7 RAR tracker dogs and their handlers in South Vietnam, 1967
In April 1967, 7 RAR embarked upon HMAS Sydney, bound for South
Vietnam. Upon arrival they relieved the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian
Regiment (5 RAR). By this time, the single Australian battalion that
had originally been committed had been replaced by the 1st Australian
Task Force (1 ATF), consisting of two infantry battalions and various
supporting units, based in Phuoc Tuy Province. Upon arrival the
battalion joined the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR)
at 1 ATF's base at Nui Dat, however, the following month 6 RAR was
replaced by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) and
it was with 2 RAR that the battalion served out its first year long tour of
duty in South Vietnam.
Over the course of those 12 months, 7 RAR took part in 26 battalion-
level operations, as well as numerous small unit actions. Initially 7
RAR undertook security operations around Nui Dat as well as carrying
out a few search and destroy taskings at a local level, however, their
first major operation saw them take up a blocking position near Xuyen
Moc in support of US and South Vietnamese forces who advanced
through the May Tao mountains in an effort to locate the 275th
Regiment (Viet Cong) and drive them towards 7 RAR's position.
Ultimately, however, this operation failed as the VC unit was not
located. In August 1967 the battalion was tasked to undertake an
independent search and destroy operation to the north-west of Nui
Dat, in the Hat Dich area. This operation, codenamed Operation
Ballarat, led to the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha when 'A' Company, under
Major Ewart O'Donnell fought an encounter battle with a reinforced
Viet Cong company from the 3rd Battalion, 274th Regiment. Five
Australians were killed during the fighting, while another died of
wounds later, and 19 others were wounded. It is believed that the Viet
Cong suffered over 200 casualties in the battle, largely from
supporting artillery and mortars.
Throughout August and September 7 RAR took part in resettlement
operations around Xa Bang. Later in September, the battalion lost a
large number of its national servicemen who, having completed their
two year obligation, were rotated back to Australia for discharge. The
following month they took part in an Australian, US and South
Vietnamese operation called Santa Fe which was launched in the May
Tao Secret Zone in an attempt to find the Viet Cong's 5th Division.
After this they undertook search and destroy operations around Nui
Dat, however contact with the Viet Cong during this time was limited.
In December 1967, 1 ATF was expanded to a brigade-group with the
arrival of a third infantry battalion, 3 RAR, and a quantity of Centurion
tanks. Between 24 January and 1 March 1968, 7 RAR deployed to
Bien Hoa–Long Khanh border along with 2 RAR and subsequently
took part in Operation Coburg during the Tet Offensive.
On 9 April 1968, 7 RAR was relieved by 1 RAR and subsequently
rotated back to Australia. Upon arrival in Sydney, the battalion was
welcomed home by a large crowd and conducted a march through the
streets. Throughout their deployment over 1,180 men had served in
the battalion's ranks, of whom 16 had been killed and 124 wounded.
Members of the battalion received the following decorations: one
Distinguished Service Order (DSO), two Members of Order of the
British Empire (MBEs), two Military Crosses (MCs), two Distinguished
Conduct Medals (DCMs), three Military Medals (MMs) and 14
Mentions in Despatches (MIDs).
Following 7 RAR's return to Australia it was based at Finschhafen
Lines, at Holsworthy, New South Wales. It was there, on 6 October
1968, that the battalion finally received its Queen's and Regimental
Colours in a ceremony presided over by the Governor of New South
Wales, Sir Roden Cutler. Following this the battalion undertook further
training in preparation for its second tour of duty in South Vietnam,
which came in early 1970. They arrived in country in February under
the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Grey, replacing 5 RAR.
They arrived amidst an effort to pacify Phuoc Tuy. This effort involved
7 RAR in almost continuous operations, in an attempt to keep the Viet
Cong off balance and separate them from the civilian population.
During April and May 1970, 7 RAR took part in the task force level
Operation Concrete which took place around Xuyen Moc with the aim
of destroying the Viet Cong's D 445th Battalion.
The battalion's role in Concrete was to operate in the Tan Ru region,
carrying out a reconnaissance-in-force followed by ambush
operations. Only three companies were available for wider operations,
however, as 'C' Company was detached to provide training to the
ARVN 18th Division, although it undertook local patrols and
ambushes. Instead of being inserted by helicopter, the decision was
made for the companies to deploy on foot and by Armoured Personnel
Carrier. On 20 April, one of 'B' Company's platoons contacted a small
Viet Cong force and engaged them in a brief firefight that left one VC
dead. Two days later, in concert with artillery and Centurion tanks, 'B'
Company was involved in capturing a bunker complex.
Throughout June 1970 and February 1971, 1 ATF undertook a four-
phased pacification operation known as Cung Chung in concert with
South Vietnamese forces. This involved extensive patrolling, ambush
and cordon and search operations. During one such operation on the
night of 30 December 1970 Headquarters 'B' Company, 7 RAR and
four APCs from 3rd Cavalry Regiment were contacted by a large
group of Viet Cong. The communists assaulted the Australians four
times before being repelled by heavy fire from the M113s. The
following morning a clearing patrol found 21 bodies and a large
quantity of weapons and ammunition. Intelligence later assessed that
a company from VC D445 Battalion had been destroyed.
On 25 February 1971, 3 RAR relieved 7 RAR, and the battalion
returned to Sydney, arriving there on 10 March 1971. This was the
battalion's last tour of Vietnam. For its second tour, members of 7
RAR received the following decorations: one DSO, two MBEs, two
MCs, two MMs, 5 MIDs and one British Empire Medal. Casualties
included 17 killed and 89 wounded, many of them caused by mines
lifted by the Viet Cong from the controversial barrier minefield laid
previously by the Australians at Dat Do. Over the course of its two
deployments, over 2,400 men served with 7 RAR of which 33 men
killed and 220 wounded