A Pictorial History of the "Long Tan Cross"
In 1969, 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion placed a concrete Cross in the Long Tan rubber plantation on the 11 Platoon position. This web page seeks to provide a history - mainly in pictures - of the original and replica Crosses.
Last updated 25 Sept 2017
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The Pipers play the
** - A source in Vietnam has suggested that the plaque displayed in the Dong Nai Museum is in fact another replica and the 'real' original plaque is stored in the Museum vaults, and that a 'backup replica' of the Cross also exists.
** - Translation of Dong Nai Museum catalogue entry 1988: “…In the catalogue record for the cross, its significance is described as ‘evidence to the crime and the utter defeat of the American Empire and its allies involved in the war in Vietnam’ (Dong Nai Museum 1988).” in Witcomb, Andrea, 2012 (in press) 'The Long Tan Memorial Cross(es): On Memory, affect and atonement', Historic Environment.
Webmaster's note: I favour Burstall's account as there appears no photographic record of a replica cross standing in the plantation before 1989, and the 1989 decisions by the Long Dat Peoples' Committee fit better with the 1989 date (see following paras).
August 18 2012
August 2014 - The Legacy of the Long Tan Cross lives with "Long Tan" Company, RMC Duntroon...
With the trees gone, the Long Tan Cross site looked like something important
was missing. Still, some 500 visitors assembled at the Cross for the Dawn
By 2 Sept 2016,
The Cross appears on much
Vietnam War memorabilia too:
A Photo History of the "Long
<This site is intended to be a record for interest only. All care but limited research means the contents of the page may not be 100% accurate. If you see an error, please advise email address below. I apologise in advance if I have made any mistakes.>
Your contribution is requested:
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A Photo History of the "Long Tan Cross"
The enemy were on their way to attack the 1ATF base at Nui Dat. Unable to overrun D/6, or to bypass them, the enemy plans to attack the base were thwarted. Having suffered horrendous casualties, they started to withdraw as the elements of B/6 arrived about 7.00pm. The APC & A/6 reinforcement force arrived at 7.10pm, having chased the last enemy out to the east.
During the course of the battle, other Australian units became involved, including part of B/6 and 3 Troop 1APC Sqn carrying A/6 and a small 6Bn HQ party. At Nui Dat, the Artillery Fire Control Centre and 103 and 105 Batteries RAA joined with the New Zealand 161 Bty who were already in Direct Support of D/6 from the start. Two helicopters from 9 Sqn RAAF (which had brought the 'Col Joye & Little Pattie' concert party to the base) flew the ammunition resupply mission. US 155mm artillery and USAF Phantom jets also contributed.
The Australian casualties were 17 KIA (Killed In Action) and 23 WIA (Wounded In Action) from D/6, 1 crewman WIA - Died of Wounds 9 days later - from 3 Troop, 1APC and 1 WIA from B/6 (caused by 'friendly fire' from A/6 on the APCs). A/6 sustained some injuries within the APCs.
Enemy casualties have never been fully documented but losses have been estimated at up to 800 dead/missing and over 1200 wounded. While these figures appear unrealistic, it should be noted that more than ten thousand small arms rounds were fired across open sights, some 3200 rounds of 105mm artillery were fired in close support (25 to 250 yards from D/6), plus some 300 155mm rounds were fired. A napalm & HE airstrike was made on reserve forces in depth. (The 3200 105mm rounds is a conservative estimate - some accounts make it more than twice that many.)
While the battle raged and the outcome was far from certain, C Company of 6RAR 'stood to' in defence of the 6RAR base position at Nui Dat. Soon after first light on the next day, C/6 joined D/6 in the return to the battlefield where both Companies started to clean up as other units pushed further East following the retreating enemy force. The carnage of the battlefield was replicated along the major withdrawal routes where the haste of the withdrawal and the presence of hastily-constructed field hospitals and graves emphasised the scale of the casualties inflicted.
On the 20th and the 21st, C/6 joined elements of D/5, A/6, B/6, APCs and other units as they followed up the retreating enemy forces ("Operation Smithfield") while the survivors of D/6 continued to clear the battlefield and bury the last of the enemy bodies. At least 245 enemy bodies were buried on the battlefield and dozens more (not included in the official number) were buried nearby, with further dozens of un-investigated graves marking the withdrawal lines. While these burials were documented and advised to SVN authorities, there was no attempt to retrieve and re-inter the dead while the ANZACs remained in the Province.
