The United Nations Counteroffensive to the Yalu
Australian engagements: Pakchon, Yongju, Chongju, 'broken bridge'
Kapyong and Maryang San in 1951 are the two better-known Australian battles of the Korean War...
Three less well-known battles occurred the year before, in the early months of the war, when 3 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) established its reputation in an intense eight days of fighting during the United Nations Command’s advance into North Korea.
The Apple Orchard
Racing north to link up with American paratroopers who had dropped ahead of the advance, 27th Commonwealth Brigade, with 3RAR the leading battalion, headed for Sukchon on 22 October. The Battalion was suddenly fired upon by an element of 239th Regiment of the North Korean Army (KPA) hidden in an apple orchard beside the road. C Company fixed bayonets and, with US Sherman tanks in support, swept through the enemy position. As Lt Colonel Charles Green redeployed his force, another KPA attack made for his headquarters. D Company, in reserve, was called up to drive them off. Their morale broken after a three-hour fight, the KPA began to retreat. The Australians advanced once again, taking 239 prisoners. By midday contact was made with the American paratroopers. In an incredible victory only seven Australians were wounded while 104 KPA were killed.
On 25 October 3RAR came up against the Taeryong River. A patrol crossed the part-demolished bridge and discovered the enemy in strength on the far side. In the search for an alternative crossing point, D Company captured the town of Pakchon further north along the river, taking 225 prisoners. That night A and B Companies crossed the ‘broken bridge’ and dug in on the far side. They were soon detected by the KPA who were determined not to allow the Australians to establish a bridgehead. Several strong attacks were made on A and B Companies who were reinforced by a platoon from C Company. At one point, a T-34 tank approached in the dark to within 10 metres of the B Company Headquarters. American tanks were unable to cross the river to help the Australians. Nevertheless, the position was held, and at dawn the KPA called off their attack and withdrew, leaving 90 dead and 52 to be captured. Eight Australians died and 22 were wounded.
Once again, 3RAR was leading the brigade when serious opposition was encountered. On 28 October a battalion-sized KPA force, with tank and artillery support, was found dug in on wooded hills across the line of advance. US airstrikes softened up the position, then 3RAR attacked. D Company took the ridge south of the road first and then A Company took the heights north of the road. Opposition was unexpectedly strong, and it is likely the attack would have been repulsed without the support of a company of American tanks. By dark the Australians were dug in on their objectives. The KPA counterattacked to recover the ridges. D and A Companies were attacked by tanks and knocked out three of them with bazookas. The situation was so desperate that supporting artillery and mortar fire was called in within metres of the Australian fighting pits. This broke the attack. The KPA lost 150 dead, the Australians lost nine killed and 30 wounded. Chongju is said to have been the hardest fight any Commonwealth troops had seen since the war began.