NUI DAT Vietnam – By BARNEY SIEBERT – UPI 1970
It’s a different kind of war at the Australian task force base at Nui Dat.
The 5,000 man Australian task force, including a battalion size element of New Zealanders, is the only Allied unit in the Indochina War with tactics markedly different by those used by Americans, South Vietnamese, south Koreans and Thais. The South Vietnamese, Koreans all were trained and advised by Americans. So were the Laotians. Even the Cambodians are learning the American counter-insurgency tactics from the South Vietnamese. But the Australians have needed no advice from Americans in scouring the jungles for Viet Cong in Phoc Tuy Province, a lightly populated area of jungle forests and mountains along the South China Sea 50 miles south east of Saigon.
Japanese infantrymen, who were experts in the craft of jungle warfare, told American captors at the end of World War II that the Australians were the real jungle experts on the Allied side. “Americans are not jungle fighters” one prisoner of war remarked. “They simply remove the jungle” The Australian expertise in jungle war was forged in expeditions to maintain order in New Guinea, polished in the Australian Army’s jungle warfare school, and honed in 12 years of campaigning against the Communists in Malaya. The Aussies are the only U.S. allies in Vietnam who brought along most of their own equipment and who pay their own way.
In addition to the 5000 man task force, there are another 3000 Australian fighting men in Vietnam – airmen, sailors and military advisors working with South Vietnamese units. About 50 percent of the Australians are conscripts. Because of their jungle warfare expertise, the Australians are less oriented toward air mobility in the Indochina conflict. One of the first things Americans notice at Nui Dat is the absence of helicopters – the Aussies have only about half as many as a conventional U.S. infantry unit of equivalent size and about one fouth of the total assigned to an American air mobile division. Another Australian concept is the absence of Vietnamese civilian workers at the base. “We do not have a security problem” one officer said.
The Australians live in tents rather than “hooches” call their infantrymen “crunchies” instead of “grunts” maintain their vehicles and equipment almost as well as the Koreans-the most spit and polish soldiers in Vietnam-leave the trees standing to provide shade when they build a base camp rather than removing the vegetation to minimise the infiltration danger. The Australians buy their artillery pieces and ammunition from the United States-“in the quantities in which you make it, we can buy it cheaper than we could make it ourselves.” They also buy machine guns, grenade launchers, armoured personnel carriers and some web equipment.
Their tanks are British Centurions. Their rifles are the Belgian NATO weapon, which uses the same cartridge as the M.S. M16: the Aussies say it has better range and is less susceptible to jamming than the M16. Their jeeps and weapons carriers are various modifications of Australian built Land Rovers and their trucks are built by the Australian subsidiary of International Harvester Corp. The trucks do not have the familiar dual rear wheels of the U.S. Army vehicles.
The elite Australian unit in Vietnam is the Special Air Service Squadron, highly trained volunteers who are paratrooper qualified. In four years of operations in South Vietnams Phoc Tuy Province, the Australians have killed 2,840 Viet Cong and driven the only two main force Viet Cong Battalions, D445 and D440, from the province. Intelligence estimates show about 800 Viet Cong guerrillas remain in the province and the Communist infrastructure has been reduced 50 per cent to 1,500 persons. During the 1968 Tet Offensive there were an estimated 5,000 Viet Cong soldiers in the province, supported by an infrastructure of 3,000 persons.
And the Australians in Vietnam know more than just how to fight. “Take a look at the Aussies pacification program” a civilian official of the U.S. mission to Vietnam said “It’s one of the most effective in the country” Lt. Col. Keith P Outridge, 43 of Canberra, commanders of the1st. Australian Civil Affairs Unit, said: “We only try to do things as the Vietnamese see it and wish it done, and try to do something to stimulate their development as we see it and hope they see it the same as we do”
The “Australian Province” – Phuc Tuy – is a 400 square mile area of mountains, jungle forest and coastal swamps. It’s 105,000 residents are poor and the province has never been self sufficient in food. Before the war disrupted it’s economy, it’s people made their livelihood by working on the large rubber plantations, lumber mills, salt drying ponds and in the resort hotels along the beaches. The Australian pacification program is similar to but somewhat smaller in scope than American efforts in other provinces and there is some U.S. pacification activity by the American Civil Operations Rural Development Support (CORDS) program in the province, but most of the effort is Australian.
The principle difference is the administration. Pacification is a civilian responsibility amongst the Americans, – a military responsibility amongst the Australians. Col. Outridge sees both advantages and disadvantages in a military administered pacification program. On the plus side, he said, is that fact that “most authority in a country at war is military and there is empathy between military men: we have closer access to military resources to carry out the programs. “
Disadvantages, he finds, are “a lack of expertise in specific fields and lack of continuity in projects” due to the one year military rotation. However, he feels that a military pacification program may get to the areas where it is needed most sooner than a civilian program because the soldier is less likely to be kept at a distance by absence of physical security. “We try to work with the soft moccasin instead of the hob nailed boot.” Outridge said. “We try to get the Vietnamese into the program as soon as we can. We insist on their input. They must initiate the project, it must benefit the government, and they must help carry it out.”
About 22 per cent of Phoc Tuy Province’s population are fishermen, 35 per cent farmers. To stimulate agriculture the Australians have introduced breeding stock and model farm methods for chicken and hog raising operations. “We go up and down the highway and persuade a farmer here and there to try it out. After that it spreads from neighbour to neighbour.” Outridge said.