MARYANG SAN - CHARLIE COMPANY
Jack Gerke was wounded at the Battle of Maryang San but remained on duty and refused medical treatment until after the position had been handed over to the KOSB (King's Own Scottish Borderers). He is a veteran of World War 2 having served with 2/16 Infantry Battalion from its inception, with service in Syria, The Middle East, PNG and Borneo. He rose through the ranks from Private to Major. Recalled to the "colours" at the outbreak of the Korean War he served as OC C Company 3 Battalion, OC Headquarters and Support Company RAR, in all significant battles of the period, including the Battle of Kapyong. After his duty in Korea he was posted as OC 1 Reinforcement Holding Unit (1 RHU) at Hiro in Japan. He is in "active " retirement at Willetton Western Australia. He is married and spends much time with his wife, children and grandchildren. For 15 years he was State President (WA) of the Korean war veterans association (KSEAFA) and a member of the National Executive. He still participates in most of their activities with a strong bias towards their welfare. Jack was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) (Immediate) for bravery and leadership at the Battle of Maryang San and admitted to the Order of Australia (AM) (1976) for service to veterans.
As the Officer Commanding C Company, 3 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) I was to witness and become involved in six days of bitter fighting against the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) in Korea. Operation Commando and the battles of Hill 355 and Hill317. The battles raged between the 3rd and 8th October 1951. It was the aim of the United Nations Commander, General Van Fleet (USA), to capture a number of very prominent features then held by the Chinese (CCF), prior to a cease fire and before an Armed Truce Agreement could be negotiated at Panmanjon.
3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment was one of the three Battalions of the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade, the other two being the 1st Battalion The Kings Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and 1st Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI). Brigadier George Taylor (United Kingdom) was the Brigade Commander. The British Commonwealth Division consisted of the 25th, 28th and 29th Brigades under the command of Lieutenant General James "Gentleman Jim" Cassels (later Field Marshal Sir James) and was part of 1 Corps. The 16th Field Artillery Regiment (New Zealand) and the 8th Royal Irish Hussars Tank Regiment supported the 28th Brigade with artillery and tanks available from within the Division and the Corps, if the necessity arose. Operation Commando was the code name given to the operation throughout the Corps front, but the actual battle by 3 Battalion RAR was called the Battle of Maryang San (Hill 317) which was the place name of the Battalion's final objective.
Before Maryang San could be assaulted and captured by the Australians there were a number of heavily defended features, held by the Chinese, that had to be taken before the final attack on Maryang San could take place. The Australians objective, "Maryang San", was considered to be the most vital and difficult of the whole Corps front as it was the most northern feature that had to be taken from behind the enemy's lines. On the 2 October 1951 the Battalion moved forward to the Start Line (SL) in readiness for attacks on a number of features on the following day by A, B and D Companies. C Company was to be held in reserve but had the defensive task of protecting the Battalion's flank and its Headquarters. Initially, the men of C Company were bitterly disappointed that they were the reserve company, but, at that time did not realise what an important role they were to play before the operation was over. I gave orders to dig defensive positions, check ammunition and supplies and to be ready to move at the shortest possible notice. I had a feeling we would be committed early if the battle went wrong.
