Action AtBroken Bridge
A Last Letter Home from a Digger in Korea Highlights the Horrendous Conditions Aussies endured in the "Forgotten War"

Following is the last letter written by 2/400121 Pte L.B. (Len) Smeaton, 3 RAR, to his wife Betty prior to being critically wounded on 5 November 1950 at the battle of Pakchon, North Korea. Len lost the fight for his life in an American Field Hospital on 8 November 1950.

He was buried in a temporary United Nations Cemetery at Sukchon, and in 1955 was lifted and taken to Kure, Japan, for identification under Operation Glory. He was reburied in the United Nations War Cemetery in Pusan, South Korea, on 10 August1955. Len Smeaton was no stranger to war and the horrors it can bring. At age 2l he was wounded in the battle for Shaggy Ridge in New Guinea when serving with the 2/33 Battalion. He re-enlisted in K Force in August 1950 and sailed from Japan for Korea as an original member of 3 RAR, on the Aiken Victory.

Bodies of 3RAR dead being exhumed for re-burial

This letter is published with the kind permission of his wife Betty who is now married to 2/400124 Pte Max Eberle, also 3 RAR original. It was written on the reverse side of a letter from home.

2/400121, Pte Smeaton L. B., A Coy 3rd Bn RAR
Sunday 29th October and Wednesday 1st November

My Darling Sweetheart,

I know this is not a very satisfactory way to write to my family, but it is the only paper I have and wouldn't have had that, only I received three very welcome letters this morning before we pulled out. Have only pulled up for a short while, so I am taking the opportunity to write while I can. Don't get much chance at all as we seem to be going all the while. Have been having a few lashes lately, more than enough, and are right on the gooks' hammer. Too close, as we are right up with their armoured forces.

Right now the Aussie Mustangs and Yank jets are rocketing and gunning about 18 of his tanks. If they don't get them, the infantry has to go and try to knock them out with the bazookas. Hope the planes get them!

We had a terrible shock the other night, which I hope we don't have ever again. We forced a river crossing late in the afternoon and there were only two companies across the river all night. Couldn't get our tanks across as the bridge was down and we were all on our "Pat Malone".

The gooks were on us all night and, about 2 o'clock, down the road bowled a couple of jeeps (Russian) and several motor bikes and side cars loaded with troops. We really did them over in fine style, and got the lot, commandeered a jeep and motor bike for our personal use.


Wounded protected in shallow trenches

Well, sweetheart, here I am again, after a hectic time. Will tell you about it as I go along, had to knock off in a hell of a hurry, and before we knew it were in a terrific attack, but will come to that later.

Just after the jeeps and motor bikes were knocked out the gooks counter-attacked. What a hell of a night. It was terrific trying to dig in under the artillery and mortar fire, and the ground was nearly solid gravel. Only had my hands and a small shovel, but managed to scrape out a bit of a hole. Never had a wink of sleep and nothing to eat and to make matters worse, at half past four in the morning, an enemy tank came up and stopped about 10 yards from our position and started blasting away with his machine guns and a big cannon.

We all thought we had had it, and I didn't think we had a chance of getting out of it.

Tried to get the bazooka working, but something went wrong and I couldn't get it to go, so just had to blaze away with our rifles etc. We just lay there and prayed for dawn. It was marvelous luck for us, as he only got a couple with his tank fire while we collected a lot of his infantry behind the tank. That day, and after that, it was a case of advance until his tanks held us up and wait until our planes knocked them out. Haven't stopped at all.

As I told you at the start of this letter, I started while waiting for the planes to get some of his tanks. In our little sector they got eight tanks. While trying to scribble a few lines they told us to move on and hold a position after one of our companies had attacked and taken it. We had to advance across a very wide stretch of paddy fields, and we still can't make out how we even got across there, as he put up afrightful fire power. Before we knew what was happening "A" company was told to attack a ridge. We went charging up, and found a b * * * *y tank waiting for us. Lucky the bazooka was working, and we got it with the first shot. Altogether we got three tanks to "A" Coy's credit that afternoon. After taking the first ridge, the company commander just kept going, and much to our surprise we finished up taking four ridges, each one higher than the last. We had a lot of casualties but killed a terrific amount of gooks.

By the time we took the last ridge we were pretty short of ammo and in a bad spot as we had no shovels, no tucker, or warm clothes with us, and the gooks massed up for a big attack and looked like wiping us out. Luckily an American artillery officer was with us, and we asked him to provide fire for us. He said he couldn't do it as the gooks were only one hundred yards away, and as the big shells (over 6 inches) had a killing range of over that distance he couldn't provide fire for us. We asked all the blokes and they all agreed to take the risk, so up came the shells and gee it was marvelous - right in the middle of the mob of gooks came thirty 6 inch?shells, and what a mess. We had a few casualties and were just about bomb happy by the time the barrage had finished, but it was better to lose a few blokes from shrapnel than to lose the whole company.

