Out in the Cold: Australia's Involvement in the Korean War 1950-53
This commemorative publication explores Australian's involvement in the Korean War.
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The Korean War
Alliances and Australia's security
I remember the dust, the heat, the enervating humidity, the bitter cold of winter when the men slept with their boots on and weapons cradled lest they should be found frozen in an emergency; the soldiers on listening post, lying silently on the frozen ground trying desperately to remain alert, knowing they were responsible for the safety of their comrades. I remember long nights in my command post ... listening to the sounds of battle in the valley, anxiously awaiting reports from units involved in life and death situations and for news of success or failure and of the inevitable cost.
Best of all, I remember the lovely spring dawn when the harsh landscape was suddenly transformed; walking through wildflowers ... to visit our men, tired but cheerful Aussies returning from patrol, taciturn Geordies from Durham, cheeky Cockneys from London Town.
Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Daly KBE CB DSO. As a brigadier, Daly commanded the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade in Korea in 1952—53, which included battalions of The Royal Australian Regiment.
Cold! I thought I knew it but Korea taught me otherwise. Cold so intense that even the ground was frozen solid and rivers iced up whilst a bone-chilling variable wind swept over the barren landscape. A weak sun rarely appeared in the leaden sky, vegetation withered and all animal life, with the exception of rats that infested our hoochies in plague proportions, vanished.
The Korean War (1950—1953) was a major factor in defining Australia's place in the post-Second World War world. Although Australia would not have fought in Korea alone, the war confirmed Australia as a small but active member of the United Nations Organization (UN), and it had the long-term result of binding Australia more closely to its new ally and protector, the United States of America (US). Australia became tied to the fortunes of the US in Asia for the two decades following the Korean War. In entering the Korean War, the Australian government had five primary aims, all of which were intended to achieve security for Australia in the post-war Asian region:
- It supported the concept of collective security by aiding the resistance to local aggression in Korea to prevent a wider war between East and West.
- A closer alliance was desired with the US as a means to achieve direct security.
- Australia wished its more powerful allies from the Second World War to retain control over any future rearmament (an aim that faded into the background once the war in Korea escalated).
- The Australian government hoped, by involvement in Korea, to be allowed a voice in the affairs of its allies in the Middle East.
- Australia believed that it would have to assist in combating the expansion of communism in Asia for the sake of regional security.
The central theme of Australia's interest in Korea was to maintain its alliances, in the hope that Australia could make do with relatively modest forces and still have regional security. It was with these aims that Australia became involved in the first significant test of Western resolve in the Cold War.
The international backdrop
One of the first major problems to confront the young UN was Korea. Annexed by Japan in 1910, Korea at the end of the Second World War was divided at the 38th parallel. Soviet forces occupied the north and US forces the south, their brief to oversee the disarmament of the Japanese. The UN sought to create a solution whereby a united Korea could be formed, notwithstanding the peninsula's long history of cultural, as well as political, divisions.
The UN was unduly optimistic in its hopes for Korea. Apart from any irreconcilable internal divisions in Korea, the international community regarded the peninsula as a very low priority.
The US government was not committed to maintaining a presence in Korea, and withdrew its army in 1949, leaving only a few hundred men of the Korean Military Advisory Group. In January 1950, the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, stated that Korea fell outside the US defensive perimeter on the Pacific Rim—a statement that may well have soothed Soviet fears of the consequences of North Korean plans to invade the South. The North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, had put to Stalin plans for the unification of Korea by force as early as September 1949. These had been rejected but, by April 1950, Stalin had changed his mind.
The feelings of US troops stationed in Japan reflected the lack of interest in Korea shown by the US government, although the troops apparently expressed this a little differently. Lieutenant General John R Hodge, commander US Army XXIV Corps and US forces in Korea, summed up the US Army's attitude:
There are only three things the troops in Japan are afraid of.
They're gonorrhoea, diarrhoea and Korea.
The British government held a similar attitude on Korea. A representative of its Far Eastern Department in London, LH Foulds, wrote:
Korea is not worth the bones of a single British grenadier.
In the face of this international lack of interest, the UN, through the offices of the United Nations Commission on Korea (UNCOK), persisted in its efforts to find a solution in Korea. Australia strongly supported these initiatives. Australia's Minister for External Affairs, Dr Herbert Evatt, had urged the US to maintain its forces in South Korea for the sake of regional stability.
Australia played a small but vital role in the UN's response to the crisis in Korea. From 9 June 1950, while awaiting the arrival of other observers from Canada, El Salvador and the Philippines, two Australian officers, Major Francis Peach and Squadron Leader Ronald Rankin, travelled the temporary dividing line between the original Soviet and US areas of control on the 38th parallel as military observers for UNCOK. Their report, pointing to a number of significant weaknesses in South Korean dispositions and intensification of the activities of North Korean forces, was written the day before North Korean forces launched the invasion south across the 38th parallel. On the basis of this report, UNCOK reported to the UN Secretary-General that there was no doubt at all the North Korean action was something much larger than simply another border incursion. The Peach—Rankin report was crucial in influencing the UN Security Council, in the absence of the USSR, to endorse US calls for international military assistance for South Korea.
The Truman administration, and especially the US Chiefs of Staff, viewed the communist bloc as a unified organisation with internally consistent aims and an overall, integrated approach to international relations. The US reaction to the invasion of South Korea was to see it as a feint for imminent Soviet operations in Europe. The US build-up in Korea went hand in hand with a massive build-up of North American Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. By 1952, US Army forces in Europe numbered 260,000 men, about 20,000 more than in Korea and a massive increase over the 81,000 US troops present in Europe in 1950. This apprehension remained until the end of the Korean War. The commanding officer of the battleship USS Iowa, Captain WR Smedberg, commented on the bombardment of Chongjin, near the Soviet border, in May 1952:
I couldn't understand how the Reds could sit and watch us wreck that city, with their own planes just across the border. We could see the Russian planes take off on our radars but they never came closer than twenty miles from us.
Larger communist involvement remained a concern for UN forces throughout the Korean War, a concern made more immediate by the intervention of communist Chinese forces from October 1950. While the Australian Army grappled with Chinese infantry, RAAF pilots encountered Soviet MiG-15 fighters and the RAN spent many hours protecting larger naval elements in case Soviet submarines should appear. The possibility that the fighting might expand beyond the Korean peninsula was never far from the minds of the combatants.
The US government was also fearful that communist domination in Asia would ensue if North Korea's action were successful. President Truman ordered an acceleration of military assistance to the French in Indochina and on 17 September 1950 the Military Assistance Advisory Group Indochina was formed, predecessor of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam. Truman's response to the war in Korea set in train US involvement in Asia for the following twenty-five years.
Australian military involvement in Korea
Australians at war
The Australian government was quick to respond to the invasion of South Korea by the North, which began on 25 June 1950. Stationed in Japan, 77 Squadron RAAF was promised immediately, as were HMAS Shoalhaven and her relief in Japanese waters, HMAS Bataan. By the first days of July, Australian airmen and sailors were operating in Korean waters. The deepening crisis for UN Command forces on the Korean peninsula, which indicated that North Korea might emerge victorious, led the Australian government to promise an infantry battalion, to be incorporated into a British-led Commonwealth brigade. The 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), was in Japan on occupation duties and was rapidly brought onto a war footing as conditions in Korea steadily worsened. By October 1950, the men of 3 RAR were an important part of the effort to drive the communist forces north out of South Korea. Eventually, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, RAR, served in Korea as well, and 2 RAR repulsed the last Chinese attack on Australian positions on the Hook on 25 July 1953, two days before the final armistice came into effect. An Australian battalion remained in Korea after the armistice until 1956.
The Royal Australian Air Force in combat over Korea
On 25 June 1950 the Republic of Korea Air Force had a mere sixteen aircraft, only three of which were armed. North Korea, on the other hand, had 132 aircraft, all Soviet combat aircraft, from the 1940s. These piston-engined fighters and ground attack aircraft made a good showing in the first weeks. Although a United States Air Force (USAF) B-29 bomber was shot down near Seoul on 12 July 1950, and the destroyer HMS Comus was badly damaged by a North Korean air attack on 23 August, UN air superiority was a foregone conclusion once the resources of the USAF were brought to bear. Despite these attacks, and some surprise air attacks during the Inchon landings, the North Korean Air Force was not in a position to influence the course of events after the USAF was committed.
The most important role for UN airpower was to prevent North Korean ground movements. This became crucial to the overall course of the war, as well as tipping the balance on many occasions at a tactical level. It was this requirement that made the presence of 77 Squadron RAAF so desirable.
By 1950 the USAF was almost entirely equipped with jet fighters, which lacked the range, consumed too much fuel and were too fast to make useful tactical strike aircraft, although they continued to fulfill this role for the duration of the war. At the outbreak of the war, only four runways in Japan were long enough to allow fully laden jets to take off, and there was none of satisfactory length in Korea. The US Navy faced similar problems, although it did have the advantage of having retained some piston-engined Corsairs for strike work. To solve this strike asset shortfall, the USAF began re-equipping some jet units with the P-51 Mustang, a type with an impressive service record during the Second World War, and large numbers of which were still available. But the only immediately available unit in the region already equipped with the Mustang was 77 Squadron RAAF. General Douglas MacArthur made very public his enthusiasm for 77 Squadron to become involved in Korea:
I'd like to get those Australian fighters, too ... the squadron pilots are first class and we particularly need over Korea long-range fighters like the Mustangs ... I am going to take out those North Korean airfields. I am not going to have their planes killing my airmen without hitting them where they should be hit.
For four and a half years 77 Squadron had been in Japan as part of the Allied occupation forces and was just getting underway with farewell celebrations when the news came through of the North Korean invasion. Packing of their aircraft for shipping to Australia was cancelled, and on 30 June 1950 the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, ordered 77 Squadron to Korea. It was the first Commonwealth air force unit to arrive and its men were the first Australians into action. The squadron flew its first combat missions on 2 July 1950.
After a short period of adjustment for the pilots of 77 Squadron and improvements in the US method of controlling fighters over a target area, the Australian pilots became very proficient at ground attack missions. Sergeant Raymond Trebilco described the early missions over Korea:
We would then land at K2 airfield, Taegu ... rearm and refuel, take off for a further mission, sometimes even contacting an airborne controller during the climb and rolling straight in on a target very close to the airfield, land back at Taegu for rearming and refuelling again (perhaps even twice more), complete a further mission and, finally, return to Iwakuni [Japan]. All this was done on dead reckoning, a combination of time and distance, airspeed and course and a cockpit full of military topographical maps of differing scales: 1:1,000,000, 1:1,500,000 and 1:50,000. We had no navigational aids other than mental calculations and map-reading abilities ... When being passed from controller to controller, as might be required by the developing ground situation, flight to a new grid reference meant a new struggle with target maps and a renewed battle with terrain and weather.
Despite these difficulties, the pilots of 77 Squadron were an essential element in the defence of the Pusan Perimeter. In the crucial month of August 1950, 77 Squadron destroyed 182 trucks, thirty other vehicles, four locomotives, fourteen closed wagons, thirteen ammunition and fuel dumps and thirty-five tanks. Another thirty-one tanks were credited destroyed or damaged, some of which were probably self-propelled guns. The squadron quickly established its reputation for prompt and accurate strikes.
In its first months, 77 Squadron was led by Wing Commander Louis Spence, an officer with a distinguished record of service during the Second World War. Spence flew the same gruelling number of missions a day that he expected his men to perform, and was bearing an increasing administrative load as well. The quality of his leadership was recognised on 22 August 1950 with the award of the US Legion of Merit, personally presented by General George Stratemeyer, the commander of the Far Eastern Air Forces. Spence was selected for staff training in Britain to commence in 1951 but, on 9 September 1950, while leading a low-level diving attack on the town of Angang-ni near Pusan, Spence's aircraft struck the ground and exploded. The cause was unknown and, although Angang-ni was recaptured, the destruction of Spence's aircraft by its impact made it impossible to determine what had gone wrong.
The squadron's momentum was seriously checked by the loss of Spence. A new commanding officer was selected, Squadron Leader Richard Cresswell, and 77 Squadron commenced a new phase of operations ranging far and wide over North Korea in the wake of the Inchon landings.
Eventually, the following RAAF units served as part of the Korean War commitment:
(flying Mustangs and, later, Meteors)
|February 1950 — November 1954|
|30 Communications Unit
(later known as 30 Transport Unit and then 36 Transport Squadron, flying C-47 Dakotas)
|June 1950 — March 1955|
|491 Maintenance Squadron||June 1950 — November 1954|
|91 Composite Wing||October 1950 — December 1954|
|391 Base Squadron||February 1951 — December 1954|
The balance of airpower over Korea changed with the introduction of Chinese MiG-15 jet fighters on 1 November 1950. These Soviet-built aircraft were faster than any US type then operating in Korea, especially at higher altitudes, and they were well armed. First Soviet and then Chinese pilots flew the MiGs in combat, providing the North Koreans with much needed air combat expertise.
