Service recognises war battles

VETERANS will gather in Canberra on Sunday to attend a national service to recognise the 50th anniversary of the battles at fire support bases Coral and Balmoral – Australia’s most protracted and costly battles of the Vietnam War.

Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War started in 1962 with the introduction of military trainers whose role was to instruct South Vietnamese troops.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester said Australian service men and women established fire support bases Coral and Balmoral in the vicinity of routes used by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces to attack Saigon, the southern capital now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

“The bases were considered a great threat to the enemy, as they were located across routes used by Communist forces to move to and from Saigon into nearby Bien Hoa province,” Mr Chester said.

“In the early hours of May 13, 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked Fire Support Base Coral, which had been established only hours earlier.

There was another major attack on the base shortly afterwards and over the following weeks the Australians launched a series of aggressive patrols, engaging in combat against North Vietnamese forces and experiencing fierce combat through until early June.

“During this time, the North Vietnamese also turned their attention to Fire Support Base Balmoral, which had been established about 4.5km north of Coral. Two battalions of North Vietnamese attacked Balmoral on May 26.

A second attack followed on May 28, but a combination of infantry, armour, aircraft, artillery and mortars repelled the North Vietnamese assault.”

The battles at Coral and Balmoral resulted in more Australian casualties than any other series of engagements in Vietnam and were described by an Australian brigadier as “some of the heaviest fighting the task force ever undertook”.

“Twenty-six Australians were killed during the fighting at fire support bases Coral and Balmoral,” Mr Chester said.

“Estimates suggest that some 300 North Vietnamese were killed in these actions, but exact figures will never be known.”