Analysing the Vietnam War, Shot by Shot

A virtual re-creation of the Vietnam War, shot for shot, is helping focus military strategy on the importance of frequent, low-intensity combat.

In the historic study of various conflicts it is always the major battles that earn most attention. But in Vietnam, on top of the 16 major confrontations in which Australians were involved, our forces faced another 3909 smaller contacts.

Visiting Fellow Dr Bob Hall and his team at UNSW Canberra are building a database of all of the combat operations in which Australians were involved in Vietnam. This includes 30 pieces of information on each event such as date, time and place of contact, enemy strength, number of casualties on both sides, number of shots fired and types of weapons.

"One of the things we're doing is trying to penetrate beyond the seeming obsessions of historians with big battles," Hall, who is also a Vietnam veteran, says. "In these smaller confrontations there were an average of five enemy soldiers involved. Multiply that by 3909 contacts and you've got a figure that's far more important than any of the big battles."

"So we're seeing the war statistically. We can plot all of the events on a map and see how the war developed and we can pull out specific types of information such as ambushes etc. It's a very powerful tool. The Department of Defence has shown great interest in it, as have war veterans and the Vietnamese government in relation to identifying their soldiers missing in action Current serving personnel are interested too, for its strategic application to counter insurgency."

The team of researchers, combining the expertise of historians, statisticians, georgraphers and IT specialists, is about to begin work on a similar database of Australian involvement in North Borneo.