Chapter 4



Service Details

Bernard O'Dowd was born in 1918. He left school at 14 years of ageduring the Great Depression years and undertook whatever was necessary to survive. Heenlisted in the 2nd AIF and was posted to 2/11th Australian Infantry Battalion. In 1940 hesailed for the Middle East with the 6th Division and took part in the 1st Libyan Campaign,Bardia ,Tobruk and on to Derna. When the Japanese entered the war the Division returned toAustralia. He then went to New Guinea as a Company Sergeant Major (CSM). In New Guinea heparticipated in the Aitape - Wewak campaign and was awarded the MBE for a patrol actionoutside Matapau. He was granted a Field Commission in June 1945.

At war's end he volunteered for the British Commonwealth OccupationForce (Japan) and was posted to the 67th Australian Infantry Battalion which laterbecame 3 Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR). He was wounded in the attack onChisan.

O'Dowd himself

On return to Australia he was posted for two years to the British Armyduring the Malaysian Emergency. His final military posting after thirty four years servicewas SO1 Personnel Employment, CARO. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

He still retains his military contacts and gives enthusiastic supportto the men of the Regiment.


For some time I have considered writing up this patrol action to Ichonas it had a deep personal impact on me. It was a quite normal patrol in all events exceptthat I was forced to leave an officer and four fine soldiers behind, and they becamePrisoners of War.

Any commander who puts his men in a position where they are takenprisoners by the enemy has a nasty time with his conscience but agonising over it then orsince I don't see how I had a viable option. What prompts me to comment now is thatrecently, for the first time since that night, I met one of these fine men, Tom Hollis.Our meeting was cordial and included some very interesting discussion on life in enemyhands. However I was disappointed to discover that, understandably, he was not awareof the circumstances surrounding his capture. Subsequently, all through those dreadfulyears in enemy hands he had believed that I should not have withdrawn the company whilethe patrol was out.


Many soldiers will understand my dilemma. This is how it came about.

During 1950 the 3 Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was leftin relative peace north of Seoul at Ui Jongbu but New Years Day 1951 saw the Chinese Armyon the offensive once more and the United Nations being driven south in a frantic retreat.By our teachings the description "retreat" was forbidden in favour of"withdrawal" which implied a more orderly process. I use retreat deliberately todescribe the confused scramble which developed with no attempt to maintain contact withthe pursuing enemy. The result was predictably obvious, the United Nations army keptwithdrawing long after the Chinese had given up the chase. The rout eventually came to ahalt at what became code name "Line D". The 27th British Commonwealth Brigadesector of which 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) was a member, was located inthe area of Changhowon-ni, a small village.

Patrolling revealed that the nearest enemy was some eighteen to twentymiles away to the north. Extracts from 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment's War Diarygive the lead up to the A Company patrol on the 20 January 1951, which is the subject ofthis record.

From the War Diary.

12 January 1951 A and C Companies provided local patrols to a depth of 7000 yards, with negative results. The flow of refugees southward has eased a little.

13 January 1951

2100 hours The proposed C Company patrol to ICHON on 14 January was canceled, as the 24 Reconnaissance (Recon) Company, 24 Division will patrol that area. However, we may send a small force to ICHON during the night 14/15 January 1951. The ACT (Air Contact Team) commanded by Lieutenant King, USAF is at present with the Battalion and is engaged with the Company patrol to ICHON.

14 January 1951

1100 hours 8 Platoon (Lt CM Townsend ) C Company moved by transport to the outskirts of ICHON. The Platoon took up position West of ICHON and remained there during the night.

During the afternoon, 1515 hours, the Platoon was strafed by a flight of Royal Navy aircraft, although our panels were being displayed. The aircraft dropped two bombs on ICHON and then left. The Platoon suffered no casualties. There was no enemy action during the night

15 January 1951

There was local patrolling only during the night.

16 January 1951

A patrol of A Company (2 Platoon) Commanded by Lt J.M. Church departed by TCV for ICHON. The Platoon will reconnoitre and carry observation during the night 16/17 January 1951 in the vicinity of ICHON and will leave at first light. To facilitate communications, relay stations will be established in similar positions as those of " TASK FORCE TOWNSEND".

16 January 1951

1155 hours " TASK FORCE CHURCH" arrived at ICHON. The 24 Recon Company, 24 Division who were expected to be at ICHON were NOT there. However, several members of 5 Infantry, 24 Division, who remained at ICHON for the night, reported all was quiet. The patrol commenced clearing high ground in the vicinity of ICHON. During the remainder of the day the relay wireless operated successfully. However, as on previous occasions, as darkness descended, signals faded and the unit lost contact with patrols at 2230 hours.

16 January 1951

2250 hours The outpost Section, some 400 yards north west of ICHON , commanded by Corporal Eveleigh, observed approximately 40/50 enemy approaching ICHON via the ICHON-SEOUL road. Visibility was poor owing to intermittent but heavy mist. However, the mist lifted sufficiently for the Section to discern that the enemy were advancing in single file and were wearing dark clothing. The Section waited until some of the enemy had passed and then opened fire. Surprise was complete and in the ensuing action the Section Commander estimated that about twenty of the enemy had been killed. Two enemy managed to into the rear of the outpost but were noticed in time. The enemy were well disciplined as there were no yelling or shouting and they quickly returned fire with Carbines (Burp), light machine guns (LMG) and rifles. The Section also withdrew and joined the Platoon. The Platoon then commenced withdrawing from ICHON marching back towards unit lines. As the Platoon was marching through ICHON, firing was heard which indicate that the enemy were attacking our recently evacuated positions. As the communications had failed the Patrol Commander sent his wireless jeep forward to the Battalion to report his activities and for dispatch of TCVs to pick up the marching troops. However, two miles from the unit lines the jeep overturned due to the extremely icy surface. The passengers of the jeep walked the remaining distance to the Battalion. The patrol marched seven miles before TCVs arrived. The night was very cold due to heavy frost.

17 January 1951

0430 hours "TASK FORCE CHURCH" returned.

17 January 1951

1100 hours The Brigade Commander agreed to the plan submitted by the Commanding Officer that a Company remain a night on the vicinity of ICHON. C Company commanded by Captain Callander was selected for this task and will be positioned on the SEOUL - ICHON road north west of ICHON on the night 18/19 January 1951.

