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Category: Korea

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War in Korea; 1950; The UN flexes its muscles

The first active service engagement of an Australian Regular Army (ARA) unit.

Within 5 years of the last shots of World War II, Australia's three fighting services were helping the Americans throw the China-backed North Korean army across 'the 38th parallel' and out of North Korea. 

In this war-with climatic extremes of cold and heat - the Australian called on every lesson he had ever learned in versatility. 

He was, as this picture shows, equipped for the job. 

  • Australian casualties in Korea (killed, wounded, missing) totalled 1,538.
The Korean War came as a surprise, even to the pessimists. On 23 June 1950, two days before the North Koreans invaded South Korea, the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, arrived in Australia bearing tidings of moderate optimism. Interviewed at Sydney airport by respectful reporters, Russell had given the world a 50-50 chance of avoiding war in the next five years. Peace, he said, depended on firmness with the Russians-and not the United Nations, a body which, because of the veto system, he regarded as useless. 'If a minority can disagree and disobey a majority, what is the use of the organisation?' Russell asked the reporters.
Australia's contribution to the ground-forces in Korea was spoken of by experts as one of the toughest groups ever recruited for an Australian expeditionary force. Members of 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, they were hardened by weeks of solid battle-training on the battle-course at Haramura, Hiroshima Prefecture, once used by the Japanese Imperial Army as a training ground for tropic fighting. They are shown boarding the USNS Aiken Victory for the voyage to South Korean base before joining their American and British comrades of the United Nations Force.

Russell's optimism was shared by John Foster Dulles, then Republican Advisor to the US State Department, who said on 22 June 1950, that the strength of the Free-World forces so outweighed that of the Communists that there was little immediate danger of war.

The Australian newspapers were also hopeful. There was little mention of the growing danger in Korea, even though during 1949 and early 1950 increasing numbers of North Korean guerrillas had been crossing the border into the south.

There had been a tense border situation in Korea since the end of World War II when Russian and American troops had met one another at the 38th parallel and the country had been divided at that point between two camps-communist and capitalist. That was not what the newly-formed United Nations wanted. In 1945 the UN passed a resolution calling for the holding of UN-supervised elections over the whole of Korea. The Communists, however, would not allow the LA access to the north. UN-supervised elections were held in the south only and as a result of the election the Republic of South Korea came into being in August 1949, with Dr Syngman Rhee as President. Shortly afterwards, non-supervised elections were held in the north and North Korea became a People's Republic.

The birth of a new nation in the south made some people in Washington relax. A secret memo prepared by the US joint Chiefs of Staff in 1950 stated that from a military viewpoint it was not in the interest of the US to keep troops in Korea. The Americans, therefore, began a full-scale withdrawal. At the same time the Russians in the north began pulling their troops out.

As the troops withdrew, the bickering between the north and the south intensified. The Communists were belligerent. Early in June 1950, the North Koreans said that they would agree to UN-supervised unification talks provided that Rhee and 'other criminals' in the south were arrested. Then came the crunch.
War Inevitable

At 4 am (Korean time), on 25 June 1950, the North Koreans crossed the border into South Korea. Immediately the UN called a meeting of the Security Council. Through one of those quirks of providence, the Russians were boycotting the Council, having been piqued by its refusal to unseat the representative of Nationalist China. Thus the Council, unhindered by a Russian veto, was able to carry a US-sponsored motion calling for the North Koreans to withdrawn from the south and asking member nations to re-establish peace in the area. Russell's objection to the UN, voiced two days earlier in Sydney, was sound enough. Luckily for the South Koreans, the weakness in the UN set-up was missing when a show of UN force was required.
Australia joins In

On 27 June, the Americans committed air and sea forces to the support of the South Koreans. Two days later, the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. R G Menzies, placed the destroyer Bataan and the frigate Shoalhaven at the disposal of the UN through US authorities. On the same day No 77 Squadron, RAAF, stationed in Japan, was alerted. One week after the invasion of South Korea, on 2 July, Australian Mustangs accompanied B29s of the 5th US Air Force on two bombing missions over Korea-and Australia became the first non-US nation to go into action on behalf of the South Koreans.