The Commanding Officer of 3 Battalion RAR was Lieutenant Colonel Frank (Francis) Hassett (later General Sir Francis and Chief of the General Staff Australia) who had taken command late in July 1951, only two months prior to Operation Commando. He was a regular soldier with a brilliant World War 2 record of achievement and early promotion. He was most efficient, cool under pressure and planned every attack by his Company's down to the minutest detail. It was his meticulous attention to detail and preparation that made the Battle of Maryang San the most successful of any attack by the Australians in the three year Korean War. He constantly moved around his companies meeting and talking to all of his troops. Morale was high because of this. He instilled confidence into all of us
The main Brigade attack on Day 1, 3 October 1951 was the assault on Hill 355 (Little Gibraltar, Kowang San) by 1 Battalion the King's Own Scottish Borderers (1 KOSB). 1 Battalion the King's Shropshire Light Infantry (1 KSLI) were to attack and capture Hill 208 with the Australians, 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) given Hill 199 as their objective. At 0300 hours (3 am) B Company RAR were the first to move out towards their objective (Hill 199) which was approximately 3 kilometres away. A Company was to follow B Company 30 minutes later. A heavy dank mist hung low over the valley and along the route taken which assisted the Companies, as the Chinese were totally unaware of the forthcoming attack. A very swift encounter with the enemy saw B Company in control of Hill 199 by 0800 hours (8 am) with 3 Australian casualties to 5 Chinese dead, 10 wounded and one (1) taken prisoner. The KSLI had taken Hill 208. By mid morning A Company 3 Battalion RAR had taken over from B Company on Hill 199. The KOSB were being held up by heavy defensive fire coming from two positions on a spur on Hill 220, North East of the main objective, Hill 355, known as "Little Gibraltar" by the Americans and Kowang San by the Koreans.. By dusk they had consolidated on the lower slopes of Hill 355.
D Company RAR had taken up positions on Hill 238 on which the Tactical Headquarters of Colonel Hassett's had been located. From this position the CO could view the surrounding country that 3 Battalion would be attacking on 4 October. As Officer Commanding (OC) C Company I had been at Tactical Headquarters (Tac HQ) throughout the day in case we were needed to move forward if the operation did not go according to plan. From the C Company position the troops could hear the artillery and mortar fire and the constant chatter of machine gun and small arms fire of both our own troops and that of the enemy, but could not see the actual battles taking place. Brigadier George Taylor ordered Colonel Hassett to support the attack by the KOSB on Hill 355 (Little Gibraltar) by assaulting and capturing the two enemy positions on Hill 220. It was from these two positions that withering fire from the enemy was preventing the KOSB assault on Hill 355. Late in the afternoon of 3 October Colonel Hassett turned to me and said;
"The job is yours Gerke. Look at my map here and get a good picture of the ground that you will have to move over."
Pointing to a position on the map he said ;
"I suggest that you use this as your Start Line (SL)".
He further advised that a Section of Medium Machine Guns (MMGs) (Vickers) under Sergeant Jack Morrison and a Forward Observation Officer (FOO) from the 16 New Zealand Field Artillery would be moving with me.
I returned to the C Company's position and briefed the Platoon Commanders on the Order of March emphasizing that there would be no lights and the March was to be executed in total silence to maintain surprise. At 0400 hours (4 am) on the morning of the 4 October (the second day of the battle) I led C Company to a position just 600 metres short of the first enemy emplacement on Hill 220. The valley before us, covered with a heavy mist, had to be crossed before we could make the assault on the first of the two emplacements on Hill 220. The troops rested. The MMGs were set up in positions to give us covering fire should the mist lift. Under the command of Lieutenant Arthur "Bushy" Pembroke, 9 Platoon moved around selecting positions to protect the MMGs and to give support fire to 7 Platoon under the command of Lieutenant "Maurie" Pears who would be making the assault on the first emplacements held by the Chinese (CCF) on Hill 220, 8 Platoon under the command of Lieutenant Russ McWilliam and Company Headquarters. As the light of dawn was about to break Hill 220 with Little Gibraltar (Hill 355) in the background were clearly visible over the low hanging mist.
Maurie Pears was able to take a good compass bearing of his Platoon's route across the valley as his 7 Platoon would be in the lead followed by Company Headquarters and 8 Platoon. The leading Section of 7 Platoon moved off at 0600 hours (6 am), quickly and quietly as possible, silently praying that the mist would not lift, as if it did they would be caught out in the open on the valley floor. There was a slight pause in the movement forward when a runner from 7 Platoon reported to me that 7 Platoon was now in a position immediately below the first emplacement of the Chinese (CCF) on Hill 220 and were spreading out for the attack. The forward Section moved out above the mist and were only 30 metres from the enemy's position. Private Jimmy Burnett of Queensland, carrying a Bren Gun fired from the hip as one of the Chinese appeared whilst the others in the forward section fired automatic weapons and threw grenades into the Chinese trenches and bunkers killing and wounding a large number of the enemy. However the Chinese on the second emplacement on Hill 220 were quick to respond and brought extremely heavy fire down on the Australians attacking the first emplacement and mortar fire fell on No 3 Section of 7 Platoon, wounding the Platoon Sergeant and the remainder of the section (5). A large number of Chinese were killed in their bunkers and weapon pits with the remainder escaping by fleeing down the rear slopes of Hill 355 to the North. Five were taken Prisoners of War.
