Chapter 12



Service Details

A.E. "Gus" Breen was educated at Waverley College, Sydney,1942-47. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in December 1951 and wasallocated to the Corps of Infantry. Posted to 1 RAR Korea as a Platoon Commander(Lieutenant) he saw further service with 2 RAR when it relieved 1 RAR. He was seconded tothe 6148 Tactical Control Squadron, 5 USAF, April 1953 as an Aerial Observer.GS03,Headquarters, Australian Army Component - Japan 1954, Adjutant, Queensland UniversityRegiment 1955-58 and then transferred to the CMF. For his Korea War service Gus wasawarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (USA) and the Air Medal (USA). Post military careerincludes Marketing and Chief Executive, appointments in a number of National andInternational companies. Directorships in New Zealand, Australia and South East Asiacomplemented these responsibilities. He retired in 1991 but continues to work in abusiness consultative capacity. He lives in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove

Breen thumbnail
O.C. 4Pl B Coy 1RAR
Taken on Hill 355 Xmas '52

The Time,1000 hours (10 am) Wednesday 9th December, 1952. The Place,355 "Little Gibraltar", B Company 1 RAR right forward Company under Major A S"Joe" Mann. A summons to Company Headquarters, a brief comment that B Companywas to raid a Chinese Heavy Mortar position some 1,000 metres behind their ForwardDefensive Localities (FDLs), a jeep ride to Battalion Headquarters, there to be greeted byan imposing group led by the Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel M A"Bunny" Austin, Battle 2nd in command (2IC), Major S P "Bill" Weir (the "Black Prince"), Adjutant Captain P J "Peter") Cook andIntelligence Officer, Captain "Harry" Sayers. I had met them fleetingly upon myjoining the Battalion ten days previously. With my grim-faced compatriots, Major"Joe", Lieutenant Bruce Boys, 5 Platoon Commander, Sergeant "Bob"Kavanagh, 6 Platoon Commander, we exchanged greetings, before being ushered to our placesaround an elaborate mud model.

The Commanding Officer. began the briefing stressing, the importance oftaking a prisoner, the in depth detail being left to Major Weir. It would be superfluousto attempt to elaborate on the comprehensive Operations Orders. It was to be carried outto the letter with two exceptions. As the Operation Order anticipated, the timing of theapproach was difficult to estimate. This is why the start line was so far forward. Whitesmocks normally required in the event of snow falls were not used. My moment of truth hadarrived, 4 Platoon was to lead the approach march and the assault. The group disbanded, afull-dress rehearsal being set for 1500 hours (3 PM). Section Commander briefingsfollowed, then the men. We rehearsed under the critical gaze of the Brigade Commander,Brigadier T J "Tom" Daly. He was dissatisfied, we rehearsed again.

10th December, a fine clear day, temperature minus 2 degrees. Wecleaned weapons, checked equipment, the men taken in pairs into the forward trenches,there to be shown the approach route, objective and way home. We were ready. 1600 hours (4PM), A Company arrived on cue to take over our position. Dinner 1700 hours, 1745 hours,darkness. 2100 hours, the Chaplains arrived, Roman Catholic Father Frank Shine, OtherProtestant Denominations, Padre McAdam. 2330 hours (11 PM), move to Forming Up Place, (BCompany kitchen area, south east rear slopes of our position). 5 Platoon preceded us,moving off at 2340 hours to take up their firm base under the Chinese held position,"Julius", across the valley, our whispered "good luck" going withthem.

The accuracy of the intelligence information available to BattalionHeadquarters is worthy of comment. 1 Republic of Korea (ROK South Korea) Division, 800metres to our right had engaged in heavy fighting, repelling massed Chinese attacks on thetwo previous evenings. Would this continue and divert attention from our pending fracas?It did. Surprise was complete, the Chinese Defensive Fire being concentrated east of us.It was certainly making its presence felt, stars shells providing brilliant illumination.