The MiG-15 was a headache for the UN forces. The USAF introduced the F-84 Thunderjet, but it proved inferior to the MiG, and the US was forced to hasten the deployment of the F-86 Sabre. Even then, the MiG still had the edge in speed, and certainly in firepower. The Australian government sought a replacement for 77 Squadron's Mustangs. The Sabre was the obvious choice, but all of these were earmarked for the USAF. The Australian government therefore accepted a British offer of Gloster Meteor F8 fighters, despite their known inferiority to the MiG. Eventually, ninety Meteors were shipped to Japan and flown in Korea. In some ways it was fortunate that, despite its limitations, Australia accepted the Meteor. The South African Air Force (SAAF), a squadron of which was serving in Korea, also chose the Sabre but decided to wait to replace its Mustangs until the jets became available. As a result, the SAAF retained Mustangs until the end of 1952 and missed valuable jet operational experience.
On 6 April 1951, 77 Squadron gave up its Mustangs. Its pilots had flown 1105 missions with the loss of sixteen aircraft and thirteen pilots killed or missing in action. They had established an enviable reputation for reliable and accurate strikes on enemy positions and cemented a close relationship with the USAF. The squadron returned to Japan to convert to the new Meteors.
With its Meteors, 77 Squadron returned to Korea in late July 1951. Despite doubts about the fighter's capability against the advanced MiG-15 jets, the USAF welcomed the return of 77 Squadron as a means to lighten the burden on its Sabre pilots, who were the mainstay of the ongoing battle against the MiGs. The first confirmed MiG kill by a Meteor occurred during the same combat that marked the swansong of the Meteor as an interceptor. Before this engagement, Meteors had suffered badly at the hands of the MiGs on several occasions.
On 1 December 1951, fourteen Meteors of 77 Squadron encountered between forty and fifty MiG-15 fighters over Sunchon. The swirling fight that ensued gives a feel for the nature of air combat over Korea. The Meteors were divided into three flights, Able, Baker and Charlie, each of four aircraft. The other two Meteors were holding above Pyongyang to act as airborne radio relays. The Meteors began the combat at an altitude of 19,000 feet (5800 metres), while the MiGs were several thousand feet above. The air combat ranged across North Korea at altitudes between 10,000 and 30,000 feet (3000 and 9000 metres).
The MiGs descended in pairs to engage the Meteors. Two fired on Sergeants Ernest Armit and Vance Drummond from behind, while another pair attacked Baker flight.
Able flight broke, with Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Thornton and Flying Officer Bruce Gogerly remaining together. Thornton fired on two MiGs with no apparent result and Gogerly observed a Meteor from Charlie flight in a hard right turn, streaming fuel. Thornton and Gogerly, still in a turn, came up on the two MiGs that had attacked Charlie flight and, following them, fired without result. The MiGs attempted to evade the Meteors by turning sharply, but Gogerly turned inside the MiGs and fired for five seconds. He saw one MiG take several strikes, and it pulled up to the left, fuel pouring from it. Gogerly and Sergeant Edward Myers, also from Able flight, suddenly found themselves alone. Gogerly saw an aircraft falling in flames to a hilltop, then sighted a MiG flying below. He dived and fired upon this MiG, which rolled out and then accelerated away. Another aircraft in flames was seen to strike the ground.
At the start of the attack, Flight Lieutenant Maxwell Scannell, an officer on exchange from the RAF, broke early and was attacked by two MiGs. Scannell broke south and climbed into the sun to 27,000 feet (8200 metres), then observed an aircraft going down in flames and two Meteors being chased by two MiGs. Scannell attacked but was in turn attacked and followed down to 10,000 feet (3000 metres). He saw a MiG pull up, leaking fuel. At this point, Thornton called a squadron radio check, which all aircraft eventually answered, except Baker 2.
Scannell climbed out and withdrew. Flying Officer Wallace Rivers, from Baker flight, saw an aircraft, which looked like a Meteor, in an erratic dive, streaming black smoke a few minutes before the radio check. This aircraft exploded then fell to the ground. Sergeant Bruce Gillan saw an aircraft from Charlie flight leaking fuel and observed two aircraft diving in flames before the radio check. Scannell came out of the fight alone and saw two aircraft burning on the ground before the radio check occurred.
Armit reported the MiG attack and his flight leader, Flight Lieutenant L Caden, called a starboard break. Armit and Drummond broke late and were not seen again. Flight Sergeant William Middlemiss was hit and Caden fired on two MiGs at long range without result. Caden then went to the assistance of two Meteors under fire from two MiGs in a turning fight, but was also attacked. He ended up alone with seven MiGs, about eight kilometres north of the Meteor flight, and evaded this attack by entering a high-speed dive. Middlemiss observed a burning aircraft falling in two pieces to crash on a hill north of Pyongyang.
In the radio check, Drummond reported a fuel leak and an electrical failure. Sergeant Bruce Thomson, from Baker flight, did not check in at the radio call, and was tracked on radar by mission control to about 120 kilometres from Kimpo before disappearing. Nothing was heard from Armit.
Drummond ejected and landed safely. Despite three escape attempts, he remained in North Korean captivity until the end of the war. Thomson suffered the same fate. Armit was presumed killed in action.
Gogerly was credited with the destruction of one MiG and another probably destroyed. This was the first jet against jet success for the 77 Squadron Meteors, but the loss of three pilots was devastating, especially in light of previous losses. The following day, the 77 Squadron pilots accepted the bitter consequences: they would not fly fighter sweeps over North Korea again. Meteor pilots, however, went on to shoot down at least three more MiGs while flying other types of missions.
Pilot Officer Bill Simmonds, who shot down a MiG-15 on 8 May 1952, described air combat:
My immediate reaction when this Chinese or Korean started firing at me was, hell, I've got to get away from this or I'll either be dead, or a POW. And then, when he presented himself as a target, my immediate reaction was, hey, here's a target, I'll have a crack at shooting him down. You don't have time to think about anything else.
Although 77 Squadron pilots brought skill and courage to the air battles over Korea, some pilots felt that they were let down by their aircraft. Sergeant Raymond Trebilco recalled:
Possessing an inferior high altitude fighter, with its limiting mach of .84 [less than the speed of sound] and restricted rear visibility, and lacking specific air-to-air tactics ... we added numbers and enthusiasm to the air battle over North Korea but could hardly say we played a major role in deterring MiGs.
The Meteor also presented its own unique problems in the ground attack role, especially when using the rockets that had been so effective when 77 Squadron was still flying Mustangs. The rising loss rate of Meteors during early 1952 was attributed to the enormous volume of ground fire that was directed at the aircraft making these diving attacks, until Wing Commander Ronald Susans, pulling out from an attack, saw his own rockets curling away above his cockpit canopy. In a dive, the Meteor was faster than its own rockets. This confirmed Susans' suspicions, and 77 Squadron pilots were warned of yet another hazard of flying over Korea.
During the Korean War 77 Squadron established itself as a versatile and effective fighting unit. Primarily devoted to ground attack missions, its pilots suffered because of the superiority of the MiGs in 1951, but the RAAF became one of the few air forces to gain air combat experience early in the jet age.
Nonetheless, the Australian pilots, in Mustang or Meteor, were carrying out risky tasks. 77 Squadron lost forty-one pilots killed in action, of whom twenty-nine were killed while flying Meteors. Out of the ninety Meteors delivered, fifty-four were lost. The reputation for excellence achieved by 77 Squadron came at a cost.
Ships of the Royal Australian Navy in Korea
Looking back on three years of war in Korea, Chinese Premier Mao Tse-tung wrote:
The important reason that we cannot win decisive victory in Korea is our lack of naval strength. Without naval support, we have to confine our operations to frontal attacks along a line limited by sea. Such actions always entail great losses and we are seldom capable of destroying the enemy. In March 1951 I suggested to Comrade Stalin to make use of Soviet submarines in Asia under some arrangement that the Soviet Union would not be apparently involved in the war. Comrade Stalin preferred to be cautious lest it might give the capitalist imperialism the pretext of expanding the war to the Continent. I agreed with his point of view.
Until we are better equipped for victory, it is to our advantage to accept agreeable terms for an armistice.
A crucial aspect of the Korean War was that it was fought over a peninsula surrounded by the sea on three sides. Control of the sea allowed the forces of the UN to bombard targets with naval gunfire, land shore parties and blockade North Korean sea traffic almost at will. Naval aircraft were vital in preventing North Korean forces from completely overrunning the peninsula.
Australian destroyers and frigates were employed mainly on the west coast in the sea areas between the Taedong River estuary and Inchon in patrolling, engaging shore batteries, gunfire support and harassment, carrier screening, support for island operations and evacuation cover. There were occasional transfers to the east coast for operations that involved bombarding targets. The threats of mining, air attack and counter-bombardment were ever present.
Australia's naval commitment was rapid. Like 77 Squadron RAAF, on 25 June 1950 Shoalhaven, a River-class frigate, was preparing to head for home, having just spent five months in Japanese waters. She was within a few days of being relieved by Bataan, a Tribal-class destroyer. Both were immediately made available to UN Command forces.
One of the first problems facing the Australian ships was integration with US Navy methods of command. To compound matters, RAN ships had different logistical requirements, especially gun ammunition. Australian ships faced many hazards. Freezing weather conditions tested men and equipment beyond the normal hazards of high seas, storms, typhoons, extreme tidal conditions and uncharted and shifting mud flats.
Shoalhaven arrived in Korean waters on 1 July 1950 and, in the absence of a structured command system, was at first allocated tasks on an ad hoc basis. Shoalhaven spent much of her time escorting American and Japanese transports to Pusan, although she took part in a three-day patrol to blockade the west coast in early July.
Upon her arrival, Bataan joined the blockade of the west coast and became the first RAN vessel to be involved in action. Late on 1 August 1950 while attempting to intercept some junks near Haeju Gulf, northwest of Inchon, Bataan came under fire from a radar-controlled shore battery. The sudden demand for full speed from slow astern resulted in a loss of steam pressure and for an anxious moment Bataan lay dead in the water. Fast work by the engineering officer retrieved the situation and Bataan drew away, firing full broadsides and taking evasive action. Bataan was straddled four times by the North Korean fire and then by a further three shells as she turned away, having fired at the shore battery for 16 minutes. Bataan's crew was apparently greatly enlivened by the action after a month of drills and uneventful patrolling. Eventually, eleven RAN vessels and three Fleet Air Arm squadrons served in Korean waters during the course of the war and its aftermath—a substantial commitment from a relatively small navy. The units were:
|HMAS Sydney||August 1951 — February 1952||October 1953 — June 1954|
|HMAS Anzac||August—October 1951||September 1952 — June 1953|
|HMAS Arunta||January—October 1954|
|HMAS Bataan||June 1950 — June 1951||January—September 1952|
|HMAS Tobruk||August 1951 — February 1952||June 1953 — February 1954|
|Warramunga||August 1950 — August 1951||January—August 1952|
|HMAS Condamine||July 1952 — November 1953||February—November 1955|
|HMAS Culgoa||March—November 1953|
|HMAS Murchison||May 1951 — February 1952||November 1953 — July 1954|
|HMAS Shoalhaven||June—September 1950||July 1954 — March 1955|
|805 Squadron (Hawker Sea Fury FB.11)||August 1951 — February 1952||October 1953 — June 1954|
|808 Squadron (Hawker Sea Fury FB.11)||August 1951 — February 1952||October 1953 — June 1954|
|817 Squadron (Fairey Firefly FR.4 & AS.5)||August 1951 — February 1952||October 1953 — June 1954|
The largest scale naval operation of the Korean War was the amphibious landing at Inchon, near Seoul, beginning on 15 September 1950. The landing was very risky because of the great range in tides at Inchon, but it went ahead as planned and was instrumental in forcing the North Koreans into a precipitous retreat. The landing also demonstrated the naval superiority of the UN Command and its capacity to stage assaults at any point on the Korean coast. That this capacity was not used to its fullest once China entered the war was for fear of broadening the conflict. Nonetheless, the threat posed to communist forces in Korea by the possibility of further UN landings tied down substantial forces in coastal defence.
For two RAN ships then in Korean waters, Bataan and HMAS Warramunga, the Inchon landing was a time of tension but little action, as both were part of the screen for the carrier HMS Triumph, whose aircraft were supporting the landings. Commander William Marks, Bataan's commanding officer, reported:
From time to time large convoys and Carrier Task Groups were sighted in the distance and occasionally 'Sitreps' [situation reports] were received but, in the main, we knew little of what was happening and we all listened to the news broadcasts as eagerly as any housewife down south. It was a period of intensive station keeping at high speed which became very tedious after the first few days and nights and we were all thankful when we returned to Sasebo [Japan] on the afternoon of Thursday 21 September.
Warramunga and Bataan were part of a six-destroyer force tasked in early December 1950 to cover the evacuation of some 8000 US and South Korean soldiers from Chinnampo and the destruction of shore installations to deny their use to advancing Chinese troops.
