The Platoon Commander
The extraordinary story of the man who led
Australia’s most decorated platoon
John O’Halloran with Rick Teague
Sydney, NSW: Hachette, 2021
Paperback 352pp RRP $34.99
Reviewer: RUSI – Vic, June 2021
John O’Halloran was called up for National Service in 1965. He graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant from the first course of the Officer Training Unit Scheyville and was assigned to infantry. He joined the newly raised 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, trained with it in Australia and went to Vietnam with it as its platoon commander of 5 Platoon, B Company. During its twelve months tour of duty he was involved in several significant actions, including the Battle of Long Tan and Operation Bribie. His platoon suffered many casualties and ended its tour as perhaps the most decorated Australian platoon of that war.
All first-hand accounts, including the ghost-written ones, have a value. This book is no exception. It is derived from interviews with O’Halloran by his helper, backed up by somewhat superficial research as evidenced by the brief bibliography. O’Halloran has a superb memory for incidents and names. He recounts from his perspective, with little contribution from his subordinates and less from those who commanded him.
The style of the narrative is direct, casual and confronting. Warts there are aplenty. This is much more a personal narrative than an historical contribution. While non-fiction books should be indexed, I did not miss its absence. There are errors, mostly insignificant but nevertheless annoying. A particular gripe was that Duntroon graduates were preserved from platoon command, a demonstrable misapprehension.
This is a racy book that borders, in places, on the injudicious. The author shows little respect for his superiors and land several blows below their belts. He is cocksure and in a platoon commander’s war, a cut above his commanders and equals.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.