Saturday, November 12, 2011

Victoria Cross For Australia

There is some need to clarify the differences between the Australian military awards of the Victoria Cross and the Victoria Cross for Australia.

Victoria Cross

Next (higher): None
Equivalent: George Cross (for civil gallantry or military actions not in the face of the enemy)
Next (lower): Distinguished Service Order, Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, George Medal

The Victoria Cross was the highest militraty award that can be bestowed on an Australian serviceman.
The Victoria Cross for Australia is now Australia’s highest military honour. It is only awarded to those who display the most conspicuous gallantry and daring in the face of the enemy.
The  award of the Victoria Cross for Australia was instituted in 1991.

Victoria Cross for Australia

Equivalent: Cross of Valour
Next (lower): Star of Gallantry

The Victoria Cross for Australia is the highest award in the Australian Honours System, superseding the Victoria Cross for issue to Australians. The Victoria Cross for Australia is the "decoration for according recognition to persons who in the presence of the enemy, perform acts of the most conspicuous gallantry, or daring or pre-eminent acts of valour or self-sacrifice or display extreme devotion to duty."

The Victoria Cross for Australia was created by letters patent signed by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, on 15 January 1991. As the highest Australian award, it is listed first on the Australian Order of Wear with precedence in Australia over all orders, decorations and medals. The decoration may be awarded to members of the Australian Defence Force and to other persons determined by the Australian Minister for Defence. A person to whom the Victoria Cross for Australia has been awarded is entitled to the post nominals VC placed after the person’s name

Trooper Mark Donaldson was the first Australian serviceman to receive the award for displaying conspicuous gallantry in Afghanistan, following his heroic actions when his patrol was ambushed in the Oruzgan Province, on 2 September, 2008. Trooper Donaldson is a member of Australia's Special Air Service Regiment. Trooper Donaldson was also promoted to Corporal and named "Australian of the Year" in 2010.

.... On 2 September 2008, during the conduct of a fighting patrol, Corporal (then Trooper) Donaldson was travelling in a combined Afghan, US and Australian vehicle convoy that was engaged by a numerically superior, entrenched and coordinated enemy ambush. The ambush was initiated by a high volume of sustained machine gun fire coupled with the effective use of rocket propelled grenades. Such was the effect of the initiation that the combined patrol suffered numerous casualties, completely lost the initiative and became immediately suppressed. It was over two hours before the convoy was able to establish a clean break and move to an area free of enemy fire.

In the early stages of the ambush, Corporal Donaldson reacted spontaneously to regain the initiative. He moved rapidly between alternate positions of cover engaging the enemy with 66mm and 84mm anti-armour weapons as well as his M4 rifle. During an early stage of the enemy ambush, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to draw attention to himself and thus away from wounded soldiers. This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety.

As the enemy had employed the tactic of a rolling ambush, the patrol was forced to conduct numerous vehicle manoeuvres, under intense enemy fire, over a distance of approximately four kilometres to extract the convoy from the engagement area. Compounding the extraction was the fact that casualties had consumed all available space within the vehicles. Those who had not been wounded, including Corporal Donaldson, were left with no option but to run beside the vehicles throughout. During the conduct of this vehicle manoeuvre to extract the convoy from the engagement area, a severely wounded coalition force interpreter was inadvertently left behind. Of his own volition and displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Corporal Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter. His movement, once identified by the enemy, drew intense and accurate machine gun fire from entrenched positions. Upon reaching the wounded coalition force interpreter, Corporal Donaldson picked him up and carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles then provided immediate first aid before returning to the fight.

On subsequent occasions during the battle, Corporal Donaldson administered medical care to other wounded soldiers, whilst continually engaging the enemy. ....

Corporal Roberts-Smith of the Special Air Service Regiment was awarded the second Victoria Cross for Australia for his most conspicuous gallantry in action in circumstances of extreme peril as Patrol Second-in-Command, Special Operations Task Group on Operation SLIPPER. Corporal Roberts-Smith becomes the 98th Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross award and the second recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia since it was instituted in 1991.

