- Nesdale, Iris
- RAN operations, Ship histories and stories, Post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III, HMAS Murchison, HMAS Condamine, HMAS Anzac II, HMAS Culgoa, HMAS Shoalhaven, HMAS Bataan, HMAS Warramunga I, HMAS Tobruk I
- June 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This is a slightly abbreviated version of Chapter 13 from the book Action Stations – Tribal Destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy by the late Iris Nesdale, published by the HMAS Warramunga Veterans’ Association, South Australian Branch. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author’s son, Oliver Nesdale.
The Korean War proper began in June 1950. HMAS Warramunga, apart from a March visit to New Zealand, had spent the first seven months in home waters. On 6 August she sailed north to join the United Nations forces, her first duty to escort HM Ships Ceylon and Unicorn to Pusan, departing Hong Kong on 25 August. The Tribal was to do two tours of duty off Korea, spending altogether nineteen months of strenuous service in the northern waters – icy waters during the winter months.
We tended to accept the Korean War and Allies involvement in it without question, but why were they involved – the Royal Navy, the United States Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Australian Navy? What could possibly be the reason for all that involvement, even whilst allowing that representation from the Royal Navies tended to be somewhat modest as to numbers.
After Japan’s defeat in 1945, it was decided that her forces in Northern Korea would surrender to the Commander of Soviet forces. Those in the South could surrender to General Macarthur, and land below the 38th Parallel became known as South Korea. The decision was duly put into motion, but the Soviets interpreted the plan differently.
What happened then was almost inevitable.
With plenty of Soviet know-how and Chinese assistance, North Korea prepared to invade the South, troops sweeping down well armed with Russian and other weapons. Britain then sent ships and troops to show support for the United States, when that country weighed in to assist the South. Britain and the USA were, of course, joined by Australia, Canada and New Zealand in offering assistance.
The invasion had begun with bombardment when North Koreans crossed over the 38th Parallel, and RAN Ships already in Japan’s area were immediately placed at the disposal of the UN Naval Commander.
So the war was certainly happening; it was manned and supported. The ‘Commos’ were the ‘baddies’; USA with Britain and the Allies were the ‘goodies’, which seemed to make a general understanding of the situation.
Before the war ended names like Inchon, Seoul, Pusan, Han, Sasebo, Wonsan and Kunsan were to become increasingly familiar.
Commander Otto Humphrey Becher DSC & Bar, RAN, took command of Warramunga on 28 July 1950. He was a popular Commander, competent, and with a sense of humour that took the boredom or sting out of many a situation. Patrols and escort duties continued during the next three months.
Inchon was recaptured on 15 September after amphibious operations on the west coast using a large Naval force. Warramunga, with HM Ships Charity, Cockade, and Concord screened the carrier Triumph.
Rear Admiral W. G. Andrews CB, CBE, DSO, FO in Command of the Far Eastern Fleet, embarked in the Tribal destroyer at Sasebo for Inchon. There, an important conference with Vice-Admiral A. D. Struble, USN, discussed the official move of Seoul to South Korean civil administration.
On 17 November, Warramunga sailed to Sasebo where she remained for more than a week, but on the 28th she was escorting a US dredger to Point Lucky in Chinnmanto Channel, arriving there on the following day. She then joined Bataan at Kunsan, and for the next few days the two Tribals patrolled and carried out bombardments as North Koreans retreated.
There were landings at Wonsan, then patrols with HMC Ships Cayuga, Athabaskan and Sioux. Bataan and USS Forrest Royal now joined the four other destroyers with Cayuga the leader, Captain J. V. Brock, DSC in command. They were ordered out to assist in the evacuation of troops and wounded, waiting at the head of the Taedong River some forty miles away.
Whilst the embarkation of men onto the LSIs continued, the destroyers would give cover. Men who served in the Australian Tribals have paid warm tribute to the consistent efforts of their sister ships in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Captain Brock decided upon night sailing, and the ships moved slowly in line ahead through icy darkness and falling snow; through the minefields of swept channels.