Compiled by "MAURIE" PEARS
The extracts below have been taken from various publications, to highlight the extraordinary fighting skill and courage of the Australian soldiers in Korea, principal of which are Bob O'Neill's Official History "Australia in the Korean War", David Horner's "Duty First", Bob Breen's "Kapyong" and "Battle of Maryang San" and the Journals of the Royal United Service Institution of New South Wales all of which are all gratefully acknowledged. >
(The following extracts taken from "KAPYONG" by "Bob Breen" and published by Headquarters Training Command are gratefully acknowledged.)
The Australian Army's participation in the Korean War included several quite exceptional unit actions. In 1950-51, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), maintained the excellent reputation of the Australian profession of arms by fighting well during both offensive and defensive operations. This tradition was continued by the other battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment after they were deployed to Korea in 1952. Of all the military feats of the battalions of the RAR in Korea, only the Battle of Kapyong was recognised formally with the award of a US Presidential Unit Citation. The citation was shared with a Canadian infantry battalion and a US tank company. It elevated a hard-fought rearguard action to the most commemorated Australian battalion action of the Korean War. The Battle of Kapyong was a rearguard defensive action followed by a fighting withdrawal.
Kapyong was not a big battle but it was an important one. Timing was the key to its importance and subsequent recognition. By nightfall on 23 April 1951, an entire Republic of Korea infantry division had been forced into chaotic retreat by attacking Chinese formations. Thousands of South Korean soldiers and panic-stricken civilians streamed past the hastily prepared blocking positions of 3 RAR, as well as 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and A Company, US 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion. These units were ordered to deny advancing Chinese formations a route down the Kapyong Valley into the South Korean Capital of Seoul for as long as possible.
Under the cover of darkness scores of Chinese soldiers, hidden among the felling South Koreans, infiltrated past the Australian positions. Following Chinese units repeatedly attacked the Australians straight off their line of march. Despite being outflanked, and initially without adequate artillery and mortar support, the Australians held for 24 hours before withdrawing intact. Then the Canadians held for a further 24 hours and did the same. The 48 hours respite enabled United Nations formations further south to regroup and establish a defensive line which subsequently stopped the Chinese offensive.
This high level of morale can only be maintained in defence and during a fighting withdrawal when commanders remain steady under sustained pressure. Soldiers must trust and have confidence in their commanders, in themselves and in each other. The commanders of 3 RAR and their men displayed these attributes during the Battle of Kapyong. Their recollections contained in this monograph testify to their fighting spirit, their self confidence and their commitment to each other.
Robert O'Neill, the Official War Historian
If any factor stands out in 3 RAR's conduct at Kapyong it is the unfailingly high morale which its members showed throughout the battle. It was difficult enough to fight off waves of attacks at night. It was yet more demanding to endure the following day in a relatively open position, exposed to the enemy on all sides, cut off from other battalions by several kilometres and under constant fire. The greatest test of morale was the final withdrawal, which was carried out by exhausted men in considerable danger without giving in to depression, fear or panic of any kind.
...a group of young officers from the Engineers, Infantry and Medical Corps, together with some sisters from the BCOF hospital and some American Red Cross girls were about to set off in a hired Japanese steam launch. There were great plans for a weekend of sailing on the Inland Sea with the Saturday night on an island where a dinner had been arranged. None of this was to happen. Inevitably the announcement came that all United Nations personnel were to report back to their base units. We were not happy about going. We scarcely knew where Korea was nor whether or not we were involved in the United Nations. But return we did.
The units formed for service in Korea were a mixture of Regular Army career soldiers and short term temporary enlistments. These included young men like myself who felt they should give some contribution to the Army because of their inability to serve during World War II. There were many others who had joined the Army to escape from something in Australia. 'Something' may have been a woman, creditors, or the law. A motley crew was gathered.
When the Korean War broke out 3 RAR was in the process of packing up to return to the mainland. The unit had been reduced to just three very under strength rifle companies. The Korean War began within five years of World War II so that, back in Australia, there existed a reservoir of adventurous, trained and blooded ex-AIF men keen to get into another scrap. These fellows provided badly needed skills and experience. My company at Kapyong [A Company] was 87% ex-AIF K Force.
For the Australians, the coming of the Chinese offensive coincided with the death of their new CO. On 30 October a stray Chinese shell cleared the crest of a hill and exploded near where Charlie Green was sleeping. A piece of shrapnel sliced into his stomach and two days later he died from complications resulting from this wound: no one else in the area was hit by fragments from the shell that killed him.
It is one thing to take over a command in peacetime and enjoy the luxury of a new appointment but quite another to assume command of a unit in combat. That day left me with agonizing doubts as to my ability. It was clear to me that the Battalion had not recovered from their recent setback, and I was still under assessment by every digger. That night I got to thinking how Charlie Green would have tackled the problem and it was then that I realized he had left behind a legacy I should try to carry on. It was not long before it became apparent to me that I had inherited the loneliest command any man could have. Being the senior Australian, I was solely responsible for anything that might befall the Australian battalion in Korea ... With no one to turn to for advice in whatever situation I might find myself, it was, as I have said, the loneliest command ever allotted to an Australian battalion commander on foreign soil.
The winter months taught me about the multitude of problems with which I would have to deal. Most medical problems were caused by the effects of the dreadful climate. There were occasional encounters with the enemy and I would be called upon to treat gunshot wounds. There were also psychological problems within a group of men who felt that they had been forgotten by Australia. The diggers wondered why they were there and how long it would be before the War would end. They wondered how long it would be before they might be replaced by the dwindling number of replacements. I rapidly found that my role as the RMO was more important as a counselor than as a dresser of wounds. Operations during the Korean winter required tremendous physical and mental fitness which tested many of the members to the limit ... It was a series of forced marches, brief battles, consolidation and then further advances. We lived in shallow defensive trenches which were rapidly dug in the snow as protection against the enemy and the elements. We went on day after day without relief. I very quickly became proud to be an Australian because of their efforts.
The soldiers when they saw a pile of straw kicked it and out would bolt a North Korean. Up with a rifle, down with a North Korean and the Australians thoroughly enjoyed it.
A Company was already standing by behind the Middlesex so it was obvious we would get the task. Ferg's briefing gave me great encouragement to succeed. He said, 'The Brits have been unsuccessful twice and now all eyes are on the Australians. Don't you come back without it.' I knew he was not kidding! 'Sardine' was on a ridge-line running parallel to the one from which we were observing the efforts of the Middlesex. A deep, well-timbered gully lay between. A frontal attack would involve my men descending into this gully before rushing up a steep slope onto the enemy positions. This was what the Middlesex had done, twice. This was a tactic profoundly disliked by the Diggers who described it disparagingly as 'going straight up the guts.'
I rejoined the Battalion two days before the Battle of Kapyong ... ANZAC Day was coming up. We had a big thing going with the Turks. We had even sent a recce [reconnaissance] party over to have a look. The beer ration had been increased.
As to my situation [on the morning of 23 April 1951], I am reminded of a conversation I overheard between two Pitcairn Islanders of our company in the Owen Stanley Ranges of New Guinea [during the South West Pacific Campaign in 1943]. One was a Private and the other a Lance Corporal who were arguing between them about the lack of information [getting through about the tactical situation]. The Lance Corporal summed up his feelings [to the Private who wanted more information] 'The trouble with you is that you think I know f__k nothing, in fact, I know f__k all. That summed up my position.
I finally received orders from the Brigade Commander [Burke] to occupy a blocking position north of Kapyong. With no opportunity for personal reconnaissance, my orders were that the Battalion was to occupy a blocking position so as to prevent any Chinese advance upon the capital.
I still recall the morning the CO (Ferguson) and I recced [conducted a reconnaissance of] the area [near Chuktun-ni] and later held the O Group. It was a beautiful, warm day with clear, blue skies. War seemed a long way off.
I respected "Fergie" [Ferguson]. He was a very brave man - even if I thought he was an exhibitionist because he never carried a weapon and strolled around all the time with a bloody walking stick. He was a brave infantryman but I was critical of his positioning of the Battalion on the ground at Kapyong. He always positioned his Battalion Headquarters in isolation from the companies and did this again at Kapyong. He liked a neatly sign posted and well-laid out BHQ ... There was no Tactical or Battle Headquarters inside the main Battalion defensive position up with the forward companies. His first mistake was to locate B Company in an isolated forward position. It was obvious that when the enemy came they would attack right where B Company was located - B Company were going to cop the lot ... I do not think it was a good position at all. I think he put B Company there because he underestimated the Chinese reaction. As an infantry commander I would have put B Company back in reserve behind A and D Companies. Then we would have had a tight battalion perimeter with lots of depth, mutual support and a safe route [along the high ridge line running south from Hill 504] for re-supply and withdrawal.
It ( the PIAT - projector infantry anti-tank) could only be fired successfully by A Grade Front Row Forwards [a position for a big man in Rugby Union football] in robust health with nerves of steel. Best effective range? Approximately ten feet.
The bullets ripped through the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) tent - halfway up the tent. I told the doctor he had better keep his head down. He wanted to know what the hell what was going on. Dr Don Beard was 6 foot 6 inches tall and stood a pretty good chance of getting his head blown off. I told him again to keep his head down as more bullets cracked through the canvas. We definitely knew that it was on in our area.
Author "Bob" Breen
The sounds of the tanks withdrawing prompted Lieutenant Jim Young, the acting 2IC B Company, to run out to try to persuade them to stay and support the company. He responded so urgently that he ran down the side of the hill and onto the valley floor without a weapon. One of the tank crew told Young that he was moving to the rear to get medical attention for wounded crew members and to obtain a re-supply of ammunition. Young persuaded him to stay and support B Company for a while longer, on condition that his wounded crew members were evacuated to the rear in B Company jeeps. Young also promised that these vehicles would obtain ammunition from A Echelon and bring it forward to him
As I lay in the ditch, the Chinese Communist Force literally ran over me after the tank down the road. They flung a few grenades in my direction but did no harm beyond singeing my moustache and hair. I lay quiet for sometime, while the noise of the pursuit faded south then I cautiously made my way back to B Company lines.
Wilfred Millar, a young West Point graduate
I stopped a platoon of our tanks that were coming back. It was at this point that I learned that they had dead and wounded among them. I saw the body of Lt Di Martino, the Platoon Leader, who had been shot between the eyes. I had never expected to see such a sight and I will never forget it. ... I decided to walk forward and find out what was going on. I was alone, walked some distance, realized there were soldiers on my left, right and front in crouched positions but stretched out in long files from front to rear - not more than three yards from me.
The Chinese kept coming up on 1 Platoon and 1 Platoon kept knocking them back. Each time they knocked them back, the Chinese just disappeared for a while. The bugles would start again and 1 Platoon would cop it again. In between assaults the wounded and dead were brought back and fit men were repositioned by section commanders into forward positions. Groups of Chinese also began to attack CHQ and 3 Platoon. With these fellas prowling around, the whole position was in danger of being overrun.
An hour before first light, when the fighting in our area died down, I sent a ground party to link up with BHQ. That's when I found out that the Battalion Commander had moved part of his headquarters south earlier that night. I hadn't been aware of it at that stage. ... When there was more light I walked over and spoke to Len Eyles who told me that he was organizing the withdrawal of Battalion Headquarters from that area ... He told me that the [forward] companies were probably going to withdraw during the day ... No mention had been made of Antitank Platoon so I, and a couple of others, walked over to them and told them to pack up and get out. I saw the Platoon Sergeant [Milwood] who was very badly wounded in the stomach. He was still alive but very much on his last legs.
... I was about to brake and do a slide down off the road to a hut when, amidst a lot of thumping and banging, the front wheel went from under the bike like a horse with a busted front leg. I had become fairly good at coming off bikes but something went wrong this time and I landed on the side of my head and right shoulder and then into the ditch beside the road. My Owen [Owen Machine Carbine] had been slung over my shoulder with bayonet attached. I think this is what upset my ejection routine. Anyhow the darn thing fired but didn't eject the shell. Lucky I did not blow my head off. The bike was roaring its head off above me on the road so I reckoned I'd better turn it off. I climbed up behind it and was reaching for the ignition switch when there was a thump and a great hole appeared in the seat next to my head. It was a .50 calibre machine gun on fixed lines having a go every time I moved. I slid back down and endeavoured to extract the empty shell from the gun with my bayonet. ... Then I found for some reason I could not move my leg. I thought, 'Hell I can't die here like this, got to do something'. I found I could move my leg now. I had been hit [in the hip] but did not know it.
