Gallantry in a rubber plantation
Seven names are listed on the Tamworth Vietnam War Memorial, local men who paid the highest price for their service. One is Second Lieutenant Gordon Cameron Sharp, who was killed in action during the Battle of Long Tan. Although a relatively inexperienced Platoon Commander, Gordon Sharp displayed selfless gallantry when commanding his platoon in an impossible position, vastly outnumbered by enemy forces.
Gordon Sharp was born in March 1945 in Tamworth, NSW and named after his uncle, a fighter pilot killed in Italy during the Second World War. Sharp grew up in Tamworth, attended local schools and served in the school cadets, before moving to Sydney to work as a television cameraman.
In 1965, the government introduced new powers that enabled it to send national servicemen overseas. Sharp was among the first National Service draft called up in March and was selected to attend officer training, after which he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to duty with the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. There he became platoon commander of 11 Platoon, D Company. The Battalion was posted to Vietnam in June 1966.
On the 18th of August, D Company was conducting a search operation into the Long Tan rubber plantation, looking for signs of the enemy who had shelled the Australian Task Force base the day before. At about 3:40pm Gordon Sharp’s platoon engaged an enemy patrol which then fled. The platoon followed up but just after 4pm came under heavy enemy fire with significant casualties. Sharp ordered an all-round defensive position but they were soon pinned down by intense fire and suffered further casualties.
Despite the enemy fire, Sharp continued to direct his men and called for artillery support. It was difficult to withdraw under such heavy fire and Sharp didn’t want to leave his casualties if they did. Accurate and well-controlled fire from 11 platoon beat back enemy attacks. Visibility was hampered by the onset of monsoonal rain. With the enemy approaching from multiple directions, Sharp had to redirect artillery support. When he raised himself from the ground to get a better view to direct gunfire, he was shot and killed.
The Platoon Sergeant took command and continued to organise the defences and control artillery fire support. Finally, when those left were almost out of ammunition, he directed a withdrawal towards the Company Headquarters position. D Company was relieved about 7pm when supporting troops in armoured personnel carriers arrived. The enemy rushed away to the east, having broken off their attack.
In the ferocious action that was the Battle of Long Tan, 17 Australians were killed and 24 wounded. One of the wounded, an APC commander from the relieving force, died of his wounds several days later. The date of the action is now commemorated annually in Australia as Vietnam Veterans Day.
In November 2016, the Governor-General approved a Commendation for Gallantry for Second Lieutenant Gordon Cameron Sharp.