The Victoria Cross for Australia has been awarded to a sniper from the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) at a ceremony at Campbell Barracks in WA on the weekend.
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG (‘RS’) was awarded the Commonwealths top military honour for bravery for his actions in a 13 hour long firefight in Afghanistan last year.
Along with the Medal for Gallantry he was awarded in 2006, the VC now makes him the most decorated serving soldier in the Australian Army. While the identities of SASR soldiers are usually classified, the Army has allowed RS to step out of the shadowy world of the Special Forces to tell his story of extraordinary heroism.
The VC was awarded for a battle in June 2010, when RS and approximately 25 SASR soldiers assaulted from helicopters into the Shah Wali Kot region of Southern Afghanistan, a known Taliban stronghold. After immediately coming under heavy fire, RS and 2 others slowly worked their way up to 3 Taliban machine gun positions where they were pinned down. RS then stormed the Taliban positions head on over 40 metres of open ground and eliminated all 3 guns and their occupants. He then worked his way back, continuing to eliminate enemy positions in depth. He said of his actions “I looked over and saw my mates getting ripped up, and I wasn’t going to do nothing. So I thought I’d have a crack.’
He was previously awarded Australia’s 3rd highest honour, the Medal for Gallantry, in 2006, for holding off a size-able Taliban assault with just his sniper rifle. During this battle, one of his comrades recalls “RS just tore a Taliban fighter off his back like an insect, stood on his throat, and shot him dead.” It was during this battle that RS and his teammate helped account for some 60 Taliban killed.
Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG now joins a very exclusive club of living recipients of the Victoria Cross, bringing the number to 11. During the almost decade long war in Afghanistan, just 4 Victoria Crosses have been awarded. One British, one New Zealander and two Australian.
by Mike Hansom