Chapter 27



Service Details

Vince Fazio joined the RAN in November 1950 and his Korea War servicewas on board HMAS Condamine. Promoted Sub Lieutenant November 1961 and Lieutenant 1964. Hehas served on HMA Ships Platypus, Melbourne, Vendetta, Supply, Waterhen and Nirimba withVietnam War service on HMAS Sydney. Resigned RAN in October 1975 and appointedApprenticeship Supervisor, NSW Department of Labour and Industry 1976-1987. Retired in1987. He is a regular contributor to the journal preparing manuscripts on RAN AircraftCarriers and River Class Frigates. Vince is married with 1 son, 1 daughter and 1 granddaughter and lives in the Sydney suburb of Petersham.


In March 1952, HMAS CONDAMINE loaded some 20 tons of stores andprovisions for Lord Howe Island. On the Monday morning, having bade our fond farewells, wewere at No. 1 Buoy, Farm Cove, Sydney ready to set forth. To the consternation of most ofus, sailing was delayed with no reason given. About two hours later, tugs arrivedalongside and moved us to the cruiser wharf. Not long afterwards, HMAS WAGGA camealongside and the stores were transferred to her. At lunchtime, lower deck was cleared andthe Commanding Officer put us in the picture. Instead of a balmy two week cruise to LordHowe Island we were to have a nine week refit and go to Korea to relieve HMAS WARRAMUNGA.

The refit involved, among other things, the removal of the originalBofor outfit, they being replaced with the new electro-hydraulic version. We were alsofitted with the first type 974 radar in the Royal Australian Navy. Some years later I wasinformed by Commander Stewart, when I was serving in HMAS SYDNEY, that I had thedistinction of having served in the first and last ships in the RAN to be fitted with Type974 radar Eventually, we were as ready as we could be, our numbers had been brought up toour war complement of 217, we had fully stored and taken on our full stocks of ammunition.Perhaps the only thing that was not fully stocked was enthusiasm for what lay ahead. Wenow had a new Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander (LCmdr) R. C. Savage, DistinguishedService Cross (DSC). After a short work up to see if we could frighten an enemy any morethan we did our friends, and by now, as a result of the very high standards of workcarried out by Garden Island Dockyard, we were ready to get amongst it.

In June 1952, "CONDAMINE" sailed from Sydney for Korea viaDarwin and Singapore. From Singapore she proceeded non stop to Kure in Japan. It is atribute to the designers of this class of ship that such a distance could be covered inone run. The majority of the pre-refit complement had been retained, a large number ofwhom were ordinary seamen under training, and as is usually the case, acquitted themselveswell during, the tour of duty. My role at the time was the 'Chippy' (carpenter). I was ajoiner 4th class and you don't come much lower down the scale than that. I was fullyprepared for the great struggle, never having done a damage control course or being versedin the noble craft of boat building or any of the wonders of the shipwright's calling.However, a small matter like gross ignorance was not to deter me. We had laid in damagecontrol stores and by good fortune, I had enough instinct to order some 4" x 4"wood shoring which came in useful at a later date.

By the time CONDAMINE arrive in Kure, we were no longer considered ahazard to navigation and more so, to ourselves. The gunners were shooting quite well, andwere known to occasionally hit what they were aiming at. At last we reckoned we were readyto show the North Koreans a thing or two. On 4th August 1952, CONDAMINE took her warstation off the Haeju Peninsula on the west coast of Korea, as a unit of the task force.

On 7th August, CONDAMINE fired her first angry shots when she bombardedNorth Korean positions on the mainland opposite Hudo Island. The following day, CONDAMINErelieved U.S.S. KIMBERLY as Task Unit Commander, defending the Chodo-Sokto Islands at themouth of the Chinampo River. The following week consisted of daily bombardments, with airsupport from the carrier group over the horizon. (They must have been well out to sea, aswe never caught sight of them). During one of our actions, we were dismayed to actuallysee a Royal Navy "Firefly" aircraft blown up in mid air by a good bit of enemyshooting. It brought home to us that the Naval war was not entirely one-sided.

We were relieved by HMS ST BRIDES BAY and proceeded to Sasebo, Japan,having to go hundreds of miles out of our way to avoid a typhoon. Can't say that I wouldrecommend a frigate and typhoon combination as a desirable way to travel. The deck edgewas close to being immersed on a number of occasions and I recall sitting down for themidday meal which was stew of indeterminate ancestry. The ship rolled, everything on thetable started to slide and I could not fend everything off at once. The devil wasdetermined that I was not to be denied this culinary delight however, as the plate of stewslid gracefully off the table and landed on my lap without spilling a drop. It hadprobably coagulated on the way. After a spell in Sasebo during which we took about an houror so it seemed, to pass U.S.S. MISSOURI, (they are big ships) our little lady CONDAMINEset off for the east coast to show the presence there reporting to the Task Unit Commanderoff the Yongdo area, relieving HMS MOUNTS BAY. Our area of action was from Yongdo toChongjin in the north to Chado in the south, giving the North Korean railways a hard time.This activity consisted of lurking offshore with the main armament loaded, ranged andready, waiting for any train to work up a full head of steam in the tunnels which formed alarge part of the rail system.

