TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
Pat Knowles (2/400383) first joined the Australian Army in March 1946 as a member of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan (BCOF) and was posted to 140 Brigade Workshops at Hiro, near Kure in southern Japan. On completing his 2 year tour he returned to Australian and was discharged in April 1948. He re-enlisted in September 1950 as a member of the Special Korea Force (K Force) and after an accelerated course of 28 days was posted to 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Korea. He participated in actions on Feature 614, the village of Chisan, Hill 410, Sardine, Kapyong, and Operation Commando (Battle of Maryang San) where he was wounded. The remainder of his service in Korea was spent on the forward slopes of Hill 355. He was then posted to Ebisu, Tokyo for 14 months, returning to Australia for discharge in April 1953 as a Lance Corporal. Pat is married with one son, now retired and lives in the Sydney suburb of Granville.
On being selected to join the draft to Korea from R.H.U. at Hiro, I thought I had won the lottery. Little did I know what we had to go through just to reach 3rd Battalion.
The date was the 20th of February 1951 in Japan. We were issued with cold weather gear that was too small, (the smart ass stooge behind the counter wouldn't open another crate), tin hat, bandoleer of ammo and a tin of Bully Beef. The tin hat and the bully being promptly thrown into the creek by most of the draft, except the author who promptly shoved the bully into his overcoat pocket.
The draft then proceeded to the Iwakuni air base, and then by air to Korea. In flight the plane was diverted via Nagasaki, so we had a bird's eye view of what was left of that city. Then on to Taegu, or all that was left of the airfield. As we circled the airfield we witnessed what was once the South Korean Force, Mustangs were splattered all around the mountains.
The next thing that caught our eyes were the 20 inch ruts in the runways. I though to myself, "There is no way we are going to land there today." Wrong! Down we came with a heart wrenching thud that promptly reminded me as to why the D.C.3's were called the work horses of the armed forces. I should point out that these 20 inch ruts were snap frozen by the minus 27 degree temperature.
After about an hour's wait in the 12foot x 12foot wooden waiting room/control tower, the draft was collected by three Canadian trucks and we headed north towards Seoul. By dusk that day we had reached the 3 Battalion "F" Echelon (forward or fighting echelon), where the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) greeted us with the news that there were no rations for us. He also wanted a 50/50 guard maintained all night as things were dicey in the area. A Middle East veteran and a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) winner in our draft took him aside. He explained the facts of life and the guard was down graded to one man per truck. I then proceeded to eat my tin of bully beef, all by myself despite the looks from the bright sparks who had thrown theirs away.
I should point out that the snow in this area was from one to eight feet deep. The "F" Echelon personnel slept in the three Korean houses and did not provide one guard, whilst we had to remain in the trucks. At about 2000 hours (8 pm), the truck I was in started rolling down the hill gathering speed quite quickly. Most of us bailed out, but one brave soul hopped into the cabin of the truck. The original driver had left the truck out of gear, the cold weather had shrunk the brake drums and away it went. The other trucks then towed it up to the top of the hill where we spent the night trying to sleep on its steel floor.
Next day we proceeded north again. The landscape was white, white and white! After about six hours we discovered we were lost, but after a while came across a 29th Commonwealth Brigade Echelon. Here we dismounted from the trucks and the Canadian drivers asked the Poms if we could have a feed. "No way," came the reply, "You are not on ration strength." the drivers then explained that our draft had not eaten for two days and we were bloody cold. "No", came the answer again, "You are not on ration strength." Six of us then proceeded to cock our weapons and place them on the counter. The cooks then agreed to provide a meal, but after about half an hour we became suspicious that no meal had been prepared. We then ventured into the mess hall to find a large Dixie sitting on the counter. On looking into it we saw half an inch of fat and underneath what in better days had been corn beef and collie. GREAT ALLIES
We then continued north and finally reached the battalion at dusk. Next day we moved up to Point 614. Little did we know we were now on the path to our Battalion's greatest battle, Kapyong, Anzac Day 1951.
THE BATTLE OF KAPYONG
I was in 1 Section, 1 Platoon, A Company, 3 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. (3 RAR). On the 23rd of April, 1951 we were camped in an area referred to as the "Sherwood Forest". A rest area for us at the time, about seven miles south of the valley of "Kapyong".
Rumours had been sweeping through camp all morning that things were going bad at the front. These rumours were backed by civilians hurrying past the camp heading south. At about 1500 hours (3 pm) we were given 2 hours warning that we were going to move. At 1700 hours (5 pm) the trucks arrived and we proceeded to head north to a place referred to as "The Kapyong Valley". At 1730 hours we dismounted from our trucks about 200 yards from what was to become our fighting positions. We had no sooner arrived there when Staff Sergeant McMann arrived with a hot meal and mail. At 1830 hours we were called to an Orders (O) Group. We were informed that "according to G2 (Intelligence) there was not a Chinaman within 10 miles of our position and we probably would not see one till the next afternoon at the earliest."