At 2400 hours(12 PM mid night) 4 Platoon, Company Headquarters, onesection of the Assault Pioneers Platoon and 6 Platoon moved off in that order, singlefile, into the mine-field gap down the steep icy slope, slipping, sliding, inching ourway, hand over hand on the barbed wire fencing. At last we reached the valley floor,passing the "Halifax" outpost manned by C Company 3 RAR. It took one hour tocover 700 metres with 3,000 to go. 1 Section under Corporal Noel Beresi led, in arrowhead,Private "Bill" Purcell, forward scout, "Stan" Norminton, 2nd Scout.They were three outstanding soldiers. Progress was slow, three inches of dry snowcrunching noisily underfoot. The foot-long stalks of grass breaking with every stride withthe crossing a part-frozen creek adding to our difficulties. The noise deadening snowfallwe had hoped for had not arrived.

We pressed on, close to our firm base standing patrols dotting no-man'sland. A challenge from 6 Platoon behind us. "Halt", the password with noresponse. We froze. A repeat muffled challenge and still no response. A burst from an Owensub machine carbine, a squeal, an expletive, silence. We lay motionless. Ten minutes wentpast. Then a whispered command from "the Boss" (Major Mann) over my 88 wirelessset, to proceed. We moved on slowly, deliberately. Later we were to learn that thechallenge had come from Corporal "Dave" Young of 6 Platoon. The slightly woundedvictim, one of our own supporting troops. We turned north between two Chinese-held hills,our objective, on FLORA, the right-hand one. We were well behind schedule. Still with1,000 yards to go. There was no turning back, but we remained undetected. My job was tochoose the correct re-entrant onto the ridge - line of the objective. Go too far north andwe'd strike the main Chinese defences. To turn prematurely would have meant a totallyfruitless mission. There was no margin for error. We turned right, reached the ridge anddeployed into extended line with two sections astride the north/south eight-feet deepcommunication trench, facing South. My batman "Sam" Small and I linking theSections. It was 0400 hours. We were two hours behind schedule, a factor which, whilst itcaused initial concern, was subsequently of little consequence.

My memory is of the "pungent odour" of Chinese food. We werecertainly in the right place. The dim outline of the enemy trenches, bunkers and weaponpits silhouetted sixty metres ahead. Behind us, 3 Section under Lance Corporal"Ken" Woodhart with my Platoon Sergeant John "Mac" McNulty positionedthemselves. Company Headquarters followed. 6 Platoon, behind them, moved northward toattack their objective. It was unoccupied enabling two of their sections to join the mainassault force. 4 Platoon advanced to within forty metres of the enemy. There was still noreaction. Then it happened. A mixture of "Burps" (Chinese sub machine carbines),potato-mashers (Chinese anti personnel grenades on a stick) and percussion grenadesgreeted us. We propped, some dropping to one knee to return fire. The platooncommander's job was to keep things moving so we pressed forward. We quickened pacefiring from the hip, Private "Ralph" Townsend's Bren gun on the left flank neversounded better. Still the grenades came, their white trailing tape being clearly visible.Corporal Ron Porto of 2 Section dropped two men, Privates Albert Charfield and KeithPayne, into the blackness of the communication trench. One of them, Keith Payne, was laterto forge a place in Australian military history, being awarded the Victoria Cross whilston service in South Vietnam. They reported deep tunnels dug along the trench walls, intowhich grenades were promptly dispatched.

It takes intestinal fortitude "guts", of the highest order,to drop into the unknown, the "bottomless trench" of unknown enemy bunkers.There is no time to think about it. You jump, you hope, you move swiftly, you do your job,you get out. In this case on the end of a rifle dangled by a mate above. Behind us, shoutsof "CHOH - CHOH CHOH" (Beware) could be heard as reinforcements poured from thetunnel network of the main enemy position. Withering fire from the two Bren guns ofCorporal "Paddy" Crotty's section, 6 Platoon, positioned for such aneventuality, quickly dampened this enthusiasm. They went underground. Up front 4 Platooncleared the objective disposing of all inhabitants, moved through it, reorganizing thirtyyards beyond. Casualties, two missing, (one Private "Jim" Young was to returnthe following evening) and three wounded.

