'Nui Dat' in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Viet Nam... as seen "through enemy eyes".
(Last updated 4 December 2015)

                                                            Now reissued in a third printing
                                                                                                               (over 100 amendments).

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Through Enemy Eyes


An Australian military base is established around a hill in South Viet Nam. Just one inexperienced battalion, plus support units.

The VC and NVA recce the base and draw up a plan to eliminate it. They assemble three experienced battalions for the task…

A second inexperienced Australian battalion arrives – the attack plan is foiled. A new plan is formed. Five more battle-hardened battalions are quickly assembled to complete the new attack…

The Australian priority: (1) saturation patrols to secure the area and (2) build up the feeble defences. They know the threat…

The VC/NVA prepare eight battalions - five to assault the base, one as a diversion and two to ambush likely relief forces. The date is set: overnight 18/19 August. A new moon, with monsoon cover. They move in for the big attack…
On 17 August, they bombard the Australian base. Later that same day, the Australians send out a company patrol. And on the next day a replacement company continues the search...

On 18 August 1966, the Australian company runs into five of the VC/NVA battalions as they approach the Australian base…

Although this is a 'novel', it is better classed as 'faction'. The fiction element is essentially the characters of the VC and the NVA leadership.  All the actions and reactions of the Australians and their VC/NVA enemy are based on the Intelligence Reports of the day - they are an accurate account of the occupation of the base.

The VC/NVA plan to assault and wipe out the base at Nui Dat is based on the proven strengths and capabilities of the VC/NVA forces available in the Province.

On their way in to attack the base, the VC/NVA force met an Australian infantry company in the rubber plantation at Long Tan.  In a battle now famous in its own right (see The Battle of Long Tan), a massive defeat was inflicted on the VC/NVA forces by the company, ably supported by artillery, RAAF and the armour with elements of another infantry company aboard.

This battle forms the focal point of the novel.  The battle occupies three full chapters of this book and is as accurate an account as is possible without interviewing the VC/NVA survivors themselves.  The timings, moves and forces are accurate, as would be the description of their experiences.  Only the characters of the VC/NVA are fiction.

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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
"Wartime",
the official magazine of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 33, January 2006,
page 68. Extracts:
...Told mostly in the voices of the enemy, the battle is tracked in minute detail ... Those interested in this iconic battle will no doubt enjoy this new perspective.
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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
"Defender",
the quarterly national journal of the Australia Defence Association,
Summer 2005/06, p40.  Extracts:
...a vivid and immensely readable ‘faction’ account of the events leading up to the battle... ...and a worthy commentary on Australians at war.
... highly recommended ...

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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
the V V F A's
 "Vietnam Veterans'
Newsletter
",
December 2005,
page 30. Extracts:
What a good read.
The whole book is strengthened by its reasoning and logic.
Not to be missed.

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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
the R S L's Newspaper
 "Stand To",
Dec 05 - Jan 06,
page 10. Extracts:
I hesitate to use the term 'fiction' to describe what the author has achieved
in his writing.
...a book that deserves
to be read widely...
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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
the O T U's journal
 "The Scheyvillian",
#1 of 2006,
page 53. Extracts:
... a serious contemplation about what the Battle of Long Tan was probably all about in the big scheme of things...

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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
the V V A A's
 "FSB-Vic",
September 2005,
page 12. Extracts:
This book [has] the 'MUST READ' label
.
An excellent piece of research and
a damn good read.

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Click on the cover...

to read a review from
the V V A A's
 "DEBRIEF",
Winter 2015,
page 22. Extracts:
...I found myself looking for any possible spare time
to return to reading this gripping story...
...It is a book that I could easily read another two or three times over the next few years...
.