From there we were allocated our positions for the night, Private Tim Coffey and myself were allocated the "Listening Post" which was on the point of A Company's hill about 25 yards from 1 Platoon's position. There we dug a scrape and settled in for the night. About 2030 hours (8.30 pm) we heard a collection of voices below our positions, this I promptly reported to 1 Platoon headquarters and returned to the "Listening Post". At 2100 hours the voices started up again accompanied by the cocking of weapons, this I promptly reported to 1 Platoon Headquarters. I then made sure everyone in 1 Platoon was aware what was going on, then returned to my post. At 2130 hours a company runner Private. Roy Holloway came down to our position and said to me, "Pat, I have a message for you from the Boss, now there is nothing personal in this, it is as he gave it to me." I said, "OK, let's have it", to which Roy replied, "Shut up and stop panicking, there is no one down there."
At about 2300 hours (11 pm) the Chinese launched their first attack on 1 Platoon's position, quickly followed by other attacks. During the lull between the first and second attack, I said to my mate Tim Coffey, " We had better get back to the Platoon and give them a hand", but as we tried to get out of the pits some one fired at us from 1 Platoon's position, 5 times we tried to get out of the pit and 5 times we were shot at by our own Bren or similar weapon, so we decided we had better stay put.
When the Chinese fell back to regroup after a couple of attacks, we heard Lieutenant Gardner tell the men of 1 Platoon that he was going down to see Major O'Dowd. Some minutes later I heard Lieutenant Gardner ask Major O'Dowd - "what will I do?", to which O'Dowd replied, "Bring what bods you have left up here", i.e. Company Headquarters.
We heard 1 Platoon move out and up the hill. About 15 minutes later we heard Pte. Roy Holloway asking if anyone had seen Pat Knowles, no one had, so he approached Major O'Dowd and asked if he could yell out to me come to the top of the hill. Major O'Dowd replied, "You can give it a try, he may be still alive." Roy then proceeded to sing out "Pat Knowles, come to the top of the hill." Four times he sang out, but being in the position we were I could not answer. Tim Coffey and myself then decided it was time make our way to the new positions. Having been shot at 5 times so far we gingerly poked our heads from the scrape, but this time we were not shot at.
On making our way up to the hill we decided to skirt around the side of the hill and there we could see our mates silhouetted against the sky, as we drew close to them one bod said "Here comes two more of the Chinese bastards". to which I sang out, "Don't panic, it is only us." As we drew near the pit that the voice came from, he cocked his Bren Gun, by this time the muzzle was about 20 inches from my head. He then said, "Who are you?", I replied "Pat Knowles, from 1 Platoon", the voice said, "I've never heard of you, what is your password?" I replied, "Go and get F...." and walked past him. We then walked into what was 3 Platoon's areas, we were allocated four to a pit, we had no sooner hopped into the pit, when a company runner came over and said, "I need, 2 volunteers for another position", nobody replied so I said, "You've got one." From there I was taken to a position at the rear of 3 Platoon's position and in front of 2 Platoon's position. There was a Kiwi (New Zealander) and two Australians already in position, in what was to be our last move for the night. We had no sooner settled down when the Chinese launched their attack on the American Company of the Heavy Tank Battalion which was camped on the Valley Floor. After a wild burst of machine gun fire and hand grenades the Americans promptly decamped. "Those Americans were amazing. Three hours to move in, 25 minutes to move out!"
The Chinese then turned their attention to our Battalion area again about 5 yards in front of where the four of us were laying. Three Chinese attempted to set up a Bren type machine gun. The Kiwi was the only one who could see them, so he shot each one as they tried to take up the firing position behind the gun. A little later a stray Chinese crept around the mountain towards the machine gun position so the Kiwi dropped him too.
About 0230 hours on the 24th a Chinese started blowing his whistle, giving 3 bursts each time, he was obviously calling for reinforcements. After about half an hour of this Major O'Dowd sang out, "For Christ's sake, get that bastard!" Well, we couldn't see a bloody thing. We couldn't hear a movement and the tension was getting a bit ripe, we could hear the moaning from the wounded and we expecting another attack at any moment.
So remembering what I had been taught in my previous Army service as an Armourer, "the average person fires high at night", I took aim at the sound, dropped my front sight about one inch and fired, no more whistle blasts for the rest of the night. The next few hours we spent listening to the wounded moaning and various gun fights around the battalion area. At about 0630 hours a machine gun opened up on us and gave us hell for about 20 minutes, he obviously had a good idea where we were but probably could not see us, but he raked our little area with all the spite he could muster. Just inches about us, he managed to shoot the Kiwi in the foot. After this twenty minutes we agreed we were going to get nowhere laying where we were, so I agreed to go back to Company Headquarters for instructions. I waited till "Charlie" (the enemy) changed magazines and took off. I went down the hill about 100 yards and there was Lieutenant Gardner and a group of diggers standing looking up the hill wondering what was going on. I explained what was happening. Lieutenant Gardner then directed us to pull back to 3 Platoon's position. I then made my way back to my old position, waited for "Charlie" to change magazines and dived to rejoin my three companions, I gave them the instructions. We waited for "Charlie" to change magazines and dived back down the hill again.
