Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War began as a small commitment of 30 men in 1962, and increased over the following decade to a peak of 7,672 Australians deployed in South Vietnam or in support of Australian forces there. The Vietnam War was the longest and most controversial war Australia has ever fought. Although initially enjoying broad support due to concerns about the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, as Australia's military involvement increased a vocal anti-war movement developed. To a large extent this focused upon conscription, which had been an issue in Australia dating back to the First World War, however, considerable portions of society were opposed to the war on political and moral grounds.

The withdrawal of Australia's forces from South Vietnam began in November 1970 when 8 RAR completed its tour of duty and was not replaced. A phased withdrawal followed, and by 11 January 1973 Australian involvement in hostilities in Vietnam had ceased. Nevertheless, Australian troops from the Australian Embassy Platoon remained deployed in the country until 1 July 1973, and Australian forces were deployed briefly in April 1975, during the Fall of Saigon, to evacuate personnel from the Australian embassy.

Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the conflict; 521 were killed and more than 3,000 were wounded.

Australia in Vietnam War Timeline

  • The Democratic Republic of Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh is recognised by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, but Australia supports the French-backed State of Vietnam of Emperor Bảo Đại.
  • September—South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem visits Australia and Australia's Prime Minister, Robert Menzies reaffirms support.
  • 24 May—The Minister for Defence, Athol Townley, announces the intention to send 30 army advisers to South Vietnam (SVN).
  • 3 August—The first members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam arrive in Vietnam.
  • 1 June—Advisor, Sergeant William Hacking becomes the first Australian to die in Vietnam when his weapon accidentally discharges after being caught in vegetation.
  • 2 November—Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam's first President (1955–1963), and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, are assassinated in a successful CIA-backed coup d'état led by General Duong Van Minh of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
  • 22 November—Lyndon B. Johnson becomes US president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Johnson announces that the US will continue support of South Vietnam. By the end of 1963, 15,000 US advisors are serving in Vietnam; the US gives $500m in aid to Vietnam that year.
  • 8 June—Minister for Defence announces that the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam will be increased to 83 advisers and their role will be expanded.
  • 6 July—Warrant Officer Class Two Kevin Conway, an AATV advisor, is killed in action, the first Australian battle casualty of the war.
  • 14 August—Six Caribou aircraft are provided by the Royal Australian Air Force; RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam is later renamed No. 35 Squadron RAAF.
  • 10 November—Selective conscription is introduced for 20-year-old males by ballot under the National Service Act (1964).
  • 18 December—In response to requests from the US President and South Vietnam Prime Minister for 200 additional advisers, the Australian Government offers to send ground troops to South Vietnam.
  • 29 April—The Prime Minister announces the dispatch of an infantry battalion to South Vietnam, with an armoured personnel carrier (APC) troop, a signals troop and a logistic support company.
  • 27 May—The 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment leaves for Vietnam on HMAS Sydney.
  • 8 June—HMAS Sydney arrives at Vũng Tàu, South Vietnam, carrying the bulk of the Australian force.
  • 8 November—1RAR fights one of the first set-piece engagements of the war between Australian forces and the Vietcong at the Battle of Gang Toi. Two servicemen, Private Richard Parker and Private Peter Gillson, are posted missing believed killed during the fighting. Their bodies are recovered more than forty years later, and returned to Australia for burial.
  • 13 November—Warrant Officer Class Two Kevin Arthur Wheatley dies while defending a wounded comrade. He is posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry.
  • 8–14 January—1RAR participates in Operation Crimp in the Ho Bo Woods as part of the first divisional-sized operation of the war, targeting an underground Viet Cong headquarters.
  • 23–24 February—1RAR is involved in the Battle of Suoi Bong Trang, while providing protection to US engineers building a tactically important road in the vicinity of Tan Bihn, in central Binh Duong Province.
  • June—Prime Minister, Harold Holt visits the United States to discuss the war with US President Lyndon B. Johnson. Holt confirms the Australian government's full support for the United States' Vietnam policy, and in a speech on 30 June adopts the slogan 'All the way with LBJ'.
