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Townsend assumed command as the defenders regrouped, while Kirby co-ordinated the collection of the dead and wounded. In total, one of the platoons had been destroyed and D Company was "non-effective", with five dead, 16 wounded and 16 men still missing. VC losses were believed to have been heavy; but with no confirmed casualty figures it looked to the Australians like they had suffered a defeat.[151] The two officers agreed it would be impossible to secure the battlefield or to attempt to locate the missing from 11 Platoon in the darkness, and after it became clear the VC were not going to counter-attack, Townsend ordered a withdrawal to a position 750 metres (820 yd) to the west from whence their casualties could be evacuated. Handling the dead and wounded proved a slow process but with the casualties finally loaded onto the carriers D Company left at 22:45, while B and A Companies departed on foot 45 minutes later.[155] Roberts established a landing zone by forming a square and illuminated it with the interior lights of the APCs by opening their top hatches. The artillery fire ceased as the evacuation commenced with the first casualties taken out by a US Army Dustoff helicopter, while the remainder were extracted by six UH-1Bs from No. 9 Squadron RAAF. Despite being slowed by the requirement for the helicopters to land without lights, the operation went smoothly and was completed after midnight. The last casualties were taken out by 00:34, and flown to the Australian hospital at Vũng Tàu.[156]

Setup-2.bin Battlefield 3.rar

During the night the artillery continued to fire on likely VC forming-up points, although 11 Platoon's final position was avoided for fear of hitting any survivors,[157] while US aircraft bombed likely withdrawal routes to the east.[158] Forming a defensive position ready to repulse an expected attack the Australians remained overnight, enduring the cold and heavy rain.[159] Although they were now in a better position to hold off an attack, further reinforcement from 1 ATF at night was difficult and was therefore unlikely. Yet with the VC spent no further attack was mounted.[158] Smith and Townsend spent the night in the back of one of the carriers planning the clearance of the battlefield and pursuit of the VC, which was scheduled for the following day under the codename Operation Smithfield. Jackson stipulated the force was to remain within artillery range, but would otherwise have freedom of action to complete the exploitation over the next two to three days. Townsend requested the remaining APCs bring out 6 RAR headquarters, C Company and a section of mortars the following morning, while D Company, 5 RAR would also be placed under his command for the operation. However, with a company from 5 RAR still in Bình Ba, the bulk of 1 ATF's remaining combat power would be deployed as part of the clearance, leaving just two companies from 5 RAR to defend Nui Dat.[159] Smith was determined to recover the missing from 11 Platoon, and despite its losses, D Company would lead the assault.[160]

By morning the weather had cleared. At 06:55 the remainder of 6 RAR departed Nui Dat with 2 Troop, 1st APC Squadron, while D Company, 5 RAR departed at the same time aboard US Army helicopters.[161] Meanwhile, at 07:40 Jackson arrived at 6 RAR's night location to observe the clearance, flying in as Townsend gave orders for the operation. Stepping off at 08:45, the Australians returned to the battlefield in strength, while artillery and airstrikes continued to hit the area. The battalion group moved in a "two up" formation with D Company, 5 RAR and D Company, 6 RAR both mounted in APCs as the forward left and forward right assault companies, followed by A, B and C Companies in depth, each dismounted. The assault companies planned to sweep the area then dismount and commence a detailed search, while the others would clear the surrounding features and begin the follow-up. Moving cautiously in case the VC launched a counter-attack, they advanced along the route used by D Company, 6 RAR the previous day. The battlefield was a scene of devastation, with rubber trees stripped of leaves and branches and bleeding sap, while the area around D Company's final position was heavily cratered. At 09:21 D Company, 5 RAR reported finding the body of a dead VC soldier; while half an hour later D Company, 6 RAR found 12 to 15 more.[162] A large number of VC dead were found, including a 60 mm mortar crew.[160] At 10:20 a bulldozer was requested to bury the bodies of approximately 100 VC soldiers.[162]