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Reviews
"Your ability to present the factional enemy events before, during and after the battle I believe is very close to the known facts of the time."
"Congratulations Dave ... you have joined the loose ends to close the circle. The ambush myth is now in pieces like so many of the enemy that day."
- Bob Buick MM - Viet Vet - Sergeant of 11 Platoon D Company 6RAR at Long Tan
"I read your book in its manuscript form and I now congratulate you on its successful publication. Your descriptions of how the Viet Cong thought and acted, and the reasons behind their strategy and tactics are very plausible, and put another side to why the Battle of Long Tan occurred. The narrative clearly describes the lead up to what was clearly an encounter battle, rather than an ambush as a few historians have postulated. The way in which you have woven the 'fictional' Viet Cong characters into what is essentially a factual account is masterful, making the book a very good read. I was unable to put it down once I had started. Well done."
- Peter Dinham - Viet Vet - Officer Commanding 2 Pl, A Coy, 6RAR, 1966-67
 (2 Platoon A Coy was in the APC Reaction Force as it sped to the Long Tan battlefield)
"The only thing I found wrong with this book is that it was written 35 years too late... for that long we've been fed the line that Long Tan was an ambush planned by the VC."
"I have always believed they intended to attack the Task Force, but to see the whole plan and understand that it had about (in my opinion) a 90% chance of success, really brings it home ..."
"It scared the **** out of me to know how close we came to a catastrophe" "Thanks Dave for a bloody good read."
"(Always wanted to say this to an officer) 'Well done, that man'." 
- Ern Marshall - Moderator of web:  http://www.hotkey.net.au/~marshalle/
“I doubted the hypothesis when I first heard about it but after reading the book I have to admit that it is all very reasonable and logical. It fits the facts and is a good read..."
- Bob Johnson, - Viet Vet - Intelligence Corps (posted to Nui Dat in 1968)
"For the first time - an account of how close the Australians nearly came to disaster in Viet Nam."
- John Orr, Veterans' Advocate and Consultant, Canberra
"Dave has put up some reasonable theories that stand up very well. A good read. Recommended.“
- Gary McKay MC - Viet Vet - Australia's most prolific author on the Viet Nam war.
"Your research and intimate knowledge of the conflict is evident ... I recommend this book to everyone. For me, a truly remarkable read."
- John Causer, 1 Aug 2005
"Well, what a fine effort in putting this all together in a cogent, well researched and forceful manner.  I enjoyed the book immensely and the narrative that really sets the events."
"I have no doubt after reading this, and others on Long Tan, that your scenarios are well based and credible."
- Greg Marheine - Viet Vet - 3RAR, 1971
"The book is brilliantly conceived, well crafted, meticulously researched, richly detailed, and carries the reader onwards like a thriller."
"... the battle [description] rings with authenticity ... I could follow all the military jargon ... Your descriptions were great - I could really picture it."
"I felt a bit sad for Quang at the end - you made him very real to me."
"Well done.  A masterly effort."
- Jean Debelle Lamensdorf, Aust Red Cross (2 Fd Amb, 36th Evac) Vung Tau, 66-67
"Within 24 hrs of buying the book I reached the final page. Dave has achieved the level of Henry Lawson, Orson Wells, Bryce Courtney in one publication. If I didn't know better I'd swear that Dave had inside help on writing this book from an NVA commander, even though the cover states that it's based on a factual story with fictional VC and NVA characters."
"To capture the minds and strategy of an enemy mostly unseen and their unwritten command structure, then to absorb this into such an historical event, is brilliant. Having had the 'pleasure' of patrolling  through the Long Tan area, the Long Green and the surrounding mountains, I can say no detail has been missed: bunker systems large enough to support 100 or more, underground hospitals with all medical equipment, rice stores and stocks of ARVN false ids."
"During my Infantry Corps training the film ZULU was used as a training aid. This book should be compulsory reading for all combat units in the defence force, under the heading of 'Knowing Your Enemy'.  Riveting!"
- George Newton - Viet Vet - 7RAR 1970 and 2RAR 1971
"I brought your book at Tullamarine airport last week and had a hard time putting it down. It was refreshingly different and had a good balance about it. One could have easily believed that the Vietnamese command existed as such and no doubt did. A thought provoking account to say the least. Well written. An excellent detail."
"Had they taken on the Task Force, history would have been sadly different."
"Congratulations and best wishes ..."
- Jim Spring - Viet Vet - 11 Platoon, D Company, 6RAR, late 66/67
"I have just finished reading Through Enemy Eyes and I thought it was absolutely terrific. I read the thing in two days much to my annoyance as I didn't get any other work done.  Well done - I will recommend it to all I meet."
- Vin Neale - Viet Vet - author
"I enjoyed your book immensely.  Although I had some insight into the VC/NVA side of the action, your interpretation was close to what I had envisaged.  Your treatment of the characters was interesting and intriguing without falling into the trap of delving too deeply into their reason for being... "
- Grant ('Psychedelic') Coultman-Smith - Viet Vet - 8RAR, 1969/70
"I have just finished reading your tremendous book and must congratulate you on what you've accomplished. As a Vietnam Veteran I can see now what should have been so obvious all those years ago. Well done. This is an exciting read and a piece of work that you must be immensely proud of."
- Phil Rutherford - Viet Vet - 547 Signals Troop (as mentioned in the book), 1969/70
"Very absorbing and disturbing reading..."
- Ken Youngson - Viet Vet - 8th Field Ambulance, 1967/68
"A most readable and intriguing book. As one who was in that place in '70, I saw in my mind all those places referred to while reading. Thank you."
- Graeme ('Ferret') Unmack - Viet Vet - ASqn 1Armd Regt LAD, RAEME, Jan70-Jan71
"Have finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed it in all of its detail, whilst the elements of fiction added very well to the narrative.  A good read indeed, and one that must be on the shelves of any military historian.  Many thanks."
- Lt Col (retd) Keith Frampton -
"A great read - Your work ably supplements and enhances the other publications I have read on Long Tan"
- Ken Vote - Viet Vet - Huey Pilot, 9 Sqn, 1968