18 January 1951

1000 hours Captain J.W. Callander (C Company, Section 3 inch mortars, Section machine guns, stretcher jeep and ACT) left by TCV for ICHON. Two wireless stations were set up equal distance between here and ICHON. Prior to entering ICHON, a Platoon cleared 3000 to 4000 yards south west of ICHON. The 6th ROK Division had reported two Chinese Communist Force Companies (CCF) in this area. However, both patrol and air reconnaissance reported no signs of enemy. The patrol met a party from 5th Infantry Regiment in ICHON who reported a quiet night. The patrol commenced clearing salient features surrounding ICHON and established a Company base 800 yards north west of ICHON on the ICHON - SEOUL road, in vicinity of A Company's platoon action on the night of 16/17 January 1951. A road block was established on the north east road from ICHON about 2000 yards from the town. Local inhabitants stated that the enemy was located three or four miles north and west of ICHON.

The signal Section laid 22 miles of wire from Battalion to the Company base at ICHON, the wire was in by 1600 hours.

Up to 1800 hours the only enemy seen were small parties proceeding north, about 2000 yards north of ICHON towards the mountain range. These groups were too distant for our patrols to get fire to bear on them.

2100 hours Approximately 8 enemy fired on by a Section of Task Force Callander on the north east road from ICHON. The enemy returned fire. The Section estimates that 2 or 3 enemy were hit before they dispersed. This action took place about 3000 yards from ICHON. The remainder of the night was quiet. The patrol checked into Battalion every half hour by telephone.

19 January 1951

1030 - 1130 hours Two air strikes were made against villages 4000 yards north west of ICHON. The villages were reported by local inhabitants to contain enemy. This report was also substantiated by air reconnaissance .

1430 hours Task Force Callander returned to Battalion lines. Tomorrow, A Company with support, commanded by Captain BS O'Dowd, MBE., ( Task Force O'Dowd ) will remain the night of 20/21 January 1951 in ICHON.

20 January 1951 Task Force O'Dowd ( A Company with a Section of 3 inch Mortars and a Section of Machine Guns ) departed for ICHON. The Task Force took over from F Company, 5th Infantry Regiment, 24 US Division. This Company reported a quiet night and contact about 4000 yards north west of ICHON at 0900 hours this morning. Civilians continue to report Chinese in the village of SUBUK and additional Chinese two or three miles to the north. The civilians also report that the enemy have laid line.


The site where the ICHON patrol base was to be established was sixteenor so miles north of the Battalion, a lot of " no man's land ".A communicationsrelay station with telephone and high frequency radio was set up a mile or so to the rearof the patrol base. Here a small detachment, including a half Mortar Section was left toprotect the group, some deployed on high ground to the east and the remainder along acreek bank to the west.

A deep blanket of snow covered the ground, the air was still andcloudless, promising a freezing night but excellent visibility from a full moon. This wasthe normal setting for Chinese night operations and the enemy telephone line laid forwardwas not good news.

At ICHON I contacted the Commander of F Company of the United States5th Regiment who could provide no more information than I already had. Guides led myPlatoons to the F Company positions for a relief in the line. This completed, theydeparted with hand shakes and the usual "Good luck Aussie". I then moved myheadquarters to between the forward Platoons astride the road, at a cutting over lookingthe steep, wide valley and forward slope of the high feature opposite. 1 Platoon, underLieutenant Angus McDonald , on the left, 2 Platoon commanded by Lieutenant John Church onthe right with a Section of 2 Platoon commanded by Corporal Eveleigh, forward of the mainbody to give early warning of enemy approach. Lieutenant Harold Mulry's 3 Platoon wasseparate from the main body, sited to guard a road leading into our main position from thenorth east.

Part of my briefing by the Commanding Officer required that a patrol betasked to establish whether the enemy had dug defences on the forward slope of the featureopposite to the one that the patrol occupied. This task I gave to Angus McDonald, a quietbut very experienced officer who had served as a Commando against the Japanese in NewGuinea.

I had visualised this patrol to be of sufficient strength to fight ifnecessary but just before night fall Angus approached me with the proposition that hecould do the task better with a small, easier to manage reconnaissance group and that hehad four ex-commandos versed in this sort of thing. The request made sense and obviouslyMcDonald was confident this was the way to tackle the problem. I agreed to the request.When briefing Angus I anticipated the company could be attacked whilst his patrol was outand it would be unwise to attempt to return through the enemy lines. Should the patrolhear or see evidence of such an attack I instructed they should take a wide detour east,and make their own way back to friendly lines.

Shortly after dark McDonald got under way. The patrol consisted ofLieutenant McDonald, Corporals Buckland & Buck and Privates Light & Hollis. Wesettled down to sit out hours of exposure to the bitter cold of a Korean winter night. Atsome time during the night my attention was drawn to a procession of tiny black dots inthe snow way out to the west and moving in a southerly direction. I watched them for sometime as they moved very slowly and well dispersed . I estimated about Company strength.The question of course, was what were their intentions?. I knew it wasn't a recreationalstroll and reasoned they were aiming at our rear, to lay ambush somewhere on our routeout. There were sixteen miles of snow between us and the Battalion and instincts warned meto get my command far enough back to be behind enemy reception parties. However, I hadAngus and his patrol loose somewhere in the valley in front of us. I had to chew fingernails and hope they would show up in time.

At 0100 hours (1 am) the first indication of enemy intentions came whenEveleigh's forward outpost was attacked with Lance Corporal Andrew being killed in theopening shots. They fought off the attack and then withdrew back to 2 Platoon. Thesituation was quiet for a while then, preceded by bugle noises, an assault went in on theright of John Church's 2 Platoon. This was repulsed. The enemy then resorted to smallarms, mortar and machine gun fire from a hill out to the left, spraying tracer in ourdirection.

I had been around long enough to recognise the old tactic of"fixing" the front while deploying a force to the flank or the rear. I now had aCompany of men about to be caught in a trap so something had to be done and quickly. Insnow, sounds travels a long way on a still night, that and tracer advertised our problemso I was confident that McDonald's patrol were aware that we were under attack and wouldmake no attempt to come in behind it. I expected that they would circle away from us andhead for home as instructed. I ordered withdrawal to the detachment at the communicationsrelay station, reckoning that this would put us outside the range of a Chinese hook. Fromthere we could watch the situation develop until dawn, then patrol to feel out thesituation forward of us. The two forward platoons were ordered to pull back with JohnChurch's 2 Platoon being the rear guard. A message was sent to Mulry for 3 Platoon torendezvous at the relay station.

