1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
1 RAR: FIRST BATTALION, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT |
KOREA 1952 - 1953
By Herb Stacker
Herb, at 20 years of age , served as a Private in 1 RAR and as a Signaller and Mortarman in Mortar Platoon, Support Company. Herb became a casualty statistic when he himself was wounded.
The Australian Government announced on 5th October 1951 that a second infantry battalion was to be sent to Korea to increase Australia's commitment to two infantry battalions.
3 RAR had been sent to Korea from Japan on 28 September 1950. 1 RAR was the Battalion selected to join 3 RAR in Korea, and it served from 3rd April 1952 till 24th March 1953.
Commanded by Lt Col (Lieutenant Colonel) Ian Hutchison DSO MC ,1 RAR embarked from 2 Wharf, East Circular Quay, Sydney, Australia on Monday 3rd March 1952. The ship arrived at Kure, Japan, at 11.35 am on Tuesday 18th March at 11.35 a.m. 1952. From Kure the battalion left for Pusan, South Korea at 8.30 on Thursday 3rd April 1952.
After disembarking 1 RAR went by rail to a bivouac area behind the front line. Intensive Training was carried out prior to its taking up a front-line position on 17th June. This position, occupied until 8th July, was on the static line across the 38th parallel where a valley separated them from the enemy. During this short period 1 RAR was subjected to heavy shelling and mortar bombardment.
Before the Battalion moved to a another position in North Korea, the significant Operation, " Blaze" was carried out on 2nd July: A Company, led by Major David Thomson, in daylight led an attack on the enemy held Hill 227. This Operation, called "Operation Blaze," began at 0900. The OC of A Co., Major Thomson, in this action earned an immediate Military Cross. The citation for the award provides an account of this significant operation.
The citation reads:
"On the morning of 2nd July, 1952, Major Thomson, with outstanding skill and gallantry, led A Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, on a raid against a well organised and entrenched enemy strong point on Hill 227, in Korea.
"Displaying dash and determination of a very high order, Major Thomson quickly gained the top of Hill 227 and with complete disregard for his own personal safety directed his two forward platoons on to their objectives.
"Despite heavy, accurate enemy small arms, mortar and artillery fire, and the fact that his company headquarters received two direct hits from enemy mortar fire, killing his wireless operator and wounding the artillery forward observation officer attached to his headquarters, and two other members, Major Thomson continued to direct operations, and with amazing calm and tenacity so inspired his men that they remained in possession of the enemy strong point for 90 minutes, blasting and wrecking the enemy defences with flame and specially prepared high explosive grenades.
"It was only when he was running out of ammunition, and on receipt of orders to do so, that he finally withdrew. During the withdrawal he remained until the last and only left the position when he was sure that all his wounded had been evacuated safely to our lines. At this stage he was wounded in the right arm but refused to have his wound attended to until he had reorganised his Company back to their base.
"Throughout the entire action Major Thomson displayed qualities of leadership, courage and devotion to duty of the highest order and his conduct was an inspiration to all."
The attack was witnessed from a nearby hill by a group of high ranking officers including General James Van Fleet, GOC 8th US Army; General Mark Clark, GOC Far Eastern Command; Major General A.J.H. Cassels GOC 1st Commonwealth Division and OC Australian 28th Brigade, Brigadier Thomas Daly.
That senior American Officers were observing this action allowed them to award an immediate Silver Star. The recipient was Corporal H.E. Patch. His citation explains why he had earned such an honour.
"Corporal Patch, Infantry, a member of the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, distinguished himself by gallantry in action against the enemy it the vicinity of Kangao-ri, Korea, on 2nd July 1952. As patrol leader of a raiding party sent forward to neutralize a heavily fortified hostile emplacement which threatened the success of friendly efforts in this area, he moved forward with enthusiasm and determination that inspired his companions. Quickly manoeuvring up the steep slope toward enemy bunkers, ignoring hostile fire, he organised his men for the final assault. Without hesitation, he led his patrol in a spirited charge through heavy machine gun fire to the first of the enemy bunkers. Upon reaching its entrance, he discovered that the opening was only large enough for one man to enter at a time. As a comrade attempted to crawl into the tunnel-like entrance, he provided supporting fire. Suddenly, a burst of automatic weapons fire from within the bunker wounded Corporal Patch and his companion.