"Russ" McWilliam arrived with 8 Platoon and finished off clearing out the bunkers and weapon pits. I instructed him to consolidate the position just captured but to be ready to move forward to support 7 Platoon who were pushing upwards to the second enemy emplacement on Hill 220. A message was sent back to Arthur Pembroke to bring his 9 Platoon forward to that held by Russ McWilliam. The MMGs were to remain in their current position and to continue to find opportunity targets on the escaping Chinese which was being continually carried out. Corporal J.H. "Jim" McFadzean (Signaler Headquarters Company) notified Colonel Hassett at Tac HQ that C Company had captured the first enemy emplacement on Hill 220 at 0900 hours and were now assaulting the enemy's second emplacement. A repeat performance, by the platoon with Bren Gunner Jimmy Burnett of 7 Platoon in the fore and again firing from the hip forced the Chinese to stay in their pits with their heads down. Again the grenade throwers played havoc with the enemy in the trenches and bunkers. The quick movement of the two forward Sections of 7 Platoon took the Chinese by complete surprise and the arrival of 9 Platoon on the first objective allowed 8 Platoon to give valuable support fire to 7 Platoon. It was all too much for the Chinese and those who could fled down the rear slopes of Little Gibraltar. The NZ Fire Control Officer (FOO) called down artillery fire on the escaping enemy with great effect and coupled with accurate fire from the MMGs produced excellent results. By 1100 hours 4 October the second enemy emplacement had been captured. Hill 220 was ours.
9 Platoon now moved forward to consolidate the second emplacement on Hill 220. 7 Platoon continued to probe forward along the spur line of Kowang San (Hill 355) to flush out the enemy and to estimate their strength. The bagpipes of 1 Battalion KOSB could be heard coming from the valley below. By 1600 hours (4 PM) all the enemy had been cleared from Little Gibraltar. Kowang San was ours. The Company Sergeant Major, Arthur Stanley had attended to the wounded, seen that the Prisoners of War (POWs) had been escorted to the rear and collected the weapons and ammunition from our dead and wounded and reissued it to those remaining in 7 and 8 Platoons. Colonel Hassett was advised of the C Company success. He gave orders to hold the ground that we now occupied. Once the KOSB arrived we were to hand over Hill 355 to them, remain on Hill 220 and prepare for an enemy counter attack that night. On the morning of the 5 October we were to hand over all our remaining positions to the KOSB by 0800 hours and return to our original defensive positions which we had held prior to the 3 October.
Whilst C Company was attacking Hill 220 and Hill 355 the remaining three companies of 3 Battalion RAR were engaging the enemy and/or consolidating the ground already won.
Once back in the battalion's defensive position, rations and ammunition were issued to bring it up to sustainable levels. The troops were instructed to wash and shave, rest as much as possible under the circumstances but be ready to move at a moments notice. While they were all together it was explained to them that their success was due to the excellent manner in which they had moved to the Start Line, their rapid and ongoing assault on the respective targets and their unflinching courage in the face of a determined enemy who considerably outnumbered them. The final result being the occupation of Little Gibraltar which had been denied to all previous United Nations Forces which had attempted to capture it. The congratulations of our commanding officer Colonel Hassett was also passed onto the men of C Company. With the Company Signaler, "Jim" McFadzean, I reported to the CO at the Battalion Tactical Headquarters and remained there throughout 5 October.
