The Battle of Suoi Chau Pha, Vietnam

Carrying A Company’s casualties from the Battle of Suoi Chau Pha from the Dustoff helicopter into 8 Field Company Ambulance. (AWM VN/67/0104/14).

The Battle of Suoi Chau Pha on 6 August, 1967 was fought during the Vietnam War between Australian troops and the Viet Cong. The battle took place during Operation BALLARAT, an Australian search and destroy operation in the eastern Hat Dich area, north-west of Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province.

Following a covert insertion the day before which had caught a number of Viet Cong sentries by surprise, A Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR) had patrolled forward unaware of the presence of a large Viet Cong main force nearby.

At 10.00am on 6 August, A company was positioned to cross the Suoi Chau Pha. 2 Platoon was to lead and secure the area north of the river for the remainder of the company to cross. The platoon had moved about 100m north of the river when 5 Section found a track with fresh wet footprints. An immediate ambush was set and a few minutes later at 10.50am, a VC reconnaissance patrol of two men entered the ambush and were killed.

The remainder of A Company then crossed the river and secured the area while 2 Platoon was ordered to sweep along the track to the west. The track turned north and about 200 metres on another VC was contacted and killed by 5 Section.

Immediately the Platoon came under machine gun and rifle fire. An RPG was also used, badly wounding the platoon sergeant, Alex Sutherland DCM. Using fire and movement, the platoon closed with the enemy killing an enemy platoon commander and machine gunner whose bodies were recovered. 2 Platoon had lost two killed, with 9 wounded and was pinned down by very heavy and close enemy fire.

Clashing with a reinforced company from the Viet Cong 3rd Battalion, 274th Regiment, a classic encounter battle ensued between two forces of roughly equal size. Fought at close quarters and in dense jungle amid a heavy monsoon rain, both sides suffered heavy casualties as neither was able to gain an advantage. After a battle lasting several hours, the Australian artillery proved decisive and the Viet Cong were forced to withdraw, dragging many of their dead from the battlefield after having suffered crippling losses.

After three hours of fierce fighting the enemy broke contact in an orderly and thinning fashion and withdrew to the north.

A Company had run into a full company of 274 VC Regiment’s 3rd Battalion together with the battalion’s reconnaissance platoon, armed with RPG’s.

The battle cost 7RAR five soldiers dead and 21 wounded one of whom died from his wounds. The enemy casualties were much more severe, caused in the main by artillery fire.

To this day, on 6 August each year, 7RAR commemorates ‘Suoi Chau Pha Day.’

Caption: Map of the Suoi Chau Pha river (Courtesy of http://www.w3vietnam.org.nz).