Righto ...

(Similarity to anyone or anything living or not is purely coincidental.) (Really.)

Bert Kortegaard

It's All In How You Look At It

Sergeant Digger Cashman, smartly clad in underpants, unlaced boots and slouch hat, stood approximately at attention, Owen gun locked and loaded, muzzle smartly resting on the toe of one boot. Confronting him were a half-dozen members of the General Staff.

A Colonel, after berating Cashman for not wearing his tin hat (at present in use washing socks), bellowed:

"Sergeant, once 3rd Battalion begins the assault on Hill 344 the Kiwis must lift their artillery. It will then be vital that no reinforcements reach the enemy positions before the Hill is taken. That will be the responsibility of you and Sixa platoon.

"If you fail, you will paint rocks white at Battalion HQ for the remainder of your enlistment.

"Is that understood?"

"Arrrr" replied Sergeant Cashman smartly.

In point of fact, the Colonel knew the 3RAR attack would fail with catastrophic losses, because it was mathematically impossible for Sergeant Cashman's mission to succeed.

The nearest point from which Sixa platoon could approach the enemy reinforcement route was 2400 yards, and the trek was concealed by rocky crags for all but a few short runs. The 3 or 4 seconds it would take a rifle round to traverse 2400 yards was almost as long as it would take an enemy squad to dash across, and the spread of old ammunition fired through worn WWII barrels at that range was at least 10 yards. The best marksmen in the world would fail to score a single hit.

The General Staff considered this acceptable, since it would be proof of their military aggressiveness, and the heavier the losses the greater the medal count awarded to the General Staff.

Plus, the borders of paths at HQ were in disgraceful condition.

As the General Staff went back to HQ for morning tea, Digger Cashman laced his boots and strolled across the valley to a crag overlooking the reinforcement route. There, idly wandering about, he smoked a fag as an occasional Chinese small-arms round sent stone chips flying. Their nearest Observation Post was at least a thousand yards distant, so Digger inspected the route in perfect safety. The firing was desultory, the Chinese didn't like wasting ammunition on an obvious lunatic.

Digger seemed to concentrate mostly on the rock faces concealing the actual path.

Just before a Chinese patrol could start down to separate him from his private parts, Digger strolled back across the valley to Sixa platoon's positions. Wringing out his socks, Digger tossed the tin hat behind a ration box and instructed two of his mates, Steady Eddie Wright and Gunner Gilligan, to drop in on Division HQ that midnight. He suggested they "borrow" a truck of Bren guns and ammo he had seen there.

The day's work done, Digger stretched out in the warm sun.

Peacefully, Digger fell asleep.

Eddie and Gunner returned just before dawn, with truck and ordnance duly subtracted from the mountain of materials deemed necessary to protect Division HQ. Attached to the rear of the truck was a munitions cart loaded with beer "borrowed" from a Yank MP section which had been blissfully sleeping off the last beer cart.

Eddie and Gunner were loudly singing a variety of vulgar songs in a variety of languages.

Sergeant Cashman sent two naive replacements to a forward O.P., with instructions to look for variations in shadows along the crags covering the reinforcement route. Cashman and the rest of Sixa Platoon gathered around the beer and dreamed of better days.

Daily, just at dawn, the Chinese sent a Geisha-and-rice supply company to Hill 344. Rays from the morning sun reflected from the protecting rock faces, enfilading their path. After a few days, the now-terrified replacements returned and reported how the shadows along the crags varied as the supply company advanced in safety along the trek.

Cashman had each man of Sixa Platoon grab a Bren from the truck, with a dozen magazines, and bench-rest them with sandbags along their forward trench. Sixa sighted-in their weapons five yards before the end of the second open space along the supply route.

Leaving the Brens in place, Sixa returned to their slumbers until the morning of 3RAR's assault.

Before dawn on D-Day, the platoon again manned their weapons, and waited.

As reported, shadow variations in the protecting crags marked the hidden passage of the Geisha-and-rice supply company, becoming stationary as they grouped before the first open space, then darted across. When the shadows paused before the second space, Sixa released their safeties. At the first sign of movement into the space every man emptied a full magazine from bench rest at full automatic, without aiming. The random variation in each individual round resulted in a torrential 1000 rounds in four seconds, saturating the last 10-yards of the pass just as the Chinese escort platoon filled the space.

They were slaughtered to a man, not even realizing they were being fired upon.

Inserting new magazines, Sixa dropped a new blanket of death in the area just as the second Chinese platoon, rice and ammunition bearers, waded through the corpses of their comrades.

