7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
|7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment|
2007 – present
|Part of||1st Brigade|
|Garrison/HQ||RAAF Base Edinburgh, Adelaide|
|March||Quick – Australaise (band); Cock o' the North (pipes and drums)
Slow – My Home
|Engagements||War in Afghanistan|
|Lieutenant Colonel Mick Garraway|
|Colonel-in-Chief||HM The Queen (Royal Australian Infantry Corps)|
|Unit Colour Patch|
|Tartan||Gordon (pipes and drums)|
The 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR) is a regular infantry battalion of the Australian Army. It was originally raised in 1965 as part of Australia's commitment to the Vietnam War and it eventually served two tours in Vietnam in 1967 and 1971. In 1973, following Australia's withdrawal from the conflict, the battalion was amalgamated with the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment to form the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5/7 RAR).
These two units remained linked until 2007, during which time they served together in the mechanised infantry role in East Timor and Iraq. In December 2006 – early January 2007, 5/7 RAR was delinked and 7 RAR was re-raised. In January 2009, 7 RAR achieved operational status, a year ahead of schedule. It is currently part of the 1st Brigade and is based at RAAF Base Edinburgh in Adelaide.
In late 1964, the South Vietnamese government requested increased military assistance from Australia to help stop the spread of communism in Vietnam. Following talks with the United States in early 1965, the Australian government decided to increase its commitment to the war in Vietnam, offering to send an infantry battalion to bolster the team of advisors that had been in South Vietnam since 1962. In order to meet this requirement, the decision was made to expand the Royal Australian Regiment, the Australian Army's regular infantry force, to nine battalions by 1965, using experienced regulars and national servicemen.
As a part of this expansion, the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was raised on 1 September 1965 at Puckapunyal in Victoria, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Eric Smith. The battalion drew the majority of its experienced personnel from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), which had been serving in Malaysia as part of Australia's involvement in the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation. The rest of 7 RAR's personnel were national serviceman from the second intake. Due to the large numbers of national servicemen that the battalion received from the outset, upon formation 7 RAR's average age was estimated at only 22 years. A number of these national servicemen went on to command sections as non commissioned officers or platoons as newly commissioned subalterns. At this time the battalion adopted a pig as its mascot, following an observation by the commanding officer about the state of the soldiers' mess at Puckapunyal.
In June 1966, after the battalion had completed a series of intensive training exercises, 7 RAR was considered operationally deployable. At this time, 100 men were transferred from the battalion to units serving in Vietnam, to provide reinforcements. After this, further training was undertaken at the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra, Queensland and later in the year, 7 RAR took part in "Exercise Barra Winga" around Shoalwater Bay.
In April 1967, 7 RAR embarked upon HMAS Sydney, bound for South Vietnam. Upon arrival they relieved the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (5 RAR). By this time, the single Australian battalion that had originally been committed had been replaced by the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), consisting of two infantry battalions and various supporting units, based in Phuoc Tuy Province. Upon arrival the battalion joined the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) at 1 ATF's base at Nui Dat, however, the following month 6 RAR was replaced by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) and it was with 2 RAR that the battalion served out its first year long tour of duty in South Vietnam.
Over the course of those 12 months, 7 RAR took part in 26 battalion-level operations, as well as numerous small unit actions.[Note 1] Initially 7 RAR undertook security operations around Nui Dat as well as carrying out a few search and destroy taskings at a local level, however, their first major operation saw them take up a blocking position near Xuyen Moc in support of US and South Vietnamese forces who advanced through the May Tao mountains in an effort to locate the 275th Regiment (Viet Cong) and drive them towards 7 RAR's position. Ultimately, however, this operation failed as the VC unit was not located. In August 1967 the battalion was tasked to undertake an independent search and destroy operation to the north-west of Nui Dat, in the Hat Dich area. This operation, codenamed Operation Ballarat, led to the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha when 'A' Company, under Major Ewart O'Donnell fought an encounter battle with a reinforced Viet Cong company from the 3rd Battalion, 274th Regiment. Five Australians were killed during the fighting, while another died of wounds later, and 19 others were wounded. It is believed that the Viet Cong suffered over 200 casualties in the battle, largely from supporting artillery and mortars.
