HARRY SMITH is again leading his soldiers from the Battle of Long Tan, this time taking their fight for battlefield honours to court.
The lieutenant-colonel, who has been campaigning for 14 years to have his men appropriately honoured, said the recent recognition of a tribunal set up to examine the Long Tan awards controversy in 2008 as a statutory body under the Defence Act had opened the door for a class action on behalf of 11 of his men in the Federal Court.
A key issue is the claim that high command manipulated the awards system to favour officers over the men who actually fought in the battle.
It is understood two highly placed senior counsel have already offered to take the case pro bono.
Colonel Smith, now 78, said his men had been denied their medals and bravery awards by the senior command's perception that Vietnam was not a ''real war'' and an honours system that was manipulated in favour of the higher ranks.
Of the 726 awards given out in the 10 years Australians served in Vietnam only 22 medals had gone to privates, he said.
''Many more went to major-generals, brigadiers, colonels and lieutenant colonels far from the action.''
He believes the Federal Court will reverse previous decisions by a succession of Defence inquiries and appeal hearings to deny the medals and commendations he had recommended.
The colonel, who led 108 Australian soldiers against an estimated 3000 Vietcong regulars on August 18, 1966, is particularly passionate about the case of Second Lieutenant Gordon Sharp.
Lieutenant Sharp, a national service officer shot and killed while directing artillery fire to protect his men, was put forward for a Mentioned in Dispatches.
At the same time Colonel Smith's recommendations were refused, a postal officer at Vung Tau, a rest and recreation area near Saigon, was Mentioned in Dispatches for ''good administrative procedures'', he said.
A sticking point in previous inquiries has been the absence of the recommendations filled out by Colonel Smith - then a major - the day after the battle.
He believes senior officers had torn up his citations and replaced them with others of their own.
Long Tan is now recognised as one of the Australian Army's greatest feats of arms.
Colonel Smith said his men, who fired 10,200 rounds of ammunition in the three-hour battle, killed between 1200 and 1500 Vietnamese soldiers with the aid of intensive artillery and air support.
While Colonel Smith is reluctant to publicly criticise his former commanders, there is little doubt any court action will focus attention on the two Distinguished Service Orders awarded to senior officers who did not take part in the firefight.