Meanwhile A, B and D Companies were engaging the enemy and were having good success in drawing off the Chinese from a number of features leading up to the main objective, Hill 317 (Maryang San). Heavy casualties were being inflicted on the enemy, large numbers being wounded and taken prisoner. However, our casualties were mounting and some Platoons which originally had 24 to 30 men were down to 15 or 20. The Chinese artillery and mortar fire which was extremely accurate was also severely restricting the movement of 3 Battalion troops.
Major "Basil" Hardiman, Officer commanding (OC) D Company and Platoon Commander, Lieutenant "Geoff" Leary had both been wounded in the attack and the capture of a feature, under Hill 317, code named Victor. Both were evacuated. Another attack on a feature code named Uniform was planned and when executed, the way would be open for an assault on feature Baldy which would open the way for the final attack on Maryang San, which was the main objective of Operation Commando. Casualties on both sides were considerable.
The attack on Uniform was led by Lieutenant L.G."Algie" Clark, Platoon Commander, 11 Platoon D Company with assistance and support from 6 Platoon of B Company. Heavy fighting raged but the Chinese finally capitulated and Uniform was ours. It had been planned for D Company to assault Baldy and the final objective, Maryang San but it soon became obvious that neither B nor D Companies were in any condition to carry out such a major assault and A Company was fully occupied on Hill 199. As I was already at Tactical Headquarters Colonel Hassett turned to me and in a similar manner of the 3 October said ;
It all sounded so simple. The CO further advised that he would attend to what support fire as required. I had my orders which were now to be executed. The forward Platoon of C Company was to take Baldy and the remainder of the Platoons including Headquarters would move through them for the final assault on Hill 317, Maryang San, which was another 400 yards above and to the West. D Company would then relieve the C Company men on Baldy which would permit them to follow up and support the advancing Platoons. Once C Company was in position on the rear slope of D Company, 8 Platoon C Company, led by "Russ" McWilliam attacked Baldy after the CO had brought down 15 minutes of concentrated artillery and mortar fire on the enemy positions. Russ McWilliam, with two Sections forward, attacked the Chinese on Baldy to find many already dead or in a dazed condition as a result of the pounding from artillery and mortars. He counted 12 enemy dead and captured 7 prisoners. "Maurie" Pears, with his severely depleted 7 Platoon, moved through Baldy, followed by Company Headquarters with Arthur Pembroke of 9 Platoon bringing up the rear. When the artillery and mortar fire had been lifted from Baldy it was then directed at Maryang San (317) for approximately 15 minutes which allowed C Company to crawl within striking distance of its objective. When the artillery and mortar fire ceased 7 Platoon scrambled up the steep slopes of 317 to find it clear of enemy troops.
The move forward from the D Company position had commenced at 1430 hours (2.30pm) and C Company was consolidating its position on Maryang San at 1730 hours (5.30pm). Russ McWilliam, with 8 Platoon, had been relieved on Baldy and joined the rest of C Company on Maryang San. Maryang San was ours. The Battalion platoons and sections had been deployed like chess pieces with masterful results. Colonel Hassett was notified that the objective had been taken. He must have had some doubts about our ability to hold the objective without reinforcements, which were not available. He ordered me to see that a feature called Sierra located some 300 metres to our North was cleared of any Chinese at first light on the morning of 6 October.
The Chinese had commenced bringing down concentrated artillery and mortar fire on C Company's positions on Maryang San as we were attempting to establish fighting pits in the expectations of a counter attack. The Chinese fire power caused numerous casualties amongst C Company troops which were attended to and evacuated under the command of Arthur Stanley our Company Sergeant Major who in battle must act for the company in all re-supply and evacuation matters. All during the night he brought up supplies and ammunition under the most difficult and hazardous conditions. A platoon from A Company and the Pioneer Platoon (which had assisted in bringing up the supplies and ammunition} and a Section of Medium Vickers Machine Guns (MMGs) under Sergeant Jack Morrison also took up positions on Maryang San before darkness set in. It was a great relief to have their support. Sentries were placed out from our forward positions, the FOO laid down Defensive Fire Tasks for the Kiwi Artillery with Jack Morrison continually re-positioning his Vickers to gain the maximum efficiency before anyone tried to snatch a few hours rest. Arthur Pembroke with 9 Platoon was to attack the Sierra feature which was a heavily wooded knoll about 300 metres along the spur running North from the top of Maryang San.
