Battle scene from Danger Close movie

Seminal battle fought on the silver screen

Anita Jaensch 16 August 2019

Like so many battles from other conflicts, the Battle of Long Tan reminds us of what Australians can achieve against overwhelming odds.

Although it lasted less than four hours, the Battle of Long Tan has gone down in the annals of Australian military history. In the face of waves of attacks by a much larger force of Viet Cong, the 108 men of D Company 6 RAR showed extraordinary bravery and military prowess. 

For the first time, their story has been told in the new film Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan.

Following a dawn attack on the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat on 17 August, B Company 6 RAR was sent out to search for the enemy. They located the enemy’s firing positions, but encountered no Viet Cong. The next day, D Company relieved them at the edge of the Long Tan rubber plantation, and continued the patrol eastwards.

MAJOR HARRY SMITH AT THE HELM

Commanding D Company was Major Harry Smith, a veteran of Malaya and a former Commando.

Long Tan veteran Harry Smith

“We were sent out to look for 30 or 40 Viet Cong,” Smith says. “The leading platoon, 11 Platoon, ran into, probably, several hundred North Vietnamese, and they got pinned down.”

SERGEANT BOB BUICK STEPS UP

In the first minutes of the battle, Platoon Commander Lieutenant Gordon Sharp was killed and Sergeant Bob Buick assumed command of 11 Platoon. 

Long Tan veteran Bob Buick

“You’re trained to do a certain job, and sergeants are trained to take over from the platoon commander, if [anything] happens. I knew what I had to do,” he says. “I had to control artillery for an hour to bring it right in and straight over the top of our heads, to land 50 metres away. Because we had 70 or 80 enemy right in front of us and they were shooting us very effectively.

“I went out with 29 soldiers and there was only eight of us left the next morning; 13 were killed and eight were wounded.”

a dangerous ammunition drop

Dangerously low on ammunition, D Company needed an urgent resupply. After an unsuccessful attempt by US airborne support, pilots from RAAF’s 9 Squadron volunteered to fly it in. Flight Lieutenant Bob Grandin was co-pilot on the lead helicopter – one of two – that made the ammunition drop in monsoonal conditions.

Long Tan veteran Bob Grandin

“We were in pouring rain and I was looking down between my feet to see the ground, because we couldn't see out the front at all or out the sides. And I recognised a landmark and we were behind the enemy line,” Grandin says.

The surviving members of 11 Platoon were eventually able to regroup first with 12 Platoon, and then the rest of D Company. D Company defended its position against relentless attacks by the North Vietnamese, until the enemy was repelled by the arrival of B Company and the Armoured Personnel Carriers of 3 APC Troop.

During the battle, 18 of D Company’s soldiers were killed, and a further 24 were injured – the highest number of casualties in any engagement during the Vietnam War.

COURAGE AGAINST THE ODDS

“The thing that sticks in my mind 52 years later is the courage and gallantry of my soldiers in fighting off overwhelming North Vietnamese attacking us,” Smith says. 

“I had 68 national servicemen in my Company and they hadn't seen much service, apart from the 12 months of training, prior to going to Vietnam. And I have to say that they fought as good as, if not better than, some of the regular Army soldiers I had. They were out to show that they were – that first intake – out to the show that they were as good as the rest.”

bringing the BATTLE TO LIFE FOR a NEW GENERATION

The three veterans agree the release of the film Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan will raise awareness of the battle and the Australian effort in Vietnam among a broader audience.

“We’ve had such a tremendous response from Vietnam vets coming to the movie, especially screenings and things like that. I’m sure they’re getting recognition through that movie,” Grandin says. 

“I think it is important for a wider audience to know what went on in Vietnam,” Smith says. “We had 16 battalions that fought in Vietnam, and it's not been very well recognised.”

LIFE AFTER VIETNAM

After returning from Vietnam, the three took very different paths. Harry Smith went on to become the first Chief Instructor of the Army’s Parachute School, until an injury ended his military career. After retiring, he skippered charter boats in the Whitsundays with his wife.

“We used to live six months on the boat, six months ashore, and we’ve been all the way up to Thursday Island and almost down as far as Weipa on the western side of Cape York Peninsula. And saw a lot of things, walked a lot of beaches, found a lot of glass floats…”

Bob Grandin went on to serve in Malaysia before discharging from the Air Force. After gaining eight degrees, including two doctorates, he now works to improve the professional skills of veteran advocates.

“I'm thriving on getting the culture of the veterans to be willing to change, willing to become more professional, to have a higher level of knowledge and to work with younger people who have had an experience which is different, but complex,” Grandin says. 

Bob Buick served 20 years in the Army before discharging. He worked in various civilian jobs before he and his wife retired on the Sunshine Coast.

“I’m an hour from my kids, great weather… What else do you want?” Buick laughs.

In partnership with Events Cinemas, RSL Queensland is pleased to offer our members discounted tickets to see the film Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan. Find out more here.

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Tags:
  • History & commemoration
  • Veteran stories