The War Begins – the Invasion of South Korea
First Australians in
Well before 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment arrived in Korea in September 1950 other Australians were already involved in the war...
Two Australian officers were in Korea when the war began. In March 1950, three months before North Korea invaded South Korea, the United Nations Commission on Korea (UNCOK) asked for military observers because of the tense situation on the Korean border. Australia was a member of UNCOK and sent Major Stuart Peach, who had been a prisoner of the Japanese, and Squadron Leader Ronald Rankin who had served in the RAAF during WWII. For two weeks before the invasion Peach and Rankin toured the 38th parallel and submitted a report that the South Koreans were in defensive positions but the North Koreans seemed to be offensively deployed. The Peach-Rankin report became important when North Korea falsely claimed that the south had begun the war by invading the north.
The next Australians to arrive were from No. 77 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force. They flew P-51D Mustangs from their base in western Japan. On 2 July 1950, one week into the war, the Squadron was the first United Nations (UN) force to participate after that of the United States. Part of the Squadron escorted American B-26 Marauders on a bombing mission while the rest escorted transport aircraft flying wounded from Korea to Japan. Within five days 77 Squadron lost the first of 41 of its personnel to be killed during the Korean War when Squadron Leader Graham Strout failed to pull out of a dive when attacking Samchok railway station on Korea’s east coast.
On 29 June 1950 Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies offered the UN the support of the destroyer HMAS Bataan and the frigate Shoalhaven, then in Japanese waters serving with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. Bataan began convoy escort duty in the Korea Strait on 6 July. The next day Shoalhaven joined the UN naval force blockading the west coast of Korea. On 1 August Bataan, now also on the west coast, fired the Royal Australian Navy’s first shots of the war when it exchanged fire with a North Korean coastal battery.