While the platoons were still in the process of withdrawing from theirforward positions the detachment at the relay station drew fire from a small enemy patrolattempting to cross the creek. The detachment returned the fire and the enemy withdrew. Asit turned out this was a Chinese reconnaissance patrol for a much larger body.

1 and 3 Platoons and Company Head Quarters arrived at the relay stationat about 0300 hours (3 am) and looking back saw the fireworks of tracer and mortar firefrom another enemy attack going in on the positions we had recently vacated. 1 and 3Platoons were deployed for local protection. I called up the Commanding Officer and wasbriefing him on the situation and our intentions when the conversation was interrupted byan attack coming in from the west, supported by machine gun and a mortar illuminating thescene with flares. A confusing situation developed which was not easy to get a handle on.

2 Platoon was having a bad night. While approaching the relay area theyran into the fire being exchanged between the enemy and 1 and 3 Platoons and to avoid thecross fire they circled away to the east to regain the road south of the battle area. Twogroups of enemy were reported, each about thirty strong so here we had the problem again.To permit ourselves to be pinned down here could invite the Chinese to set an ambushsomewhere along the sixteen or so miles back to battalion lines. I sent the radio crews ontheir way then withdrew 1 and 3 Platoons and set off once more. Some distance down theroad we stopped at a deserted village to wait for 2 Platoon to catch up. At this point Icalled the Commanding Officer and again reported the situation and requested transport.

For the next few days we kept hopes alive that McDonald and his teammight show up, but with time, the best that we could wish for was that they were alive.Later, we were to learn, that while attempting to return to the Company's line at ICHONthey became aware of Chinese soldiers on the road in front of them. The patrol backed offand hid in a deserted hut. Unfortunately, this move was observed by a civilian whoreported it to the Chinese. The hut was surrounded and the whole patrol taken as prisonersof war.

I was surprised to learn that they had even contemplated rejoining theCompany. The sounds of battle and the spraying of tracer warned of enemy on our door step,circumstances which should have indicated avoiding that area, even if I had not instructedit.

To site a patrol in "no mans land" sixteen miles fromfriendly troops and in close proximity to the enemy forward defences will always be arisky business. To repeat this eight nights in succession is deliberately provoking anenemy commander worth his salt into wiping it out. I have absolutely no doubt the trap waslaid on for us that night and would have worked, had we not observed the enemy force goingaround us, silhouetted against a background of snow. We beat the trap by no more than fiveminutes. Delay of the initial withdrawal would have resulted in men killed and wounded, along way from home for no useful purpose. There was nothing that we could have done toavert the fate of the patrol already in enemy hands.


On the 10th November 1951 we received information that the Chinese hadreleased Lieutenant McDonald and Corporal Buckland and Private Light. Corporal Buck &Private Hollis were prisoners for over two very unpleasant years as guests of an inhumanNorth Korean prisoner of war system.



Since writing "The Battle Of Kapyong : From the Inside",research by historians and general discussion with participants in the battle, have filledin puzzling gaps in events, clarified matters previously obscure. and revealed freshmaterial. The purpose of this rewrite is to up- date " The Battle of Kapyong: Fromthe Inside". O'Dowd has only covered the actions of the four rifle companieswith which he was involved. The Support Company Platoons, Assault Pioneer, Anti Tank andMortar were sited to shield Battalion Headquarters and experienced fierce action in therear. That is a separate story.

The Editors

In April 1951 the traditional invasion route to South Korea was guardedby the 6th Division of the Republic Of Korea Army, astride the Kapyong Road.) Onthe 23rd of April the Chinese Army attacked and this division broke, disintegrated andwithdrew in disarray, leaving the left flank of Seoul exposed to the enemy. To takeadvantage of this opening the Chinese Army Commander dispatched a division to spearheadthe drive for Seoul. 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) took thisformation head on, stopped it dead in its tracks then fought off attack after attack forthe next twenty four hours, until ordered to withdraw. Then the Canadian Battalion took upthe fight, delaying the Chinese a further twenty four hours, the enemy lost momentum andstalled. These battalions had bought time at great cost in Australian and Canadian lives,time which gave the United Nations Command the opportunity to position a force in the pathof the Chinese Army. Seoul did not fall. In recognition of their stand these battalionswere awarded the United States Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation.

This is the story of the 3RAR rifle companies' participation.

Mid April 1951 3RAR was enjoying an over due respite from operations,resting in reserve in a pleasant little wooded area not far from the town of Kapyong. Lifewas good, we were on fresh rations which we had not experienced for some time, a steadyissue of beer was available and the tranquillity and warmth of early spring created arelaxed, holiday atmosphere. Soon we would be celebrating Anzac Day with the New ZealandArtillery and Turkish Infantry regiments. On the morning of the 23rd I lay stretched outon the grass enjoying a care free doze when my signaler abruptly destroyed the mood with amessage ordering companies to be put on one hour notice to move and the Orders Group (OGp) to assemble at the village of Chuktun -ni. I told Captain Bob Murdoch, my Second InCommand, to prepare the troops, check out the F Echelon (Fighting) vehicles and stores andstand by .

At Chuktun-ni the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel I B Ferguson,briefed along the lines that the 6th Republic Of Korea Division (6ROK) was holding theline about twenty miles north of our position and under attack. We were to conductreconnaissance for a blocking position to be occupied later, should this become necessary.We could then return to our rest area and get on with the tranquillity. There seemed to beno great urgency in the situation, particularly as the O Gp was being conducted on a smallfeature just forward of the 6ROK Divisional Headquarters.

By necessity the brigade was to be deployed over a wide area withfrightening gaps between units. In turn the battalion had to accept an extended front withconsequential gaps between sub units. The intended brigade lay out called for twobattalions forward on dominating features each side of the Kapyong Road. 3 RAR on theright, from the road to hill 504, the Middlesex Regiment (1MX) was left (west) of 3RAR onthe hill, Sudok San. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment(2PPCLI) was south of 1MX on Hill 677, guarding a road running in from the north west.16th New Zealand Field Artillery Regiment was located to the rear of the PPCLI.Unsatisfactory as this intended brigade layout was, it became even worse. The New ZealandField Regiment was ordered forward to support the 6ROK Division but because the ability ofthe ROKs to keep the Chinese away from the guns was suspect, 1MX was dispatched to coverthe Kiwis. It so transpired that neither of these units returned in time to take up theirbattle positions.

