On the occasion of the Battalion's 41st Birthday, 6th June 2006, during a ceremony at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, the plaque below was dedicated to the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.
The Commemorative address given by MajGen David Butler AO,DSO is reproduced below.
THE SIXTH BATTALION
(An address given by MajGen David Butler AO,DSO on the occasion of the Battalion’s 41st birthday, 6th June 2006, during the Dedication of a Commemorative Plaque to 6 RAR, at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra)
It seems very proper today, on the battalion’s birthday, that we should assemble here, at the nation’s greatest memorial, to dedicate the plaque that celebrates the life, sacrifice and achievement of this special battalion. We hold it to be special because this battalion has always set the standards of the way a battalion should conduct itself in peace or war. Quietly and without fanfare, it has always been an inspiration to those who have served in it, encouraging them to produce their very best and bonding them to meet every challenge with unfailing excellence. What we celebrate is more than just an evocation of camaraderie and esprit de corps—we recall a total, unequivocal and consuming pride of belonging.
This inspiration, spirit if you like, has formed the culture, the interaction within the battalion. Almost palpable, certainly regardless of rank, yet enhancing a fierce battlefield discipline, there is a sense of goodwill between all ranks seldom if ever found in an infantry battalion. It is often likened to the unbreakable spirit of a family, a bond with those whom you can trust with your life. Furthermore if the battalion association is any guide that bond lasts for life. Their efforts in the care and attention to those who have left the active battalion are outstanding.
Why is all this so? Most now believe it was because of the good fortune of the choice of the small group of experienced leaders to form the battalion. These quiet reticent men chosen from a small leavening of battlefield leaders, tested by adversity, were well aware of what was involved in raising a unit ready for war at short notice. Colin Townsend and George Chinn led the wise, experienced base on whom so much depended.
Clearly experience alone would not be enough without the people to capitalize on the benefits of that experience. The battalion was fortunate there was a large pool of junior leaders and responsible soldiers who were able to absorb what was passed to them and put it into practice. Somehow those who came seemed to enjoy and accept what was passed to them and rose to it. They were uniformly excellent and the battalion was gifted by their presence. A mention here for the NSM of both tours who so emphatically demonstrated by their deeds that they were such an important and integral part of the battalion.
In the second tour we were honoured to be an ANZAC battalion. The three NZ companies and specialists were outstanding soldiers and a credit to their country. Some of their feats were absolutely spectacular. We think particularly of their work in the Minh Dam secret zone and of the remarkable mine clearing of the Dinh Co Monastery and eviction of the VC after years of occupancy. The joint effort of one NZ company with one of our Australian companies, in the skilful capture of the One Time Pad, the wireless code, of HQ Ba Long Province, was held by General Abrams to be one of the intelligence coups of the war.
At all times we drew great strength from our families and their unity through every vicissitude, especially in sickness and bereavement. Through the strength and energy of the wives club there was care and constant support for every family. In the days before the Welfare organization all ranks were comforted to know their family was being looked after . When the Army set out to raise the Welfare organization they used the 6RAR arrangement as the model.
Today obviously will not give us the opportunity to do a detailed analysis of forty years of the battalion’s life and achievements. With the best of goodwill there will be oversights, be assured none are intended. There is some emphasis on SVN because that is where the Battalion made its name. Five very different operations have been cited in the interests of brevity and to illustrate the magnitude of its achievements and the versatility of its performance.
The two tours in SVN were a very busy time for the young battalion. In so many ways they were quite different. The load placed on the first tour was enormous. The Task Force was under-strength and overloaded .In settling into a hostile area there was a severe security problem imposing a heavy patrolling burden while, at the same time, the battalion was expected to build its own base with little or no engineer support. All the while they were watching for the reaction of the enemy to our temerity in establishing an offensive base so close to his people. In the second tour the base was already established , the force was a complete brigade with armour and after two years of active operations had considerable knowledge of the enemy and his ways. Yet for all that there were similarities. We were fighting the same units in very much the same areas.