After the battle, the area was noted by
those who visited or patrolled through it as a place of reverence, hallowed
ground, a sombre area, highlighted by the fact that equipment and bones were
constantly being exposed by subsequent rain...
On their second tour of operations in SVN, 6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion erected a cross on the former battleground. This cross has become known as "The Long Tan Cross" and has become a symbol not only of the iconic battle but of the whole ANZAC commitment to the defence of South Vietnam.
The Long Tan rubber plantation remained a special place to the ANZAC forces and to the former enemy forces, as will be seen below...
THE ORIGINAL CROSS - 1969
The original idea of the placement of a Cross as a memorial came from a meeting in late 1968 at HQ, 6RAR, Lavarack Barracks, Townsville. It was triggered by the 18 Aug 1968 presentation of the US PUC to D/6. Present at the meeting were the CO, Lt Col David Butler, the 2IC, Maj Leonard Johnson and the Adj, Capt M Harris.
Once in Vietnam for 6RAR's second tour, a special operation was mounted for 18 August 1969. The 6RAR Pioneer Platoon Cpl Barry McAvinue constructed the cross, supervised by Sgt Allan McLean. RAEME Nui Dat provided the brass plaque and wording by RSM, WO1 Jim Cruickshank was inscribed:
memory of those members of D Coy and 3 Tp 1APC Sqn
6RAR/NZ (ANZAC) Battalion mounted 'Operation Long Tan' on 18 Aug 1969. A nine foot unpainted concrete cross was helicoptered in and planted in the position that 11 Platoon had defended for most of the battle. The original plaque faced south (as does the replica at the site today).
With the area defended, a service was conducted remembering the dead of the battle and the whole war to date. Ten soldiers who had been at the battle in 1966 or in D/6 at the time lined up on either side of the cross. Two pipers played the Lament.
the remainder of the ANZAC's war in Phuoc Tuy Province, the Cross stood in the
rubber plantation as it was left. Patrols swept the area occasionally
but the battlefield remained otherwise untouched.
The last ANZAC combat forces left Vietnam in 1971, and the remainder of the forces in 1972 and early 1973 as per the Paris Peace Accords.**
This was the end of the Second Indo-China War. The Cross was intact and standing when the ANZACs left.
AFTER OUR WAR (1973) AND THE 3rd INDOCHINA WAR - 1975
After Saigon fell in 1975, the new government retrieved what VC/NVA remains they could find and reburied them in various "Hero Cemeteries" in the Province. The authorities had the original Cross knocked down but the debris and the site remained in the rubber plantation.
Some time later, in one version, a (Catholic) farmer retrieved the Cross and erected it on the grave of his son (an alternative story has it that the son erected it on the grave of his father). Another version (see the DUTY FIRST extract at left) is that a local Catholic community had been searching for a suitable memorial for their deceased parish priest and utilised the Cross. The deceased's name was painted on the crossbar and is still visible under the re-paintings of the original Cross:
The brass plaque had been taken off the Cross and used as a BBQ plate.
According to the DUTY FIRST account, in 1984 "a veteran of the Battle of Long Tan" (presumably a Vietnamese veteran since no Australians have come forward as visiting in 1984) located the Cross and plaque. They were re-located to Bien Hoa's Dong Nai Museum where they were (and still are) displayed as 'war trophies'.** Replicas were made and a replica of each was erected at the battle site in 1986. Surprisingly, the Museum catalogue entry gives no hint at the true meaning of the Cross to Australians.**
When the Australian authorities found out about the find, they requested the Cross and plaque be repatriated to Australia. This request was refused.
A contrary account is found in Terry Burstall's book A Soldier Returns, from which approval has been given to quote: It would appear Burstall asked after the Cross on a visit to Vietnam in 1986 (pg 88) but "no one seemed to know what had become of it". He relates the story of the farmer having put the cross on his (Christian) father's grave. On his next visit in 1987, the Cross had been found (pg 134) but the plaque was still missing. He viewed the Cross (pg 136-7) which was at that time broken off at its base and was stored in a shed. He later (pg 148) records seeing the plaque and having had it offered to him to take back to Australia but "I said no".
