Duration: 118 minutes
This film is a moving tribute to the 108 extraordinary Australian (105) and New Zealand (3) soldiers, predominantly from Delta Company of Queensland’s 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) 1966, who fought in this historic battle. The Premiere will be attended by numerous Long Tan veterans, including former Company Commander Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith SG MC (retired), WO1 Robert Buick MM (retired), Major Geoff Kendall MG (retired) and Dr Bob Grandin PhD (Flight Lieutenant RAAF, retired), along with many dignitaries and celebrity guests.
For three and a half hours, in the pouring rain, amid the mud and shattered trees of a rubber plantation called Long Tan, Major Harry Smith and his dispersed company of 108 young and mostly inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers are fighting for their lives, holding off an overwhelming force of 2,000 battle hardened Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. With their ammunition running out, their casualties mounting and the enemy massing for a final assault, each man begins to search for the strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honour, decency and courage.
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan is releasing in Australian today. Produced by Red Dune Films and Deeper Water Films, with investment from the Queensland Government through Screen Queensland, Screen Australia and Saboteur Media.
Inspired by a true story, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan begins with Major Harry Smith [Travis Fimmel], the strict and highly motivated commander of Delta Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, on operation in Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, Vietnam. Delta Company is made up of four platoons; 10, 11 and 12 platoons and a Company HQ, a total of 108 men.
“As an actor, there’s a lot more you can dive into to play somebody with so much responsibility and pressure,” says Fimmel. “I also recognised how important it was to make audiences aware of this battle. Young kids, all of us, should all know what happened, out of respect for the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Long Tan. Some sacrificed their lives, and a lot of veterans from the Battle are still alive. None of them should be forgotten.”
Harry is a career officer and he has no time to ‘coddle’ or befriend the men in his company. He feels that ‘babysitting’ these young men – half of which are conscripts – is beneath his special forces skills and previous combat experience. But with a point to prove, Harry is keen to show what his men, and importantly, he can do to make the best of a harrowing situation.
Harry is keen on getting closer to the fight, to put his unique skills to full use, and he feel he’s being held back by his direct superior, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Townsend [Anthony Hayes], the commanding officer of 6RAR.
Harry, never taking a step backwards, makes a direct request for a transfer back to special forces with the Task Force Commander Brigadier David Jackson [Richard Roxburgh].
Veteran actor RICHARD ROXBURGH, who portrays Jackson, says he “was drawn to the story because it’s an important one to tell. Australia’s involvement in Vietnam was complex and controversial, and remains so, but these guys still haven’t achieved the recognition they deserve. The script captured the awful mechanics of war beautifully. The characters were beautifully drawn by Stuart Beattie. That’s where you need to be when you’re telling a story within the big compass of a war; the small, human stuff is where you need to be within the horrible atrocity of war.”
We meet the gruff, 21-year-old conscript, country boy Private Paul Large [Daniel Webber] and his buddy Private Noel Grimes [Nicholas Hamilton]. Large is a typical young Australian man of that era, who doesn’t suffer fools lightly and will always be there for his mates. “Kriv wanted to bring out the spirit of these young men and the camaraderie that they had,” says Webber. “These men continued the ANZAC spirit; we really wanted that to be present within the film and so as actors we worked hard at creating those bonds on and off-set; these relationships between us were going to be essential to the filmmaking.”
At 2.43am on August 17, 1966, the North Vietnamese launch a surprise mortar and rocket attack on the Australian base. The incoming explosions send everyone scrambling to their defensive positions.
Treating the potential danger somewhat nonchalantly, Large negligently discharges his weapon in all the confusion. Large is summoned to answer for his negligence in front of Harry and we witness a very tense exchange.
Harry’s loyal and very experienced Company Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Jack Kirby [Alexander England] is concerned Harry is driving his men too hard, but Harry shows nothing but disinterest in the emotional plight of his men.
“On the shoot, were all away from home,” says England, “and it was a cast of largely young actors, because conscription was in-force, so the process of getting to know the other actors, bonding with them, ensuring that everyone was alright, was key.
The morning after the attack, 18 August 1966, an understrength Bravo Company, 6RAR are sent out to find the enemy mortar positions. After a fruitful search by B Company, Harry and his men are ordered out on patrol to take over the search.
Harry’s men are deeply annoyed as they will miss the first ever concert at the base by Little Pattie [Emmy Dougall] and Col Joye. Harry informs his men they are heading out on a ‘seek-and-destroy’ mission and whereas Bravo could not find the enemy, Harry assures his men they will. Harry and his men leave Nui Dat and upon relieving B Company they follow enemy blood trails and tracks into a rubber plantation called Long Tan.
With all the infantry platoons spread out over a kilometre, 11 Platoon who is leading the patrol runs into a small patrol of Viet Cong and immediately fires on them. With the enemy patrol quickly retreating, Harry orders the 21-year-old Platoon Commander Gordon Sharp [Mojean Aria] to chase them. Not long after, 11 Platoon are suddenly attacked by a massive force. They immediately suffer significant casualties and are pinned down on three sides.