Led by the Canadian vessel HMCS Cayuga, HMA Ships Bataan and Warramunga and the other destroyers battled heavy seas, snow storms and ice floes to reach the shallow and confined waters of the Taedong River estuary. Contrary to reports suggesting an imminent Chinese onslaught, the ship's crews found Chinnampo brightly lit and under no immediate threat. Nevertheless the troop lift went ahead as planned. Bataan's navigator, Lieutenant Patrick Burnett, was mentioned in despatches for his work in bringing the ship through the dangerous, narrow and mined channel to Chinnampo.
The start of armistice negotiations in July 1951 increased the workload for the naval blockading forces, most importantly through Operation Han, a bombardment campaign in the Han River estuary intended to apply pressure on communist forces in the Kaesong area.
Most well-known of all UN Command vessels operating in the Han River was HMAS Murchison, a River-class frigate. Operating in the Han River was extremely risky. It involved gingerly finding a way between innumerable mudbanks and shoals. The North Korean shore batteries would pound any vessel that grounded and stuck fast. Charts were lacking, and the initial stage of Operation Han was to survey the routes in and out of the estuary, often using ships' boats. The routes were given such names as 'Pall Mall' and 'Knife and Fork'. Surprisingly, North Korean gunners did not fire upon UN Command ships during this period of surveying the Han.
On 30 September 1951 Murchison came under heavy fire as she manoeuvred in the tight confines of the Han River. Sea room was so tight that Murchison had to use her anchor to turn the ship. Armour piercing shells went through her hull in several places, a 75mm shell exploded in the engine room and her decks were swept with shrapnel.
The Murchison's executive officer, Lieutenant William Roberts, recalled:
As the ship turned on the anchor at Pall Mall the stern swung through the bearing of the enemy and the director became wounded. 'A' mounting, no longer able to bear fell silent, but a measure of the efficiency of our gunnery is that 'X' mounting in the stern slipped into local control without missing a beat with 'A' gun chiming in again in perfect synchrony as the ship swung further and the director bore again.
I retain a vivid mental picture of this moment taken from my vantage post on the bridge looking aft. There is 'X' mounting, the only guns in the ship in action for the moment, trained right aft, its crew working frantically around it, the flashes, the brown cordite smoke, the recoiling breeches and most of all the Officer of Quarters, the Chief Boatswain's Mate [Petty Officer Reginald Farrington] standing straddle legged on a ready use locker totally exposed and making no concession to the enemy fire which was churning the water beyond him into a lather whilst he urged the crew to greater efforts for all the world like the coach of a tug of war team, using arms, body and voice to maximum effect although the latter, of course was inaudible through the prevailing noise.
Murchison suffered one man seriously wounded, another two injured and a Bofors mount put out of action.
Such exchanges with shore batteries occurred fairly frequently for Murchison, and included a direct fire gun duel with a North Korean T-34 tank on at least one occasion. By the end of 1951, however, the risks associated with operating in the Han were considered by the UN Command to have become too great. On 31 January 1952 Murchison spent her sixtieth and final day in the Han, firing her last bombardment. Admiral Scott-Moncrieff, commander West Coast Blockade Forces, signalled Murchison:
For your long tenancy of the Han, for mastery of all insidious and doubtful delights, and for insecurity of tenure I think you should be created Baron Murchison of the Han, Lord Fork and Viscount Spoon.
Shore batteries remained a constant hazard for RAN ships operating close to the Korean coast. On 16 November 1952 HMAS Anzac engaged in a lengthy gun duel against four 76 mm guns sited in caves near Cho Do, 80 kilometres south-west of Pyongyang. It was not policy to engage in gun duels, but Anzac was anchored when first fired on and, even once underway, the ship was restricted in manoeuvre by nearby shoals. Controlled by Lieutenant Andrew Robertson, Anzac's guns quickly found the range and pounded the enemy battery, but not before fifty shells had been fired. Anzac fired 174 shells in return, silencing the battery after forty-three minutes in possibly the longest running engagement of the war. Anzac was lucky not to have been hit. The enemy fire was very accurate, even sinking an anchor buoy, Anzac having slipped its port cable at the start of the engagement. Despite extensive searches, the anchor was never recovered. Robertson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his coolness under fire, while Anzac's commanding officer, Captain GGO Gatacre, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1953.
Another hazard faced by UN Command warships was mines. Most likely supplied in large numbers by the Soviet Union once UN warships were deployed to Korean waters, mines were laid with great facility by fishing vessels, junks and sampans. Furthermore, although the mine commonly used by the North Koreans was a moored variety, its light sinker meant it had a tendency to drift and mines could appear unexpectedly in areas already swept. On occasion, Australian warships were tasked with protecting minesweeping vessels as they went about their work. No Australian warship struck a mine, despite frequently operating inshore, although the US Navy suffered losses to this cause.
As well as covering mine clearing operations and hunting trains and shore batteries, Australian warships undertook relief operations. In late September 1950 Warramunga delivered two tonnes of rice to west coast islanders unable to get supplies from the mainland or send out fishing boats because of the UN blockade. The islanders showed their gratitude by presenting flowers to Warramunga's crew. In 1952, the crew of HMAS Condamine was deeply touched by the plight of a hundred orphans discovered living among islanders on the west coast. The crew provided the orphans with warm clothes, fruit, chocolate and meat. On a return trip, the orphans were provided with toys purchased with money raised by Condamine's crew.
Australian warships were also involved in a variety of South Korean and US operations to land raiding and intelligence gathering parties at various points on the Korean coast. When these did not go smoothly, the warships were needed to provide gunfire support and coordinate airstrikes. On 28 September 1952 a major daylight landing was made by US-led South Korean troops on the Changdong peninsula in an operation controlled by Lieutenant Commander Robert Savage, commanding officer of Condamine. The landing met heavy resistance and the carrier-based air support arrived late. Condamine's guns were used to provide covering fire until the aircraft arrived and the South Koreans were able to retreat across the mudflats to safety on South Korean-held Yongmae Do Island. Two badly wounded Americans were evacuated to Condamine with some difficulty and eventually flown to Seoul by seaplane in the company of the ship's medical officer. In the following week, Condamine's guns frustrated two attempts by North Koreans to take Yongmae Do.
Yongmae Do was the scene of a final Chinese attempt to take control of the islands in the area on 20 June 1953. Chinese troops massed on shore and 300 made it across to the island. HMAS Culgoa was patrolling nearby and fired its last gunfire support missions of the war. The ship's cutter was also used to rescue a small South Korean holding force from the island. Culgoa's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Domara Clarke, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his leadership during this operation.
HMAS Tobruk fired the Royal Australian Navy's last shots of the war. In June 1953, she relieved the USS Endicott on the east coast, and on 16 July 1953 Tobruk sunk a large sampan suspected of mine laying.
On 5 October 1951 HMAS Sydney commenced operations on the first of its seven patrols in Korean waters, making Australia only the third nation (after the USA and Britain) to embark on naval combat air operations after the Second World War.
Aircraft from Sydney mainly flew ground attack missions, although up to a third of the Sea Fury fighters airborne at any time were patrolling to protect Sydney from enemy air attack. Much of the time a Firefly was also aloft searching for submarines. Both were tasks noted for their tedium. Sydney's pilots also became very proficient at spotting for naval gunfire. The effectiveness of Sydney's air operations is difficult to measure. One assessment credits aircraft from Sydney with destroying sixty-six bridges, seven tunnels, thirty-eight sections of railway line, seven rail sidings, five water towers, two locomotives, 159 railway trucks, 2060 houses, 495 junks and sampans and fifteen guns and with about 3000 enemy casualties. Furthermore, where ground checking of results from strikes by RAN aircraft was possible, Sydney's pilots were found to have consistently underestimated the damage they inflicted upon the enemy. Attacking such targets, however, was not without risk. The Chinese were very skilled at camouflaging their positions, which could be found only by flying very low-level, high-speed reconnaissance missions, which exposed Sydney's aircraft to heavy fire. Aircraft from Sydney were hit by ground fire on ninety-nine occasions, and nine aircraft were lost to this fire.
By the time Sydney formally completed her last patrol on 25 January 1952, her aircraft had flown 2366 sorties, an outstanding record of service. Australia's naval prestige was greatly enhanced as a result of Sydney's success. The cost was eleven aircraft lost and three aircrew killed during her time in Korean waters.
The Australian Army and the Korean War
Three battalions of the newly formed The Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) served in Korea, seeing action up and down the length of the Korean peninsula in battles such as Kapyong, Maryang San and the Hook. The Regiment's 3rd Battalion (3 RAR) bore the brunt of the fighting. 3 RAR was part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan at the outbreak of the Korean War. As with Navy and Air Force units, 3 RAR was preparing to return to Australia, its BCOF duties at an end. The Australian government was motivated to seek 3 RAR's return because of the expense of maintaining it in Japan (Australia provided and shipped all the food for its BCOF commitment) and a shortage of troops in Australia.
Occupied primarily by guard duty in Tokyo and limited platoon level training in the warmer months, 3 RAR was heavily understrength and by no means ready to fight a major war. Only twelve days before the invasion of South Korea, 3 RAR consisted of a headquarters, a headquarters company and three understrength rifle companies. A support company, fourth rifle company and signallers were lacking, as was anything in the way of major equipment, such as Bren gun carriers, jeeps and anti-tank weapons. The battalion had not exercised as a unit for some years.
The news of the outbreak of war in Korea brought little change to the daily routine of 3 RAR. The only war duties immediately taken up were guarding the RAAF base at Iwakuni and an oil depot near Kure. Even in the middle of July 1950, 3 RAR continued to operate as if it were soon to be withdrawn from Japan to Australia. It was not until 23 July that there was any suggestion that this situation was about to change, and on 26 July the announcement was made that Australia would commit a ground force of unspecified size to Korea. Influential in this decision was the announcement of Britain's commitment to providing ground forces and a direct request from General Douglas MacArthur to move 3 RAR to Korea.
Preparation began immediately. In addition to procuring the much-needed matériel, 3 RAR was to be reinforced and its strength doubled. The influx of men came from 'K Force', which comprised volunteers newly recruited for service in Korea, and from the Interim Army, which had succeeded the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
'K Force' men were used to make up A and D Companies, while B and C Companies were made up from BCOF and Interim Army troops.
A series of small exercises was held in early August 1950 to sort out the command and administration procedures for the battalion under expected conditions, and further exercises were used to train the battalion in the construction of field defences, casualty evacuation and current tactical doctrine. A major exercise involving all elements of the battalion was planned to start on 23 August, but a major crisis erupted in Korea and the exercise was cancelled. Nonetheless, the basic requirements were in place and 3 RAR was to prove itself an effective fighting force under some of the most trying conditions that the battlefields of Korea offered.
The tours of the three Royal Australian Regiment battalions were:
- 3 RAR September 1950 — November 1954
- 1 RAR March 1952 — September 1953
- 2 RAR March 1953 — September 1954
Although 3 RAR remained for the duration, men from the battalion were rotated out and replaced on an individual basis. Post armistice 1 RAR returned to Korea from September 1954 — April 1956.
During July 1950, South Korean and US Army forces had been driven south by the North Korean assault. Although often enthusiastic in the defence of their territory, the South Korean troops were only equipped with light weapons and were unable to cope with the onslaught. As July progressed, South Korean units gave way before North Korean attacks. The US Army was suffering similar problems. Under-trained, poorly equipped but dangerously overconfident, US Army officers underestimated the capacity of their enemy. In the last week of July, US forces were withdrawn behind the Naktong River to form the Pusan Perimeter; a redoubt that it was hoped would provide the opportunity for respite and reinforcement. But in early August fierce attacks broke through the Naktong line, and North Korean forces established a bridgehead across the river on 5 and 6 August. They were not thrown back until 18 August, and only after furious fighting. In late August it was apparent that the North Koreans were massing to try again, and any reinforcement of the perimeter, no matter how small, was sought.
In light of the seriousness of the situation at Pusan, the British government decided to commit its 27th Brigade, based in Hong Kong. Australia offered 3 RAR to make up the Brigade's normal strength of three battalions and create a Commonwealth Brigade.
3 RAR was still seriously under strength, with only 582 men at the end of August 1950, and the decision was made to allow the battalion to come up to strength in Japan before moving to Korea in September, rather than attempting to reinforce it once it arrived. It was also decided that, since the battalion was likely to go into intense action almost immediately upon its arrival in Korea, it should be commanded by an officer with a distinguished record of command at the same level during the Second World War. The task was given to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Green, awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his command of the 2/11th Battalion at Wewak in 1945, at the age of 25. He was the youngest Australian battalion commander in the Second World War.
Under Green's command, 3 RAR undertook a series of rigorous exercises in Japan in early September, before being ordered to Korea on 23 September 1950. The battalion arrived by ship at Pusan on 28 September 1950. The following day, 3 RAR was incorporated in the British 27th Brigade to form the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade. The day after the Battle of Kapyong, 24—25 April 1951, 3 RAR became part of the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade and this was the parent formation for the subsequent commitment of 1 RAR and 2 RAR to Korea.