... Suddenly a bugle sounded down the road I had been on and looking up, my hair stood on end as I saw about 30 Chinese [soldiers] racing in my direction approximately 100 yards [80 metres] from me. I felt horribly lonely and bloody scared. They came at me firing from the hip, led by a young squad leader ... I don't think there was a more frightened person in all the world. I said 'Arrr, shit!" and gave them a big grin and suddenly I was not frightened any more. Then you wouldn't want to know, up they came and patted me on the back and all crowded around me. All I could do was give a sickly grin.
The Chinese then took me up a mountain that overlooked the Battalion HQ area. I was handed over to some sort of officer and thought that I had landed in a queers' outfit. He took me by the hand and guided me in the dark around obstacles etc. Even though I felt crook and disgusted with myself for being caught, I had to laugh and hoped that none of my mates could be watching me being held by the hand by this 'poof'.
All around me were hundreds of Chinese with their own personal tree. When they moved it was like a whole forest moving. Not only that but they all seemed to possess a couple of weapons each [Note: possibly taken from dead comrades]. Down in the reverse slope were dozens of mules with mountain guns and ammo on board. Looking at this mob gave me uneasy feelings for the Battalion and not knowing how they had fared [during the period of my subsequent captivity] I made things worse.
Author "Bob" Breen
Another casualty of the withdrawal south of the remainder of BHQ was Private 'Slim' Madden, a signaler who was concussed by a Chinese mortar bomb explosion. In the dark and confusion of the preparations for withdrawal none of his comrades noticed that he was left behind. He was subsequently captured when the Chinese swept into the area after BHQ had moved out. Later in the day Parker and Madden were to meet and stay together as they were progressively evacuated north. Parker survived his captivity but Madden died six months later from malnutrition and ill-treatment. For his stoicism, resistance to any form of collaboration with the Chinese and the inspiration and help he gave to others, Private Madden was awarded a posthumous George Cross.
Early that same morning Jack Gerke noticed that the sounds of firing and activity had stopped around BHQ. His troops in Support Company had kept their heads down during the night and had remained undiscovered by the marauding Chinese. He heard, from a passing Mortar Platoon driver, that BHQ was withdrawing and that he should, 'Bug out! Battalion headquarters is back down the road. Watch out for "Gooks" on the road: they hold the high ground over there!' By military standards this was a quick but effective set of orders: Mission, Situation: Own Troops, Enemy!
Gerke wasted no time and sent his men and stores in vehicles down the road to run the gauntlet of rifle and machine gun fire without tank support. Fortunately, there were no casualties and plenty of vehicles for the task. Gerke commandeered several vehicles left by the US 4.2 inch Heavy Mortar Company and was able to take several Australians aboard who had become separated from their sub-units and were withdrawing on foot.
Harold Mulry was calling out for troops to come with him to take all the ground back again. Myself and a few others around Company Headquarters jumped up with the 3 Platoon blokes and we charged down at the Chinese. The Chinese just all of a sudden turned and ran away. They didn't feel like fighting us anymore. We were getting them in the back as they were running away. They ran down the feature and tried to hide in thickets or any low ground they could find down towards the creek bed itself. The Chinese were very stupid to stay there. We could see them and we began having a real good time. We began to pick them off while they lay on the ground or when they broke cover like darting rabbits. We were enjoying ourselves until our dear old Major [O'Dowd] decided to stop us firing because ammunition was very scarce.
I observed numerous groups of Chinese pulling back from A Company's position and others around the slopes leading up to A Company. I ordered my machine guns to fire on them. I began counting the number of Chinese who fell from this fire. I got up to a number of about 40 and stopped counting.
This attack on the company position was launched from the right flank [from east to west] and was aimed at splitting the company in two by cutting the centre of the position where CHQ was holding. The enemy attack numbered from fifty to seventy. Fire from tanks and small arms was directed against the assault which only succeeded in reaching the edge of our perimeter. By this time it was dawn and, in the growing light, the enemy could be clearly seen in the valley below B Company across to A and C Companies. His [the enemy's] position was quite open and the area between the companies was an excellent killing ground. This area was now subjected to intensive fire from tanks and all other available weapons. The enemy began to withdraw northward up the valley, being harassed all the way by MMG and artillery fire causing extensive casualties.
After several infiltrations had occurred during the night - forward and to the flank - I observed a reconnaissance party moving towards us, an long way forward of A Company, up a spur line leading to 12 Platoon's position. I was soon going to find out whether occupying the ground forward of the summit would pay off or not.
... We engaged this reconnaissance party. That was the prelude to the first of the attacks which occurred on our position against 12 Platoon at about 7 o'clock in the morning. 12 Platoon was hit hard and they had a few people wounded - about 7 to 8 casualties which was not too bad considering the strength of the attack.
Johnny Ward, the Platoon Commander, and his men were well outnumbered and had a difficult position to hold. However, the Chinese also had a hard time locating his position in the trees after they came over the edge of the feature. To get to Ward's perimeter, the Chinese had a long, hard climb followed by a 50 metre dash. I was also able to direct artillery fire onto them as they made their way up the ridges.
And that was the way it ran - pretty well all morning. The Chinese just kept attacking 12 Platoon and they kept knocking them back. Later, Johnny Ward, who was commanding very meritoriously I might add, phoned me - we still had a telephone link. He said, 'I think you should come down here, Boss. The bastards are all over the place. I think perhaps we should be moved.' I remember quite distinctly my reply: it was quite simple - I said, 'Johnny, all we have to do is sit tight and it will be all right'. Very simple language - implying all we had to do was hold position.
The order came out that we were to recover the ground that we had already vacated. We could see the Chinese occupying the ground as soon as we moved out. There was no exchange of shots. They knew we were moving and we knew they were occupying the positions we were vacating. There was a large slit trench near the road between us and the low hills we had occupied overnight. This trench had to be cleared before we could go back and occupy the positions we had left.
It was my privilege to be a member of 5 Section that was given the job of clearing that trench. We formed a line and the Platoon Commander, Lieutenant McGregor, and the Platoon Sergeant came along to our rear. We believed the trench was occupied by eight to 10 Chinese. When we got within 20 yards of it, it was occupied by a great deal more than 10. But it was too late to do anything else but go on with the job.
We were advancing at the run. All members of the section were firing at the trench and the Chinese were returning fire. I was wondering what was going to happen when we got to the trench because training never quite takes you to the point of leaping into trenches or coming to such close quarters ...
I remember my Number 2, Rod Grey, falling on my left and my good mate, 'Gene' Tunney, falling on my right. I could hear the bullets whistling past my ears and I thought, 'My turn is not far off'. Sure enough, I was knocked completely off my feet by a .30 calibre round that drilled a hole right through the front of my right thigh and came out the back taking off much of my buttock. Fortunately there was no bone damage. It was like being hit by a truck. I was completely stunned. I fell within 5 yards of the Chinese trench - head towards the trench, Bren gun on a sling over my neck and two fairly full basic pouches of Bren gun ammunition in magazines on my web belt - a total of about 50-60 pounds.
(recalling his feelings as he lay in front of the Chinese trenches):
I was thinking, 'How in the hell am I going to get out of this?' I could hear the Chinese talking to each other 6 to 8 feet away. Surely they could see me and decide just to pump a few more rounds into me to make sure I was dead. Words cannot describe the fear I felt. I took stock of my position and decided that if I could release my web belt and shuck my gear I could make a dash for a low mound about 20 yards to my rear. I did not know whether I could even stand up. I wasn't sure how much damage had been done. I did not want to wait to be shot. As fast as I could, I threw off my gear and jumped to my feet and hopped, limped, hobbled and staggered over the longest 20 yards I have ever traveled. I heard a few shots go over my shoulder but I made it safely.
Author "Bob" Breen
Meanwhile, Jack Gerke was involved in consolidating elements of F Echelon and BHQ back with the Middlesex. He had also been involved with organizing the movement of the vehicles of the US Mortar Company back to the same area. Eyles, Bennett and From appear to have put their men on the ground near the Middlesex position and were awaiting further direction. Many men felt that they were out of danger and were catching up on the sleep they had lost the night before.
... the platoon (Montgomerie's) moved into attack from the right flank. When approximately 25 yards from the enemy position, a bayonet charge was ordered and the leading section led by Corporal Davie took the first enemy-held trench at bayonet point. Lieutenant Montgomerie quickly reorganized his platoon and, in fierce hand-to-hand combat, gradually proceeded to clear to defensive position - trench by trench.
The enemy resisted strongly and fought fanatically to hold their position. Using grenades and machine carbines [Owen Machine Carbines] this platoon cleared their way through the enemy position. It now became evident that more enemy were entrenched on a knoll further on and were now firing on leading elements of 4 Platoon.
Leaving the rear sections to continue the cleaning up of the position, the platoon commander [Montgomerie] with the leading section now attacked the second position. The might and the aggressiveness of the attack upset the enemy and some openly fled: the majority remained and fought to the death.'
Author "Bob" Breen
Those who observed Montgomerie's attack described it as one of the finest and most aggressive actions they had seen at platoon level. The use of bayonets produced extra ferocity among the Australians and had the psychological effect of forcing many Chinese to flee in terror across the valley floor to run the gauntlet of small arms fire from those supporting the attack - the chance of a bullet better than the probability of a bayonet thrust.
Wilfred Millar (US tank commander)
I observed him (Ferguson) personally as we continued our forays into and out of the area of the encircled Australian soldiers, during which time Colonel Ferguson was calm, acted like he was in total command of the situation, and [showed by his demeanour that he believed] that his organization would triumph. He demonstrated great concern for his wounded and his encircled men and had no apparent regard for his own personal safety. He exposed himself to enemy fire by getting out of the tank, speaking to the wounded, and walking among his troops as if it was just a practice drill back in Australia.
The attacks on this position were always launched in depth on a narrow frontage of 4 to 5 men. Each assault was supported by a platoon-sized formation firing and throwing grenades and by preparatory mortar fire. 12 Platoon met these attacks with LMG, Small Arms (SA) fire and No 36 grenades in the final stages of the enemy assault. The enemy suffered heavy casualties in each of the six attacks launched [up until 1030 hrs] and an estimated enemy platoon was destroyed. Our casualties at this stage were very light.
Early on the afternoon of the 24th, I was informed that I was required at company headquarters (CHQ) with my radio. On the way I had to cross a small saddle. As I entered the saddle I heard a machine gun fire and saw the fall of shot in front of me. I went to ground quickly on the reverse slope and continued onto CHQ. On arriving at CHQ I was informed that the Company radio battery was dead and, as I had no mortars to direct, could they get my battery. This was done.
When I arrived back at my old position, one of the diggers said, 'Gee, you were lucky when you were going to CHQ. That burst of machine gun fire nearly got you!' I said, 'Not lucky, he was firing high. I saw the fall of shot in front.' He said, 'It did not all fall in front. There was a lot falling behind you.' So it would appear that I had been caught in the centre of a machine gun burst and had not been touched. 24th April 1951 was not my day to die.
We all knew quite well that they [the senior officers] had to do something with A Company. I though that one of the other companies would come up and relieve us - two companies would have been ideal. But with all our casualties and the way we were exposed on the ridge, we could not have held for another night. We had to leave our dead behind which was a bit painful. We lined them all up; we could not carry them. We even had to destroy some of our own weapons because we did not have sufficient men to carry them all.
(The circumstances of Ingram's death were recalled by Harris later).
After one of the attacks early on 24 April, Roy called out to me that a group of Chinese were creeping around to the rear of CHQ. He called out this warning and also stated that he was bringing in a badly wounded man. I called back and told him to bring the wounded man around a small spur to our position and to keep quiet or he would get himself shot. The battle restarted and I did not see him again until we drove the Chinese out of 1 Platoon's position after dawn. Both of them were dead. Roy Ingram had his arm around his friend where he was half carrying him. Most of Roy's hand was blown off and he had his handkerchief wrapped around it.
He had not told me that he also was wounded when he was helping his digger mate. I wished he had because I would have got to him and helped. He may have died through loss of blood or was hit again bringing his friend out. He did not think of himself. He warned us that the Chinese had got around to our rear so we could engage them. He died helping a mate and warning his friends.
As I was leaving to return to my original position near the MMGs, I saw a US Marine Corsair line up and start a run in on our position. I was angry about this because our marker panels were clearly visible. I saw the big silver bomb [NAPALM] leave the plane and watched it fall in the D Company area, on 10 Platoon, where I had been two minutes before. The napalm exploded and took all the oxygen out of the air. I felt like I was just breathing heat.
