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Thursday 8 October, 2015
On Tuesday just passed, I attended commemorations for the Battle of Maryang San – one of several battles in which 3RAR distinguished itself in the Korean War (1950 – 53). It is incredible to think that next year will be the 65th anniversary of this important battle.
There is a strong connection between 3RAR and South Australia. The battalion was based at Woodside from 1965 to 1981 except for two deployments to Vietnam in 1967-68 and 1971. Consequently many soldiers married South Australian girls and after service, settled throughout the state. You only need to see the number marching with 3RAR in Adelaide on Anzac Day to confirm their presence here.
Many will have relatives who served in World War 1. I had a great uncle who served briefly in Egypt and France before being medically evacuated to the UK and then Australia. I have always been in awe of the feats and endurance of those who served under such dreadful conditions at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, and I am thankful that the conditions I served under in Korea and Vietnam were not as bad.
The history of 3RAR, previously known as the 67th Battalion, dates back to its formation in 1945. From March 1946 the battalion was posted to Japan to carry out duties in the Hiroshima Prefecture as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) based in Kure. When the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, 3RAR was brought up to strength, arriving in Korea on 28 September 1950. The next seven months were spent on continuous operations with the 27th British Brigade under the United Nations Force, pushing the North Koreans north to Chongju about 30 kilometres south of the Yalu River on the border with China.
On 1 November, 1950 the Chinese Army, which had secretly crossed into North Korea, attacked in strength. It was an offensive that would take them to the South Korean capital, Seoul. As part of a general withdrawal, the 27th Brigade occupied an area about 50km southeast of the capital, then months later advancing to establish defensive positions just south of the 38th parallel, the so called ‘Kansas Line’.
On 23rd April, 1951, after the enemy had commenced a general offensive the day prior, 27th Brigade was ordered to occupy positions astride the Kapyong Valley. The Battle of Kapyong then took place over the period 23-24 April for which 3RAR was awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation. The battalion suffered 28 KIA, 4 died of wounds, 3 were taken prisoner and 59 wounded.
The UN front was stabilised and Truce Talks began in June. 3RAR had become part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade moving north to the Imjin River where it remained static until October. The 1st Commonwealth Division was formed on 28th July comprising the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade and 29th British Infantry Brigade, as well as the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars (Centurion tanks), Sherman tanks of the Canadian Lord Strathcona’s Horse and an Artillery Regiment from Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
The Battle of Maryang San (Hill 317) took place over the period 2-7 October, 1951 and 3RAR was not only involved in the capture of the division’s first objective, Hill 355, but went on to capture Hill 317 after a series of company and platoon attacks orchestrated by our brilliant CO, then Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hassett, who was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order by the 1st Commonwealth Divisional Commander, Major General Jim Cassels, immediately after the battle concluded. Casualties suffered were 21 killed, 5 of whom had already survived the Battle of Kapyong, and 104 wounded.
As Intelligence Officer for 3RAR during this operation, I think the statement written by Australia’s official historian for the Korean War, Robert O’Neill, says it all:
“In this action 3RAR had 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 commanders responded skilfully to Hassett’s direction, and the individual soldiers showed high courage, tenacity and morale despite some very difficult situations, such as 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”.
During this Anzac Centenary we commemorate 100 years since the landing at Gallipoli. Although the weapons of war have certainly changed, the impact of loss has not. We recall those who gave their lives in Korea with that uneasy mixture of pride and sorrow; the inevitable cost of all conflicts where Australian men and women are called upon to serve.
Col. Peter Scott DSO is author of Command in Vietnam: Reflections of a Commanding Officer, Slouch Hat Publications (2007) and editor of A Matter of Pride, A Short History of the RMC Class of 1948 (2005).