Honours, Awards and Decorations
A battle honour is a public commemoration of a battle, action or engagement of which a unit can be proud. An honour will not be awarded merely because a unit was present at a battle; the unit must have taken an active and credible part in it.
The Royal Australian Regiment, the 1st Armoured Regiment and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment were awarded the battle honour Hat Dich for their actions in the Hat Dich Secret Zone of South Vietnam during the period 3 December 1968 to 19 February 1969.
The Hat Dich Secret Zone
The area covered by Operation GOODWOOD was about 30 km southeast of Saigon and for the most part was covered by primary, single and double canopy forest over terrain varying from low lying rice lands in the west to steep sloped hills of a maximum height of about 100 metres to the mortheast. Visibility on the ground was limited to a few metres in places whilst in others it extended over several hundred metres. The northeastern area was known as the Hat Dich Secret Zone.
In late 1968 the enemy units known to be in the Hat Dich Secret Zone included T-7 Regional HQ, 3 Battalion 274 VC Regiment plus supporting artillery, engineers and services units. It was believed that these forces and others would mount attacks against Allied bases in the area before moving north to attack the Long Binh Allied logistics base as part of the February 1969 TET Offensive. It was against this enemy that Allies (Australian, New Zealand, American, Thai and South Vietnamese) formations and units mounted Operation GOODWOOD on 3 December 1968 with the mission of destroying the enemy units and installations/assets found.
3 December 1968 to 19 February 1969
The operation was preceded by reconnaissance patrols of the 2nd Squadron, The SAS Regiment (2 Sqn SASR) deploying into the Area of Operations (AO). The squadron continued in this role for the duration of the operation.
On 3 December 1969, 1 RAR Group (including 102 Field Battery RAA in direct support and engineers from the 1st Field Squadron [1 FD Sqn] in support) deployed into the AO. The forward element of HQ 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) along with tanks (C Squadron, The 1st Armoured Regiment [C Sqn 1 AR]), APC’s (A Squadron, The 3rd Cavalry Regiment [A Sqn 3 Cav Regt]), engineers, army aviation and US Army artillery deployed into the AO on the same day.
On 11 December 1968 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Group (including 104 Field Battery RAA in direct support and engineers from 1 Fd Sqn in support) deployed into the AO.
On 1 January 1969 9 RAR Group (including 161 Field Battery RNZA in direct support and engineers from the 1 Fd Sqn in support) relieved 1 RAR Group. In turn 1 RAR Group relieved 4 RAR Group on 13 January 1969 followed by 4 RAR Group relieving 1 RAR Group on 27 January.
C Sqn 1 AR as well as providing support to the infantry battalions conducted its operations in its own AO from time to time. C Sqn 1 AR was replaced in 1 ATF by B Sqn on 11 February 1969.
The infantry battalions patrolled to locate the enemy who were often in well concealed bunker systems and then had to deal with them by ground assaults at close quarters supported by artillery, offensive air support and sometimes tanks. The enemy replied with automatic rifles, light and heavy machine guns, hand held antitank weapons (RPGs) fired into the trees for the schrapnel effect and command detonated directional anitpersonnel mines (Claymores). Casualties were high with the battalions having 23 men killed.
For the armoured units the main threat was mines (including improvised explosive devices made from Allies’ unexploded artillery shells) plus hand held antitank weapons (RPGs). Both the armoured corps fatalities were caused by mines.
The supporting arms of artillery (12 Field Regiment RAA), field engineers (1Fd Sqn) and army aviation (161 Recce Flight) conducted their normal supporting roles.
9 Squadron RAAF conducted insertions and extractions of infantry battalions and SAS patrols as well as resupply of the Task Force using utility helicopters.
The US Army provided utility and medium lift helicopter support with the former including casualty evacuation and gunship support. It also provided heavy artillery support. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (11 ACR) was given its own AO.
The period 17 to 20 January was the worst period for Australian and New Zealand fatalities with 17 January (one SASR), 18 January (one 9 RAR and one 3 Cav Regt), 19 January (five from 9 RAR) and 20 January (one from 9 RAR.
9 RAR lost 14 men during the operation and that represented 40% of the total war dead for their tour in South Vietnam.
The enemy’s losses were about 250 confirmed killed for the operation.
On 17 February 1969 the Task Force less 4 RAR Group commenced redeployment to protect the Long Binh logistics base. 4 RAR Group followed two day laters.
1 RAR and 2 Sqn SASR returned to Australia in February 1969.
All of the battalions of 1 ATF were to return to the Hat Dich Secret Zone in 1969 and suffered more casualties on each occassion.