Australia's involvement in the Korean War

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Special Features

  • A Korean War Timeline

    A Korean War Timeline

    The Korean War timeline contains over 200 entries summarising the key events of the war and its aftermath. Each entry contains a flag indicating which country or organisation the entry refers to. Go to the timeline ...

  • Animated Battle Maps

    Animated battle maps

    Click here for maps of the most important battles fought by Australians during the Korean War. See detailed animated explanations of the battles of Kapyong, Maryang San and other Australian land, air and sea operations. Access the maps ...

  • Charlie Green

    Charles Green's story

    Lt Colonel Charles Green was the first commander of an Australian infantry battalion in battle since the formation of the nation’s regular army in 1949. A veteran of WWII, he led 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Korea until he died of wounds received at Chongju on 1 November 1950. Read Charles Green's story ...

  • The Cold War

    What was the Cold War?

    During the Cold War, China, led by Mao Zedong, and the Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, joined forces to assist North Korea in its invasion of South Korea. Find out more about the Cold War ...

  • War at Sea

    Royal Australian Navy in the Korean War

    The Korean Peninsula is bounded by the Yellow Sea in the west, the Korea Strait to the south and the Sea of Japan in the east. The Royal Australian Navy was among the first of the United Nations forces to respond to the Korean War. From 1950 to 1953 eleven Royal Australian Navy ships patrolled the seas around Korea, escorting supplies, supporting landings and bombarding the enemy coast. Read more about the RAN in Korea ...

  • Captain Reg Saunders

    Reg Saunders' story

    Reg Saunders was the first Australian Aboriginal army officer. He led C Company 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during the Korean War. Reg's father and uncle fought in World War I, and his brother Harry was killed in action in New Guinea. Reg began his military career with the AIF during WWII. Read the Reg Saunders story ...

  • The Battle of Kapyong

    Battle of Kapyong

    In late April 1951 the 3rd Battalion of the newly formed Australian Regular Army won a battle honour and a United States Presidential Citation for its defence of Kapyong. In a day and night of fierce fighting the Australians suffered 94 casualties and halted the communist advance. Find out more about the Battle of Kapyong ...

  • War in the Air

    Royal Australian Airforce in the Korean War

    Flying the P51D Mustang fighter, and later the Meteor, 77 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force was in action within days of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. The Australians flew ground attack missions and made a significant contribution to slowing the communist advance. Read more about the role of the RAAF in Korea ...

  • Australian Nurses

    Australian nurses in the Korean War

    With the outbreak of the Korean War, Australia became responsible for the air evacuation of British Commonwealth casualties from Korea to the hospital in Iwakuni, Japan. RAAF nurses, based at Iwakuni, served on RAAF casualty evacuation aircraft and at the casualty staging section in Seoul. Read more about the nurses ...

Australia's involvement in the Korean War

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The Korean War

The Korean War was fought from 1950 to 1953 between South Korea and North Korea...

Photo of 3RAR troops in snow covered wood
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It was the first major war of a larger conflict, the Cold War. The Cold War was a political, economic and military contest between the two post-war superpowers, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union). The Republic of Korea (south) was supported by the United States which persuaded the United Nations to side with her. Australia was one of the 21 members of the United Nations which sent military forces to aid the south. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (north), was backed by China and the Soviet Union.

United Nations Korea Medal with ribbon

United Nations Korea Medal, with ribbon. As issued to US servicemen and women. [AWM REL25156.034] ... Enlarge the image of the medal

The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. The superior North Korean forces were on the verge of conquering all of South Korea when United Nations forces intervened. Among the first was 77 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force and HMAS Shoalhaven and Bataan of the Royal Australian Navy. A United Nations counteroffensive defeated the North Korean army and pursued it into North Korea. When the United Nations forces approached the border between Korea and China the Chinese entered the war in support of North Korea. The now outnumbered United Nation forces were pushed south and the capital Seoul once again fell to the communists.

In early 1951 the United Nations again advanced, securing a line just beyond the 38th parallel of latitude - the dividing line between north and south before the war. It was in this phase of the war that 94 Australians of 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment were killed, wounded or captured at the Battle of Kapyong.

After a year of mobile warfare, in which Seoul changed hands four times, the front line stabilised and peace negotiations began. The remaining two years of fighting bore the character of World War I trench warfare, except that the trenches were in the cold and inhospitable mountains of Korea. Patrols and ambushes in no-man’s-land were continuous and both sides staged occasional large offensives to influence the peace negotiations.

Photo of injured Australian soldier

Injured Australian soldier Bomber Brown. [AWM PO 147334] ... Enlarge the photograph of the injured soldier

On 27 July 1953 a ceasefire was agreed to but negotiations for a formal peace agreement were never concluded. North and South Korea today remain technically still at war and the ceasefire line – the frontline when fighting stopped – is closely guarded by armies on both sides.

During the war over half a million military personnel and more than one million civilians died. Half of Korea’s industry and a third of all housing were destroyed.

Some 17,000 Australians fought in Korea; 340 Australians died there.

Main Feature: Animated Maps of the Key Battles of the Korean War

  • Korean War Overview

    Korean War strategic map animation

    The Korean War strategic map: 1950–1953

    The first year of the Korean War saw sweeping manoeuvres up and down the Korean Peninsula. The capital Seoul changed hands four times. Thereafter the lines stabilised along a line of trenches across the peninsula, through the rugged central mountain range from coast to coast.
    View the strategic map ...

  • Kapyong

    Kapyong battle map animation

    Battle of Kapyong:
    23–24 April 1951

    In the most famous Australian battle of the Korean War, 3RAR was attacked by vastly superior numbers of Chinese troops. Supported by American tanks and 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the Australians, while being forced to withdraw from their position, broke the back of the Chinese offensive.
    View the Kapyong map ...

  • Han River

    Han River battle map animation

    Battle of Han River:
    19 September 1951

    HMAS Murchison, one of nine Royal Australian Navy ships that served in Korea, made several sorties into the Han River to take on communist shore batteries. On 19 September 1951 she engaged the enemy so closely that Murchison's gunners were firing over open sights and the ship was holed several times below the waterline.
    View the Han River map ...

  • Maryang San

    Maryang San battle map animation

    Battle of Maryang San:
    5–8 October 1951

    The last time the Australians engaged in open manoeuvre warfare, before the war settled into a stalemate, was at Maryang San by the Imjin River north-east of Seoul. There, over several days in early October 1951, 3RAR stormed a series of hills positions. Maryang San, or Hill 317, was the key to the enemy defences.
    View the Maryang San map ...