At the outset the new and defiant base at Nui Dat presented the enemy with a direct challenge .The people in the district were watching with considerable interest. The enemy really did not have the strength to take the base on directly or the capacity to move a sizable force close enough to bring us to battle in daylight without the risk of exposure to the overwhelming power of the USAF. To achieve his political aim the enemy had to attract a force out of the base into an area in which he could embarrass us and so gain some capital with the local people. In his careful observation and assessment of our preliminary operations he would have discerned in our most likely reaction outside the base we would use a company. He decided to mortar the base from the area of the deserted village of Long Tan so as to hopefully do battle with a rifle company sent out from the base to deal with the problem. He mounted a force of over 1500 men, based on 275Regt and D445 Bn, to meet the TF reaction which turned out to be the 100 strong D Coy 6RAR.
He was very close to getting it right but he made two mistakes for which he paid dearly. Firstly he took on D Coy of 6RAR who we know famously fought with unbelievable gallantry and stopped his force in their tracks. His second mistake was that he under-estimated the skill of our artillerymen and the power of the fire they could develop against his soldiers concentrated in front of D Coy. Defeated and suffering fearful casualties, he was left with no other choice but to return to the safe haven provided by the Nui May Tao. This was a sullen massif in Phuoc Tuy ,over 700 metres high, about 50 kms NE from Nui Dat .There had been no allied penetration of this vast base in the course of the war, which was a vast logistics complex containing huge ordnance stores, workshops, food stores and several hospitals.
D Coy 6RAR was awarded the US Presidential Citation for the gallant action and achieved immortality as the battle has become accepted in Australia’s folk lore as the Nation’s major battle in the Vietnam war.
Some months and several operations later, the Battalion was air assaulted into the Minh Dam Secret Zone, the home of the local VC, in an immediate reaction to a surprise enemy attack on a South Vietnamese Regional Force Compound near the village of Hoi My. The enemy reacted fiercely and a savage battle ensued lasting over four hours. Conducted at close quarters, the enemy force withstood the strongly supported Australian attacks at a very heavy cost. They withdrew with an estimated cost of 70 casualties under cover of darkness. They had paid dearly and within their heartland for all to see. Operation Bribie was a salutary lesson for the enemy.
In the second tour, the situation for the first operation was that the Task Force had spent the previous year outside the province engaged in the Tet offensive and the battles which followed. In re-establishing themselves in Phuoc Tuy, the Task Force concentrated their operations in and around the Minh Dam secret zone and the long established enemy base areas in the Long Hai Mountains in the South. The North and North East of the province was empty and quiet and this was where 6RAR/NZ was to be sent for its first operation. If the enemy were to move into positions just North of the Task Force base along Route 2 they would be in position to embarrass the Task Force so obviously committed to the southern area. Additionally there was a well established enemy supply route from the Bien Hoa area to the vast depots and the hospitals in the Nui May Tao transitting through the Courteney Rubber Plantation in the North of Phuoc Tuy. The new battalion chose to operate on the premise that if the enemy were moving it would most likely be in this general area and deployed centrally there.. Guided by a captured enemy track going map 6RAR deployed its 5 companies widely so as to ambush the major junction points. Ideally it would more advantageous , on our first operation, if we had the enemy coming at us in prepared positions. This rather caught the enemy out. When the allies had gone into this area in the past they had only moved through and never stayed.
Within a few days all 5 companies were heavily involved. One company was in contact with 274 Regt on Slope 30, just to the North of the Battalion FSPB. As a result of the battles in Bien Hoa, numerous enemy and their wounded were coming through the Courteney on their way to the hospitals in the May Tao.The companies there were flat out.. As if that was not enough,early one morning in the first week of the operation, a replacement tank coming up Route 2 was fired upon from Binh Ba village. A battalion of 33 Regt had been delayed by our activities in the area and were still in Binh Ba in day light. 6RAR/ NZ was totally committed ,all 5 companies were engaged; to disengage a company and move it to Binh Ba would be difficult and time consuming. .The release of the company on ready reaction in the Task Force was sought and very promptly D Coy of 5RAR arrived.. There was a delay while the District Chief cleared the village of local people as best he could, which allowed the attacking company to marry up with the tanks and APC . Well deployed and with tanks leading, the reaction coy was committed to the assault. Despite spirited opposition ,they fought their way through the village from east to west and prepared to turn round and repeat their assault back towards Route 2. The size and intensity of the opposition made it clear additional troops would be required and a further coy from 5 RAR came forward. The growth .in the scale and complexity of the Binh Ba operation , at this point, was such that a battalion HQ would have to take over. Command of Binh Ba separately shifted to HQ 5RAR.and Lt Col Khan took over in the afternoon. Throughout that whole morning, the Command Post of 6RAR/NZ with 6 companies, separately in contact or with contact imminent, had to manage a complex operation with a demanding ,changing fire-plan and then a change of command in mid battle .For all of this to happen in its first week of operations, the Command Post performed incredibly well Calmly, quietly and professionally they produced a truly magnificent result, as they continued to do for the rest of the tour and proved one of the great assets of the Battalion.
