The Minefield Greg Lockhart

the_minefield.jpgLast week I went to Canberra for the launch of Greg Lockhart’s new book, The Minefield, an historical analysis of the decision to lay the Dat Do minefield and a detailed description of its consequences to individuals and units.

Lockhart, an Australian Army officer, served as a captain in Vietnam as an adviser to the ARVN in 1972, and was himself involved in a mine incident. After an academic career, he is now the honorary historian of the VVFA.

Why did Brigadier Stuart Graham, the Task Force Commander, order an 11 kilometre barrier minefield to be laid against the advice of his battalion commanders and, most importantly, his engineer adviser?

Lockhart develops the argument that the decision was based on a fear that Australia was going to be invaded by a Asian expansionary power, despite the government being advised that there was no Asian country capable of doing so. This fear had undertones of pre-war colonialism where European powers ruled the area. Barriers were needed against the yellow peril.

Then there was another problem, the minefield was supposed to separate the enemy from the Vietnamese friendlies, but at the highest levels no one could correctly describe “the enemy”, nor did they know that the very people they were supposed to be protecting were also part of “the enemy”. It’s all fascinating stuff and you can draw parallels between Gallipoli, Vietnam and Iraq.

We all know the next part of the story – soon after the minefield laying began, the Vietnamese locals began lifting it, despite the mines being booby trapped. The book contains excerpts from interviews of those who lifted the mines.

The engineers were put under pressure to lay mines faster, causing casualties. Then “the enemy” started to use the mines against us, to devastating effect. This is where the book becomes hard going, not because it isn’t written well, but because the descriptions of the many incidents are often gut wrenching and remind me of the books I’ve read about the trenches in WW1. More and more of the same.

During the period there were 55 Australians killed and 250 wounded, often savagely, by these M16 (jumping jack)mines.

It’s a well written book with many insights into the self-delusion of higher command and the tendency by them to blame the victims and hide the truth.

There were over 200 people at the launch, with Graham Edwards MP, himself a double amputee due to these mines, giving one of the keynote speeches. Here is Lockhart’s description of the incident:

Back at Platoon Headquarters …, (SGT)Bourke saw an M16 mine jump ‘about two or three feet’ [almost 1 metre] and explode. Edwards slumped to the ground in the sitting position silently observing his shattered legs. …
Remarkably, Edwards had the presence of mind to remain sitting, lest he detonate a second mine if his body fell back.

This is a well-written important book, over 300 pages, with a descriptive narrative of the total period of involvement of the First Australian Task Force.

Lockhart, Greg, The Minefield, An Australian Tragedy in Vietnam, Allen and Unwin 2007

For the Allen and Unwin site, Click here…>

Listen to Greg Lockhart on the ABC’s “Perspective” Click here…>

Greg Lockhart’s 3000 word synopsis of The Minefield Click here…>

As they say, the book is available at all your better book stores.

1 Comment

billAugust 4th, 2007 at 10:04 am

A Review in “The Age” 4/08/07 concludedes:

“If you read only one military history this year, make it The Minefield; if you don’t read military history, make an exception. This is a story Australians need to know.”

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