Meanwhile, things were going badly on the ground. The North Korean Army was moving south virtually unopposed. Late in June General Douglas MacArthur (who became Commander-in-Chief, UN Forces, on 7 July, ordered the airlift from Japan of 400 infantrymen and a battery of artillery. They arrived in Korea on I July. Two days later, two infantry battalions and supporting troops from the 24th United States Division were shipped to Pusan in the south east of Korea. Their job was to hold the North Koreans back while the UN forces consolidated their position at Pusan and built up their strength. The US Eighth Army arrived at Pusan and General Walton H Walker, in command of the Army, had his men build a defence line around Pusan, to be known as the Pusan Perimeter.

The situation was now serious enough for the UN to appeal for additional help. On 26 July, Australia announced that it would be sending troops to Korea. Great Britain and New Zealand also committed themselves. General MacArthur's immediate plan was to make a two-pronged attack on the enemy by an ing on the west coast at Inchon, the port of Seoul (the South Korean capital) , and at the same time breaking out of the Pusan Perimeter and driving the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel. On 12 September, American marines landed at Inchon at little cost to themselves-eight dead and twenty-eight wounded. The Eighth Army breakout from Pusan succeeded with the help of the 27th British Brigade, which had arrived from Hong Kong earlier in the month. By 29 September, Seoul and the whole of South Korea were in UN hands.
Troops in Korea

By now Australian troops were in Korea. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, had arrived in Pusan from Japan on 27 September. The 960 Australians, all of them volunteers, joined the 27th British Brigade to form the British Commonwealth Brigade.

On 9 October General MacArthur was given US approval to cross the border into North Korea. The British Commonwealth Brigade moved north across the 38th parallel in support of the Eighth US Army. The UN forces, in a mood for quick victory, rushed forward.

It was during the drive north to link up with the 187th US Airborne Regiment that the Australians tasted action for the first time in Korea. The British Commonwealth Brigade, spearheading the UN west coast Regiment Combat Team was cut off in the Yongyu area, north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. The American paratroopers occupied -in area about a mile to the north and between their two positions lay the enemy.

Australian troops began advancing on enemy positions and it was C Company's job to take an enemy-held orchard. Captain A P Denness, who led the C Company attack, ordered his men to fix bayonets and they advanced on the North Koreans under cover of a Sherman tank. When the Australians broke from cover and charged at the enemy positions, the North Koreans fled -and suffered heavy casualties. Meanwhile D Company had moved forward to the besieged Americans and the North Koreans were caught in cross fire from the Australians and the Americans. About 150 North Koreans were killed and 239 were captured. Seven Australians were wounded.

Recalling part of the battle afterwards, Brigadier B A Coad, commander of the British Commonwealth Brigade, said: 'All the fighting had to be done with infantry weapons and nothing else-the Bren gun, the rifle, the bayonet and the grenade. This was down the Australians' street. Their leading company led off and very soon they were under fire from three sides. The battalion deployed and, to give you an idea of the type of fighting, the CO (Lieutenant Colonel C H Green), put a company over a small hill and they killed about seventy North Koreans and went on. 

The CO then moved up with his tactical headquarters and was immediately counterattacked and he had a grim battle with his small party. They accounted for another eight or nine, and they found a lot of dug-outs on the hill. They started setting fire to them and bolted a whole lot more. These North Koreans were not prepared to give up.

The battle of Yongyu was the beginning of a week of hard fighting for the Australians; fighting in which they were to lose seventeen dead and fifty-seven wounded.

The Battle of Broken Bridge

The British Commonwealth Brigade continued its advance. On 25 October the Australians arrived at the Taenyong River, a mile south of Pakchon, which the Australians and the English had been ordered to take. The battle fought here-the Battle of Broken Bridge-was the first Australian action to make banner headlines in Sydney. The action began slowly, tentatively. Lieutenant A L Morrison took two sections of B Company's No 4 Platoon across the river on a bridge which had been partly demolished. When they reached the opposite side of the river they were met by fifty North Koreans-with their hands up. As the Australians edged cautiously towards their prisoners to-be, enemy fire broke out from surrounding hills-fire aimed both at the Australians and the Koreans. A reconnaissance plane reported that there were two enemy companies in the hills and Lieutenant Morrison decided to withdraw across the river. He took with him ten prisoners.

D Company crossed the river, and protected by mortars, artillery and jet fighters, cleared Pakchon by 6.30 pm and returned with 225 prisoners. Back at the river, a D Company platoon remained on the enemy side guarding American engineers building a ford.

