The Battle of Coral-Balmoral

The Battle of Coral–Balmoral (12 May – 6 June 1968) was a series of actions fought during the Vietnam War between the1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) and the North Vietnamese 7th Division and Viet Cong , 40 kilometres (25 mi) north-east of Saigon . Following the defeat of the communist Tet offensive in January and February, in late April two Australian battalions with supporting arms were again redeployed from their base at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province to positions astride infiltration routes leading to Saigon , in order to interdict renewed movement against the capital. Part of the wider allied Operation Toan Thang I , it was launched in response to intelligence reports of another impending communist offensive, however the Australians experienced little fighting during this period. Meanwhile the Viet Cong successfully penetrated the capital on 5 May, plunging Saigon into chaos during the May Offensive in an attempt to influence the upcoming Paris peace talks scheduled to begin on the 13th. During three days of intense fighting the attacks were repelled by US and South Vietnamese forces, and although another attack was launched by the Viet Cong several days later, the offensive was again defeated with heavy losses on both sides and significant damage to Saigon, as well as many civilian casualties.
1ATF was again redeployed on 12 May to obstruct the withdrawal of these forces from the capital, with two battalions establishing a fire support base (FSB), FSB Coral, just east of Lai Khe in Binh Duong Province in an area of operations known as AO Surfers. However, poor reconnaissance and inadequate operational planning led to delays and confusion during the fly-in, and the Australians had only partially completed FSB Coral by the evening. The North Vietnamese subsequently mounted a number of battalion-sized assaults against it on the night of 12/13 May, with a heavy bombardment from 03:30 signalling the start of the assault. Exploiting the disorganised defence to penetrate the Australian perimeter, 141 NVA Regiment temporarily captured a forward gun position during intense close-quarters fighting before finally being repulsed by superior firepower the following morning. Casualties were heavy on both sides and although the Australians had won a convincing victory, they had come close to suffering both a political and military defeat at the hands of the North Vietnamese. The following day 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) was deployed to defend FSB Coral, while 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) established FSB Coogee to the west in order to ambush staging areas and infiltration routes. Coral was again assaulted in the early hours of 16 May, coming under a heavy barrage followed by another regimental-sized attack. Again the base was penetrated but after a six-hour battle the North Vietnamese were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy losses. Expecting further fighting the Australians were subsequently reinforced with Centurion tanks and additional artillery. On 22 May, FSB Coral was again attacked overnight, coming under a short but accurate mortar bombardment which was subsequently broken up by Australian artillery and mortars.
The Australians then moved against the communist base areas east of Route 16, with 3RAR redeploying to establish FSB Balmoral on 24 May, 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) to the north. Now supported by tanks which had arrived from Coral just hours before, the Australian infantry at Balmoral were then subjected to a two battalion attack by 165 NVA Regiment. Following a very accurate rocket and mortar barrage at 03:45 on 26 May, the attack fell primarily on D Company before being repelled with heavy casualties by the combined firepower of the Australian tanks and infantry. The next day the Australians at Coral assaulted a number of bunkers that had been located just outside the base, with a troop of Centurions supported by infantry destroying the bunkers and their occupants without loss. A second major North Vietnamese attack, again of regimental strength, was made against Balmoral at 02:30 on 28 May but was called off after only 30 minutes after being soundly defeated by the supporting fire of the Australian tanks, artillery and mortars. Regardless, the battle continued into June as the Australians patrolled their area of operations. However, with contacts decreasing, 1ATF was redeployed to Nui Dat on 6 June, being relieved by US and South Vietnamese. The battle was the first time the Australians had clashed with regular North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong main force units operating in battalion and regimental strength in conventional warfare. During 26 days of fighting the communists suffered punishing losses and were forced to postpone a further attack on Saigon, while the Australians also suffered significant casualties. The largest unit-level action of the war for the Australians, today the battle is considered one of the most famous actions fought by the Australian Army during the Vietnam War.