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Korea - The Forgotten War



Left: Australian Troops lead a UN parade of Korean Veterans
through the streets of New York, USA, 1953.


The Korean War started with alarming suddenness when on 25th June 1950 Communist North Korean troops, solidly supported by Soviet equipment crossed the 38th parallel dividing the north from the south.


Australia which still had troops stationed in occupied Japan as part of the BCOF was one of the first countries to join the United States in going to South Korea's assistance. HMA Ships Bataan and Shoalhaven were still on duty in Japan as was the RAAF's No. 77 Squadron, equipped with mustang fighters at Iwakuni. These units were immediately placed on alert. HMAS Shoalhaven being the first Australian unit to begin operations. In July she escorted a USN Ammunition ship to Pusan. A few days later Bataan began ops followed in September by Warramunga replacing Shoalhaven who was due for refit. Bataan carried out coastal bombardments in support of troop landings in June and July. Warramunga supported the landings at Inchon on 15th September and two weeks later in October assisted with coastal bombardments for Allied landings on the South East Coast and in bombardments of Chongiin to the North.


With the Allied reverses following the Chinese intervention into the war Seoul again fell to the communists and it became necessary to evacuate the Port of Chinnanpo, South West of Pyongyang. Early in December Warramunga and Bataan, together with other allied ships were sent to the area to act as 'watchdogs' for the evacuation and Bataan assisted in blowing up the oil storages.


Bataan was relieved in 1951 by Murchison which took part in shore bombardments on the west coast during July. On the 28th September in the Han River estuary Murchison was hit by fire from the shore batteries and three of her crew were wounded.


It became obvious that the war becoming protracted and the Australian Government agreed to commit more forces


 Three more ships were committed, the new carrier HMAS Sydney, and the destroyers 'Anzac' and 'Tobruk' were allotted.. Sydney arrived in the area in September and relieved HMS Glory, and the following month began patrols of the west coast. Her aircraft consisted of Sea-Furies of 805 and 808 Squadrons and fireflies of 817 Squadron which began flying ops on 5 October.


The first weeks saw HMAS Sydney launching air strikes on the east and west coasts, mostly against troop concentrations and railways. Three aircraft were shot down but all pilots were rescued. On 5 November a Sea fury was shot down and the pilot killed. Later in the month HMA Ships Sydney and Tobruk took part in attacks off the east coast, returning to the west coast in December. On 7 December Sydney's second death occurred with the loss of a Sea-Fury and its pilot due to AA fire. On 2 January another Sea-Fury and pilot failed to return.


Above: HMAS Tobruk on Station in Korea.


HMAS Sydney returned to Australia in February 1952 and HMA Ships Bataan and Warramunga (not ANZAC as some official history records show- Thanks to Tom Hamilton a Warramunga Korean Veteran) returned to Korea to continue coastal blockades and shore bombardments until the wars end. Tobruk joined them in June 1953, followed by the frigate Condamine two months later. Finally the frigate Culgoa arrived for duty in April 1953 and Condamine returned home.


SYDNEY and Escorts Replenishing  on Station in Korean Waters


The uneasy 'peace' following the end of hostilities on 27 July 1953 made it easy for the Allies to maintain a peace keeping force in Korea. HMA Ships Sydney, Tobruk, Arunta, Condamine, Shoalhaven and Murchison all did post war duty for varying periods until November 1955. The Korean war had cost the R.A.N. three pilots killed and one wounded from Sydney, three sailors wounded in action in Murchison and one each from Bataan and Condamine, Sydney's aircraft flew 2366 sorties, dropped 410,000 lbs of bombs and fired 6359 Rockets plus 270,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition.


The destroyers and frigates fired more than 25,000 rounds from their main armament and more than 60,000 rounds of 40mm and two pounder ammunition.


A total of 311 officers and 4196 men of the R.A.N. served in operations in Korea. Sixty six of them were decorated as follows: CBE 1, DSO 2, OBE 3, MBE 3, DSC 11, Bar to DSC 2, 2nd Bar to DSC 1, DSM 3, BEM 4, MID 36.



BY: J.H. Straczek, Senior Naval Historical Officer


Since 1910 Korea had been an integral part of the Japanese Empire. The people of Korea, however, sought independence and many influential Koreans agitated for such overseas. Dreams of Korean independence appeared to have become a reality when the Cairo Declaration of 1 December 1943 made Korean independence an Allied war aim. This declaration was followed by a decision, between the United States and America, to divide Korea at the 38th parallel in order that the occupying Japanese could be disarmed.


The decision to divide Korea had one unforseen consequence. The northern half was ultimately closed and a communist regime established under Kim Il-sung, whilst in the south United Nations sponsored elections were held. The situation along the 38th parallel remained tense and finally on 25 June 1950 North Korea invade the South. United Nations reaction to this invasion was swift and on 27 June the United Nations requested assistance for South Korea.
On the 29 June the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies decided to place HMA Ships SHOALHAVEN and BATAAN at the disposal of United Nations authorities in support of the Republic of Korea. From this time onwards until the cessation of maritime operations on 27 July 1953, RAN units played a major role in support of United Nations operations.


Predominantly RAN destroyers and frigates were involved in conducting blockade, escort and bombardment duties on both sides of the Korean Peninsular.


Escort and blockade duties were generally tedious but none the less essential. The frigate SHOALHAVEN served as on escort duties until relieved by HMAS WARRAMUNGA. On occasion, with ships carrying out coastal blockade duties close to shore, enemy shore batteries would open fire. The first such exchange involving an RAN ship occurred on 1 August 1950 when BATAAN was attacked by shore batteries whilst patrolling the northern approaches to the Seoul R. BATAAN returned fire and silenced four of the enemy guns. The cruiser HMS BELFAST soon joined BATAAN and both ships engaged the enemy. BATAAN was straddled by enemy fire on a number of occasions during the duel.


