South Australians at War
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Conflicts : The Vietnam War

B70248_6_Vietnam war memorialThe defeat of the French army at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by communist led forces ended French control of Vietnam. The country was then divided into the separate states of North Vietnam, with a communist government, and South Vietnam.

Local communists, supported by North Vietnam, continued to confront the South Vietnamese government. The United States (US) pledged its support for the South, and initially sent military advisers. In May 1962, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that a small group of military advisers, expert in jungle warfare, would also assist the South Vietnamese government. In the face of the escalating civil war in Vietnam the US sent its first combat troops in 1964, and this was built up to a force of half a million. In April 1965 Prime Minister Menzies announced the commitment of the first Australian combat troops, and between 1965 and 1972 approximately 50,000 Australians served with the army, air and naval forces in the Vietnam War. Of these approximately 15,381 were National Servicemen as, through the 1965 amendments to the Defence Act, men conscripted by ballot under the National Service Scheme could be required to serve overseas. There were 500 Australian deaths (426 battle casualties and 74 non-battle casualties) and almost 3129 were wounded/injured/ill (source: Australian War Memorial). Fifty-eight South Australians were killed, representing 11 percent of total Australian casualties (source: RSL Virtual War Memorial)

A view of the Vietnam War from a Vietnamese perspective is given by South Australian nun Sister Elizabeth Nghia, who fled from Saigon after it was taken by the Communist forces of North Vietnam.

See our Military Records Library Guide for more resources about the Vietnam War.