Reloading, as the Geishas and Sake platoon started into the pass Sixa released still another torrent of bullets but the Chinese stopped short, staring aghast at the carnage ahead. Pausing but briefly, they reversed course and raced back to their Reserve area, reporting that hundreds of Australian Devils were lying in ambush.

When the assault on Hill 344 began with the Kiwis' intense artillery barrage, the Chinese took cover. Their commander radioed for reinforcements, struggling to be heard over the exploding shells, but was told that the Australians had cut the route and were possibly surrounding the entire Hill.

Reinforcement was considered suicidal.

When the Kiwis lifted their fire, 3RAR began advancing across the valley. Without hope of reinforcement, the Chinese commander ordered their positions abandoned and thanked his Gods as, Sixa now peacefully finishing the last of the Yank beer, his men passed safely over their slaughtered comrades.

Hill 344 fell without a single 3RAR casualty.

Upon hearing the incredible news, Division staff sent a detachment of Military Police to be sure Sergeant Cashman was wearing his tin hat, and quickly promoted and decorated one another before High Command could hear of the zero casualty result.

All in all, the day would have been quite satisfactory, but for the reaction of the Australian Press to the details of how reinforcement of Hill 344 had been prevented:

Australian Mercenaries Attempt Murder Of Chinese Civilians

As innocent Chinese women civilians attempted to comfort their comrades on a Korean Hill, said by the People's Volunteer Army to be a Hospital, thugs wearing Australian uniforms attempted to ambush and slaughter them on their mission of mercy. Fortunately, the civilians managed to escape, but many innocent coolies, said by the People's Volunteer Army to be carrying medical supplies, were slaughtered.

The Hospital, haven for helpless Chinese sick and wounded, had to be abandoned.

We demand the leader of the Australian platoon pay for these Crimes Against Humanity. The Honour of Australia Fair must be preserved !!!

When hordes of Media correspondents converged on Divsion HQ the following morning, demanding justice against anyone besmirching Australian Honour, they found Sergeant Cashman tied to a post on the Parade Grounds. A newly-decorated General (formerly Colonel) was assembling a firing squad. Fortuitously, the MP section had found Cashman without his tin hat, and so had dragged him back to Division HQ in irons, accidentally placing HQ in ideal position to satisfy the demands of the Press.

Seeing that justice was being so expeditiously prosecuted, the Press was indeed satisfied. En masse, they radioed home to assure an agitated readership that the Honour of Australia Fair was, through their efforts, again safe.

The Press would have stayed to see the actual execution, only they just had time to catch the next plane to Tokyo, and so continue their biology lessons on the Ginza. Again en masse, they departed as quickly as they had arrived.

As the last scribe raced after the last staff car, the General stood the firing squad down, cut Digger loose from the post, jammed a tin hat on Digger's head, and ripped off his chevrons, snarling:

"Unfortunately I can't shoot you, Cashman. Priority orders have come down from High Command. Until the Division is disbanded, you are to keep all paths at Division HQ lined with white rocks.

"Is that understood?"

"Arrrr" replied Private Cashman smartly.

The End

In Remembrance
Digger Cashman and Steady Eddie Wright, 1952

The late Ron Cashman, MM, 3RAR, was my friend.

I once mentioned I had won an international award based on complicated statistical algorithms, and Ron remarked: "Given the natural genius of the average Digger, Mate, if your system is any good you can explain it in terms I can understand."

As this was clearly true and as Ron and I were both disgusted with media ignorance of the everyday choices combat infantry must face, I composed the above allegory. It amused my friend as much as writing it amused me.

p.s. - If you, as was my Mate Ron, are a dinkum Digger you now know the secrets of my statistical control system ... and also why I was never Head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Apropos of nothing ... To me, the US Army higher command levels failed abysmally in Korea.

First, they failed to prepare our ground forces psychologically for the savage realities of infantry combat. Instead, they prepared our combat units basically for nothing but garrison duty. Secondly, they initially failed to equip all our infantry with the 3.5 inch superbazooka and HEAT rounds, to effectively cope with modern armor, even though these had been made standard shortly after WWII. Finally, they failed to introduce reliable small-unit communications equipment, and special weapons such as infrared night-vision carbines, even though these would have given us a decisive edge in small-unit combat at night.

These blunders are consistent with High Command's lack of understanding of the tactics and strengths of the North Koreans, and of the CCF itself. Together, these blunders of command were primarily responsible for our initial defeats by the North Koreans, and for our later crushing defeats by the CCF. These deficiencies were largely corrected over time, and we did force the Chinese and NK to the truce table, but the men who paid were those who were killed, wounded or imprisoned, not the higher command levels actually responsible for the blunders.

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