Australians and North Korean Tanks
In the retreat to the Pusan Perimeter, US Army units were consistently broken by the presence of North Korean tanks, especially the Soviet T-34. North Korean forces had about 150 of these tanks at their disposal on 25 June 1950, and they proved very effective. At first, US Army infantry units were not equipped to deal with such well-armoured tanks, even once the improved 3.5-inch rocket launcher was introduced. The bazooka was fragile and troublesome to maintain in the field, and often ineffective. The South Korean Army was worse off, lacking any sort of anti-tank weapon at all. Only when US Army medium and heavy tanks became available in reasonable numbers after the Pusan breakout was the threat of the T-34 on the battlefield greatly reduced.
3 RAR arrived in Korea after the landing at Inchon had gone ahead. The startling success of this move in outflanking the North Korean forces resulted in a North Korean retreat, which, in places, turned to a rout. UN Command forces were able to break out of the Pusan Perimeter and advance north to the 38th parallel, keeping the pressure on the retreating enemy. Even at this stage, however, North Korean tanks remained a serious threat.
As part of the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, the Australians were in the vanguard of the race north to the 'MacArthur Line', as the 38th parallel was colloquially known. Supported by US Army Sherman tanks, the Australians encountered a North Korean T-34 tank for the first time on 19 October 1950 in a small village to the south-west of Pyongyang. A T-34, concealed by straw camouflaging material and the rain, opened fire on D Company, 3 RAR. A brief engagement ensued, with the gunfire of the Shermans being controlled by the Australians. The T-34 was knocked out, another abandoned and an SU-76 self-propelled gun discovered nearby. Both were out of fuel. The Australians had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the Soviet built tanks, which were undoubtedly one of the infantry's greatest concerns.
On 22 October, C Company, 3 RAR, moved north in response to a call for assistance from a US paratroop unit, and came under small arms fire from the hills above an apple orchard. The fire intensified and was identified as coming from a large North Korean unit. Approval for artillery support was not given due to the likely proximity of the US 187th Airborne Regiment, the precise location of which was unknown. Undeterred by this lack of support, C Company made an infantry attack with great dash and determination, immediately putting the North Koreans onto the back foot and inflicting heavy casualties. By midday, after three hours of fighting, the Australians had linked up with the 187th Airborne Regiment and, for the loss of seven wounded, had killed about 150 North Koreans and captured 239 prisoners.
Lieutenant David Butler, 3 RAR, won a US Silver Star for his efforts at the Battle of the Apple Orchard. He recalled:
The young soldiers were, if anything, over eager to get into their first fight, but the apple trees were in full leaf and visibility was a real problem. Control was difficult and the worst outcome of the first engagement would have been that a man was shot by one of his mates. The NCOs and the senior soldiers were absolutely splendid and quickly got the neophytes through the momentary confusion which all soldiers experience in their first battle.
After the engagement at the village south of Pyongyang and the Battle of the Apple Orchard, the Australians' confidence was high, and this stood them in good stead in their next engagement with North Korean tanks. This engagement was a crucial test of the Australians' ability to stand up to the enemy armour without friendly tank support, a situation that had created problems for many US Army units in the retreat south in June and July 1950.
As the 27th Brigade moved north in late October, the next major obstacle was the Chongchon River. The British Middlesex Regiment successfully crossed the river, and 3 RAR moved up to spearhead the advance. The Australians were then confronted with the problem of the Taeryong River on 25 October 1950. The main road to Pakchon branched to cross the Taeryong at the village of Kujin, where a 300-metre concrete bridge spanned the river. B Company, 3 RAR, arrived first and was dismayed to discover the bridge had been destroyed. It looked feasible for infantry to cross, using parts of the broken span, but it was impossible for armour and other vehicles to cross the river. Two sections, led by Lieutenant Alan Morrison, crossed the river with the intention of determining the location of enemy forces. Having discovered North Korean infantry in possession of the high ground on the far side of the river, and coming under heavy, if inaccurate, fire, Morrison withdrew to allow an airstrike to fall on the enemy positions.
Lieutenant Colonel Green had two concerns: first, his unsecured right flank and second, and more importantly, the probability that the North Koreans would greatly strengthen their hold on the western bank of the Taeryong if left to their own devices. The first problem was easily solved.
D Company was sent to clear Pakchon and secure the northern flank, supported by US Army tanks. C Company guarded the southern and rear flanks and provided a reserve. To prevent a North Korean build up, Green sent A and B Companies across the Taeryong to establish defensive positions beyond the river on either side of the road.
As evening fell, the enemy was detected forming up for an attack in front of B Company's position and a mortar strike was called down to break up the formation. Shortly afterwards, enemy artillery rounds, which failed to explode, hit the battalion headquarters and C Company's area.
Enemy activity against A and B Companies intensified. Ineffective harassing mortar fire was replaced with more accurate small arms fire, and B Company lost two men killed and three wounded. B Company was then reinforced, as it became obvious an attack was imminent. More artillery and mortar fire was called down, preventing the enemy from forming up.
In the early hours of the morning the enemy returned in strength. A T-34 tank, accompanied by vehicles and infantry, approached A Company, which remained concealed until the North Koreans were well enfiladed. The Australians then fired everything they had, from mortars through to rifles and grenades. Their bazookas proved defective, probably as a result of lack of training in the care and maintenance of these delicate weapons. Nonetheless, the North Koreans were forced to abandon their vehicles and flee, while the T-34 shot its way out of the trap. Among the North Korean dead was Lieutenant Colonel Kim In-sik of the Reconnaissance Unit of the 17th Tank Brigade. His diary provided invaluable intelligence about previous and planned North Korean movements in the area.
In the meantime, another T-34 managed to close within 10 metres of B Company's position. Private Geoff Butler described the situation:
The tank, a Russian T-34, came lumbering around the bend in the road, and to our frazzled nerves, looked about the size of the Taxation Building and equally fearsome. Having a sense of humour it stopped between the ridges we were holding and deployed the infantry it was carrying to investigate our area. At this stage my mate Ray, who was sharing my foxhole, suddenly woke from a well earned catnap and said, “Just had a funny dream. I dreamt there was a tank at the bottom of the hill”. Parting our flimsy bit of camouflage, I replied 'Take a look at that, sport'. This snapped him back to reality. From then on the tank fired at random for the remainder of the night. We couldn't attack as we would have given our position away to the supporting infantry. One of the boys attempted to engage it with a bazooka but, just as it was about to move off, the bazooka misfired (actually, in his excitement, the bazookaman forgot to put off the safety catch) and before he could reload the tank was out of range. We spent the night huddled in shallow foxholes, within yards of a T-34, listening to their fire orders, and that is no picnic.
So ended 3 RAR's first major encounter with T-34 tanks of the North Korean Army. Unsupported by tanks, A Company had managed to drive off a T-34, despite their bazookas failing to operate. For the Australians, this brought two results. First, Lieutenant Colonel Green instituted a training program on the maintenance and use of the 3.5-inch bazooka, the success of which was soon borne out. Second, the myth of the invincibility of the T-34 was broken. The tank was only as good as the nerve of its crew, and when the Australian infantry stood their ground, the tank fled. It was a great boost to the men's confidence.
The next time 3 RAR encountered North Korean armour was on 28 October during the battle for a ridge across the road to Chongju. In a full day of hard fighting, in which nine Australians were killed and thirty wounded, everything went according to plan, especially against the North Korean T-34s. During the course of the battle, the bazooka teams of 3 Platoon knocked out three T-34s, while Private John Stafford of D Company destroyed a fourth. Creeping to within 20 metres of the tank, a well aimed burst from his Bren gun set its external fuel tanks alight and the T-34's ammunition exploded. Stafford was awarded a US Silver Star for his courage.
These first battles fought by 3 RAR against North Korean infantry and tanks set the pattern that was to follow. Australian infantry showed great courage and determination in both attack and defence, attributes that were crucial when the war temporarily turned against the UN Command as a result of Chinese intervention.
Lieutenant Colonel Green died of wounds sustained while encamped on 30 October 1950. Several artillery rounds were fired in the direction of the 3 RAR headquarters position and a piece of shrapnel struck Green while he rested in his tent. No-one else was injured. Green died the next day in a nearby hospital. Green was a competent and popular officer, and was sorely missed by his fellow officers and men. He was posthumously awarded the US Silver Star. Brigadier B A Coad, commander of the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, is reported to have kept a photograph of Green on his desk for the remainder of the war.
A greater enemy:
China enters the war
A dramatic intervention
Most of our weapons were old fashioned; we had no weapons such as aeroplanes, artillery, and tanks which are indispensable in modern warfare. Instead we fought only with human wave tactics; great numbers of men have been sacrificed. It was indescribably miserable.
From an interview with a private from the Chinese People's Liberation Army, captured in March—April 1951.
MacArthur's overwhelming strength forced the North Koreans into full-scale retreat across the 38th parallel. But instead of returning to the pre-war borders, the allies then set out, overconfidently, to reunify Korea under pro-western leadership.
This prospect greatly alarmed the Chinese. Towards the end of October 1950, as the allies approached the border with China at the Yalu River, the Chinese launched their own massive and unexpected counter invasion, sweeping the UN forces south beyond the 38th parallel. Some UN units showed great resilience in the face of the enemy, but others were less likely to stand their ground, especially if there were rumours of Chinese forces breaking through nearby. The Americans coined the phrase 'bug-out fever' to describe the panic that took hold of some units during this harrowing period. The tough and lightly-equipped Chinese soldiers were better adapted to fighting in the mountainous terrain of Korea than the more heavily encumbered UN troops, and their vast numbers allowed them to absorb heavy losses.
The main disadvantage the Chinese faced was the difficulty of moving heavy equipment and supplies, as a result of the domination in the air by the UN Command. Once UN forces were brought to battle, Chinese commanders were frequently unable to exploit breaks forced in UN lines because they could not move reinforcements quickly enough; Chinese infantry travelled almost entirely on foot and could not be quickly re-deployed to another part of the battlefield.
Nonetheless, the rapid Chinese advance forced the allies to consider abandoning Korea altogether. However, by the time the Chinese forces had pushed south of Seoul, their supply-lines were stretched and the situation stabilised. In the following months, the UN forces were able to regain some of the ground lost and the front was re-established near the 38th parallel.
The Battle of Kapyong, April 1951
At last I felt like an Anzac and I imagine there were 600 others like me.
Captain Reg Saunders, officer commanding, C Company, 3 RAR
In April 1951 the Chinese launched their spring offensive with the aim of retaking Seoul. Simultaneously, the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade moved up the Kapyong valley in early April 1951 as part of a larger Eighth Army operation to make a short thrust north of the 38th parallel to establish a stronger defensive line, code-named the Kansas Line. The objectives of the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade were eight hills on the Kansas Line and the more southerly Utah Line.
The Middlesex Regiment was unable to take Hill Sardine after two assaults on 14 and 15 April, their second attack failing when supporting artillery fell on them in error, causing casualties. A Company 3 RAR was then given the task of taking Hill Sardine, which was achieved after three assaults by 3 Platoon, supported on the flank by 2 Platoon. Fire from 2 Platoon caused the Chinese fire to the front to slacken, allowing 3 Platoon to get among the Chinese. Skilfully led by Lieutenant Harold Mulry, 3 Platoon inflicted thirty casualties on the enemy, but two Australians were wounded. Overall, A Company suffered eight men wounded, mainly from hand grenade fragments in the close-quarter fighting.
The next morning, C Company, under Captain Saunders, took Hill Salmon against light opposition. After the successes on the Utah and Kansas lines, the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade was ordered into reserve positions just north of the town of Kapyong, leaving the Kansas Line to the 6th Republic of Korea Division. Sweeping down the Kapyong valley, Chinese forces drove this division into retreat on 22 April 1951. Thirty kilometres further south, the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade hastily occupied defensive positions in an attempt to halt the Chinese advance.
On 23 April, 3 RAR and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, occupied prominent hills on either side of the seven-kilometre-wide valley, where a small tributary joined the Kapyong River. Also forward were headquarters units, tanks and artillery, with the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, in support.
Early in the evening, retreating South Koreans streamed past, with Chinese forces closely intermingled. Soon afterwards a platoon of US tanks supporting 3 RAR astride the road was overrun. Throughout the night, the Chinese repeatedly pressed the Australian positions, attacking in waves over their own dead and wounded. Major Ben O'Dowd recalled the desperate fighting that took place as the Chinese attacks fell on A Company:
In the moonlight our effective killing range was about 10 metres and our killing time about two to three seconds—the time it took for their heads and shoulders to appear above the edge of the ridge and for them to run to the forward [fighting] pits. As soon as shapes appeared out of the gloom our soldiers would produce as much rapid fire as each individual weapon was capable.
At dawn, A Company found that the Chinese had infiltrated its position, but a counter-attack was able to eject them.
Similar attacks fell on elements of B Company, but its positions covered better fields of fire and the Australians were able to see the Chinese massing for an attack and fire on them as far as 100 metres away. With the support of US tanks, B Company was able to hold off the Chinese throughout the night.
Fighting continued throughout the day as the Australians resolutely held their positions. But late on 24 April, with their position now untenable, they withdrew down a ridge to the valley, where they were able to rejoin the brigade. The withdrawal was made under very difficult conditions and the Chinese closely followed the Australians.