Back on the objective, Company Headquarters confronted the second wave.From the tunnel network came a further hail of grenades, Major "Joe" Mann, twicebeing blown off his feet. Captain John Salmon, our Artillery Forward Observation Officer(FOO), although peppered with fragments directed pre-planned fire tasks onto six areaslocated several hundred metres north, east and west of "Flora", The Chineseretaliated, mortaring our position. there was little point in staying, in fact our clearinstructions were not to remain on the objective. The order came to withdraw. 4 Platoonleading down a spur to the east in an orderly manner, section at a time with"Sam" Small and I bringing up the rear. It was 0420 hours. We had not taken aprisoner, our primary task. In hindsight, an almost impossible mission. The Chinese didn'tmake a habit of being captured or leaving their wounded. The confusion of a close contactcan tend to take precedence.

Caution wasn't a major ingredient of the withdrawal. We moved swiftly,reaching the minefield gap in thirty minutes. Again the Chinese reaction was predictedcorrectly. They would anticipate that we had come from the western end of 355 mortaringand shelling accordingly. On the eastern end we were struggling with our wounded. Private"Bob" Auhl, unconscious, strapped to a stretcher with rifle slings, was brought"home" by exhausted mates, on their hands and knees, clawing every icy metre upthat gap. I had taken my turn and can still recall our race against the mortars which, bythis time, had switched to our return route. Thankfully, though close, they wereineffective allowing us to reach our forward defensive line (FDL) by 0630 hours unscathed,there to be greeted by an exuberant and a relieved Commanding Officer. It was still darkand only then did I realise, very cold. In any action, the people who make the contactinvariably receive the accolades. We certainly did. Spare a thought for the many unsung"diggers" who supported us. The firm base personnel from 5 Platoon, the fightingambush patrols from every company who lay in the snow for four hours, numb, unable tomove. They too deserved our praise and our thanks.

Operation "Fauna" was a success from many points of view. Itis the story of a company, very well led by a great fighting soldier "Joe" MannDistinguished Service Order (DSO)., a story of total co-operation between 1 Battalion and3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. It is yet another example of the discipline andcourage inherent in every "Digger". For me, personally, it was the "baptismof fire" for a young platoon commander and an opportunity to lead a seasoned team ofprofessionals. To cement an understanding and some friendships, many of which remaintoday. It is not complete, for, as the forward platoon commander, I had little first-handknowledge of the events which occurred behind me. That matters not. If you were there thatevening in any capacity you can feel justifiably proud.

Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Mann O.C. B. Company,

1952 on reviewing "Gus" Breen's Paper

The shooting of one of the 1 Battalion RAR standing patrol membersforced me to send the Company Medical Corporal and stretcher bearers to evacuate thewounded soldier. I was conscious that it would deplete these resources but it was adeliberate decision

Speed of Movement

Comments have been made that the outward journey was too slow. I canassure you that the terrain, to say the least, was difficult. Iced pools of water in thepaddy fields would break through as you trod on them and even a soft curse would travelsome distance. Generally, the ground was iced-over and slippery and if a soldier fell anddropped his weapon it could ice-up. I had reports from previous patrols on this matter. Asa matter of interest, after the operation some members of the Company suggested that oneof the missing in action (MIA) had an "iced-up" rifle and couldn't fire.


It was difficult to find the correct re-entrant into which we turnedright to reach the objective. I must say "thank you" to "Gus" for hisgood navigation. Too deep or even too shallow could have been catastrophic.


I believe that we achieved complete surprise and I did not appreciatethe Signal Officer's, "Bruce" Rogers, request for a situation report (sitrep)just seconds before we made contact. I believe I was rather rude to him.

The Chinese opened fire and many of their bullets were over our heads.This confirmed reports from patrols which drew fire, that generally the fire was high.From later work with the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, I would say that soldiersfire high and more so at night. Our answer was to concentrate on firing low. One over yourhead is disturbing but a close ricochet is terrifying.

When 4 Platoon fired, and it was on target, there was no return of firefor some seconds and then it was really on.