Wounded soldier from A Company

The Yanks reckon it was marvelous and can't get over the way we let them shell so close to us, and we didn't have any holes to get into, and were just lying on the open ground.

Had to dig with our bare hands and bayonets until about two o'clock when they brought up a small amount of tucker, ammo and shovels, and much to our surprise a couple of heavy machine guns. Lay awake all night expecting the gooks to attack, but the artillery did too much damage to their morale and they never attacked. The next morning the brigadier (Pommie) and our colonel were very pleased and thought we had done a great job. We all thought we were all lucky any one of us got out.

Moved into the position we now occupy late Monday night and Yanks took over from us. We were supposed to have at least a week's rest but just got word we had to move at dawn, in the morning, so it looks as though they just can't do without us.

Received three letters yesterday and managed to read them before dark. 24th, 25th, 26th. Gee, they were welcome, sweetheart. Just did not get a chance to write yesterday, as we had so much to do. We had to fix up all our weapons and ammo. Even managed to get into a hot bath. Gee, it was great. Took over an empty gook house and in the kitchen boiled up in the big earthenware jugs. Did not recognise ourselves, after we got all the dirt out of our hair and off our bodies. Went on patrol yesterday afternoon and got two fowls and and a sucking pig, about 50 1b, sweet potatoes, and some Chinese spinach. We got the cooks to cook our pig and last night six of us in Platoon HQ ate the whole pig. Gee, it was just a beautiful size. Not very big after cleaning, and as it was the first fresh meat, you can imagine that we just gorged ourselvestill we could hardly move. Got up this morning and, as soon as we were able, lit a fire and stewed our two fowls and had a beautiful broth and a fowl between three men. Our stomachs are beginning to feel normal.

Our cooks cooked us some buns for dinner, one and a half each, and honestly they were as good as I have ever tasted. Hope they get a chance to cook some more. So much for our stomachs.

We all thought that we would get a full night's sleep last night, the first since we landed in Korea. Settled into bed and b * * * me if at 11.30 a plane came over and bombed us. Only one bloke wounded in the hand, but he ruined our sleep, the b* * * b* * *. He dropped four bombs (not very big ones) and then sprayed us with one of his burp [ machine] guns. Very cheeky! I was all laced up in any sleeping bag and couldn't be bothered getting out. "A" Company has now copped everything: mortars, artillery, infantry, tanks and planes. They all seem to pick on us. As one bloke said, he wouldn't be surprised if a submarine came across the paddy fields and started throwing hand grenades at us. That would be everything.

3in Mortar behind M4A3Ea Sherman

Yesterday we were issued with a pair of windproof trousers to go with our jackets, and a beaut warm Angora scarf and a sleeping bag. The bag is waterproof and we have to get inside and button it up, and then the inside cover has a large zipper, which zippers right up around your neck. Very warm, but you can understand why I didn't get into my hole when "Bed-check Charlie" came over and bombed us. The weather in the night is around the zero mark, and now we expect snow any tick of the clock.

We have been wearing enemy caps with our ear muffs and padded jackets to keep warm, but they stopped us as we looked too much like gooks at night and we had to burn them.

Feeling pretty good again now, had a bit of trouble with my feet and could hardly walk for a couple of days, but they are just about better again now. Still want to get home to my family. I hope it isn't too long. They won't get me in any more wars, I will stop at home and read about it in the future ...

Yesterday a patrol found a house full of loot. Beautiful silks, and kiddies' boots (rubber, fur, all sorts), but I can't carry any of that sort of stuff, or get it home, so just had to leave it all. Nearly broke my heart having to leave it . . . 1 think I told you about getting a letter from Athol Rogan last night with a parcel of half a dozen books from Eric. I don't get a chance to read, but it was a good thought on their behalf.

All my love,
your ever-loving husband,   Len XX


Page 1 was written on reverse side of one of my letters and later it was Korean paper, one of which had writing on the reverse side of one page. In the last paragraph Len mentioned his friends had sent him books to read. They were both WWII vets, but obviously were not aware of the conditions in Korea.

The only deletions were personal family references on the last page.

Sincerely, Betty Eberle (formerly Smeaton)

Betty and Len, 1945


3.5 inch Super Bazooka

I have read the report on the Broken Bridge action as experienced by Len Smeaton and noted his remarks regarding the malfunction of the bazooka on that occasion. The reasons given for this malfunction were many and varied. The more commonly reported version was that the No 2 had not connected the ignition wires to the rocket. Always blame your No 2. However, a later version is more likely to be accurate.

The bazookas issued to 3 RAR were straight from the manufacturer and the delicate ignition/firing system was protected by a packing of thick grease. This had not been cleaned out before issue of the weapon. After removing the grease there were no further problems. This is my belief on this subject.

Max J. Eberle

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