At first light I moved around the various posts held by the sections and platoons and finally took up a position from where I would be able to see the attack by 9 Platoon on the Sierra feature. Pembroke had discussed with me, his Platoon Sergeant "Micky" Newell and his three Section Leaders what action would be undertaken in assaulting the Sierra feature. A light mist made movement difficult and it was decided that Corporal "Danny" Powell would go forward and try to obtain some information about the positions and strength of the Chinese before the attack on the knoll actually began. He reported back that some of the Chinese were preparing their breakfast, some attending to their weapons and others at ablutions. It was decided that two sections, one on either side of the spur would crawl down as close as possible to the enemy and on a given signal by Danny Powell they would all throw grenades onto the enemy positions and immediately follow up with an assault on the pits with as much small arms fire that they could muster. The attack was a complete success with many Chinese being blown to pieces, others seriously wounded. The Chinese who were not taken prisoners and were capable of escaping the blood curdling Australians fled down the spur to a feature called The Hinge.
The young platoon signaler had given me a running commentary of the attack by 9 Platoon and I relayed this back to Colonel Hassett at Battalion Tactical Headquarters (Tac HQ). Pembroke called for assistance with the Chinese wounded and prisoners and the removal of a fatal Australian casualty, Lance Corporal W.J.Yeo, who had been shot through the head. The ever reliable Arthur Stanley already had assistance under way when he heard of the grenade attack on the enemy's positions. 9 Platoon cleared the Sierra feature of the enemy dead then prepared defensive positions to the approaches, but, not before heavy artillery and mortar shelling fell on their positions and on the entire area of Hill 317. Colonel Hassett with his Tac HQ moved up onto Maryang San immediately after the successful attack on the Sierra feature by 9 Platoon. This attack had overcome the possibility of a build up of the Chinese forces for a counter attack on 317. Throughout the day of 6 October the CCF continually bombarded Hill 317 and the Sierra feature with heavy artillery and mortar fire. During the same day Colonel Hassett had a lengthy discussion with Brigadier Taylor about the general situation in the Brigade area.
The Northumberland Fusiliers had failed in two attempts to capture their objective, Hill 217. This was due to the Chinese heavy artillery and mortars and support located on "The Hinge" and its rear slopes. Colonel Hassett decided to use B Company to attack The Hinge using feature Sierra and 9 Platoon as the secured Start Line for the attack. This tactic would divide the enemy's artillery and mortars as the Northumberland Fusiliers would again attack Hill 217 but receive no fire from the enemy's positions on The Hinge as they would be completely occupied in repelling the attack being made by B Company RAR. By first light on the morning of 7 October B Company was in position next to 9 Platoon and under cover of a fine mist moved off for the assault on The Hinge. The Hinge had been subjected to heavy bombardment in preparation of the attack. The Chinese were well dug in, prepared and waiting for the Australian attack.
In the initial attack led by Lieutenant J.C."Jim" Hughes of 4 Platoon and Major H.W."Wings" Nicholls, the OC of B Company, there were 12 serious Australian casualties. It was four hours of continuous fighting before the Chinese were driven off The Hinge leaving behind hundreds of dead and wounded. The Chinese were not giving up easily. They kept bringing up reinforcements with repeated counter attacks supported by heavy concentrations of artillery and mortar fire onto The Hinge, Sierra and Maryang San throughout the battle but the Australian held on and The Hinge was finally ours. Russ McWilliam with 8 Platoon, C Company, rushed forward to thicken up B Company as did Jack Morrison with his Vickers MMGs. The Anti Tank Platoon under Captain "Arthur" Rofe, became riflemen and were brought forward to strengthen the defences on Sierra, lightly held by 9 Platoon which was now only 23 strong.
