Op Bribie Remembered by B Coy OC
The former O.C. of B Company 6RAR, who led his men into battle during Operation Bribie on 17 February 1967, continues to honour his men and their memory 50 years on.
Image: Maj. Ian Mackay (left), B Coy 6RAR Vietnam
When Col. (Ret) Ian Mackay, who is now 83 years of age, stands in front of the current soldiers of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, those in the audience don’t see him as an old man. He is one of them, a soldier with memories and stories of service in Vietnam that continue to shape the Battalion today.
On 17 February 1967 Ian was O.C. (Maj.), B Company 6RAR during Operation Bribie, a supposed quick response to cut off small scattered groups of enemy soldiers who had that morning attacked the nearby village of Lang Phuoc Hai.
Instead, urgency and poor intelligence saw about 100 men of 6RAR up against a strong and well-equipped rear-guard force of D445 VC Battalion, supported by NVA most likely covering the withdrawal of a major enemy Div. HQ. Operation Bribie ended after five hours of close-quarter fighting against an enemy holding the advantage of concealed and fortified dugouts within thick Vietnamese jungle. Eight Australian died in the battle and 27 were wounded. The enemy losses wer thought to be in excess of 100.
Mackay has talked to many groups about Operation Bribie – soldiers, school children, corporate leaders and veterans – to share the pride and respect he has for the men he led on that day. After years of being pestered to write his account, he finally relented and penned ‘Phantoms of Bribie’.
“I started giving talks on the battle ten years ago, mainly to attempt to give credit to the marvellous tenacity, courage and camaraderie of the brilliant young soldiers (Regulars and National Servicemen) who fought so bravely on that hot Friday afternoon in Vietnam,” he said. “The conditions were appalling, in stinking heat with many almost blinded by the smoke from fires, in a fight to the death against a determined, efficient enemy near the village of Hoi My in Phuoc Tuy Province. The action was so close at times that any attempt at movement meant that you were shot or shot at.”
Ian presented a talk to the 6RAR at Enoggera Camp a few months ago. He says giving such presentations to the troops is a “privilege”. But it is more than sharing a yarn. Senior officers believe the experience imparted from Vietnam veterans like Ian are relevant to young soldiers who will one day face similar challenges on Operations.
Ian says writing “Phantoms” was challenging and not without some traumatic repercussions. The draft was considered controversial but Ian believed that was the story he wanted to tell. He didn’t change a word and it was finally published.
“It was very important for me to tell the story of this brave group of young men’s desperate fight for survival under horrifying conditions and I am delighted that the story has been told and received so well.”
Phantoms of Bribie also offers an incredible insight into Ian’s life – before, during and after service. The sport-mad (rugby/cricket) Duntroon graduate served with what would become the Special Air Service, instructed in jungle warfare at the British Army Jungle Warfare School in Malaya, and was on the ground in Vietnam in 62 and 63 (before the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam). He went on to achieve success in the corporate sector on retirement from Army.
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