Vietnam victory

TWELVE medals for Aussie soldiers' gallantry in the bloody 1966 David and Goliath Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam may finally be forthcoming - after 43 years of military deceit and political secrecy.

And it's all down to a retired Hervey Bay colonel who has ripped and nipped at the heels of stubborn Canberra politicians for more than two decades.

The Chronicle learned exclusively yesterday that Harry Smith, the former ground commander of Long Tan, may have won his long fight to get his soldiers recognition for their bravery ... even if they're not the exact gongs Harry Smith originally recommended in 1966 and which senior HQ-based army officers then downgraded so they could award themselves the big medals instead.

In February this year, the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, Dr Mike Kelly, set up a Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal, specifically to inquire into the unresolved recognition for the Battle of Long Tan.

A total of 12 former Long Tan soldiers, including two officers, have had their claims to further awards examined by the tribunal.

Yesterday the minister's spokesman phoned to confirm Dr Kelly had received the tribunal's report.

“Dr Kelly wants to have an in-depth discussion with Harry Smith about it and then we estimate the report would be released within the next couple of weeks.”

The spokesman did not want to comment on what the 30-page report contained.

The Battle of Long Tan, considered Australia's most significant battle in Vietnam, was fought on August 18, 1966, when 108 members of Delta Company, 6RAR, commanded by then Major Smith, encountered a regiment of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. Delta Company, outnumbered by more than 10 to one, held off wave after wave of attacks until a relief force arrived.

In 2006 the former enemy in Vietnam admitted 1500 of their men were either killed in the battle, died in withdrawal, or in hospital - a significantly higher toll than the Australian Army bosses calculated.

Eighteen Australians died and 21 were wounded.

“I know the tribunal report has been submitted to the Minister for Defence, Dr Kelly, and will apparently be released when it's been discussed with people, including myself,” Harry Smith said yesterday.

“Dr Kelly has undertaken to brief me on the report and we should know the answer by Monday.

“I'm very hopeful that finally justice will be done.”

On August 18 last year the government decided Harry Smith would receive the Star of Gallantry, one level down from the Victoria Cross, denied him after the battle, when instead he was awarded the Military Cross by his superiors.

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