By late afternoon The Hinge began to look like an Australian defensive position but old enemy emplacements had to be utilized owing to the constant enemy counter attacks coupled with artillery and mortar fire onto the position. Sierra and Hill 317 also took heavy pounding from the Chinese.
Later in the afternoon, the shelling eased off and attacks by the Chinese became sporadic which allowed ammunition and supplies, which were running dangerously low to be brought forward. Captain Arthur Dodderell worked tirelessly throughout the day bringing forward much needed ammunition and supplies. He was second in command (2/IC) B Company and on each trip that he made, which was over 4 kilometres, he was required to move through the thickest of enemy bombardments with his South Korean Porters, a number of whom became fatal casualties. The porters carried the heavy loads on their backs on the ubiquitous "A frames". They would unload at The Hinge, picked up the wounded and make their way back again to the supply point to reload and start again. They did this constantly throughout the battle. Around dusk of 7 October the battle appeared to fade away. All was quiet for several hours. At 2000 hours (8 PM) sharp, all hell broke loose. The sky suddenly became a great arc of light and an unimaginable concentration of artillery and mortar fire rained down on The Hinge, Sierra and Maryang San which lasted for 30 minutes. On cessation of mortar and artillery fire the Chinese attacked B Company, on The Hinge, in massive numbers. 8 Platoon C Company, the MMGs on The Hinge and 9 Platoon C Company and the Anti Tank Platoon on Sierra took the full force of the attack. The attacking Chinese were mowed down in their hundreds from the withering fire of the Australian defenders. Those Chinese following, literally ran over the bodies of their fallen comrades to meet a similar fate. Three times during the night the Chinese regrouped and made similar attacks. The Australians took heavy punishment and casualties, but they proved that they were just as capable and determined of defending their positions as they were in capturing them. They were not to be moved, nor were they. In the early hours of the morning 8 October it became quiet but nerve tingling with the occasional shell coming in to keep us on our toes and to prevent us from getting any sleep. Further drops of ammunition were made by our South Korean porters in the pitch blackness of the night and our wounded were carried out.
The night of the 7/8 October had been most demanding of every man in 3 Battalion RAR and particularly those on and around Maryang San. After six days of attack and defend it was a great problem for most of us to stay awake.
On the morning of the 8 October we allowed the Chinese to come forward to carry out their dead which numbered in the hundreds. They had taken a hiding from the Australians with the major part of their force being killed or wounded. During the Chinese attacks on the Australian defenders the artillery and mortar fire brought down on the Australians was the greatest concentration of fire power by the Chinese during the entire Korea War. The NZ 16 Field Artillery Regiment had fired over 50,000 rounds in support of Operation Commando. After the battle I walked around all of our positions and spoke to the men holding our defensive positions on Maryang San, The Hinge and Sierra and particularly Maurie Pears, Russ McWilliam, Bushy Pembroke and the of men 7, 8 and 9 Platoons and Headquarters before we were relieved by the KSOB on 8 October. They had carried out every task that they had been given. They were a credit to their Company, their Battalion and Australia and I was proud to be one of them. Their courage and bravery has no equal.
Names after 40 years readily come to mind and I often think of Arthur Stanley, Russ McWilliam, Jim McFadzean, Mark Young, Joe Vezgoff, Ralph Warhurst, Stan Bombell, Jimmy Burnett, Jack Morrison, Maurie Pears, Frank Hassett, Jim Shelton, Bill Keys, Bushy Pembroke, Peter Wesley and Bill Rowlinson. There are of course dozens of others who, when the going was tough and we were in the thick of battle, showed me the true Australian spirit of camaraderie, mateship and esprit de corps coupled with a deep and genuine concern for their fellow man which has been maintained to this day. Sadly our ranks are fast thinning.
