- Murray, D.S., Rear Admiral
- None noted
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The RAN’s Part
The limited number of ships and men meant that the RAN’s part could not be very significant, but it is true to say that it was well performed and further enhanced the reputation of the RAN as a team of true professionals.
You may remember that RAN ships in Japan were put at the disposal of the United States Naval Commander very shortly after the outbreak of war on 25th June 1950. During the war Australia provided one light fleet carrier, HMAS Sydney – the first Commonwealth country outside Britain to operate a carrier in wartime – 4 destroyers (Bataan, Warramunga, Anzac, Tobruk) and four river class frigates (Shoalhaven, Murchison, Condamine, Culgoa), a total of 311 officers and 4,196 sailors.
In general Australian ships operated off the west coast as part of Task Group 95.1 (Commander Commonwealth and Allied Forces West Coast) who operated under Commander Task Group 95 (Commander Blockade and Escort Forces).
HMAS Bataan, at that time commanded by Commander, later Commodore, W. B. M. Marks, DSC, took part in the first landing of the Korean war at Pohang on 18th July 1950 and together with HMAS Warramunga (Commander, later Rear Admiral, O. H. Becher, CBE, DSO, DSC and Bar) was part of the blockade and covering forces for the invasion of Inchon on 15th September 1950. Warramunga was also part of the gunfire support group covering the operations in Wonsan between June and November 1950.
HMAS Murchison (Lieutenant Commander, later Commodore, A. N. Dollard, DSC) played a major part in the operations up the Han River. On 28th September when Rear Admiral Dyer, USN (the Commander Task Force 95) was on board the ship came under heavy fire from 75 mm guns and mortars near the mouth of the River Yesong. Murchison was hit four times but little damage was done and there was only one slight casualty. Admiral Dyer was much impressed with the admirable way in which Lieutenant Commander Dollard handled his ship and with the bearing of his men in action. Two days later Murchison was again in this area (Sicle) and came under even heavier fire; she was hit and holed in various places, luckily without severe damage, and suffered casualties, one of them seriously wounded. Although Murchison temporarily silenced the opposition, it was virtually impossible to deal with all the guns, which on this occasion were assessed as 3 x 75 mm, 2 x 50 mm anti tank, 4 mortars and 4 machine guns. It was fortunate that Murchison received no damage to her steering or main machinery, otherwise she would have probably been stranded and lost.
The British Admiral at the time (RADM A. K. Scott Moncrief CTG 95.1) considered that ships were being unnecessarily endangered and should not proceed further up the Han estuary than Lambeth.
It is appropriate to mention the operations undertaken by HMAS Sydney (Captain, later RADM D. H. Harries, CB, CBE) between September 1951 and 15th January 1952. For her Korean operations Sydney carried 37 aircraft and operated 3 squadrons, two of Sea Furies (Nos. 805 and 808) and one Firefly Squadron (807).
The general pattern of operations for the west coast carriers was a 13 to 15 day patrol depending upon whether in port time was in Kure (2 days steaming) or Sasebo (1 day steaming) which allowed 10 days in the operations area – 9 days flying and 1 day replenishing with fuel and ammunition. Generally on the west coast there was 1 Commonwealth carrier and 1 to 2 US Escort carriers. On 11th October, only 7 days after beginning her first patrol, Sydney created a light carrier record by flying 89 sorties. On this day Sydney had 12 Sea Furies airborne when pilots saw 1,000 enemy troops engaged in digging in in the hills behind Wonsan – the mayhem can be imagined.
Generally flying operations on the west coast formed a pattern of a ‘milk run’ at first light by 4 Sea Furies to the Manchurian border and Firefly strikes as requested – quite often by ‘Leopard’, the guerilla organisation of Koreans under a US Major Burke who got some very good information from time to time, particularly of enemy troop movements and new gun positions. The Firefly pilots also became specialists at knocking out bridges and blocking railway tunnels. There was always a combat air patrol of two Sea Furies over the ship and another of 2 or 4 Sea Furies over the target area when an important strike was in progress. Sydney’s pilots also gained a high reputation for airspot of ship bombardments and the US battleship New Jersey was always keen to have them spot for her 16 inch guns.
