Australia in the Korean War 1950–53

Australia in the Korean War 1950–53 is the official history of Australia's involvement in the Korean War. The series consists of two volumes covering Australia's strategy and diplomacy in the war and the Australian military's combat operations respectively. Both volumes were written by Robert O'Neill, and they were published in 1981 and 1985.[1]

Australia in the Korean War 1950–53
AuthorRobert O'Neill
SubjectMilitary history of Australia during the Korean War
GenreMilitary history
PublisherAustralian War Memorial and the Australian Government Publishing Service
Publication date
1981 and 1985
Preceded byAustralia in the War of 1939–1945 
Followed byThe Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975 

Development and publication

In 1970 Robert O'Neill was selected by the Australian Government as the official historian of the Korean War.[2] O'Neill had served as the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment's intelligence officer during the Vietnam War,[3] and had later become an academic. At the time of his appointment he was head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.[3]

While the official histories of Australia in the First World War and Second World War had been written by teams of historians, O'Neill wrote the history of the Korean War with only a single research assistant based at the Australian War Memorial.[3] The Australian Government maintained its tradition of granting independence to the official historian, though the Attorney-General's Department attempted to influence the series' treatment of the journalist and alleged traitor Wilfred Burchett.[3] While the official history was originally planned as a single volume, O'Neill received permission to expand it to two volumes after discovering large amounts of material on the strategy and diplomacy behind Australia's involvement in the war.[4] In contrast with the official Australian histories of the world wars, O'Neill included footnotes and bibliographies to identify his sources.[5]

The first volume of the series, Strategy and Diplomacy, was published in 1981. It provided a detailed account of Australia's foreign and defence policies before and during the war, including in-depth discussion of the evolution of the ANZUS Treaty.[3][6]

The series' second volume, entitled Combat Operations, was published in 1985. The book's account of the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force's operations in Korea is highly detailed. Because the three services rarely operated together O'Neill was able to treat their operations separately when writing the book.[3]


Australia in the Korean War 1950–53 was generally well received by critics, though some argued that it was overly detailed. The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History states that the series is "scholarly and meticulous".[3] Historian Jeffrey Grey writes that the second volume is "essential reading, although the level of detail is not necessary for the general reader".[7] Peter Edwards, the editor of The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975, states that the first volume in the series has been of most importance to Australian historiography due to its "detailed and authoritative" coverage of the ANZUS treaty.[4] There was little public interest in the books after they were released, however, and sales of both volumes were slow.[3]


  1. ^ "Official Histories – Korean War". Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 15 May 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2009.
  2. ^ Edwards (2003), p. 70
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Dennis et al (2008), p. 401
  4. ^ a b Edwards (2003), p. 75
  5. ^ Edwards (2003), p. 74
  6. ^ Grey (2008), p. 317
  7. ^ Grey (2008), p. 318


  • Dennis, Peter; et al. (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-19-551784-2.
  • Edwards, Peter (2003). "Continuity and Change in the Australian Official History Tradition". In Jeffrey Grey (ed.). The Last Word?: Essays on Official History in the United States and British Commonwealth. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-31083-1.
  • Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (Third ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0.
Archer Denness

Major Archer Paterson Denness MC, (26 December 1914 – 12 September 1997) was an Australian Army officer who served during the Second World War and the Korean War.

Australia in the Korean War

The military history of Australia during the Korean War was very eventful. Japan's defeat in World War II heralded the end to 35 years of Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. The surrender of Japan to the Allied forces on 2 September 1945 led to the peninsula being subsequently divided into North and South Koreas, with the North being occupied by troops from the Soviet Union, and the South, below the 38th Parallel, being occupied by troops from the United States.

The Soviet forces entered the Korean peninsula on 10 August 1945, followed a few weeks later by the American forces who entered through Incheon. US Army Lieutenant General John R. Hodge formally accepted the surrender of Japanese forces south of the 38th Parallel on 9 September 1945 at the Japanese General Government Building in Seoul.Although both rival factions tried initially to diplomatically reunite the divided nation, it was the Northern faction that eventually decided to try and do so with military force. Troops from the Soviet backed Korean People's Army (KPA) crossed the 38th Parallel on 25 June 1950 beginning a civil war.