Throughout August and September 7 RAR took part in resettlement operations around Xa Bang. Later in September, the battalion lost a large number of its national servicemen who, having completed their two year obligation, were rotated back to Australia for discharge. The following month they took part in an Australian, US and South Vietnamese operation called Santa Fe which was launched in the May Tao Secret Zone in an attempt to find the Viet Cong's 5th Division. After this they undertook search and destroy operations around Nui Dat, however contact with the Viet Cong during this time was limited. In December 1967, 1 ATF was expanded to a brigade-group with the arrival of a third infantry battalion, 3 RAR, and a quantity of Centurion tanks. Between 24 January and 1 March 1968, 7 RAR deployed to Bien Hoa–Long Khanh border along with 2 RAR and subsequently took part in Operation Coburg during the Tet Offensive.
On 9 April 1968, 7 RAR was relieved by 1 RAR and subsequently rotated back to Australia. Upon arrival in Sydney, the battalion was welcomed home by a large crowd and conducted a march through the streets. Throughout their deployment over 1,180 men had served in the battalion's ranks, of whom 16 had been killed and 124 wounded. Members of the battalion received the following decorations: one Distinguished Service Order (DSO), two Members of Order of the British Empire (MBEs), two Military Crosses (MCs), two Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCMs), three Military Medals (MMs) and 14 Mentions in Despatches (MIDs).
Following 7 RAR's return to Australia it was based at Finschhafen Lines, at Holsworthy, New South Wales. It was there, on 6 October 1968, that the battalion finally received its Queen's and Regimental Colours in a ceremony presided over by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Roden Cutler. Following this the battalion undertook further training in preparation for its second tour of duty in South Vietnam, which came in early 1970. They arrived in country in February under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Grey, replacing 5 RAR. They arrived amidst an effort to pacify Phuoc Tuy. This effort involved 7 RAR in almost continuous operations, in an attempt to keep the Viet Cong off balance and separate them from the civilian population. During April and May 1970, 7 RAR took part in the task force level Operation Concrete which took place around Xuyen Moc with the aim of destroying the Viet Cong's D 445th Battalion.
The battalion's role in Concrete was to operate in the Tan Ru region, carrying out a reconnaissance-in-force followed by ambush operations. Only three companies were available for wider operations, however, as 'C' Company was detached to provide training to the ARVN 18th Division, although it undertook local patrols and ambushes. Instead of being inserted by helicopter, the decision was made for the companies to deploy on foot and by Armoured Personnel Carrier. On 20 April, one of 'B' Company's platoons contacted a small Viet Cong force and engaged them in a brief firefight that left one VC dead. Two days later, in concert with artillery and Centurion tanks, 'B' Company was involved in capturing a bunker complex.
Throughout June 1970 and February 1971, 1 ATF undertook a four-phased pacification operation known as Cung Chung in concert with South Vietnamese forces. This involved extensive patrolling, ambush and cordon and search operations. During one such operation on the night of 30 December 1970 Headquarters 'B' Company, 7 RAR and four APCs from 3rd Cavalry Regiment were contacted by a large group of Viet Cong. The communists assaulted the Australians four times before being repelled by heavy fire from the M113s. The following morning a clearing patrol found 21 bodies and a large quantity of weapons and ammunition. Intelligence later assessed that a company from VC D445 Battalion had been destroyed.
On 25 February 1971, 3 RAR relieved 7 RAR, and the battalion returned to Sydney, arriving there on 10 March 1971. This was the battalion's last tour of Vietnam. For its second tour, members of 7 RAR received the following decorations: one DSO, two MBEs, two MCs, two MMs, 5 MIDs and one British Empire Medal. Casualties included 17 killed and 89 wounded, many of them caused by mines lifted by the Viet Cong from the controversial barrier minefield laid previously by the Australians at Dat Do. Over the course of its two deployments, over 2,400 men served with 7 RAR of which 33 men killed and 220 wounded.
