#OTD: Attack on Fire Support Base Coral
On the 13th of May 1968, Australian and new Zealand forces at Fire Support Base Coral fought the first of a number of defensive actions against the NVA in what would later become one of the most famous engagements of the Vietnam War, the Battle of Coral-Balmoral.
Following the mini-Tet Offensive launched by the NVA in May 1968, the Australian Task Force deployed two battalions to an area 20km north of Bien Hoa city to intercept and disrupt enemy forces in the area. In support of foot patrols that would be conducted by the two battalions, a number of fire support bases (FSB) were constructed, with the aim of providing mortar and artillery support for the patrols. One such base was FSB Coral, located 7km north of the town of Tan Uyen.
1 and 3 RAR, 102 Field Battery Royal Australian Artillery and 161 New Zealand Field Battery commenced occupation of FSB Coral on the 12th of May. The defences were still unfinished when the base was attacked at approximately 3:30AM on the 13th of May following a brief but intense mortar and rocket barrage. During the initial assault, the 1RAR mortar position was overrun, as well as one of the 102 Field Battery’s 105mm howitzer firing positions.
With the aid of extensive air support, the defenders were able to repel the NVA and recapture the forward gun pits and mortar positions following a fierce-close quarter action that would last over 2 hours. During the attack, the task force suffered 11 KIA and 28 wounded. The enemy left 52 dead strewn throughout the base with an unknown number of wounded.
This attack was only the first of many further attacks on FSB Coral, but would be the most intensive attack. Over the rest of the month, FSB Coral and its sister base Balmoral would continue to face coordinated, massed NVA attacks.
Although 1 and 3RAR would later receive battle honours for their courage during the battle of Coral-Balmoral, no such recognition was forthcoming for 102 Field Battery. A history of Australian artillery records shows that the attack on FSB Coral was “the most sustained ground attack on an Australian field gun position since the Pacific war. Yet the gunners recovered their guns and were in action, supporting the infantry, the following morning.”
It would not be for another 40 years before the Honour Title 'Coral’ was awarded to 102nd Field Battery, in recognition of the professionalism, dedication and courage the battery displayed under extremely dangerous and confusing conditions. This Honour Title is the only one of its kind awarded by the Australian Army.