Military History

This Week In History | Week 27

By The Cove June 17, 2020


Week 27 | 29 June - 5 July

 

29 June 1950 | Australia commits military units to the United Nations Force in Korea

In the aftermath of the Second World War (1939-1945), communities were still coming to terms with the devastation which that conflict had caused and the millions it had killed. Yet only five years after the end of WWII, another was to break out, this time in Korea, and again Australia would commit its forces. 

Korea was a place that few Australians knew much about, until 1950. Yet Australia was one of the first nations to commit units, from each of the three services, to the war in Korea under the banner of the newly formed United Nations (UN). From 1950-53, 17,000 Australians in the Army, Navy and Air Force fought as part of the UN multinational force, defending South Korea from the Communist force of North Korea. (AWM)

 

30 June 1942 | Australian troops raid Salamaua, New Guinea

Salamaua was occupied by the Japanese on 8 March 1942. A handful of pre-war residents of the town joined the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles and fled into the bush to spy on the Japanese.

In June 1942, the only fit, trained Australian troops in the area were around 450 men of the 2/5th Independent Company. It was decided that this force was too small to tackle the Japanese head-on in battle but was big enough to undertake a raid. The raid was planned and led by Captain Norman Winning, using reconnaissance from the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles under the command of Sergeant Jim McAdam. Their targets were the airfield, wireless masts, a bridge and troop billets.

The troops left their base at 2pm on 28 June. They were seven sections, one of which carried a 3-inch mortar. Their other weapons included Tommy guns, rifles, Bren guns, grenades and a sticky bomb.

The raid began at 3.14 am and went for around 45 minutes. Two red flares were sent up signalling a withdrawal. All the targets were successfully hit and over 120 Japanese had been killed for the cost of only 3 Australians wounded. It has been called the first offensive action on land against the Japanese in World War II.

 

01 July 1916 | First day of the battle of the Somme

01 June 1916 was the worst single day in the history of the British army, with 60,000 men being killed or wounded by nightfall. Despite these loses, the battle of the Somme continued for four months and resulted in more than 1,200,000 casualties on both sides.

The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies. The French and British had committed themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agreed upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans called for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army began the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on 21 February 1916, French commanders diverted many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the "supporting" attack by the British became the principal effort. The British troops on the Somme comprised a mixture of the remains of the pre-war regular army, the Territorial Force, and "Kitchener's Army" - a force of volunteer recruits.

 

01 July 1945 | 7th Division landed at Balikpapan, Borneo

The Battle of Balikpapan took place during the concluding stage of Operation Oboe, the campaign to liberate Japanese-held Borneo. The landings took place on 1 July 1945. The Australian 7th Division (composed of the 18th, 21st and 25th Infantry Brigades), with a small number of Netherlands East Indies KNIL troops, made an amphibious landing, a few miles north of Balikpapan. The landing had been preceded by heavy bombing and shelling by Australian and US air and naval forces. The Allied force totalled 33,000 personnel, while the Japanese force numbered between 8,400 and 10,000 - of which between 3,100 and 3,900 were combatants. After the initial landing, the Allies secured the town and its port, before advancing along the coast and into the hinterland, capturing the two Japanese airfields. Major combat operations concluded around 21 July, but were followed by mopping-up operations which lasted until the end of the war in mid-August. Australian troops remained in the area until early 1946.

 
02 July 1952 | Operation Blaze

Operation Blaze was a United Nations Command operation near Kangao-ri during the Korean War. 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.  The raid was 1 RAR's first major action of the war and was to be carried out in broad daylight. The objectives of the raid were to take prisoners for the purpose of gathering intelligence and to overrun the garrison stationed on Hill 227.

Preceded by a bombardment from supporting artillery, the attack on Hill 227 started at 09:00. With the assaulting troops wearing American issue body armour, and with flamethrower and demolition platoons attached, the company gained the top within half an hour and immediately faced heavy and accurate PVA small arms, mortar and artillery fire. Company headquarters received two direct hits from mortar fire, killing the wireless operator and wounding the artillery forward observation officer and two other members.

Only two out of six bunkers targeted for capture were subsequently occupied and the Australians attempted to flush the PVA out into the open. However, the assaulting force was unable to dislodge the remaining PVA defenders, nor were they able to capture a prisoner.

Alpha Company remained in possession of Hill 227 stronghold for 90 minutes, before being directed to withdraw due to running out of ammunition.

Although the Australians failed to achieve all their objectives, it was not a complete failure for them. The PVA positions atop Hill 227 were largely destroyed and the operation provided 1 RAR with vital experience against the PVA.  Alpha Company also gained high praise for their conduct, with the operation overseen from a nearby observation post on Hill 210 by a variety of senior US, UN and Australian generals.

For their actions Major David Thomson and Lieutenant G.J Lucas were later awarded the Military Cross. Corporal Edward Taylor received the Military Medal and the US Silver Star was awarded to Corporal H.E Patch. Three Australians were killed and 34 were wounded, one of whom died the next day.

 

04 July 1918 | The Battle of Hamel

The Battle of Hamel was a small-scale, brilliantly successful advance made by elements of the Australian Corps under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash. The purpose of the attack was to take the high ground east of the village of Hamel. This ridge was important to the Germans if they planned to capture Amiens. To the British forces, it would help an advance further east along both banks of the Somme.

On 4 July 1918, with 1,000 United States infantrymen attached, four brigades drawn from 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions (totalling 8,000 men) attacked Hamel with 550 guns, 60 tanks and 85 aircraft in support. In 93 minutes, the Australians had taken all their objectives, advancing 2km on a 6km front. The Germans lost 2,600 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Some 1,260 Australians and Americans were killed or wounded. The battle was regarded as a model of innovative tactics, one which was repeated on a larger scale in the series of Allied advances from 8 August which ended the war.


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The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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