"Disregarding his wound, he succeeded in pulling his companion from the opening and moved back inside to engage the enemy. Despite a second wound received in this action, he continued with his mission until the position had been neutralised.
"The courageous and aggressive action and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Corporal Patch reflect great credit upon himself and the military service."
1 RAR's casualties for Operation Blaze were:
On Monday July 9th, 1 RAR moved to Naechon, North Korea , to relieve 1Bn KOSB (Kings Own Scottish Borderers). The Battalion took a position on the Right Flank of 28 British Commonwealth Brigade and remained there until 25th September. Immediately the enemy welcomed 1 RAR with heavy shelling. From 2300 hours on 12th July till 0100 hours on 13th July 400 enemy shells came in.
It was on 23rd August that the Assault Platoon's fencing party led by Captain P J Greville was ambushed by a 12 man enemy patrol. 1 RAR incurred its first 2 pow casualties. Both the OC of the Platoon, Capt Greville, and Private Condon were captured. Later it was confirmed that they had become Prisoners of War. Other casualties of that ambush were 1 kia and 3 wia.
At this stage of the Korean War a constant objective was to capture an enemy (Chinese) prisoner for the purpose of gathering "intelligence." It is written that very few enemy pows were captured in the static period of the Korean War.
Credit for capturing one goes to Lance Corporal D. McCarthy. For his singular action, L Cpl McCarthy was awarded an immediate MM. The citation indicates why this example of good soldiering merited an award.
"During the night of 13/14th September 1952, L/ Corporal McCarthy, commanded a section of a Fighting Patrol of C company 1 RAR , The Royal Australian Regiment.
"At 2350 hours 13th September, the leading element of the patrol encountered two parties of the enemy, totalling twenty in all, positioned along a small ridge, near the bank of a creek.
"Receiving orders to close with the enemy, Lance Corporal McCarthy at once led his section in a charge, his men firing from the hip and throwing grenades. So sudden and determined was Lance Corporal McCarthy's charge that the enemy fled in confusion, leaving two dead and two badly wounded in their ambush position. He then pursued the enemy back towards their main positions, hurling his remaining grenades and finally firing a magazine from his Owen Machine Carbine into their midst. On the way back to his section, Lance Corporal McCarthy came face to face with an armed Chinese soldier. Seizing him by the throat, McCarthy disarmed him of a rifle and three grenades and with his prisoner rejoined his Patrol Commander.
"Lance Corporal McCarthy's quick thinking, inspiring leadership and great courage were an example to all and contributed largely to the successful accomplishment of the mission with which his patrol was entrusted."
At the secure hour of 0100 hours on Tuesday 25th September, 1RAR was relieved by the 1st Battalion DLI (Durham Light Infantry) in the Naechon position. For the period when the Battalion was at the Naechon position, that is from 9th July to 25th September, it is recorded how much artillery fire the soldiers had experienced. There had been in that short period the toll on nerves of 1959 shells; 2865 mortar bombs and unidentified sources 414; which totalled 5238 shells. As could be expected the Battle Casualties mounted for that period in which 14 were kia; 51 were wia 2 became pows, giving a total of 67 casualties.
1 RAR's rest period in a "quiet" area lasted from 26th September to 31st October. Then they were moved back to "the sharp end" on 1st November, 1952. However in this position 1 RAR was not involved in patrolling other than normal standing patrols and had NO enemy contacts; nor was the Battalion subjected to enemy artillery or small arms fire so there were NO casualties. However during this period the Battalion was engaged in preparing to relieve 1 RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) on Hill 355, which is known to soldiers as "Little Gibraltar."
At this point, there was a change in command. Lt Col Hutchison handed the Battalion over to the new C.O. Lt Col Maurice Austin on 1st November 1952. This hill is said to have been more fought over than any other hill in Korea because for the 1st British Commonwealth Division it was vital ground. Its importance is suggested by the number of names it was known by: Kowang San, Hill 355 and Little Gibraltar. On 1 RAR's right flank in this position was 15 ROK ( Republic of Korea) Regiment and on the left was Australia's 3 RAR.