"...I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Long Tan battle took place 2 months before I was born. ...I connected with what the book was meant to achieve. Thank you for your efforts back then and also now."
- Guy Munckton, Bundaberg

"Have just finished reading Through Enemy Eyes. Only took 3 days. Couldn't put it down, much to my wife’s frustration. I thought the book was brilliant. Who is to say that was not how it was. I was at Singleton in August 66 when the battle took place. I can remember everyone’s reaction as if it were yesterday."
- Gordon Jones - 1RAR 66-67

"...congratulations on your book "Through Enemy Eyes". It was thoroughly enjoyable and informative.  I passed it on to my friend Ernie Snelling who found it just as facinating and enjoyable ."
- Bryan Pannell - Former GSO3(Int), HQ 1ATF (Mar 69 to Mar 70)

"Thanks for that different perspective.   I was serving with 1Tp,  1 Fd Sqn RAE at the time of the Mortaring ... at Nui Dat and your book certainly gave me something to ponder on what could have happened."
- Trevor Shelley - 1Tp, 1Fd Sqn, 1ATF (at Nui Dat in Aug '66)

"What you have produced is a very good historic document. It is riveting along each step of the way. ...for those of us who spent a year of our lives involved in Vietnam, it never really recedes...You are to be congratulated..."

- Rodney George - Artillery FO SIG SVN Feb '68-'69

"I have just finished "Through Enemy Eyes" and found it difficult ... to put down. I found it compelling reading. [The] point of view [was] refreshing and provoking. The narrative ... flowed and pulled me forward."
- Roger Dundas - "possum"

"I have just bought and read your book. From the minute I started till I finished I was transfixed and was reliving my year there. I will certainly recommend it to all my friends...."