Review by "Frank" Hassett
Jack Gerke's outline of his company's activities during Operation Commando brings back a flood of memories to me of that gallant battalion "Old Faithful" which I had the honour to command. I recall principally the courageous men who took part in our many battles and tests of spirit. Courage and teamwork are key factors in my recollections of this operation for without these qualities in all ranks we could not possibly have succeeded in the face of such strong and determined opposition. Courage is the principal requirement of the front line soldier. Without it, other military talent is of little consequence. Charlie Company, as did the other rifle companies, displayed great courage. Teamwork within the battalion was high at all levels.
Without commenting further on Kapyong or the Hook, both magnificent operations which have been the subjects of other articles, Maryang San is now recognized as a brilliant six day battalion battle, our biggest since World War 2. It won praise from other British and American units and men of wide battle experience, such as Major General, later Field Marshall Cassels, the British Divisional Commander and General Van Fleet, the United States Supreme Commander in Korea. Years later, Field Marshal Cassels, in a letter to Major General Morrison, then Colonel Commandant of the Royal Australian Regiment, described Maryang San as one of the finest battalion attacks in British history. Our own Lieutenant General Coates, when Chief of the General Staff, described it as a classic example of a battalion in attack against superior forces and commended it for further Army study.
The question has been asked as to why it took so many years for Maryang San to gain its current recognition. There were, of course, Australian reports written soon after the battle, in particular by the Director of Infantry, then Colonel Daly. There were some glowing newspaper tributes, but the war went on with little public interest. One reason for the delay was that the Maryang San battle by 3 RAR was subsumed historically into the overall brigade battle "Kowang San". The main reason, however, was that military history should be based on research by a trained historian and not on anecdotal evidence alone. The major role played by 3RAR did not emerge in post war military writings until Dr. Robert O'Neill's official history " Australia in the Korean War" produced in 1985. To this point, an authoritative basis, in an historical sense, for establishing 3RAR's performance in the battles for Kowang San and Maryang San did not exist. Following O'Neill's official history we saw the emergence of Bob Breen's monograph, "The Battle of Maryang San" and other writings, leading to the widespread recognition of Maryang San that now exists.
There are a number of reasons why Maryang San was so successful but at the top of the list is the quality of the Australian soldiers involved. These were fit, well trained and confident men. Confident in themselves, their mates and their leaders. Orders were obeyed without question or hesitation. This was very important at the time because issues hung precariously in the balance and undue hesitation would have been disastrous. Across the battlefield there were numerous incidences of aggressive initiative by individuals turning potential disaster into success. Sadly there were many casualties, inevitable in war. But as one leader went down, another, without hesitation took his place. Many wounded, where there wounds permitted, ignored them to stay in the fight. These are the soldierly qualities that win battles.
Once the battalion had bested the numerically superior Chinese in the initial engagements, they maintained that supremacy to the very end. Even on the sixth and last day of the battle, when men were physically and emotionally exhausted and companies were less than half strength, after an enemy barrage that could be likened to Alemein, they fought off three heavy Chinese counter attacks. There was never a whisper of withdrawal or retreat. The hard pressed forward troops knew that, if it became necessary, those a little further back, the depleted reserve company built up by odds and sods, would come forward to their assistance. Win or lose it would be a battalion team effort.
There are strong links between teamwork and courage, A soldier fights better as a member of a team, a team that will come to his aid whenever he is in trouble. He gains strength from them and they from him. The battalion team begins with the section. 3 RAR at Maryang San was strong at the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) and senior soldier level. Either in attack or defence, on any occasion, there was leadership strength within the sections. Young soldiers, new to battle, responded well to the example set by their junior leaders who were often, once casualties began to hit, themselves private soldiers.
A similar situation existed within the platoon teams. Maryang San was very much a series of platoon battles fought with skill and courage under the leadership of the platoon commanders, sometimes junior subalterns and sometimes NCOs. One must exercise caution in singling out individuals for special mention, when there were so many instances of individual courage throughout the battalion. But who could forget the sight of Bill Rowlinson, already wounded racing into the attack? Or Maurie Pears (7 Platoon) with his half strength platoon - the first into action and the first to take both 355 and 317. There were twelve rifle platoons in the battalion and I could comment highly on all of them as teams of warriors courageously led.