The invasion of South Korea came as a surprise to the United Nations. The same day the war had officially begun (25 June), the United Nations Security Council immediately drafted UNSC Resolution 82, which called for:

all hostilities to end and North Korea to withdraw to the 38th Parallel;

a UN Commission on Korea to be formed to monitor the situation and report to the Security Council;

all UN members to support the United Nations in achieving this, and refrain from providing assistance to the North Korean authorities.The Liberal government of Australia, led by Prime Minister Robert Menzies, immediately responded to the UN resolution by offering military assistance. 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, and they suffered 339 dead, and 1200 wounded.With the commitment of Australian forces to the Korean War, the Australian government called for 1000 men who had prior military experience in World War II to enlist in the army for three years, with one year of overseas service in Korea. They were called Korean Force or K-Force. A portion of the force were recruited in Great Britain. At the end of their enlistment, personnel recruited from the United Kingdom could elect to be discharged in Australia, or returned to the UK. Their previous military experience would facilitate rapid deployment to Korea.

Australia in the War of 1939–1945

Australia in the War of 1939–1945 is a 22-volume official history series covering Australian involvement in the Second World War. The series was published by the Australian War Memorial between 1952 and 1977, most of the volumes being edited by Gavin Long, who also wrote three volumes and the summary volume The Six Year War.

In contrast to the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, the series has a greater focus on the war's impact upon domestic events, including volumes on operations of the Australian Government and contributions made by Australian industry and science. Australia in the War of 1939–1945 includes a series on the history of the Australian military medical services and the problems encountered by these services during the war.

Battle of Maehwa-san

The Battle of Maehwa-San was a battle fought for control of the hills and area around Maehwasan mountain between the county of Hoengseong and the city of Wonju, between 7–12 March 1951, during the Korean War. The British Empire 27th British Commonwealth Brigade was tasked with eliminating the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) and North Korean Korean People's Army (KPA) forces occupying the area.

Battle of Sariwon

The Battle of Sariwon took place on 17 October 1950 during the United Nations (UN) counter-offensive against the North Korean forces which had invaded South Korea. With many Korean People's Army (KPA) units falling back under pressure from UN forces the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade under Brigadier Basil Coad—–comprising the 1st Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment, the 1st Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment and 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) captured the town of Sariwon during a confused and largely one-sided action. Elements of the 7th US Cavalry Regiment were also involved. KPA casualties included 215 killed and more than 3,700 captured, whilst British-Commonwealth losses were 1 killed and 3 wounded (all of them from the Argylls).

Battle of Uijeongbu (1951)

The Battle of Uijeongbu, also known as the Battle of Uijongbu, was a battle fought between 1–4 January 1951, at Uijeongbu, South Korea, as part of the United Nations Command (UN) retreat after the third Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) offensive after entering the Korean War. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) had been defending the approaches north of Seoul, as part of the withdrawal of the United Nations forces and tasked with slowing the Chinese advance to allow the withdrawal of the United States 8th Army.

Henry Wells (general)

Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wells, (22 March 1898 – 20 October 1973) was a senior officer in the Australian Army. Serving as Chief of the General Staff from 1954 to 1958, Wells' career culminated with his appointment as the first Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, a position marking him as the professional head of the Australian Military. He served in this capacity from March 1958 until March 1959, when he retired from the army.

Born in Victoria, Wells began his career in the Australian Army in 1916 when he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Graduating as a lieutenant three years later, he served in a variety of staff and instructional positions before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially posted to the 7th Division as a staff officer in 1940, Wells was promoted to lieutenant colonel and made senior liaison officer to I Corps. Serving in Greece and North Africa, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at El Alamein. Transferred to the South West Pacific theatre in 1943 as a brigadier, he served in the New Guinea Campaign with the headquarters of II Corps and later in the Borneo campaign with I Corps.

Wells was promoted to major general in 1946 and appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff. Following promotion to lieutenant general, he was made Commander-in-Chief, British Commonwealth Forces Korea from 1953 to 1954, serving during the last days of the war. In retirement, Wells was a director of several companies. Aged 75, he died in 1973.

Iron Triangle (Korea)

The Iron Triangle was a key communist Chinese and North Korean concentration area and communications junction during the Korean War, located in the central sector between Cheorwon and Gimhwa-eup in the south and Pyonggang in the north. The area was located 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 kilometres) above the 38th parallel in the diagonal corridor dividing the Taebaek Mountains into northern and southern ranges and contained the major road and rail links between the port of Wonsan in the northeast and Seoul in the southwest. During the war the area was the scene of heavy fighting between the Chinese People's Volunteer Army and the US Eighth Army during the Battle of White Horse and the Battle of Triangle Hill in October–November 1952. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill in March–July 1953 took place to the west of the Iron Triangle. This complex was eventually named the "Iron Triangle" by newsmen searching for a dramatic term. Today, the region straddles the Demilitarized Zone.