For a while it looked to some as though there would be no more forward movement that night. The Americans accompanying the Australians were unable to get their tanks across the river that night and they suggested that the Australians wait until dawn and go across with them. The battalion commander, Colonel Green, decided against delay. He took two companies across that night and they dug in on the opposite bank. At first they were not bothered -the enemy believed that the Australians had retreated. Later the North Koreans found out that they were wrong and they kept the two companies under continuous fire.

Shortly before dawn on 26 October a Russian T-34 rounded a bend in the road and loomed hideously large in front of B Company headquarters, where fifteen Australians were taking the occasional, uneasy catnap. The tank moved to within about fifteen yards of the headquarters. Luckily, the tank crew were not particularly efficient. Ronald Monson, writing at the time in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, saw the tank incident this way: 'About an hour before dawn, an enemy T-34 tank rumbled up through abandoned jeeps and motor cycles and advanced to within twenty yards of B Company command post. B Company commander, Major Thirwell, and fourteen others were in the command post. 

The shells sheared away all the sides of the sheltered post. But one shell blew off the head of an American forward observation officer. After the tank had finished shelling it went to within five yards of the post and machine-gunned. Then it withdrew to fifty yards and fired a parting salvo'.

That morning the battle for the bridgehead continued, with American Shooting Star jets in support of the Australians. By noon the battle was won and by nightfall the Australians had linked up with the Argylls who had crossed over up the river. The link-up made it safe for the whole Brigade to cross the river. The Australian cost of the Battle of Broken Bridge was eight dead and twenty-two wounded.

The Battle of Chongju

But Pakchon wasn't the end of the road north tor the Australians. The Battle of Chongju, remembered by some veterans as the most important battle of that hard-fought segment of the campaign, was awaiting them.

Chongju lies north-west of Pakchon and about forty miles south of the Manchurian border. The Australians advanced on Chongju on 28 October. As they did so a spotter plane reported strong enemy concentrations ahead. An air strike was called and Australian support tanks shelled enemy positions. Then the infantry moved in. This is how With the Australians in Korea * describes the action: 'Colonel Green ordered D Company under Major W F Brown, to attack with tank support. The North Koreans were still active and one Sherman tank was hit by an armour-piercing shell through the turret. 

In two hours, by 4.30 pm, D Company had secured the ridge, while Captain W J Chitts, by 5.30 pm, had attacked and secured a stiffly defended ridge north of the road. By nightfall D Company was dug in on a paddy field to the left of the road, with A Company on a pine covered slope to the right. B Company was in the centre astride the road and C Company in reserve just forward of battalion headquarters. The North Koreans had brought up reinforcements and kept up a harassing fire, although they had lost many tanks and several self-propelling guns. 

At nightfall, from 8 o'clock until nearly midnight, the North Koreans made desperate attempts to push back the Australians. This determined counter attack had tank support while a self-propelled gun dropped armour-piercing shells up and down the road. The initial push came against a forward D Company platoon commanded by Lieutenant D J Mannett. 'We could hear them massing at the bottom of the hill,' Lieutenant Mannett said afterwards. 

'Suddenly they were screaming and getting close, but our boys held their fire. They were ten yards away when we let go with everything we had!' A two-platoon charge cleared the road and the paddy field and saved the situation on the left. However, some North Koreans had infiltrated the front and got behind D Company, cutting it off from battalion headquarters, which was already under fire. 

'Beaten back from their attempt to annihilate D Company, the North Koreans launched a "banzai" charge against A Company, dug in among the pine trees on the rising right of the road. T-34 tanks hurled shells into the Australian positions and the enemy were so close that defensive artillery and mortar fire fell only ten yards or so in front of forward A Company platoons. Again the enemy failed to dislodge the Australians from their positions covering the disputed road. After this attempt the enemy withdrew but kept up intermittent fire throughout the rest of the night. 

During the hastily organised attack by A Company on the right of the road, Private L A Simpson, of 3 Platoon, destroyed two T-34 tanks by bazooka rockets, while the bazooka team of the platoon accounted for another. Private Jack Stafford, a D Company Bren gunner, wormed his way within twenty yards of a camouflaged T-34 and set fire to its outside auxiliary tanks with a well-placed burst. The fire ignited ammunition and the tank exploded.'

The Australians lost eight men killed and thirty wounded in the battle and its aftermath. By morning when they continued to Chongju it was clear that organised resistance had crumbled. Though the battle was over, the tragedy was not. That night, while sleeping in his tent at Battalion headquarters, Colonel Green was hit and mortally wounded by a fragment of stray enemy shell. Though there were forty other men in the area at the time, none received so much as a scratch. Colonel Green's death was a bitter blow to Australians -both in Korea and back home. In Canberra, Members of the House of Representatives paid tribute to this fine soldier.