The Middlesex not occupying their feature left 3RAR stuck out on itsown like a sore thumb and with the guns not in position the battalion was to fight a majornight battle without artillery support

While the O Gp was in progress, the order came through for the blockingposition to be occupied. Discarding happy anticipation of more tranquillity we went towork on reconnaissance in preparation for the arrival of our companies.

The rifle companies were deployed : B Company, commanded by CaptainDarcy Laughlin, on the left, responsible for the road and located on a low feature runningparallel to it He put a standing patrol commanded by Corporal Clem Kealy on a small knollforward of the company. A Company, my company, was across the road from B Company on aspur which climbed steadily from the road to the 504 metres peak where D Company,commanded by Captain Norman Gravener, occupied the vital ground. About half way down theridge from D Company a secondary spur forked off to the south east, forming a reentrantbetween it and A Company. On this fork C Company, Commanded by Captain Reg Saunders, wasin reserve. The A Company responsibility extending from the road to D Company was far toomuch ground for one Company, two would have had difficulty in covering it. At the O Gp Ihad requested an extra platoon, either the Anti Tank or Assault Pioneer Platoon but thiswas refused. However, Sergeant Lennie Lenoy's Medium Machine Gun Section (MMG) wasallocated to provide some additional manpower. Having a responsibility to support BCompany in denying the road to the enemy I concentrated the platoons opposite the road onthe lower end of our feature. This left a tremendous gap between A and D Companies forwhich absolutely nothing could be done beyond registration of Defensive Fire Tasks (DFTasks)

The lower end of our spur was reasonably level for about 125m andaccommodated 1 and 3 Platoons, Company Headquarters and the MMG Section. The ground thenrose sharply to a knoll overlooking 1 and 3 Platoons and here I established 2 Platoon toprovide cover for them. The unoccupied rising ground between 3 and 2 Platoons was aproblem but without more troops nothing could be done about it

The US 72nd Tank Battalion, (Shermans) provided a Tank Company of threeplatoons, each of five tanks and commanded by Lieutenant Kenneth W. Koch. An oddrelationship existed between the tanks and 3 RAR. They were neither under command nor insupport but merely in location. Koch operated completely independent of the CommandingOfficer (CO) 3RAR or anyone else. Any direct assistance provided was either in response toa cry for help or unexpected involvement in our tactical situations of their own volition.

For the night of 23/24 April the tank commander deployed his platoons :one forward of B Company where the road crossed a ford., one on the road opposite CCompany and the other back at Battalion Headquarters. These platoons were independent ofthe battalion and sited with no consideration of mutual tank--infantry cooperation Becausethe ROKs had a reputation for "bugging out" when pressed, without the formalityof a good bye, the CO positioned our Intelligence Sergeant, Colin McGregor, intheir Divisional Headquarters to give early warning of indications of ROK nervousness. Itdid not work ! Before our deployment was complete the Chinese had broken the ROKs and wereon their way. We remained in blissful ignorance of this.

My Company came forward and was quickly put into position. On the leftand nearest the road 1 Platoon took up defence. This platoon was commanded by LieutenantFreddie Gardner, an experienced officer who had previously served in the British Army withthe Gurkhas. I set the MMG Section and Company Headquarters personnel alongside 1 Platoonand 3 Platoon covered the remainder of the lower or main position. This Platoon wascommanded by Harold Mulry, a tough, fearless warrior who led this platoon through many adangerous situation during the previous six months. On the knoll overlooking our mainposition I positioned 2 Platoon, giving away the intervening ground. Their commander,Lieutenant Lou Brumfield (1) was a graduate of the Royal Military College and had onlyjoined the Company a few days previously. This was to be his introduction to fighting.Sergeant George Harris was acting Company Sergeant Major responsible for headquarterspersonnel and ammunition supply. I had used George in various capacities, includingPlatoon Commander and he always served me well. Kapyong was no exception. (2)

Editors Note

(1) Later Lou was to command the first battalion sent to Vietnam wherehe was awarded the DSO. He retired with a CBE.

(2) The CSM , WO2 Tom Muggleton , was in Japan on R&R Leave.

Occupation of a defensive position had developed into a routine processduring the fluid operations of the past eight months. We had dug defences all over Northand South Korea and by now section commanders had only to be given tasks and they wouldproceed without much supervision. They knew what was required and more to the point, theyknew the penalty for getting it wrong. However the ground was not kind, still half frozenfrom the vicious Korean winter, it was hard digging and in places rock was just below thesurface or outcropping.

A hot evening meal arrived and was disposed of. Having only freshrations my Company Quartermaster could not issue the troops with usual twenty four hourcombat rations packs and apparently unit administration was not up to delivering them tous. In consequence this was to be our last meal until the operation was over. With themeal out of the way "Bob" Murdoch unloaded our reserve ammunition from the FEchelon vehicles, cleared the decks of surplus items and dispatched the lot to the rear.

Coming on dusk we got first indications that things were starting to gowrong. ROK soldiers in a steady stream began making their way south down the road. Nocause for panic yet. However, we soon had good reason to take another look at defencepreparations when this stream developed into an unruly mob, running and shouting as thoughthe very devil was on their heels, as well he may have been. A really ominous situationdeveloped when civilian refugees became mixed in with the stream of ROKs. Women, cryingchildren and old men, all carrying their pitiful possessions on their backs and leadinganimals. The familiar sight of a frightened population fleeing before the enemy. From pastexperience we knew that come dusk the Chinese would mix in with this mob and with theminfiltrate to our rear. The road was B Company territory so I called up Darcy Laughlin andsuggested he put out a filter to ascertain when the Chinese began to enter the area Then Icould very effectively clear the road with Lenny Lenoy's MMG Section. Darcy obviouslydid not share my concern. As dark settled in I rang the CO and requested permission toopen up with the MMGs anyway. This he refused on the grounds that I had not identified theenemy and ROKs could still be coming through. I wore this until the odd shot rang thenrepeated my request. The CO's replied, "O'Dowd, you are panicking." Hegot that right ! Never-the-less I derived little satisfaction from having my panicjustified when firing broke out in the rear amongst the Support Company platoons shieldingBattalion Headquarters.. We now had confirmation that enemy was behind us, we wereisolated and would be attacked just as soon as it took the enemy to get organised.