On a subsequent visit in 1989 he "saw the [original] cross again at the War Museum in Bien Hoa City" [Dong Nai] (pg 137) and was also "privileged to see the replica cross erected in the plantation at Long Tan" [in 1989].
Since the versions are inconsistent, both are given (but see webmaster's note).
Meanwhile, in Australia in 1987, the Viet Vets had arranged and held the "Welcome Home Parade" in Sydney. The success in gaining recognition resulted in then PM, Bob Hawke, announcing in 1988 that 18 August would henceforth be known as "Vietnam Veterans' Day", in recognition of the entire involvement in Vietnam and its cost. (Incidentally, NZ also has 18 August as their Vietnam Veterans' Day.)
The awakening awareness of and interest in Vietnam arising from all these actions makes it likely that the Long Dat Peoples' Committee would have been influenced to take the initiative of replacing the Cross in 1989. They would have hoped to draw tourists to their area and bolster their economy. At the site, they erected a replica Cross with a replica brass plaque and placed replica posts around the Cross. The plaque appears to have been attached to a separate plinth - not to the Cross. The area was still a rubber plantation, but the trees were old and had been damaged by the battle and subsequent H&I shelling.
Also in 1989, and part of the same initiative, a memorial plaque to D445 was added to the site. That's the D445 plaque to the right of the cross and plinth. (note the Cross plaque now appears to be on the plinth.)
However, it is understood that local RVN (Southerners) vandalised the VC plaque as a sign of their disrespect for the Northern government (see later pic). It has been said that the D445 plaque was vandalised several times but was replaced each time.
THE EARLY-to-MID 1990s
Some time soon after 1991, the rubber plantation was cut down and the area was used as a corn field.
The replica Cross, plinth and posts remained. In the pic below, note the D445 plaque to the right has been vandalised. Nui Dat 2 is in background.
In the time the area was a cornfield, the slight rise on which D/6 made their final stand during the battle was ploughed or eroded away and the northern parts of the former plantation suffered erosion into the creek between the plantation and the hill. This is the only significant change to the topography of the battle area since 1966. The road system remains unchanged.
In the early 1990s, interest was gathering with more and more Australian Veterans seeking out the battlefield and viewing the (replica) Cross. It came to the attention of the authorities and discussions were held to have the site become an approved memorial. The Australian Ambassador in Hanoi, Ms Susan Boyd, the Consul-General in HCMC, Mr Peter Baxter, Vet Albie Cunningham and others were involved at this stage but nothing definitive eventuated and the site remained unrecognised - at least at the official level.
In February 1995, The Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Con Sciacca, made a one-off grant of $7000 to Albie Cunningham’s group, 'Australians in Vietnam' with the proviso that the grant did not signify ownership. Sciacca also said that the Government did not believe it was yet the time to approach the Government of Vietnam about recognition. He went on to say, "With regard to the Long Tan Cross, the Government takes the view that the Cross is essentially a unit memorial and its preservation is principally a matter for the 6th Battalion RAR Association and other relevant Vietnam veterans' groups". The group ‘Australians in Vietnam’ had no relationship with the 6RAR Association.
Despite the $7000 grant, the Cross remained unchanged. Visitors to the Cross continued to have concerns at the state of the Cross area and, understanding that the Cross had started out as a 6RAR Unit Memorial, were directing comments, advice and even complaints to the 6RAR Association.
The 6RAR Association had been formed in August 1986 and by the mid-90s, then President Brigadier Mike Harris MC and Vice President (ex-D/6 and Long Tan Vet) Graham Smith were responsible for correspondence by the Association on the subject of the Long Tan Cross. The Association produced a formal proposal to restore the Long Tan Cross site.
In 1996 the Official historians from the
AWM, Ian O'Neill and
Ashley Ekins, visited Vietnam and viewed the original cross stored at
the Dong Nai Museum:
Aug 1996: the Cross
Also Aug 1996 at the
Visits to the site in 1995-9 saw progress of the initiative and at the same time, the cornfield was once again planted with rubber. Apart from the Cross, other initiatives were being undertaken in the former Phuoc Tuy Province by individuals and groups like the AVVRG - the Hoa Long School was re-roofed, an orphanage was built in Baria, medical and dental initiatives were planned and launched and other projects were being undertaken.