Chongju was the farthest north the Australians reached. It was left to the Americans to go on to the Yalu River, which marks the border between North Korea and Manchuria - a fact remembered a trifle bitterly by some Australian veterans. However, at the time, Brigadier Coad had decided that his men needed rest. He had asked the Americans to pass a Regimental Combat Team through his men.

The Australians were not to rest for long, however. The North Koreans had been pushed back to Manchuria and the Communist Chinese were in no mood to tolerate a defeat. They put an army into the field.

A sand-bagged observation post keeps out the snow. These men of C Company enjoy a rare burst of winter sunshine in Korea.
Misery of a Korean Winter

On 1 November Chinese units attacked the Eighth US Cavalry and split it in two. Later in the month, on 24 November came the big Chinese breakthrough at Tokchon. UN troops began a rapid retreat.

The retreat remains a bitter memory in the minds of most of the Australians in Korea at the time. It was bad enough that they appeared to be running. But it was made worse by numbing, bewildering cold, a cold unlike anything they had known-or imagined-in equable Australia. Gun metal froze in their hands. They had to sleep with their Bren guns to prevent the oil in them freezing. To keep warm, Australians wore layer upon layer of clothing. A typical outfit: woollen shirt, pullover, khaki service jacket, American windproof cotton jacket with pixie hood, windproof cotton trousers, two pairs of woollen winter socks and winter boots made of rubber to the instep-with leather uppers and thick inner soles.

The UN forces withdrew first to the 38th parallel and then across it. On 4 January 1951, Seoul fell once again to the Communists.
Naval Participation

As 1950 drew to its bitter and freezing end, the Royal Australian Navy became involved in one of the trickiest and most dangerous naval operations in the war. Late in December, two Australian destroyers, the Warramunga and the Bataan, joined three Canadian destroyers and one American destroyer in a mercy mission to Chinnampo, the port of Pyongyang, where wounded UN soldiers and Korean refugees were waiting to be evacuated. The Chinese were advancing rapidly on the port.

Led by HMCS Cayuga, the mixed Dominion and American flotilla had to sail at night through a blinding snow storm into the mouth of the Taedong River and make their way thirty miles up the treacherous estuary to Chinnampo. There were tricky shoals and worse-minefields. The vessels managed to avoid the mines, but the Warramunga and one of the Canadian destroyers, the Sioux, went aground. They soon managed to free themselves.

Chinnampo was sighted at 3 am and the UN flotilla made into port at battle stations, anticipating an enemy attack at dawn. None came and throughout the day the allied sailors operated a ferry service in LST's, transports and junks between their ships and the port and evacuated between 7,000 and 8,000 wounded troops and Korean refugees. Before leaving Chinnampo, the destroyer fired 800 shells into military targets. They withdrew to a backdrop of a billowing, blazing, orange and red port.

Though this was probably the most impressive action in which the Australian Navy took part, Australian ships were kept busy from 1950 until the cease-fire in 1953. Late in 1951, after the peace talks had begun, an Australian frigate, the Murchison, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Dollard, was part of a force responsible for showing the Communists that the UN meant business-peace talks or no peace talks. For more than 100 days small ships shelled positions along the Imjin River Line, north of the Han Estuary. Between them, Commonwealth ships spent a total of 235 days in the river and steamed some 2115 miles and tired 15,370 rounds. The Murchison was the veteran of the operation. She spent forty-four days on the river-fifteen days more than any other ship.

In October 1951, the Australian carrier, HMAS Sydney, replaced the British carrier, HMS Glory in Korean waters. Her pilots were immediately in action against the enemy. During one day of heavy action Sydney's aircraft made eighty-nine sorties, a record number of attacks for a carrier during one day iii the Korean theatre.


The importance of this Australian effort was duly noted. Vice-Admiral the Hon. Sir Guy Russell, British Commander-in-Chief, Far East, sent the commanding officer of the Sydney, Captain D H Harries, the following message: 'Your air effort in the last two days has been unprecedented in quantity and high quality. It has been a magnificent achievement, on which I warmly congratulate you. Though it is invidious to particularise, the spotters did a first-class job and the New Jersey (an American battleship) with the commanding officer of the Seventh Fleet embarked, said that they were the best she has yet had. Eighty-nine sorties in one day is grand batting, especially in the opening match.' 

