Military History

This Week in History | Week 43

By The Cove October 19, 2020

Week 43 | 19 - 25 October


20 October 1992 | First Australian troops arrived in Somalia

In late 1990 and throughout 1991, Somalia collapsed into clan warfare and then civil war. As 1992 progressed the civil war worsened and the country effectively ceased to function as an organised nation state. Mass starvation and anarchy followed. Beginning tentatively in September 1992, the UN stepped in to protect the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to reconstitute Somalia as a functioning political, social and economic entity.

On 20 October 1992, the 30 Strong ADF Movement Control Unit (MCU) arrived in Somalia to assist UNOSOM to cope with the influx of assigned forces.


21 October 1915 | Australian Red Cross Missing and Wounded Enquiry Bureau established

Miss Vera Deakin, daughter of ex-Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, establishes the Australian Red Cross Missing and Wounded Enquiry Bureau in Cairo. The Missing and Wounded Enquiry Bureau handled many thousands of enquiries from Australian families seeking information on wounded and missing soldiers during the First World War.


22 October 1950 | Battle of Yongju (the Apple Orchard)

Yongju was the first action that Australian troops saw in Korea. The battle took place not long after they had arrived. On 22 October, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), as part of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, moved north to Yongju, North Korea, in response to a call for assistance from US troops from the 187th Airborne Regiment. The paratroopers had been dropped into an area 40 kilometres north of Pyongyang, to block the withdrawal of the last North Korean forces to leave the city after it had been captured by UN forces. The North Koreans had escaped their trap; however, and positioned themselves on high ground, attacking the Americans.

When the Australian troops arrived in the area of an apple orchard, they came under sniper fire from the North Koreans. The Commanding Officer of 3 RAR, decided to launch an intense infantry attack. The Australians were unable to use tanks or supporting artillery, as they were not sure where the Americans ahead were positioned.

North Korean forces, fighting the Americans to the north, were not prepared for the Australians attacking from the rear. C Company, under the leadership of Captain Arch Denness MC, led the battalion in the drive through the area. After three hours of close fighting, the North Koreans retreated. The Australians had broken through to the Americans. Seven Australians were wounded at Yongju. 

“The young soldiers were, if anything, over eager to get into their first fight, but the apple trees were in full leaf and visibility was a real problem. Control was difficult and the worst outcome of the first engagement would have been that a man was shot by one of his mates. The NCOs and the senior soldiers were absolutely splendid and quickly got the neophytes through the momentary confusion which all soldiers experience in their first battle.”
Lieutenant (later Major General) David Butler, 3 RAR


23 October 1942 | The Second Battle of El Alamein begins

On the night of 23 October 1942, a massive artillery barrage heralded the great Allied offensive. The infantry successfully captured most of their objectives; however, the tanks were unable to follow through and continue the thrust. With the Axis forces stubbornly holding their lines intact, General Bernard Montgomery worried that his offensive was becoming bogged down. Changing tactics from the drive westwards, he ordered the Australians of 9th Division to switch their attack northward. What followed was a week of extremely fierce fighting, with the Australians grinding their way forward over well-defended enemy positions. As had happened in July, their gains so worried Rommel that he again diverted his strongest units to stop them. Places such as Thompson’s Post, the Fig Orchard, the Blockhouse and the Saucer became an inferno of fire and steel as the Australians weathered the storm of bombs, shells and bullets.

With Rommel’s attention firmly on the Australians in the north, naturally this left his line weakened further south, and on 2 November the British tanks struck a decisive blow there. The Panzerarmee had suffered crippling losses and Rommel was forced to order a general withdrawal, or face total annihilation. His army now began a headlong retreat that would soon see them ejected from Africa altogether.



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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