Napalm is a pretty ferocious sort of weapon. Fortunately the bomb itself missed the main D Company position and landed on the perimeter near 10 and 11 Platoon. This set off a good deal of the ammunition stored there and caused some problems for the lads. After the napalm hit I began to go around in my capacity as the medical orderly and pull people out and tend to their injuries. I was reaching into a trench to grab a chap who had all his grenades lined up on the edge which was customary at the time. The grenades went off and blew me a considerable distance down the hill. Luck being what it is, I got very few injuries out of it - just a few shrapnel wounds to the leg.
... Earlier in the morning I had been wounded in the fore part of my head. I must have looked a sight. I was sitting there, stunned and no doubt feeling a bit sick and sorry for myself.
I then saw the most appalling apparition. A man with no flesh - his hands were dripping flesh - completely naked. As he walked, I saw these huge bloated feet. The sticks and the stones came up through his feet. He sat down next to me. I didn't know who he was. He looked at me and said, 'Jesus, Nugget, you're having a bad day'.
Some of those burnt by the napalm were like roasted meat. Their faces and hands had been barbecued. Giddens was particularly bad. His hands had been reduced to stumps and he had some shocking facial scars.
I think the most courageous act I can recall was by one of the soldiers injured as a result of the napalm attack and how he handled his injuries during what was a long and arduous withdrawal. The soldier's name was Harold Giddens. He was very badly burned - 3rd degree burns over most of his arms, hands and face. Notwithstanding his injuries, he offered encouragement to others. He was able to say that the attention he needed should be no more than that needed by others. Through the handling of his own injuries he was an example to a great number of us who saw what he did.
Author "Bob" Breen
Neither Gravener or O'Dowd had requested air support that afternoon. The request would have had to have come from Ferguson or the Brigade staff. The dropping of napalm on D Company was caused by either poor instructions from whoever was coordinating air support at the Brigade headquarters or poor target identification by the spotter aircraft that fired the targeting rocket into D Company's position. The latter is more likely, despite the fact that D Company had their brightly coloured panels displayed warning aircraft that they were a UN unit. Fortunately, a second Corsair that was about to make its run to drop more napalm was warned off by frantic radio messages from Australian signalers and US tank commanders who viewed the accident from further down the valley.
(The following extracts from the NSW Branch Royal United Service Institute are gratefully acknowledged)
While the O Group was still in progress a message came through for the defensive positions to be occupied. The Commanding Officer then returned to the Battalion to organise the forward movement of the rifle companies while we proceeded with our reconnaissance. A Company had been allocated all the ground between the road and the crest of Point 504. From my point of view it represented a classic case of 'occupy the lot and be weak everywhere or concentrate in strength at a vital point'. I decided to give away the higher (east) end and occupy only the lower end of the feature where we could support B Company in denying the enemy the use of the road. I sited Gardner's 1 Platoon nearest the road and Mulry's 3 Platoon alongside, where the ground began to rise sharply. Above him, on the crest overlooking 1 and 3 Platoons, Brumfield's 2 Platoon took up position. There was still a gap between Gardner and Mulry which was plugged by inserting Company Headquarters and Lennie Lenoy's Medium Machine Gun (MMG) Section - by no means text book stuff with everything in the shop window but, then, there was an awful lot of territory to cover. In any case the ridge was too narrow to permit a reserve, even if I had been able to create one.
As daylight began to fade a trickle of Republic of Korea (south) ROK soldiers appeared, heading south along the road. There was nothing disturbing about this at first but, as the mob thickened and speeding vehicles loaded with ROK soldiers began to scatter them, they developed into a disorganized, shouting mob of panic-ridden rabble. Then a flood of civilian refugees began to appear - mixed in with ROK soldiers, women, children and animals - all bunched together in a confusing noisy melee. Now we did have something to worry about. Our experience in Korea was that Chinese troops would mix with civilians, using their cover to infiltrate to our rear. At this time it would have been comforting to have had the capacity to call on defensive fire tasks to disrupt the Chinese in their assembly areas as they prepared to attack us. My New Zealand artillery officer advised me that they could not lay on any sort of support because the guns, having arrived after dark were not surveyed in. I had to believe him! Instead of directing fire for us he and his signaler were killed during the fighting. As well, the United Stated 4.2-inch Mortar Observation Post Officer could not fire for the simple reason that his gun crews had taken to the hills. My 3-inch Mortar Fire Controller had a legitimate excuse as his crews were actively involved with the enemy in our rear. Of course I had the Medium Machine Gun Section but in close quarters fighting at night the Vickers guns are of very limited value. We therefore had none of the usual deterrents to interpose between us and the attackers - no fire support, no anti-personnel mines nor barbed wire. The impending battle was to be a very personal affair - soldier against soldier in the dark.
In the moonlight our effective killing range was reduced to visibility distance, therefore, the attack had to be stopped in the time it took the enemy to run up-hill ten to fifteen yards. As soon as shape appeared out of the gloom our soldiers would produce as much rapid fire as each individual weapon allowed. As each attack was beaten back the Chinese remnants withdrew. Then there would be silence for a while which would be broken by the next outburst of whistles and bugles heralding another assault. When each attack subsided our section and platoon commanders cleared the dead and wounded to the reverse slopes where the Company RAAMC medic, Nobby Clark, and his stretcher bearers would do their best for the wounded. As far as possible the vacated weapon pits were then manned by fit men to await the next assault and, maybe, a fate similar to the previous occupants.
With daylight - and expanded field of fire - the nature of the battle changed. The Chinese, who had the initiative under the cover of darkness, were now caught in the open, holed-up in small hollows of ground or behind tufts of heather. This provided our men with a brief session of revenge as they cut down enemy scurrying from scanty cover in search of more suitable protection. I had to spoil this sport and call a cease-fire because we had already used a lot of ammunition, re-supply was by no means assured and development of the tactical situation from here left no room for optimism. From where we stood it was abundantly clear that once B Company vacated their knoll the Chinese would move in and look right down our exposed left flank.
I got hold of the Commanding Officer as soon as I could and made the point that B Company must go back. There was no immediate response to this request and, predictably, it was not long before we were treated to glimpses of the Chinese throwing up dirt as they consolidated their easy gain. In the process of withdrawing from their hill B Company managed to capture thirty-five to forty bewildered prisoners whom we could well have done without. B Company made two attempts to return to their overnight position but, by then, the Chinese had consolidated and nothing short of a major attack was going to dislodge them. There were sixteen tanks in the area and there was line communication to the artillery. If either, or both, had been used it may have made a difference. They came up the ridge running north from .504 to attack Johnny Ward's 12 Platoon at 0700 hours and were pushed off. Attacks were repeated every thirty minutes for the next three-and-a-half hours - then sporadically for the remainder of the day. Someone - certainly not Norm Gravener nor me - ordered a napalm strike to support D Company, without advising us. The CORSAIRS came in with the leading plane dropping its load on Company Headquarters and Dave Mannett's 10 Platoon, killing two, wounding others and starting shrub fires.
Sometime after midday the Commanding Officer came on the air to advise me that no relief would be coming our way and that I had approval to take a shot at getting the rifle companies out. The problem now was to decide how. To neutralise the enemy across the road I requested artillery to open up at 1600 hours with smoke to obscure enemy visibility - and high explosive, mixed in, to curb any tendency to inquisitiveness. To clear the withdrawal route I ordered B Company to push down to the escape route to the ford, closest to the Middlesex, and secure both sides. If they found any enemy astride the escape route they were to attack to drive them off. If they were unable to shift the enemy they were to keep him busy until I could get there with another company. In anticipation of certain follow-up by the enemy confronting D Company I decided to employ the standard leapfrog tactic: one company on the ground, one setting up the next fall-back position and one in movement. As predicted, the Chinese lost no time in pursuit once they found C Company gone, and came on until given a bloody nose by the company waiting for them. This leapfrog routine was followed all the way down the ridge but we were denied a clean break. That was bad news. The good news came, however, when Darcy Laughlin reported that B Company had reached the ford without sighting the enemy. To me this was incredible! On reaching the ford I found Lieutenant Jim Young had been posted to see the companies across. B, C and D Companies were already over, leaving A Company still at the last delaying position on the ridge. I called up Bob Murdoch and was informed that the enemy were still pressing him. I told him to break contact and shake them off if possible. It would be very messy indeed if we were being shot at whilst crossing the ford. The stream was a wide expanse of shallow water at this point and, by now, brightly moonlit. Jim and I waited in silence until Brumfield's 2 Platoon arrived from the expected direction, the tail-enders assuring us that the remainder of the company was following - but they were not! With the last of the rifle companies in Sergeant Harris was sent to stand down the tanks covering the road above the ford and I reported to the Commanding Officer at the checkpoint, in the Middlesex area, that the withdrawal was complete.
The Kapyong battle was a demonstration that the Australian soldier in Korea had every right to the title of Digger, along with those who forged the reputation in two world wars. Officers study, train and plan but it is all a negative exercise unless they have soldiers with the courage and determination to give expression to such plans.
At Kapyong A Company fought off wave after wave of fanatical attacks all through one night. They fought from half-made weapon pits. They removed their dead and wounded, and occupied their weapon pits to await the next onslaught - with a good chance of a similar fate as the previous occupant - fully aware of the chance of survival if seriously wounded. They knew they were cut off with what looked a poor chance of escape. In these circumstances any panic or break in morale would have been disastrous. I don't believe that this possibility existed. They gave as good as they got, fought it out and won.
Withdrawals are always tough on morale and discipline. The urge to run, to put distance between oneself and danger is instinctive. Add to this the mental state of men who have been under severe stress for a prolonged period and you can begin to make excuses. At Kapyong no excuses were necessary.
The men took up fall-back positions quietly and efficiently, waiting there for the enemy to show himself. When ordered to move they did so with routine efficiency so that the operation worked smoothly, as in an exercise back in Australia.
The Diggers won he Battle of Kapyong!
What shines out like a beacon is the courage, skill and cool headedness of the officers and men in defeating the Chinese attacks and withdrawing in such good order.
(The following extracts from the journal of the Royal United Service Institute NSW are gratefully acknowledged)
For the attack on the two .220 features leading up to 355, C Company moved out at first light after completing our preliminary checks on ammunition, radios, rations, etc. In the fog we moved quickly across the valley. 7 Platoon, under Lieutenant Pears, led the attack. The platoon suffered the first casualties and then Company Headquarters also had some men wounded. I supervised the work of the stretcher bearers in attending to the casualties and as we badly needed ammunition, entrenching tools, radio batteries and rations, these were removed from the wounded. Although we were short of water each of the wounded men was evacuated with two full water bottles. Both the wounded and the prisoners taken were sent back to Battalion Headquarters.
. "Frank" Hassett
B Company led off the attack to 317 (Maryang San) at 0500 hours, followed thirty minutes later by D Company, both to cross the valley, climb the ridge-line and turn west to attack towards .317, with B Company leading, backed up by D Company. It was a nightmarish situation:
It was a navigational nightmare but a tactical Godsend.
D Company moved off 30 minutes after B Company passed through D Company. In heavy fog we moved north across the valley floor, climbed the ridge-line then moved west towards the objective. Young's platoon was leading and as it moved out of a gully the Chinese opened up at very short range, wounding the leading Bren gunner. We could not see the enemy owing to the fog but as the company closed-up I reorganized for the attack. Suddenly, as we moved in on the Chinese, the fog lifted and a Chinese medium machine gun fired three long bursts before it was silenced. Unfortunately, I was one of the first casualties and Jim Young then took command of the company. The operation continued successfully. D Company killed thirty Chinese and captured ten, but our losses were seven wounded.
I chose 0800 hours as H Hour as all questions of surprise had now gone and I wanted the fog to lift so that we could take full advantage of the heavy supporting fire available to us. In this supporting fire programme I had:
I thought that the objective would disintegrate from all this fire but the Chinese, sheltering on the reverse slopes, rose up and gave B Company a bad time. "Jim" Hughes was a platoon commander in that attack,
Suddenly rifle fire erupted behind the lead platoons. It appeared that the Chinese had withdrawn off the ridge, let the lead platoons pass and then attacked Company Headquarters and 5 Platoon. A series of fierce fire-fights broke out and the lead platoons fought back to assist Company Headquarters and 5 Platoon. Our section commanders displayed great initiative in attacking the various groups of Chinese who suddenly appeared. To fight the enemy we used small arms, grenades, rifle butts and even bare hands. In that fierce battle we lost five killed and 12 wounded, and we killed over 20 Chinese. One of our killed in action was the Company Sergeant Major. Without a word being said, our Mortar Fire Controller (Sergeant Strong) took upon himself the duties of CSM and MFC.
