Vietnam 1967 - 1971By the mid 1960s American dominance of Welsh politics was widespread. The Welsh flirtation with Communism had opened many peoples eyes to the Red Threat. Thus when the US began operations to support the South Vietnamese the Senedd made a point of being very vocal in support of the Americans. This continued from 1962 to 1965 when, following a request from the American Ambassador to Wales, the Welsh Defence Minister announced the deployment of troops, aircraft and Navy units to South East Asia. Immediately this caused trouble. Both in the Senedd, from those Communists remaining, and with the Welsh public. The war was not popular in the US or across the water in Britain. Minor demonstrations were rife throughout the BFGs deployment to the area.
Welsh Army Units DeployOn the 2nd of July 1965 it was announced that the Army would deploy to Phuoc Tuoy Province in Vietnam to support Australian and American units there. Initially it was announced that a Battalion would rotate every six months but this changed to one unit, 1st Battalion the Welsh Border Regiment, which would deploy in name only and troops would be drawn from all Infantry units in the Army for tours of duty. Support units, armour, air and other formations would, however, go as formed units. On the 8th of July 1967 the first units arrived in Vung Tau.
I Welsh Group
1 WBR - M16,M60, M79
The Light Horse - M113 APC, Ferret CVRW
2 Flight 56 Sqwn LAFG - Bell UH1D
76 Troop Royal Welsh Engineer Regt
12 Platoon Welsh Signals Corps
Almost immediately the BFG were thrown into action at Dak To against the NVA 33rd Infantry. Initially losses were small and as the weeks went on the Welsh settled into a routine of patrolling and small scale actions against NVA and VC units. UH1Ds of 56 Squadron flew supply missions, recon by fire and troop transport whilst the M113s and Ferrets of the Light Horse patrolled and assisted Australian forces. The Light Horse were a unit formed from the Light Cavalry units and used US and Australian vehicles that were already in theatre.
Sweep and Clear patrols were put out into the area of Phouc Tuoy. Welsh units would stay in the field for around a week, resupplied by helicopter. Initially equipped with standard Welsh Army uniform and equipment it took a relatively short time for the troops to realise that it was woefully equipped for operations in Vietnam. By early 1968 the US had supplied the Welsh with jungle uniform and equipment.
The first six months of the tour were quiet and casualties low. It would not be until early 1968 that the Welsh's fortunes would change.
1968The start of the year was as quiet as it had been in 67. However the calmness was not set to last. As with the Australians the Welsh were deployed out of the province to assist in operations elsewhere. 1 and 2 platoons of A company and a number of APCs were opconned to 1ATF to provide security at the Bien-Hoa/Long Binh complex near Saigon. This was a response to the January start of Tet. Between January and March 22 Welsh soldier were killed and 50 injured as part of Operation Coburg.
Meanwhile in Phuoc Tuoy things were still quite busy. Five RAR and 1WBR were heavily engaged with the VC as they attacked in hit and run missions all over the province. Battles at Ba Ria and Long Dien incurred more casualties but did stop the communist offensive in its tracks.
In the main Welsh operations though remained Company level cordon and search and search and destroy missions alongside Aussie and US units. Usually two platoons of the Welsh Infantry would deploy with a company strength of Americans or Australians. They would recon an area suspected to be used by the VC or NVA and clear it of enemy forces.
The village of Bin Lai was one such operation. Unusually though, this was a solely Welsh operation. On January 12th 1968 3 and 4 Platoons of 1st WBR left Firebase Dewi along with 4 M113s of the Light Horse (LH). They cordoned the small Ville and discovered a large cache of food and weapons.As the M113s and Cavalry troopers of the LH set up a perimeter, Lts Chrys Parry and Meic Cooper decided to blow the cache in place. As this was being prepped the VC mounted an attack. Initially this was suppressed with effective fire from the LH and 3 Platoon. Sgt Ceri Hywel of 3 platoon led his troops to counter attack and the VC retreated. Shortly after the cache was destroyed the VC, somewhat enraged by the destruction of their food and weapon, again attacked, this time in larger numbers.
The 140 Welsh soldiers now found themselves under sustained mortar fire and attack from multiple directions. One APC was destroyed and another disabled. The disabled APC was abandoned thirty metres outside the ville as the Welsh withdrew into Bin Lai. Lt Parry set 4 platoon to re-inforcing the perimeter as 3 platoon and the 2 remaining APCs fought off the VC attack. During a lull the Welsh reorganised and set up fighting positions. They had, luckily, only incurred 4 casualties. 3 LH troopers killed in the initial mortar attack and an RTO wounded by small arms fire.