Chapter 7



Service Details

Sir William Keys was born in 1923 and educated at HurlstoneAgricultural High School. He is a veteran of World War 2 with five years service(1941-1945) and one year service in the very early stages of the Korean War, participatingin all major battles and engagements of the period with 3 Battalion Royal AustralianRegiment. His post military career has been one of dedication to Australia and theAustralian and International communities. For seventeen years he was National Secretary ofthe Returned Services League of Australia followed by ten years as National President. Heis President of the International Federation of Korean War Veterans Associations and amember of numerous Australian government Committees. He has worked for many charitableorganizations including Legacy, Salvation Army, Toc H and many veteran associations.

Sir William Keys

His contribution to the Australian and International communities hasbeen recognised with the awards of a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC 1988), KnightBachelor (1980), Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE 1970), Military Cross (MC1951 for bravery in Korea), Order of Merit (1980 Korean), Chevalier de Polonia Restituta(1980 Poland) and the American Legion International Amity Award (1982 USA).

He is married (Dulcie) with three children and six grandchildren andlives in rural NSW.

He recently had published (Allen & Unwin) a best selling book onhis fight with prostate cancer, titled "Flowers in Winter".

In September 1951 the 1st British Commonwealth Division, made up ofBritish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops received orders to pushforward from the line Kansas to conform to the overall advance of the Eighth Army.

"Commando" was the name given this operation, in which the 28British Commonwealth Brigade was destined to play the major part and bear the brunt of theactual fighting done by the Division. 28 Brigade consisted of The King's Shropshire LightInfantry (KSLI), The King's Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and 3 Battalion Royal AustralianRegiment (RAR).

3 Battalion RAR had not previously fought a major engagement as part ofa Brigade. It had of course been campaigning for just on a year in Korea and was rated bymany senior officers to be one of the best, if not the best, fighting unit in the EighthArmy.

The Plan

Let me sketch briefly the aim of Operation Commando, and the method bywhich it was to be carried out. In the West Central Sector of the front, just west of theImjin River and about ten miles north of the 38th Parallel, there were two dominant hillsidentified respectively as Hill 355 ( "Little Gibraltar, Kowang San)and Hill 317(Maryang San). These two hills were a vital part in the Communist western defences andwere assessed by Intelligence to be part of the enemy's main winter defence line. The aimof Operation Commando was to seize these two features.

The attack was to be carried out in two phases.

Phase One, the capture of Hill 355 by the KOSB, supported on the leftby the KSLI and on the right by 3 RAR.

Phase Two, the capture of Hill 317 by 3 RAR, supported on the left by 1Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (NF).

Phase One was only a secondary role for 3 RAR; the Battalion's maineffort was the capture of Hill 317. It was the capture of this feature that routed theCommunists from this section of the front.

D Day - D Day was 3 October 1951

On 1 October the Brigade moved to assembly areas west of the ImjinRiver to permit a short approach march and to avoid a long move on the day prior to theactual attack. At 0330 hours (3.30 am) on Wednesday 3 October Phase One of OperationCommando began. B Company 3 RAR, led by Captain "Wings" Nicholls of Melbournemoved to Hills 159/199, which was to the north-west of Hill 355, permitted the Company togive valuable fire support to the KOSB from first light onward. At 0430 hours, A Company,led by Captain "Jim" Shelton of Melbourne moved off, followed by B Company, atfirst light, which was about 0600 hours. The two Companies came under enemy artilleryshelling, and a little later made contact with an enemy patrol, which they quicklydispatched, one prisoner of war was taken. The shelling was not unduly heavy and onlyslight casualties were suffered. At this time two tanks of the 8 King's Royal IrishHussars were moved forward to join the two Companies; the giant Centurions clambered upseemingly impossible slopes to rake enemy positions with 20 pounder high explosives andmachine gun fire. The tanks were used much more in this operation than at any previoustime, and their value as pin point artillery, at point-blank range, was quite aconsiderable factor in the capture of a number of positions. The KSLI made steady progresson the southern flank, and throughout the day the KOSB attacked up the central line ofapproach to Hill 355. The enemy however, had made a determined stand, and nightfall 3October found the attackers still short of their objective. The Brigade consolidated forthe night and prepared for attack at first light the following morning.