At the first sign of steam, etc., rushing out of the tunnel, it was thesignal that the driver was making a run for it and we would open up on him, trying to blowhim off the tracks. The North Koreans had not, however, come down in the last shower, asthey invariably had a locomotive at each end of the train, which meant that even a directhit on the train did not guarantee success, as the train could be pulled into tunnels atboth ends of the clear area if it was hit. We knocked out at least one train, although theTask Unit Commander who was in the vicinity claimed that it was his guns that did thedamage.

CONDAMINE had some satisfaction at a later stage, when on the 10thSeptember we bombarded Tanchon and demolished six buildings which had previously beenuntouched. Later in the same patrol, we were steaming up the east coast towards Wonsan, ona bright sunny day and came upon U.S.S. IOWA with what seemed to be half the cruiser anddestroyer strength of the US navy, in company with more than 230 jet and other aircraftcircling around. As we got near this force, IOWA appeared to blow up. This was not thecase, however, as she had just fired a broadside from her main armament. What a sight! Thecity of Wonsan was on the receiving end of all this and I for one, was glad they were onour side! Knowing the difficulties that IOWA would be having, our fearless leadersignalled "Do you require assistance?" IOWA did reply in a printable manner tothe effect "Go away, little man." It was quite obvious that IOWA did not knowwith whom she was dealing. As a matter of interest, CONDAMINE steamed 2,577 miles in 19days on the patrol. We were relieved by HMS CHARITY on 11th September and returned to Kurefor a maintenance period and docking.

Following this break, we returned to our old haunt, the HaejuPeninsula, on the west coast, relieving HMS ST BRIDES BAY, once again. It was during thisperiod that the North Koreans put over a very convincing story on the radio that CONDAMINEhad been sunk by North Korean shore batteries with the loss of all on board. The story wasconvincing enough for British HQ in Japan to send a Canadian destroyer out to take ourplace on station. As we had been maintaining radio silence at the time, we did not realisethat we were in such dire straits. The story reached Australia, spread like wildfirearound HMAS CERBERUS (Flinders Naval Depot) and even reached Taree in NSW, as an aunt ofmine called to see my wife to enquire whether she had received any recent mail. A seamanwho had been left ashore in Kure had the news broken to him that we had been lost. Itseemed that we must have made some impact on the locals, as all the leave haunts had hungdrapes in mourning for us! A pity we had to turn up and spoil good wake!

Our next patrol saw us back in the bombardment business supportingraids by South Korean Wolfpack guerillas. I believe that these Wolfpacks were so good attheir tasks, that even now, their modus operandi is classified, in case it is neededagain, as the relations between the two Koreas are not altogether affable. One raid was abit of a disaster, as this John Wayne clone (a US Marine Major) found out to his cost. Welaid down a barrage to cover this particular effort and the Major took his team in. On theappointed time, he leapt out, guns blazing and tried to take North Korea single handed.True! His troops stayed put and as a result, he copped some return fire, mostly in thechest and had to be rescued.

We were told of the situation ashore and called up air support. SomeCORSAIR aircraft arrived in a hurry and plastered the North Korean positions with napalm.Nasty stuff. It was the biggest barbeque I had ever been to. I think we won that one.

After a spell in Kure, we returned to our stamping grounds on the westcoast. We never did any more east coast patrols as we did not have the speed to keep upwith the requirement. We were flat out at 19 knots. CONDAMINE relieved ST BRIDES BAY onceagain and with units of the South Korean Navy, we spent a couple of weeks guardingoffshore islands, anchoring at night between the islands and the mainland, to ensure thesecurity of the islands. Those were the nights of nuisance shooting, which consisted offiring a 4" round every hour but not necessarily on the hour, to keep the NorthKoreans on their toes. We fired star shells to help them see what we did not want them todo. I don't know if the North Korean's thought it a nuisance, but it certainly was to us!As, having been jolted awake by the gun firing, there was the interminable wait for theshell case to be picked up and tossed from the gun deck to the upper deck and roll down tothe sick bay skylight on the port side. I suppose the reason that the port side wasfavoured could have been that the wardroom and officers' cabins were on the starboard sideand I daresay the occupants needed their beauty sleep! (What Beauty?)

From then until the remainder of our fair weather patrols, it washarassing gunfire and routine patrolling, except for the memorable occasion when ourseeming supremacy was challenged. We were escorting a South Korean Minesweeper about twoor so miles offshore, could have been a bit more, when the sound of gunfire attracted ourattention, about 1pm. When waterspouts started appearing about 100 yards from ourstarboard beam, it attracted a whole lot more attention! We went to action stations fasterthan the proverbial speeding bullet. I had my working tools on the work bench on thequarterdeck between the depth charge racks. I went down the starboard side, as the rear(after) 4" mounting started to train, grabbed my tools and burst back up the portside. As I got adjacent the mounting, the first shells were fired. The gun crew must havebeen extremely quick as I was not wasting any time. Luckily I was pointing towards thebulkhead door, as when the gun fired, I must have leapt four feet into the air and if Ihad not been pointing at the door, I would have certainly gone straight over the guardrails in one bound and at the pace I was going, would have travelled several yards beforemy ankles got wet. Anyway, after a fierce duel with the shore batteries, during which timethe after mounting was oversupplied with ammunition, we knocked out one position, calledup air support, who fixed a second position and the others called it quits. We wereblooded but not bloodied and from that day we considered that we had earned our gongs andalthough we never matched HMAS MURCHISON and her exploits on the Han River, we feltjustifiably proud of ourselves. When HMAS ANZAC arrived on the scene afterwards, we feltthat we had an edge on them. During this action, there was one casualty. Able Seaman Rosehas his hand caught in the ammunition hoist near the after mounting and had to be cutloose from the rope which had jammed on the winch drum. Apart from that, the only othernoticeable effect was the 217 cases of bowel disorder and temporary incontinence. Who saidwar was not fun?