Jack Gerke

Jack Gerke, (7 June 1916 – 14 February 2005) was an officer in the Australian Army, serving in the Second World War and Korean War.

Jamestown Line

The Jamestown Line was a series of defensive positions occupied by United Nations forces in the Korean War. Following the end of the 1951 Chinese Spring Offensive and the UN May-June 1951 counteroffensive the war largely became one of attrition and trench warfare, fought along static defensive lines reminiscent of the First World War. As a consequence major UN ground operations from late spring—under the direction of Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgway—were primarily conducted to recapture or establish durable defensive lines, including the Wyoming, Missouri, Kansas and Jamestown Lines. The Jamestown Line stretched from the Imjin River near Munsan-ni then arched northeast 35 miles (56 km) in the strategically important sector of front from the Kimpo peninsula on the Yellow Sea coast to a point east of Kumhwa.The line was subsequently established during the UN counter-offensive between May and November 1951, just north of the 38th Parallel during Operation Commando (1951). Held by the US I Corps, this sector was just 30 miles (48 km) from the South Korean capital, Seoul. Five UN divisions of I Corps were used in its capture, including the US 1st Cavalry Division, the US 3rd and 25th Infantry Divisions, the South Korean 1st Division and the 1st Commonwealth Division. The Jamestown line was fought over almost continuously until the armistice on 27 July 1953; due to its strategic position it was the scene of much heavy fighting, including the Battle of the Samichon River just hours before the Armistice Agreement which ended the war.

Lou Spence

Louis Thomas Spence, DFC & Bar (4 April 1917 – 9 September 1950) was a fighter pilot and squadron commander in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). During World War II he flew with No. 3 Squadron, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), and commanded No. 452 Squadron, receiving a Mention in Despatches. He led No. 77 Squadron in the opening months of the Korean War, and was awarded a bar to his DFC, as well as the US Legion of Merit and the US Air Medal, for his leadership.

Born in Bundaberg, Queensland, Spence worked in a bank before joining the RAAF in March 1940. In August the following year he was posted to North Africa with No. 3 Squadron, which operated P-40 Tomahawks and Kittyhawks against German and Italian forces; he was credited with shooting down two German aircraft. Spence commanded No. 452 Squadron in 1944, flying Supermarine Spitfires in defence of Australia's North-Western Area against the Japanese. After a brief return to civilian life following World War II, he rejoined the RAAF in October 1946. He took command of No. 77 Squadron, operating P-51 Mustangs as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, in February 1950. The squadron went into action within a week of the outbreak of the Korean War in June. Spence was killed during a low-level mission over South Korea in September 1950.

No. 30 Transport Unit RAAF

No. 30 Transport Unit was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) unit that operated during the Korean War. It was formed in November 1950 as No. 30 Communications Unit and based at Iwakuni, Japan, as part of No. 91 (Composite) Wing. The unit was initially equipped with four Douglas C–47 Dakotas and two Austers, one of the Dakotas being the personal transport of Lieutenant General Sir Horace Robertson, commander of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). Another four Dakotas were sent to Japan due to operational demands. The unit's role in Korea was to support No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron by transporting supplies and equipment. It also delivered materials and stores to Australian and Commonwealth ground forces, and transported VIPs of the United Nations Command. Return journeys to Japan were often used to evacuate wounded personnel from the theatre. No. 30 Communications Unit was redesignated No. 30 Transport Unit in November 1951, and re-formed as No. 36 (Transport) Squadron in March 1953. The squadron remained in Korea following the armistice, and returned to Australia in June 1955.

No. 391 Squadron RAAF

No. 391 (Base) Squadron was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron that operated during the Korean War and its immediate aftermath. It was established in October 1950 as part of No. 91 (Composite) Wing, which administered RAAF units deployed in the conflict. Apart from No. 391 Squadron, these included No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron, No. 30 Communications Unit (redesignated No. 30 Transport Unit in 1951 and No. 36 (Transport) Squadron in 1953), and No. 491 (Maintenance) Squadron. No. 391 Squadron was headquartered at Iwakuni, Japan, as were No. 91 Wing's other components with the exception of No. 77 Squadron, which was located on the Korean peninsula. The base squadron was responsible for administrative, logistical, medical, communications and security functions at Iwakuni, and also maintained detachments in South Korea. It included a marine section for harbour patrols and search-and-rescue in the waters off southern Japan. No. 391 Squadron was disbanded at the same time as No. 91 Wing headquarters, in April 1955.