To the north of the main objective, Hill 355, there was a sizablefeature held by the Communists. During the previous day, the enemy had been able to bringflanking fire from there on to the KOSB attacking from the west. Hence it was decided thatC Company 3 RAR, would capture this feature simultaneously with an attack by KOSB ontoHill 355. C Company, under the command of war wise soldier, Major "Jack Gerke"of Western Australia, moved off at dawn. Under the cover of the heavy morning mist, whichfilled the valleys, C Company crossed the dangerous, low lying ground and commenced theclimb up to the steep objective. The approach route selected was up the steepest part ofthe feature, and before the Chinese realized their danger, the Australians were attacking.Enemy mortars began pasting C Company, but nothing now could stop the momentum of theattack. Major Gerke himself participated in the final grenade and machine gun battle.Private "Jimmy" Burnett, a young Bren-Gunner from Queensland, climbed on to adominating portion of the feature and firing from the hip carved a gap through the ranksof the surprised enemy. C Company quickly consolidated its first advantage, the enemybroke and scattered in hasty retreat. In the meantime, the KOSB, its flank freed fromdanger by C Company's successful attack, made rapid progress and by early afternoonHill 355 was in our hands.

Hill 317 - A Tough Nut to Crack

Now that the Chinese knew our intentions, the utmost speed wasessential to maintain some element of surprise, so it was decided that on the followingday 3 RAR would attack and capture Hill 317. Hill 355 had been hard going, but with someelement of surprise now lost as we moved further into the enemy's defence line, it wasexpected that Hill 317 would be even more strongly held and a tougher nut to crack.

By evening, 4 October, all was ready. The plan briefly was that ACompany 3 RAR was to make a feint attack up a ridge line from the east, to occupy theenemy's attention and draw his fire. B Company and D Company were to move by a spur linefrom the north-east. B Company to clear the lower features and D Company to pass throughand capture Hill 317. C Company would remain in reserve The move commenced at 0400 hours 5October. First light came, and a heavy mist lay in the valleys which sheltered the toilingCompanies during the approach march. By 0930 hours, B Company had cleared its featuresmore than halfway to the objective, and D Company was moving up on the left of B Companywhen suddenly the fog lifted. B Company, under cover of the mist, had secured a commandingfeature further to the north, but D Company was dangerously exposed to the Chinesepositions. D Company Commander, Major "Basil" Hardiman of NSW, did the onlything he could do with any hope of success, he attacked.

In the history of 3 RAR assault actions in Korea, there had beennothing to equal the Hill 317 for the good leadership by section, platoon and companycommanders and for the fine support by the 16 New Zealand Field Regiment and the rest ofthe divisional artillery. Above all it was the courage of the men who, in the finalanalysis, wrenched victory from the startled Chinese.

The Battalion, at that time, had been largely reinforced, and many ofthe older, experienced members had been relieved. This made not the slightest difference.The youngsters gained inspiration from the old hands and nothing could stop them. Early inthe attack, Major Hardiman was seriously wounded in the leg. Lieutenant "Jim"Young, the senior Platoon Commander, took over the attack, and never faltered. There werefour distinct features to be cleared. When the first feature was taken, the CommandingOfficer (CO) asked Young, "Can you go on ?". The answer was " Give mefifteen minutes of artillery and we will be ready to move". The artillery fell on theobjective. D Company attacked again, and the second feature fell to Lieutenant"Algie" Clark's 11 Platoon. Corporal Black, a veteran from Melbourne, was incharge of one of the leading Sections. He was blown from his feet by a grenade andseriously wounded in the left arm by machine gun fire. Unarmed, he continued to lead theattack, shouting encouragement to his men. 12 Platoon, under Sergeant Bill Rowlinson(later awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal [DCM]) moved through 11 Platoonand continued the attack. In half an hour of taking the first objective the features wereours, and a Chinese Company ceased to exist. It was a mighty effort.