By 1997, Graham Smith was President of the 6RAR Assn and commenced corresponding by email with Lt Col Peter Michelson (Ret) who resided in Vietnam and worked for the International Red Cross. Peter’s wife, Lisa Filipetto, was later to become the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City. Michelson traveled widely in his work and was able to provide Smith with a great deal of information. He was also (at that time), President (VN) of the Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group (AVVRG). (This role was later filled by Rod Burgess in about March 2001.) Both Michelson and Filipetto were able to progress the Long Tan Cross initiative with the Baria Vungtau Peoples' Committee and the Union of Friendship in Vung Tau - both of which would become instrumental in getting Vietnamese approval for the 6RAR Assn plans.
had been OC Delta Company, 6RAR during the 1980s.
THE LATE 1990s
In the late 1990s, the cornfield once again became a rubber plantation. The B&W photo (that's Trevor Hopper beside the cross) was taken in 1999 and shows newly planted trees. The brass plaque was now being held at the Long Tan Police Station. Hopper, a Viet Vet who had seen the cross in 1969, believed the plate and the cross were still the originals at that time. The originals were in fact in the Dong Nai Museum, but this is testament to the faithfulness of the replicas to the originals. The Cross and surrounding posts had been newly painted white but the site was still not a formal Memorial site.
(Flash forward to "today":)
The original Cross and plaque are still on display at the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa, where they can be seen by visitors in their Vietnam War era display.
However, a special loan
of the Cross was made to the AWM,
RETURN TO THE EARLY 2000s
In 2000, the site was looking neglected. A visit by John ("J P") O'Halloran shows the area rough and unkempt. John was the former 2Lt commanding 5 Platoon, B Coy 6RAR who, with elements of the B/6 CHQ, had been searching for the enemy baseplate positions on 17 Aug '66 and who stayed out in the field to meet with D/6 for lunch on the 18th.
Once the battle started, OC D/6, Harry Smith, requested the B/6 elements (32 strong) who were then on their way back to base, return to reinforce D/6. CO 6RAR, Colin Townsend, then halted B/6 and told them to await an order to return to D/6. The order was delayed for over an hour and was finally given after 5:30pm.
B/6 then made their way to D/6,
arriving a few minutes before 7:00pm, having been mortared along the way.
They arrived immediately after the last shots of the battle had been fired.
Later in the year Michelson’s wife, Lisa Filipetto, near the end of her commission as C-G, decided to invite the Chairman of the Baria Vungtau Peoples Committee to a special private service at Long Tan. The Chairman was moved enough to ask that the AVVRG re-submit the earlier application. It was re-submitted and in September 2001 the Committee Chairman granted permission for renovations to the site. The stipulation was that local (Vietnamese Contractors) must do the work.
The AVVRG continued at their end then
with submitting the plans the LTCMF had prepared and calling for quotes.
The final quote was for AUD $5,885. AVVRG paid a 50% deposit and the LTCMF
paid AVVRG $5,885.
In 2002 a further refurbishing was done mostly by locals and ex-pats under Rod Burgess again, this time adding the chain fence and gates and a repaint.
A former officer and Viet Vet who had served in 6 RAR as Signal Pl. Commander, Graham Cusack, is an ex-pat living in Vung Tau. He undertakes regular trips to the Cross in company with other ex-pats to tidy the area, maintain, paint and refurbish as required. He is also a licensed tour guide in Vietnam (unlike many others in Vung Tau who are not registered and make unregistered visits to the Cross, thus breaching protocols. Visitors are warned to arrange their visits to the Cross with registered tour guides).
In the 2002 refurbishment, a sand jar was added for the placement of joss sticks to honour the Vietnamese dead. Ever since the site was refurbished, it has been intended to serve as a reminder of the price both sides paid in the battle and the war.
The renovated Cross was finally handed over on 15th April 2002. The AVVRG was appointed by the Vietnamese as the custodians - "the Keepers of the Cross". The Australian Consul-General took responsibility for the two ceremonies approved each year (ANZAC Day and Long Tan Day).