November meant that the severe Korean Winter began to close in. On November 7th, it snowed for the first time. By mid winter the temperatures were in the zero to 16 degrees below zero range with the winds coming from the Manchurian -Mongolian steppes hitting 1 RAR's exposed position on the heights of Hill 355.
In this position intense patrolling was necessary to regain supremacy of the no mans land that fronted 1 RAR's position. Casualties incurred at this time from the 242 patrols that were conducted were high. How dangerous were these patrols on Hill 355 area is illustrated in the citation for Lieutenant J.L. Seaton for the Mentioned in Despatches Posthumous Award he received.
The citation says:
"Periodical Award during the period 1st July to 31st December 1952
"Killed in Action 12th November 1952.
"Lieutenant Seaton was one of the best patrol commanders of the Battalion. During the period under review he carried out over thirty patrols, many of them of a reconnaissance nature involving deep penetration into enemy lines in close proximity to their positions for considerable periods of time. His individual efforts in this field were remarkable and the information he succeeded in obtaining formed the basis of much of this battalion's fighting patrol activities during this time. His determination to carry out his task and obtain information was characterised by his action on Pukchang Spur (CT 127161) on 13th /14th August 1952 when he had to pass through heavy fire to reach his objective.
"On the night 11th /12th November 1952 Lieutenant Seaton commanded a patrol at Vancouver (CT127190) which was to act as protection for a demolition party. After the charges had been fired the patrol set itself in an ambush position to await the arrival of the enemy whom it was assured would investigate the explosions. Lieutenant Seaton moved with a small portion of his patrol slightly forward of the main body.
"Approximately 10 Chinese approached the party. Fire was held until the enemy were within 6 yards. After fire was opened Lieutenant Seaton moved to the flank and continued firing. He then ordered the patrol to withdraw. However, as this was being carried out a Chinese anti tank grenade was thrown which hit and killed him. Lieutenant Seaton displayed great leadership and because of his action in remaining after he had given the order to withdraw, saved further casualties to his patrol. This officer was highly regarded by his troops whom he enthused with an aggressive fighting spirit and determination to carry out any task which was given to them. It is therefore recommended that Lieutenant Seaton be Mentioned in Despatches (Posthumous)"
A company sized attack, code named "Fauna" occurred on 12th December. Led by OC , Major A S (Joe) Mann , B Company attacked enemy positions 2 - 3 kilometres to the north of the 1 RAR position. The aim of the attack was to capture a prisoner which it failed to do but it cost in casualties 2 mia; 22 wia. One of the men listed as missing in action though returned the next day with a D company patrol.
For the approximately 2 month period on Hill 355 the Enemy's Artillery Activity was recorded: There were 1124 shells; 1523 mortar bombs; and there were 845 "Unidentified" giving a total of 3492.
For the same period the battle casualties were:
For the next period from 30th December 1952 to 30 January 1953 the Battalion was situated on the Wyoming Line at the Mison - Myon (Area 6) which proved to be a quiet time. In Area 6 there were NO casualties and NO shelling. That period was followed by a move to Tong Du Chon-ni which is where Camp Casey, a non operational rest area was situated. 1 RAR rested and recuperated here from 25th February till 21st March 1953, while waiting to be relieved by 2 RAR.
2 RAR's Advance Party arrived at Camp Casey on Monday 25th February. The tour of duty was over for most of 1 RAR. Those who had more time to serve to complete their tour were transferred to 2 RAR.
March 21st marked the day for Going Home. The Battalion entrained for Pusan where it arrived the next day. On Saturday 23rd March, before embarking on the ship "New Australia," the Battalion went to Tangok United Nations Cemetery, Pusan, to conduct Memorial Services for the 43 of their mates who had been killed or were missing.
Finally, on 24th March they were on "New Australia" sailing home via Kure, Japan., arriving at Circular Quay on 8th April 1953.
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