At 11:00 6 RAR reported they had located the missing men from 11 Platoon, their bodies found lying in a straight line where they had been killed, largely undisturbed and still holding their weapons. The majority were from 6 Section, which had been the first to be hit.[171][173] One man was found to have survived despite his wounds, having spent the night on the battlefield in close proximity to the VC as they attempted to evacuate their own casualties.[174] Another wounded soldier had been found nearby, leaning against a tree but still alive. Both were evacuated, and later recuperated in hospital. Thirteen Australian dead were also recovered, accounting for all the missing. As the search continued, VC dead were found up to 500 metres (550 yd) south-east of the position reached by 11 Platoon.[173] A large bunker complex was uncovered consisting of 200 pits with overhead protection sufficient for a battalion, but its layout suggested it had been constructed as a defensive position rather than for an ambush. Another position of 100 pits was found to the east. By 14:35, the total number of VC dead was reported as 168. A large amount of weapons and equipment were uncovered, including assault rifles, mortars, light machine guns, submachine guns, an RCL, plus ammunition and grenades.[175] By 18:10, the figure had risen to 188 VC dead, with shallow graves dug by the Australians to bury them where they were found.[176]

Due to the likely presence of a significant force nearby, the Australians remained cautious as they searched for the VC. Over the next two days, they continued to clear the battlefield, uncovering more dead as they did so.[152] Yet, with up to two VC battalions still believed to be in the area and the continued vulnerability of Nui Dat to attack from the 274th Regiment, Jackson lacked the resources to pursue the withdrawing force.[177] Company patrols searched up to 1,500 metres (1,600 yd) east, and to the north of Nui Dat 2. The search area was subsequently expanded to include that contested during Operation Hobart. Several tracks were found with telephone cables running along them, as well as more drag marks, blood stains, discarded equipment, fresh graves and evidence of use by heavy cart and foot traffic. The main VC withdrawal route was discovered after midday on 19 August.[178] Townsend requested permission to follow it, believing he had sufficient forces, but Jackson would only permit 6 RAR to advance a further 1,000 metres (1,100 yd), remaining within artillery cover, and would not allow the guns to move forward to increase the range of their protective fire.[179] By 20 August, the Australians had counted 245 VC dead, while scores more were found later. Up to four weeks after the battle, decomposed bodies were still found in the area, while numerous graves were also located, none of which were included in the estimates of VC losses.[180] The bodies found later brought the total to about 300 dead.[181][Note 5] D Company, 5 RAR returned to Nui Dat early on 21 August, while D Company, 6 RAR was withdrawn for two days leave in Vung Tau.[183]

VC and PAVN casualties were claimed by the Australians to have numbered 245 dead left on the battlefield and three captured, with many more were thought to have been removed as they withdrew. Others were so badly mutilated their remains were unidentifiable.[174] Approximately half were believed to have been caused by artillery and the remainder by small arms.[152] The initial estimate was given by an Australian Army spokesman, and some participants in the battle regarded them as inflated.[186] They were disputed by many individuals present at the battle, with reports by a D Company commander stating actual body counts as no more than 50.[187] The official history of the D445 Battalion and 275th Regiment records either 30 or 47 were killed in total, primarily by artillery fire.[188] Another estimate was 150 according to Colonel Bao who was overall district commander, but did not directly participate.[187]

At the time, the allocation of medals under the Imperial honours system was based on a quota, resulting in many of the original recommendations being downgraded or not awarded, with Smith initially nominated for the DSO, Sabben and Kendall the MC, and Sharp a posthumous mention in despatches. In 2008, a review recommended awards made to three officers be upgraded to the equivalent medals in the modern Australian honours system. Smith was subsequently awarded the Star of Gallantry, and Kendall and Sabben the Medal for Gallantry (MG). Following further review in 2009, Dohle received the Distinguished Service Medal, while D Company, 6 RAR was presented a Unit Citation for Gallantry on 18 August 2011.[207] Another review in 2016 led to awards to ten more soldiers, including Roberts, Alcorta and Lance Corporal Barry Magnussen who received the MG, and Sharp and six others a Commendation for Gallantry.[208]On 18 August 1969, 6 RAR erected the Long Tan Cross on the battlefield.[209]

For the 50th anniversary of the battle the Vietnamese government permitted Australians to hold a 'low-key ceremony', but the unexpected booking of 3,500 individuals to attend as well as a concert by Little Pattie led to the Vietnamese government cancelling the event.[234] Following late-night talks by Malcolm Turnbull with the prime minister of Vietnam, a low-key ceremony was once again permitted.[235] On 18 August 2016 a ceremony was held on the battlefield; more than 1,000 Australian veterans and their families travelled to Vietnam to participate in the 50th anniversary commemoration.[236] 350c69d7ab


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