Linking with 5th Battalion
Upon return to Australia the battalion commenced the process of reforming under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ian Mackay, in preparation for an expected third tour of South Vietnam in mid-1972. However, in December 1971, 1 ATF was withdrawn from Vietnam as part of a phased withdrawal of Australian personnel from the country. This decision, coupled with the subsequent abolition of conscription following the election of the Whitlam government and a shift in Australian defence policy towards an emphasis on the defence of mainland Australia, resulted in the need to reduce the size of the Australian Army. In order to implement this it was decided to amalgamate a number of infantry battalions. 7 RAR was one of these, and on 3 December 1973 the battalion was linked with 5 RAR to form 5th/7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment at a ceremony conducted at Tobruk Lines, Holsworthy. The battalion's last commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Greenhalgh, who had assumed command of 7 RAR on 19 March 1973, became the first commanding officer of the new battalion.
In 2006, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, announced that there would be an expansion of the Australian regular infantry by two battalions, as part of the Hardened and Networked Army plan. As part of this, a second mechanised infantry battalion was raised by de-linking 5/7 RAR to become the 5th Battalion and 7th Battalion. On 5 December 2006, the 5th/7th Battalion was formally de-linked, restoring the 7th Battalion to the order of battle. In January 2007, 7 RAR was officially re-raised in Darwin. At this same time, 'B' Company, 5/7 RAR, which was serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper at the time was reassigned to 7 RAR. During the course of its deployment to Afghanistan, members of 7 RAR received the following decorations: one Distinguished Service Cross, three Medals for Gallantry, four Distinguished Service Medals, one Conspicuous Service Medal, three Commendations for Gallantry, one Medal of the Order of Australia, two Commendations for Distinguished Service, and one United States Army Commendation Medal.
At the same time, in Australia, the battalion receiving new intakes of soldiers and began an intensive training program which saw the battalion certified as "operationally deployable" in January 2009, well before the planned date of 2010. Between November 2012 and June 2013, 7 RAR was deployed to Afghanistan, forming the basis of a combined arms group tasked with training the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade, 205th Corps.
7 RAR currently consists of:
- Battalion Headquarters
- 3 Rifle Companies – 'A', 'B' and 'C'
- Support Company
- Administration Company
- Technical Support Company
Pipes and Drums
In 1969, following the formation of the Australian Army Band Corps, infantry units serving in Vietnam found themselves without stretcher bearers, who tended to come from unit bands. To solve this problem, the Army directed the regular battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment to form new bands; to avoid competing directly with the new band corps, it was decided that these new bands would be either pipes and drums, bugle and drums or fife and drums. The 7th Battalion decided to form a pipe band. This was then passed to the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment on its formation in 1973.
7 RAR currently holds the following battle honours:
- Bien-Hoa, Vietnam (1967–68) and Vietnam (1970–71).
- There is some discrepancy about this figure amongst the sources. The Annex G to Chapter 6 of the Royal Australian Regiment Standing Orders provides the figure of 30 battalion-level operations.
- "7 RAR". Digger History. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- "Annex G to Chapter 6: 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment: A Brief History". Royal Australian Regiment Standing Orders. Royal Australian Regiment. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- Grey 2008, p. 237
- Grey 2008, pp. 236–237
- Grey 2008, p. 238
- Horner 2008, p. 152
- Horner 2008, p. 153
- Grey 2008, pp. 242–243
- Horner 2008, p. 199
- Horner 2008, p. 191
- Horner 2008, p. 193
- Horner 2008, p. 194
- Horner 2008, p. 195
- "7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- Horner 2008, p. 229
- Horner 2008, pp. 229–230
- Horner 2008, p. 230
- O'Brien 1995, pp. 233–234
- O'Brien 1995, p. 242
- O'Brien 1995, p. 253
- Grey 2008, p. 244
- O'Brien 1995, pp. 255–256
- Horner 2008, p. 346
- "Afghanistan Awards". 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Association. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- "7 RAR Operationally Deployable Ahead of Schedule" (Press release). Department of Defence. 2 January 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
- "New Task Group takes the lead in Afghanistan". Australian Army. Retrieved 30 June 2013.
- Horner 2008, p. 244
- Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0.
- Horner, David; Bou, Jean (2008). Duty First: A History of the Royal Australian Regiment (2nd ed.). Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74175-374-5.
- O'Brien, Michael (1995). Conscripts and Regulars: With the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-967-X.
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