Nearly 50 years ago, in May/June 1968 Australian soldiers fought their largest, most sustained and arguably most hazardous battles of the Vietnam War. Units of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) confronted regimental-sized formations of the North Vietnamese regular army in fierce actions around Fire Support Patrol Bases (FSPB) Coral and Balmoral in what was then known as Bien Hoa province. The location of FSPBs Coral and Balmoral are marked by blue symbols on this satellite map.
The first of the battles occurred at FSPB Coral when massed enemy units attacked the base in the early hours of 13 May 1968. Australian units withstood heavy enemy attacks against their hastily prepared position during which a mortar platoon and two gun positions were partly over-run.
The Australians drove off the enemy after fierce close-quarter actions. The battle lasted over two hours. The task force suffered 11 killed in action and 28 wounded. In one mortar platoon five soldiers were killed and eight were wounded from a total strength of 18 men. One howitzer and two mortars were damaged. The enemy left 52 dead strewn throughout and around the fire support base.
On the Friday before ANZAC Day UTS Library will host a lunchtime presentation by two participants from that battle Ian “Scrubber” Ahearn who as a young Lieutenant was the Gun Position Officer for 102 Field Battery, and Tony Jensen, also a Lieutenant at the time, who was the second-in-command of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Mortar Platoon. This is a unique chance to hear from two real participants in this battle. They will use sound (music from the time) and visual imagery to tell their story. Both men have now retired from active duty in the Australian Army and are great raconteurs. Tony and Scrubber did some oral history interviews with some of those involved in this battle, such as this one with Lieutenant General Sir Donald Beaumont Dunstan (from 2007) who was in 1968 the Deputy Commander, 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF), South Vietnam.
Tony and Scrubber were classmates from RMC Duntroon, graduating only 16 months before this battle in 1966, so at the time they were not much older than many of our undergraduate students at UTS. The youngest soldier on the gun position that night was Bombardier Andy Forsdike (pictured below) who was just 19 years old.
If you’d like to attend this talk, but you are not a member of the UTS community, just let me know.