Like all carriers in Korean waters, the Sydney operated dramatic helicopter rescues. Helicopters would leave the carrier and pluck airmen from their crashed planes on the mainland. It was a tricky job, requiring the dedicated participation of all involved. One rescue-early in 1952-is remembered in
particular. Two Sydney pilots-Sub-Lieutenant M D MacMillan and Observer 1st Class J Hancox, were shot down while in a bombing mission in a Firefly north of the Han River.

Help was called and Sydney's planes kept a protective umbrella of fire around the stranded airmen. The airmen themselves were kept busy warding off the enemy with bursts of machine-gun fire from their crippled Firefly. At 4.20 that afternoon a rescue helicopter left the Sydney. On board were Aviation Pilot Babbitt, of San Diego, California, and Airman  G C Gooding, of Los Angeles.

At 5.25 they spotted the stranded airmen. By this time the Meteors guarding the two men had left. Only the Sydney's Sea Furies remained and they were critically low on fuel. On the  ground the two airmen faced an enemy in the background.  The two Americans put their helicopter down beside the Australian airmen. Gooding jumped out and shot two of the enemy who had crept within fifteen yards of the downed Firefly. 

He and the two airmen then clambered aboard the helicopter and the four men made for the Sydney, escorted by Sea Furies which had stayed in the air fifteen minutes beyond their fuel safety limit.
During the course of the war nine Australian vessels-the aircraft carrier Sydney, the battle-class destroyers Anzac and Tobruk, the Tribal-class destroyers Bataan and Warramunga and the River-class frigates Murchison, Shoalhaven, Condamine and Culgoa-servcd in Korean waters. They were
manned by 311 officers and 4196 men.

Cautious Re-approach

On dry land, in January 1951, the UN forces were regrouping after their retreat from the north. They had been sobered by the experience. There were to be no more headlong advances of the sort that had characterised the UN push north. This time Allied forces were going to probe forward cautiously on a broad front. During February and March UN forces began to push the Chinese slowly back. On 14 March American troops retook Seoul.

Then in April came a big enemy offensive. When it began, the Australians were stationed on the Kapyong River, north east of Seoul and just south of the 38th parallel. To the Australians in early April, Kapyong was just another Korean name. By the end of April it had become an epic in Australian military history. It was at Kapyong--on 23 and 24 April (Anzac Eve) 1951-that the most spectacular Australian action in Korea was fought. Here, the Australians, together with elements of 72 US Tank Battalion, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and the Middlesex Regiment halted the Chinese.

The Australians and the Americans were assigned positions on ridges overlooking the Kapyong River and one of its smaller tributaries. As the Australians dug themselves in on the night of the 23rd, retreating South Koreans began to move through their positions. At first the troops came in a trickle but the trickle grew ominously. The Australians must have been wondering what was going to hit them, and when, but if they were anxious their anxiety did not show. They joked among themselves as they prepared their positions. After dark, the sounds of retreat became more nightmarish. The Koreans were now passing through at jog trot. Among the retreating men, NCOs wandered in bewilderment, imploring Australians and Americans for direction. 

Recalling the situation, Captain R W Saunders, commander of C Company wrote: 'The clamour on our front became easily recognisable as that of a defeated army in retreat. I had heard it before in Greece and Crete and earlier in Korea. I must admit I felt a little dejected until I realised I was an Australian company commander and if my morale got low then I couldn't expect much from my troops. This served to buck me up and I lay down in a shallow trench and had a little sleep. The sound of small-arms fire woke me and soon after the crash of cannon in B Company's area. I could also see flashes of fire coming from the direction of Battalion headquarters and I realised that the enemy were now in a good position to cut off the companies'.

Soon Chinese were mingling among the retreating Koreans. Before midnight fighting had broken out around the Australian perimeter and inside battalion headquarters. Around 3 am the enemy began probing A, B and C Company positions. C Company was in reserve. No I platoon, A Company, was due to face one of the most devastating attacks of the night. Time and again the Chinese charged at the platoon's position, their dead piling on top of one another. Time and again the Australians drove the enemy back. Finally, however, the platoon was overrun and A Company commander, Major O'Dowd, hastily reorganised the company.