Action in the forward area opened up with the tank platoon at the ford.Without infantry cover the Chinese were able to get among the tanks and it was fortunatethey had no anti tank weapons. With poor night vision tank commanders had to direct firefrom the open turret position and of course the Chinese shot them. The tanks then closeddown and the enemy clambered all over, looking for opportunities to pop in a burst ofsmall arms fire or damage tracks. To counter this the Shermans hosed each other down withmachine gun fire then withdrew to the rear having accomplished absolutely nothing. Therewas complete ignorance of infantry-tank cooperation by both sides. What devastating damagecould have been achieved with the tremendous firepower of those five tanks properly sitedin conjunction with infantry. There must be a lesson there somewhere.

With the tanks out of the way the enemy continued probing forward,causing Corporal Kealy to pull his listening post back to 4 Platoon. The enemy located BCompany and instigated a fire fight which Murdoch and I followed with great interest,hoping Darcy could keep the Chinese entertained for the rest of the night. It was not tobe. The situation quietened down over the road and soon we became aware of the presence ofenemy somewhere in the valley below us, making preparations for their next move. The mainevent was about to get under way.

At this time it would have been comforting to have artillery registeredin so DF Tasks could disrupt the enemy in their assembly areas. I had with me a NewZealand 25 pounder, Forward Observation Officer (FOO), Lieutenant Dennis Fielden, andrequested him to lay on certain Defensive Fire Tasks (DF Tasks) in areas where threatsmight develop.

Dennis informed me that he could not provide any sort of fire becausethe guns had gone in to position after dark and were not surveyed in (3)

I also had a US 4.2 Mortar Fire Controller (MFC) and a battalion 3inMortar MFC, Ron Perkins. By the time the US 4.2 MFC joined me shooting had broken out andhis gun crews took to the hills, leaving their mortars and vehicles behind. Ron Perkinshad a problem also, our Mortar Platoon was very busily employed with fighting off Chinese.We had no wire or anti personnel mines. or anything else to interpose between attacker anddefender. It was to be soldier against soldier at very close range in the dark and therewas absolutely nothing I could do to help them, beyond walk up and down the line shoutingencouragement when attacks came in.

The A Company battle opened with the usual Chinese gambit; probingpatrols bumping into the forward weapon pits feeling for soft spots and the Diggersshooting them back into the dark. When the Chinese had had enough of this they adoptedtheir usual attack routine which was repeated for the remainder of the night. Some wheredown in the gully below us there would be a discordant flurry of bugles and whistles asthe commanders assembled their soldiers and organised them for the attack. Then, a period of silence, as they creptquietly up hill towards us.

Next a hail of hand grenades, designed to put the defenders' headsdown. Then the assault would be launched with determination and ferocity, wave upon wave

Note (3) I had to believe him because he and one of his radiooperators ( Gunner Ray Mulligan) were killed and the other (Gunner Dick Kemp) woundedduring the night.

All hell broke loose as Diggers cut down the surge of attackers,directing into them as much rapid fire as their weapons could produce. the Owen SubMachine Gun being the most effective weapon for this and the dear old single shot LeeEnfield the least. To prevent being over run all the killing had to be done in the briefperiod from when the enemy first became dimly visible from out of the dark until theyreached the forward weapon pits, about ten to fifteen meters. When our firing haddecimated the attack the remnants pulled back, giving a short respite from fighting. Whenthe fighting subsided platoon and section commanders quickly organised removal of dead andwounded to the reverse side of the main position. Here "Bob" Murdochadministered and accounted for dead and wounded while his Medical Corps orderly, CorporalNobby Clark, and stretcher bearers worked on the wounded. Meanwhile fit men would berepositioned so that each forward weapon pit was occupied by at least one man. Thenthese magnificent soldiers steadied themselves to meet the next onslaught. No sooner wouldreorganisation be complete than the bugles and whistles would open up again, heraldingenemy preparation for the next attack.

The attacks went in generally across the front from 1 to 3 Platoon but1 Platoon, being on the road end of the company received a lot of attention on the leftflank in addition to their front. 1 Platoon soldiers put up a great fight, taking veryheavy casualties until eventually "Freddie" Gardner had to inform me he did nothave enough men left to stand off another attack. I gave away the lower end of ridge andbrought what was left of his platoon alongside the MMG Section, arranging them to confrontthe recently vacated ground Predictably the Chinese occupied 1 Platoon's area withthe next rush and held it for the remainder of the night. I now had the ludicroussituation of three platoons on the feature, one of them being Chinese and definitely notunder command. This situation was precarious to say the least. Through attrition theforward pits were very sparsely manned. Had the enemy on our left attacked our flank inconjunction with a frontal attack we may have been in more trouble than we could handle. Iwaited in dread of this but inexplicably the occupants of "Freddie's"previous position did not attack. I could only conjecture that they did not have anofficer to push them in.

From 0200 or 0300 hours the attacks became sporadic and less savage andwe reasoned that the Diggers had done enough killing to take the the sting out of theforce confronting us. However life was not made any more pleasant when they ranged inmortars on us, firing high explosive and incendiary bombs. The incendiaries set a lowheather fire running through the defence with a thick blanket of smoke and explodingammunition adding to the distress of he casualties.

Throughout the night I had been apprehensive about the gap on therising ground between 3 and 2 Platoons. We would have a difficult problem if the enemyoccupied it, cutting off 2 Platoon and threatening our main position. Just prior to dawnan enemy machine gun section became established there. They made life very uncomfortableby firing bursts of machine gun fire into us. More to the point their commander kept uprepeated blasts on his whistle, drawing attention to his discovery and no doubt callingfor reinforcements. I judged them to be immediately below 2 platoon and told"Lou" Brumfield to put down some searching fire to flush them out. This he didwith such enthusiasm we got some of the overs. I ordered this to stop and told Lou toorganise a fighting patrol to flush them out. He sent the acting platoon sergeant,Corporal "Jim" Everleigh with Corporal "Bill" Sinclair's 6Section. They located the machine gun crew and in a neat little action wiped them out.However it was not without cost. On arrival at the headquarters Everleigh reported Private"Bill" ("Sailor") Jillet as lightly wounded but shortly after that Iwas informed, sadly, he had died. of his wounds.

