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Duty and honour – The History of the Australian Army (Part Two)

In the days surrounding Anzac Day, Defence Connect will be looking back on the history of the Australian Defence Force branches, beginning with the Australian Army.

For part one, please click here.

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Responsibilities in Japan following World War II

Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, Australian infantry was heavily involved with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), with 16,000 Australians serving in the 45,000-strong force.

The BCOF was also comprised of personnel from Britain, India and New Zealand and, at its peak, was about 10 per cent of the total occupation force that the US provided.

The Allied occupation of Japan was announced on 31 January 1946, with Australian troops arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun three weeks later, marking the first time Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation that it had defeated in war.

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The objective of the BCOF was to "enforce the terms of the unconditional surrender" that had been settled the previous September, which involved maintaining military control and supervising the demilitarisation and disposal of Japan's capabilities of war-making.

The BCOF's area of control was the western prefectures of Shimani, Yamaguchi, Tottori, Okayama, Hiroshima and Shikoku Island, with the headquarters of the force located at Kure.

At the height of Australia's involvement with the BCOF, it was responsible for nearly 60,000 square kilometres of the country, and over 20 million Japanese citizens.

However, the demilitarisation of Japan was a fast-moving process and by the end of 1946, the responsibilities of the BCOF had died down, resulting in the force being entirely comprised of Australian soldiers by 1948, with the BCOF finally dismantling in 1952.

Korean War

This was partially due to Australia's required involvement in the Korean War, which had quickly spiralled to conflict following the build up of the peninsula with Russia in control of the north, and the US in the South.

The communist government in the North, fostered by the Soviet Union, launching an offensive on the South in 1950, capturing the capital of Seoul within seven days.

Australia quickly responded to the call from the UN Security Council that its member nations to help repel the invasion of South Korea, becoming the second nation, after the US, to commit personnel to the war.

In total 17,000 Australian service men and women would serve in the Korean War between 1950-1953, with 340 killed and over 1,200 wounded.

Australia committed to sending across the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (RAR), which was called upon early by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of United Nations forces in Korea, who were boosted by reinforcements from K Force, a volunteer initiative from veterans of World War II.

3RAR played an important part in the effort to repel the North Korean forces, who were eventually supported by Chinese troops, who claimed they were worried that the UN would push into Chinese territory as part of their rollback policy.

Following years of relative stalemate, which saw trench warfare and conditions similar to World War I re-emerge, armistice was signed on 27 July 1953, with forces withdrawing two kilometres back, resulting in the Demilitarised Zone, which still currently exists.

Australian forces remained in Korea for another four years, as part of a peacekeeping force that would guard and patrol South Korea's side of the demilitarised zone.

Vietnam War

Before the breakout of the Vietnam War, Australian forces were involved in the Malayan Emergency, countering insurgency from guerillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which was a lengthy, patrol-based deployment at request of the Commonwealth.

Thirty-nine Australian servicemen were killed in Malaya from 1950-1963, when 2RAR completed its second tour, although only 15 of those were killed as a result of military operations.

A year before the last force toured Malaya, marked the first involvement of Australia in the Vietnamese War, when the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) arrived in South Vietnam in July 1962.

It would begin what was at the time Australia's longest involvement in conflict, with over 60,000 Australians serving, 521 killed and more than 3,000 wounded.

Not only was the guerilla warfare new to the Australian personnel (who were relatively well trained in jungle warfare compared with the US), but the involvement in the war was both socially and politically different than what had been experienced by their predecessors in the first two World Wars, with a rise in draft resistance, conscientious objection and protesting taking place back home.

Many veterans met a hostile reception with the Australian public due to the questioning of their involvement in the conflict, which was driven by fear of communism spreading in south-east Asia.

Australia's support of South Vietnam was aligned with the policies of the US, which was also concerned with the spread of communism, and at the request of the US in 1965, Australia committed more troops to the cause.

The 1st Battalion RAR was deployed in June of that year to serve alongside the US 173rd Airborne Brigade in Bien Hoa, and then boosted in 1966 by a taskforce of conscripts from the National Service Scheme, which had been introduced a few years before.

Between 1965 and 1971, all nine RAR battalions would serve in the taskforce, and in 1966, a company from 6RAR was involved in Australia's most well known battle of the war, in Long Tan.

In that skirmish, a group of 108 from 6RAR held off an estimated group of over 2,000 Viet Cong, which indefinitely stalled an imminent movement against Australia's base of operations at Nui Dat.

The battle resulted in nearly 250 dead for the Viet Cong, compared with 17 Australians killed in action and 25 wounded.

By the end of 1970, Australia's involvement in Vietnam started to de-escalate due to a number of reasons, including the apparent difficulty of claiming a significant victory due to the nature of guerilla warfare, as well as the rising opposition of Australia's involvement from the Australian public.

Australia's participation in the Vietnam War was formally declared over when then governor-general Paul Hasluck issued a proclamation in January 1973, with the last remaining combat infantry remaining to guard the Australian embassy in Saigon until June of that year.

To be continued.

Duty and honour – The History of the Australian Army (Part Two)
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