Second Lieutenant Brian Sullivan was lucky. With his head and upper body exposed above the cupola of his tank, he was directing the movement of his troop, and talking to an armoured personnel carrier commander, when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired point blank at them both.
When Sullivan saw the smoke trail of the missile coming directly towards him, he called out “Duck!” and threw himself forward just as it flew between them, cutting his shirt and grazing his shoulder with its tail fin.
Sullivan had narrowly escaped death in what was one of the more significant actions fought by Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War – the battle of Binh Ba – which took place 50 years ago.
Before the battle, soldiers of the 1st Australian Task Force had fought mainly in open country or jungle settings, but this battle took place in the village of Binh Ba, less than ten kilometres from the Australian base in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, against a large, well-armed communist force.
Former head of military history at the Australian War Memorial, Ashley Ekins, researched and wrote two volumes of the Australian official history of the Vietnam War: On the offensive and Fighting to the finish.
“It was a furious battle,” Ekins said. “From the moment the Australians entered Binh Ba with their Ready Reaction Force of infantry, armoured personnel carriers [APCs], and tanks, they were prepared for a battle, and the enemy brought on a battle …”