The battles of Coral and Balmoral began on 12 May 1968 and lasted until 6 June 1968. These two battles together were the largest and most sustained engagements of the Viet Nam War involving Australian and New Zealand troops, and were the first Australian all arms brigade sized operations since World War 11. 25 Australians were KIA. There were no NZ KIA.
The battles were fought within the context of Operation Toan Thang (Complete Victory), the largest Free World Forces operation of the war at that time, ultimately involving some 70,000 troops, including those from USA, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the South Vietnamese Army.
The offensive by 1 Australian Task Force was its first venture in brigade strength outside of Phuoc Tuy Province where it was based. It was a concerted attempt to sever North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong infiltration routes into Saigon, and to destroy their forces in the area north of the city and the giant Bien Hoa Airbase.
From 12th to 14 May a series of commemoration activities was held in Canberra to remember the Battle of Coral, and those who were engaged in it. These activities focussed upon 12 Field Regiment RAA, which was a key participating unit in the battle. They were followed by 1 RAR commemoration activities in Townsville, and later by those of 3 RAR back in Canberra, remembering the associated Battle of Balmoral, a battalion defensive position supported from Fire Support Base Coral.
161 Battery RNZA operated as a subunit of 12 Fd Regt RAA during 1968/69, and was fully involved in both these major battles, as the Direct Support battery of 3 RAR. Three New Zealanders who were members of 12 Field Regiment at the time of the battles participated in the Canberra commemorations:
- Rod Baldwin RNZA, who was Gun Position Officer of 161 Battery
- Neil Bradley RNZA, who was a Forward Observer with 3 RAR
- Alex Baker RNZEME, who was a Gun ‘Tiffy' with 12 Field Regiment Light Aid Detachment.
Extract from article written by Rod Baldwin for the RSA Review, August 2008