On this day – The Battle of Fire Support Base ‘Coral’ begins – 13 May 1968

1RAR at Coral

On this day 50 years ago the battle of Fire Support Base ‘Coral’ began, the largest land battle fought by Australian forces during the Vietnam War.

Australian soldiers were first deployed to South Vietnam in 1962 as a small training team (the AATTV). In 1965 a Battalion Group, based on the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) was attached to the US 173rd Airborne Brigade. In 1966 Australia’s commitment was increased to a Brigade, the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), units of which fought their first major action at Long Tan in August that year.

102 Bty arrive at Coral 2

During the ‘Mini-Tet’ offensive launched by the Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in May 1968 1 ATF deployed two of its three battalions to an area 20 kilometres north of Bien Hoa to intercept and disrupt enemy forces withdrawing from Saigon and the Bien Hoa–Long Binh base complex.

Coral looking East

A number of fire support bases (FSB) were established to provide temporary defensive positions with Artillery and Mortars in order to support infantry foot patrols from 1 RAR and 3 RAR. One of these FSBs was called ‘Coral’ located seven (7) kilometres north of the town of Tan Uyen.

Aerial view of FSB Coral 13 May 1968

The occupation of FSB Coral (shown above) began on 12 May 1968. Early the following morning at 3.30am the base was attacked by the NVA and VC with the Mortar Platoon of 1 RAR and Number 6 Gun (an M2A2 Howitzer shown below) of 102 Field Battery over-run. The attack was beaten off by 6.30am and the captured positions retaken. Eleven Australian soldiers were killed and 28 wounded with 52 NVA/VC bodies left behind on the battlefield. A further three Australians died in patrol clashes around FSB Coral on 14 May.

102 Bty No 6 Gun

At 2.30 am on 16 May 1968 FSB Coral was attacked again by a much larger force of three (3) battalions of NVA. Coral was now defended by M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) of A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment (3 CAV) and 1 RAR’s rifle companies. All of these positions were heavily engaged with part of the A Coy 1 RAR position lost before the enemy was forced to withdraw. The attack was repelled after four hours of fighting, with the Australians losing five (5) men killed and 19 wounded. Two (2) members of an American artillery battery which had reinforced the base were also wounded. Only 34 enemy bodies were recovered, but blood trails and drag marks indicated that many more casualties had been removed.

On 22 May FSB Coral was subjected to yet another rocket and mortar barrage, but this time the NVA troops were dispersed by mortar fire from 1RAR mortars as they formed up to attack.

Although there were further bombardments on 26 and 28 May, with numerous patrols sent out coming into contact with the enemy, FSB Coral was not seriously threatened again.

During fighting on 26 May a Troop of Centurion tanks from C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment deployed outside the perimeter wire with infantry support and engaged and destroyed a significant portion of an NVA bunker system.

Centurions at Coral

Enemy efforts shifted on 26 May to another FSB named ‘Balmoral’ 4.5 kilometres north of Coral occupied by 3 RAR and Centurion tanks. The defenders threw back assaults launched against FSB Balmoral on 26 and 28 May 1968.

102 Battery Honour Title

On the forttieth anniversary of the Battle of Coral in 2008, the then Governor General of Australia His Excellency Major General Mike Jeffrey AC, CVO, MC presented 102 Battery Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) with the Honour Title ‘Coral’ (see below). 102 Battery is the first Australian Artillery unit to be awarded an Honour Title, which are common in the British Army and are the Artillery equivalent of Battle Honours.

20080514adfGPA060764_029

102 (Coral) Battery RAA remains on the Australian Army Order of Battle and currently is a Gun Battery equipped with the 155mm M777A2 towed lightweight howitzers (see below) and part of the 8th/12th Regiment RAA. You can find out more about the Regiment here: https://www.army.gov.au/our-people/units/forces-command/1st-brigade/8th12th-regiment

Exercise Koolendong 2016

You can find out more about the Battle of Coral-Balmoral here: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/coral

 

Customs and Traditions – Anzac Day

HMAS Choules

Anzac Day is traditionally held on 25 April each year throughout Australia and New Zealand as a day to remember all those who have served and died in war, conflict or peacekeeping operations.

On that day in 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces (called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ‘ANZAC’) landed with other British and French troops on the Gallipoli peninsula in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war.

The 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916 and for the remaining years of the First World War was commemorated with parades and commemorative church services.

1 Div London 1916

During the 1920s, Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration and in 1927 Australian states observed some form of public holiday together on Anzac Day for the first time that year. By the 1930s all the rituals now associated with Anzac Day including dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, and games like two-up were firmly established.

