Wednesday, 2 December 2020
Battle of Long Tan
I acknowledge the bravery of a special group of Royal Australian Air Force airmen during the Battle of Long Tan in South Vietnam in 1966. This battle saw 108 Australian soldiers from D Company, 6 RAR Battalion fighting enormous odds to defeat an estimated 2½ thousand Viet Cong in one of the bravest Australian engagements of the war. The courage of the D Company soldiers, led by their commander Major Harry Smith, is undisputed. I was pleased to see their bravery officially acknowledged in 2016.
Less public attention has been given to the significant actions of two RAAF crews who assisted D Company. On that fateful date, 18 August 1966, two RAAF helicopters were five kilometres away from Long Tan, transporting a group of entertainers to safety at Vung Tau. While the RAAF crews carried out this task, the situation for D Company became dire and the troops surrounded by the Viet Cong were running low on ammunition. Major Smith made an urgent request for more ammunition, but a tropical monsoon meant that visibility was almost zero. This, along with the uncertainty of the enemy situation, meant that resupply mission was extremely dangerous. The RAAF helicopters were under order not to be sent on offensive operations and US helicopters were unavailable for back-up. But, when the airmen were alerted to D Company's plight, Flight Lieutenant Francis Riley, known as Frank Riley, offered to go in spite of the regulations. The crews, accompanied by some Army soldiers, were quick to support him and loaded up two RAAF Iroquois with ammunition. Taking off in falling light in a monsoonal downpour, the A2-1020 was flown by Flight Lieutenant Frank Riley, with co-pilot, Robert Grandin, and crew, Leading Aircraftman David Collins, Corporal George Stirling, Warrant Officer George Ernest Chinn, and Major Owen O'Brien. In an A2-1022, piloted by the Lieutenants Cliff Dohle and Bruce Lane, were a crew of Corporal William Harrington and Leading Aircraftman Brian Hill, Aircraftmen Robert Service and Corporal William Raymond McKutchen. Hovering about the D Company's position at 20 to 30 feet, they were sitting ducks for the enemy and could barely make out the rubber trees as they pushed crates of ammunition out of the helicopters. But for their actions, the day could have been remembered as an Australian military disaster. Instead, it is known as a decisive victory. Like many who served, these men have not received formal recognition for their courage on that day, so today I wish to acknowledge them so that others will remember their bravery.