The shelling naturally forced us to use existing pits - while attempts were made to link our quite separate positions into one. Eventually, out of chaos came order! Chinese counter-attacks and further shelling during the day cost us another 7 casualties, so we were forced to tighten our company perimeter.
A shortage of ammunition prevailed - despite good fire control - and we were plagued with the problem of evacuating casualties. However, help was at hand. Our situation was well known at Battalion Headquarters who organised re-supply porters, casualty evacuation and reinforcements.
My military mind was telling me that a further attack by A Company, through B Company and down to .217, would be a good tactical move for the Brigade overall. But, when I asked the Brigadier what 1 RNF was doing and he said "skirmishing", my head said that we had done enough and that I had to look after the security of my own Battalion. I told the Brigadier that, if the RNF were only skirmishing, I would not attack further, beyond THE HINGE. I had forgotten about this incident until, many years later, Jim Shelton told me that his Company Signaler had heard the conversation and reported it to him.
After 45 minutes the barrage of fire ceased and the Chinese attacked. All round the Company - like a battle cry - leaders at all levels shouted out the old rifle range order: 'WATCH YOUR FRONT!"
We were shaken but we were ready for the enemy. During the night the Chinese attacked three times on our front and flanks. We were ably supported by our artillery, mortars and MMGs. Defensive fire tasks were frequently fired and walked in towards our perimeter.
The enemy was tenacious and crawled to within feet of our trenches to throw stick grenades - which were quickly thrown back. Grenades were the only answer to those who got so close, as they were able to get under the fire of our light machine guns, because of the lie of the land. That said, I am convinced that our LMGs saved us with their effective fire. Our LMG gunners learned to fire a burst and then duck for cover as the Chinese attempted to knock them out. Some penetration of our position did occur but those who got in were quickly killed.
Casualties were given first aid and were placed in some inner trenches for their safety. Our Company medic (Corporal Tommy Tunstall) regularly checked most of the casualties - and, luckily, did not become a casualty himself as he moved around.
Ammunition problems again beset the Company and, with great difficulty, the Assault Pioneer Platoon made a further delivery to us. Re-supply was a risky business in all that shelling and we were grateful to those who undertook the task. When we ran out of grenades my signaler remembered the bazooka bombs strapped to my pack. He threw the bombs for all he was worth at the Chinese and - by the cry of pain that resulted - he was successful!
In the early hours of 8 October ammunition was again a problem. All conventional .303 ammunition was passed to the LMGs and riflemen were issued with MK 8Z ammunition from a knocked out MMG. Initially, this ammunition worked OK but did make a mess of our rifles. In all, the Company went through four lines of ammunition on THE HINGE.
Just before first light the Chinese attacks ceased. During stand-to we listened to the activity around us as the Chinese cleared the battlefield. We were ordered to hold fire for three hours. Consequently, clearing patrols were not mounted in lieu, listening posts were established. With the coming of first light, Support Company again assisted us by evacuating our casualties. We were very glad to see them!
We headed off down the slope of .317 about 0700 hours. Corporal Danny Powell's section was in the lead. I sent him forward to reconnoitre the knoll - trusting in the luck of the Irish - while the remainder of us went to ground. After some time he reported back that there was a large number of enemy on the knoll, some cooking breakfast, apparently feeling safe because of the thick fog. We decided, under the circumstances, to have a go. In whispers we quickly decided a plan of attack, with one section left of the track and the other on the right. We decided on a grenade assault with Danny Powell, who knew the exact location, giving the signal for all to throw grenades. The result was devastating for the main part of the Chinese force huddled over their cooking fires. We then charged forward firing rifles and Owen guns.
I suggest that the Chinese made two mistakes. Remember, we (and they) had been fighting hard for some five days and the night before we had seized hill .317. They probably thought that we would be satisfied with that for a while and never dreamed that we would exploit forward so quickly. Secondly, they trusted in the fog to protect them, probably thinking that we would not move forward until the fog had lifted and we had a chance to carry out a visual reconnaissance.
I haven't mentioned the wonderful support which the Battalion had from the New Zealand Field Regiment, the 8th Irish Hussars, the Indian Field Ambulance, Brigade and Divisional units, the Korean porters and so on, but it was there - in full measure! It had been a hard six days but morale was high as the soldiers recognised that they had fought well. There was a wonderful feeling throughout the Battalion. There is no feeling like it - none at all. It made me think of Field Marshall Wavell's words: "It is a good thing war is so terrible or men would love it too much."
Our tactical doctrine provides that we should always think two down and, especially as it has been said many times and in many ways that "after the first shot no plan is ever the same", it is essential that we must do more than lip service to train all commanders - be they section, platoon or company commanders - to experience operations two up. For any operation I also commend other virtues, of which an excess thereof cannot be a vice:
The men of 3 RAR fought in the battles of Kapyong and Maryang San. Their firsthand accounts of their experiences provide colour and put flesh on the dry bones of history.
Kapyong veterans tend to make light of the incredible difficulties experienced in its defence, of the dogged resistance displayed by the soldiers and the hardships endured, especially by the wounded, lying exposed to the bitter cold during their long wait for evacuation. The withdrawal was brilliantly executed; a withdrawal in face of the enemy - one of the most difficult operations of war.
Maryang San was a very different exercise. It was a carefully planned deliberate assault on a formidable and well defended objective, driven home with courage and determination. The main lessons which stand out from the operation are the importance of a simple flexible plan, clear and concise orders at all levels and good leadership. The importance of clear and definite orders is overwhelming since, once the attack is launched, the commander can exercise only limited control. Provided he has good communications he may influence the battle by his control of supporting fire and use of his reserves.
The Commanding Officer, Hassett, had his Tactical Headquarters well forward. This is important for, although a battalion commander will seldom see much of the action through fog and smoke, he gets the feel of the battle - something one has to experience to really understand. But, on the ground, the battle is fought out by platoons and sections: and it is on them that he is dependent for success. Every man should know his objective and know how it is to be attained, because leaders become casualties and anyone may be called on to assume command - be it a section, platoon or company - and to maintain the momentum of the attack. The battle is fought out on the ground by platoons and sections, and success will depend to a great extent upon the skill and initiative of the junior leader.
(The following extracts from the "Battle of Maryang San" by Bob Breen are gratefully acknowledged)
THE BATTLE OF MARYANG SAN - 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment Korea, 2 - 8 October 1951
The Battle of Maryang San, fought by the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) - 'Old Faithful' - in Korea in October 1951 is a post-World War 11 Classic. Of that encounter, Robert O'Neill the Official War Historian wrote:
And, in 1952 Colonel Tom Daly the then Director of Infantry and a future Chief of the General Staff, added:
For its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hassett (now General Sir Francis Hassett, Rtd) his officers, NCOs and men it was a testing time.
The scale of manoeuvre of the rifle companies of 3 RAR during the action-packed five days of the Battle - by night, in fog, across rugged terrain and for much of the time under artillery and mortar fire - can only challenge contemporary Australian infantrymen to strive for similar levels of excellence. The display of endurance, courage and aggression during the Battle are timeless benchmarks for offensive operations. The quality of tactical decision-making by the Commanding Officer and his company and platoon commanders provides a rich source of analysis for all officers and NCOs in the 1990s and beyond.
Brigadier George Taylor
The Australians were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hassett, a 33 year old Duntroon graduate with a distinguished world War 11 record in the Middle East and in the Pacific Campaign. He had taken over command from Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson in July 1951. Since then the battalion had been adjusting to working in a different brigade under a newly-appointed Brigade commander Brigadier George Taylor.
Author "Bob" Breen
Hassett's battle plan included provisions for the use of air support and the firepower of other combat arms such as artillery and armour. He recalled the plans he made later,
CAPTURE OF THE 220 FEATURES AND THE
"Jim" Mc Fadzean
THE CAPTURE OF MARYANG SAN
CAPTURE AND DEFENCE OF THE 'HINGE'
6 - 8 October
'Jock' McCormick recalls the work of the
Signals Officer, Captain Claude Smeale,
The Official History chronicled these incidents on the
General O'Daniel described the Commonwealth
Division's actions as,
On 9 October Taylor issued a letter to all ranks of the
At first light on 5 November the sight of the Chinese
on Maryang San was, as Robert O'Neill said in the
Official History of Australia's participation in the
Their only solace was found in watching the Chinese who had taken Maryang San being subjected to a torrent of napalm, bombs and machine gun fire from the air as well as heavy concentrations of artillery and mortar fire.
Colonel Tom Daly, Director of Infantry, 1952.
It is difficult to be specific about the Battalion's outstanding success but certain aspects stand out clearly:
Arthur 'Bushy' Pembroke
If I were asked a direct question about Commando I would certainly reply; "One of the best planned operations, commanded by experts, fought with outstanding bravery by all who took part, in some of the worst country in the world, with victory at the end."
Edward 'Jack' Morrison,
THE STATIC WAR
The battalion (3 RAR January 1952), later joined by 1
RAR and 2 RAR, then entered the early stages of the
"static" war, which lasted for some two years. This was a
hard monotonous period of trench warfare of a first World
War nature. It was a life of patrolling and raids, wiring,
mining, of being constantly shelled and mortared and
fighting off local enemy attacks which persisted until the
very end of hostilities in July 1953. There was a steady
build up of casualties. It was dangerous, onerous and
lacked the excitement of significant achievement. I
thought this a more exacting period, particularly for
junior leaders, than the more mobile phase of the first
year of the war.
A static war suited the Chinese. They had fortitude and
they dug deep and well. I was not alone in being somewhat
restless about the static war. We were fighting the sort
of war that suited our enemy.
The period leading to the declaration of the truce in 1952 and 1953, was a trying one for Australian soldiers who, whilst anxious to do their duty, (which has already been amply demonstrated) were also concerned about coming home in one piece. It became obvious to the men in the line that the Chinese were prepared to sit tight on their defences and wait for a declaration of peace provided we left them alone. The advantages of aggressive patrolling to protect the defensive position are well known to commanders however, the digger could see little point, at his level, of continuously "stirring the possum" with raids and dangerous patrols, which if unsuccessful resulted in many casualties and which if successful, resulted in heavy reaction and further casualties. It is a tribute to their spirit and their strength of leadership that they continued to perform so well, with the tasks allotted to them, right up to the cessation of hostilities.
(The following extracts are taken from "Australia in the Korean War 1950-53 by Robert O"Neill published by the Australian War Memorial" and are gratefully acknowledged)
Author "Bob" O'Neill
After achieving a stronger defensive line in late 1951, the United Nations Command forces sought no further significant advances during the remainder of the war. The Chinese and North Koreans used the respite between 27 November and 27 December 1951 effectively, improving their defences so that an allied offensive would have been extremely costly. General Ridgway did not believe that these defences were insuperable
During the bloody but unspectacular nineteen months of the static war, the Commonwealth Division was in the line for all but two months - February and March 1953.
As part of the 28th Brigade, 3 RAR was deployed on the eastern sector of the divisional line from 19 January to 18 April 1952, in the area of Hills 159, 210 and 227, 1½ kilometres southwest of Hill 355. This period was relatively quiet, although on the night of 26-27 January, the Australians attempted to recapture Hill 227, which had been taken by the Chinese in their November counter-offensive. The Australians were driven off by superior Chinese forces, losing seven killed and nine wounded. The forward battalions devoted their efforts to strengthening the defences and patrolling no man's land.
The Chinese soldiers were brave fighters and competent but inflexible tacticians. They were not extensively equipped with radio and telephone communications and frequently were unable to summon rapid fire support when in ambushes and attacks. The Chinese employed these tactics frequently and with effect. In some attacks they concentrated forces within 20 or 30 metres of the barbed-wire defences and then stormed through into the forward trenches and bunkers. The 28th Brigade defeated this method, first by aggressive patrolling to deny the enemy an easy approach to the defences, and second by stationing small standing patrols or listening posts well forward to give warning of any unusual assembly of enemy.
