The Battle of Long Tan is more than a story for Dave Sabben. It is a clear and vivid memory. While not the biggest battle of Vietnam it was perhaps the most desperate.


The Battle of Long Tan is more than a story for Dave Sabben. It is a clear and vivid memory! On that Thursday on 18 August 1966 in the rubber plantation near the village of Long Tan, Dave was in the thick of the battle as Commander of 12 Platoon, Delta Company 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.

On the 50th anniversary Dave says the battle, which saw 108 men in D Company pitted against upwards of 2,000 Vietnamese Regulars and Viet Cong in an against all odds fight for life, was fought by many more than those in the rubber plantation that day. For Dave the first shot sent a ripple that reached into the spirit of Australian, New Zealand and American troops – all wanting to help the beleaguered D Coy..

“At around 4pm 108 ANZACs (including three NZ artillery men) walked into that rubber plantation at Long Tan. Within minutes of the first shot, we called for artillery support – this first ripple reached 161 Battery, NZ Artillery, and six gun crews - a few dozen men swung into action to support the blokes out there under fire, along with their HQ men, the gun plotters, the comms men, all their own support crews.

“Within an hour we called the first Regimental fire mission. Three more Batteries joined in,” he said. “We now had 24 guns firing for us – 24 gun crews, 4 Battery HQs – the ripples radiating out further”.

“At Task Force HQ and in the Fire Control Centre, dozens more men swung into action. Command and control. Liaison among units. What’s to be done to help Delta Company?”

“Halfway through the battle, with ammo running low, we called for a resupply. Two RAAF choppers – four-man crews in each – flew to 6RAR to collect the ammo. A dozen men delivered it, loaded it onto the choppers. Four 6RAR men climbed in.”

“The choppers then flew through impossible weather to hover above us, under fire, and kick the ammo out right into the middle of our position.”

“And we can include the blokes who service and supply the choppers and keep them in the air.”

At that point Dave says the ripples from the first contact had reached at least “a couple of hundred more soldiers”.

“At about the same time 10 APCs were sent to collect Alpha Company, 6RAR – that’s 10 APCs with two crew each plus all the men who kept the APCs serviced and operational.”

“Then add the 100-plus men of Alpha Company, now aboard the APCs, and racing to our help. The ripples now reach out to include maybe 500 men.”

Dave says men at the Task Force base could hear the guns firing continuously and dozens rushed to the Artillery lines to help wherever and however they could– some carried ammo to the guns, others cleared ammo boxes and spent shells from the gun positions while others still made sandwiches and hot chocolate for the gun crews – all just helping – all in support.

And the ripples extend beyond Australian forces. The American 155mm gun battery joined the fight and American jets flew over the battlefield above the storm, looking for a break in the clouds so they could drop their bombs. There was no break, so they unloaded further away. Still more Americans looked to the resupply and transport of artillery ammo to the guns.

Dave says there were women in support too. The medical teams who saved the lives of the wounded.

“At Long Tan Delta Company lost 17 dead and 23 wounded. One of the APC crew was also badly wounded and sadly later died. Of the 23 wounded Delta Company sent to the hospitals – some with horrific wounds – the doctors, nurses, nursing aids and Red Cross workers all worked together and did a magnificent job. They didn’t lose one of our wounded. Their tireless efforts saved the lives of many in Delta Company.”

Dave wants people to use the 50th Anniversary of Long Tan to remember all who served in Vietnam, saying that “Long Tan was only one afternoon’s work”.  There were more ripples – more battles, hardships and feats of determination and courage for the almost 60,000 Australian forces who served in Vietnam.

While the Battle of Long Tan was not the biggest battle Australians experienced in Vietnam it was perhaps the most desperate, and certainly critical to the Australian area of control surrounding Nui Dat.  Each year the date of this one battle is used to honour all who served.

Dave Sabben was awarded the Medal of Gallantry for his action in the Battle of Long Tan.

See a detailed Power Point of the Battle created by Dave to clearly show the movements, tactics and locations. A big 10MB file but fabulously educational and worth the download.

Explore the Vietnam Collection

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