At this point, the CO, Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Francis"Frank" Hassett, (later General Sir Francis AC., KBE., CBO., DSO., LVO) made oneof the decisions which was responsible for the final victory. The two assaultingCompanies, B and D, could not continue immediately on to Hill 317, both having sufferedlosses, and the men were exhausted from the tremendous effort. C Company, ten men lightfrom its battle on Hill 355, was ordered to move through D Company and take Hill 317.Knowing that speed was the essence of the contract, Major Gerke raced C Company up to DCompany and through. Before the Chinese realised what had happened, Hill 317 was in ourhands. It had all been brilliant work, the men were magnificent, the planning and theexecution left nothing to be desired. A Company, all this time, had occupied the enemy onthe eastern ridge line, being battered by his artillery, engaging him with small arms,making a show of strength, so that not until C Company arrived on the high point behindthem did the Chinese realize what was happening.

This, however, was only the beginning; the point consisting of threemain features. That night, C Company held a very tight perimeter and absorbed probingattacks.

The next day the Northumberland Fusiliers were to attack up a ridgeline from the south and capture the most western of the three pimples; in conjunction withthis attack C Company 3 RAR was to probe forward from Hill 317 itself. 8 Platoon, underyoung Duntroon graduate, Lieutenant Arthur "Bushy" Pembroke, fighting his firstbig battle, moved off at 0700 hours on 6 October.

It moved unopposed on to the central feature. The Chinese, in thatstrange, illogical way that they have, had permitted 8 Platoon to occupy, unopposed, afeature that they could have held. The Platoon had only just moved on to the feature whenthe Chinese, realising their mistake, counter attacked, but they were no match for theAustralians and, after a fierce hand-to-hand engagement, they conceded the victory andwithdrew.

During the day the Northumberland Fusiliers attacked again and againfrom the south, but the Chinese, from strongly dug positions, resisted, and by nightfall 6October no progress had been achieved.

The Northumberland Fusiliers had been badly battered during that day,so it was agreed that on 7 October, 3 RAR should complete the task attacking from Hill317.

The Hinge

The objective, the last key to the line of features, was called TheHinge, and once it was secured, the Chinese were beaten. B Company was given the task. Onthe evening of 6 October B Company moved into a position on the centre feature, takingover from Lieutenant Pembroke and his 8 Platoon. At first light, Lieutenant ColonelHassett (CO) moved his Tactical Headquarters to Hill 317 and from there conducted thebattle through the day of 7 October, a day that would be remembered by those whoexperienced it as one of the hardest that the Battalion had to endure. At 0800 hours (8am) B Company attacked with two platoons forward. The Chinese permitted the two leadingplatoons to go through, and then, coming out of concealed positions, attacked CompanyHeadquarters and the reserve platoon. It was a bitter fight and one of the decisivebattles of the operation. The reserve platoon and Company Headquarters suffered heavycasualties, but the enemy suffered more and finally broke and scattered. Captain Nichollsquickly consolidated his position and the Company prepared for a counter attack. Severalengagements occurred that day, but after a time it was obvious that the enemy was waitingfor nightfall to make his main effort. By this time, enemy artillery was falling withdreadful accuracy on Battalion Tactical Headquarters, with C Company on Hill 317 and on BCompany on The Hinge. It was unceasing throughout the day and casualties were heavy.

Colonel Hassett calmly directed the battle from his precariousposition. He was an inspiration to all ranks. Later, troops back in casualty clearingstations, wounded as a result of the devastating artillery throughout the day of 7 Octoberwould ask "How is the CO?" It was the Colonel's first major action with hisBattalion, and as a result of it he earned their complete confidence and respect, animportant morale builder in the hours to come.