Daly implemented a firm and vigorous patrol policy. He had learned this style of warfare from Lieutenant General Morshead while a brigade major in the siege of Tobruk
This policy inevitably resulted in casualties and was questioned by Army Headquarters in Australia. Daly responded by pointing out that far heavier casualties could have been suffered had the Chinese been allowed to get close enough to the 28th Brigade positions to mount a major attack. The US regiment which relieved the brigade on Hill 355 at the end of January 1953 did not patrol and within a few days a complete company was overrun by a Chinese surprise attack. The Americans suffered some 200 casualties.
The rigours of the climate continued to test the fitness of the men on the battle-line, on both sides. As the lines became more developed, with overhead cover, bunkers and heating stoves, so there was more opportunity for protection from the winter temperatures, except when manning a weapon on watch or on observation post duty, by day or night, or when on patrol. Great care had to be taken when on patrol that men did not become frost-bitten, particularly when wounding required lying concealed and without movement. Standing patrols and listening posts had to be relieved frequently, sometimes hourly. During early spring, trenches would suddenly collapse as the ground thawed. A deep trench could suddenly become a wide and shallow ditch, burying the occupant. The Australian diggers of the 1950s suddenly realized what the old diggers of 1914-18 had had to contend with.
Two Australian engineers with the 28th Brigade, Captain J.M. Hutcheson and Captain I.G.C. Gilmore, performed outstandingly in attempting to keep the minefields fenced and ensuring that the locations of the miners were adequately recorded and known by the forward troops.
When Australian troops first occupied a new position in the line, they undertook a series of familiarization patrols, so that they came to know the terrain, the barbed-wire obstacles and the minefields in front of their defences intimately. They then fought for domination of the approaches to their positions before attempting to force the enemy's patrols back into their own defences, thereby giving the Australians dominance over no man's land.
Casualty evacuation was a constant anxiety when on patrol. It was easy to lose a wounded man in the hectic activity of a fight at night; it was difficult for a small patrol to carry one or two stretcher cases and protect itself if followed up by the enemy. Sometimes it took sixteen men to haul a stretcher up Hill 355. Many heroic deeds were performed by individual patrol members in bringing their wounded back to safety. They were not always successful and some wounded Commonwealth soldiers were captured by the Chinese. Several of these men later returned from captivity, but some did not survive because of the rudimentary medical support available to the Chinese, both for their own and for enemy casualties.
Usually the Chinese artillery concentrated on the forward positions, but occasionally it struck targets 3-4 kilometres behind the line. In the last two years of the war, over 260 000 enemy rounds fell in the divisional area, but the division fired over 2 000 000 rounds back at the enemy.
The British and Canadian Governments also approved, and the program, known as the KATCOM (Korean Augmentation Troops, Commonwealth) scheme, soon went into effect. Each Commonwealth infantry section of seven to ten soldiers received two or three Koreans. The latter wore the uniforms of the unit to which they were attached, at the same food, lived under the same conditions and took part in the same patrols, armed with Commonwealth weapons, but were paid by the Government of the Republic of Korea. Despite the inevitable problems when two men per section had not been trained in the same way as the Australians, and spoke little if any English, the whole arrangement began well and proved successful in the next few months. Without the KATCOMs every Australian section would have been two or three men under-strength, because of absences due to sickness or leave.
AUSTRALIAN OPERATIONS ON THE JAMESTOWN LINE January
1952 - July 1953
OPERATION BLAZE: JULY 1952
The first major Australian operation on the Jamestown Line in 1952 was a daylight raid made by 1 RAR on the Chinese forward positions on Hill 227.
In early July it was 1 RAR's turn to attempt to capture a prisoner. Hutchison (CO 1RAR) ordered Major D.S. Thomson, Officer Commanding A Company, to raid the Chinese positions on Hill 227 on 2 July 1952, capture a prisoner and destroy the garrison. This raid was unusual in that it was made in broad daylight.
The Chinese inside the bunkers threw grenades and fired at the Australians with rifles and machine-guns. Lieutenant G.J. Lucas, the platoon commander, ordered his men to silence the defenders with percussion, phosphorus and high-explosive grenades and flame throwers. It was difficult to direct the flame into the bunkers because of their skillful construction, and Lucas attempted to dig through the roof of C Bunker, in full view of other enemy positions a few hundred metres away. They opened fire but failed to hit him, so he kept digging. Corporal H.E. Patch and another member of his section jumped into the trench leading to the bunker's entrance and tried to force their way in, but both were wounded by a burst of machine-gun fire from inside. Patch pulled his companion from the entrance and fired in at the enemy, receiving a second wound when the Chinese returned the fire. Several other members of the platoon were wounded by mortar fire when they went to Patch's assistance. Soon afterwards a loud explosion within the bunker was heard, the entrance tunnel collapsed and carried Lieutenant Lucas in with the debris. He struggled free and the enemy inside the bunker ceased to offer resistance. The bunker was now aflame and sealed off externally, but still the Australians had not taken a prisoner.
Thomson and his headquarters group gained the summit a few minutes after the forward platoons. He directed operations from a Chinese trench near the top of the hill, without any regard for his own safety, amidst a heavy, accurate Chinese mortar and artillery bombardment and a steady hail of small arms fire.
After A Company had been on the hill for nearly one and a half hours, Hutchison ordered Thomson to withdraw. The company was running out of ammunition and had lost one man killed and over twenty wounded. Although the Australians had no hope of capturing a prisoner, they had substantially destroyed the Chinese defences on the hilltop.
During Operation Blaze three members of 1 RAR were killed and thirty-four were wounded. It was a heavy price to pay for occupation of the enemy position for an hour and a half, particularly when no prisoners were taken and few confirmed casualties were inflicted on the enemy.
OPERATION BUFFALO: AUGUST 1952
In late June 1952, 3 RAR returned to the Jamestown Line with the 28th Brigade, relieving the 25th Brigade in the south-western sector of the divisional front. Brigadier Daly deployed 3 RAR on the central sector of the brigade front, in the second battalion area to the east of the Samichon River. During July the battalion settled into the new position under the command of Lieutenant Colonel R.L. Hughes, who relieved Hassett on 2 July, and began an intensive program of patrolling forward into no man's land. On the night of 12 July, Hughes sent out a fighting patrol of twenty-five men, led by Lieutenant L.B Ryan of A Company, in an attempt to capture a prisoner from an enemy post on Hill 115, 1 kilometre north-west of the forward defences.
The patrol was unfortunate enough to have been assigned to a much better defended Chinese position than had been originally believed. After fighting their way right up to enemy trenches, the Australians were repelled with heavy losses. Ryan was killed; another two men, Privates W.T.H. Lord and T.G. Wallace, were both wounded and believed captured; and ten of those who returned were wounded. A search patrol sent out later that night found no trace of Ryan, Lord and Wallace. Two members of the fighting patrol, Private T.J. Jubb, a stretcher bearer, and Private A. White, Ryan's signaler, were awarded the Military Medal for great bravery in reorganizing the patrol and evacuating the wounded while under heavy enemy fire. White took command after Ryan had been badly wounded and returned three times to within 5 metres of the enemy to remove casualties.
In mid-August 3 RAR was ordered to make another attempt to capture a prisoner. On this occasion Hughes planned to use a stronger force employing the whole of B Company. The raid, Operation Buffalo, was directed at Hill 75, 1200 metres to the west of the battalion's forward defences.
The Chinese position on Hill 75 was an outpost on the southern tip of a ridge which projected southwards from their main defensive line. The position was 600 metres east of the Samichon, and could be attacked from three sides. It was held by a platoon supported by two machine-guns.
More casualties were suffered from mortar fire as 6 Platoon, followed by 4 Platoon and Company Headquarters, moved back through the firm base held by 5 Platoon. The raid had cost B Company one killed, twenty-four wounded and two missing. At least twelve Chinese had been killed. Richardson was awarded the Military Cross, and Wilson, the Military Medal. Zwolanski was awarded the United States Bronze Star for his leadership and bravery in the face of the heavy Chinese mortar fire. Corporal B. Saville and Private L.C. Holden were both awarded the Military Medal, partly for this action and partly for their role in a patrol clash in which they participated on 28 and 29 September.
PATROLS IN THE SONGGOK AREA: AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 1952
During August and September 1952 both 1 RAR and 3 RAR were engaged in several fierce patrol actions while holding the sector to the east of the Samichon River, generally known as the Songgok area. The two Australian battalions were holding adjacent positions, with 1 RAR to the north-east and 3 RAR. On the night of 22-23 August, 1 RAR sent out a working party commanded by Captain P.J. Greville, the Assault Pioneer Platoon Commander, to repair a minefield fence. Greville's group of nine men was ambushed by twenty Chinese when returning to the forward defences at 2.30 a.m., despite the provision of two protective patrols. Greville was captured, the only senior Australian to be taken during the war, together with Private DD Condon. One member of Greville's group was killed, and three others, together with three men from D Company who were fired on when bringing in the first casualties from the ambush, were wounded.
Four nights later Lieutenant J.H. Skipper led a fighting patrol forward of 1 RAR's position. As the Australians approached the creek which ran between their defences and those of the Chinese, they detected an enemy patrol moving forward. Skipper withdrew his forward scouts and laid an ambush at the most frequently used crossing point on the creek. The Chinese walked into the ambush and five were killed. The Chinese patrol commander quickly directed mortar fire onto the ambush area and Skipper reorganized his men and withdrew, suffering no casualties in the engagement.
A ten-man patrol from 3 RAR was attacked by some twenty Chinese in front of the battalion's defences on the night of 2-3 September. The patrol commander was wounded and the second-in-command killed. Private H.G. White took command and reorganized the patrol to resist a further enemy attack. Despite suffering one further casualty, White's group killed six Chinese and captured one wounded prisoner. White called for stretcher bearers and remained in charge until all the wounded had been evacuated and he was ordered to withdraw, at dawn. He was mentioned in dispatches for his leadership.
On the night of 4-5 September, Lieutenant W. Patrick took a sixteen-member patrol forward of 3 RAR's position and ambushed some forty Chinese at 9 PM. The enemy fired two green flares and directed supporting machine-gun fire onto both the Australians and themselves. Despite several casualties, they attacked Patrick's patrol, blowing bugles and whistles, firing sub-machine-guns and hurling grenades. Patrick was wounded in the throat, leg and chest. Lance Corporal P.A. Thompson, commander of the nearest section of the patrol, ordered a withdrawal just before being struck by a grenade, which blew his foot off. Corporal K.C. Thomas, the second-in-command of the patrol, killed three approaching Chinese and gave Thompson assistance. Thomas's men killed a further nine enemy. He then organised a withdrawal, remaining behind with a small group to protect the movement of casualties. Thompson died and Thomas concealed his body in some bushes. Thomas's group was attacked by some twenty Chinese, who were repelled with heavy losses. Thomas then withdrew his group, carrying one of his men who had been severely wounded. After returning to the battalion position he volunteered to guide another patrol out to the area of the clash and subsequently recovered Thompson's body, which had been left by the Chinese, who had already dragged away their own dead and wounded. Thomas was awarded the Military Medal.
A fighting patrol from 1 RAR, commanded by Lieutenant P.H. Cliff, encountered twenty Chinese on the night of 13-14 September, near the bank of a creek. The Australians charged, and one section, led by Lance Corporal D. McCarthy, put the enemy to flight, leaving behind two dead and two badly wounded. McCarthy pursued the Chinese towards their own lines, hurling grenades and firing his Owen gun at them. On his way back to join his men McCarthy came face to face with an armed Chinese soldier, seized him by the throat, disarmed him of a rifle and three grenades and rejoined the patrol with his valuable prisoner, the first to be taken by 1 RAR. McCarthy was awarded a Military Medal. Cliff was killed while leading another patrol on the night of 21-22 September. He had called down artillery fire on a suspected enemy position nearby, but the shells fell on his own location. Subsequent investigation revealed that Cliff had not known his own position accurately and that the guns had fired precisely on the area given by him. He was particularly unlucky in that he was hit in the throat by a large shell fragment which had traveled an exceptional distance from the point of burst. The episode caused some hard feelings between 1 RAR and the 16th Field Regiment.
Captain J.T. Waterton, Second-in-Command of B Company, 3 RAR, led a fighting patrol of seventeen men on the night of 28-29 September and ambushed some fifty Chinese at very close range. After opening fire and killing several of the enemy, Waterton withdrew his patrol 30 metres while the Chinese attacked the Australians' former position. Waterton's men fired back at the Chinese and inflicted heavy casualties once again. The Chinese withdrew to their main defences.