The next two refurbishments were done by work parties under the management of AVVRG's Paul Murphy. By 2006, the red tiles around the Cross and the white tiles on the slab had been laid and the gravel surrounds had been added. A ramp was placed at the road to make access easier. Again, the work-parties involved ex-pat Viet Vets.
From 2004 thru 2007, responsibility for the two approved ceremonies transferred to Paul Murphy.
The cross had now become a popular tourist destination for Viet Vets and ANZACs generally. Services were (and are) held there each ANZAC Day (25 April) and Long Tan Day (18 August).
MORE FROM THE VVAA:
The following text (green)
is quoted from the VVAA website (2012)
The Long Tan Cross Memorial Fund was founded in June 2000 to try to gain official status for and bring a greater degree of permanence to the Long Tan Cross . The committee comprised veterans of 6 RAR, the Long Tan Veterans Association, RSL, AVVRG (both in Australia and Vietnam) and the Navy and Air Force.
Fundraising was commenced shortly afterwards with ex-Service and veterans organisations targeted in a bid to raise $60,000. In addition to the Cross renovations, it was considered appropriate to provide funding for some local road works to assist the local Vietnamese as well as improve access for visiting veterans.
It was March 2002 when the Long Dat Peoples Committee called a meeting attended by members from adjoining wards, Police Departments, Foreign Affairs and the AVVRG. The Chairman declared that all were in agreement that work should proceed and presented a civil contractor who would do the work. A contract was duly produced and signed by Rod Burgess of AVVRG and a deposit paid.
On the 15th April 2002, representatives of the AVVRG and the Australian Consulate were invited to a ceremony at the site where the formalities of official handover were conducted.
On behalf of all Australians, Mr Rod Burgess accepted the beautifully restored Memorial site and assured the Chairman of the Long Dat Peoples Committee that visitors to the site would observe the correct protocols.
HISTORY 2006 to 2012
The cross and the immediate surrounding area are now subject to regular cleaning, refurbishment and development by the custodians and local workers.
Visitors to the Long Tan Cross will find that the Cross in the rubber plantation is without the metal plaque. This plaque is kept in the Long Tan Police Station (near the centre of Long Tan village). It may be 'hired' for a nominal fee and taken and hung on the Cross and must be returned after the visit. Visitors on organised tours may request that their tour operator makes sure the plaque is available - visitors arriving to visit the Cross without a local tour guide will have to visit the Police Station beforehand.
In 2006, an ugly controversy erupted when two competing tour companies claimed to have booked the same times for their respective tour services. There are now processes in place to avoid this happening again.
In July 2006, for the 40th Anniversary, Ch 9's '60 Minutes' program took Dave Sabben and Bob Buick back to Long Tan to meet two former NVA officers.
The highlight of that visit was that for the first time, the NVA officers conceded the Australians had won the battle.
In November, 2006, 40 years after the Battle, Prime Minister and Mrs Howard visited the site, becoming the first serving Prime Minister to do so.
In 2007, controversy again erupted when then-Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd demanded the ANZAC Day Dawn Service be moved to an earlier hour to suit peak TV viewing time in East Coast Australia. (Vietnam is 3 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time.)
The Dawn Service was going to be broadcast by Ch 7. The demand was overruled by Australian authorities in Vietnam and the Dawn Service went ahead at the planned time, with about 200 attending.
The Australian government was
represented by Bronwyn Bishop, standing in for
Joe Hockey who had earlier planned to attend.
IN 2007, the sand urn for the joss sticks was also upgraded to a more substantial metal urn - see D/6 pic below.
2008 marked the first time military
uniforms were permitted to be worn at the ceremony, though medals were still
not permitted to be worn:
Attendances by Viet Vets and members of the Australian and New Zealand public are growing each year. The services for 2011 attracted some 500 visitors each. The Long Tan Cross is increasingly becoming the subject of visits by Australian officials and dignitaries.
In January 2012, a pair of pipers played at the cross - the first to do so since the original cross dedication in 1969...
