Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
|Australian Army Training Team Vietnam|
|Active||31 July 1962 – 18 December 1972|
Military education and training
|Engagements||Battle of Duc Lap
Battle of Kham Duc
|Decorations||Meritorious Unit Commendation (United States)
Presidential Unit Citation (United States)
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation (South Vietnam)
|Colonel F.P. Serong|
The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) was a specialist unit of the Australian Army that operated during the Vietnam War. Raised in 1962, the unit was raised solely for service as part of Australia's contribution to the war in Vietnam, providing training and assistance to South Vietnamese forces. It is believed to be the most decorated Australian unit to serve in Vietnam with members of the unit receiving over 100 decorations, including four Victoria Crosses, while it was in existence. The unit was disbanded in late 1972 when Australia ended its commitment to the war.
The unit was raised in 1962 and initially consisted of approximately 30 officers and warrant officers and was tasked to train units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The Australian government's decision to raise the force was announced on 24 May 1962 and shortly afterwards personnel began concentrating at the Intelligence Centre at Mosman, New South Wales. After initial induction training, the team moved to the Jungle Training Centre at Kokoda Barracks, in Canungra, Queensland, for field training. Initially, the unit was designated the "Australian Army Component – Vietnam", but on 12 July 1962, the unit was redesignated the "Australian Army Training Team Vietnam".
At the conclusion of pre-deployment training, the 30 advisors departed Australia from Mascot, New South Wales, aboard a Qantas chater flight on 29 July 1962. The unit's first commanding officer, Colonel Ted Serong, arrived in Saigon on 31 July – the date that is considered the unit's "birthday" – and the main body arrived three days later. On arrival, they joined a large group of US advisors and were dispersed across South Vietnam in small groups. Three groups were dispatched to South Vietnam's northern provinces, while a fourth was based at the Ranger Training Centre in the south; a headquarters was established in Saigon. The groups began training the Vietnamese in barracks, providing instruction in "jungle warfare techniques and technical areas such as signals and engineering", but initially, the team was prevented from actively taking part in combat operations; this restriction was later lifted, but until this occurred, the advisors deployed on operations as observers only.
On 1 June 1963, Sergeant William Francis Hacking became the AATTV's first casualty when he was accidentally killed while on duty in Vietnam. In mid-1964, the restriction on the AATTV advisors taking part in combat operations was lifted. The first advisor officially killed in action was Warrant Officer Kevin Conway at the Battle of Nam Dong in July 1964. With the war escalating the AATTV increased, first to 83 in June and then to approximately 100 personnel – 15 officers and 85 warrant officers – by December. Soon its area of operations stretched from the far south to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) forming the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam.
After June 1964, members of the team were involved in many combat operations, often commanding formations of Vietnamese soldiers. Some advisors worked with regular ARVN units and formations – at first mainly infantry, but after 1967 artillery and cavalry units as well – while others, such as Captain Barry Petersen, worked with the Montagnard hill tribes in conjunction with US Special Forces (USSF). A few were attached to Provisional Reconnaissance Units with whom they became involved in the controversial Phoenix Program run by the US Central Intelligence Agency, which was designed to target the Vietcong infrastructure through infiltration, arrest and assassination. Others were attached to the all-Vietnamese Regional and Popular Forces, and the National Field Police Force, or served with the USSF Mobile Strike Force.
In mid-1965, Australia's involvement in the war increased as the government committed a full infantry battalion, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Early the following year, this was expanded as the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF) was established, operating in its own area of operations in Phuoc Tuy province. But despite the concentration of Australian forces, the AATTV members remained dispersed, often serving with only one other advisor, either Australian or American. Thus, due to its small size and widespread area of operations, it was rare for the entire AATTV to be in the same place at the same time; this usually occurred only on ANZAC Day – the only other occasion the whole unit paraded together was when it received the Meritorious Unit Commendation from the Commander of the US Forces in Vietnam in 1970.
That year, as the Australians and Americans prepared to withdraw, a process of "Vietnamization" began, and the AATTV established a jungle training centre in Phuoc Tuy province. In November 1970, the unit's strength peaked at 227, at which time the team was expanded with an intake of corporals. In 1971, the 1 ATF combat units were withdrawn and the AATTV's role reverted to their original role, of training only. As the final 1 ATF units left the country in early 1972 the AATTV, having been reduced to around 70 personnel, remained in Phuoc Tuy to provide training and advisory assistance to the ARVN and to training Cambodian soldiers of Force Armée Nationale Khmère (FANK). The last Australians left Vietnam in mid-December 1972 – the AATTV left on 18 December – following the election of the Whitlam Labor government. The AATTV had the longest tour of duty of any Australian unit in Vietnam, serving a total of ten years, four months and sixteen days. The unit also had the distinction of being the first Australian unit committed to Vietnam and the last to be withdrawn. Over the course of its service, a total of 1,000 men served with the unit, consisting of 990 Australians and 10 New Zealanders.
The AATTV was Australia's most decorated unit of the war, including all four Victoria Crosses awarded during the conflict (awarded to Warrant Officer Kevin Wheatley, Major Peter Badcoe, Warrant Officer Rayene Simpson and Warrant Officer Keith Payne respectively). The unit also received the United States Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation. In October 2004, the Australian Army training contingent in Iraq was renamed the "Australian Army Training Team Iraq" in honour of the AATTV.
