The Battle of Suoi Chau Pha – 7RAR

Amidst the volatile landscape of the Vietnam War, the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha unfolded on August 6, 1967, marking a fierce clash between Australian and Vietnamese forces. This dramatic engagement transpired within the framework of Operation Ballarat, a meticulously planned Australian search and destroy mission aimed at disrupting Viet Cong activities in the eastern Hat Dch region, situated northwest of Nui Dat in Phc Tuy province.

The operational scope of Ballarat, spanning from August 4 to 16, was conceived as a battalion-sized endeavor designed to scour the lion area of operations northwest of Nui Dat. The strategic brilliance of the Commanding Officer’s plan lay in the decision to have companies traverse the terrain overtly, eschewing helicopter insertion to maintain a heightened element of surprise. This tactical maneuver was anticipated to catch the enemy off guard and enhance the effectiveness of the Australian forces.

Tragically, the price of this intense confrontation was high for the Australian contingent. Five soldiers lost their lives in the heat of battle, while another succumbed to wounds sustained during the operation. Additionally, twenty more Australian troops endured injuries, further underscoring the severity of the conflict.

Compounding the complexity of assessing the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha was the elusive nature of determining Viet Cong casualties. The cunning tactics employed by the communists involved evacuating a substantial number of their wounded and deceased from the battlefield, echoing similar strategies employed in prior engagements. Upon a secondary sweep of the contested area by Australian forces, the discovery of five additional deceased Vietnamese combatants was made. Moreover, the presence of drag traces and significant blood trails painted a vivid picture of severe injuries suffered by the enemy, hinting at a potential toll of approximately 33 more casualties—whether killed or wounded—during the encounter.

The battlefield echoed with the thunderous reverberations of artillery and mortar fire, punctuated by the ominous whirr of airstrikes. Reports from the front lines indicated that these devastating assaults contributed to an estimated 200 additional casualties among the Viet Cong forces, underscoring the ferocity and lethal consequences of the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha.

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  • Ernest Chamberlain November 20, 2023   Reply →

    A Vietnamese communist account of the Battle of Suoi Pha can be found on the “independent” Vietnamese “chien tranh” website – see: . An English-language translation can be sourced from Ernie Chamberlain – eg:
    … … Alpha Company 7RAR – under the command of Major Ewart O’Donnell deployed and swept the Hát Dịch region from 3 August. At 10.40hrs on 6 August, they were 10 kilometres to the east of Phú Mỹ and within the Suối Châu Pha area without having been discovered. The Australian troops found a track and laid an ambush. A few minutes later, two Liberation Force soldiers moving along the track were killed – and the Australian troops moved to wipe out the following Liberation Force troops who returned fire fiercely. Alpha Company was in a dangerous situation.
    O’Donnell asked Lieutenant Rod Smith – commanding 1 Platoon, to attack the Liberation Forces from the flank, but they struck fierce resistance. Heavy rain began to fall. The Liberation Forces employed “close-in” tactics to lessen the effectiveness of the American fire support. Lieutenant Neville Clark – the artillery forward observer, had to call for artillery support to within 50 metres of the Australian troops to relieve the pressure on Alpha Company. As a result, that fire support allowed the Australian to seize the advantage.
    At 14.30hrs, the Liberation Forces withdrew. Documents seized by the Australians showed that the Liberation Forces belonged to C12 Company of the 274 Regiment’s 3rd Battalion – together with a reconnaissance platoon and a number of local troops.
    The next day, the Australian forces discovered a Liberation Forces camp about 900 metres from that engagement – and they guessed that C12 Company and a number of other elements that had fought so bravely in order to block the Australians and allow the other units in the camp to escape their assault.
    Five Australian soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Suối Châu Pha and one was wounded seriously and also died. 20 others were wounded. Liberation Force casualties are not clear – but five were killed at the site, including a platoon commander, and the Australians seized a machine-gun, a 40mm grenade launcher, and three AK-47s. The following day, the Australian troops destroyed a battalion-sized camp and bunker system – with a large quantity of rice and medical supplies. … “

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