The company commander, with his Company Sergeant Major (CSM) and small support group, builds the company team. All the rifle company commanders at Maryang San, "Jim" Shelton (A Company), "Wings" Nicholls (B Company), "Jack" Gerke (C Company), "Basil" Hardiman and "Jim" Young (D Company) when he took over from the wounded Hardiman and Maloney, did excellent work. There was strong team spirit in all companies. "Jack" Gerke, with his Charlie Company, had the most favorable opportunity to shine, and shine he did, brilliantly. I can still remember his instant comprehension of a requirement and his ability and forcefulness in carrying out any task, no matter how dangerous or complicated. His CSM, Arthur Stanley, still commands the admiration and respect he earned at Maryang San.
Supporting the rifle companies were the specialist platoons, the mortars, the medium machine guns (MMGs), the anti tank platoon, the signals and the assault pioneers. Good teams within themselves and all essential to the battalion team. The Anti Tank Platoon and the Assault Pioneer Platoon fought courageously as much needed rifle platoons. The signalers worked in the open through heavy shelling to keep communication open. The MMGs were usually well forward and often in firing positions above ground, extremely vulnerable to both shelling and ground attack. The mortars gave their valuable support, their commander Rene Lemercier, moving well forward with Tactical Headquarters as did Reg Saunders, commanding the MMG Platoon.
Re-supply and casualty evacuation, in that rough, broken terrain carried out under shelling and sniper fire, was a difficult and dangerous task. Heroic stuff to say the least. It was a task well done and reflected great credit on the company second in commands (2I/Cs) and their men. Two of the 2I/Cs, Lee Greville and Alec Preece, were later successful battalion commanders in Vietnam. A third 2I/C Arthur Doddrell won a Military Cross for his efforts in supporting the hard pressed Bravo Company on the "Hinge". The battalion 2I/C John Carey and his team ensured that the battalion got more than it's fair share of re-supply. The replacement 2IC "Bill" Finlayson became a legend in this regard. The Quarter Master (QM) "Reg" Whalley, not caught up in the front line fight, was so caring, he would give anything, including his life, to serve the battalion. Our outstanding medical officer "Doc" Barnes worked forward of his RAP, rightly in this case, despite the shelling.
Leading the battalion team was, of course, the battalion headquarters. I often reflect on the quality of its members. "Bill" Keys, as Adjutant, was just as effective then as his post war achievements are now. "Pete" Scott, a masterly intelligence officer, so cool in times of pressure and later a successful battalion commander in Vietnam as was the Assistant Adjutant, the unflappable and whimsical "Lou" Brumfield. Where, I sometimes think, could one find a better RSM than George Chin?
I thought I would not mention further individuals by name. To do so opens much more of a Pandora's box. There are just too many high calibre warriors involved.
It is important to remember that 3RAR did not fight this battle alone, though in the final analysis they did take all three brigade objectives. There were other units involved, notably in 3RAR's case the magnificent New Zealand Field Regiment and the superb 8th Irish Hussars. There was also highly efficient fire and logistical support given by brigade and division headquarters. Not the least, support by the Korean porters, who despite heavy shelling and sniping carried their "A" frames forward with supplies and ammunition and with solicitude, brought out many casualties.
Masterminding all of this was "Big Jim" Cassells the divisional commander and later Sir James Cassells, Chief of the Imperial General Staff of the British army. He kept a wise and knowledgeable eye on the Maryang San battle. When, on the evening of the sixth day of the battle, I spoke to the Brigade Commander, George Taylor, and said that we had taken some 120 casualties and that the battalion was " out on its feet" from fatigue we were relieved the very next morning by the King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB - Kosbies). This relief meant a reshuffle of the front line units. The KOSB was a front line unit and not a reserve. To effect our relief, Cassells had to side slip both Canadian and British battalions. It takes a forceful and experienced commander to reorganize the need and act so swiftly.
I had taken a big risk in attacking from a flank with a long night approach in rough terrain. Only a good confident battalion, a "military team", with determined brave soldiers could do this successfully.
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