The small rearguard elements of 3 RAR trod a fine line between holding the Chinese long enough for the rest of the battalion to move out, but withdrawing themselves in enough time so as not to be overrun. Accurate artillery support from the New Zealand 16th Field Regiment was a major factor in the success of the Australian withdrawal, and rounds sometimes landed as close as 50 metres to 3 RAR positions. Captain Reg Saunders recalled:
As D Company evacuated their positions Chinese troops were right behind them and many a Chinaman had a dead heat or a photo finish with a 25-pounder Kiwi shell. Sometimes the Chinaman won and sometimes only came second. After darkness had fallen, the Chinese did not move as quickly as the Australians and a clean break from pursuit was finally achieved.
Next day, the Chinese attack fell on the Canadian positions on Hill 677 to the west of the Australian positions, but these were beaten off with the aid of artillery fire from the New Zealand batteries. By the afternoon of 25 April, however, the Chinese were exhausted by the tenacious defence of the Australians and Canadians, and made no further attacks. The Chinese thrust to take Seoul in a quick offensive had been abruptly stopped and Chinese planning thrown into disarray.
Thirty-two Australians had died halting the Chinese advance. The Australian and Canadian battalions were both awarded United States Presidential Unit Citations for their part in the battle.
After the Battle of Kapyong, the front became less mobile, eventually stabilising around the 38th parallel. Trench raids and patrols were used in a 'see-saw' war of small gains and losses of ground, of taking and losing hills. Truce talks began, first at Kaesong and then Panmunjom. Yet even the diplomatic pursuit of peace stalled repeatedly over many issues, particularly the repatriation of prisoners of war. The war continued for two more years as each side struggled to occupy ground and achieve battlefield superiority in order to apply pressure to the negotiating process. Murchison's bombardment of North Korean positions in the Han estuary, near Kaesong, was part of this process.
Maryang San, October 1951
... probably the greatest single feat of the Australian Army during the Korean War.
Robert O'Neill, Official Historian of Australia in the Korean War
Maryang San was a precipitous hill, rising 200 metres above the valley in front of it, with ridges running east and west. As long as the Chinese held Maryang San, they could dominate the ground to the south.
Earlier US attempts to cross the valley and attack the hill head-on had failed. In late September 1951, the British Commonwealth Division was ordered to prepare for a general advance, called Operation Commando. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Hassett, commander of 3 RAR, planned to draw on the Australians' experience in New Guinea during the Second World War by using a tactic known as 'running the ridges'. This involved movement along the crests of ridges, rather than up their flanks, using the vegetation for cover and taking advantage of the superiority offered by occupying the high ground.
Accordingly, on 5 October, while British regiments attacked further west, 3 RAR's A Company attempted a difficult route up a spur south-east of the summit. This attack was not expected to succeed, but it drew Chinese defenders away from the main ridgeline, up which B and D Companies advanced from the east.
A heavy mist helped conceal the attackers, but also made navigation difficult, and the two companies lost contact with each other. In a series of bitter fights D Company captured four knolls leading up the ridge line. Then late in the afternoon C Company, rejoining the battalion after assisting a British attack on Kowang San, took over and captured a feature called 'Baldy'. The company then moved on quickly to occupy the summit, which had been abandoned by the Chinese, evidently shocked by 3 RAR's relentless onslaught.
Throughout the next day, the Australians held the summit against heavy Chinese fire and repeated attempts to infiltrate the position. Early on 7 October, B Company captured a final objective, 'the Hinge', a high point on the ridge west from the summit, after a fierce action highlighted by a number of acts of conspicuous gallantry. All next day the Chinese bombarded the Australian positions, making supply of ammunition and the evacuation of casualties difficult.
In the evening, after half an hour's ominous silence, the heaviest bombardment yet preceded a series of desperate and courageous Chinese counter-attacks during the night. After each attack the Chinese were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, until in the morning they gave up and the Australians' hold on Maryang San was secure.
Twenty Australians had been killed and eighty-nine wounded. Nearly 300 Chinese dead were counted; the total number may have been much higher. The Australians had been well supported by New Zealand and British artillery and British tanks, but their success above all was through courage, tenacity and the skilful use of surprise.
During the lengthy, two-year wait for an armistice after Maryang San, Australian soldiers lived and fought under conditions reminiscent of those on the Western Front during the First World War. The men lived in trenches, which became infested with rats and lice. Private Jim Paschen, 3 RAR, recalled:
I was rudely awakened by the sound of a few bursts from an Owen gun sounding off in my bunker. I thought the Chinese had arrived, but it was only Maurie [Pears] on a rat killing episode.
As in the First World War, the war on the 38th parallel became one of night patrolling, probing enemy positions, gathering intelligence, recording enemy movements and attempting to snatch enemy soldiers for interrogation. It was dangerous and unpopular work, as the following examples show.
Both sides made extensive use of artillery and mortar fire to support and repel attacks and to harass opposing positions. The trenches could be as little as 200 metres apart or as far away as two kilometres, if separated by a valley. Overhead cover for earthworks was essential and, although Australian fighting positions could have more than two metres of earth and logs protecting them, the Chinese had a reputation for burrowing deep into the sides of hills.
The first major Australian operation on the Jamestown Line in 1952, Operation Blaze, was undertaken by 1 RAR on 2 July. A Company was tasked with raiding the Chinese positions on Hill 227 with the aim of capturing a prisoner. Unusually, the raid was planned for broad daylight in order to allow the Australians to find their way around the intricate Chinese trenchworks and to improve the precision of Australian fire support. Unfortunately these advantages also accrued to the Chinese, making the raid a particularly dangerous one. The Chinese held several nearby knolls and were able to fire upon the Australians from several directions. In preparation for the assault, an artillery bombardment and airstrikes were planned to fall on Hill 227. The available artillery support was 25-pounder guns, the shells from which were too light to penetrate the Chinese bunkers, and both airstrikes were cancelled due to bad weather and poor visibility. The odds seemed to be stacked against the Australians.
The summit of Hill 227, however, was not heavily defended and 1 RAR swept across the open ground and onto the hill. The Chinese on the hill had withdrawn deep into their bunkers, but Chinese troops in neighbouring positions reacted quickly with machine-gun and mortar fire as soon as the Australians appeared on the crest of the hill. A section of 2 Platoon occupied Chinese crawl trenches on the reverse of the hill to prevent the Chinese reinforcing their positions, and held firm for an hour while the remainder of the Australians attempted to destroy the defences and extract the Chinese from their bunkers.
The bunkers proved tough nuts to crack. Some were unoccupied, and single Australian soldiers faced the unnerving task of crawling into the entrances of these to check that they were really empty. Others set about trying to get into occupied bunkers in order to take a prisoner, the purpose of the raid. At one bunker, Lieutenant Gilmer Lucas attempted to dig through the roof in full view of the enemy, while Corporal Harold Patch and another member of his section tried to force their way in through the entrance. Patch and his companion were wounded by machine-gun fire and several more from the section were wounded by mortar fire as they rushed to Patch's assistance. Suddenly there was an explosion from within the bunker, which collapsed, carrying Lucas in with it. Lucas struggled free and the bunker was now aflame and sealed up. Lucas turned his attention to another bunker, which eventually had to be destroyed using a flame-thrower. It was proving impossible to snatch a prisoner.
Although A Company's headquarters group had arrived on the hill shortly after the lead platoons, the Chinese fire was now too intense for the Australians to stay put for long. Major David Thomson, officer commanding A Company, had lost his radio operator killed and the radios wrecked, casualties were mounting and, despite repeated attempts, it was not possible to maintain a telephone line back to 1 RAR's forward positions. It was time for A Company to leave, having occupied the hilltop for about an hour and a half. While 3 Platoon very effectively prevented a Chinese counterattack, the company withdrew.
Thomson and Lucas both received the Military Cross (MC) for their leadership under fire, while Corporal Charles Mene, a Torres Strait Islander who commanded the section on the exposed side of the hill holding off Chinese reinforcements, was awarded the Military Medal (MM). Patch received the US Silver Star. Other members of the company were mentioned in despatches. But the cost of the operation was high for little success. Although the Chinese defences on Hill 227 had been seriously damaged, it had been impossible for A Company to grab a prisoner. Three Australians were killed and thirty-four wounded during the short occupation of the hilltop. 1 RAR's operational report summed up the feelings of the battalion's officers:
A company raid against a strongly entrenched position does not appear to be a satisfactory method of obtaining prisoners of war, particularly if they choose to remain in their bunkers and are supported by well aimed small arms and mortar fire from neighbouring localities.
The Chinaman is a very determined and courageous enemy who despite heavy concentrations of artillery and mortar fire is still capable of bringing heavy small arms fire to bear.
On the night of 12 July 1952, east of the Samichon River, a fighting patrol of twenty-five men from A Company 3 RAR, under Lieutenant Laurence Ryan, was sent out to capture a prisoner from a Chinese post on Hill 115. The post was better defended than expected. After fighting their way right up to the enemy trenches, the Australians were turned back with heavy losses: Ryan was killed, twelve were wounded and two captured. Private Thomas Jubb, a stretcher-bearer, and Private Alfred White, Ryan's signaller, were each awarded the Military Medal for re-organising the patrol and evacuating the wounded under heavy fire. Australian and other British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade commanders frequently disputed the wisdom of mounting such 'prisoner raids', as they were rarely successful and invariably cost casualties.
On 13—14 August 1952, an assault by B Company, 3 RAR, on Chinese defences on Hill 75 was foiled, despite heavy artillery preparation of the enemy positions, due to the Chinese retreating into very deep tunnels and calling down mortar fire on the Australians. In the aftermath of this raid, Corporal Ronald Cashman was awarded the Military Medal for carrying away a wounded mate, Private Elvin 'Tubby' Ballard, from behind Chinese lines, a task that took the remainder of the night. According to Cashman, Ballard weighed about 110kg and it was 'like carrying a Sumo wrestler'!
Australian patrols did not just assault enemy-held positions. Patrol members had to be alert and ready to react to any situation that suddenly developed. On the night of 13—14 September 1952, a fighting patrol from 1 RAR led by Lieutenant Peter Cliff unexpectedly encountered twenty Chinese soldiers. The Australians were quicker off the mark and charged the Chinese: one section under Lance Corporal David McCarthy put the enemy to flight and killed two and seriously wounded two more. McCarthy pursued the Chinese back towards their own lines, firing his Owen Gun and throwing grenades. On his way back to his men McCarthy bumped into a fully-armed Chinese soldier. The quick-thinking McCarthy seized him by the throat and disarmed him of a rifle and three grenades before marching him back to the Australian lines. This was the first prisoner taken by 1 RAR, and McCarthy was awarded the Military Medal for his efforts. Lieutenant Cliff was killed during another patrol on the night of 21—22 September when he called for artillery support, which fell on his position. Subsequent investigation revealed that Cliff had not known his own position accurately and the gunners had fired exactly where told. Nonetheless, this incident caused some hard feelings between 1 RAR and the New Zealand 16th Field Regiment.
The risks of this type of patrolling and raiding enemy positions were such that Australian soldiers were issued with armoured vests. Australians had to be ordered to relinquish their slouch hats for British-pattern steel helmets, but fatal head wounds did drop by about 75 percent. The fittings on steel helmets, however, rattled too much for night patrolling and men bound sweat scarves around their heads for these missions. This, and dark face paint, gave them a distinctly piratical appearance.
The US-manufactured armoured vests seemed to work quite well, although the experience of Lieutenant Colin Kahn, of 1 RAR, did lead to the design being changed. Kahn was leading a patrol on the night of 11—12 November 1952 when he was seriously wounded in the chest and arms by a burst of Chinese light machine-gun fire. Three bullets penetrated the vest at its unprotected zip-fastener, but others were deflected by the metal patches under his arms. Kahn survived because he was wearing the vest, but on the basis of this incident the US Army changed the design of the vest to better protect where it fastened at the front.
The Australian battalions spent a well-earned period in reserve between 31 January and 7 April 1953, during which time they prepared for their return to the front line. On 21 March, 2 RAR arrived at Camp Casey, near Tongduchon, to relieve 1 RAR. This was the first time the three battalions were together in one place and a parade was arranged to mark the event, as it was an opportunity not to be missed. The three battalions formed up in a hollow square on the parade ground and were addressed by Brigadier Thomas Daly, commanding the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade. 1 RAR then departed on the train on which 2 RAR had arrived.
2 RAR was thrown into a busy regime of training and improving the defences on the Kansas Line before moving up to the Jamestown Line with the rest of the Commonwealth Division. The 28th Brigade occupied the north-eastern sector, as it had previously, around Hills 159 and 355. Initially two British battalions were placed in the front line, but on 5 May 1953, 2 RAR moved up to Hill 159 to relieve the Royal Fusiliers, while 3 RAR moved onto Hill 355, relieving the Durham Light Infantry.
Opposite the Commonwealth positions the Chinese had set up a public announcement system so that they could make propaganda broadcasts across no man's land. It was apparent that the Chinese were well informed. On 7 May a welcome message specifically to 2 RAR was broadcast and on 14 May a further broadcast added:
We hope you will preserve the good names of the previous two battalions.