One of the more poignant events held on every Anzac Day is the ‘Dawn Service’ with the first organised service held in 1928 at Martin Place in Sydney. The impetus for the event came the previous year when a group of returned servicemen returning at dawn from an Anzac Day function held the night before came upon an elderly woman laying flowers at the as yet unfinished Sydney Cenotaph. Joining her in this private remembrance, the men later resolved to institute a Dawn Service the following year. Some 150 people gathered at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1928 for a wreathlaying and two minutes’ silence and the modern tradition was born.

Anzac Day 2017

Another well known tradition held on Anzac Day is the game ‘two-up’. The origins of the game are obscure but it is thought to have evolved from ‘pitching pennies’, a gambling game where a single coin is tossed against a wall with the closest to the wall winning the bet and collecting all of the coins, which was popular with the British working class and had been played by British and Irish convicts since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

Kip

‘Two-up’ involves someone acting as the ‘Spinner’ using a ‘kip’ (a small piece of wood on which the coins are placed – see above) to toss two Australian penny coins in the air. Other players surround the ring and bet on the result – either heads or tails. ‘Odds’, where a head and tail results, means the ‘Spinner’ throws again.

You can find out more about Anzac Day here: https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac-day

 

 

 

On this day – The German Spring Offensive begins – 21 March 1918

British Troops moving up

On this day one hundred years ago the Germans launched Operation Michael, part of the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle).

Kaiser with Ludendorff

Also known as the Spring Offensive it was actually a series of attacks along the Western Front between March and June 1918 during the First World War and marked the deepest advances made by German forces since 1914.

The surrender of the Russians as a result of the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk at the beginning of March 1918 allowed Germany to move nearly 50 Divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front as they realised that their only remaining chance of victory was to defeat the Allies before the arrival of large numbers of American soldiers in France. The Spring Offensive actually consisted of four different operations codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck.

Operation Michael was the main attack intended to break through the Allied lines then outflank and defeat British forces holding the front from the Somme River to the English Channel. Once this was achieved, it was hoped that the French would seek terms for an armistice. The other offensives were subsidiary to Operation Michael and were designed to divert Allied forces away from the main offensive on the Somme.

German Spring Offensive Map Use this One

No clear German objective was established before the start of the Spring Offensive and they changed constantly as the tactical situation developed. In contrast, the Allies concentrated their forces to defend critical areas like the vital rail junction at Amiens and the approaches to the Channel Ports leaving other areas lightly defended.

Panoramic attack

The Germans were unable to move supplies and reinforcements fast enough to maintain their advance and each offensive subsequently petered out. By late April 1918, the danger of a breakthrough had passed with the German army suffering heavy casualties and now occupying ground that would prove impossible to hold.

Haig 2

At the height of the fighting in early April where the outcome was in the balance, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (shown above), Commander in Chief (CINC) of the British Army in France issued his famous ‘Backs to the Wall’ special Order of the Day (shown below):

‘There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.’

Special Order of the Day

In August 1918, the Allied counter-offensive began with the support of almost two million American soldiers. The ‘Hundred Days’ Offensive resulted in the Germans retreating or being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive, the collapse of the Hindenburg Line and the capitulation of the German Empire, resulting in the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

8 August 1918

You can find out more about the German Spring Offensive here: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/1918-victory

Great Reads – ‘No Front Line’ (2017) by Chris Masters

No Front Line

I’ve just finished reading this book, published in October 2017, which you can find in paperback form at most Australian bookstores.

Written by the acclaimed Australian journalist Chris Masters (whose previous book on Afghanistan was ‘Uncommon Soldier’) it tells the story of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan from 2002 onwards, through the lense of those who served in Australian Special Forces (the SASR, Commandos or Special Operations Engineer Regiment) as well as those in the various Reconstruction Task Groups or Command appointments.

Overall I found it to be a great read that fills a void, as restrictions on media coverage really limited what was told at the time that many of these events happened.

My only complaint about the book is the lack of any maps used to describe events in each Chapter. They were probably omitted for security reasons, which I find perplexing.

Commandos Afghanistan

You can buy the book here: https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/military/No-Front-Line-Chris-Masters-9781760111144

On this day – Queen Victoria approves the introduction of the Victoria Cross (VC) awarded for gallantry ‘in the face of the enemy’ – 29 January 1856

Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross, Britain’s (and some Commonwealth countries) highest award for gallantry for members of the Armed Forces, was officially constituted by warrant on this day in 1856.

Since that time the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. Only 15 medals have been awarded since the Second World War.

