The Long Hai hills (‘Long Hais’) were located on the coast next to the town of Long Hai in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. Some 15 km SE from the Australian base at Nui Dat, the Long Hais rose 330 metres in awesome contrast to the sea on one side and the flat rice bowl area on the other. The entire massif extended 7 km N-S and 5km E-W.
Covered in dense jungle, these rugged hills hid a myriad of caves and tunnels and harboured a major Viet Cong base. It had been the centre for province operations by the Viet Minh in their struggle against the French and was locally known as the ‘Minh Dam Secret Zone’. Many attempts were made by Australian forces to completely dominate the area but they were never entirely successful because of the topography, the intricacies of the cave system, the effectiveness of mine warfare and (most of all) because the enemy always moved back in once the Australian forces had left the area.
“I jumped out of the chopper ... Major McQualter with a head wound couldn’t respond ...
Lt. Carruthers on his side as though [asleep] after a rowdy night at the mess ...
his trademark moustache drenched in blood ... Sgt Wass ... elbows smashed and
forearms dangling from his butchered joints. An arm clutching a rifle protruded
from under an APC on its side ... back door blown off ... dead and wounded [everywhere]
... torso of the driver with lower half missing.”
- Captain Tony White (RMO of 5RAR in 1967) from Canberra Times, 1997.
“Major Murphy (OC of A Squadron RAAC) commented that : ... 'the B Company commander
had ‘disregarded his instructions by following an established track with the APC squadron’.
[a normally taboo tactic for Australian troops].
- in Ian McNeill's On the Offensive (Official History of Australian Troops in Vietnam), Vol. 3, p.121.
Hills of Long Hai
An APC column heading into a section of the Long Hais (Internet source) The Hills of Long Hai - 1967 (Author's collection)
The Hills of Long Hai
Year ’66 drawing closed,
With no respite in our chore,
Ambush patrols often missed,
Many however, would score.
And as January waned,
Activity built up for Tet,
Focus then out near Dat Do,
Three months clear of ‘The Wet’.
Dust in lieu of red gluey mud,
10Ks north west of that place,
Rumours threatened again,
Another attack on our base.
Our new Task Force commander,
Who controlled only the skies,
Aimed to control the Rice Bowl,
All around the Long Hais.
* * *
Although lit up by the moon,
Silence, so no one would know,
5RAR’s four rifle companies,
Encircling An Nhut, near Dat Do.
A search began just at dawn,
Familiar BANG, we all knew;
A wire fence full of ‘boobies’,
Wiped out C Company’s H.Q.
We strangers didn’t belong;
Peasants sent there to re-settle,
That strategy callous and wrong.
Cadre stirred up the people,
Mixture of truth and some lies;
Aid to rebels, forced to hide,
In the nearby Long Hais.
* * *
Into hills now which beckoned,
Taunting gauntlet so long,
‘Tigers’ tasked to entrap main force,
And guerrilla Viet Cong.
These Long Hai rugged mountains,
Hiding a base, ‘twas well known;
Military supplies and food stored,
In this ‘Minh Dam Secret Zone’.
Yet, this retreat, well protected,
By sniper guards, booby-traps,
Unexploded bombs, stolen mines,
From our own side perhaps.
Several reports had suggested,
Cong active there to Hoi My;
B Company in ‘tracks’ out in front,
Heading for the hills of Long Hai.
* * *
Over dry plains, beasts roared,
Purple mountains up ahead;
Bamboo twisted with creek lines,
Paddies out of season, lay dead.
Reaching the base of these hills,
‘Track’ column rumbled to a halt;
Red dust stained sweaty faces,
White rings on greens, body salt.
Private Cogswell now pointing,
Skull and crossbones, a sure sign,
Indicating danger lurked here,
In the form of a mine.
Our ‘Louie’ reported by ‘phone’,
Then came back this reply:
“All that area’s been cleared!
Continue on up to Long Hai!”
* * *
Men riding atop, or inside,
When came this almighty roar;
Lead ‘track’ blown up by a blast,
Interior scene, one of gore.
‘Track’ commander and the driver,
And Sandow, Clarky and Green,
’Twas all over in an instant,
At least for five it had been.
Rear door torn from its hinges,
That ‘track’ exploded apart;
A roaring inferno inside,
All men doomed from the start.
Twenty Diggers badly wounded,
Total of nine mates would die,
Including the two young crewmen,
On the foothills of Long Hai.
* * *
Men thrown as it rocked,
And rolled over, once in mid air,
Landing on one of those soldiers,
Who were sprawled everywhere.
Steel rear door spun like a top,
Flipped along like a plate;
Hit a Digger just getting up,
Instantly joining his dead mate.
Cogswell knew where to tread,
As he yelled abuse at the ‘brass’:
“You bloody arrogant bastards!
Just stay flat on your arse!”
Yet, some ignored this ‘advice’,
As he quickly dashed by;
Those who continued to move,
Would die that day near Long Hai.
* * *
Dazed men began stumbling,
Crawling and walking all about;
Wounded and dead everywhere,
Now someone had to help out.
Yet to move around in a minefield,
One could set in train,
Buried devices concealed,
Contrived to kill and to maim.
Burning ‘track’ on its side,
‘Jumping Jacks’ hidden all ‘round;
‘Cogsy’ pulled mates from the blaze,
Shrapnel then cut him down.
McQualter and Carruthers,
Webster and Poole too would die,
Despite ‘Doc’ White's frantic efforts,
On those hills near Long Hai.
* * *
That unexploded bomb used,
A naval shell, or from a B.52;
You can imagine the effect,
When it finally blew.
A Cong sentry on duty,
Pulling a simple spring device;
Command detonating that ‘booby’,
Aware tracks to ‘tracks’ do entice.
Angry gunships and ‘arty’,
Until the end of the day,
Pounded hillsides and cliff-tops,
In a fire-works display.
Meanwhile, ‘choppers’ for ‘Dust-off’,
Buzzed back and forth in the sky,
Ferrying all dead and wounded,
To Vung Tau from Long Hai.
* * *
Up there they had bunkers,
Enemy complex below ground,
Tunnels to accommodation,
And hospitals were found.
Others patrolled to the top,
Over 3 years, at great cost,
Never conquering the minefields,
Many Diggers wounded, lives lost.
That place lives in the memories,
Of the men of the Fifth;
Rugged hills in the distance,
Foreboding dark caves in a cliff.
Family and mates of our dead,
Some must surely ask: “Why?”
As nought was achieved in the end,
Attacking the hills of Long Hai.