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The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam
An Analysis of Australian Task Force Combat Operations


Part of Australian Army History Series

  • Date Published: November 2015
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107098442
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About the Authors
  • From 1966 to 1971 the First Australian Task Force was part of the counterinsurgency campaign in South Vietnam. Though considered a small component of the Free World effort in the war, these troops from Australia and New Zealand were in fact the best trained and prepared for counterinsurgency warfare. However, until now, their achievements have been largely overlooked by military historians. The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam sheds new light on this campaign by examining the thousands of small-scale battles that the First Australian Task Force was engaged in. The book draws on statistical, spatial and temporal analysis, as well as primary data, to present a unique study of the tactics and achievements of the First Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam. Further, original maps throughout the text help to illustrate how the Task Force's tactics were employed.

    • Draws on statistical, spatial and temporal analysis, as well as primary data, to present a unique study of the tactics and achievements of the First Australian Task Force in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam
    • Original maps throughout the text help to illustrate how the Task Force's tactics were employed
    • Sheds new light on the previously overlooked achievements of the First Australian Task Force in the Vietnam War
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    Customer reviews

    08th Dec 2015 by Robbo

    The Australian Army has long been proud of its tactical ability, a pride reflecting its proven success on a wide spectrum of battlefields. Since the Korean War, however, with some exceptions that army has been largely engaged in counter-insurgency combat operations ranging from Malaya and South Vietnam to Afghanistan. While Malaya has been accepted universally as successful with the threat defeated by a British led campaign, the war in South Vietnam was a defeat for the United States and the other Free World Forces. The Australians and New Zealanders who fought there, however, have long maintained they were successful in ‘their part of the war’. Conversely, the concluding army volume of the Australian Official History contends the VC responded by developing their forces and improving their tactics to effectively counter the 1st Australian Task Force’s 1 ATF tactics. Stemming from a long standing project undertaken at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam seeks to quantify and evaluate the combat effectiveness of the Task Force TF, which included a New Zealand contingent, during that conflict. Although not a consideration of these competing claims, in effect, this study puts them to the test. Rather than presenting their case through a chronological format, the authors deliver a detailed analysis in a series of chapters covering the different types of engagements undertaken - the landmark battles, patrol contacts, ambushes, bunker busting, security contacts, and mine warfare. These are followed by concluding chapters evaluating the extent of the TF’s success in achieving its operational objectives within Phuoc Tuy Province. What makes this study different and compelling is its data driven and analytical approach, drawing on a series of computer databases mapping every battle and firefight 1 ATF was engaged in. These were then subjected to statistical, spatial and temporal analysis from which are drawn the authors’ assessments and conclusions, supported with numerous tables and charts showing the comparative results in a wide range of categories. While compelling, it cannot be regarded as definitive, as the data is drawn largely from the post-action reports submitted by 1 ATF units after every engagement, supplemented by captured enemy documents. Thus the VC and the Peoples Army of Vietnam PAVN numbers, losses and results are unlikely to be accurately recorded. This would suggest a one-dimensional study. But, as the authors note, the VC and PAVN took extraordinary efforts to remove their dead, wounded and weapons from the battlefield. Given the TF units only gave confirmed enemy casualties from bodies actually counted, captured wounded and prisoners, with, on occasion, estimates from blood trails left behind, and that the authors only use the confirmed numbers in their statistics, the VC/PAVN figures are underestimated. This adds credibility to the study, in that the assessments and conclusions are based on a conservative analysis of the available data, rather than subjective opinion. As the title suggests the focus is on the sharp end of the war - tactical proficiency and the effectiveness of the TF in achieving it operational mission within Phouc Tuy province. Within this scope the authors do a fine job, providing an objective, even handed and thoughtful consideration of the issues they address, and their conclusions are hard to refute. So what do we learn from it? In regard to the conflicting claims mentioned above, this study, by and large, supports the view of the Australians and New Zealanders who fought there, and the authors refute the conclusions of the Australian Official Historian. Across the categories of engagements, with the exception of mine warfare, the results show 1 ATF had a marked degree of tactical success over their adversaries throughout its operations. While the VC and PAVN were able to withdraw from bunker systems pretty much under their own terms, the bunkers, and more importantly the food supplies they contained, were mostly captured, severely limiting the ability of the VC/PAVN units to feed themselves, and operate within the province. On the other hand, mines were the most effective method of inflicting casualties on the TF. Fundamental to their tactical superiority was the high standard of training undertaken by the Australians and New Zealanders, and the firm leadership and strong discipline they displayed. As for operational effectiveness, the authors contend 1 ATF largely achieved its objectives of securing the population centres of Phouc Tuy, severely restricting the VC’s ability to draw food and recruits from the local villages, and enabling the Republic of Vietnam RVN provincial forces to take a greater role in providing for their own defence and undertaking offensive action. By 1969 the VC and PAVN units had been forced to base themselves in the uninhabited fringes of Phouc Tuy, or in the neighbouring provinces, although incursions occurred, they were readily defeated. Moreover, the strength of the local VC units dramatically declined, while the capabilities of the RVN provincial forces steadily improved. As the Hoa Long Party Chapter history records - ‘With their wicked designs [the TF] completely blocked the contacts between the people and the Revolution - with the aim of isolating the local economy from us and impacting on our operations.’ Delivered in a matter of fact but easily digestible style, this book may not appeal to many among the general public, but in adding a new dimension to 1 ATF’s operations, it certainly will to those with an interest in the war. Moreover, it will stand as a valuable resource for those studying counter insurgency operations, or wishing to write further on the conflict. The Search for Tactical Success in Vietnam makes a major contribution to the historiography of Australia and New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and the authors are commended for doing so.

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107098442
    • length: 352 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.64kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. Balance of capability
    2. The landmark battles
    3. The Jungle Patrol
    4. Patrol contacts
    5. The ambush battle
    6. Bunker busting
    7. Security contacts
    8. Mine warfare
    9. Comparisons:
    1ATF Infantry, SAS and other allied forces
    10. The combat effectiveness of 1ATF
    11. Clearing the VC/PAVN from Phuoc Tuy.

  • Authors

    Andrew Ross, University of New South Wales, Canberra
    Dr Andrew Ross is a former Operations Research analyst at Central Studies Establishment, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Australian Department of Defence. He is also a military historian. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales, Canberra and is the author of numerous publications including Armed and Ready: The Industrial Development and Defence of Australia 1900–1945 and, with Bob Hall, 'Lessons From Vietnam – Combined Arms Assault Against Prepared Defences', in Michael Evans and Alan Ryan (eds.), From Breitenfeld to Baghdad: Perspectives on Combined Arms Warfare.

    Robert Hall, University of New South Wales, Canberra
    Dr Bob Hall graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1968 and served as an infantry platoon commander in the 8th Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment, during its 1969–1970 tour in Vietnam. He is now a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. He is a military historian and currently leads the Military Operations Analysis Team in studies relating to Australia's involvement in post-1945 counterinsurgency operations. His publications include Combat Battalion: The Eighth Battalion in Vietnam.

    Amy Griffin, University of New South Wales, Canberra
    Dr Amy Griffin is a geographer at the University of New South Wales, Canberra where she is an expert in Geographic Information Systems and the visualisation of spatial and temporal data. She is the co-chair of the International Cartography Association's Commission on Cognitive Visualisation. Her publications include papers in journals such as The Journal of Maps, IEEE Transactions in Visualisation and Computer Graphics, Kartographische Nachrichten, Environment and Planning A, Cartographica, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, and Health and Place. She has also published in the History of Cartography, Volume 6.

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