Lance Corporal L.C. Holden, Waterton's second-in-command, was wounded in both legs but continued to control his section's part of the fighting. He refused to be evacuated in a protected party with three other wounded, although he could only crawl. Waterton ordered him to be assisted out once the patrol's final withdrawal began. Waterton was awarded the Military Cross and Holden the Military Medal. Holden had also performed outstandingly in the raid on Hill 75 on 13 August. Part of the success of Waterton's patrol was due to a small decoy group led by Lance Corporal B. Saville, who initially contacted the Chinese and lured them into the ambush. Saville placed himself in great danger on several occasions to ensure that the Chinese came right into the ambush area. He, also, was awarded the Military Medal.
PATROL CLASHES: WINTER 1952-53
During the period early November 1952-late January 1953 the 28th Brigade held the easternmost sector of the divisional line. For the first month this sector stretched for 6 kilometres, from between the two hills 187 - including the ridge connecting Hills 159 and 210, and Hill 355 itself - to a creek on the north-eastern flank of Hill 355. On 25 October, 3 RAR was detached to the 29th Brigade on the western sector and was stationed behind the line at Yongdong on the Samichon River for three weeks to relive the 1st Battalion.
Austin (Commanding Officer) found a difficult situation on Hill 355. On 23 and 24 October the Chinese had mounted a heavy attack on the hill, which was then held by the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, causing severe damage to the defences. The Canadians had not dominated no man's land by patrolling and the Chinese had relatively easy access from hides which they had dug close to the wire. Austin had to reconstruct the damaged trenches and bunkers, some of which had collapsed completely, and then re-establish control over no man's 'and. Daly ordered a heavy patrol program and hard fighting was necessary until the Chinese were forced to relinquish their grip. The task of 1 RAR was complicated by the steep slopes of Hill 355, the presence of some badly maintained minefields which were a constant danger to Australian patrols, and the closeness of the Chinese forward positions on Hill 227, only 200 metres from the western Australian outposts. The Canadians had not maintained concealment of their defences and advertised their presence by throwing empty food cans around their pits. The cans reflected the rays of the sun and enabled the Chinese to pin-point the locations of individual defences by day. The sides of pits and trenches had not been maintained, so that they gaped widely, acting as funnels for incoming shells and mortar bombs. To the north of Hill 355, no man's land was between 1 and 2 kilometres wide, stretching across a valley to a low (some 130 metres) ridge.
On each of the first few nights of 1 RAR's occupation of Hill 355, Chinese patrols were pressing on the outer wire defences at last light.
It took some ten days of aggressive Australian patrolling to regain control of the approaches, during which nearly fifty Australian casualties were suffered. One of the early 1 RAR patrols, led by Lieutenant W.B. James on the night of 7-8 November, was badly blown up when it unwittingly entered an unmarked and unrecorded minefield which the Canadians had laid around an outpost position. A group of enemy was heard moving nearby as James's patrol approached the outpost. When he deployed his men to ambush the Chinese, they entered the minefield. One man detonated a mine and was killed. Four others, including James, were wounded. The force of the blast took off James's left foot and badly broke his right leg. He remained conscious and in command of the patrol, although in great pain. He organised the evacuation of casualties, insisting that he should be the last to be moved, even though it was over three hours until he was back in the battalion position. He was awarded the Military Cross.
Three nights later another patrol, led by Lieutenant C.N. Khan, encountered an enemy group on the western slopes of Hill 355. Khan was badly wounded in the chest and arms by a burst of Chinese light machine-gun fire and grenades. His life was saved by the first type of armoured vest used by US troops in Korea. Three bullets entered his chest through the unprotected zip-fastener, while the others were deflected by metal patches under Khan's armpits. On learning of this episode the US Army modified the design of the vest to protect the fastener area. Two other members of the patrol were also wounded. Khan, like James, insisted that the others should be evacuated first. He was mentioned in dispatches both for this action and for leadership when his platoon position had been heavily bombarded by mortar and artillery fire in the preceding week.
On the night of 11-12 November, Lieutenant J.L. Seaton took another patrol to the area where Khan had been wounded, to protect a demolition party. After the charges had been fired, Seaton laid an ambush for any Chinese coming to investigate. Ten enemy soldiers soon approached and Seaton allowed them to close to 5 metres before opening fire. The Chinese responded vigorously with grenades and sub-machine-gun fire. Seaton ordered his group to withdraw while he attempted to draw the enemy off by moving out to the flank. Unfortunately he succeeded all too well and a Chinese soldier hit and killed him with a grenade. He was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. Another patrol, led by Lance Corporal N.J. Beresi, went to look for Seaton, not knowing that he was dead. Despite the close proximity of more Chinese, they succeeded in locating and recovering Seaton's body. Beresi also was mentioned in dispatches.
Lieutenant Skipper took a patrol out on the night of 15-16 November to the area in which James had been blown up, to recover the body of a Chinese who had been killed in a nearby minefield. Knowing that the body was urgently required so that intelligence personnel could identify the formation from which the Chinese had come, Skipper took great pains to carry out his task. The minefield was extremely dangerous because nothing was known about it apart from the information which James had provided. The only way by which Skipper could reach the body safely was to probe for mines under the ground and delicately remove those he encountered. After two hours' work in pitch darkness and in temperatures below freezing point he reached the body and dragged it out. Next night he returned to this area, leading a patrol to ambush a larger group of Chinese that had forced back one of the Australian standing patrols earlier that night. He reconnoitered the position and then moved his patrol forward. The Chinese detected the movement and attacked, wounding Skipper, but the Australians countered strongly and Skipper then withdrew skillfully. For these actions and one other on 27 August, Skipper was awarded the Military Cross.
The commander of the standing patrol, Corporal W. Crotty, was mentioned in dispatches both for boldly countering the initial Chinese attack and for his actions during a raid on 11 December. Altogether the two Australian patrols lost three killed, four wounded and one missing (who had been wounded and captured), and killed at least five Chinese.
The Australian part in the action, Operation Beatup, was performed by 10 Platoon (Lieutenant E. Boyd), supported by 12 Platoon (Lieutenant J. Sullivan, later Federal Member of Parliament for Riverina). They gained their objective on Hill 227, following the steps of A Company in Operation Blaze nearly five months previously. Only light opposition was encountered and four Australians were wounded.
Sergeant J.D. Corcoran of 10 Platoon (later Premier of South Australia) distinguished himself in evacuating casualties under mortar fire. Evidently the Fusiliers had drawn the enemy's attention away from the Australian line of attack. After occupying the objective, Boyd withdrew his force to the battalion's forward defences.
On the night of 12-13 December another Australian patrol was blown up in a minefield near where James's patrol had encountered disaster. The patrol, consisting of Corporal L.A. Carter and Private K.B. Withers, of D Company, had been sent out on reconnaissance. At about 10 p.m. Carter and Withers detected enemy movement to their flank. Diverging to investigate, they entered an unfenced minefield. Carter detonated one of the mines and was killed. Withers, although badly wounded in the leg, contacted his company by radio and directed a rescue patrol, led by Sergeant R.D. Ruttley, to his vicinity. Withers had not told his rescuers that he was badly wounded and halted them by radio when he heard more enemy movement nearby. When he was satisfied that the enemy group had withdrawn, he allowed the rescue patrol to reach him, whereupon they realized that, all the time that he had been calmly guiding them, he had been suffering from serious wounding. Ruttley saw that Withers was some 20 metres inside the minefield and, alone, he set about clearing a path to the wounded man. Despite the dangers of the mines and sounds of enemy movement not far away, he succeeded in slowing probing a safe path to Withers. With the assistance of a second member of the patrol, Ruttley brought out Withers, as well as the body of Carter, and they were safely evacuated to the battalion position. Ruttley was awarded the Military Medal. Withers was mentioned in dispatches.
Mines caused further trouble for 1 RAR in the early hours of 19 December, when a minefield reconnaissance patrol commanded by Lieutenant Boyd accidentally entered a minefield at the foot of Hill 227, at a point where the fence had been blown down. The forward scout, Lance Corporal W.J. Ellis, was killed; Boyd and Private E.J. Cupitt were wounded. Sergeant Corcoran led a rescue party to Boyd's position, carefully searched the area for trip wires and then brought the casualties out safely. Corcoran was mentioned in dispatches both for this action and for his bravery in Operation Beatup on 25 November. Next night one Australian was killed and six were wounded when a bag containing twelve M-36 grenades blew up accidentally at an outpost.
On 28 December 1952, 3 RAR relieved 1 RAR and shared their experiences of patrol clashes and minefield accidents. Lieutenant R.D.F. Lloyd led a fighting patrol out to set an ambush on the night of 6-7 January 1953, in an area in which considerable enemy movement had been detected earlier by 1 RAR. The ambush site had been recommended by Lloyd, as a result of a reconnaissance patrol he had led into the same area several days before. The patrol's task was complicated by recent heavy snowfalls which made the going difficult and by a full moon which gave too much light for the Australians' comfort. After arriving at the chosen site, reconnaissance parties were sent to check the two areas of higher ground from which Lloyd planned to spring the ambush. He had decided to divide the patrol into two groups for maximum effect. The killing ground was to be a small saddle between the two positions. Radios were carried for inter-communication.
Hardly had the two groups settled into their fire positions on the high ground, expecting a long cold wait for a possible enemy patrol, when the second group was attacked from the rear at close range by a large number of Chinese using automatic weapons and grenades.
Still without radio contact with the second group, and unable, because of heavy firing, to assess accurately its situation, Lloyd concluded that it was under such pressure that it could not disengage. He then moved his men down into the saddle which was to have been the killing ground and led them in extended line up the snow-covered slope towards the second group, to assault the enemy position. The Chinese poured automatic fire and concussion grenades down on Lloyd and his men, who had great difficulty in returning accurate fire or using grenades because of trees and the danger of hitting their other group. Lloyd therefore ordered the assaulting troops to fire high as he led them, slipping and scrambling, up the slope. As they approached the enemy, Lloyd was hit by shrapnel from a grenade, and his men were forced to take cover on the ground. The enemy fire and grenading then became so heavy that the group was unable to hold its position and Lloyd ordered it to withdraw.
Lloyd's group, exhausted and suffering several injuries from their two assaults, then reorganized and formed a firm base close by. Lloyd's suspicions were soon confirmed when the second group joined his own, having successfully disengaged from the enemy and withdrawn by a circuitous route. Lloyd contemplated a further attack on the enemy's position, but in view of the condition of the wounded, including himself, decided against it. Knowing that all his men were now safely off the enemy position, he directed artillery fire onto it and remained nearby to ensure that the fire was effective.
The patrol's movement back to the battalion's forward defences was slow and for the wounded it was particularly difficult. When the patrol approached the battalion position, Lloyd, still exercising command despite his wounds, requested that a stretcher party from one of the forward companies be sent out to assist. Although this request was approved, the stretcher party failed to appear. The patrol limped on, only to be subjected to heavy enemy mortar fire as it came closer to the gap through the minefield, which it had to use. It was not difficult under such circumstances, even at night, for the Chinese to assess through which gaps patrols were likely to return and normally they mortared one or more with great accuracy after a patrol contact. In this instance they chose the correct gap and pinned Lloyd's patrol down for almost another hour before it could reach the safety of the battalion's lines. Although this ambush was unsuccessful, and the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy unknown, the patrol returned intact, despite heavy fighting in which it had seemed for some time that half had been overrun by a much larger enemy force. Lloyd was awarded the Military Cross for courage, leadership and initiative in this action.
Another fighting patrol, led by Lieutenant B.N. Bousfield, set out to capture a prisoner from the Chinese lines on the night of 13-14 January 1953. The enemy were well prepared, however, and when Bousfield's patrol unexpectedly encountered a newly constructed trench system, the Chinese opened fire with mortars and machine-guns and then launched a counter-attack. The Australians beat this attack off and a small group entered the trenches in search of a prisoner. Although they wounded a few Chinese, they were unable to capture any, and had to withdraw. The Chinese had correctly estimated Bousfield's withdrawal route and set an ambush across it with thirty men, twice the number of the Australian patrol. Bousfield's men fought their way through, under his firm direction, inflicting several casualties on the enemy. Bousfield and a few others protected the next phase of th withdrawal by remaining at the rear of the patrol. The Chinese followed up and attacked the rearguard, wounding Bousefield severely in the leg. He continued to command the patrol and successfully reached the battalion defences. He was awarded the Military Cross. Four of his men were wounded and three were missing - Privates E. Donnelly, R.W. Shennon and P. White. A stretcher party moving to the patrol's assistance was mortared. Private H.T. Watmore died of wounds received in the bombardment. Privates E.J. Chapman-Stone and M.C. Gathercole were also wounded. A four-man patrol went out to search for the three missing men at 10 am next day, but were fired on from Dog Outpost on Hill 227 while they were 300 metres to the north-east. They displayed a stretcher to the Chinese to indicate that they were looking for wounded, but on this occasion the enemy chose to grant no quarter and the Australians were fired on again and then heavily mortared when they returned through the minefield gap. Corporal G. Dawson, Lance Corporal R.J. Tippet and Private G. Smith were wounded. The Chinese followed the patrol and captured Smith. Tippet became separated from the others, but avoided capture. He was rescued by another stretcher party at 3 pm. During the action the Chinese bombarded B Company of 3 RAR with 500 mortar bombs.