Subsequently the other bn of 33 Regt was contacted to the NW of Binh Ba several days later. After a fierce engagement the enemy broke and ran from the battlefield in the face of the heavy artillery fire directed against it. They fled North into another 6RAR /NZ coy in ambush and were driven off in disarray. Our signals intercept unit later intercepted a message which censured the CO of this unfortunate bn for his lack of battlefield discipline in breaking and running in daylight. Since the other bn of 33Regt had been smashed by the combined efforts of 5RAR and 6RAR/NZ only days before in Binh Ba, perhaps the regimental commander of 33Regt also received a sharp message. The pity was we didn’t intercept it.
The enemy continued to transit our operational area for the rest of the operation. One of our platoons in the Courteney executed the biggest Australian ambush of the war. An extraordinary first operation, coincidentally it was the first time the enemy had returned in strength to the province since Long Tan.. I was to write for the Battalion history: I do remember very clearly the absolute exhilaration of the whole Battalion when we returned from Lavarack. Every one was happy, we had passed the test, We had faced the best that two enemy regiments could put at us and we had seen them off. More than that, we had driven them out of the province in disarray. We had preserved the hard won reputation gained on the first tour. Maybe we had added a few runs of our own.
Lavarack was the last of the main force operations and thereafter the Task Force, inline with the change of theatre policy, was committed to Pacification operations. The first of these for the Battalion was the very testing Mundingburra operation. during which the enemy, with the experience gained from operating for twelve weeks against the other two battalions of the Task Force in the area of the Minh Dam Secret Zone, set out to fight a mine battle against 6RAR/NZ They set deliberate mine ambushes against the Battalion, generally operating in an entirely different style than previously experienced. The Science Advisor to the ComdAFV, after a detailed study at the time, considered it to be a very difficult operation and, in the end, among the most successful the Task Force had conducted and won. The clearing of the Dinh Co Monastery and its reopening to the devout local people has already been mentioned –a triumph in the pacification battle Of special memory was the great daring and brilliant execution of the company silent attack on those arrogant bullies HQ D445 Bn and their HQ Company. For all involved in the operation it was a cruel time in the mines.
Towards the end of our tour the Battalion had the honour to be chosen to invest the Nui May Tao and attack the logistic units located there. We had been given the opportunity to destroy the base from which the enemy mounted Long Tan and the haven to which he returned after the battle. It was the opportunity to settle some old scores for the Battalion.. Lest we were too eager, our hospital was emptied of patients prior to the beginning of the operation. Nonetheless there was a sinister prospect .The May Tao had cruel reputation .As far as could be ascertained no allied units had ever set foot on its slopes let alone stand on its summit Even the SAS were quickly bundled out whenever they had gone there.. It was not expected to be an easy operation.
The country was the most trying we had experienced in the whole tour. Very broken and intersected by precipitous slopes, the re-entrants were so narrow and steep as to be almost impassable .The very sharp, narrow and easily defended ridges often offered the only going. The prospect of engaging a fanatical and well- prepared enemy on this battlefield was daunting. Nonetheless 6RAR/NZ had been chosen to conclude the journey begun at Long Tan. Every Australian and New Zealand soldier who had served in SVN had been involved over the years it had taken to reduce the enemy to this stage. It was not a battle we could walk away from.
The long climb up narrow constrained ridges to the very peak and the series of actions once there were very demanding. The detailed search of the area became a saga of its own as every unit known to have existed in the vast logistic enterprise was slowly revealed. The 200 bed K76A hospital, its operating theatres, pharmacy and dental post. Xuyen Moc Workshop Unit, Xuan Loc District Unit and the Zuan Loc Workshop. The haul of weapons, munitions and ammunition was bigger than anything previously found by an Australian unit .In the caches , workshops and the hospitals were stocks of food ,tools,, typewriters, sewing machines ,cloth ,communications equipment, motors and even three oxen. Of great significance were huge quantities of drugs, medical and dental supplies captured. They represented the largest medical cache ever received by the Combined Material Exploitation Centre.
