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Battle of Nui Le, RVN

21 SEP 1971: Viet Nam and the Battle of Nui Le, takes place today. Soldiers of B Company and D Company, 4RAR/NZ, fought an intense battle against a large enemy force from 33 North Vietnamese Army Regiment in the north of Phuoc Tuy province. The enemy defended their well constructed bunker systems and then attacked D Company for several hours. Five Australians were killed in action, and 24 were wounded in this battle, which was part of Operation Ivanhoe. Patrols by 11 Platoon, D Company 4 RAR/NZ on the morning of 21 September, found sawn logs near the south eastern part of the Courtenay rubber plantation which suggested that there were major fortified bunker positions nearby. B and D Company 4 RAR/NZ moved forward near Nui Le to attack these fortifications.

12 Platoon, D Company 4 RAR/NZ made first contact with a bunker system, suffering one dead from a rocket-propelled grenade and four wounded. An estimated platoon strength assault attacked 11 Platoon, D Company 4 RAR/NZ and after a 15-minute firefight the North Vietnamese forces withdrew to their bunkers after removing their dead and wounded form the battlefield. The Australian and New Zealand platoons were ordered to withdraw to an area to the south so airstrikes and artillery could be called in to soften up the bunker systems.

United States Air Force air strikes were called in and F-4 Phantoms and A37 Dragonflys bombed the area with napalm, air to surface missiles, flechette and 500 pound bombs. Iroquois and Cobra helicopter gunships and Australian artillery strikes also hit the bunker system. The American pilots reported NVA forces fleeing to the north.

At 14:00, D Company 4 RAR/NZ was ordered forward to search and destroy the bunker systems. The North Vietnamese let the Australians advance some 50 metres into the bunker complex before opening up with everything they had. 11 Platoon, suffered three killed and two wounded. Many grenades thrown by the North Vietnamese fortunately did not explode, reducing casualties. Unfortunately for the Australians this would be fought hand to hand as the Centurion tanks of the 1st Armoured Regiment had previously been withdrawn from Vietnam. 12 Platoon was also pinned down and could not move forward.

The bodies of the three killed Australian soldiers could not be recovered and orders were given to pull back, which under heavy fire did not happen until 16:00. Just as the sun was setting the ANZAC forces ran into another NVA force, with the commanding officer of 11 Platoon, Gary McKay being hit twice by a sniper’s bullet in the shoulder. The bunker system they had come across was found later to be the 33rd Regiment’s Headquarters. Artillery fire was brought down onto the surrounding area as more North Vietnamese forces joined the battle. The North Vietnamese disengaged at 21:00 just as the Australians were running low on ammunition.

After a number of hours of fighting the elements of the 33rd Regiment NVA pulled out of the bunker system and moved north after recovering the dead and wounded they could carry. The Australian wounded were evacuated by helicopter in the morning of 22 September. Five Australians had been killed and 30 wounded. Total North Vietnamese losses are unknown, however fourteen bodies were found on the battlefield. At 1739 hours the New Zealanders of V Company moved up to reinforce D Company.

On 23 September, D and V companies moved back into the area of the bunkers. V Company began the assault on the NVA bunker system at 1105 hours moving in very short bounds in torrential rainfall through bomb and artillery craters and fallen timber and it was not until 1725 hours that they reached the bunkers where they found the bodies of three Australians from 11 Platoon who had been killed in the previous bunker assault by D Company. V Company cleared a track to a helicopter winch point and the New Zealand riflemen shouldered arms and formed an impromptu “guard of honour” in tribute as members of D Company moved forward with litters for the fallen. For his role in the battle, Second Lieutenant Garry McKay, who was badly wounded, received the Military Cross. Photo: The last Australian troops leaving Nui Dat pass through the task force gates in 1971. More;

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