Photographs courtesy of Ian McNeill's On the Offensive
Destroyed APC - 'Operation Bribie', February 1967
Ambush Near Hoi My
Military ‘experts’ (including historian Ian McNeill in On the Offensive p.7) have estimated that to win in a guerrilla war the conventional opponent (Australia in this case), provided there is the political will to stay for the long haul, is required, as a bare minimum, to possess a troop number ratio advantage of 10 : 1 or better. Furthermore, it is a must to ‘score’ casualties on the enemy guerrilla forces at a ratio equal to or better than 10 : 1. In 1967 the ratio was only 3: 1 in favour of the Allies.
The ‘Battle of Hoi My’ (Operation Bribie) on 17th February 1967, resulted in 8 Australians killed and 27 wounded. The number of VC dead (counted) was also 8. Even if the ‘estimated’ (or exaggerated?) number of VC casualties (50-70? … how the devil is that arrived at accurately?) was correct, that is not a victory. The Australians, from 6RAR, were in effect ambushed and then forced to withdraw from the battle scene overnight, leaving the bodies of their dead, one destroyed APC and one wounded comrade behind, the latter to spend a frightening night alone amongst falling (allied) artillery shells and probing enemy. The end result was that the commanders (i.e. Task Force Base Commanders who had planned the operation ... not the men on the ground nor their immediate superiors) had failed in their tactics to trap/eliminate the VC force that had attacked the villages of Phuoc Hai and Hoi My the previous night ... the initial reason for the operation.
There is no question that the men fought courageously (even advancing on machine gun nests in a bayonet charge) against a determined, dug-in, well-armed enemy force, emplaced in a horseshoe arc defence (ambush) in thick jungle. Yet, they were let down by some poor intelligence and ‘high brass’ incompetent decision-making ... (déjà vu perhaps?). That aside ... anyone can make a mistake. But to gloss over those mistakes and pretend otherwise is simply wrong. Apart from the immorality of hiding the truth, we must ask: How do the new young inexperienced leaders, currently being trained (or presently fighting in Timor, Afghanistan or Iraq) avoid repetition of past mistakes, if the truth of those past mistakes is masked for the sake of protecting ‘sacred cows’? If just one young officer in his current training academy is alerted and this leads to just one young Australian ‘Digger’s’ life being saved, then acceptance and acknowledgment of past mistakes is surely worthwhile. Any attempt at burying the truth in myth, is surely nothing short of scandalous and potentially disastrous .
“The fierce battle [during] 'Operation Bribie'
was the closest the Australians came to a defeat in Vietnam!”
- Ian McNeill (ex-officer) in Wartime, 1997
“Bribie was certainly no victory! We got our bottoms well and truly smacked!”
- quoted from one junior commander present during 'Operation Bribie'. – Wartime.
From 5 Pl B Coy - 8 of the above 9 were KIA or wounded during'Operation Bribie' - Feb. 1967
Ambush Near Hoi My
Under siege was Phuoc Hai,
Cong withdrew NE to Song Rai,
So our brigadier had a cunning plan;
‘Chopper’ 6RAR in reply,
To an LZ near Hoi My,
Ignoring all that was learned at Long Tan.
Under orders, Company B,
Pursued retreating VC,
To an ambush, in the ‘Light Green’;
’Cause this one place on the map,
Location ‘twas ideal for a trap,
A horseshoe arc, ‘sucked-in’, they’d been.
Alpha Company pinned down,
Machine guns barked all around,
So Bravo ordered forward to attack;
Eight armoured ‘tracks’ in support,
Added firepower, yet for nought,
At dusk all were forced to pull back.
’Twas an old tactic employed,
One APC left destroyed,
Slogans painted in blood, on its side;
Camouflaged and concealed,
A nest of bunkers later revealed,
And eight Australians on that battlefield died.
With bodies left overnight,
As Aussies withdrew from the fight,
Harboured up to return at dawn;
After the ‘arty’ rained down,
Next day a wounded comrade was found,
The enemy by then had withdrawn.
And the names of the eight,
Killed on that February date,
Have been added to the debts we owe;
With one M.I.D. to just one,
Whilst the others got none,
’Cept the Brigadier ... awarded a D.S.O.
And historians today,
Most refuse to relay,
That an ambush near Hoi My took place;
Such scores look bad on the slate,
For war games played by a mate,
And any blame now, is too hard to face.