- Michael Kusternig - 1 Fd Regt, R A Artillery '66-'67

BOOK REVIEW - “Through Enemy Eyes” - by Dave Sabben MG
Dave Sabben was OC 12 Pl D Coy 6RAR at the Battle of Long Tan. He is a graduate of the first class from OTU Scheyville with our own 5RAR 1st tour comrades, Melford (Finnie) Roe, John Deane-Butcher, Harry Neesham, Ted Pott and Terry O’Hanlon. Dave has written a book titled “Through Enemy Eyes”. It recounts the story of the arrival and build up of 1ATF from May 1966 to the conclusion of the Battle of Long Tan. The book is largely written from the perspective of our former foes.


Dave describes the book as “faction”; a combination of facts over disposed with some fiction.  I found it extremely interesting and he is quite accurate in his portrayal of the early days at Vung Tau and Nui Dat during Op Hardihood. Throughout, he gives good press to 5RAR activities and alludes to the “Binh Ba 10 000” of June 1966 when the 1ATF base was first seen to come under major threat. Naturally, his main emphasis is the battle on 18 Aug 66 in which he was a key player. He details the enemy plan to overrun the fledgling 1ATF base and does this from the perspective of the enemy commanders of 5 VC Div, 274 Regt, 275 Regt, D445 Bn and other units. Naturally, due to the lack of Vietnamese historical records this is where much of the fictional part is portrayed. He has however researched the official histories to provide the basis for the enemy battle plan to decimate 1ATF. This will be of interest to 5RAR members.

 

The question has always been asked “What were the enemy intentions if they had not encountered D Coy 6RAR on the afternoon of 18 Aug 66”. This book provides some potential outcomes and will be of interest to all those who served at Nui Dat.

 

The book was first published in 2005 by Allen & Unwin.

- (Lt) Roger Wainwright - 5RAR First Tour [66-67]

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...and a full review by Dr Bruce Gaunson, historian and author.  Dr Gaunson was formerly Head of History at Sydney Grammar School.

Seizing history by the belt

Dave Sabben, Through Enemy Eyes. Allen & Unwin, 2005, 380 pages

   It’s fairly easy to access the basic facts about the battle of Long Tan, but it’s a lot harder to solve the mysteries behind it. If (as some have claimed) the Australians were ambushed, then why did the enemy gather such a massive force to destroy a single company? And why would a force lacking heavy weapons and mines set up an ambush within range of the Australian artillery?

   These and other questions have ricocheted around for decades, and pieces of the puzzle are still missing. Yet things are becoming clearer now. One instrument of this greater clarity has been Dave Sabben, who led 12 Platoon at Long Tan. Among other things, he contributed to a joint narrative by former Long Tan commanders, published in 2004.

   But difficult questions still hung in the air, and to get at them, he has ventured into the field of “faction” to explain the enemy’s intentions. It must be said that Sabben’s faction has a strong grip on history’s belt. It’s not enough to say that if this story actually happened, none of the known facts would be any different. That formula applies to clever novels like Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, which is 95% fiction. By contrast, Sabben is right on the heels of history as he narrates the enemy’s preparations and actual battle experiences.

    Indeed, he is offering a kind of historical thesis, which seeks to explain crucial facts which, so far, have insufficient explanations. He is contending that, if the evidence ever comes to light, his thesis will be vindicated. This approach has often been fruitful, and it sometimes triumphs. A good example is the “rebellion thesis” of Kelly biographer Ian Jones, which has been accepted by prominent academics after decades of fence-sitting. Well, to get off the fence right now, I think that Sabben’s thesis, or something very close to it, will prevail as the most satisfactory explanation.

   This substantial book has been built on extensive research, and the result is a fascinating story – told from the enemy’s point of view. This sort of thing is not easy to write, and Sabben has achieved an uncanny empathy with his former enemies.  

   Some characters are necessarily fictional, but they’re highly realistic. Once you’ve met Colonel Quang, a brave man who has battled the French and Japanese and is now tackling Saigon and the Americans, you’ll have moments when you almost hope he’ll succeed – until you realise what that would have meant! This is a measure of the book’s fictional quality.

