Chapter 13



Service Details

A career officer with 37 years in the Australian Army. Educated atGeelong College then the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Long Gunnery Staff Course (UK),the Australian Staff College, the Joint Services Staff College (UK) and the Royal Collegeof Defence Studies (UK). Service with BCOF (Japan), Korea, BOAR (Germany), Malaysia andVietnam. He was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)in 1972 and retired in 1981 with the rank of Brigadier after being Commandant of theAustralian Joint Services Staff College. He now lives in Cook, ACT.


I was the FOO (Forward Observation Officer) with B Company 1 BattalionRoyal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) on Operation "Fauna" in the Korean Winter10-11 December 1952. Unlike some others, whose accounts are full of detail, I kept nonotes or diary while in Korea commanding D Troop, 162 Battery, 16 Field Regiment RNZA (24x 25 pounders) which I joined about mid 1952. Being over 40 years ago there were seriousgaps in my memory but, for reasons that follow, some moments during the operation arestill all too vivid.

In a visit to 1 Battalion RAR about mid October, during a short respitegranted 28 Commonwealth Brigade, I met Major A.S. "Joe" Mann briefly. I alreadyknew two 1RAR company commanders well, having spent weeks "on the hill" withMajors David Thomson and Bruce Hearn. Captain Kayler Thomson always gave me a cheery waveas I passed but I regarded the very efficient Major "Bill" Weir, the battlesecond in command with awe. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel "Bunny"Austin, had been my popular small arms instructor at Royal Military College in 1945-46.

In late October 1952, I occupied the left forward Observation Post (OP)on Hill 355, "Little Gibraltar". It was a real "eagle eyrie" with amagnificent view of the whole divisional front, from the Samichon River on the left toHill 317 on the right. Located on the forward slope just behind the western company, theOP's "zone of observation" included Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Hill 227andwest), the valley floor and all the features leading up to 317, including Flora, a spurreaching out towards Number "55" OP, from the main feature. That was why the myOP was visited by so many senior officers , Divisional Commander, Brigade Commander andChief Of Staff, in the early hours, invariably just after morning stand-to, when I wastrying to get some sleep. Although my OP had a magnificent view of the approaches, due tothe steep convex slope, there was some dead ground within and just forward of the leftforward company position. This, B Company had re-occupied after the Chinese on John (onthe 227 ridge line) had dealt severely with 1 Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). In fact, itwas a shambles, bodies in half filled trenches, weapon pits caved in, wire chopped about,minefields unmarked and hygiene, well! Late mornings or early afternoons I scrambled downto "Joe" Mann's Company Headquarters to discuss support for patrols that nightor to register targets in dead ground from the OP. One afternoon he came with me while Iadjusted a regimental close Defensive Fire (DF) in the wire lest the enemy again attemptwhat they had done to the Canadians, fully aware that a large proportion of shells wouldfall within our Forward Defence Line (FDL). Over those weeks I formed a great admirationfor Joe Mann, grey with weariness but ever the leader, restoring the company position,despite being overlooked by an enemy still shelling, mortaring and probing his positionand out-posts. In my view, Joe had already earned a Distinguished Service Order (DSO)before his company was moved to the more secure right flank of 355 and we were warned forOperation "Fauna".

On the morning of 10 December 1952, Captain "Danny" Danskin,from the Royal Artillery (RA) 4.2 inch Mortar Light Battery, relieved me in 55 OP. With myOP assistant, Lance /Bombardier John Bright, a truly "bright" Kiwi sheep farmerand Gunner John (?) Burgess, my radio operator, I set off for Battalion Headquarters. Themodel was accurate, the briefing clear but I experienced a growing dread as the ordersunfolded.

I had gazed down at the very ground we were to cover, day and nightsfor more than six weeks and I did not like the odds on such a large group getting to"Flora" undetected by the enemy positions overlooking it. Surprise would beessential! What had happened to the doctrine of secure start lines etc. A dicey do! JohnBright quietly voiced his misgivings. Thank goodness we were going with big Joe Mann!