2 RAR and 3 RAR immediately embarked on a program of aggressive patrolling. During the time the Americans had occupied the positions, in the absence of the Commonwealth Division, they had not maintained the dominance of no man's land established by the Australian and British battalions. The Australians found the Chinese 'leaning on our wire', which made the Australian positions very vulnerable to attack. Both battalions set about rectifying this situation.
In addition to enemy activity, a constant hazard of patrolling was minefields. Although much effort was put into mapping, fencing and marking these, in the dark it was all too easy for accidents to happen.
On the night of 20—21 May 1953 a 2 RAR patrol strayed into a Commonwealth Division minefield while withdrawing from an engagement with a group of Chinese. The minefield was fenced, but in the gully up which the patrol was moving the tension in the fencing wire had pulled the picket out of the ground, resulting in the fence being about three metres above the heads of the patrol. The patrol commander, Sergeant Keith Foran, and Private Ronald Rackley were killed and Private Lloyd Jones was wounded. Private Barry Haworth, wounded in the head by a grenade in the fight against the Chinese, subsequently died of his wounds. Enforcing Australian dominance of no man's land often proved an expensive business.
The Chinese also patrolled aggressively, often in strength. On the night of 23—24 May 1953 an ambush patrol from 2 RAR encountered about twenty Chinese soldiers and a fierce fight took place at close range. The Australians killed six and wounded at least four Chinese, but suffered Private Colin Sheah killed and Sergeant Kenneth Hamilton, the patrol commander, and Private Francis McCaffery wounded. Private Robert Richardson quickly took command and commenced withdrawing with the Chinese closely following up. Richardson and other patrol members kept up accurate fire from delaying positions and managed to hold off the Chinese. Richardson was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery and initiative. During the fighting, Private Youn Ok Dong, an attached South Korean, was captured. The next night his voice was heard on a battalion radio net, appealing for help and saying that the Chinese were threatening to kill him. This was apparently a Chinese attempt to lure out an Australian patrol into an ambush and no response was made.
Just like the Australians, the Chinese also made attacks on defended positions. On the night of 27—28 May 1953 one such attack fell on C Company, the forward company of 2 RAR on Hill 159. The Chinese made careful preparations for the attack. On the preceding nights they dug weapon pits in the paddy fields to the north-west of the hill and brought self-propelled guns forward. Australian standing patrols had detected the Chinese movement in the valley below Hill 159 and alerted the battalion. The Chinese attack began with a one-hour bombardment, during which 600 shells fell on 2 RAR positions. After probing the Australian positions, the Chinese withdrew. An Australian three-man forward patrol encountered sixty Chinese soldiers during the attack, but managed to evade them briefly after an initial clash. The patrol commander, Corporal John Ashe, was then badly wounded in another sharp fight, and ordered the other two members of the patrol, also wounded, to leave him. Despite subsequent searches, Ashe was never seen again. The two survivors inadvertently entered a minefield and wisely stayed put so as not to set off a mine. The rescue patrol sent out to find them suffered two casualties extracting the men from the minefield. Dawn arrived and the casualties were still being brought back to the Australian lines. The rescue patrol was fired on by the Chinese when spotted out in no man's land. The Australians displayed their stretchers to the Chinese and the firing ceased, allowing the wounded men to be brought in without further interference.
On 16 June 1953, 2 RAR was relieved by 3 RAR on Hill 159. The fighting for both battalions was far from over. Armistice negotiations were proceeding apace, but the pressure to mount patrols did not slacken. On 9, 10 and 11 July the 28th Brigade moved onto the Hook and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the war just as the armistice was about to come into force.
The Hook—the last battle
In the last three months of the Korean War, the Hook was the most threatened area on the Commonwealth Division's front. The Hook was a low ridge crowned by several knolls overlooking the Samichon River. If the Chinese had been able to take the Hook it was estimated that UN forces would have been forced to make a 4 kilometre withdrawal because the Hook allowed observation of the whole lower part of the Samichon valley. Once on the Hook, the Chinese would have controlled the entire north bank of the Imjin River and been in an ideal position to launch further offensives before the armistice came into place.
Throughout May and June 1953 the Chinese battered away at the Hook. A Chinese attack on the night of 28—29 May cost the Duke of Wellington's Regiment 126 casualties. That night more than 10,000 Chinese mortar and artillery rounds fell on the Hook, damaging all the main bunkers and collapsing trenches, even those up to 3 metres deep. The tunnel systems, dug by the Canadians the previous winter, withstood the barrage. The Chinese lost 250 killed and about 800 wounded in this attack, indicating the price they were willing to pay in attempting to take the Hook.
The Australians found the defences on the Hook in a poor way. The fences on the minefield in front of the positions had been poorly maintained and heavy rains had aggravated the damage to the earthworks caused by the Chinese bombardments. It was hot and humid, but the Australians set to repairing the defences with vigour, working night and day. Some light mortaring fell on 2 RAR on 11 July, while snipers remained a constant hazard. One soldier from A Company 3 RAR was killed by a single 76 mm shell, apparently fired directly at him, when he failed to stay out of enemy view.
For the first two weeks that the Australians were on the Hook, the Chinese concentrated their attacks on the neighbouring 1st US Marine Division, which was holding the positions to the south-west of 2 RAR. Both defenders and attackers suffered heavy casualties. On the night of 19—20 July ferocious attacks forced the Marines off two positions, Berlin and East Berlin, requiring a general withdrawal of the Marines' forward line in that sector. This made the Hook even more of a salient jutting into Chinese territory.
Throughout the second half of July there were numerous patrol clashes as 2 RAR sent out small patrols to keep the Chinese from harassing the forward defences. It became evident that the Chinese were probing and gathering intelligence on the Australian forward defences. Aerial reconnaissance and other intelligence indicated that the Chinese were building up their forces and supplies on the west side of the Samichon, making it evident that a major attack was pending. The Australians and Marines increased their rate of preparation to meet this and the Chinese increased the weight of their harassing artillery and mortar fire. 2 RAR was suffering several casualties a day from this as well as patrol clashes.
On the evening of 23 July 1953, Brigadier John Wilton, commanding the 28th Brigade, hastily called together his battalion commanders to inform them that the armistice was imminent. He asked them not to mount anything other than essential patrols, and not to inform the men of the news. When several patrols were cancelled, however, speculation among the men intensified.
The Chinese had no such concerns for the lives of their men and launched major attacks on 2 RAR and the Marines on the night of 24—25 July. It is difficult to understand why they did this. Any gains made would have been lost in the following days, as the conditions of the armistice demanded that both sides withdraw four kilometres to create a demilitarized zone.
The Chinese attack opened at 8.00 pm with a heavy bombardment of 2 RAR and Marine positions. By 8.50 pm Chinese troops had penetrated between C Company 2 RAR and the nearest Marines on Hill 111, about 500 metres away. At midnight the Chinese pressed forward again, but failed to reach the wire around C Company's position because of the heavy defensive barrage.
Caught in the middle of this large infantry attack was 2 RAR's medium machine-gun platoon. Commanded by Sergeant Brian Cooper, it had been stationed within the Marine perimeter on Hill 111 to provide fire across the area between the Australian and Marines' positions. The Chinese focussed their assault on Hill 111 and Cooper and his men found themselves caught up in desperate fighting as the Chinese penetrated the Marines' perimeter. Cooper was in a sticky position. His orders were to fire on the forward approaches to 2 RAR's positions, not defend the Marines on Hill 111. But he managed to keep his guns manned as well as drawing off sufficient of his men to defend his position from the Chinese attacking on his left. Despite repeated Chinese attempts to overrun the Australians, Cooper's men held them off throughout the night with small arms fire and grenades. During the action, Cooper fed back crucial information to 2 RAR on what the Chinese were up to, and also supervised the evacuation of his wounded men across ground under artillery fire, where groups of the enemy were still moving about. The stubborn defence of Cooper's platoon played a major part in breaking the Chinese attack. Cooper was awarded the Military Medal.
Dawn found the ground in front of Cooper's position strewn with Chinese bodies and abandoned equipment. The Chinese had come prepared to stay on Hill 111, with porters following up the initial assault wave carrying large stocks of grenades, ammunition and food. Near their position, Cooper's men found a cache of 1000 stick grenades and sacks of 9 mm ammunition and rice. Small parties of Chinese remained within the Marines' perimeter, hiding in bunkers and holding sections of earthworks and it was not until 2.30 pm that the last of these was cleared.
For the rest of the day, 25 July, the Chinese maintained artillery fire on the 2 RAR positions. This intensified at 9.20 pm and another major attack went in on the Marines' positions on Hill 111. In the light of illumination rounds fired by 2 RAR's mortars, the battalion's riflemen were able to keep up a steady rate of fire on Chinese soldiers passing in front of the Australian positions as they moved to attack Hill 111. An Australian patrol out in no man's land in front of the Hook dispersed a group of about twenty Chinese soldiers, but at the cost of one man killed and another wounded, and C Company engaged in a long-range small arms duel with the Chinese in no man's land. The Chinese, however, did not directly assault the Australian positions and by 3.00 am the action had petered out.
The Chinese fired about 4200 mortar and artillery rounds onto 2 RAR positions on the night of 25—26 July, killing three Australians and wounding nine. In return, the artillery supporting 2 RAR fired 23,000 rounds. In total, 2 RAR had suffered five killed and twenty-four wounded in two nights of fighting. Brigadier Wilton estimated that there were between 2000 and 3000 Chinese dead in front of the Hook.
There were no more Chinese attacks before the armistice came into effect at 10.00 am on 27 July 1953. A final clash was narrowly averted. At 9.30 am, the men in a 3 RAR outpost began preparations to fire on a Chinese patrol approaching their position. The Chinese, however, showed no signs of hostility and the Australians did not fire. The war was over.
Brigadier Wilton joined the men of 2 RAR at dawn on 28 July as they cautiously climbed out of their positions, unsure whether the Chinese would honour the armistice. For the first time the Australians had a clear view across the approaches to their defences. Wilton later recalled:
The floor of the valley between the Hook and the Chinese position was almost covered with dead Chinese who had been caught by our deadly defensive-fire artillery concentrations. On the immediate approaches to 2 RAR the bodies literally carpeted the ground, sometimes two deep. These were obviously caused by mortar fire and machine-guns of 2 RAR in addition to the artillery concentrations. Most of the bodies had been there for two or three days and in the hot, humid weather had commenced to putrefy and there was a strong nauseous stench of death. It was a terrible sight which I will never forget.
Australian soldiers in Korea fought hard in appalling weather conditions, hot and cold, and showed all the verve, endurance and ingenuity of their AIF predecessors. They helped make the Commonwealth Division one of the most highly regarded formations in Korea. The Australians were the undisputed masters of the art of patrolling, and the skills gained and honed in Korea set the Australian Army in good stead to face the challenges of the following years.
Wounded and prisoners
Treating casualties of the conflict— And the cold
While the medical treatment of casualties during the Korean War is best known for the use of helicopters to evacuate casualties from the battlefield to US Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units, this method in fact had considerable limitations. The evacuations could only take place during daylight hours, only two soldiers could be carried at a time, and patients could not receive treatment while in transit. However, in the face of the rough terrain and the poor condition of local roads, helicopter evacuation was frequently the only option. Newcomers to the front line were ironically advised by the old hands to try and make sure they were wounded during the day in order to enjoy the novelty of a helicopter ride. The limitations of this method of evacuation, however, meant that only about four per cent of UN casualties were taken from the battlefield by helicopter.
In the first, mobile phase of the war, the more frequent evacuation system was by stretcher-bearers to the nearest Regimental Aid Post, usually located on the side of the road. From there, field ambulance sections moved casualties by jeep ambulance to a clearing station, where they were sorted and sent on to medical units for treatment. Once MASH units were established, the field ambulance section transported casualties to these. Many factors interfered with the smooth operation of casualty evacuation. For the stretcher bearers, the terrain was a major obstacle. It was either very steep, making carrying casualties very difficult, or was very open, such as fields and paddies, exposing them to enemy fire. For the ambulance drivers, the roads were narrow and winding and either dusty in summer or icy in winter. Patients arriving by jeep ambulance were often more shocked by the rough ride or the cold than by their initial injury. Prior to the establishment of a purely Australian line of evacuation, Australian soldiers entering the American evacuation system could quite literally disappear until they re-emerged at Pusan to be flown to Japan. American records on Australian casualties were frequently inaccurate or lost, and this delayed notifying next-of-kin in Australia. Once more RAAF transport aircraft became available, Australian casualties were dealt with through an almost entirely Australian (and Commonwealth) system.
Complicating the treatment of battle casualties were the heat and extremely poor sanitation in summer, and the cold in winter. During the first year of the war, casualties were caused roughly in equal numbers by enemy action and the cold. The incidence of frostbite was so severe in the winter of 1950—51 that many of those afflicted had to be evacuated to Japan for treatment, and this could include amputation of the affected part. Medicines, including penicillin, froze, and medical personnel expecting casualties warmed phials of medication in their pockets. Captain Donald Beard, Regimental Medical Officer with 3 RAR in 1951, noted in his January report:
The problem of tender, swollen and trench feet and sickness due to extreme cold has deteriorated. The average daily evacuation is 12 [men]. As much as is humanly and tactically possible is being done to keep feet dry and warm. With the present fall of snow a further problem of snow glare arises. This has been alleviated by rubbing charcoal below the eyes and by warning troops not to look at the snow, but rather glance at objects occasionally.
