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The odd angry howitzer shell
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan by Transmission Films, 2019, reviewed by Everard Cunion in December 2021
This movie depicts the battle of Long Tan on August 18th, 1966, in a rubber plantation near the village of Long Tân (Long Tan) in Phước Tuy (Phuoc Tuy) Province, South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Unlike the soldiers of the Australian army Special Air Service, as depicted in the 1979 movie The Odd Angry Shot, the Australian soldiers at the battle of Long Tan were a mix of conscripts and those who had voluntarily joined the army.
One man says of Lieutenant Sharp, “Cocky little prick, isn’t he?” Here Sharp calls in artillery that stops an enemy attack. He is one half of the cliché double act of the new lieutenant guided by the older and experienced sergeant, plenty frequent in reality, by many accounts.
From the Australian soldiers at the front or New Zealand gunners at the base camp, the camera occasionally zooms skyward, traverses the landscape, and descends to another location. That is one of several ways in which the viewer is informed, via computer generated effects, of the relative positions of the forces in the battle in the rubber plantation.
When another wave of communist troops attack the Australians, who again have almost run out of ammunition and with many of their number dead or wounded, the film switches to slow motion at the gun battery five kilometres away before returning to the battle, continuing in slow motion: An effect clearly designed to impart the feel of time slowing when in a critical situation.
The Maxim gun was created in 1884 by American-British inventor Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim and was used by the communists in this 1966 action at Long Tan.
The rock and roll acts Little Pattie and Col Joye and the Joy Boys were performing at the Nui Dat base when a 108-man company set out on foot…
…as they patrolled east they occasionally heard the music through the trees.
— Battle of Long Tan on Wikipedia
That bizarre phenomenon is depicted in the film.
The film also illustrates the indirect communications links between the following:
- Soldiers ‘in contact’ with the enemy (that is fighting them directly)
- New Zealand artillery forward observers with another team ‘in the rubber’
- The radio-equipped command centre at Nui Dat where the instructions for artillery fire were calculated
- Gunners who fired the artillery pieces (105 millimetre howitzers)
This screenshot depicts 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, firing on the enemy five kilometres away — just beyond the Australian troops’ positions. According to the wiki, American 155 mm self-propelled howitzers at Nui Dat also provided artillery fire, but that is not depicted in the film (as far as I am aware).
I do not know whether this scene is based on reality or added for dramatic effect. The two women are dragging a wounded communist soldier to safety. However, like its older counterpart movie The Odd Angry Shot, Danger Close does not shy away from showing the horrific injuries an appalling suffering endured by the casualties of battle.
The Australians are pinned down behind a slight rise on the plantation floor. Each is armed with one of the following:
- The ubiquitous American M-16
- The Australia-manufactured FN rifle of Belgian origin
- The World War 2 vintage home grown Australian Owen sub machine gun
Lea is one of several surviving veterans of the battle who part-narrate the Battle of Long Tan Documentary – Vietnam War – Narrated by Sam Worthington on YouTube. It includes recordings of radio transmissions during the battle. See under External links later on this page.
As US Marine Corps F-4 Phantoms attempt to provide air support, this guy puts energy into his shouted instructions above the din to shut down the guns to prevent inadvertently shooting down the aircraft.
Unlike the 1979 Australian movie The Odd Angry Shot, in which jets are heard but not seen, here at least we see the jet action, albeit some of it computer generated. I flipped this image horizontally so at least the star and bars are on the correct side…
This screenshot is from Danger Close, but I was unable to resist borrowing the quotation from The Odd Angry Shot.
“Delta One, this is Albatross One, throw smoke, over.”
“Roger that. Popping smoke now. Over.”
“Albatross One, Delta One, I see red smoke, over.”
“Affirmative! Affirmative! Over.”
Two volunteer RAAF Huey crews disobey orders, flying through rain to resupply the troops ‘in the rubber’ with ammunition and first aid kits.
The cavalry mounts up, but it will take the M113 APCs an hour to get to Long Tan.
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.
— From the lyrics of Us and Them by Pink Floyd, 1973
While the APCs and their crews in the movie were provided by the Australian army, these old B-model Hueys and their crews belonged to McDermott Aviation.
During the end credits, each actor of a main part is shown alongside a photo of the soldier whose name he takes on in the film.
The movie suffers from too much ‘acting’, by which I mean strutting around, giving each other ‘meaningful’ looks. There are too many zoomed in close-ups of their mugs as they provide doubtless ‘meaningful’ facial expressions. This screenshot is from a scene near the beginning where the closest guy is giving a little speech, which we can hear, but I doubt the guys behind him, to whom it is supposedly directed, could hear it.
Drinking alcohol on duty while the base is under mortar attack, this young soldier accidentally pulls the trigger of his M-16, firing into the air — fortunately. While this action is well acted, the disciplinary action following it is acted in a ‘drama’ kind of way, which seems to me unrealistic.
Author’s reminiscence: In 1973 in a firing range Nissan hut at the sixth form college where I studied, the student next to me had a rifle jam. Our instructor, a former RAF officer who was then a geography teacher, reached down and lifted the rifle Bang! He immediately stated that it was his fault for not opening the breach or whatever you do to prevent it firing. (The student should have done that before releasing the weapon.) He traced the two holes in the curved corrugated iron walls of the hut – inner and outer – and realized that he had just missed the gardener, who was motor-mowing the lawn just outside.
We see Brigadier Jackson at headquarters, his hand shaking, light a cigarette and the camera slowly zooms in on his face. Why? Acting for the sake of acting.
Despite its flaws, I found this to be overall a great action film of what is nowadays often referred to as the American war in Vietnam. It is one of only two films I know of that depict that war as it was fought by the Australian and New Zealand military.
Lastly, I always like to scan the end credits and I note that one of the APC personnel (in the making of the film) was Warrant Officer Class 2 Socrates Lekatis, no less. At the other extreme, another was Trooper Jake Deadman…
Saving pilot Durant: My review of the 2001 movie Blackhawk Down, in which actors play the parts of soldiers, many still alive and able to advise on the making of the movie
The odd angry soldier, my review of The Odd Angry Shot, the other Australian Vietnam war film
Battle of Long Tan – Australian Forces – Vietnam War 1966 documentary by Film Australia, 1993, on YouTube. This provides an intelligence and technical slant on the battle, with a several interviewees who fought for the communists.
Battle of Long Tan Documentary – Vietnam War – Narrated by Sam Worthington documentary on YouTube with some re-enactment