After the Orders (O) Group, the Commanding Officer 16 Field RegimentRoyal New Zealand Artillery (RNZA), Lieutenant Colonel "Pat" Patterson andBattery Commander 162 Battery, Major Trevor Acherley explained the fire plan to me in moredetail., The whole divisional artillery (with 16 Field Regiment on call in direct support)and two platoons of United States 155mm howitzers! Wow! But my role was strictly limited.The targets had been selected from those previously registered by me and others in thepreceding weeks; shooting into the general area that day was strictly taboo to maintainsurprise. Having been told my tasks were to provide an alternative communication link, andcall for the fire plan 'CAPSTAN' when OC B Company was ready or surprise lost, to adjust,(if I could see anything), to help with navigation if necessary, they wished me "goodluck". I felt I would need it.

After being relieved in the OP, and as I was not needed for therehearsals, a shower seemed in order, especially as I had not had a proper wash for aboutthree weeks. The Mobile Bath Section was near Brigade Headquarters and I bumped intoCaptain "Alby" Morrison who invited me to lunch. Captain John Stevenson, an oldfriend, had recently arrived and he joined us. (Both later became Major-Generals).Brigadier (Later Lieutenant General Sir Thomas) Daly spotted me and being aware of my rolethat night, asked what I was doing. Of course I had not mentioned the operation and hereadily accepted my explanation without question. Then the long slow climb back to Hill355. From my OP I identified the targets, marked them on a clean map section that wouldfit in my pocket, and checked the route on the ground before briefing Bright and Burgessfrom the OP. The usual checks of radio and equipment followed. The bullet and shrapnelproof vests arrived, the first time I'd worn one.

At 1700 hours (5 PM) we joined B Company on the right of 355 and werewelcomed with a hot meal. Then a chat with Joe Mann in his bunker. Major Eric Smith, OC ACompany, was already there, having relieved B Company earlier in the afternoon. We yarned.I had a nap, having decided there was nothing more I could contribute at this stage. I wasonly dozing and recall Eric's remark about the "sleep of the innocent". Littledid he know of my concerns. The move down the slope of 355 was tediously slow. The snow onthe track had been packed to ice and, despite rope handholds in places, it was hard not tofall, let alone fall quietly. Each fall added to the delay so we were late reaching thevalley floor. Then it was slow moving over the cracking ice paddy fields, in the sub-zerotemperature. But the noisy 1st Republic of Korea (ROK) Divisional battle on our right wasgood cover and a real bonus. Yet, when the unfortunate friendly contact occurred, it washard to believe the din had not been detected. What with the delay, surely the raid wouldbe called off now. Joe Mann again checked with Battalion Headquarters. To mysurprise, we went on, periodically checking navigation and communications as quietly as wecould, but, not quietly enough for the Company Commander who had some words with my radiooperator.

As we penetrated between the menacing spurs I expected we would bedetected and fired on at any minute. At last we reached the correct re-entrant, climbedtowards the snow covered "Flora" ridge where B Company sorted themselves out. Idrew my pistol. I could see the outline of the trenches to our north but still all wasquiet. Suddenly, there were shouts and shots. I called for 'CAPSTAN' (the code name forour supporting fire) and down it came, shells swishing overhead to land to all threesides, to west, north and east as we set off south along the ridge away from the explodingshells. I followed Joe Mann as closely as I could, keeping the communication trenchleading up to the enemy outpost which was our objective, on our right. Against the snow onthe ridge it looked black and bottomless. I was determined not to fall in. By the time wereached the bunkers and trenches which formed the objective it was pretty noisy, smallarms predominating. From what I could see and hear, the fire plan seemed to be working OK.The Company Comd collected situation reports (sitreps), having difficulty raising some whowere too busy to reply. Enemy mortar bombs began falling and Joe and I had a short sharpdiscussion on the difference in sound between rounds going out and coming in.