.... the troop was engaged by machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from multiple, dominating positions. Two soldiers were wounded in action and the troop was pinned down by fires from three machine guns in an elevated fortified position to the south of the village. Under the cover of close air support, suppressive small arms and machine gun fire, Corporal Roberts Smith and his patrol manoeuvred to within 70 metres of the enemy position in order to neutralise the enemy machine gun positions and regain the initiative. .... Corporal Roberts Smith identified an insurgent grenadier in the throes of engaging his patrol. Corporal Roberts Smith instinctively engaged the insurgent at point-blank range resulting in the death of the insurgent. With the members of his patrol still pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his patrol, which enabled them to bring fire to bear against the enemy. His actions enabled his Patrol Commander to throw a grenade and silence one of the machine guns. Seizing the advantage, and demonstrating extreme devotion to duty and the most conspicuous gallantry, Corporal Roberts Smith, with a total disregard for his own safety, stormed the enemy position killing the two remaining machine gunners. ....  On seizing the fortified gun position, Corporal Roberts Smith then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another patrol member engaged and killed further enemy. His acts of selfless valour directly enabled his troop to go on and clear the village of Tizak of Taliban. This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the Taliban in Shah Wali Kot District to retreat from the area. ....
Prior to Trooper Donaldson's award, the sole surviving Australian Victoria Cross recipient was Keith Payne.
Keith Payne with Mark Donaldson during Mark Donaldson's investiture at Government House, Canberra, ACT, Australia

Keith Payne VC, OAM was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the face of the enemy" awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces, during the Vietnam War. On 24 February 1969 he was a member of the Australian Army Training Team in Vietnam (AATV). He was presented with his Victoria Cross by the Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, aboard Britannia, at Brisbane, on 13 April 1970. The United States recommended the award of the Silver Star later updated to Distinguished Service Cross while the Republic of Vietnam honoured him with its Cross of Gallantry With Bronze Star.

He is the longest surviving recipient of that award and he was also awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the veteran community in 2006.

On 24 May Warrant Officer Keith Payne was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when the battalion was attacked by a numerically superior North Vietnamese force. The two forward companies were heavily attacked with rockets, mortars and machine-guns from three directions simultaneously. The indigenous soldiers faltered so Payne rushed about firing his Armalite rifle and hurling grenades to keep the enemy at bay while he tried to rally the soldiers. In doing so he was wounded in the hands, upper arm and hip by four pieces of rocket shrapnel and one piece of mortar shrapnel.

The battalion commander decided to fight his way back to base and this movement commenced by the only available route. With a few remnants of his company, which had suffered heavy casualties, Payne covered the withdrawal with grenades and gunfire and then attempted to round up more of his company. By nightfall he had succeeded in gathering a composite party of his own and another company and had established a small defensive perimeter. about 350 metres north-east of the hill. the enemy by now had captured the former hill-top position.

In darkness Payne set off to locate those who had been cut off and disoriented. At 9 p.m. (2100hrs) he crawled over to one displaced group, having tracked them by the fluorescence of their footsteps in rotting vegetable matter on the ground, and thus began a 800 metre traverse of the area for the next three hours. The enemy were moving about and firing, but Payne was able to locate some forty men, some wounded, some of whom Payne personally dragged out. He organized others who were not wounded to crawl out on their stomachs with wounded on their backs.

Once he concentrated his party he navigated them back to the temporary perimeter only to find the position abandoned by troops who had moved back to the battalion base. Undeterred he led his party, as well as another group of wounded encountered enroute, back to the battalion base where they arrived at about 3 a.m.(0300hrs).

In total, 98 Australian service personnel have been recipients of the Victoria Cross

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Such brave soldiers! Their stories are harrowing, as I am sure they all are. Thanks to every one!