Australians wounded in Korea and evacuated to Japan were cared for by RAAF nurses, who prepared them for air evacuation and tended them during the flight.
Conditions for the nurses at the airfield were difficult. Sister Pat Leeming (now Oliver) recalled her posting to Iwakuni in November 1951:
The facilities of the transit RAAF Medical Evacuation Ward, and indeed the hospital, were pretty awful. It was a particularly cold winter with the ground freezing to a depth of 12 feet [4 metres] and the snow soon turning to slush. The accommodation for the Sister (later two Sisters) sent over was primitive, to say the least; hence the duration was, in those days, only for about six weeks.
I recall Lorraine Jarrett, one of the first to go over, coming down to meet me at the strip with her patients, her face splattered with mud and mud all over her uniform. I hardly recognised the former smart, spic and span Sister.
Conditions in the RAAF aircraft were also cold. Again, Sister Leeming recalls:
It was freezing at the time, particularly leaving Iwakuni for Korea at 4am in pitch darkness when it was snowing heavily; the external air temperature, when we flew up to 8000 feet (2400 metres), was minus 20˚C! Our bones ached, as it was also sub-zero in the cabin of the unlined Dakota—even our breath froze. In those days we landed at the busy airforce strip at Kimpo (K14) and continued to do so until one day an aircraft was sliced in two by another, henceforth we landed at Seoul (K16) some miles away.
Immediately on arrival in Japan, Australian wounded were in the hands of nurses of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Service—known as the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps (RAANC) from February 1951. The Army nurses staffed the hospital at Kure and the hospital train that transferred the wounded from the air force hospital at Iwakuni to Kure.
Lieutenant Mary Joyce recalled:
These patients were mainly all men from the Commonwealth troops who had been wounded or had some serious illness. The first treatment they had received at the Field Ambulance and the MASH had been mainly to stabilize them for travel and they would be going to surgery the next day or that night if urgent. During the train trip to Kure I would do any treatment or give any medication that was needed.
Medical cooperation between Commonwealth units worked extremely well. Many Australian soldiers owed their lives to the courageous work of the 60th Indian Field Ambulance in evacuating casualties under very difficult conditions. Between 1952 and 1955, a total of thirty RAANC nurses were posted to the British Commonwealth Zone Medical Unit in Seoul (BCZMU).
Sister Cathie Daniels was posted to the BCZMU to organise and take charge of the new Medical Evacuation Ward. She recalled:
The Commanding Officer of the Unit [BCZMU] was a Canadian, Major R A Smillie. There was an Australian Army Sister, a Red Cross worker and two English Army Sisters from the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, who nursed in the British General Hospital section. We were the first group of Commonwealth women to serve in Korea ... We lived in an old school, which had been bomb-damaged, and set this up as a receiving depot, making the lower floor as comfortable as possible with a pot-belly heater. Our own beds, in canvas cubicles of about 6 feet by 6 feet [less than 2 metres by 2 metres] separated by hessian. The female members of the unit lived here and were on call 24 hours a day. For ablutions we walked across the parade ground to the men's showers at the appointed time; a guard was posted outside.
Australian nurses also served more widely during the Korean War. In July 1952, Nathalie Oldham (now Wittmann), for example, was attached to the 801st Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, USAF, based at Tachikawa in Japan. This unit was devoted to evacuating American and other allied casualties, but not those from Commonwealth units.
Despite all the difficulties faced, the Australian medical services in Korea performed with great distinction. The mortality rate of wounded who reached a forward medical post (that is, excluding those killed in action) was 2.5 per cent. This compared very favourably with the Second World War (5 per cent) and the First World War (10 per cent). This can be attributed to the use of air evacuation from the battlefield, greater use of blood transfusions during resuscitation and more widespread use of antibiotics. The RAAF evacuated 14,924 Commonwealth casualties from Korea to Japan, overseen by RAAF nurses.
The bean camp: prisoners of war
Twenty-nine Australians were taken prisoner in Korea. While in captivity, they were in many cases treated badly and kept in appalling conditions. Food allowances were meagre, and one Australian died. Many of the POW camps acquired infamous nicknames, such as the 'Bean Camp' or 'the Caves'. The Chinese also attempted to indoctrinate POWs in communist ideology. Father Philip Crosbie, held prisoner with Australian POWs in Korea 1950—1953, remembered:
When they asked my objections to Communism, I usually kept to one point: the system wouldn't give the political and religious freedom to which a human being is entitled ... They would almost invariably admit that my idea of freedom and theirs were quite different.
One Australian prisoner, Private Horace Madden, 3 RAR, died from malnutrition and illtreatment. Madden, a signaler attached to 3 RAR battalion headquarters, was captured at Kapyong on 24 April 1951.
In November 1951, he was among the prisoners, British, American and Australian, who were gathered together from a series of camps by the Chinese and forced to march to the Yalu River, a 300-kilometre march in freezing conditions. None of the men was sufficiently nourished to make such a march, nor did they have winter clothing. At the rear of the column was a cart on which rode those prisoners too weak to march, among them Madden. Of the eight men on the cart, only five survived. One of the survivors was Captain Anthony Farrar-Hockley, a British officer from the Gloucestershire Regiment, later to write his memoirs of his time as a prisoner and the British official history of the Korean War. He described Madden as:
... so thin that he looked like a skeleton covered with a little skin.
Despite his poor health, Madden remained defiant of his captives and always cheerful and optimistic. Deprived of food because he would not cooperate with the Chinese, he gave what little he had to those he thought more needy than himself. On 6 November 1951, Madden died of malnutrition. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his bravery under interrogation and his generosity in looking after other prisoners. His citation concluded:
This gallant soldier's outstanding heroism was an inspiration to all his fellow prisoners.
Several Australians attempted to escape captivity, especially in the earlier part of the war, and most pilots forced to take to their parachutes attempted to evade capture upon landing.
Sergeant Vance Drummond, after ejecting from his Meteor on 1 December 1951, evaded capture for fifteen days. Sergeant Bruce Thomson, shot down in the same fight, was not captured for seventeen days. On 11 April 1952, Drummond and Thomson, along with three American lieutenants, attempted to escape. Despite wearing stolen North Korean uniforms, the group was recaptured two days later. Drummond and Thomson were beaten and, with an American, tried before a military court. Their captors were obviously embarrassed by their escape, since the group was charged with stealing food and breaking camp rules, but not with attempting to escape. Denied a defence counsel on the basis that they had already admitted their guilt, one American was sentenced to six months gaol and the remainder to one month each.
For some prisoners, conditions improved over time: after July 1951, particularly, truce talks resulted in some changes in the treatment of prisoners. In general, however, conditions remained difficult and dangerous. North Korean and Chinese captors often ignored the Geneva Convention's guidelines for the treatment of prisoners of war. Captain Phillip Greville, 1 RAR, POW Korea 1952—1953, wrote:
Many prisoners became filthy, full of lice, festered with wounds full of maggots, unshaven and without haircuts for months on end and were faced with squads of trained interrogators, bullied, deprived of sleep and browbeaten. Of the 100-odd flyers subjected to this kind of treatment, 38 signed 'confessions', believing them to be so silly that no one would believe them.
Even when the Chinese did seek to better look after their prisoners, their medical facilities were such that this became an ordeal. Private Eric Donnelly, 3 RAR, was shot through the groin, suffering a compound fracture to his leg, as he attempted to rescue a wounded colleague during a patrol on the night of 13—14 January 1953. Donnelly was captured by the Chinese and caged with another Australian, Private George Smith, and three South Korean prisoners in an enclosure about three metres square. Donnelly did not receive treatment until 26 January, by which stage the leg was badly swollen and causing him enormous pain. He described the final stages of the operation that followed:
The operation lasted about half an hour and as he [the Chinese doctor] stitched the six inch cut in my thigh to close up the incision, feeling started to return to my leg. As he continued to stitch, I became more vocal from the pain in my leg. Four attendants physically restrained me as he completed his needlework on my leg.
As I was lifted off the 'operating table', the stitching came undone and I thought I was in for another struggle when he again tried to close the wound. However, instead of trying to restitch me, he got an American field pack tin of Sulphanilmide powder and sprinkled it all over the wound ...
A hopeful sign came on 11 April 1953, both for the UN prisoners of war and for the whole armistice process. Both sides reached an agreement to exchange sick and wounded prisoners of war in an arrangement that the UN labelled Operation Little Switch, which occurred on 23 April. The UN repatriated 6670 of its prisoners, while the communist forces released 684, including five Australians, among them Private Donnelly. The night before their release, the five Australians, all privates from 3 RAR, were taken to Kaesong, where they were bathed, shaved, their fingernails cut and they were issued with clean clothing. The five also received such luxuries as toothpaste, soap, a small mirror, cigarettes and chocolate. This was in stark contrast to the conditions of their captivity, and it was apparent that they were being made presentable for their release.
But any optimism generated by this exchange was short-lived. The South Korean president, Syngman Rhee, threw negotiations into disarray by unilaterally releasing 25,000 anticommunist North Korean prisoners of war. The issue of the forced repatriation of prisoners of war, particularly Chinese and North Koreans, who did not wish to return home was the most contentious of the negotiations and probably delayed the final signing of the armistice by about a year. The US president, Dwight D Eisenhower, expressed in his diary his doubts that the UN would assist South Korea against communist aggression ever again, and the US government revisited its plans for the overthrow of Rhee, which had been drawn up a year before. Taking advantage of the perceived confusion in the UN's ranks, the communist forces launched a series of short-lived, but ferocious attacks. An armistice looked further away than ever, especially for those in captivity.
The final exchange of prisoners, Operation Big Switch, did not begin until 5 August 1953 (shortly after the armistice had been signed) and continued through until 23 December. The UN released 75,823 prisoners, while the communist forces repatriated 12,773, including twenty-one Australians. The last Australian released was Sergeant Donald Pinkstone, whose Meteor had been shot down on 15 June 1953. He was repatriated on 5 September 1953.
The Australian prisoners of war in Korea missed a great portion of the active service of their units but, while in captivity, fought battles of their own with great honour and individual courage unsurpassed by any unit operation. Not many of us have experienced the terror and pain of interrogation while wounded and separated from our comrades. The battle honour, 'Prisoner of war Korea,' is carried by the regiment not on the Colours but in the hearts of our serving soldiers.
Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Pears MC, 1 and 3 RAR, Private Frederick Kirkland OAM, 1 and 2 RAR 74
Away from the fighting
Koreans and Australians
Around Pusan wharf there are hundreds of children in rags, standing in the bitterly cold wind. This is the first shock that new troops get on arrival ... The dead litter the road from the North.
Squadron Leader Esmond New, chaplain
An influx of millions of North Korean refugees swelled South Korea's population of twenty-two million, placing severe strains on its war-torn economy. Orphanages were established to try to cope with tens of thousands of homeless children. Sister Gay Halstead was shocked by what she saw when she arrived in Seoul:
The squalor was beyond belief ... Everything and anything was thrown together to form some sort of shelter for the unfortunate inhabitants—old tin, sacking, packing cases, opened-out drums. There were numerous maimed children, hobbling about with makeshift crutches, often wood poles supporting their stumps; all ragged, barefoot, some shell-shocked and crazy, with part of their faces blown away. This was summer ... most would not survive the cruel winter.
The Australians encountered Korean civilians every day. For the combatants on the ground and in the air, it was often difficult or impossible to identify the enemy, as the war in essence was fought within a single people whose nation had been politically divided.
Private Desmond Guilfoyle, 1 RAR, sympathetically described the South Korean attitude to the UN forces:
The South Koreans ... regarded us with indifference. The overwhelming majority were seemingly illiterate to semi-literate peasants, eking out a subsistence living in a harsh environment, or refugees existing as best they could. Their attitude was understandable, given the war weariness and the utter devastation which their entire country had suffered—and would continue to suffer.
Australian infantrymen serving later in the war, however, had the opportunity to work closely with South Korean soldiers. From March 1953 under the KATCOM (Korean Augmentation Troops, Commonwealth) scheme, about one hundred South Koreans were attached to each battalion in the Commonwealth Division. This effectively meant that every infantry section in the division had two or three Koreans attached. The Korean soldiers wore the uniforms of the section to which they were attached, used the same weapons, lived under the same conditions, ate the same food and took part in the same patrols as the rest of the men. Despite the language barrier, and the different training background of the Koreans, the Australians found that this arrangement worked relatively well. It certainly assisted Australian commanders to keep their units up to fighting strength despite the inevitable absences due to illness or leave.
R&R: Rest and Recreation
Australians serving in Korea were not able to return to Australia for leave. Instead, those able to take longer periods of leave went to Japan. Private Desmond Guilfoyle recalled:
Nearby were the attractions of the city of Tokyo and the garish Ginza. Bars, beer halls, striptease, you name it! There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that could not be obtained for a price.