This time it was No 3 Platoon's job to take the brunt of the Chinese attack. This it did with such strength that the Chinese were thrown back. Later that morning No 3 Platoon retook the No I Platoon position without a fight. The Chinese fled before the advancing Australians so that, in the words of Major O'Dowd, they could not extract rent for the night's lodging'.

B Company, on the north of the road down which the enemy was advancing, came under fierce attack just before dawn. It was decided to move the company across the road to join the rest of the Battalion. It was a tricky manoeuvre but the Australians managed to cross the road-and catch forty Chinese prisoners on the way. Later that day B Company attempted to clear a passage across the Kapyong ford for an ordered general withdrawal to the Middlesex position to the west. This meant attacking the former Battalion headquarters, which, following the withdrawal of headquarters personnel, had been taken over by the Chinese. 

During this action there was fierce hand to hand fighting. Eighty-one Chinese and four Australians were killed. However, the enemy regained the ford and when the withdrawal took place in the afternoon and evening it was along high ground south of the road and river. The business of the night had its farcical side. At one stage D Company, under heavy attack from the Chinese, decided to withdraw one of its Platoons -No 12- to safer ground. The withdrawal was carried out with such stealth that the enemy didn't know about it. At 3 am the enemy launched a full-scale attack, behind a mortar barrage, against a vacant No 12 Platoon position.

By I I o'clock on the night of 24 April, the Australians had withdrawn to the Middlesex Regiment's positions. The Australian stand, which had cost them thirty-one killed and fifty-eight wounded, had blunted the Chinese offensive and had held them up long enough for the Americans effectively to reinforce the Kapyong River front. It was a stand appreciated by American and Australian authorities.

For its valour at Kapyong, the 3rd Battalion, RAR, was presented with the US Presidential Citation. The citation read: 'The seriousness of the breakthrough on the central front had been changed from defeat to victory by the gallant stand of these heroic and courageous soldiers. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and A Company, 72 US Heavy Tank Battalion, displayed such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing their mission as to set them apart and above other units participating in the campaign, and by their achievements they have brought distinguished credit to themselves, their homelands and all freedom-loving nations.'

After Kapyong, the Chinese made one more attempt to break through the UN lines but they were stopped by the Americans. The UN forces established strong defensive positions which see-sawed along the 38th parallel and the ground war became static. In July 1951, cease-fire talks began.

RAAF versus the Migs

In April 1951 pilots from No 77 Squadron, RAAF, went to Japan to convert to Meteor jet fighters. It was time for the Australian pilots to face MIG fighters. They took some facing. UN pilots were not allowed to attack bases across the Yalu which gave the MIG pilots a huge advantage. They were able to take off when conditions were just right for them. They would attack in packs from out of the sun. UN planes caught by the MIGs were often low on fuel, but the MIGs always had fresh supplies. On top of all this, the Meteor was no match for the MIG. It is hardly surprising that the Australian pilots found fighting a frustrating business.

The first effective 77 Squadron hit against a MIG came in September when fifteen MIGs pounced on twelve Meteors over Anju in North Korea. Flight Lieutenant R L 'Snioky'Dawson fired a long burst from his cannon into a MIG. Smoke and liquid poured from the injured plane-but nobody saw it crash.

On 1 December the squadron had its toughest battle with MIGs for 1951. Twelve Meteors were jumped out of the sun by forty or fifty MIGs. The fighting was fast and furious and the Australians lost three pilots. Flying Officer Bruce Gogerly, a World War II veteran, hit a MIG. His No 2, Sergeant John Myers, said that he saw the MIG go into a dive leaking fuel. Others reported that one exploded in mid-air. Later another was seen screaming to the earth and several pilots claimed credit for this.

However, kills aside, the fact remained that the Meteors were no match for MIGs and the squadron was withdrawn from fighter interception duties. It was not the last the Australian pilots were to see of MIGs, however. In January 1952, the Australians returned to ground-attack duties and, in February, knocked tip a record monthly total of 1105 sorties. In the Spring the Chinese started to fly further south in their snub-nosed, swept-wing MIGs and the Australians again tangled with them-but this time at lower altitudes and with more success. 

On 4 May, Pilot Officer W H Simmonds shot down a MIG-a sitting duck as he later described it. He fired a two-second burst into the plane. The burst crumpled the starboard stabiliser and probably hit the pilot. The plane did not take any evasive action and it hurtled earthwards through the clouds.