Our next patrol was to see the effect of a severe winter. It wasbelieved to have been the coldest for 10 years. I suppose it was, seeing that we were inthe middle of it. It was fascinating by day to see the ocean frozen over for miles in alldirections, with ice floes of very large dimensions looking very ominous indeed. At nightit was a case of maintaining way all the time, or risk being frozen in and at the mercy oftides and currents. At night lying in the hammock, listening to the floes scraping alongthe side for all the world like a great tin opener, made one thankful to the navalarchitect who had specified 3/8" plating for the construction. No doubt, theoccupants of the lower seamen's and stokers' mess had very similar thoughts. One night weran into a snow storm and woke to a mantle of snow some 3" thick on the upper decksand our guard rail wires caked in ice nearly 4" thick. That had to be cleared quicklyon account of top weight considerations. As a result of a recreation run ashore on one ofthe islands the plight of a group of orphans was noted. They did not appear to have anyprospects for the future, so a committee of four, under Mr Frank Stubbs, RN, our gunner,was formed to organise the collection of money and the purchase of toys and other goodiesto help brighten the orphans' Christmas. This was duly done and the looks of joy on thekids' and the orphanage staff faces when the toys were handed around made it allworthwhile. We earned the title of the Christmas ship for that effort.

CONDAMINE spent Christmas at sea, with a quiet day for a change,although the Sydney Newspapers knew better. Cuttings sent to us indicated that we hadspent Christmas Day slugging it out with communist shore batteries and that we hadinflicted heavy damage and casualties. Of course, we did not realise that we had beensubjected to so much excitement.

It must have been the Ballarat beer the Returned Services League (RSL)Club sent us for Christmas that caused it. Nevertheless, the parcels of goodies sent to usby the RSL, the gifts from Lord Nuffield and the rations of barley sugar, malted milktablets and cod liver oil capsules, combined with the Christmas dinner, made it a pleasantday.

We had received the barley sugar, malted milk tablets and cod liver oilas a result of a tuberculosis scare in HMAS ARUNTA. For the first few issues it was a realnovelty. After that, you could not give the stuff away, although there were somesuspiciously similar products on sale at some of the food stalls in Kure the next time wewere there.

We engaged in routine patrols, escort duties, bombardments of varyingsuccess and generally made a good reputation for ourselves as a reliable and competentunit until 15th March 1952 when we completed our final operation. During her time inKorea, CONDAMINE steamed some 22,000 miles on operations, fired a considerable number of4" rounds, expended some "Bofor" ammunition in sinking stray boats andmines and on one hilarious occasion, we fired off some Hedgehog projectiles when LeadingMechanic (LEM0 Onley tested the firing circuits while they were open and ready for firing.He thought it was funny, but the sailor who had been sunning himself at the front of theHedgehog mounting did not agree. On 20th April 1953, CONDAMINE returned to Sydney via HongKong where she had been relieved by HMAS CULGOA. We steamed non-stop from Hong Kong toCairns where we picked up Customs and our navigator conveniently dropped the Barrier ReefChart over the side, only to see it sucked into the condenser intake. We made the passagesafely, however.

You will recall that I mentioned earlier about getting some shoringtimber, which came in useful at a later stage. This was the occasion when we met HMSCOSSACK who had some mail for us. In going alongside for a heaving line transfer, the windcaught us and we bumped COSSACK, damaging our bow. COSSACK threatened to open up on us ifwe tried it again and consequently, we got the mail some time later from a tanker. Anyway,as a result of the damage to our bow, my ignorance of damage control came to the fore andwith the assistance of Stoker John McHugh, I proceeded up into the cordage locker to plugup the hole. We used a bale of rags and wooden pad that I had fabricated to plug the holeand I told the Stoker to go down to the ship's office and bring a couple of lengths of theshoring timber. The Executive Officer, who was crowding the available space and who wouldhave done a better job than the bale of rags, said and I quote;" What are you goingto do with those?" To which I replied: "I am going to cut them up and shore thebale and pad into place." "You can't do that" he said and to my reply of"Why not?" he informed me that he had had them cleaned up for Captain'srounds on the following Saturday. That was when I spoke a series of four letter words thatI had picked up along the way. The shoring was cut up and did the job until we returned toKure when repairs where carried out by the dockyard.


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