Another minefield accident occurred at 6.16 am on 23 January, when a returning D Company ambush patrol set off an explosion on the edge of a minefield some 400 metres forward of the main defences. Private J.W. Page was killed and Private G.W. Ford was wounded. Sergeant C.E. Davies, who knew the location of the boundary of the minefield, went to their assistance. He found that the ground was so frozen that he could not penetrate it with his bayonet to discover whether there were mines in his path. With utter disregard for his own safety he proceeded to clear a path by stamping with his feet, presumably in the hope that if he was blown up, others would at least have better knowledge of where the mines were located. Time pressed acutely because dawn was breaking and the position was open to enemy fire. Davies's luck held and he stamped a path 30 metres in length to reach Ford safely.
He hoisted Ford onto his back and crawled back along the path he had cleared, using his own body as a shield for Ford in the event of another explosion. Davies was awarded the Military Medal for his outstanding bravery.
Another final major Australian patrol action of the winter period took place on the night of 24-25 January, when Lieutenant F.C. Smith of A Company, 3 RAR, led another attempt to capture a Chinese prisoner. Lieutenant Colonel Hughes had ordered Major J.W. Norrie, Officer Commanding A Company, to send a strong fighting patrol. Norrie had selected Smith to lead the patrol deep into enemy territory to raid a Chinese standing patrol, and they had planned the operation together during 23 January. They decided that the snatch party should be small in order to have any chance of success. A veteran of many patrols, Sergeant E.J. Morrison, and four others were selected to enter the Chinese trenches, protected by two groups of thirteen men. The target area was situated nearly 2 kilometres to the north-west of 3 RAR's westernmost defences on Hill 355. A line of trenches ran southwards from the main Chinese line, 2 kilometres north of Hill 355, to link up with the Chinese defences on Hill 227. It was decided, on the basis of intelligence and previous patrol reports, to make the raid at a point where these trenches descended a spur on the north side of the valley between the main Chinese line and Hill 227.
In the meantime, Smith's group was being overwhelmed and he ordered his men to withdraw. Only a few men moved. Smith was hit by a concussion grenade and never seen again. Three of his men, Privates C. Gale, D.M. Murray and T.J. Whiting, escaped from the Chinese by rolling downhill out of the battle. All night they lay deep in enemy territory, waiting for enough light for them to see their way back to the battalion's position. They returned at 1.30 pm. Murray and Whiting had been wounded.
After Smith's group had been overrun, the Chinese turned their attention to Morrison's party. When he saw large numbers of enemy approaching, he withdrew his group eastwards onto the ridge which they had crossed during the second stage of their outwards journey. He encountered six Chinese who were occupying the crest, and realising that unless he could dislodge them his withdrawal route was cut, he and Mackay hurled themselves forward, killing all six in hand-to-hand fighting. Morrison reorganized the group and they continued to the east, pursued by increasing numbers of Chinese. Two platoon-sized groups separately attacked the Australians' flank from the south and a third attacked the rear of the patrol. Each of these attacks was beaten off, with heavy loss to the enemy. Morrison led two charges against the flank attacks and Private L.J. Terry, who had been wounded earlier in the night, led another against the attack from the rear. Terry charged into a group of twenty Chinese, hurling grenades and firing his Owen gun. The Chinese stopped short and dispersed, but Terry was not seen again.
The Chinese then ceased their attacks and withdrew, leaving the Australians to make their way back to the battalion, defences, 800 metres to the south, unmolested. They returned at 1.15 am. Of the eighteen men in Morrison's party, three were missing, three were being carried on stretchers and five were walking-wounded. Ten of Smith's group were missing. With thirteen missing and ten wounded as total casualties for the operation, it had been an expensive and vain attempt to take a prisoner. However, Morrison estimated that the patrol killed at least eighty Chinese, apart from those struck by the artillery and mortar fire he directed against the engagement. This fire had played a vital role in covering the Australians' withdrawal. Morrison was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal; Mackay, a Military Medal; and Smith and Terry were posthumously mentioned in dispatches. Consideration was given by Brigadier Daly and Lieutenant Colonel Hughes to recommending Terry for the Victoria Cross, but there were not sufficient witnesses to meet the requirements for this high award. Private C.Y. Hales, a member of Mackay's group, also was mentioned in dispatches for playing a leading part in beating off the Chinese flank attacks during the withdrawal. Heavy Chinese artillery and mortar fire were brought down on the battalion's position and its standing patrols during the action, killing Private W.E. Waters and wounding Corporal G.T. Hilton and Private D.J. Joseph.
This bold action was a bloody, fitting finale to a bitter winter of continual contest between small groups of determined men for control of no man's land. Five days later the Commonwealth Division, less some of its artillery units, withdrew into reserve for a well-earned respite of over two months.
OPERATION FAUNA: DECEMBER 1952
Finally, in early December, Brigadier Daly ordered Lieutenant Colonel Austin, Commanding Officer of 1 RAR, to raid an enemy position and take a prisoner.
The enemy position was garrisoned by some fifteen men and occasionally two heavy mortar crews. For the raid to have any chance of success, Austin reasoned, surprise was essential. A frontal approach could not hope to go undetected for long and it was decided to attack from the rear by climbing the objective spur, code-named Flora, some 400 metres to the north of the enemy position. This approach required deep and careful penetration of enemy-dominated territory. If the raiding party went astray, it was in danger of being overwhelmed.
The company swept through the Chinese position, killing all enemy encountered. A machine-gun fired on the Australians from within the main objective; but it was soon dealt with by Sergeant E.J. McNulty, commanding the reserve section and assault pioneers group. One of McNulty's men was wounded by the machine-gun as his force searched for and destroyed enemy bunkers and shelters; another round struck McNulty, but was deflected by his armoured jacket; McNulty immediately turned and charged at the machine-gun, without regard for danger, hurling grenades at the crew and killing them.
Australian casualties soon mounted to a serious level, as a result of increasing enemy mortar and artillery fire. McNulty paid it no heed and moved about the position collecting wounded men. Mann's headquarters group was struck by heavy small arms fire and a shower of grenades soon after it arrived on the objective. Mann was flown off his feet twice, and Salmon, two radio operators and Mann's batman were wounded. Salmon was later discovered to have been hit by twenty-two fragments. Although badly shaken, Mann rallied his men and they pressed on through the enemy position to reorganize before commencing their withdrawal. Nearly one-third of the force had become casualties.
Unfortunately, in the heat of the attack, none of the specially detailed snatch parties captured a prisoner. The 1 RAR report on the operation commented:
Mann gave the order to withdraw as heavy enemy defensive fire rained down. McNulty checked all of his men through and waited until the last had cleared the position before withdrawing.
The flank protection patrols, which had endured a long ordeal, lying still for over four hours in the freezing night, were shelled and mortared as they approached the minefield gaps on their return journey. The Chinese had correctly predicted the withdrawal routes and they wounded one member of the right flanking patrols near the Halifax outpost and two members of the left flanking patrols near the Winnipeg outpost, 800 metres to the west. A stretcher party providing assistance to the latter group was also mortared, suffering several casualties and considerable delay. The whole group was caught in the open at daylight and did not reach the forward defences until 7.45am. The Chinese stopped firing when they say a large stretcher party, almost the whole of C Company from the summit of Hill 355, toiling straight up the forward slope. As soon as the stretcher bearers had reached the forward trenches, and the wounded were safe under cover, the Chinese opened fire with every weapon they had.
Operation Fauna had cost 1 RAR twenty-two wounded and three missing. One of the three missing men, Private W.J. Young, had been wounded, and during the rapid withdrawal, he lost contact with the company. He hid during the day on the spur east of Flora and had some narrow escapes from discovery and capture. Next night a D Company patrol, sent out to search the area for the missing men, found him as he was attempting to return to the battalion's defences.
Operation Fauna was the last major operation of 1 RAR before the battalion returned to Australia in March 1953. Austin was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the outstanding way in which he had taken charge of an unfavourable situation on Hill 355 in November 1952, restored the position's battered defences and established domination over the approaches to it by aggressive patrolling. Daly reported that after three weeks on Hill 355, 1 RAR had effectively driven the Chinese from no man's land. Although they continued to make occasional forays into this area, the Chinese made no serious attack on Hill 355 during its tenure by either 1 RAR or 3 RAR. The former battalion also did much to rehabilitate the fences of the ever-dangerous minefields around the position. All these tasks were carried out in extreme cold - nightly minimum temperatures were around -16° and daily maximum temperatures were often below 0°C - and under irregular but often persistent artillery and mortar bombardments which endangered the lives of everyone in the forward section. One Chinese 76 millimetre gun sniped at an obvious artillery observation post on Hill 355 for over two days in an attempt to destroy it. Those days stand out strongly in the memory of the forward observation officer who was inside the post.
PATROL ACTIONS: MAY-JUNE 1953
During May both Australian battalions established an aggressive patrolling program. The Americans, who had held the sector during the absence of the Commonwealth Division, had held the sector during the absence of the Commonwealth Division, had not maintained dominance of no man's land at night and when the Australians returned they found the Chinese 'leaning on our wire'. In this situation it was easy for the Chinese to make raids and more serious attacks on the Jamestown Line and the two battalion commanders, Larkin and MacDonald, set about restoring the situation. It was not long until the first major actions occurred. On 13 May, at 8 PM, a 3 RAR patrol, led by Lieutenant J. Duff, clashed with a group of forty Chinese, killing twelve and wounding eight for the loss of one killed (Private Kim Hong Dae, an attached South Korean), three missing in action (Private T.R. Foot, J.L. McKandry and J.W. Nicholson) and six wounded (Lieutenant Duff, Corporal R.K. Cashman, Lance Corporal F Roberts and Privates J.J. Kennedy, L.B. Murdock and F.M. Prior). A search patrol sent out next night found no trace of the missing men.
Heavy Chinese mortar bombardments of a 3 RAR observation post on 16 and 17 May wounded six men. Sergeant K.B. Cocks, who was wounded by the bombardment on 16 May, was killed next day while attempting to rescue from exposed areas some of those wounded in the second bombardment. Cocks was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery. Lieutenant R.L. Burnard was wounded early that morning while checking a minefield fence, when he was fired upon mistakenly by an Australian Bren gunner. The single round fired by the Bren gunner went through Burnard's chest and he was lucky to survive. MacDonald had to send out a large stretcher party to carry Burnard back up the steep slope. The Chinese on Hill 227, a few hundred metres away, could have imperiled this rescue operation but they held their fire until Burnard had been brought back into the battalion defences. They then opened up on the Australian position with intense mortar fire. Two members of B Company, 3 RAR, were killed and five were wounded by mortar bombardments during the day on 19 May. Those killed were Privates R.D. Hosking and T.W. Wright. Wounded were Warrant Officer II E.P. Williams, Corporal W.P. Power, Lance Corporal R. Daniels and Privates W.E. Evans and B.K. Peters.
A 2 RAR patrol was blown up in a Commonwealth Division minefield on the night of 20-21 May. The patrol had been moving up a gully, towards a minefield fence, but the tension in the fence wire had torn out the picket which fastened it to the ground at the bottom of the gully; the wire was therefore some 3 metres above the ground at that point. After withdrawing in the darkness from a clash with a group of Chinese, the patrol had walked under the wire and straight onto the mines, killing the patrol commander, Sergeant K. Foran, and Private R.C. Rackley and wounding a third member, Private L.T.A. Jones. A fourth member, Private B.F. Haworth, who had been injured in the head by a Chinese grenade in the initial action, died of wounds on 24 May.
