Battles and wars are always popular subjects for commemorative coins for many reasons. For starters, they’re often events that change the course of history, a powerful enough reason on its own. They also appeal to nationalistic tendencies, those that take interest in the figures or hardware involved, or collectors that had an attachment through their ancestors perhaps. These two new unrelated coins, seperately issued, look back to that most violent of periods, the 20th century, and Australias contributions within it.
First out is a new coin from Downies commemorating the Battle of Long Tan. Taking place on 18 August 1966 in a rubber plantation in South Vietnam, The action was fought between Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units and elements of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF). After tit-for-tat bombardments, heavy fighting ensued as the advancing battalions of the Viet Cong 275th Regiment attempted to encircle and destroy the Australian force. Heavily outnumbered but supported by strong artillery fire, D Company held off a regimental assault before a relief force fought their way through as darkness fell and forced the Viet Cong to withdraw just as they appeared to be preparing for a final assault. Returning in strength the next day, the Australians swept the area and located a large number of Viet Cong dead. Although initially believing they had suffered a major defeat, as the scale of the Viet Cong’s losses were revealed the Australians realised they had actually won a significant victory.
The second remembers a naval engagement that’s appeared on several coins previously; the battle between the cruiser HMAS Sydney II and the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran. Taking place on 19 November 1941, the Leander-class cruiser Sydney was surprised by the Kormoran, a disguised and modified merchant ship and the resultant firefight ended with the loss of both vessels. While some 318 of the 399 men on the Kormoran survived, the Sydney lost its entire complement of 645 men. There have many theories about the involvement of a Japanese submarine, or dirty tactics by the German ship to explain how a purpose built warship could be destroyed by a modified merchantman. The likely truth is that the Sydney simply negated its superiority by sailing too close to the Kormoran and was disadvantaged by luck or superior gunnery in the first couple of salvoes.
The coins are quite similar in many ways, both silver and issued for Niue, but there are differences. Long Tan is struck in 25g of sterling silver, Sydney in a troy ounce of fine silver. Sizes and mintages aren’t hugely different and both designs are rimless. Long Tan is a more contemporary piece of design, while Sydney is more traditional, probably a better choice for a naval-themed coin and the high-relief strike looks well concieved. We have a feeling that what you prefer will depend on where your interests lie rather than any preferences on design. Downies have an exclusive on Long Tan and sell the Sydney coin, but the latter is also available elsewhere. Sydney is 50% more expensive than Long Tan.