Private Harry Kammerman, 2 RAR, took a more humorous view:
'Operation Rest and Recreation' has as its main objective the great metropolis of Tokyo. And for over two years UN troops have assaulted the mighty target with unrelenting vigour and have been returned back to Korea with wild eyes, weird stories and empty pockets. We've seen them! Bronzed, fit innocent young men they go—pale, watery-eyed veterans, they limp back ... It's tough over there!
Families back home
To most Australians, the war seemed largely irrelevant to their daily lives. It was a long way away, and did not directly threaten their security as the events of 1942 had. Yet the remoteness of the events in Korea made it all the more difficult for the families of soldiers serving there.
A few wives were able to join their husbands in Japan during leave periods, but for most it was a long, lonely and worrying wait for news. Letters, the only form of contact, were heavily censored. Nell Honeysett, wife of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Honeysett of the British Commonwealth Korea Signals Unit, recalled:
Without my work I don't know how long I would have survived. I was just so lonely.
June White's husband, John White, was a parachute instructor at RAAF Williamtown and was posted to Korea in February 1952, where he joined 3 RAR. June White remembered that the Korean War made little impact in Australia, except to those whose loved ones were overseas:
Korea was little publicised in day-to-day living. I can remember being at a party at my sister's house and a woman asked me where my husband was that night. When I told her he was in Korea she asked me what he was doing in that country!
The worst part of the time was the loneliness and lack of knowledge of what was happening to my man on the other side of the world. There was no contact with the Army or other Army wives. All I could find out was from the daily newspapers.
Peace and commemoration
'What are those medals for?'
No-one knew I was home from Korea. 'What are those medals for?'—they just didn't have a clue, really.
Sergeant Bill Collings, RAAF
The end of the war came with the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953, three years and one month after it began. It had been one of the bloodiest wars of the century. Nearly four million Koreans and Chinese died—of these, more than half were Korean civilians. United Nations losses amounted to more than 37,000, mostly US servicemen. Throughout the peninsula, a third of all homes and nearly half of Korea's industry were devastated. Neither side had lost or clearly won the war, and the country remained divided along the old ceasefire line, but communist claims on South Korea had been contained.
Australian dead totalled 339. The presence of Australian infantry battalions in Korea continued until 1956. Meanwhile, the servicemen returning home were greeted by a public that was seemingly apathetic to their deeds and sacrifices.
Hostilities remain suspended
With no permanent peace treaty ever signed, military tensions still existed between North Korea and South Korea, and strong US forces remained stationed in South Korea. These tensions continued through the 1990s, and included periodic border incursions and, in the 1970s, bombings and assassinations. Kim Il Sung died in 1994, but tensions remained high; in 1997, for example, a small group of North Korean commandos was landed by submarine on the South Korean coast.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1953, the outlook for North Korea was hopeful. The country had a ready Chinese and Soviet market for its hydro-electricity and, for a time, the North's economic development outstripped the South's. This was short-lived. The stagnation of the Soviet economy, compounded by North Korean expenditure to maintain the world's third-largest army, severely hampered the country's economy even before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The dissolution of the Soviet Union, and bad crop growing seasons, damaged the North Korean economy further and resulted in several periods of famine.
South Korea, on the other hand, benefited from the sustained development of Western (and Westernised) economies in the 1960s and was aided by massive amounts of US aid. As early as the 1970s, South Korean-built automobiles were competing against their Japanese counterparts on the US domestic market, something no observer of the 1950s could have predicted. South Korea eventually established itself as a major trading partner with both China and the Soviet Union, placing further strain on the North Korean economy. Under this sort of pressure, it was no longer possible for North Korea to maintain its self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world or, more importantly, South Korea.
On 13—15 June 2000, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded Kim Il Sung in 1994, and the South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, elected in 1997, met for the first time. The summit, held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, concentrated on reunification, humanitarian issues and combined, national economic development, and resolved to stage further talks to continue the discussion of these topics. The most immediate outcome of these talks was the arrangement of a number of family reunification days, which allowed South Koreans to travel to North Korea to meet family members who ended on the other side of the border, some of whom had not seen each other for fifty years. These very emotional occasions seemed to many people to offer the best indication that the differences between North and South might one day be resolved.
Robert O'Neill, the official historian of Australia in the Korean War, encapsulated the important role Australia played in the war. He wrote in 1985:
Although this purpose was probably far from the thoughts of many of the Australian soldiers, airmen and sailors who fought in Korea or provided support from Japan, the quality of their service helped ... to strengthen Australia's reputation as a valuable ally. These were not inconsiderable achievements for a relatively small contingent, but most importantly they helped to demonstrate firmly and clearly in the 1950s, as other Australians had done in two world wars, that aggressors ultimately would not be tolerated by the international community.
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery, Pusan
The Korean War was the first military action of the UN and the Cold War, and saw the death of 37,895 members of the UN Forces. Nearly four million Koreans and Chinese died, of whom more than half were Korean civilians. The dead from various nations who contributed to the war now lie in the UN Memorial Cemetery at Pusan, Korea.
During the period 1951—1954, interments were begun and the remains of about 11,000 UN servicemen were transferred from six other cemeteries located at Kaesong, Inchon, Taejon, Taegu, Miryang and Masan. The remains of men from Belgium, Colombia, Ethiopia, Greece, India, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as the majority of those from the US and some from France and Norway, were repatriated to their home countries.
Today the cemetery contains the bodies of 2300 men: Australia (281), Canada (378), France (44), the Netherlands (117), New Zealand (34), Norway (1), the Republic of Korea (36), South Africa (11), Turkey (462), the United Kingdom (885) and the US (36) as well as unknown allied soldiers (4) and non-belligerents (11).
There are twenty plots in the cemetery dedicated to the Republic of Korea and all members of the UN that were involved in the Korean conflict. Each plot displays its respective national emblem and is marked by an individual bronze plaque. Twenty-two nations are represented, with Belgium and Luxembourg and Italy and India sharing the same plots. This is known as the Symbolic Area.
Pusan Cemetery was established by the UN Command on 18 January 1951. In 1955, a resolution was adopted by the Republic of Korea Government, recommending that a proposal be made to the UN General Assembly for the establishment and maintenance of a UN Cemetery in Korea. The purpose of the cemetery would be to honour and commemorate those who fell in the conflict.
A formal agreement between the Republic of Korea and the UN was signed on 6 November 1959, and the administration of the cemetery was assumed by the UN on 31 March 1960. Under the Agreement, the Republic of Korea granted the land on which the cemetery stands to the UN without charge, in perpetuity, as a tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives in upholding the cause of peace and freedom in Korea.
Since 16 February 1974, the cemetery has been administered by the Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea, made up of representatives of the eleven countries whose fallen are buried here. In November 1998, a memorial to Australians killed in Korea was dedicated adjacent to the Australian graves. In 2010 this memorial was upgraded to accord with the ambiance and standard of other national memorials in the cemetery.
Australian National Korean War Memorial, Canberra
Built on Anzac Parade, Canberra, the Australian National Korean War Memorial honours the service and sacrifice of those Australians who served during the Korean War.
The Memorial is a symmetrical composition, whose design is reminiscent of the 1950s period when the Korean War was fought. A Monumental Wall carries the names of the twenty-one nations that were committed to the preservation of the independence of South Korea, and which, as member nations of the UN, deployed combat or medical units to Korea. A central walkway leads to an oval-shaped, semi-enclosed Contemplative Space where panels of stainless steel present graphic images and messages to give an understanding of the war. A boulder from a Korean battlefield serves as a ceremonial focal point in the Contemplative Space.
On either side of the Monumental Wall and Contemplative Space are fields of stainless steel poles set in a grid plan. These are interspersed with additional Korean granite boulders and three sculptured figures representing the Australian sailors, soldiers and airmen who fought and died in the Korean War to restore the Republic of Korea.
The Memorial uses monochrome tones in the white-grey-silver range to make a subtle but effective reference to the harsh climate experienced in Korea. The inclusion of granite paving and crushed aggregate reflects on the geology and culture of Korea.
Since its dedication on 18 April 2000, the Australian National Korean War Memorial has become a focal point for commemorative ceremonies associated with the Korean War.
The text in the 'contemplative space' of the Australian National Korean War Memorial reads as follows:
Australia and the Korean War
The Korean War was the first occasion that members of the United Nations acted collectively to repel aggression. Australian units served in combat from 1950 to 1953 and continued in Korea from the armistice to 1957 as part of the United Nations Command to preserve the independence of the Republic of Korea.
From September 1950, and following the amphibious landing at Inchon and the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the multinational force cleared South Korea and advanced into North Korea towards the border with China. In November 1950 after the Chinese entry to the war, the UN ground forces faced Chinese offensives which forced them to retreat in appalling winter conditions to positions south of the 38th parallel.
With a continuous front from sea to sea, the dramatic advances and withdrawals of the first six months came to an end. After early 1951 offensives and counter-offensives the war entered a phase of contesting heavily defended emplacements along the front which eventually became the cease-fire line. Despite the first initiatives in 1951 to end the war it dragged on until 27 July 1953 when an armistice was signed.
From 29 June 1950 to 27 July 1953, some 17,000 Australian sailors, soldiers and airmen served in the Korean War. Australian casualties were 339 killed, 1216 wounded and 29 prisoners of war. Twenty other countries contributed combat and medical units to the United Nations Command in Korea.
Australian sailors, soldiers and airmen won world respect for their courage, endurance and combat skills. The service of a small group of Australians in the years 1950—1953, and the sacrifice of those who did not return are not forgotten.
The Royal Australian Navy
Royal Australian Navy ships were committed to the Korean War on 29 June 1950, just four days after war began. Freezing weather conditions tested men and equipment beyond the normal hazards of high seas, storms, typhoons, extreme tidal conditions and uncharted mud flats. Five members of the RAN died on active service in the Korean War.
Destroyers and frigates were employed in patrolling, engaging shore batteries, gun-fire support, carrier screening, support for island operations and evacuation cover in a threat environment from mining, air attack and counter-bombardment. Notable actions were the landing at Inchon (September 1950), the evacuation of Chinnampo (November 1950), the withdrawal from Inchon (January 1951) and the Han Estuary bombardment. HMA Ships Shoalhaven, Bataan, Warramunga, Murchison, Anzac, Tobruk, Condamine and Culgoa were deployed during 1950—1953.
HMAS Sydney and its Fleet Air Arm squadrons attacked enemy supply lines and supported allied forces from October 1951 to January 1952.
The maritime supremacy of the United Nations Command was a factor in the outcome of the war.
The Australian Army
The Third Battalion (3 RAR) commenced operations in early October 1950 and remained in Korea throughout the war. Two other Australian battalions (1 RAR and 2 RAR) served on rotation in 1952—1953.
Many soldiers had previous active service and became part of the new Australian Regular Army while others enlisted in 'K Force', especially raised for the war. Army nurses, the Salvation Army and members of the Red Cross served in Japan and Korea. South Korean personnel (KATCOMs) frequently augmented and served with Australians.
3 RAR fought numerous actions in the 'mobile phase' months of the war when close hand-to-hand combat was common. Battles in North Korea, known as the 'stepping stones', were fought at Sariwon, Yongju, Pakchon and Chongju. Later 3 RAR fought major battles at Kapyong and Maryang San.
The last 20 months of the war, the 'static phase', involved raids against deeply entrenched Chinese positions and nightly fighting patrols to dominate no man's land. Battles in the period included 1 RAR's attack against Hill 227 and Operation FAUNA in 1952, and the defensive battle by 2 RAR on the Hook in July 1953. As well as an aggressive enemy all units had to combat the intense Korean winter cold.
Army casualties were heavy, with 293 killed, 1210 wounded and 24 prisoners of war. Of the numerous battles honours won by the RAR in Korea, three major honours are now emblazoned on Regimental Colours:
'Korea' 1950—1953 (1 RAR, 2 RAR, 3 RAR) 'Kapyong' April 1951 (3 RAR) 'Maryang San' October 1951 (3 RAR)
The Royal Australian Air Force
77 Squadron entered the Korean War during the first week of the North Korean aggression and remained in action for the entire war as part of the US 5th Air Force.
Airpower was critical in defeating the initial North Korean offensive and the Australian squadron earned the highest reputation in giving close air support to ground forces.
The squadron was re-equipped with Meteor jet fighters in July 1951 but this aircraft proved unsuited to aerial combat against the Soviet-supplied MiG-15 and subsequently the Australian squadron reverted to the ground attack role where it continued its fine record. Notwithstanding, three MiGs were destroyed in air-to-air combat.
Climatic extremes, in particular the winter conditions in North Korea, challenged both air and ground crews.
In all, there were 41 fatal casualties from all causes and seven prisoners of war. Royal Air Force pilots made a vital contribution to the squadron and five of them were killed.
Dakota transports from 86 Wing provided airlift support for all British Commonwealth forces in Korea and flew some 15,000 sick and wounded from the war zone in medical evacuation flights. In this role the contribution by the RAAF Nursing Service proved invaluable.
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