A 2 RAR ambush patrol encountered twenty Chinese on the night of 23-24 May, killing six and wounding at least four in a fierce close quarter fight. Private C.B. Sheah was killed; Sergeant K.J. Hamilton, the patrol commander, and Private F.M. McCaffery were wounded. Private R. Richardson immediately took command and withdrew his men, taking their wounded with them. The Chinese followed them closely but Richardson and others kept the enemy at bay by accurate fire from delaying positions as they withdrew. Richardson was awarded a Military Medal for his initiative and bravery. Another member of the patrol, Private Youn Ok Dong, an attached South Korean, was captured. Next night his voice was heard on one of the battalion's radio nets, broadcasting an appeal for help, stating that the Chinese were threatening to kill him. Almost certainly this appeal was made on a Chinese transmitter at Youn's captor's behest. No response was made to what was probably an attempt to lure an Australian patrol into an ambush.
At 10.10 PM on 25 May a 3 RAR patrol, led by Lieutenant C.P. Yacopetti, ambushed forty Chinese on a ridge nearly 1 kilometre north of the battalion's forward defences. After inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese, Yacopetti, who had been wounded, gave the order with withdraw. The Australians moved as quickly as they could, carrying with them several other members of their patrol who had been hit, and pursued by another group of Chinese. The enemy gained on the struggling Australians and attacked fiercely. Yacopetti was hit in the legs by a burst from a Chinese light machine-gun and could move no further. He continued to control the patrol's fire and the enemy were forced to disperse and retire a short distance. Lieutenant A.C. Weaver, who had accompanied Yacopetti on the patrol, attempted to carry him to safety, but Yacopetti insisted that the other wounded should be evacuated first. It required all of those who had not been wounded to move the other casualties, and as they withdrew, they saw Yacopetti sitting upright in a small hole, with a loaded Owen gun and bayonet fixed, ready to fight it out with the remaining Chinese, some of whom were only 30 metres away. The Chinese did not kill Yacopetti in the frontal charge, but approaching cautiously from the cover of a nearby paddy bund, they jumped down on him and took him prisoner. Yacopetti was awarded the Military Cross for the patrol action and was also mentioned in dispatches, for outstanding bravery as a prisoner until he was repatriated on 25 August 1953.
The Chinese made an attack on C Company, the forward company of 2 RAR on Hill 159, during the night of 27-28 May. After careful preparation on preceding nights, including digging weapon pits in the paddy fields northwest of Hill 159 and bringing self-propelled guns forward, the Chinese began the attack with a one-hour bombardment, during which over 600 rounds fell on 2 RAR. Forward standing patrols had already detected some Chinese movement in the valley and alerted the battalion. After some probing, the Chinese withdrew. The main damage they caused was to wound all three members of a forward patrol which had the misfortune to be attacked by some sixty Chinese.
A 2 RAR fighting patrol, accompanied by a small reconnaissance patrol commanded by Sergeant W.J.J. Bruce, was ambushed at 10.30 PM on 6 June. The fighting patrol commander was stunned by a percussion grenade and Bruce took charge, extricating his men - several of whom had been wounded - from the ambush. He organised the group into a tight defensive perimeter some 50 metres away from the ambush and they repelled a strong Chinese attack, killing at least six and wounding two. The enemy drew back but continued to fire on the Australians.
On 16 June, 3 RAR relieved 2 RAR and for the next three weeks the former's patrols shared the latter's experience of the past few weeks, losing eleven men killed, one captured and thirty-one wounded. Both members of a patrol sent out at night to lay up and observe the Chinese during daylight were killed by mortar fire on 21 June. Next night two 3 RAR ambush patrols collided when one of them strayed 600 metres off course. In the twenty second of the fire-fight which ensued, three men were killed and five were wounded. One of these later died of his wounds.
On 24 June another ambush patrol suffered six wounded, including the commander, Lieutenant A.W. Gargate, when it was ambushed by thirty Chinese at 10.00 PM on a ridge north of Hill 159, known as the Mound. Corporal R.K. Cashman took over and counter-attacked. After re-establishing control of the situation, he ordered his men to withdraw, evacuating those wounded who could be found.
One man, Private E.R. Ballard, was missing and Cashman accompanied by Private D. Harris, remained within 30 metres of the enemy, searching for him. Eventually they found Ballard, badly wounded in the legs, in a paddy field to the north of the hill on which the clash had occurred. Harris returned to collect a stretcher. Cashman and Harris then carried Ballard back to the battalion position, narrowly avoiding encounters with two groups of enemy on the way. The hill which lay between them and the Australian forward defences was too steep to climb with their burden, so they detoured to the rear of the Chinese ambush position, reaching the battalion lines at 3.30 am. Cashman was awarded the Military Medal. A stretcher party assisting with the other wounded was struck by mortar fire and suffered one killed and one wounded.
A 3 RAR standing patrol of four men was overrun by twenty Chinese at 3.10 am on 25 June. Two Australians were killed - Corporal J. Ghee and Private H. McCann. The Chinese captured Privates C.M. Tesch and A.M. McInnis. After carrying McInnis with them for some distance, the Chinese decided to abandon him. They placed him on the ground and fired a full magazine of sub-machine-gun bullets at him. This cold-blooded, ruthless action was one of the very few incidents in Australian experience in which Chinese soldiers did not obey the laws of war. McInnis miraculously survived the attempt to kill him, and although very badly wounded, crawled back to the standing patrol's original position. He was found by a stretcher party and brought back to the battalion lines.
ON THE HOOK - THE FINAL BATTLES: JULY 1953
When the 28th Brigade took over the defences on the Hook on 9 and 10 July 1953, Brigadier Wilton placed both Australian battalions in the two forward positions, with 2 RAR on the left and 3 RAR on the right, immediately to the west of the Samichon River. This position was the most threatened area on the Commonwealth Division's front in the last three months of the war.
The defences of the whole Hook area had been badly battered by the Chinese during May and June. A major Chinese attack on the 29th Brigade on the night of 28-29 May cost the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington's Regiment, 126 casualties.
Australian patrols went out into the narrow confines of no man's land in this sector, to keep the Chinese from harassing the forward defences. Small clashes occurred on the 2 RAR front on the nights of 15-16, 21-22, 22-23 and 23-24 July, suggesting that the Chinese were probing the defences and gathering information in preparation for a major attack.
That night 3 Company sent out a four-man reconnaissance patrol to Green Finger Ridge, immediately to the north. The Chinese ambushed the patrol, killing Private F.C. McDonnell. Next night another D Company patrol was ambushed in the same area. The patrol commander, Corporal T.W. Maguire was seriously wounded, but his Bren gunner, Private G.E. Kent, counter-attacked. Kent charged into the Chinese, and although they responded with grenades and small arms fire, he put them to rout. He killed two and wounded another two, firing until his ammunition ran out. While Kent was reloading, the Chinese fired back, hitting him in several places. The Chinese, however, had already decided to withdraw and did not attempt to press home any attack. Maguire directed artillery fire onto the Chinese withdrawal route and then organised the evacuation of his group. Both Maguire and Kent, who had also been together in the patrol clash of the previous night, were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery.
The Chinese had no such thought for the lives of their men and made strong attacks on both the Marines and 2 RAR on the night of 24-25 July.
Private J.M. McAuliffe, who had been a member of a D Company forward patrol that night, was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery in taking command - while the patrol commander, Lance Corporal L. Hayden, organised the evacuation of five men wounded by a Chinese patrol - of a patrol under enemy attack. Hayden covered their movement by running forward, firing on the Chinese with his Owen gun. When they were out of immediate danger, he ran, under fire and exposed to the full view of the enemy by the light of many flares, to a nearby knoll and shouted back to his company for stretcher bearers to take the wounded further back. Once they had been evacuated, Hayden and three others held their forward position for another seven hours, despite continuous mortar and artillery fire. Hayden was mentioned in dispatches for leadership, determination and utter disregard for his own safety.
McAuliffe was seriously wounded later that night but throughout the action played a major part in holding off the Chinese and distracting their attention from Hayden.
During the Chinese bombardment of C Company, Corporal J.B. Slater, the company signals NCO, worked continuously in the open, at great risk, to restore broken telephone lines, enabling vital communications to be maintained between command posts and forward observation posts. He was mentioned in dispatches, together with a cook, Corporal D.A.W. Youngman, who kept his kitchen in operation all night, maintaining a supply of sustenance to the defenders, despite damage from intense shelling. Youngman slept for only four hours in forty-eight during this phase of the battle.
Throughout the night Cooper's section fought off repeated attempts to overrun their position. On several occasions, on his own initiative, Cooper called down Commonwealth Division artillery fire around his own and the nearby Marines' position to assist in breaking up attacking waves of enemy. Throughout the action Cooper passed back to 2 RAR valuable information about the activities of the enemy in this most crucial sector.
The Contact Bunker, between the Marines on Hill 111 and C Company, was the scene of heavy fighting on the night of 25-26 July. It was manned by six Australians under the command of Lance Corporal K.H. Crockford. When the Chinese attacked Hill 111 they also penetrated the undefended space between it and the Contact Bunker and attacked Crockford's group from several sides at once. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting followed in the trenches around the bunker and the Australians threw the Chinese out of the position, preventing them from penetrating any substantial distance between Hills 111 and 121.
The Chinese fired some 4200 mortar and artillery rounds onto the 2 RAR position that night, 25-26 July, killing three Australians and wounding nine. In the two nights of fighting, the artillery supporting 2 RAR and 3 RAR fired 23,000 rounds against the Chinese. As on the previous night, 3 RAR was not attacked.
Throughout the period in which the Australians were on the Hook, the condition of the defences had been a constant problem, particularly for 2 RAR, in the more exposed position. Great service was rendered by Lieutenant P.O.G. Forbes, the 2 RAR Assault Pioneer Platoon Commander, who supervised the construction of new defences and improvement of the old. He spent much of his time working in exposed positions on the Hook itself and every night he checked the fences of the minefields in front of the forward trenches. He was frequently under fire and deserved much credit for the high state of preparedness achieved before the attack on 24 July. On two occasions he rescued Australians who had become casualties inside minefields. He was awarded the Military Cross for his service on the Hook. The battalion signalers and stretcher bearers also won high praise for their efforts during bombardments. While most other members of the two battalions were able to shelter from the incoming shells and mortar bombs, the signalers had to go out in the thick of the fire to repair broken telephone lines and the stretcher bearers had to carry serious casualties to the aid posts quickly.
For the Australian Army, another major war was over. While on the Hook 2 RAR had lost seventeen killed and thirty-one wounded. It had been a hard-fought struggle to the end.
At dawn on 28 July, Wilton visited the forward area and joined the men of 2 RAR when they climbed cautiously out of their defences, unsure of the respect which the Chinese would accord the armistice, and stood on top of their bunkers. At last they had a clear view over the approaches to their position. As Wilton has written:
* Letter, General Sir John Wilton to Robert O'Neill, 14 September 1980.
THE WAR ON LAND: CONCLUSIONS
The Korean war was overwhelmingly a land war, in terms of numbers of participants, casualties and material costs. It was fought across rugged terrain through which ran only rough, narrow roads and tracks. Operations were further complicated by extreme conditions of heat and cold, and rain and snow for long periods. The war was an exacting test of fitness of both men and equipment.
Finally, the Korean war showed that the Australian soldier had lost none of the versatility, toughness and initiative which were the hallmarks of his predecessors in the First AIF and the Second AIF. The Australian Army contingent in Korea was an all-volunteer force. When special enlistments were called for, men with combat experience in the 1939-45 War ensured no shortage of applicants. They were motivated by a variety of factors: the challenge of combat; boredom or frustration with civilian life in Australia after demobilization; and a wider feeling of concern that the North Korean invasion, if it was not rebuffed, might be a harbinger of a direct threat to Australia's security. They fought hard, in appalling climatic conditions, against a determined enemy who showed that he could sometimes get the upper hand. Yet the Australians proved that man for man and unit for unit they could acquit themselves on the battlefield better than most and they earned unstinted praise from their allies. Their record of bravery, of consideration for their wounded mates when in danger, of dash in the offensive and dogged persistence in defence - such as that displayed at Kapyong, on Maryang San and in countless patrol actions on the Jamestown Line (The Static War) - and their quick-witted, aggressive and subtle tactics set the new, post-1939-45 War Army off to an excellent start. They enhanced Australia's reputation as an ally and helped to make the Commonwealth Division one of the most highly regarded formations of the English Army. But perhaps their greatest achievement was to develop the skill of patrolling to a fine art of which they were undisputed masters.
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