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7 June 2008

On this day in history: Australian Prime Minister visits Vietnam, 1968

The first Australian troops arrived in South Vietnam in August 1962 in response to a request for military aid from the country's President, Ngo Dinh Diem. Initially only thirty military advisers called the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) were deployed, to help train the South Vietnamese army. Three years later, an infantry battalion and support staff also arrived in Vietnam. The next year, the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, announced that the country's deployment would increase to a 4350, including conscripted troops and air support. In 1966, Australian forces defeated Viet Cong and other North Vietnamese in the Battle of Long Tan. The following year the Australian government commits a further 1700 troops backed up by a squadron of tanks.

In November 1967, Holt goes missing while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria. He is presumed drowned and his body is never found. After a short period with a caretaker Prime Minister, the Liberal Party elects John Gorton as their leader and he takes the reigns of power in January 1968. The very next month Gorton announces that the Australian government will not increase its military commitment to the defence of South Vietnam; however, he did not favour a withdrawal of those forces currently deployed, but he was willing to visit them there as part of his tour of South-East Asia.

Australian soldiers meet Prime Minister John Gorton at Nui Dat,
South Vietnam, in June 1968 (Source National Australian Archives)


On 7th June 1968, Prime Minister Gorton arrived in Vietnam for a three day visit, during which he met with Australian troops at their base at Nui Dat. In spite of this visit, the Vietnam conflict was becoming increasingly unpopular with the Australian people: a 1969 pole finding that 55% of Australians wanted their troops brought home. In response, as the 1970s dawned, the slow process of withdrawal began, with servicemen who had completed their tour of duty not being replaced with fresh troops. Nevertheless this was not enough for the 120,000 Australians who marched in anti-war demonstrations in May 1970.

In March 1971, Gorton stood down as Prime Minister to be replaced by Sir William McMahon, who five months later announced the withdrawal of the bulk of Australian forces from Vietnam. Only a group of trainers remained until December 1972 when they were recalled by the newly elected Labour government.

The web-site of Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia has a number of educational documents pertaining to their role in the conflict.

5 comments:

Caledonian Jim said...

I always enjoy visiting your site and it's never a waste of time to stop and read what you present .

All the best .

Graham Langdon said...

I'm a little confused. How does this relate to the American presence in Viet Nam? I was not aware Australia and Viet Nam were allies. Wish you would have tied some of that in...

Stepterix said...

cj: thanks for the comment, don't forget to stumble or digg any posts you really enjoy ;)

gl: the limits of space and time mean that I can never supply all the background information to these posts that I - or in this case, the reader - would like.

The South Vietnamese government called on a number of it allies for military aid. Many responded: not only the United States; but also Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand.

This section of the Vietnam War page on wikipedia includes details of the involvement of other countries. There is also a page on Australia's role in the Veitnam War.

Cheers
K

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Stepterix said...

Thanks for the comment, Maple.