Remembering the ‘Forgotten War’
Friday 12 July, 2019
In September 1945 Australia breathed a collective sigh of relief with the end of World War II. Sadly a short five years later, Australia once again found itself supporting our allies at war.
Japan had colonial rule over Korea from 1910, however, at the end of World War II, Japan’s surrender to the Allies resulted in the end of the countries control over Korea. At that time, Korea was divided into North and South Korea at the 38th parallel and the Soviet Union and the United States began to influence the areas.
By the end of 1948 the Republic of Korea, (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) were established.
Two years later, with neither South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee, nor North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, content to stay on their side of the border, and a desire for a united undivided Korea, the war began.
On June 25, 1950 communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The North had begun the push with little resistance, towards the South Korean capital, Seoul. North Korean propaganda claimed that is was a reaction to a South Korean attack. The Soviet Union and United States both had agendas promoting communism and capitalism respectively, hence their involvement in defence of the Korean nations.
To the US, the advance into South Korea was the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world and almost immediately the United Nations committed to the defence of South Korea against the North Korean aggression.
The President of the United States of the time, Harry Truman, claimed: “If we let Korea down the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.”
Australia was motivated to contribute both by the threat of the impact and advancement of communism as described by President Truman, as well as the opportunity to firm the alliance with the United States. (The Australia/United States engagement in Korea eventually became one of the major contributing factors in the formation of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951.)
Therefore, when the United Nations asked its member states to help fulfil its charter of maintaining international peace and security by assisting South Korea to resist invasion from the north, Australia was one of 21 countries that responded to the call.
Only five years after the end of World War II and still recovering from this conflict, Australia was in battle again. Troops, ships, aircraft and medical teams were assembled within a matter of weeks.
Yesterday they had their heads well down against a torrent of incoming fire, today after the cease fire, these soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), start carrying their ammunition off The Hook to a reserve company position. As part of the ceasefire agreement parts of the UN line, including that held by 2RAR had to be withdrawn south of the agreed demilitarized zone.
Throughout the three year war, Australia fought in many battles, including the battles of Kapyong and Maryang San. Collectively, 52 Australians lost their lives in these two battles.
On 27 July 1953 an armistice finally brought an end to the forceful and arduous fighting. In the days immediately following the signing of the armistice in Panmunjom, forces from both sides pulled back and a 4 kilometre wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established. The DMZ was intended to keep the warring nations apart, was constantly patrolled and any unauthorised personnel quickly apprehended.
Although the fighting had ceased, widespread anxiety and uncertainty remained. The armistice was only a formalised suspension of hostilities and no one in Korea knew if or when fighting might resume. Soldiers from both countries continued to train and build stronger defences in preparation for the worst.
It took the United States over a year after the signing of the armistice to finally begin reducing the number of troops in Korea. It was only then that Australia was able to withdraw one of its infantry battalions, most of its aircraft and one of its warships. By April 1956, only a few Australian signallers remained in Korea.
17,000 Australians from the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Regular Army and Royal Australian Air Force committed to supporting the United States in defending South Korea. This commitment cost 340 Australians their lives and more than 1,200 were wounded as a result.
The North Korean Army and their allies lost 1,350,000 dead or wounded during the conflict.
Each year, on the anniversary of the armistice, the Korean War is commemorated. Known as Korean Veterans’ Day, it is a time to remember those who fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice for Australia in the Korean War.
Korea, c. 1951-02. Six members of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), make their way along a dike or embankment at the edge of a terrace farm, as they head off on patrol in a snow-covered valley. (Donor I. Robertson)
Australia’s participation in the Korean War included the following units:
o Royal Australian Regiment 1RAR, 2RAR, 3RAR
o 1st Commonwealth Division
o HMAS Shoalhaven
o HMAS Bataan
o HMAS Warramunga
o HMAS Shoalhaven
o HMAS Sydney
o 805 Squadron
o 808 Squadron
o RAN 817 Squadron
o RAN 77 Squadron RAAF
Editors, History.com. “Korean War.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/korea/korean-war.
Lewis, S. (2008). Korea: The Undeclared War. 1st ed. Adelaide, SA: The Royal Australian Regiment Association (SA Branch) Inc.
Steel, N. (2008). ‘A Truce is not Peace’. Wartime Magazine, (43), pp.44-47.
Memorial, T. and Memorial, T. (2019). Home | The Australian War Memorial. [online] Awm.gov.au. Available at: https://www.awm.gov.au [Accessed 9 Jul. 2019].
For More Information about the Korean War, check out these other Veterans SA articles: