Benjamin Roberts-Smith joined the Australian Army in 1996. In 2003, he successfully completed the selection course for Australia’s elite Special Air Service Regiment.
In June 2010, on his third deployment to Afghanistan, Corporal Roberts-Smith was part of a helicopter assault into Tizak, Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar Province, aimed at capturing or killing a senior Taliban commander.
Immediately upon insertion the troop came under heavy fire. Two soldiers were wounded and the troop was pinned down by fire from multiple machine gun positions situated both on the high ground and the buildings to their front.
Corporal Roberts-Smith and his patrol began an assault on an enemy position that contained three machine guns, which were protected behind a high wall and on an elevated position. At times the gunfire was so close and sustained that some patrol members were unable to return fire.
Within 40 metres of the enemy position the fire was so heavy the patrol was unable to advance further. At this point Corporal Roberts-Smith identified a small structure that provided some cover. As he approached the structure he engaged an insurgent, killing him instantly. Corporal Roberts-Smith then exposed his own position to draw fire away from his patrol. This allowed the patrol to fire against the enemy and the patrol commander to silence one of the machine guns with a grenade.
Seizing the advantage, Corporal Roberts-Smith stormed the enemy position killing the remaining two machine gunners. His actions enabled his patrol to break in to the enemy position thus regaining the initiative for the troop, allowing them to close with the enemy. The troop continued to fight for another six hours, killing further enemy and causing the remainder of the Taliban to retreat from the area.
As Corporal Roberts-Smith puts it, ‘It got to the point where it was like… I’m not going to sit here while one of the boys gets hit. I thought I’d just have a crack.’
The Victoria Cross is the pre-eminent award for acts of bravery in wartime, and Australia’s highest military honour.
At the investiture ceremony in Perth in January 2011, Corporal Roberts-Smith thanked his family for their support, and paid tribute to his colleagues.
‘I am so very proud to have taken part in the action with my mates,’ he said. ‘This award also belongs to them and to the Regiment.’
Corporal Roberts-Smith attended an audience with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in November 2011.
‘Her Majesty speaks to quite a lot of soldiers,’ Corporal Roberts-Smith said, ‘so she was interested in Afghanistan and it was a great opportunity for me to tell her about what everyone else in my patrol did that day, as opposed to just myself.’
Corporal Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous gallantry in action in circumstances of extreme peril as a Patrol Second-in-Command, Special Operations Task Group on Operation SLIPPER.
He had previously been awarded the Medal for Gallantry for actions taken in Afghanistan in May and June 2006.