The problem of re-supply and evacuation was a big one. The stretcherbearers worked constantly with complete disregard for their own lives to bring the woundedback to safety. The signaler line-men struggled in the open throughout the day to maintainline communication as enemy artillery blasted great lengths in the cable. The KoreanPorter Train escorts urged their wearying charges up the steep and dangerous slopes,carrying urgently needed ammunition and supplies to the rifle companies. Late in theafternoon the shelling slackened somewhat, allowing the toiling signalers to complete themending of their shattered cable between Battalion Headquarters and the two forwardcompanies. For the first time in hours we were able to converse with a freedom thatwireless does not permit. Jack Gerke (C Company), Nick (B Company) and I spoke quickly ofthe many problems to be dealt with, rations, supplies, ammunition, evacuation of thewounded, artillery Defensive Fire tasks (DF's) for the night and many other things thatare vital at such times. A joke or two, in spite of the fatigue of a long and heavy day.The CO had another word with his Commanders, everything was ready, ready for the attackwhich we knew must come.

Chinese Big Artillery Effort

From 1930 hours till 2000 hours an ominous silence pervaded thebattlefield and at 2000 hours (8 PM) it came, the heaviest and most concentrated enemyshelling, chiefly on the two forward companies, that the Chinese had yet produced. Forthirty minutes it continued, the nerve racking thunder of exploding shells. The telephonecable was blasted in the first volley of shells; hundreds of rounds fell in the Chinese'biggest artillery effort of the war. At 2030 hours the shelling eased and lifted, and theChinese attacked.

They attacked on three sides, expecting a dazed and battered enemy.Instead, they found an enemy resolute and confident; they attacked not againstdisorganized defences , but against a blazing perimeter of Australian rifles and machineguns. Again and again they attacked, but, in vain. Our own artillery, by this time was infull swing, and the Chinese were sent reeling back, their hopes of speedy victorycompletely disillusioned. Three times that night they attacked with blind courage, butcould not hope to succeed. Later, it was estimated that the greater part of two Battalionswere used in this attack and they lost a very large part of this force in their futileattempts to regain their lost position. By dawn of the morning 8 October 1951 the battlewas over, and another victory had been won. Our troops were weary and heavy eyed from thestrain of a long fight, but it was a proud moment.

Congratulations came from Army, Corps, Division and Brigade, but thefinest tribute of all came from the Commanding Officer, Frank Hassett, when in hisofficial report of the operation, he said of his men ;

"Their sheer guts is beyond belief"

And so ended one of the epics of Australia's part in the Korea War of 1950-1953, to be added to an already proud tradition.

Proud as I was of the Battalion in this magnificent engagement, my mindat times went back to the earlier battles at "Sardine "Salmon" and"Kapyong"

Hill 410 March 1951

I was the Officer Commanding D Company 3 Battalion, Royal AustralianRegiment (3RAR) on 7 March 1951. Our objective then was a high steep ridge-line, crownedby two hilltops which had been given the identities of Hill 532 and Hill 410. These twohills were part of the defensive positions of the 124th and 125th Chinese Divisions whichthey had been continually preparing and reinforcing. 2 Battalion Princess Patricia'sCanadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) was to capture Hill 532, which was to the left of ourfront and 3 Battalion RAR objective was Hill 410 located to the right of our front. Atfirst light both Battalions crossed the start line (SL). The leading Companies immediatelycame under heavy and concentrated machine gun and rifle fire. A Company 3 RAR was pinneddown approximately one third of the way up the spur line leading to the apex of Hill 410.Our artillery and mortar support was unable to locate the positions that the enemy wasfiring from. A Company spent a difficult and hazardous time on the slopes that were soprecipitous that further movement was severely hampered. At 1000 hours (10 am), D Companywas to commence the climb along a parallel spur. We would be supported by artillery andmortars. Our plan was simple. After a brief reconnaissance the orders were ;

Attack with one platoon forward up the left-hand ridge to Bald Knob(Hill 410).

This would relieve the pressure on A Company and at the same time, openthe way for a concerted effort by the two companies to capture the objective. The enemywas well aware of our intentions. Hostile fire from mortars, machine guns and riflesincreased considerably. Quick movement by D Company was essential. 11 Platoon led,followed by Company Headquarters, with 10 Platoon right and 12 Platoon to the left. Welost no time. 11 Platoon moved out from the small creek which had given us momentaryprotection. With one section forward in extended line, 11 Platoon commenced its moveacross dangerous open space. D Company had already suffered casualties but 11 Platoon wasfortunate in this stage of its advance and crossed the open space without further losses.Supporting fire from our artillery and mortars had all this time been plastering the ridgeline up which our attack was to be made. This fire lifted and moved up along the ridge asthe leading Platoon approached. To move close in behind supporting fire in this manner isthe key to successful support. 11 Platoon used it to the fullest advantage on thisoccasion.