Two events stood out; the first was the rescue of a Firefly crew (S/Lt Neil McMilland and CPO (OBS) Hancox) after their aircraft had been shot down near Sariwon north of Haeju. In Korea if an allied aircraft was shot down the war stopped! On this occasion Sydney had Sea Furies in the air and they were sent to provide cover – the downed aircraft was well in enemy territory. On board the captain was finding it difficult to make the decision to send the helicopter (loaned by the USN with USN crew) because it was most doubtful if they could get there, some 75 miles, and clear enemy territory before nightfall. Finally the captain gave his approval and off went the helo – meanwhile RAAF Meteors from 77 Squadron joined the Sea Furies – and the downed aircraft crew helped keep the encircling enemy troops at bay with their Owen machine guns. At 1715 the Meteors had to leave and the Sea Furies (Lieutenants Cavanagh and Salthouse), although very short of fuel decided to stay on a little longer; at 1725 the helo which had been making 120 knots (some 20 knots above the accepted maximum speed) arrived and landed. The observer, CPO Gooding, jumped out and shot two enemy who had crept to within 15 yards of the downed aircraft. An hour later the helo, plus rescued crew, escorted by the Sea Furies, landed at Kimpo Airfield just as darkness fell. No one believed it was possible, but it was!
Another event which stands out was Sydney’s short tangle with a typhoon. The ship had been in Sasebo about 24 hours when we were informed of a tropical revolving storm – a typhoon called Ruth – which was heading towards Sasebo. Sydney was told to be at immediate notice for steam by 0900 next morning, 14th October. At 0700 on the 14th typhoon condition 2 (the second highest typhoon warning) was set, and at 1030 the ship slipped and proceeded to sea. On clearing Sasebo swept channel, some six hours later, course was altered to the west at a speed of 14 knots; the wind at that time was from the north east at force 8. By 1700 Sydney was forced to heave to and when the wind speed reached above 70 knots at 2100 (when the true wind recorder went off the board and broke), the wave height was 40 to 45 feet with very high precipitation and confused seas. Sydney was carrying some 37 aircraft of which only some 24 could be lashed in the hangars, the remainder were lashed on deck from the midships to after section. The after ones in particular felt the effects of the whip in the stern in the big seas and the undercarriages of some aircraft collapsed: lashings got pulled out or broke and aircraft began sliding across the flight deck into the gun sponsons. Long range fuel tanks were ruptured and soon the ship’s ventilation system seemed to be full of Avgas fumes. Naturally no smoking was allowed but, as there were a great number of small electrical fires during the night caused by sea water, Sydney was undoubtedly very fortunate that she did not have a major explosion and fire. There were certainly a lot of white faces around and not from seasickness! The seas were high enough to tear away the 16 ft motor dinghy from its crutches (36 ft above the water line) and sweep it overboard followed shortly afterwards by a forklift truck. Only one aircraft was actually lost overboard but six others were considered to be complete write-offs. The total damage was estimated at $500,000 which was a lot in those days. Shortly after midnight conditions improved sufficiently for the ship to alter course to the north east at a speed of 8 knots. By 0800, the sea, although still rough, was no longer a limiting factor in the ship’s movement and Sydney returned to Sasebo at about 1200.
Sydney completed her Korean operations on 25th January 1952. She had spent 64 days in the operational flying area and maintained a daily average sortie rate of 55.2 per full flying day, which at that time was the highest achieved by a light fleet carrier.
Three of Sydney’s aircrew were killed and many had miraculous escapes. She was a lucky ship and very clean and efficient. In fact the Americans were always amazed at how clean the ship’s side was even during operations. (The Executive Officer was Commander, now Admiral Sir Victor Smith, KBE, CB, DSC.)
Korea was the first, and last, occasion where the United Nations moved together to wage a large-scale war. From a Navy point of view everything was in its favour during the Korean war – the physical configuration of the country made it singularly susceptible for the exercise of sea power.
Except for the mining there was practically no enemy opposition at sea. Attacks from the air against ships were negligible and although there was always the possibility of submarine attack, no attacks were detected. Apart from mines the only serious opposition to ships was from shore batteries during inshore operations and generally speaking, the ships gave more than they received. Korea showed the need for an active and up-to-date minesweeping force, it forcibly emphasised the value of amphibious forces and last but not least, showed that the naval gun was not an obsolete weapon.
Many US admirals and generals considered the Korean war a loss morally as well as psychologically because, although the means for defeating the enemy were present, they were not used. The Macarthur formula would have been to blockade China, bomb across the Yalu and use Chiang Kai Shek’s troops. General Van Fleet’s plan was to decisively defeat the Chinese on the Korean Peninsula by making full use of the amphibious forces, and Admiral Clark’s format was to just drop one A bomb anywhere in North Korea. The big thing that came out of the war was the certainty that the United Nations Army could not have existed in Korea without the Navy – the Navy got it there and kept it there.
- The Sea War in Korea – Cmdr. Malcolm W. Cagle USN and Cmdr. Frank A. Monson USN (United States Naval Institute 1957}
- British Commonwealth Operations – Korea 1950-53 – Historical Section, Admiralty, London 1967.
- Typhoon Ruth – CO HMAS Sydney. Letter dated 22nd October 1951.
- Typhoon Ruth – Cmdr. R. H. Hain, RAN – 1952.