5 April 2019
Fifteen veterans who supported Australian troops in the Vietnam War have been the first soldiers from a New Zealand military unit to be awarded an Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry.
Families also received the citation on behalf of their loved ones who had died.
The veterans from 161 Battery, 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery, were presented with their citations at Linton Military Camp by Major General Gregory Bilton, Forces Commander of the Australian Army, on behalf of Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Chief of the Australian Army.
The 161 Battery was part of the 1st Australian Task Force on 23 May, 1966, and provided continuous fire support to successive Australian and New Zealand battalions from that date until withdrawn in May 1971.
The gunners received high praise for the accuracy and volume of fire support they provided at critical stages of attacks on the Australian battalion positions and Major General Bilton said he felt privileged to be able to present the insignias for the award to the veterans.
“This is well deserved and long overdue,” he said.
The veterans were accompanied by dozens of family members to witness the award. Defence and Veterans Minister Ron Mark, who reviewed the parade, said the strong relationship between Australia and New Zealand militaries was no more evident than during the Vietnam War and the relationship continued through current deployments.
“Our military relationship now is stronger because of those who came before,” Mr Mark said.
While this is the first Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry offered to a New Zealand military unit, in 2010 approval was given for three New Zealand Army personnel who were attached to D Company, 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment at the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam in 1966, to accept and wear the Australian Unit Citation for Gallantry awarded to D Company.
Members of 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, initially deployed to Vietnam near Bien Hoa in July 1965. They moved to Nui Dat in the neighbouring Phuoc Tuy province as part of the newly formed 1st Australian Task Force on 23 May, 1966, and provided continuous fire support to successive Australian and New Zealand battalions from that date until withdrawn in May 1971.
One of the first significant operations for the 1st Australian Task Force was to deploy 120 kilometres from their Nui Dat base to an area in Bien Hoa Province designated “Area of Operation Surfers”. This was an area important to the North Vietnamese Army offensive operations being conducted against Saigon in 1968. The Task Force established Fire Support Bases named Coral and Balmoral.
The battles that followed were among the largest and most protracted fought by the Australian Task Force in the Vietnam War. The gunners of 161 Battery received high praise for the accuracy and volume of fire support they provided at critical stages of attacks on the Australian battalion positions.