The Aussie Spirit And The Forgotten Battle Of Maryang San

What happened to the Aussies during Operation Commando in 1951?

“The victory of Maryang San is probably the greatest single feat of the Australian Army
during the Korean War.”
– Robert O’Neil, official war historian for the Korean War.

It was early October 1951. Mist had covered the ridges of Maryang Sang, (hill 317), Korea. Chinese forces were positioned high on the hill overlooking the Imjin river, the Commonwealth forces held the nearby area.

The Maryang San needed to be secured, if not, Chinese forces would continue to dominate the ground to the South. It was mountainous and rugged area, providing both sides equal opportunity to move undetected under thick foliage.

Under orders, the British Commonwealth Division was required to push a general advance, in an effort to force the communist forces back north of the 38th parallel. The allies pushed forward twice unsure of their opponent resulting in heavy casualties.

It wasn’t until Commander of the 3RAR, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hasset devised a plan, that the allies were able to advance. He saw a similarity in strategy. Drawing from the Aussie’s experience in Papua New Guinea during World War II, Hasset planned to “run the ridges”, attacking along the crest of the ridge instead of running up the sides. If his plan succeeded, the UN would have more leverage in later armistice negotiations.

Image: Maryang San is the highest pyramid-shaped hill to the right, Australian War Memorial

It was a risk, one that was never thought to succeed. Before the attack the next morning Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Colonel) Maurie Pears remembered the night as ”deadly quiet and calm, you could hear a pin drop.”

Morning came on October 5th, a heavy mist had fallen over the ridge. It was 4am, British regiments were attacking further West, A-company clawed up the south-east drawing the Chinese forces away from the main ridges, freeing B and D companies to move up from the east.

The thick fog blanketed the allied advances temporarily. However, as both companies discovered navigating through a thick mist was a difficult task and the two teams lost contact. Company D fought bravely and managed to capture four knolls before the ridgeline. By late afternoon C Company, re-joined the battalion after assisting the British with the battle of Kowang San (Hill 355 or Little Gibraltor). Company C moved forward after capturing a feature known as “baldy” toward the now abandoned summit.

Image: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hassett celebrates his 34th birthday with Major Jeffrey "Jim" Shelton, 4 November 1951. Australian War Memorial

They fought into the next day, with the Aussies holding their position on the summit firmly under heavy Chinese artillery and machine fire. The “hinge” a high point on the West ridge was captured, heavy Chinese bombardment continued throughout the following days making evacuation for casualties and those injured difficult. The Chinese fought particularly hard in a desperate last attempt to reclaim the ridge. The Australians held the ridge fiercely until the Chinese forces were forced to evacuate. Private Jim McFadzean, Signaller, from C Company, 3 RAR said of the Australians:

“Surprise, speed and aggression had won the day.”

The attack resulted in the death of twenty brave Australians with a further 89 Aussies injured. The battle was praised, Warrant Officer Arthur Stanley described the take-over of Maryang San, one of the best planned operations, fought with outstanding bravery by all who took part.

Lead image: Machine-gunners fire in support of C Company during Operation Commando, Australian War Memorial

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