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Vietnam - 1963 to 1967

Escalation

1963

In 1963, Diem's police (led by his brother) raided a Buddhist pagoda claiming that the monks were harbouring communists and creating political instability. This led to enormous protests against the Diem Government. One Buddhist monk burned himself to death in protest. When Diem's wife referred to this as a "barbecue" it caused so much outrage that the American CIA supported a military coup to oust Diem. Diem and his brother were assassinated. General Duong Van Mingh took over leadership of the Government.

A week later, President Kennedy announced that America's commitment to Vietnam would be scaled down with the immediate withdrawal of 1,000 advisers.

Troop levels:  
South Vietnamese 243,000
American 16,300
Australian 30

1964

Early in 1964, the newly-appointed President Johnson, convinced that if South Vietnam fell to the communists,. the rest of South East Asia would follow, ordered increased aid for South Vietnam, began the planning of air strikes against North Vietnam and requested more assistance from America's allies in the region. A total of 39 nations provided some form of assistance; only five sent combat troops and, of these, only two (Australia and New Zealand) paid their own expenses.

The Australian Government responded by increasing the number of instructors in Vietnam to 80. Shortly afterwards, Warrant Officer Kevin Conway became the first Australian to be killed in action in Vietnam. Later in the year, seven Australian Caribou transport aircraft are stationed at Vung Toa.

In August, two US ships in the Tonkin Gulf were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. US aircraft carriers retaliated by attacking four North Vietnamese naval bases and an oil depot.

In November 1964, as a result of concern about the situation in Indonesia, Australia introduced National Service for 20-year olds.

Troop levels:  
South Vietnamese 514,000
American 23,300
Australian 80
New Zealand 30
South Korea 200
Phillipines 20

1965

In February 1965, the US commenced sustained bombing of North Vietnam and began sending combat troops to Vietnam. In April, the Australian Government announced that it would sent a battalion of combat troops to Vietnam.

The bombing of North Vietnam triggered the first significant protests against the war in America when student demonstrators marched on the Oakland Army Terminal which was the point of departure for most of the US troops leaving for Vietnam. Most of these early protests were directed more against the draft than the war itself. It was not until 1968 that large-scale protests against the war itself developed.

In June, 1,100 Australians of the 1st Battalion with support elements arrived in Vung Tao. Shortly afterwards, the Battalion suffered its first causalities when 3 soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in a grenade accident.

In October, 2 more Australians were killed and 37 wounded in a "search and destroy" operation in the Iron Triangle area. 106 enemy were killed in the operation.

In the same month, the first significant anti-war protests were held in Sydney.

Troop levels:  
South Vietnamese 642,500
American 184,300
Australian 1,560
New Zealand 120
South Korea 20,620
Phillipines 70
Thailand 20

1966

In March 1966, the new Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, announced that its commitment to Vietnam would be increased to 4,500, including conscripts for the first time.

In April, 26 Australians were killed securing an area around Nui Dat  Protests against conscription and the war were held in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Pert and Canberra.

In May, Private Errol Wayne Noack became the first Australian conscript killed in action in any war except during the direct defence of Australia in New Guinea.

In June, the 1st Battalion returned to Australia to be greeted by a ticker-tape parade through Sydney.  The American Commander, General Westmoreland praised the Australian troops saying "I have never seen a finer group of men. I have never fought with a finer group of soldiers.... even men in the ranks might have been leaders in some less capable force."

Later in the war, as protest activity increased, the "welcome home" parades were abandoned.

Long Tan

The Battle of Long Tan

In August, D Company of the Australian 6th Battalion  although outnumbered by more than ten to one, repelled an attack by about 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (South Vietnamese Communist) troops. 18 Australians were killed and 22 wounded; 245 enemy were killed.

D Company received the high honour of a US Presidential Unit Citation.

In October, President Johnson visited Australia and reported that Prime Minister Hold had promised to go "all the way with L.B.J. 

In November, Australian Warrant Officer Kevin Wheatley earned a posthumous Victoria Cross when he refused to desert a wounded comrade in the face of overwhelming enemy forces.

In Australia in November, the Harold Holt's Government was re-elected and committed additional troops, a guided-missile destroyer and a squadron of eight Canberra bombers to Vietnam.

Troop levels:  
South Vietnamese 735,900
American 385,300
Australian 4,530
New Zealand 160
South Korea 25,570
Phillipines 2,060
Thailand 240

1967

Australian Major Peter Badcoe earned a Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry and leadership on three occasions in February, March and April 1967.

In October, the Australian Government announced that it would send more troops and helicopters and a squadron of Centurion tanks to Vietnam. 

In December, the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, was drowned. He was replaced as Prime Minister by John Gorton early in 1969.

Guerilla attacks continued throughout the year but the American leaders felt that they were getting the upper hand. In December, the US Commander, General Westmoreland announced "The enemy has been defeated at every turn." and, just as the French commander had done in 1954, began planning to bring the war to an end in a major battle.

Troop levels:  
South Vietnamese 798,700
American 485,600
Australian 6,820
New Zealand 530
South Korea 47,830
Phillipines 2,020
Thailand 2,200