The Australian Army gave a name to each individual operation that it launched in a war zone. If during any such operation strategy required the setting up of a temporary support base, from which the infantry could patrol and engage the enemy, then that base too was given a specific name.
There were many minor battles during the Vietnam War in which Australian forces were engaged. One of the three major engagements with the enemy, was known as the Battle of Coral and Balmoral in May 1968.
In 1965, the First Battalion (1RAR) during its first tour had been based not in Phuoc Tuy Province but in Bien Hoa. Exactly 1 year after the departure of the Tiger Battalion from its first tour of Vietnam (May 1967), the Australian Task Force was finally of sufficient strength (increased from 2 to 3 battalions plus extra support troops and tanks) to enable it to once again operate in Bien Hoa Province, just north of Phuoc Tuy.
On 12 May 1968, 1RAR (2nd tour) set up its temporary fire support base (FSPB) at a location they called Coral. About 2 km away the Third Battalion (3RAR) on its 1st tour, set up at its base called Balmoral. Over the next 3 weeks a series of fierce battles against the enemy took place on a near daily basis. This is their story and the poem is a tribute to the men who fought there, were wounded or were killed.
NB. ‘Guns’ here (as elsewhere) refers to the large artillery pieces (Howitzers), as distinct from ‘the Gun’ which refers to the rifle platoon’s M.60 machine gun. H.M.G. refers to the enemy’s Heavy Machine Gun (wheeled or tripod mounted).
For the military ‘purists’ (or pedants) please note that in this poem, for rhyming meter purposes, as in some of the other poems in this book, ‘RAR’ is to be read as ‘rah’ and not ‘ah ay ah’).
“In cases of defence ‘tis best to weigh the enemy more weighty than he seems!” - Henry V (11 : 1v)
“An enemy usually has three courses open to him. Of these he will select the fourth!” - Von Moltke
Coral and Balmoral
Coral and Balmoral
One Battalion, who’d been first to fight,
Again out hunting those VC;
Returning north, up to Bien Hoa,
Now back there from Phuoc Tuy.
And 3RAR also ‘choppered’ in,
On its initial tour here;
Aussie units, sharing combat again,
Having first fought in Korea.
Intelligence suggested NVA,
With large bands of Viet Cong,
Spied heading SW to then attack,
The capital city, called Saigon.
All operations at a distance,
Meant ‘arty’ required in case,
So two FSPBs were ‘wired-up’,
Each a fire supporting base.
LZ secured by wide-eyed Yanks,
One trembling voice matched shaking hand:
“Better yo’ all, hit the deck, ‘ma bruvvers’!
This here’s ‘Injun’ country, Man!”
Our Infantry units, tagged as ‘grunts’,
Brought other supporting groups;
Engineers, Artillery and Armoured too,
Would all prove vital troops.
VC crept close-up, that first night,
Their mission to breach our barricades;
By assaulting both these Aussie bases,
With rockets, mortars, guns, grenades.
Waves of AKs and RPGs,
Broke the front line, thinly held;
As they headed for the ‘Guns’ of 102,
“Fix bayonets!”, a ‘Louie’ yelled.
Thousands of ‘frags’ from ‘splintex’,
Point-blank, from ‘Gun’ No.4;
‘Spooky’ and several gunships,
Finally forced them to withdraw.
‘Guns’ and ‘tracks’ placed on the wire,
This bloody battle, ’twas not o’er;
“Dig right in!”, then came the order,
“They’ll soon be back no doubt for more!”
Along connecting, dusty, rural roads,
Support tanks advancing there, meanwhile,
Locals glaring at this procession,
Ambush threatening each gruelling mile.
Destination ‘twas to each base,
Where all faced an unknown fate,
’Twas at Coral and Balmoral,
Way back in May of ’68.
* * *
Patrols returning at dusk each day,
Everyone scraped a crude defence;
Awaiting ‘submerged’, weapons at the ready,
Diggers’ nerves all night stayed tense.
At a given signal, new attacks began,
Well-trained, brain-washed, it seems;
Suicide squads attacked the wire,
Yelling out their chilling screams.
M.60s spat till barrels red hot,
Yet of quitting, not a sign;
Gunners prevented them seizing up,
Cooled down with fresh ur-ine.
Aiding pilots, flying high above,
Defining each base outline,
Forward pits signalled aircraft crews,
With ignited hexamine.
Crisscrossing o’er in all directions,
Coloured tracers everywhere,
Appeared to hang above both camps,
Like spider-webs in the air.
‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ spat,
Firing thousands, it let fly,
Continuous streams of glowing lead,
Like red lightning from the sky.
Bolts from ‘arty’ screaming in,
As if Zeus still reigned in heaven;
Each whining sound like a high-speed train,
Then a back-blast from a 747.
A spitting HMG from a nest of VC,
A jet attacked like a giant bat;
Swooping low, its tail pipes aglow,
Napalm wiped it off the map.
Bugles sounding, signalled full retreat,
Some dead and wounded carried away;
Better to scatter, then re-group,
Live and fight another day.
At dawn, fresh bodies found torn apart,
Mere ‘cannon fodder’ sent in, in waves;
Mostly teenagers, just frightened kids,
Bulldozed into shallow graves.
Some might point out to captured arms,
A kill ratio of 10 to 1;
Though stopping Cong, reaching Saigon,
Who persevered for years, then won?
Weighing the cost, what land was gained?
Re-occupation, its final fate!
So were battles like Coral and Balmoral,
Worth 25 Australians, in ’68 ?
After the main attack on the 2 bases - hundreds of spent cartridges from Dan Kenny's 30 cal. (Courtesy Dan Kenny)