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The Minefield - An Australian Tragedy in Vietnam

By: Greg Lockhart (547/35683)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin ISBN: 978-1-74114-106-1

In 1967, Brigadier Stuart Graham issued the calamitous order: First Australian Task Force would construct an 11 kilometre 'barrier fence and minefield' containing over 20,000 powerful M16 landmines in Phuoc Tuy Province, southern Vietnam. The purpose of the 'barrier' was to separate and to shield the majority of the population in the south-west of the province from his enemy's regular forces in the north and east. What Graham did not realise was the extent to which that population was also his enemy. He did not realise that guerrilla units were well positioned among the people in the south-west to lift thousands of the mines and turn them back against the Australian Task Force with horrendous, far reaching results.

For protracted periods, 'our own' M16 mines caused over 50 per cent of all Australian Task Force casualties. The stolen M16 mines became the guerrilla enemy's number one strike weapons and guaranteed that enemy's successful defence of the vital area and base complexes in the province against task force incursions.

Graham was responsible for this flawed decision. Lockhart also explains how that decision was accommodated and, even, provoked by strategic policy. Conditioned by an imperial view of the world, neither Graham nor his superiors in Canberra realty understood the national nature of their enemy.

Written with unflinching clarity of a great tragedy, The Minefield is set in the imperial impulses of the Anzac expeditionary tradition and the heroic pathos its battlefield disasters have called forth since Gallipoli.

June 2007

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