As the battle rages, support from Australian, New Zealand and American artillery back at the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat is called in. Monsoonal rain hits the plantation and it soon becomes apparent that D Company have stumbled into the large North Vietnamese force. Harry continues to push his company onwards towards 11 Platoon. As enemy attacks intensify and with casualties mounting, 11 Platoon is close to being overrun.
Harry detaches 10 Platoon to try and reach the beleaguered 11 Platoon, but they too soon end up in a substantial firefight with the enemy, begin taking casualties, and are eventually pinned down themselves. At this stage 10 Platoon’s radio goes off the air after being damaged and both Harry and Gordon Sharp have no way of knowing if they’ll reach 11 Platoon.
11 Platoon commander Sharp is killed and Sergeant Bob Buick is forced to take command of 11 Platoon. With less than half killed or wounded, with the survivors running out of ammunition and almost surrounded, Buick asks Harry to bring artillery down on his position. When Harry loses radio contact with 11 Platoon, it seems the platoon he fired on is now lost.
With the tide of the battle turning against the ANZACs, Jackson, now fearful for the Nui Dat base, orders Harry and his company to withdraw. Harry must now decide between the mission, his orders or his men. Harry refuses, and disobeying his new orders he instead pushes forward to recover his lost platoon.
Back at Nui Dat, Jackson is incensed. He now sees Harry as a threat to the base. Jackson refuses to send out ground reinforcements and the APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers). But some of the Australian officers, once allied to Jackson, now begin to take matters into their own hands, disobeying orders, as they cannot stand by and watch Delta Company be annihilated. RAAF chopper pilot Frank Riley [Myles Pollard] takes it upon himself to fly his Huey chopper out to assist Delta Company with an ammunition drop.
The battle continues to escalate, and the men of Delta Company fight bravely as they, with the help of the artillery, barely hold back an almost overwhelming enemy. All seems lost as more of Harry’s men are killed and wounded, yet more and more enemy appear around them.
After radio contact is re-established with 10 Platoon, Harry orders them to return to the Company HQ position and he then orders the 21-year-old commander of 12 Platoon Lt David Sabben to try and rescue 11 Platoon. But not before leaving a third of his platoon behind to defend the growing numbers of wounded. 12 Platoon head out and soon surprise a large enemy force and they decimate them. Continuing towards 11 Platoon they are soon pinned down by large numbers of enemy and cannot move. Through sheer will and determination however, they find and recover the survivors from 11 Platoon and they all withdraw to the D Company defensive position.
With the miraculous rescue of 11 Platoon, Townsend finally convinces Jackson that he can take the fight to the enemy thereby protecting the base by reaching D Company with reinforcements. Jackson reluctantly relents and releases the APCs.
As APC commander, 24-year-old Lieutenant Adrian Roberts [Stephen Peacocke], races across the Vietnam rice paddies and countryside towards D Company, Townsend orders him to return to the base to pick him up. Knowing how crucial it is to get to D Company quickly, Roberts disobeys two direct orders to halt and return to pick up Townsend.
For the first time all of Delta Company are now together in one defensive position but the North Vietnamese have located them.
Harry and his men are pinned down, almost surrounded, and continually attacked by waves of hundreds of enemy soldiers. Harry is unaware of the APCs location and how long it will be until they arrive, if they arrive.
It has taken an hour for the APC relief force to arrive at the edge of the Long Tan rubber plantation, but they soon stumble into a large group of enemy and are instantly bogged down in a raging firefight.
With little more than 10 rounds of ammunition left per man, some already out of ammunition and gripping their bayonets and butts of their rifles, Harry and his men make their last stand and prepare for their inevitable destruction.
As the enemy makes one last major assault on D Company – which will surely overwhelm Harry and his men – the APCs arrive in the last minutes of daylight and drive them back. With their powerful .50 calibre machine guns blazing away, it is finally too much for the Vietnamese and they retreat.
Harry and his men are saved. And as quickly as it started, the battle is over. There is nothing but silence.
The next morning Delta Company conduct a roll call and the missing soldiers reveal the true cost of the battle. As Harry stands with his men he speaks to them not as a commander but as a brother in arms. The men are no longer led by Harry, they follow him.
Upon returning to the battlefield the Delta Company survivors go through the highs of discovering wounded still alive, and the lows of the many friends who have died.
Kirby suggests that Harry leave his men and join the top brass for a debrief. Harry refuses and stays with his men, his ‘family’, as this is where he needs to be.
The film ends with a sombre roll call listing the 18 young Australian dead and statements about the number of opposing forces, and the injustices of not being properly recognised by the Australian Government.
The Battle of Long Tan is one of the most savage and decisive ANZAC engagements in Australian military history, earning both the United States and South Vietnamese Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry along with many individual awards.