   Its factual side is meticulous and perceptive. For example, Sabben’s grasp of the enemy’s ideology, culture and methods is firm. In contrasting the plain guerrillas’ dedication with the cold calculations of their commissar, he gives us a cameo of how the Party has treated its ordinary fighters.

   Equipped with both imaginative and historical strengths, the book takes us through the enemy’s careful preparations, and shows us his crucial decisions. These, when mixed with lucky timing, twists of fate and sound Australian soldiering, produce an unlikely result: most of D Company survives, while the enemy’s plans are wrecked in a shattering defeat. Sabben depicts this fearful destruction most vividly, yet with an unswerving respect for his erstwhile enemies.

   This book is not just an excellent narrative. It brilliantly expounds the belief that the enemy, employing eight battalions, was poised to destroy the whole Australian base at Nui Dat. Had that happened, it would have been our soldiers who suffered the devastating casualties of 18 August 1966.

- Dr Bruce Gaunson, historian and author, was formerly Head of History at Sydney Grammar School.

And some reviews
from readers across the water...
   

 

"This is the first Western book written from the Vietnamese view.  The backgrounds of the leaders and the political considerations of the time give a balance to the story rather than being distracting.  The story progresses smoothly through the actions and reflections of the Vietnamese leaders.  The author makes his points beautifully."
"His dedication to the details of a long past but never forgotten battle is admirable.  Long Tan has accumulated a very clouded and distorted image due to distortions by many interests over time and is given less attention by historians than it deserves.  It is a landmark action, a textbook example of the best ANZAC qualities."
"In the Battle chapters, we can see the unwritten Australian side clearly:- under intense pressure and enormously outnumbered, the extraordinary fire discipline of the inexperienced troops, the close artillery support, the timely APC arrival (a real life case of Cavalry to the rescue!!!). The relative losses from this battle made it a massacre for the NVA - a loss from which they never fully recovered in the Province.  The chronology of the battle is clearly defined."
"The book is extremely readable and without the kind of digressions that would have slowed the action.  The book left me with a very positive impression - cannot wait to read the ANZAC commanders' side ("The Battle of Long Tan by the Commanders") - am ordering it from Amazon today."
  - Colonel Sam Henry - Viet Vet - U S Army Medical Corps, 1969-70
   
  "I very much enjoyed Through Enemy Eyes. It rings true. A colleague requested interviews with NVA commanders opposing his forces in the field during a specific action. The unit  history of the opposing NVA force was provided. Their official record bore little resemblance to the action as recorded in volumes of our real-time SIGINT, so I can speak to similar field modification of records [journals] by NVA troop units in northern I Corps."
"This is an excellent work and I did not miss the incredible account D Company 6RAR and the supporting artillery gave of themselves. Well done!"
  - Doug Bonnot - Former Ops Sgt - 265th RRC (Abn), 101st Airborne Division (Ambl)
   

"I served as a Radio Traffic Analyst with the 265th Radio Research Company (ABN); the signal intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division from Jan 68 to Jan 70 in the A Shau Valley and along the Demilitarized Zone.  In 1975 I was commissioned in the field artillery retiring in 1991.
1. Your account of the organization, training, deploying to contact, reconnaissance and conduct of offensive operations was extremely accurate based on my experiences with the NVA in northern I Corps.
2. As a former "gun bunny" the brief but accurate account of supporting "grunts in contact" was very descriptive of the Infantry-Artillery team.
3. One point I would like to clarify in the early part of book you referred to U.S. Army lieutenants in charge of platoons as commanders. The U.S. Army calls them platoon leaders!  The reason is that in U.S. Army only commanders can administer military justice therefore the distinction.  Uncle Sam's Misguided Children (USMC) also calls them platoon commanders.
  Congratulations on one of the best books I have read on the Vietnam War."
  - Ed Johnson MAJ, FA (RET) - Former Radio Traffic Analyst with 265th Radio Research Company (ABN) of 101st Airborne Division