HISTORY 2012 AND BEYOND
Further works at the
Cross site in 2012 have resulted in a new brick-paved path from the road to
the memorial site:
The original Long Tan
Cross has been loaned by the Vietnamese authorities to the AWM in Canberra,
to be on display from 18 Aug 2012 to April 2013. The Cross arrived in
Canberra in July and was unpacked and prepared for display:
The newly-arrived Cross is viewed by Peter
Slack-Smith (left, former L/Cpl, 12 Platoon, D/6 at the battle),
Peter Dinham (centre, former OC, 2 Platoon, A/6
aboard the APC reinforcement column) and Adrian Roberts
(right, former commander of the APC reinforcement column comprising 3 Troop and
2 Section, 2 Troop, 1APC Sqn.)
On Friday 17 August, the Australian War
Memorial unveiled the original Long Tan Cross, on loan from the Dong Nai
Museum until April 2013.
The Long Tan Cross continues to be the focus of groups of all descriptions returning to pay their respects to the Australian and other servicemen and women and to the casualties of the Viet Nam war.
An example was a PROBUS group in December 2012 when people from four Australian states (NSW, Qld, Vic and SA) and some from New Zealand attended a memorial 'RETREAT' at the Long Tan Cross.
A Video of this Dawn
Service was made by
12 June 2013
- time to return the Long Tan Cross to Vietnam. A 'handing-back'
ceremony was conducted at the AWM in front of many invited dignitaries to
mark the occasion...
2014 - the Rubber plantation is removed.
It is a pity for the 50th anniversary in
August 2016 that the Cross won't be in a rubber plantation.
DAY, 25 April, 2015
and refurbishment of the Cross is an ongoing task. As at June 2015,
the Cross site is again getting some attention. Thanks to Jason Fenech
for these photos...
Each year for the last eight years, the Long Tan Trek Tour (see details elsewhere on this website) has had a Tour for (mainly) Australian travelers to the main battlesites and locations associated with the ANZAC presence in Viet Nam during the 2nd IndoChina war - the one commonly but incorrectly called "The Vietnam War" or, by the Vietnamese, "The American War" or "The American Invasion". The long Tan Trek Tour has usually happened in October but in 2016 it was held in August in order to be at the Long Tan cross site on the 50th anniversary... the 18th.
The Tour WAS in the area on the 17th, 18th and 19th of August but the Vietnamese government first restricted and later cancelled all visits to the site. The reasons have not been entirely made clear but we have a report by those on the Long Tan Trek Tour about the circumstances as seen and witnessed by those "on the spot".
Please click on the name for a 7-page
Report in PDF format about the
The restrictions put in place by the Vietnamese
authorities for the mid-August "commemorations" were lifted soon after...
----- ===== OOOOO ===== -----
In Mid-April of 2017, following the events of August 2016 (the 50th anniversary of the battle) a report circulated in Australia that the Long Tan cross may be removed from its site:
However, this proved to be a false alarm and at least as at a few days later, visitors were still at the cross and leaving floral remembrances - see photo at side dated April 2017.
(Pix of later works and visits will be inserted here as available.)
THE LEGACY OF THE LONG TAN CROSS
The Long Tan Cross is not only the icon of the Battle of Long Tan - the Cross has become an icon for the whole ANZAC commitment to the defence of South Viet Nam. Copies of the Cross appear on Vietnam War Memorials across the country (and in NZ?):
There are two Long Tan Crosses at Enoggera Barracks - one is in the form of a footpath at 2 CER - the other is a Cross standing outside 6RAR BHQ.
And a pic of a replica cross from the past:
(There are more - if you
have a pic of another, please send
As is noted elsewhere in this website, Dave Sabben (former commander of 12 Platoon, D/6 at the battle of Long Tan) takes visitors to the Long Tan Cross as part of his Long Tan Trek Tours each October. Please see elsewhere on this website for details. Permits, guides etc are all arranged as part of the Tour. Bespoke Tours for self contained groups of 25 to 35 can also be arranged.
The Trek Tour walks the whole battlefield - the site of the first contact, the sites of the separate 10, 11 and 12 Platoon fighting and the final Company position - whereas visitors to the Cross are not permitted to move beyond 100 metres from the Cross. Yes, we have special permission to walk the whole original battlefield and to have groups in excess of 20 persons.
Details for the proposed
Oct 2018 Trek Tour