While there had been evidence to indicate the enemy was in increasing administrative and logistic difficulty in 1969, it did not suggest the force in the May Tao would be critically short of manpower and supplies. But that is what we found . They were in a parlous state, starving and without adequate medical care. The constant battering from 1ATF over six years had a more serious effect than we had realized. With our approach most of the hospitals were abandoned by the enemy. The wounded least able to fend for themselves were left behind. Most were in frightful condition, many were amputees, gangrenous and filthy, all starving. They had fled but not very far and were attempting to fight on. Though they were armed and continued to fire on our patrols, they were hunted down and forced to surrender. In a superb display of courage and discipline, not one of the enemy wounded was killed in what must have been very challenging circumstances. If that was not enough, many of the wounded, smelling indescribably, with maggots dropping from their wounds, were carried to the helicopter pad in the arms of their recent adversaries. For some this meant a trip of several hundred feet up the nearly vertical side of the re-entrant to a large rock, the only relatively clear spot to touch down. With superb skill the RAAF pilot rested one skid on the rock over the yawning gap until the patients were loaded and taken away .It was all very inspiring.
The capture of the May Tao visited a catastrophic defeat of strategic proportion on the enemy. His entire logistic base facility for a large and important area of the East coast of the country had been smashed, the carefully accumulated and valuable stocks removed or destroyed and all his logistic units shattered. Furthermore, the magnitude of this defeat must have become widely known to the population of the affected provinces. In every way it had to be a fitting culmination to the fforts of every Australian and New Zealander who had served in Phuoc Tuy Province. The journey which began at Long Tan had now concluded.
By the time the Battalion returned from its second tour in Vietnam it had developed a style and character of its own which was never to change in the decades that have followed There is a universal respect which has accompanied 6RAR since Long Tan and which continues to inspire all who serve. They are proud to belong..
In the year after its return from SVN the Battalion was sent to Singapore to assume the role of the Australian contribution under the ANZAM Agreement in 28 ANZUK Brigade. The other battalions in the Brigade were 1st Battalion, The Royal Highland Fusiliers and the 1st Battalion , The Royal New Zealand Regiment. Very soon stories of the quality and professionalism of 6RAR started to spread through the military of the Commonwealth such was their performance. They did a demonstration of a battalion air assault for delegates of a British Army committee who were yet to develop the doctrine which is talked about to this day. Clearly they had a very satisfying tour in Singapore which they had truly earned. They returned to Enoggera at the end of 1973.
After six very active years 6RAR was facing routine peacetime soldiering for the first time. One month after its return it was committed to recovery work in the Brisbane floods. Some time later it was deployed to Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracey. Thereafter they completed the routine training and duty regime and from 1980 to 1983 trained a company in the parachute role and also offered significant assistance to the Commonwealth Games. In 1989 the Battalion went to California to exercise with the US 7th Division, the first time since Australia had withdrawn it ‘s military presence from Singapore that a battalion had deployed outside Australia.
By now the Battalion did not enjoy a high priority, eventually it was converted into a Ready Reserve Motorized Battalion. How hard it must have been to preserve the spirit of the Battalion. Fortunately the Motorized Battalion Trial concluded in 1999 and the Battalion reformed as a Light Infantry Battalion to deploy for operations in East Timor. Thus redeemed, the Battalion’s resilience over the hard years paid off, their aggressive patrolling in the theatre released the old spirit and they did extraordinarily well in operations. Their return to East Timor some time later was at the same time as the draw down of UN involvement so they were a smaller sized unit and stayed longer. They were the last Australian unit to serve in East Timor before the current operation
Since late 2004, 6RAR, along with the other battalions, has provided security detachments to the Australian Diplomatic Mission in Iraq. To date they have suffered some casualties. In 2005 6RAR provided soldiers at short notice for service in the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.
During its lifetime 6RAR has faced many obstacles and unexpected challenges. It has never faltered. The pulse of the Battalion has always been strong. The spirit is as strong now as it was at the outset. All who served are proud to have belonged to 6RAR.We are particularly proud today that with this plaque the service of so many fine men from this special Battalion will be remembered in posterity.