Battle of Long Tan: Harry Smith’s battle still not over

Battle of Long Tan: Harry Smith’s battle still not over
Battle of Long Tan: Harry Smith’s battle still not over
Battle of Long Tan: Harry Smith’s battle still not over

ON the afternoon of August 18, 1966 just 5km from the main Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, a group of Viet Cong soldiers walked into the right flank of Delta Company, 6 RAR.

Under a blanket of mist and heavy monsoon rain, amid the mud and shattered rubber trees, a dispersed company of 108 men held its ground with courage and grim determination against a three-sided attack from a force of 2500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops.

When the battle subsided, 18 Australian soldiers lay dead and 24 had been wounded.

Battlefield clearance revealed 245 enemy bodies with captured documents later confirming the count at over 500 enemies killed and 800 wounded.

These men were led by a gruff and gutsy perfectionist, Major Harry Smith.

Now, some 50 years after the battle, Smith tells his story.

Long Tan is more than just an account of an historic battle. Harry Smith takes his readers on an extraordinary journey, one that ultimately reveals a remarkable cover-up at the highest military and political echelons.

This experienced commander, who has been described as a gritty, humble and strategic leader, talks about his failed marriages and commando-style killing.

MORE: RSL member still haunted by Long Tan

Written with journalist Toni McRae, Long Tan is also Smith’s life story and portrays his many personal battles from a horrific parachute accident through to his modern-day struggles with bureaucracy for recognition for his soldiers.

Major Smith’s battles are tempered by his love of sailing, where he has at last found some peace.

Long Tan portrays the wrenching, visceral experience of a man who has fought lifelong battles, in a story that he is now able to tell.

“I can still hear the gunfire and smell the blood spilt at Long Tan.”

For him, recognition for his soldiers has been the overriding reason for campaigning for them for the past 30 years.

Some soldiers have travelled to Vietnam for the anniversary while a small contingent, including WA’s Neil Bextrum, is attending a special ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.

Of the 13 nominations put forward by the former Major Harry Smith for his men, 10 were accepted by the government.

Harry Smith said he was disappointed that three of his soldiers were not awarded honours but he accepted the outcome.

He has also published a book about his experience at the Battle of Long Tan and the fight for recognition for his soldiers since.