Although initially the intention was that the AATTV would wear Australian uniforms in order to ensure that Australia's contribution was clearly identifiable, due to infrequent resupply AATTV personnel often wore a mixture of uniforms and equipment drawn from a variety of nations including Australia, Britain, the US, and South Vietnam. In 1966, the AATTV's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Milner, decided that the unit and its far-flung members needed an identifying unit badge. Warrant Officer Laurie Nicholson, who had been temporarily attached to AATTV HQ, was instructed by Milner to come up with designs for his consideration. This instruction included no guidelines except that the design had to include the motto Persevere.
Nicholson developed a design that incorporated symbolism representing various facets of the AATTV's service in Vietnam including the Australian advisory relationship with South Vietnam, the co-operative relationship with the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam (USMACV), and the people of South Vietnam to whom Australia was providing military support in their fight against communism. To represent the environment, a green background was chosen. For the nexus with the Republic of Vietnam, the red and yellow colours of their national flag were chosen, and for America, the badge was shaped as a shield similar to that of the USMACV badge. Inspiration for the symbol representing the South Vietnamese people was provided by a crossbow – a weapon which was as iconic in Vietnam as the boomerang was in Australia – which an AATTV member, who had been serving with the Nung tribal people, had left at the unit's headquarters for safe keeping. These symbols of the indigenous peoples of the two nations were chosen to represent all of the peoples of each nation. The AATTV initials were imprinted on the boomerang at the head of the badge and the motto Persevere on a scroll at the base of the badge. Both texts were in red whilst the boomerang and scroll were in yellow.
On the shield version, the AATTV unit name on the boomerang was in block higher case text and the motto on the scroll was in heraldic higher case. On unit correspondence, all text was displayed in block higher case. As the boomerang is a ready-to-use weapon, the crossbow was presented loaded so that both symbolised the AATTV and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam as being ready for action. Each item on the badge, each colour, each item of text and the shape of the shield, in combination, are symbolic of Australia's military traditions, the individual Australian soldier's reputation in combat and, in particular, the AATTV's record of valour.
In 2013, the Australian Army History Unit (AAHU) undertook a detailed and in-depth investigation, extracting information from Army archives and the memories of former members of the AATTV.[unreliable source?] The investigation determined that an AATTV shoulder patch was being worn in Vietnam by AATTV members in 1967, or even as early as late 1966, having been authorised by the Commander Australian Forces Vietnam in 1967, and produced initially for the unit in Japan, and then later locally in Vietnam. A beret of "rifle green" colour and a metal hat badge were issued by AATTV and being worn as early as 1970, or 1971. The beret and badge were authorised for wear only in Vietnam, but this decision was later changed by an Army authorisation allowing the beret and badge to be worn by AATTV members in Australia while posted to the unit.
Following the investigation and publication of the details of this history by the Australian Army History Unit in 2013, the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison wrote to Nicholson. Enclosing a copy of the 22-page investigation, Morrision stated in part, "I have reviewed the report provided by the Australian Army History Unit and find that there is sufficient evidence to warrant official recognition of the AATTV Regimental badge", and "As Chief of Army I am proud to acknowledge and recognise our heritage, on this, the Unit's 50th anniversary".
The following officers commanded the AATTV:
- Colonel F.P. Serong (1962–1965);
- Colonel O.D. Jackson (1965);
- Lieutenant Colonel A.V. Preece (1965);
- Lieutenant Colonel R.G.P. St V. McNamara (1965–1966);
- Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Milner (1966–1967);
- Lieutenant Colonel M.T. Tripp (1967–1968);
- Lieutenant Colonel R.L. Burnard (1968–1969);
- Lieutenant Colonel R.D.F. Lloyd (1969–1970);
- Colonel J.A. Clark (1970–1971);
- Colonel G.J. Leary (1971);
- Lieutenant Colonel J.D. Stewart (1971–1972);
- Lieutenant Colonel K.H. Kirkland (1972); and
- Lieutenant Colonel P.T. Johnston (1973).
Members of the AATTV received many decorations for their service and the unit "gained the distinction of being probably the mostly highly decorated unit for its size in the Australian Army". According to the Australian War Memorial, AATTV personnel received the following decorations: four Victoria Crosses, two Distinguished Service Orders, three Officers of the Order of the British Empire, six Members of the Order of the British Empire, six Military Crosses, 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 15 Military Medals, four British Empire Medals, four Queen's Commendations for Brave Conduct and 49 Mentions in Despatches. In addition, 245 US and 369 South Vietnamese awards were bestowed on unit members and the unit itself also received two unit citations. Because of the nature of the AATTV's work in Vietnam, all members, regardless of their corps, were awarded the Infantry Combat Badge.
During the 10 years that the unit was deployed to Vietnam, it lost 33 personnel killed and 122 wounded. These members are commemorated by a memorial at Kokoda Barracks at Canungra, Queensland. In 2002, the AATTV's badge and an Australian flag were included on a memorial unveiled in North Carolina, in the United States, dedicated to US special forces that served during the war. The unit was "one of the first groups of foreign soldiers to be honoured on a US war memorial".
- Military history of Australia during the Vietnam War
- Republic of Vietnam National Police Field Force (NPFF)
- Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces (LLDB)
- Khmer Special Forces
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