BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
THE MINEFIELD by Greg Lockhart, ON PATROL WITH THE SAS by Gary McKay
, December 22, 2007
Australians in battleTHE MINEFIELD: An Australian tragedy in Vietnam
by Greg Lockhart
(Sydney: Allen and Unwin)
Paperback: 320 pages
Rec. price: $35.00
ON PATROL WITH THE SAS: Sleeping with your ears open
by Gary McKay
(Sydney: Allen and Unwin)
Paperback: 328 pages
Rec. price: $29.95Thirty-five years after the decision to withdraw the last remaining troops from Vietnam, controversy rages about Australian involvement in that war. These two recent publications examine Australia's role in Vietnam from different perspectives.
Greg Lockhart's The Minefield
examines the disastrous decision made by Brigadier Stuart Graham in 1967 to lay an 11-kilometre barrier minefield in Phuc Tuy province, South Vietnam, his intention being to prevent the communist North Vietnamese from conducting operations against the Australians, and re-supplying and recruiting among local the population.
In fact, the laying of the minefield was in contravention of standard military doctrine which required greater numbers of troops to monitor the minefield than Graham had at his disposal.
The result was that the North Vietnamese army and its sympathisers were able not only to determine routes through the minefield, but also lift mines and use them against Australian troops.
So calamitous did the use of these mines against Australians become that it cost the First Australian Task Force (1 ATF) approximately half of all its casualties.
Lockhart examines why Graham proceeded with the decision, and argues that he did so because he failed to understand the enemy's motivations.
Whereas Graham, the majority of the military hierarchy and the Australian Government saw their participation in the Vietnam War as a means of defending that part of Asia from a spreading communist menace, the North Vietnamese and their supporters in the south cleverly promoted the conflict primarily as a war of national union between north and south and independence from external colonial powers.Elite force
Gary McKay's On Patrol with the SAS
explores what life is like in the Australian Army's Special Air Services Regiment, and is based largely upon interviews with a number of former SAS members.
It is the elite force in the army, whose members have included Australia's current Governor-General, Major-General Michael Jeffery.
McKay explodes many of the myths about the SAS, and demonstrates that the regiment's primary mission is reconnaissance behind enemy lines, rather than elaborate and bizarre commando-style missions.
After discussing the selection process and training, McKay explores the role of the SAS in Borneo and Vietnam, the latter being the most recent operation about which he is at liberty to write.
Much of the work describes the procedures the SAS used for patrol and the troops' daily routine while on patrol.
SAS troops in Borneo and Vietnam had to carry large amounts of equipment, as they could be in enemy territory and therefore beyond supply lines for extended periods of time.On Patrol with the SAS
would appeal to the general reader with an interest in military matters.
By contrast, The Minefield
is a more specialist work, exploring Brigadier Stuart Graham's decision in 1967 to lay the minefield in Vietnam. The author explores the aftermath and ramifications in considerable detail, his analysis being supported by extensive research of records and interviews.