  • 18 August—Battle of Long Tan, a decisive Australian victory is fought by D Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. The Company earns a US Presidential Unit Citation (Vietnam).
  • October—US President Johnson visits Australia. Demonstrators protest fiercely in the streets of Sydney and Melbourne.
  • 7 April—Major Peter Badcoe dies leading his company against more powerful opposition. He is posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery, conspicuous gallantry and leadership on more than one occasion.
  • 6 August—A Company, 7RAR was involved in heavy fighting in the eastern Hat Dich area during the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha. Australian casualties were heavy with five killed, one died of wounds and 19 wounded. A sweep of the area resulted in the recovery of only five dead Viet Cong, however drag marks and extensive blood trails indicated that they had suffered heavily, with perhaps another 33 killed or wounded in the contatct, while a further 200 casualties were estimated from artillery and mortar fire, as well as a number of airstrikes.
  • 30 January—Tet Offensive is launched by the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, more commonly known as the Viet Cong. The offensive lasts until 8 June 1969.
  • 12 February—Prime Minister, John Gorton, announces that Australia will not increase its commitment to Vietnam.
  • May—The National Service Act is amended to impose a two-year civil gaol term for draft resisters.
  • 13 May—Battle of Coral-Balmoral takes place and becomes the bloodiest engagement for Australians in Vietnam when 25 Australians are killed and nearly 100 wounded during 26 days of fighting in AO Surfers, north-east of Saigon. The operation lasts till 6 June 1968.
  • 14 October—John Zarb is the first person to be found guilty of having failed to comply with his call up notice during the Vietnam War. He is convicted in Melbourne and sentenced to two years gaol. He loses his appeal to the full High Court on 25 November 1968. He is released on compassionate grounds in August 1969 after serving 10 months and 7 days in Pentridge Prison.
  • 6 May—In Kon Tum Province, Vietnam, Warrant Officer Class Two Rayene Stewart Simpson rescues a wounded fellow warrant officer and carries out an unsuccessful attack on a strong enemy position. On 11 May, he fights alone against heavy odds to cover the evacuation of a number of casualties. Simpson is later awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of the enemy.
  • 24 May—At Ben Het, Kon Tum Province in Vietnam, Warrant Officer Class Two Keith Payne shows outstanding courage and leadership in saving the lives of many of the soldiers under his command, leading his men to safety under most difficult circumstances after an attack by the enemy in superior strength. He is awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • 6–8 June—Australian forces destroy a large communist force in heavy house-to-house fighting during the Battle of Binh Ba.
  • 20 July—At a United States Marine non-commissioned officer's club, 7 km (4 mi) from Da Nang, a civilian pop entertainer, Cathy Wayne, becomes the first Australian woman killed during the Vietnam War. US Marine Sergeant J. W. Killen is found guilty of her unpremeditated murder.
  • 8 May—First of the moratorium demonstrations: 200,000 march in Australian cities to call for an end to Australian involvement in the war. The largest turn out was in Melbourne where 70,000 people marched down Bourke Street, Melbourne.
  • 18 September—Second moratorium: 100,000 march in Australian cities; over 300 people were arrested.
  • 7 June—Battle of Long Khanh takes place when 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment with Centurion tanks in support attack a heavily fortified base camp during Operation Overlord. Although the Australians capture the bunker system, and a second system located to the south, the bulk of the communist forces successfully withdraw.
  • 30 June—Third and final large anti-war rally in Australia; 110,000 demonstrate in Australian cities.
  • 18 August 1971—Prime Minister William McMahon announces that 1ATF would cease operations in South Vietnam in October, and would begin commencing a phased withdrawal after that.
  • 21 September—the Battle of Nui Le takes place in Phuoc Tuy province. A tactically inconclusive encounter between troops from the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and the NVA 33rd Regiment north of Nui Dat, it proved to be the last major battle fought by Australian forces in the war. Five Australians are killed and 30 wounded.
  • 16 October—Australian forces hand over control of the Australian base at Nui Dat to South Vietnamese forces.
  • 9 December—4 RAR, the last Australian infantry battalion in South Vietnam, sails for Australia on board HMAS Sydney.
  • 24 April—"The Michael Matteson Handcuff Incident"; about a thousand students at Sydney University free the draft resister, Michael Matteson, from the law.
  • 2 December—Whitlam Labor Government elected. Australia begins to finalise the withdrawal of its forces from Vietnam.