He suggested we get down while we sorted things out. I had no soonerhit the deck than something big thumped me hard in the chest. A grenade! I rolled superquickly and felt something like a "cat of nine tails" thrash both upper arms,shoulders, lower back and buttocks as the bottom of the vest jammed into my spine. Icalled to Joe that I had been hit. His immediate response was "Can you walk?"Half stunned, I called back "I can't get up!" A big paw hauled me to my feet,Joe obviously did not relish the prospect of carrying me home. Just then another grenadelanded about five yards in front of me, and a piece punched into my right thigh. We hadbeen lying over an occupied bunker. Joe saw where the grenade had come from, moved towardsthe bunker opening and emptied his Owen machine carbine inside. No more Chinese grenades!

After another radio check it was time to move out. With Bright underone arm and Burgess under the other we set off after Joe Mann, striding down the slope. Hesoon outdistanced us so I took a compass bearing, which I had recorded in preparation, andheaded for the minefield gap near Halifax outpost. At some stage I called for a"Repeat" of the fire plan. Along the way the medium 155 mms firing north ofcheck point "Julius" seemed very close and I asked for them to be lifted furtherup the slope. It was slow going but we polished on. There were no complaints from Brightand Burgess who could not have been more supportive. Occasionally, we dimly glimpsed othergroups heading the same direction but at better speed. We hit the minefield gap right onthe nose, the silhouette of 355 having been a big help in keeping direction. There was JoeMann waiting to check us in. He and some of his chaps helped with the long slow slipperyclimb back onto the summit of 355, taking turns with the two Kiwis. Some steep pincheswere so icy that progress on hands and knees was the surest way, particularly, as I foundfalling pretty uncomfortable. It was daylight when at last we reached the top. Bright andBurgess took my vest, webbing and pistol and headed back to 55 OP. The vest was shreddedfrom top to bottom but nothing had entered my chest and back above the waist. Whether JoeMann helped me or carried me to the forward Regimental Aid Post (RAP) I can't remember asI was pretty much "all in" by this time, All my clothes were cut off and I wasput face down on a stretcher with a blanket over me. Then followed the rough jeepambulance ride down 355 to the Battalion RAP where the Indian Field Ambulance had set up aCasualty Clearing Point (CCP).

After some medical probing and prodding I was given a blood transfusionfollowed by a shot of morphine and began to feel much better. Captain Peter Cook, Adjutant1 Battalion RAR, who had been my Section Commander at Royal Military College, showed upover my misty horizon. He asked if I needed anything. By this time I felt pretty cold so Ianswered "Yes, your jumper", He took if off like a shot and tucked it around me.I still owe Peter a jumper! Then the medical evacuation system , but that is a story onits own. Sufficient to say here that the system in the Indian Field Ambulance, NorwegianMobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), Seoul, Kure and Concord looked after memagnificently and relieved me of seventeen grenade fragments. (There are still five in mypelvis area, much to the surprise of radiographers).

My assessment of Operation "Fauna"? A risky but well plannedoperation, professionally executed by some very brave men. I cannot speak too highly ofthose who entered the Chinese trenches and bunkers. I don't believe it was their fault wedid not get a prisoner , given the depth of the bunkers and tenacity of the Chinese. Thefire plan worked well as far as I can tell. The whole divisional artillery and twoplatoons of 155 mm mediums, 84 guns in all, is the sort of support an infantry companydeserves when engaged in such a hazardous operation in close contact with a resoluteenemy. As we move further in time from conflict this is too easily forgotten and we seemto be returning to the folly of expecting infantry to move bare-chested into battlewithout adequate supporting fire. My two gunner colleagues were great, typically pragmaticKiwis. I have seen neither since that night despite efforts to locate them when in NewZealand, but I have always been conscious of the debt I owe them.

My admiration for Joe Mann is boundless. Without his cool, calmleadership the operation could not have been even a limited success. He gave everyoneconfidence and was the cement that held it all together. The epitome of the goodcommander! Personally, I learned a lot from him in those early weeks on 355 when he was athis best. Then, I would have followed him anywhere.


                 SEARCH SITE                  
     Principal Infantry Weapons     
                   Guest Book                   

     The Korean War, 1950-1953        
  Map and Battles of the MLR   
        Korean War Time Line        


© Australian Album ©