It was now full daylight and I turned my attention to the uncomfortablesituation of the enemy occupying 1 Platoons ground. I told Mulry to organise a counterattack from within his platoon resources. Harold was a great leader of men and anaggressive platoon commander, always ready to get stuck into it and there was never anydoubt that he would hit hard. Quickly he selected a group of his troops and arranged themin attack formation, Harris and some others joined in uninvited. Harold's Diggerswere in a pretty savage mood and charged in firing from the hip. Although they hadsuperiority of numbers the Chinese offered little opposition to these angry men and wiselydeparted in the direction of the road. So far as ground was concerned we had restored thestatus quo but did not have the numbers to occupy it all.

On recovering 1 Platoon's position we were surprised to discoverone of our wounded had been overlooked in the dark when Freddie's men withdrew theprevious night and he was taken prisoner by the Chinese.. He told us that, whenHarold's men came charging their way in, the Chinese pushed him into a weapon pitwhere he would be safe from our fire, before departing. A side of our enemy we had notexpected to experience.

It was at this time that firing broke out all over our front and oninvestigation I discovered the Diggers having the time of their lives with a shootinggallery in the paddy fields in front of us. Daylight had caught enemy out in the open,behind tufts of heather, folds in the ground and so on. Every time one or a group made adash for more secure cover the fun was on. I won no popularity points by ordering platooncommanders to get it stopped. We had used a lot of ammunition during he night, re-supplywas by no means assured and the next move by the enemy could not be predicted.

During the night A company took heavy casualties, fifty dead andwounded including attached troops. Battalion Headquarters and the RAP had long sincedeparted, moving back to a position about three miles to the rear. Nobby Clark and hisbearers did all possible to care for them but the meagre resources of their aid bags werenot designed for the situation which confronted them. Having only two stretchers meantmost of the wounded had to be laid out on the frozen ground, exposed to a cold Koreannight and though every effort was made to cover them it was impossible to get them warm.Nobby had no means for treating shock, no way of alleviating pain. Some who died wouldhave survived had it been possible to evacuate them to the Field Ambulance unit. Somecould have hung on if it had been possible to get them warm. . Casualty treatment was avery unhappy aspect of Kapyong, but all that could be done to save life and relievesuffering was done. I trust that a more enlightened approach has been taken towards thissort of problem for the company medical staff of a modern infantry battalion.

With the eviction of our over night lodgers I now, for the first timein twelve hours, had time to think of matters other than what was going on immediatelyaround me. I had heard nothing from Battalion Headquarters all night and wondered how theyhad fared. My wondering was interrupted by advice that the CO had been on air to B Companyand granted them approval to cross the road to join C Company in reserve behind me. Ireacted sharply to this because enemy occupation of the feature across the road exposed myleft flank and in his present location Ferguson was not in a position to appreciate theconsequences of this decision. I called him immediately and insisted Darcy had to go back.He ignored this and requested a report on the local situation, which I gave. I alsorequested re-supply, I urgently required medical evacuation, ammunition, batteries, foodwater and medical supplies . He said he would see what could be done. The CO then remindedme I was the senior company commander, a reference to the Standing Operating Procedurewhereby the senior company commander automatically assumed command when the CO was not ina position to exercise tactical control of the rifle companies. Cooperation from the othercompany commanders did not concern me as we were friends and comrades of long standing.Darcy and I had been close friends since the formation of the battalion in 1945."Reg" Saunders had been one of my platoon commanders and later my Second inCommand. Norman Gravener and I went back to the World War 2 days in 19th Brigade, he wasRSM 2/8th Battalion when I was a CSM in 2/11th. I was Best Man at his wedding.

B Company crossed the road with two events worth reporting. The companyhad taken no casualties during the night and took their first during the crossing whenPrivate "Tommy" Hayes was shot in the hip. Also on the way across they picked upabout forty bewildered Chinese prisoners who we did not need at this time. I imagine thiswas the unfortunate group Harold Mulry's boys had been so rude to.

Note . (4) In some writings it is stated that communicationsbetween Headquarters and companies failed but this is not so. A telephone line was laidfrom Headquarters down the west side of the road to B Company and from there it crossedthe road to A, C and D Companies. When the tanks withdrew they cut the wire across theroad but the line remained intact all night between B Company and Battalion Headquarters.Laughlin's operator, Kevin Hatfield, states that Darcy frequently used the telephonethat night in conversation with someone at Headquarters. By relay through B Company anyother company could be contacted on the command radio net.

Shortly after this tanks rumbled into the reentrant behind A Companyand Bob Murdoch with Nobby Clark's bearers set to work packing the wounded on tothem. I was informed that the CO and Intelligence Officer were with the tanks and that Iwas wanted there. My initial reaction was that he had brought in a small Tacticalheadquarters to take over up front. At this conference Ferguson informed me that the ArmyCommander wanted to push a US Regiment (Brigade) forward to occupy the features on my leftbut this was totally dependent on our rifle companies holding the road from theirovernight positions. He told me the Brigadier wanted B Company back on its feature andthey were now in the process of returning. The question was " would I stay anothernight?" This put me in a rather invidious position and he was waiting for an answer.After some thought I told him we would but on the strict proviso that B Company was backand the Americans were in occupation of the features west of us, otherwise no way ! Alsoan attempt had to be made to extract the rifle companies. At the time I did not appreciatethe party Gravener was having with the Chinese would escalate as it did, or the answer,there and then, would have been a very definite NO !

Battalion Headquarters was distanced from the battlefield and in theheat of battle battalion administration fell down completely. In addition to casualtyevacuation I had requested re-supply of essential items, including ammunition. I receivednothing but a couple of boxes of Mk VIII Z belted MMG ammunition dropped off by the tanksunder the guns of the Chinese across the road. My acting CSM, George Harris took a partydown and recovered it under fire and at considerable risk. Mk VIII Z is unsuitable forrifles and Bren Guns due to the possibility of jamming in the breach. Nevertheless Harrishad the belts stripped and rounds distributed along with ammunition he had recovered fromthe casualties. I had thought that lack of re-supply was because tanks were the only meansof getting through and running stores is not proper employment for tanks.. Later, I wasshocked to learn that a GMC truck driven by Claude Boshammer under instructions of WO2"Darky" Griffiths drove through and delivered ammunition to B Company. Thisdemonstrated that soft skin vehicles could get through and we could see no obvious reasonfor not conducting normal re-supply.