Communications Trench

Although it was stated that the communications trench had beendeepened, I don't think it was appreciated how deep. I would say nine feet. Members of theassault party who jumped into the trench had to be helped out by lowering a rifle muzzlefirst, then lifted out. I wouldn't recommend this from a safety point of view.


Various historians quote B Company casualties as 3 missing in action(MIA), 22 wounded in action (WIA), however, the 22 wounded included other 1 Battalion RARcasualties, 3 Battalion RAR, Royal Tanks etc. The 3 MIA was reduced to 2 MIA when PrivateJim Young returned the following evening,

B Company/Assault Pnr Casualties were:

MIA Private R D Rootes 4 Platoon

MIA Private L J Griffiths Assault Parse

WIA Captain J R Salmon F.O.O.

WIA Sergeant R F Kavanagh 6 Platoon

WIA Private W J Young 4 Platoon

WIA Private R E Auhl 4 Platoon

WIA Private J H Gemmell 4 Platoon

WIA Private T J Williams Company Headquarters

One man from Standing Patrol 5 Platoon

John Salmon carried out his F.O.O., tasks well, John was aprofessional. "Gus", too, performed admirably.

The attack on Company Headquarters blasted me upwards and I landed on"Tommy" Williams, my Batman. Later, I said to Tommy "Well, I landed on youand I probably saved your life" , his reply, "You bloody near broke myback". When my head cleared, I realized that there was no chance of getting aprisoner and to stay would invite more casualties. We had destroyed what we could, so itwas "Boomerang" back home. John Salmon should have been a stretcher case, but,as he could stand and walk I sent him out with my Batman with the comment "make theminefield gap".

I was at the foot of the feature instructing all troops to spread out,10 yards between men, because of the Artillery and Mortar attacks. I found SergeantMcNutlty trying to get Sergeant Kavanagh, who was wounded, to move. He wanted to wait forCorporal Crotty. I then tried to contact Crotty with no response. The wireless had beenblown up a couple of times with me, so I gave it an old-fashioned thump. It worked andcontact was made. He "Wilco'd" (message received and will be complied with) andwithout releasing the handset said "Thank Christ the big bastard's OK". The nextday I asked him what right he had to call me a "big bastard" ("Joe"was 6'3" and weighed around 16 stone).

The withdrawal was not a "bug-out". The gaps between the men,no bunching, and the faster speed of the return run ensured that there were no casualtiesduring that phase. I then called company second in command (2IC), Captain Cyril Morahan,and 5 Platoon to move after Crotty's section was clear. As I neared the top of theminefield gap I saw John Salmon. Putting him across my shoulder, I took him to the R.A.P.where the Doctor, Basil Ireland, was waiting. John couldn't make the last few yards, hisbackside was one hell of a mess.

In the strict sense we had not achieved our aim, to capture a prisoner,but I can say with confidence that B Company will be remembered with pride in 1Battalion's regimental history.


1. Two daylight and one night rehearsal were held.

2. See para 5 1 RAR Intelligence Report No 39 for period 100700 hours to 1107000 hours December 1952. Also note par 4 Hostile Shelling from this Intrep which was above normal and added to casualties that night in 1 RAR Area.

   Par 3 shows ranges at which vehicles were sighted during night 10/112 December, 1952 gives an indication of the importance of 355. From its top all 10 battalions of 1 COMWEL Division were visible and many from 1 ROK Div.

3. The Austin papers at War Memorial include a contemporary report on "Fauna" which recommended spare radio sets being carried. This applied to the earlier July raid on 227. Today's sets are more reliable but there is probably a lesson here nevertheless. Battalion "Rover Group" including C.O. Fd Bty Comd IO Sig Officer were on top of 355 to gain maximum wireless reception. Normal Comd Post 1.0 was manned by battle 2I/C and Adjt.

Most histories incorrectly list all 22 casualties with the raidingCompany. The Regimental History, "Duty First" lists, 1 ROK on our left insteadof right. The anticipated Chinese attack on 1 ROK on this night was of significance. Weonly had one ROK Liaison Officer and there was some debate as to whether he went toBattalion tactical Headquarters or stayed at the Command. Post (which he did).

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