As of 2018, there are six (6) living recipients of the Victoria Cross, three (3) living recipients of the Victoria Cross for Australia and one (1) living recipient of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand. They are:

  • Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank VC, 210 Sqn RAF (awarded  for his actions in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1944)
  • Sergeant Bill Speakman VC, Black Watch attached to King’s Own Scottish Borderers (awarded for his actions in Korea in 1951)
  • Captain Rambahadur Limbu, VC, MVO, 2nd Battalion, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles (awarded for his actions in Borneo in 1965)
  • Warrant Officer Class 2 Keith Payne VC, AM, Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (awarded for his actions in South Vietnam in 1969)
  • Corporal Willie Apiata VC, New Zealand Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2004
  • Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry, VC, CNG, 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (awarded for his actions in Iraq in 2005)
  • Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2008)
  • Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, Australian Special Air Service Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Dan Keighran VC, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010)
  • Corporal Joshua Leakey VC (shown below), 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (awarded for his actions in Afghanistan in 2015)

Joshua Leakey VC

The largest collections of VCs in the world are held by the Ashcroft Collection in Britain (established in 1986) which now contains 210 medals and the Australian War Memorial, which has 69 medals on public display.

You can find out more about the Ashcroft Collection here: http://www.lordashcroftmedals.com/

You can find out more about the AWM collection here: https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/encyclopedia/vic_cross

 

 

 

Army News – 9th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (9 Regt RAA) re-formed to command all Army Reserve Light Batteries

F2 Mortar

9th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (9 Regt RAA) was re-formed on 15 January 2018 to command all of the Army Reserve (ARes) Light Batteries, who previously from 2013 onward were placed under operational command (OPCOM) of Infantry battalions, providing indirect fire support utilising F2 81mm Mortars.

RAA Badge           9 Regt RAA Unit Colour Patch

RHQ 9 Regt RAA is based at Kogarah Multi-user Deport (MUD) in Sydney and now commands the following sub-units:

  • 2nd/10th Light Battery (formerly part of the 5th/6th Battalion, The Royal Victoria Regiment the based in St Kilda in Melbourne)
  • 3rd Light Battery (formerly part of the 11th/28th Battalion, The Royal Western Australia Regiment based at Irwin Barracks in Perth)
  • 5th/11th Light Battery (formely part of the 25/49th Battalion, The Royal Queensland Regiment based at Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane and across south eastern Queensland)
  • 6th/13th Light Battery (formerly part of the 10th/27th Battalion, The Royal South Australian Regiment based at Keswick Barracks in Adelaide and Glenorchy in Hobart)
  • 7th Light Battery (formerly part of the 2nd/17th Battalion, The Royal New South Wales Regiment based at Dee Why and Adamstown in Sydney)
  • 23rd Light Battery (formerly part of the 4th/3rd Battalion, The Royal New South Wales Regiment based at Kogarah in Sydney)

9 Regt RAA takes its lineage from the 9th Australian Field Artillery (AFA) Brigade (part of the 3rd Australian Division in the First World War) and 2/9th Field Regiment RAA (part of the 8th Australian Division in the Second World War). Each of the above Batteries also take their own lineage from predecessor Regiments and Batteries stretching back to before Federation in 1901.

You can find out more about the Royal Australian Artillery here: https://www.army.gov.au/our-people/corps/royal-regiment-of-australian-artillery

On this day – 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment capture the standard of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment during the battle of Magdhaba – 23 December, 1916

80th Turkish Infantry Regiment Standard

This Turkish Standard was captured by Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant (SQMS) Dennis Walker, of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment AIF (2 LH) during the Battle of Magdhaba, on 23 December 1916.

Magdhaba, a village in the northern Sinai desert was occupied by Turkish forces blocking the route to Palestine, was attacked by the ANZAC Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps. After a night march of 22 miles from El Arish the hard fought action was secured by a bayonet assault by the 1st Light Horse Brigade, of which the 2nd Light Horse Regiment was a part, just as the entire Division had been ordered to withdraw.

Walker captured the standard of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment from a Turkish officer who was struggling to remove it from it from its elaborate pole and cords. In the process the standard was torn and Walker repaired it with black thread the following night.

The Standard is made of crimson silk with a gold bullion fringe on the upper and lower edges, and on the fly.

One side of the standard is embroidered in gold bullion thread with the toghra (personal cypher) of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V (1909-1918) within a circle. The circle is surrounded by embroidered representations of four regimental flags and various military symbols, including pikes, double-headed axes and trumpets. Beneath is a scroll of leaves from which are suspended embroidered representations of five medals.

The other side of the standard is also embroidered in gold and shows two texts from the Koran written in arabic script. They translate as ‘There is no god but God‘ and ‘Mohammed, the Messenger of God‘.

The Standard is one of at least three captured in the course of the campaign in Palestine. All are now in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

You can find out more about the successor to 2 LH, the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment here: https://www.army.gov.au/our-people/units/forces-command/7th-brigade/2nd14th-light-horse-regiment-queensland-mounted-infantry