The CO had called at B Company before coming on to me and ordered themto return across the road. This precipitated two disastrous attacks. At the south end ofthe B Company feature there was a low ridge which had been occupied by both sides atvarious times. In consequence it was riddled with weapon pits named by Diggers as theHoneycomb. 5 Platoon commanded by Lieutenant "Ken" McGregor had just completedcrossing the road when Darcy ordered them to return.

Ken McGregor and his Platoon Sergeant, "Uki" Fraser led asection across to secure the honeycomb as the first objective. Approaching the feature inextended line they met a blast of machine gun and rifle fire which quickly produced eightcasualties, dead and wounded. The company provided covering fire and extracted this smallgroup.

B Company were now aware the Chinese were going to contest any attemptto regain control of the road. Next Darcy ordered Len Montgomerie's 4 Platoon to takethe Honeycomb as the intermediate objective. They fixed bayonets and with a gallantfighting charge took the Honeycomb but again at a cost of wounded and killed. From thereit became obvious the the Chinese were in occupation in strength on the main position andintent on staying there. The operation was aborted. It is understandable that Ken McGregorshould go in unsupported because they had just come off the honeycomb in single file andimagined it to only be lightly held, if at all. However by the time"Monty's" boys were committed the enemy intention to hold on to theirground was clear. At this time the artillery available to B Company was a regiment of 25pounders, a battalion of US 105 mm and a company of US 155 mms plus a platoon of 8 inchhowitzers. Enough high explosive to lift the top off the hill and all available toDarcy's FOO, Don Scott. In addition there were fifteen US medium tanks in the area, aplatoon of which could have walked the platoon on. But in spite of this preponderance ofavailable support they went in unassisted, achieving nothing .

The battle on D Company hill now became the focus of attention. Tocompensate for lack of air or artillery the Chinese normally chose to attack under coverof darkness. However the tactical importance of feature 504 was such that they decided toattempt taking it in daylight. The first attack came in on Lieutenant Ward's 12Platoon at about 0730 am and was repeated every half hour until 1030 am, then, for theremainder of the day attacks continued less frequently but with equal vigour. Where thenarrow east- west configuration of my ground dictated linear defence, Norman's groundprojected south-north toward the enemy, forcing him to employ a lay back, reverse slopeformation with platoons one behind the other. Norm Gravener did not have a FOO but he wasa very experienced officer who had served in the Middle East, New Guinea and with theBritish Army in Burma prior to enlisting for Korea. By daylight the 16th New Zealand FieldArtillery Regiment was on line and he was able to very effectively register targetsemploying Line Observer Target Procedure. He laid down fire in front of 12 Platoon andadjusted from there for the remainder of the day. Each enemy attack was met with adevastating 25 pounder barrage, and with intelligent employment of artillery plusaggressive defence the platoons broke up each attack.

The D Company situation did become a worry when Gravener reported to methat he suspected the enemy was working around his right flank. This indicated they weregetting close to what would be our escape route if ordered to withdraw. Not long afterthis we were intrigued to see a spotter aircraft fly over Hill 504 in company with threecircling Corsair fighter aircraft, used in close support role in Korea. Interest turned tohorror when the spotter dropped a yellow target indicating spigot on "Dave"Manett's 10 Platoon. The leading Corsair then swooped in releasing a napalm bomb,killing two and horribly burning others before realising its mistake and aborting theattack. It is difficult to comprehend how this mistake could have occurred while D Companywas displaying fluorescent Ground To Air Identification Panels. Neither Norman or I hadrequested the air strike nor could we ever find anyone to admit to laying it on. Thenapalm attack brought confirmation that enemy was on D Company right flank. Hoping to takeadvantage of the strike the enemy attacked Lieutenant McWilliam's 11 Platoon but theypicked the wrong objective and were severely dealt with.

Some time after that the CO came on air to inform me nothing would becoming to relieve us and I had approval to withdraw the rifle companies. Anticipating Iwould inherit this problem, withdrawal had been occupying my thoughts for some time.Regards route and timings, the only practicable withdrawal route was to follow the narrow,two to three mile long wooded ridge line which ran south from 504 to a ford just below theMiddlesex. Of course there was always the possibility enemy had established a blockingforce on it but there really was no alternative. Regarding time of withdrawal, I selected4 pm. In this decision I was influenced by two considerations. The enemy had had all dayto study us and it was an absolute certainty that come night fall he would resume hisattack. This time he knew exactly where and how to hit and if we were still around when hestruck there would be no possibility of withdrawal.

Secondly I wanted two hours of daylight fields of fire so the Diggerscould keep the enemy cautious and well away from the rear guard. Hopefully long enough toget a clean break come dusk and disappear into the night.

There were threats which had to be provided for. Any movement of A, Bor C Company up the hill had to be made in full view of the enemy on the low featureacross the road. Without doubt they would follow up and attack our tail. Also D Companywas very actively engaged with the opposition on 504. As soon as I extracted D Companythere would be follow up and fire fights in our rear. Then there was the question of ablocking force on the withdrawal route. The enemy group, Gravener reported as going roundhis right flank, could easily have been sitting there or a force may have come across fromthe Chinese who tangled with Support Company at Battalion Headquarters the previous night.Not being aware that we had an FOO with B Company I requested Ferguson (the CO) to aarrange for the Battery Commander to neutralise the enemy across the road with a smokescreen to blind them with a generous dose of H E mixed in to anchor the enemy in theirpits. The artillery to open up at 1600 hours. This was granted.

To clear the escape route I ordered Darcy Laughlin to beat his way downto the ford commencing 4 pm. If he encountered enemy he was to clean them out. If hecouldn't dislodge them he was to keep them busy until I could get to him with asecond company.

For the extraction of D Company I instructed that C and A Companieswould be sited in defence behind D, preparatory to pulling D Company out. When it moved DCompany was to take up defence behind A Company while C Company was extracted and so on,leap froging our way back to the ford. On receiving his orders Darcy came back with," What do I do with my prisoners?" I had forgotten about this unfortunate bunch.Obviously the last thing one requires in the midst of the column in an opposed withdrawalis forty of the enemy, particularly come night fall. The alternatives were either to turnthem loose, or take them with us. They had been observing us all day and knew too much toturn loose, so I got back to Darcy and told him to take them with him. He crossed me offhis Christmas Card list.