No. 491 Squadron RAAF

No. 491 (Maintenance) Squadron was a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron that operated during the Korean War and its immediate aftermath. It was unusual in that it was never based in Australia, being formed and dissolved in Japan. The squadron was established in October 1950 as part of No. 91 (Composite) Wing, which administered all RAAF units deployed as part of Australia's involvement in the Korean War. Apart from No. 491 Squadron, these included No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron, No. 30 Communications Unit (redesignated No. 30 Transport Unit in 1951 and No. 36 (Transport) Squadron in 1953), and No. 391 (Base) Squadron. No. 77 Squadron was based on the Korean peninsula, while No. 491 Squadron and No. 91 Wing's other components were headquartered at Iwakuni, Japan. The maintenance squadron was responsible for the upkeep of all No. 91 Wing aircraft at Iwakuni, and a section was attached to No. 77 Squadron in South Korea to assist with day-to-day servicing. No. 491 Squadron was disbanded in December 1954.

No. 77 Squadron RAAF

No. 77 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron headquartered at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. It is controlled by No. 81 Wing, and equipped with McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters. The squadron was formed at RAAF Station Pearce, Western Australia, in March 1942 and saw action in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, operating Curtis P-40 Kittyhawks. After the war, it re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and deployed to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. The squadron was about to return to Australia when the Korean War broke out in June 1950, after which it joined United Nations forces supporting South Korea. It converted from Mustangs to Gloster Meteor jets between April and July 1951 and remained in Korea until October 1954, claiming five MiG-15s and over five thousand buildings and vehicles destroyed during the war for the loss of almost sixty aircraft, mainly to ground fire.

The squadron re-equipped with CAC Sabres at Williamtown in November 1956. Two years later it transferred to RAAF Butterworth in Malaya to join the air campaign against communist guerrillas in the last stages of the Emergency. The squadron remained at Butterworth during the 1960s, providing regional air defence during the Konfrontasi between Indonesia and Malaysia. It returned to Williamtown in early 1969 to re-equip with Dassault Mirage III supersonic jet fighters. No. 77 Squadron began converting to Hornets in June 1987. It supplied a detachment of four aircraft to the American base on Diego Garcia in 2001–02, supporting the war in Afghanistan, and deployed to the Middle East as part of the military intervention against ISIL in 2015–16. Along with its Hornets, the squadron briefly operated Pilatus PC-9s in the forward air control role in the early 2000s. The RAAF plans to replace its Hornets with Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters commencing in 2018, and No. 77 Squadron is scheduled to convert to the new type in 2021.

Operation Blaze

Operation Blaze (2 July 1952) was a United Nations Command (UN) operation near Kangao-ri during the Korean War to capture a prisoner. The raid involved a company-sized attack from the newly arrived 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) on Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) positions on Hill 227. Although the Australians were able to take some of the PVA positions on the hill, they did not achieve all of their objectives and were eventually forced to withdraw after running out of ammunition.

Order of battle of Australian forces during the Korean War

The order of battle of Australian forces during the Korean War consisted of one, and later two infantry battalions, naval forces of one aircraft carrier, two destroyers, and one frigate, as well as air forces consisting of one fighter squadron and one transport squadron. The first forces were committed in July 1950 from units based in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, with Australia being the first UN member nation after the United States to commit elements from all three services. A total of 17,808 Australians served during the Korean War, including 1,193 members of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), 5,771 from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and 10,844 from the Australian Army, with casualties including 341 killed and 1,216 wounded. Australian forces remained following the end of hostilities, with the last units finally departing in 1956.

Robert J. O'Neill

Robert John O'Neill, (born 5 November 1936) is an Australian historian and academic. He is chair of the International Academic Advisory Committee at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, was director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London, from 1982 to 1987, and Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford from 1987 to 2000.

The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975

The Official History of Australia's Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts 1948–1975 covers Australia's involvement in the Malayan Emergency, Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation and Vietnam War. The series is an official history and was funded by the Australian Government and published by Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial. Peter Edwards was appointed the official historian for the series in 1982. The series comprises nine volumes, which were published between 1992 and 2012. A single-volume summary of the series, Australia and the Vietnam War, was published in 2014.

The coverage of the effects of Agent Orange in volume 3 of the series has been criticised by some Australian veterans of the Vietnam War, who argue that it presented veterans who sought compensation as being dishonest. In 2015 the Australian War Memorial commissioned a book to consider the long-term effects of Agent Orange on veterans' health, as well other medical effects of the war.

Australia in the Korean War
Australian units and formations
Battles involving Australian units
Order of battle

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