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From the Archives, 1971: Diggers home by Christmas says PM

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) described the withdrawal as a political gesture to the Australian people.

“The Prime Minister has sought to wring a few drops of political capital be ending the infamy of this commitment,” Mr Barnard said.

A wounded 1st Battalion soldier is lifted into Medi-vac helicopter.

A wounded 1st Battalion soldier is lifted into Medi-vac helicopter.Credit:Stuart MacGladrie

The South Vietnamese Government is believed to be unhappy about the way in which the withdrawal decision has been handled.

South Vietnamese officials are reported to be dismayed at the suddenness of the Australian move and the lack of prior consultation.

The Australian Ambassador in Saigon (Mr Malcolm Morris) told President Thieu on Monday that Australia intended to withdraw its combat forces.

The first Australian troops, “a handful of advisers,” went to South Vietnam in 1962, The first combat forces were sent in 1965.

The first reductions began in 1970.

Australia now has about 6000 men in South Vietnam, including two infantry battalions.

Australian troops in Vietnam.

Australian troops in Vietnam.Credit:Stuart MacGladrie

Destroyer, too

Last night, Mr McMahon said the guided missile destroyed HMAS Brisbane, which is due to leave Vietnamese waters early in September, would not be replaced.

Shipments of stores and equipment would be completed in the early months of 1972.

Mr McMahon said that security throughout South Vietnam had improved remarkably.

“Successive pacification progress has extended the physical control of the Vietnamese Government over the countryside,” he said.

“Political, economic and social advances have been made notwithstanding that the war has absorbed so much of the people’s time and energies.


“Above all, the armed forces of the republic, with considerable help from the allies, have grown in size and developed their skills, cohesion and effectiveness.

“This has enable them progressively to take over responsibilities from allied forces and at the same time to conduct operation against North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia and to disrupt their supply lines in Southern Laos.”

Mr McMahon said that in Phuoc Tuy Province, the Australian area of responsibility, the security situation had improved markedly.

Mr McMahon linked the cut in the period of national service with improved political stability in South-East Asia and the decision to withdraw from Vietnam.

He said the Government decided to cut the army by about 4000 men by reducing the period of national service from two years to 18 months.

This will leave an army of 40,000 men.

The nine-battalion organisation will be retained but there will be some reduction in the strengths of battalions.

National servicemen who have completed 18 months’ service will begin being discharged late in October or early November.


Mr Barnard said that now the Government had finally taken the decision to get out of Vietnam it should apply all its resources to getting out immediately.

“The longer out troops stay in South Vietnam, the more vulnerable they become.”

Earlier in the day Mr McMahon promised to table in Parliament a copy of the letter from the South Vietnamese Government in 1965 requesting Australian combat troops.

He will table the letter today.

In Auckland last night, the New Zealand Prime Minister (Sir Keith Holyoake) said all NZ forces would be withdrawn from Vietnam by the end of this year. New Zealand has 264 men in South Vietnam.

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