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27 January 2013


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Battle of Long Tan: Commanding officers embellished role to receive awards at expense of own men, retired colonel Harry Smith says.

By Bruce Atkinson ABC Radio 18th Aug 2015

Retired Colonel Harry Smith calls a cover-up at the highest military and political echelons & the torment of his memories and a fight against those who managed the gallantry honours system has continued to haunt him for the past 49 years.

Immediately after the battle in which 18 Australian soldiers and hundreds of the defeated enemy died, Colonel Smith recommended some of his men for gallantry awards but they were ignored.

He only fully uncovered how and why his men did not receive proper recognition after 1996 when the 30-year Official Secrets Act expired and their version of events was revealed.

Colonel Smith has written a book called Long Tan: The Start of a Lifelong Battle which was launched today, 18 August 2015.

In it, he revealed his two immediate superior officers embellished the role they played in the battle to receive the highest gallantry awards at the expense of his men.

Colonel Smith feels the time is now right to speak up about his two former commanding officers.

"I've never, ever gone into the detail of what was in their citations but at 82 years of age I feel it's time for people to know exactly what was in their citations and that they were perjury," he said.

Retired Major General John Cantwell, who was commander of Australian forces in the Middle East in 2010, and deputy chief of Army before that, agreed their actions were questionable.

He said there were "absolutely unforgivable failures of leadership and administration" when it came to medals for Delta Company 6RAR .

"Any reasonable person who looks at what occurred in terms of the distribution of honours and awards after that battle would have to raise real doubts about who got what medal and for what reason," he said.

"It's pretty obvious that senior officers who weren't involved in the fight looked after themselves and sprinkle them and their mates with high awards.

"The quota system for rewarding gallantry that was in place for Australian troops in Vietnam in 1966 worked against D Company's heroism being fully acknowledged.

Cooks and postal staff working behind the lines received awards while those on the front line missed out.

"It's a really dark spot in my view on our military history," Major General Cantwell said.

"Not only was there some terrible loss of life but we saw a travesty of justice when it came to the awards and honours that should have gone to those brave soldiers, that didn't."

Major General Cantwell said D Company's amazing feat of arms against such a vastly bigger enemy force of up to 2,500 troops was a great success that could not be compared to any other action in Australian military history.

From next month, the Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal is due to start hearing Colonel Smith's claims to have the remaining 12 soldiers given the recognition he is adamant they deserve.

"I think the tribunal now understands that justice has to be done and you just can't keep on going on and on saying we can't go back in time," he said.

The efforts of the men Colonel Smith nominated may not have been recorded correctly by their senior officers, or the accounts may have been lost, he said.

Colonel Smith urged the tribunal to think carefully in its deliberations to finally right the injustice.

"But Long Tan has been put up on a pedestal by the Australian public and the ex-service public and it needs to be put to rest and I hope that it is done before the 50th Anniversary."

"I didn't withdraw at Long Tan and I won't withdraw from the fight to have my men properly recognised".

Frank, first of all congratulations on your Award. I intend to read some of your books. You deserved many more medals as a result of your military service. What a life you have led. I served with you in Vietnam. I was a Sapper attached to you while you were at the Horsehoe (I think it was 2 Pl A Coy 6RAR). I recall you were a great cook and could do wonders with ration packs, as well as a great leader of men. I was known as "Dutchy" but I doubt if you would remember me as I was not with you for long I think. I would love to make contact with you as I am trying to piece together my time at the Horseshoe with the "Grunts" who I really enjoyed being with.

Para Frank,(y desde luego para Lurdes) un gran abrazo y mi mas emocionado sentimiento de alegria por este reconocimiento, los que tenemos el placer y honor de conocerte estamos felices!

Embarrassed that I have not before now heard of Frank Alcorta.

Great story. Thanks too for the list of books.

I agree wholeheartedly with Barbara. A medal well deserved.
A nice story for a change and what a life story, amazing.

Congratulations Frank. A medal to wear with pride. You deserve it!

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