Ground Operations: Artillery and infantry in the field
As lead, you’re looking at the trail and your cover scout’s looking for the enemy. You work together like a halfback and a first five-eight. You’ve got a bond.Orzogna Harris, Victor 4 Company
New Zealand artillery and infantry forces were on operations in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972. The Kiwi gunners and grunts of V (for Vietnam) Force, were part of the American-led ‘Free World Military Force’ operating out of Saigon. It was the first time since Korea that New Zealand artillery forces had seen action and they emerged from Vietnam renowned for their role in several notorious firefights, including the Battle of Long Tan in 1966, and 1968’s Tet Offensive.
Armed with five 105mm howitzers, one a spare, 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery was initially attached to the United States 173 Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa. Terence Hughes, who led the number one gun crew there in 1966, had begun his journey to Vietnam with three months’ compulsory military training at the age of 18. Two decades on, ranked sergeant, Hughes was keen to put his training into action and ‘finally shoot at people’.
Traditionally, New Zealanders at war had fought under clear rules of engagement, and success could be measured by gaining territory or tactical advantage. In Vietnam, achievement, or failure, was judged on a much smaller scale. Seizing initiative, as opposed to ground, from an elusive enemy made adaptable leadership as vital as military might. Richard Easton credits inaugural V Company commander John Mace’s revision of operational tactics as singular in preparing Kiwi troops for the rigours of jungle warfare.
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