To give me mobility and better control over the four companies I handedA company over to Bob Murdoch and created a small Tac HQ, employing our 3 inch mortar MFC,Ron Perkins, as my radio operator. By 4 pm all was in position and standing by, even the DCompany enemy was cooperating with a lull in proceedings. I sent B Company on their way inanticipation of the artillery opening up. The minutes ticked by with no barrage bangingaway and in this unhealthy silence I got an uneasy feeling things were starting to gowrong. I tolerated the situation as long as I could then called up the CO (Ferguson) foran explanation of this dreadful hiatus. He said he would check and eventually got back toexplain that wind change necessitated the point of emission for smoke to be re-registered.However valuable daylight time was slipping by so I decided not to wait, I had alreadydeclared my hand by dispatching B Company so I had nothing to loose by ordering Saundersto get C Company on it's way. By the time the tail of C Company was clear, tankstrundled into position on the road and manoeuvred to cover the enemy. I was not informedthey would come to our assistance but could not have been more grateful for theirintervention. I told Murdoch to get A company moving and hurried to catch C Company. Thenthe Kiwis let the smoke and high explosive shells (HE) fly in a great heart warming,thunderous thump and I knew the first phase would be completed without further hindrance.

On reaching the top of the hill I positioned C Company to discourageany follow up by the enemy when D Company came out, then told Gravener to withdraw. Hereplied that he could not . He was under attack again, so we had to wait impatiently whilehe did a bit of tiding up. Eventually he got an opportunity to thin out and took hisdeparture. I took his Company back and positioned it behind A Company then told Saundersto withdraw C Company to be sited behind D Company and so on we rolled back down the hill,always one company in defence facing the enemy, one taking up the next fall back positionand one in movement. However we could not deter the Chinese from following all the waydown the hill. D Companies wounded and burn cases were taken over and transported by menfrom the other companies, assisted by our Chinese prisoners.

About nightfall very welcome news came through. B Company had reachedthe ford without locating enemy on the withdrawal route. This was a tremendous relief.During the withdrawal process an incident occurred which is worth reporting.Reconnaissance for fall back positions and settling companies in necessitated movementback and forth in the column. At one stage after dark I was horrified to find myself inthe midst of a group of Chinese soldiers bearing arms . Before long I was relieved toidentify them as our prisoners assisting the stretcher bearers. I stopped the first escortto come along and rather brusquely demanded to know why the prisoners were bearing arms.He came back immediately with, the short reply; "Well, you don't expect thebloody wounded to carry them. Do you?" While I was digesting this piece of logic theydisappeared into the gloom.

Eventually I arrived at the ford where I found Lieutenant Jim Young,acting Second in Command of B Company, left to check the companies over. At this stagethree companies were clear leaving Murdoch with A Company still in the last fall backposition. I called him up to check the state of the game and got the unwelcome advice thatthe opposition were still with him. I told him to make for the ford and shake the Chineseoff if possible as the ford was a broad expanse dangerously lit by a full moon. A firefight while crossing would produce a lot of casualties. In due course Bob reported clearof his position and Jim and I waited, staring into the gloom in the expected direction ofA Company approach. Eventually Lou Brumfield's 2 Platoon arrived and we passed themover. I grabbed a tail ender and requested information about the remainder of A Companyand was informed they were behind him.

While Jim and I waited a few bursts of machine gun fire from the PPCLIseemed to be perilously close to us, giving the impression they were firing at A Company.I called the CO to get it stopped but I was assured the Canadians had Chinese in theirsights. Then the balance of A Company appeared but completely from the wrong direction byninety degrees along the river edge. Bob assured me he had lost the enemy so we passedthem over as rapidly as possible. How Bob lost his enemy is interesting. He made a mistakeat a fork in the track by taking the wrong fork, arriving at the river well short of theford. Realising his error immediately he swung the company hard left until he found us.The Chinese in pursuit came to the river and finding no sign of the company assumed theyhad crossed at that point and plunged in after them. This is what attracted the PPCLI toopen up with MMGs.

At the entrance to the Middlesex the CO and some others from theHeadquarters, were checking troops into the area. I reported to the CO that the withdrawalwas complete without further casualties.

Now it was all over, I think about 11 pm. Events since the afternoon ofthe 23rd had once again demonstrated the great fighting spirit of the Australian Digger.In A Company they had taken on a very determined and numerically superior enemy. They hadtaken him on in the dark without artillery, mines, wire or any deterrent to the enemyattacks, other than their personal weapons and guts. They had removed the dead and woundedand occupied their pits to calmly await the next enemy onslaught. Their was no discussionon being placed in forward weapon pits , no man backed away as the enemy rushed in. Nextmorning they were willing to go on with it and eject the enemy from our ridge. These menwere splendid. The B Company men displayed the same unflinching gallantry when committedto two hopeless bayonet charges. In D Company the Diggers had to tolerate the nervewracking experience of a full day of continuous attack, made even more unpleasant by anapalm strike in their midst.

Withdrawal was the test of morale. It is instinctive for a man to putdistance between himself and danger with as much speed as possible. However in thewithdrawal process, encumbered by wounded, this is disastrous and just what the enemy aimsto achieve. The withdrawal at Kapyong was conducted by men who had been under extremestress for a protracted period and a drop in morale might have been excused. No excuse wasnecessary. The men moved at a steady pace between fall back positions, they took upblocking defence without discussion and waited for the enemy to appear. There was nosuggestion of haste. or a break in discipline. The withdrawal went off like a trainingexercise.

The men of Kapyong were magnificent.

They won the battle of Kapyong.


And was it all worth while?

On the 23rd April 1951 the 6th ROK Division broke and ran, giving theChinese Army Commander what he hoped would become an open road to Seoul. At Kapyong hisambition was frustrated when 3 Battalion RAR took his leading elements head on, stoppedthem dead in their tracks and delaying the Chinese for 24 hours. This valuable time,bought at great cost to 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and later by PrincessPatricia's Canadian Light Infantry permitted the United Nations' theatre commander toreposition a force in the path of the Chinese Army, and Seoul was once again secure fromthat direction. In recognition of this battle the President of the United States ofAmerica awarded these units his Distinguished Unit Citation.

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