Operation Bribie

Operation Bribie (17–18 February 1967), also known as the Battle of Ap My An, was fought during the Vietnam War in Phuoc Tuy province between Australian forces from the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) and two companies of Viet Cong from D445 Battalion, likely reinforced by North Vietnamese regulars. During the night of 16 February the Viet Cong attacked a South Vietnamese Regional Force compound at Lang Phuoc Hai, before withdrawing the following morning after heavy fighting with South Vietnamese forces. Two hours later a Viet Cong company was subsequently reported to have formed a tight perimeter in the rainforest 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of Lang Phuoc Hai, near the abandoned hamlet of Ap My An. In response the Australians mounted a quick reaction force operation. Considering that the Viet Cong would attempt to withdraw as they had during previous encounters, forces from 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) would subsequently be inserted into blocking positions on the likely withdrawal route in an attempt to intercept and destroy them.
On the afternoon of 17 February 6RAR deployed into the area north-west of Hoi My by American UH-1 Iroquis helicopters and M113 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in an attempt to cut-off the anticipated Viet Cong withdrawal, establishing blocking and assault forces. Following an airmobile assault into an unsecured landing zone at 13:45, A Company 6RAR was subsequently surprised by a strong, well-sited and dug-in Viet Cong force, which, rather than withdrawing, had likely remained in location as part of an attempt to ambush any reaction force sent to the area. The Australians were soon contacted by heavy small arms fire, with a third of the lead platoon falling wounded in the initial volleys. A Company subsequently broke contact and withdrew under heavy fire from what appeared to be a Viet Cong base area. Initially believing they were opposed by only a company, 6RAR subsequently launched a quick attack by two companies. However, unknown to the Australians the Viet Cong had been reinforced and they now faced a battalion-sized force in well prepared positions.
With A Company providing fire support, B Company assaulted the position at 15:35 with artillery, air strikes and armour in support. From the outset the lead elements came under constant Viet Cong sniper fire from the trees, and from machine-guns that had not previously been detected by the Australians. The assault soon faltered with steadily increasing casualties as the Viet Cong resisted strongly, withstanding multiple frontal assaults, including bayonet charges by two separate platoons. Surrounded and receiving fire from all sides, the lead Australian elements from B Company could advance no further against a determined and well dug-in force, and all attempts to regain momentum were unable to dislodge the defenders. Initially the Australians had used their APCs to secure the landing zone at the jungle's edge, however with the infantry in trouble they were subsequently dispatched as a relief force. Fighting their way forward, the M113s finally arrived by 18:15 and began loading the most badly wounded as darkness approached. The Viet Cong subsequently launched two successive counter-attacks, yet both were repulsed by the Australians. During the fighting one of the APCs was subsequently disabled by a recoilless rifle at close range, killing the driver.
Finally, by 19:00 B Company was able break contact and withdrew after a five-hour battle, moving into a night harbour near the landing zone with the remainder of the battalion. Mortars, artillery fire and airstrikes covered the Australian withdrawal, and then proceeded to pound the battlefield into the evening. After a tense night the Australians returned the next morning only to find that the Viet Cong had left the area during the night, successfully avoiding a large blocking force while dragging most of their dead and wounded with them. A hard fought affair at close range, the Viet Cong had lost heavily during the fighting, yet the disciplined force had matched the Australians as both sides stood their ground, inflicting numerous casualties on the other before each fell back. Although 6RAR had ultimately prevailed, if only by default, the vicious fighting at Ap My An was probably the closest that the Australian Army came to defeat in a major battle during the war.