On 29 August WARRAMUNGA provided escort support for the first non-American troops to arrive in Korea. These British troops were landed at Pusan. WARRAMUNGA was also to act as part of the screen for the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS TRIUMPH when she operated off the east coast near Wusan.


Both WARRAMUNGA and BATAAN were assigned to screening duties for the Allied landings at Inchon on 15 September. At about this time it was also decided to extend the period of RAN ships to a year. This was because the RAN was unable to provide relief ships. Five years after World War Two the RAN had difficulty in sustaining two ships on war service. Both ships were to spend most of their service conducting patrols and bombardments of enemy positions and facilities. They were operating near the Yalu River when China intervened on the side of North Korea.


BATAAN was relieved by HMAS MURCHISON in June 1951. During her deployment MURCHISON was to gain fame, and good fortune, during engagements with enemy shore batteries off the Han River. In September/October 1951 whilst patrolling near the Han River MURCHISON was engaged by a mixed group of enemy guns ranging from 75 mm to 50 mm and smaller. In the ensuing gun duel MURCHISON returned fire with her main armament and 40 mm Bofors guns. Her intense and accurate fire quickly silenced the enemy guns. The next day, while patrolling the same area MURCHISON was again engaged by enemy shore batteries. In this instant MURCHISON received a number of hits, fortunately there were no fatalities. With the arrival of other ships the Communist batteries were quickly silenced.


By this stage WARRAMUNGA had been relieved by HMAS ANZAC. During her tour of duty ANZAC was engaged in conducting the patrols as well as landing intelligence teams and some train hunting. ANZAC's short deployment came to an end on 30 September 1951 when she escorted HMS GLORY to Australia for a refit. ANZAC was replaced by HMAS TOBRUK.


In addition to the operations of the destroyers and frigates the aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY and embarked squadrons were also deployed to the Korean theatre. Her first operations were on 4 October 1951 on the west coast. After transferring to the east coast she commenced operations against enemy troop concentrations and suspected supply dumps. On 21 October SYDNEY's aircraft attack a large concentration of junks preparing to launch an assault on Taehwa Do Island. Other operations included support for the Commonwealth Division and search and rescue patrols.


SYDNEY's aircraft were generally engaged in operations against lines of communication, troop concentrations and industrial infra-structure. Weather conditions were a major influence on operations at this stage. During the middle of her deployment SYDNEY was operating off Korea in the northern winter at time sub-zero temperatures were experienced. Such conditions limited flying operations.


SYDNEY's deployment to the Korean theatre resulted in the general introduction of fluorescent panels to aid rescue aircraft. The system devised by CAPT Harries to aid rescue aircraft in locating downed crews were so successful that it was recommended for general introduction.


After a stay of six months SYDNEY departed for Australia accompanied by TOBRUK. MURCHISON also left the war zone, she had spent a total of 60 days in the Han River region. By this stage WARRAMUNGA and BATAAN had returned to Korea. On 14 February BATAAN was hit by enemy coastal batteries but no major was sustained. In March WARRAMUNGA was also the target of enemy shore based fire but was not hit. Both ships continued to be engaged in patrol and bombardment work throughout this second deployment.


In the second half of 1952 the ANZAC and HMAS CONDAMINE were deployed to the war zone. In September and October CONDAMINE defeated an attempt by Communist forces to capture the Island of Tok Som. Whilst ANZAC, like the hips she relieved, received the unwelcome attention of North Korean shore batteries. By this stage the war on the peninsular had reached a stalemate and serious attempts were being made to resolve the situation. However, it would not be until July 1953 that naval operations would be halted and by that stage two more RAN ships had deployed to Korea. These were HMAS CULGOA and TOBRUK. During her deployment CULGOA aided in the evacuation of Allied troops from Yong Mae do Island. The naval war off Korea ended on the 27 July 1953. However, RAN units continued to serve in the area for some time to come in support of the United Nations.


As well as conducting military operations in the Korean theatre of operations members of the RAN provided assistance to the general populace. Throughout 1950/51 RAN ships regularly mercy runs to off shore islands carrying rice and other food stuffs. HMAS CONDAMINE, in 1952, discovered about 100 orphaned Korean children living with the locals on an island off the west coast. The ship's company provided these children with warm clothing, fruit chocolate and meat. On a subsequent trip the ship delivered a large number of toys purchased with money collected by the sailors.


Statistical data relating to RAN Korean Operations:

HMA Ships Deployed:


SYDNEY A/C 31 August 1951 - 22 February 1952
ANZAC D 6 August - 17 October 1951
    6 September 1952 - 26 June 1953
BATAAN D 10 June 1950 - 6 June 1951
    17 January - 25 September 1952
TOBRUK D 31 August 1951 - 23 February 1952
    3 June 1953 - 12 February 1954
WARRAMUNGA D 14 August 1950 - 29 August 1951
    17 January - 8 August 1952
CULGOA F 14 March - 26 June 1953
CONDAMINE F 4 July 1952 - 10 April 1953
MURCHISON F 9 May 1951 - 17 February 1952
SHOALHAVEN F 27 June - 22 September 1950


A/C = Aircraft Carrier
D = Destroyer
F = Frigate

RAN Squadrons Deployed (HMAS SYDNEY):


805 Squadron
808 Squadron
871 Squadron


Operational Sorties Flown: 2,366
Aircraft Lost: 11
Aircraft Damaged: 77
Number of Flying Days: 42.8
Daily Sortie Rate: 55.2


Ammunition Expended:

Rockets 6,359
1000lb Bombs 18
500lb Bombs 784
20mm Cannon 269,249 rounds
2 pdr


Killed 1
Missing 2
Wounded 6
Total 9