Almost a year later-on 27 March 1953-the squadron had its last successful tangle with MIGs. Sergeant George Hale shot one down and hit another over Sinmak, south east of Pyongyang. His wingman, Sergeant David Irlam, had his compass put out of action by enemy fire. He limped back to Kimpo air base, using radar direction. When he landed he found 112 bullet holes in his aircraft.

During its three years in Korea, 77 Squadron washing. flew a total of 4836 missions, made up of
18,872 individual sorties. The squadron lost forty-two pilots. In return it shot down three MIGs and three other enemy fighters and it destroyed about 3700 buildings, 1500 vehicles
and sixteen bridges.

Throughout the Korean War, No 77  Squadron had an attached communications flight-which expanded into No 30 Transport Unit (which, in turn, evolved into No 36 Transport Squadron) . It was responsible for most of the aerial supply and evacuation of British Commonwealth Forces. In the first sixteen months of the war, the unit flew 1.4 million nautical miles in 10,000 hours.

In the three years of the war, RAAF Dakotas carried 100,000 passengers and 13.5 million pounds of freight and mail.

The End in Sight

Having spent the day dismantling defence works in accordance with the Armistice Agreement, these two men of the 3rd Battalion, RAR, take their first look at the notice warning people to keep out of the clemilitarised zone.

Pictured during a battle exercise near the Korean truce line are an American tank driver of the US 6th Tank Battalion, and an Australian infantryman of the First Battalion. The Australians provided support for the 6th Battalion in the annual battle efficiency test of the American unit.

During the static war the most important Australian ground action was 'Operation Commando' which established the Jamestown Line just north of the 38th parallel, a line to be held by the UN forces until the armistice of 27 July 1953.

It was a tough action, lasting from 3 October 1951 to 8 October. British, Canadian and Australian troops were allotted the task of taking hilly ground on the UN's east central sector. Hill 317, one of the key objectives, was so steep on its eastern side that it could only be climbed on hands and knees.

An Australian officer is reported to have said of that hill: 'No country for a white man.' Captain Reg Saunders, the only Aboriginal officer in the Australian army, who was standing nearby, replied: 'It's no country for a black man either.'

The action was notable for bringing in one of the heaviest artillery barrages of the war. On the morning of 7 October, the Australians were subjected to a merciless hammering from Chinese shells. For three quarters of an hour the enemy pumped hundreds of shells into the Australian positions.

Luckily they were dug in well enough to come out of the shelling almost without a scratch and when the Chinese attacked, instead of finding a dazed and battered foe, they found an enemy bristling with armour and confidence. The Chinese attacked time and time again but they could not shift the Australians.

By 8 October, the Chinese were defeated and the three key hills in the area were in UN hands. The Jamestown Line had been established but at a high price for the Australians: twenty dead.

After 'Operation Commando', Korea became a matter of trench warfare. The going was not easy but it was not tough enough for some, particularly the latecomers. During the static war the 1st and 2nd Battalions, RAR, alternated with the 3rd Battalion on the British Commonwealth Sector Front. In March 1953, Hal Richardson, then a war correspondent for the Melbourne Argus, interviewed Corporal Jack Philpott, of East St. Kilda. Philpott, newly arrived in Korea, was with the 2nd Battalion. He was not happy with the peace talks at Panmunjon, not because they were at Panmunjon, and not because they had been accompanied by such incredible prevarication, but simply because they were peace talks. This is how Richardson recalled him in "With the Australians in Korea":

'Corporal Philpott said: "Our blokes are screaming to have a go. They'll be hostile if this blue finishes before they can get into it."

'He had no eye for the tank shells blossoming on Chinese positions across the narrow valley. He was brooding on the injustice of Panmunjon which was threatening to deprive good soldiers of their rights.

'There was no bravado in him. This twenty-five-year-old Australian was genuinely upset that somewhere up there in the place with the pancake-like name, would-be peacemakers were trying to spoil his fun. And the fun of hundreds of Australians yet to join him in this exposed trench.

'There was no bravado in him.. .' But had the mothers of the dead at Broken Bridge and Chongju and Kapyong and "Operation Commando" heard him speak thus they would have wrung their hands in impotent grief. 

THE RECKONING: The Australian Army suffered 1,538 casualties in Korea. Of these 281 were killed and missing. Total United Nations casualties were estimated at 73,500 men KIA. The South Koreans fared worst-with 45,000 KIA. The Americans had 25,600 KIA and other UN member nations lost 3,094 dead. 
  • The Republic of South Korea remained intact.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces