The Battle of Maryang San
Friday 13 September, 2019
Between 3 and 8 October 1951, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), fought in the Battle of Maryang-San, Korea. It was the second major battle in which the Australians fought in that year and was the last major UN offensive of the Korean War. The attack aimed to drive the communist forces north of the 38th parallel and prevent the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) from interdicting the UN supply lines near Seoul.
The allies had pushed forward twice, unsuccessfully, resulting in heavy casualties. The Commanding Officer of 3RAR, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hasset, devised a plan, drawing on experience in Papua New Guinea during WW2 that would see the allies advance. Hasset planned to “run the ridges”, attacking along the crest of the ridge instead of assaulting up the slopes.
On the morning of October 5th, a heavy mist had fallen over the ridges of Maryang San. At 4am, British regiments were attacking further west as Alpha Company, 3 RAR clawed up the south-east drawing the Chinese forces away from the main ridges, freeing Bravo and Delta Companies to move up from the east.
Thick fog blanketed the allied advance and both companies found navigating through a thick mist a difficult task and the two teams lost contact. Delta Company fought bravely and managed to capture four knolls before the ridgeline. By late afternoon Charlie Company re-joined the battalion after assisting the British at the Battle of Kowang San (Hill 355). Charlie Company moved forward after capturing a feature known as “baldy” toward the now abandoned summit.
Fighting into the next day, the Australians held their position on the summit under heavy Chinese artillery and machine fire. The “hinge”, a high point on the west ridge was captured and heavy Chinese bombardment continued throughout the following days making evacuation of casualties and those injured difficult. The Chinese fought particularly hard in a desperate attempt to reclaim the ridge.
The Australians held the ridge fiercely until the Chinese forces were forced to evacuate.
Australian casualties were 20 killed and 104 wounded. More than 340 Chinese were killed or wounded.
The official historian for the Korean War, Robert O’Neill, wrote of this battle:
“In this action 3RAR had won one of the most impressive victories achieved by any Australian battalion. In five days of heavy fighting 3RAR dislodged a numerically superior enemy from a position of great strength. The Australians were successful in achieving surprise on 3 and 5 October, the company and platoon showed high courage, tenacity and morale despite some very difficult situations, such as that of D company when the mist rose on 5 October and those of B and C Companies when the weight of enemy fire threatened their isolation of Hill 317 on 7 October … The victory of Maryang San is probably the greatest single feat of the Australian Army during the Korean War.”
By 5 November, after the Australians were withdrawn to recuperate, Maryang San had been recaptured by the Chinese and remained in the hands of Chinese forces for the rest of the war.
On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed suspending the Korean War after three years of heavy fighting.
More than 17,000 Australian sailors, soldiers and airmen served in the Korean War. Australian casualties were 339 killed, 1216 wounded and 29 prisoners of war with 43 Australian servicemen still listed as Missing In Action.
More than 36,000 Americans died in the conflict, making it the fifth deadliest in US history, along with an estimated 5 million Koreans and at least 150,000 Chinese.
Informal group portrait of non-wounded survivors of the 5th Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) after the company was withdrawn from the line at the end of the Battle of Maryang San in October 1951. The 5th Platoon helped capture the Hinge feature and held it through days of heavy shelling and human wave assaults.
Read the Anzac Centenary Think Piece contributed by Colonel Peter Scott DSO (Rtd) here.