2 Platoon then sent a patrol down the hill to flush out the machine gunner, who was pretty well concealed in a hole in a gully. I looked up my mate Tim Coffey to find he had been badly wounded and not expected to live. One of my companions who returned to our position of the night before, found the Chinaman I had shot. He was up a small tree, shot through the chest with a bugle and whistle around his neck. For the next few hours we heard various gun battles going on, mainly from B and D Company areas. After a break there were no more attempts by the Chinese on our Company area. About 0900 hours (9 am) on the 24th we heard heavy machine gun fire coming from the road below us and we looked down to see about 25 Chinese running north for the nick of their lives. O'Dowd ordered the machine gunners to stop to save "ammo" (ammunition), he then directed the riflemen to have a shot and we picked off the lot at a long distance.
At about 1000 hours the Kiwis started to give us artillery defensive fire (DF) in the form of air bursts, the Chinese joined in by mortaring us with 45 millimetre mortars? By this time the wounded had been taken care of as well as could be expected. Lieutenant Gardner directed me to go around the dead and wounded and strip them of their ammo, one job I did not relish. As I did the rounds of the hill I was amazed at the drag marks, blood, cotton wool and bandages where the Chinese had dragged their dead and wounded away during the night. After collecting the ammo and distributing same, we ended up with 15 rounds each. Lieutenant Gardner then did a body count to find out there were 9 of us left from 1 Platoon, previous nights strength probably 32. During the previous night all our radios had been damaged, but after a few hours frantic work they managed to get one going.
Major O'Dowd then directed the radio operator to contact someone, anyone. The American 1st Marine Division answered but their operator refused to believe who our operator was speaking for. Major O'Dowd took the phone and demanded to speak to the Commanding Officer. The General in charge of the Division came on the phone and told O'Dowd we did not exist as we had been wiped out the night before. Major O'Dowd said, "I've got news for you, we are still here and we are staying here!" O'Dowd then asked for assistance. The General replied that he could not help, as his Division was about to do a strategic withdrawal. O'Dowd blew his cool and said if they withdrew we would be out flanked. The General then agreed to keep his Division in position as long as we stayed.
Major O'Dowd put down the phone, turned to the Company and said in a loud voice, "Cop on to this, the Mighty 1st American Marine Division has agreed to stay as long as we do!"
Just after that call Battalion Headquarters managed to get through to us by radio. Major O'Dowd, after some discussion, called out to everyone in A Company to come to Company Headquarters pronto. On assembling around O'Dowd, he said "Men, I have a message from Battalion Headquarters which effects us all." The message reads: "The 3rd Battalion RAR is surrounded by Chinese, we are unable to reinforce, re supply or relieve. Battalion Headquarters therefore directs an immediate fighting withdrawal leaving behind dead and wounded."
A few glances were exchanged and without a single word of command every man sat down. Major O'Dowd looked at us and said: "I've got the message, I'll see what Headquarters has to say." Later a message came through to withdraw at dusk.
About 1100 hours (11 pm) on the 24th, an American tank drew up just below A Company. position with Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson in the turret of same, the Americans unloaded food and ammo onto the roadway. The tank then drove off. Another bod and myself were directed to go and fetch the supplies. We made our way down the hill but as we reached the flat ground a machine gunner opened upon us, we tried again to reach the ammo but as we drew closer to it the machine gun fire drew closer to us. We got the message and returned to our company position. We reported to Company Headquarters and gave them the bad news. A Sergeant, promptly said "My men will bring the ammo up." His men then proceeded down the hill to receive the same treatment and same result, no ammo, no food, no water.
The rest of the day was spent digging scrapes, being shelled by Charlie, putting out scrub fires that were started by the shelling. We destroyed all surplus weapons. The Americans did an air drop of supplies but they went straight into the Charlie's lines.
At dusk we were directed to "move out." We then proceeded to the top of the mountain taking our wounded and prisoners with us. We made our way south along the ridge with about 20 unarmed Chinamen following at a respectable distance. About 1800 hours four American Corsairs came into sight. They promptly wheeled into Don Company with napalm and machine guns. They then turned their attention to A Company. We were making our way up a slope at the time. I looked around and saw this American Pilot glaring at us; I knew it was not good trying to duck for cover, so I waved to him. Fortunately he did not fire on us. Later I learnt that Signaler "Sandy" Winson had got through to the Americans to cease fire. We then continued along the ridge line without incident. We finally made our way down the mountain and crossed the river at about 0030 hours on 25th April, 1951. We then made our way along the road south, accompanied by American tanks.
After about a half hour we passed an Australian Officer and two English Army privates. The Officer was doing a head count. At 0200 hours we reached the entrance to the valley where we were directed to dig in for the night. We took a 50-50 stand to and warned that any one going to sleep on "stand to" would be court martialled. Just as we settled in an almighty blast of machine gun fire came from the valley, I assume the Chinese were having a go at the Canadians. The rest of the night was uneventful for us.
Next morning we were given food, water, ammo and a bottle of beer. We then knew it was all over.
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