Immediately 11 Platoon had consolidated on the lower slope of theridgeline, the remainder of the Company moved off, suffering several casualties crossingthe open ground. The 12 Platoon "runner", moving with Company Headquarters, waswounded and died before he could be taken to the rear. Two other lads were hit by riflefire but were able to make their own way to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP). At last we wereacross the clearing. Meanwhile 11 Platoon was moving cautiously up the ridge and wefollowed, hand over hand, up the precipitous ridge line to the round bald knob above.Enemy opposition increased dramatically as we inched our way upwards. Time and again wehugged the earth as small arms fire cracked over our heads. We watched fascinated asbullets shattered bushes immediately over our heads. Two Americans were with CompanyHeadquarters, to pass orders for the mortars that we had in support. Half way up the ridgeboth were wounded and a bullet snapped off their radio aerial. By this time we were tooclose to our objective to risk direct support from the mortars.

As we clambered upwards, the exertion made us sweat profusely, despitethe snow and the cold. The dirt of the hillside clung to our damp clothing. Thirst tickledour dry throats and our stomachs yearned for food. Considering the intensity of theenemy's small arms fire and mortar shelling our casualties were extremely light, onekilled in action and several wounded.

Meanwhile 11 Platoon had moved to a position from which it couldstrike. Then occurred one of those incidents of chance which afflict all armies in thefield. A phosphorous bomb intended for the enemy dropped short and landed only a yard ortwo from the Platoon Commander (Lieutenant R "Dick". Battersby), spraying himand other members of his Platoon with burning phosphorous. Fortunately, he had rolled justas the bomb landed and escaped with minor burns on his hands. Showing great calm herallied his forces and reported himself ready to proceed with the attack. 11 Platoon movedinto the attack with supporting fire from 10 and 12 Platoons on the left and right, whileA Company edged forward as best it could from its exposed position. After a brief sharpstruggle 11 Platoon overcame the demoralized enemy. Three were bayoneted and severalothers shot as they made their last desperate bid to escape over the hilltop.

Consolidation was proceeding rapidly when fate again dealt a cruelblow. A wandering shell, its origins never fully explained, landed in the midst of 10Platoon. It may have been a drop short from some of our own artillery, or a mortar bomboff course, or a fluke enemy shell, but there it was to cloud a triumphant day with theknowledge that three of 10 Platoon were killed and three were wounded at the very momentof our Company's success. The assault had cost 3 RAR twelve killed and twenty fourwounded.

Fun Run

I well remember the incident referred to by Corporal "Joe"Vezgoff as the Fun Run. It was just after New Years Day 1951 and all Company Commandershad been summoned to the rear to meet the CO, at a rendezvous, to reconnoitre our newdefence line. We were actually on Jeeps heading south when the Chinese and the NorthKoreans attacked. There was considerable confusion and at least two of our Companies werespread-eagled across the paddy fields seeking shelter behind earth walls which surroundedthe paddies.. I said to" Arch" Denness who was the Senior Company Commander;

"Circumstances have changed dramatically - we cannot go back to the new area leaving the Companies in this situation"

Arch pointed to one Company that was spread out across the paddy fieldsand said ;

"Righto - take over that one"

It turned out to be C Company and as Joe recalls, I moved in along sideto the nearest high position and developed a defence line through which the otherCompanies leap-frogged. Just for two or three glorious hours, I commanded 3 Battalion RARas I directed all Companies on their southward move. We withdrew satisfactorily andrejoined the Battalion at a multistory building that had been lit by fires built in 44gallon drums. It was a wonderful sight as we approached the northern edges of Seoul to seethe lights glistening in the windows and reflecting on the snow that surrounded thebuilding. We had a few good hours sleep that night and moved on towards Seoul in themorning.


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