Battles of Coral & Balmoral: May-June 1968

50 Year Anniversary

In May/June 1968 Australian soldiers fought their largest, most sustained and arguably most hazardous battles of the Vietnam War. Units of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) confronted regimental-sized formations of the North Vietnamese regular army in fierce actions around Fire Support Patrol Bases (FSPB) Coral and Balmoral in what was then known as Bien Hoa province. 


The first of the battles occurred at FSPB Coral when massed enemy units attacked the base in the early hours of 13 May 1968. Australian units withstood heavy enemy attacks during which a mortar platoon and two gun positions were partly over-run. The Australians drove off the enemy after fierce close-quarter actions. The battle lasted over two hours. The task force suffered 11 killed in action and 28 wounded. In one mortar platoon five soldiers were killed and eight were wounded from a total strength of 18 men. One howitzer and two mortars were damaged. The enemy left 52 dead strewn throughout and around the fire support base. 


A history of Australian artillery records that the attack on Coral was "the most sustained ground attack on an Australian field gun position since the Pacific war. Yet the gunners recovered their guns and were in action, supporting the infantry, the following morning. 


Over the following four weeks, in further actions around FSPB Coral and Balmoral, Australian soldiers accounted for over 300 enemy soldiers killed. They also captured hundreds of enemy weapons. In return, 26 Australian soldiers died: two from 12 Field Regiment; one from 104 Signals Squadron; 16 from 1 RAR; 6 from 3 RAR and one from 161 Independent Reconnaissance Squadron. Over 100 Australians were wounded. 


Australian Army regiments involved in the series of battles were later awarded one of the five battle honours approved for the Vietnam War. 

A Brief Synopsis.. 


The biggest unit level battle of the Viet Nam war that involved Aussies. 


  •  It lasted for 26 days, 12 May to 6 June 1968 and was made up of several actions. 
  •  It cost more Aussie lives than the battle of Long Tan. 
  • Aussie artillery "lost" a gun for a short period and also fired over "open sights" (point blank, directly to front). Neither of these things had happened to any British Commonwealth artillery since the Boer war. The gun was recaptured. 

It all took place in Area of “” and was instrumental in protecting Saigon and Bien Hoa Air Base from attack by the NVA . Units Units Involved include…

  • Infantry : 1RAR; 3 RAR
  • Artillery: 102 Field Battery RAA; 161 Field Battery NZA
  • Armoured: A Sqn 3 Cav Regiment, RAAC;
  • C Sqn 1 Armoured Regiment RAAC – 1 & 2 Troop
  • Ancillory: 104 Sqn Royal Aust Corp of Signals - 161 Independent Recce Flight


A 105mm M2A2 howitzer, No. 6 gun of 102 Field Battery, 12th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery was temporarily overrun by the NVA on the night of the 12/13 May 1968 and the gun was seriously damaged by a satchel charge.


The Australian Deputy Task Force Commander ordered that tanks be brought forward from the Task Force base at Nui Dat to aid in defence of the FSBs. Four tanks of 1 Troop, C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, moved to defence of Coral, while the tanks of 2 Troop, C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, proceeded to Balmoral.


On the night of 25/26 May a battalion of North Vietnamese troops made a sustained assault on Balmoral, which was occupied by 3 RAR and the troop of Centurions. The main enemy attack wilted under the under the sustained fire produced from D Company infantry weapons supported by canister rounds and machine gun fire from the two tanks sited directly on the enemy approach.


Throughout the battle enemy actions against the tanks proved relatively ineffectual, with fire from RPG projectiles inflicting only superficial damage. Against lighter APC armour such rockets had a devastating impact, but against the thicker Centurion armour they were largely ineffective and failed to penetrate.


The Australian Army’s experience with tanks at Coral and Balmoral reconfirmed many of the lessons learnt during the Second World War: The vulnerability of light vehicles such as APCs when attacking heavily defended enemy positions; the value of tanks in reducing Australian casualties; and the mobility of medium tanks in even the heaviest of jungle terrain.


Post-war the Australian infantry had limited exposure to working with tanks, so many had initial misgivings about the benefits of tank/infantry cooperation. The battles of Coral and Balmoral soon convinced them otherwise, and the tank/infantry partnership that developed from these two actions remained unshaken throughout the remainder of the Vietnam War.  

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Matt (Monday, 24 April 2023 02:27)

    Hi, I think the start date of Coral was 12 May. (it states 13th May in second paragraph.)