Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle
19 May 1952
by Ronald Mckie
Re-printed from "With The Australians in Korea" by Norman Bartlett
He was a big, ruddy, cheerful looking man with smooth black hair and one of those deceptive innocent English schoolboy faces. But his visitor was just the opposite - short, nuggety, with soft brown eyes and a skin almost white above his heavy blue-black beard shadow.
Captain Lamm grinned as he opened out the map on the polished top of the cabin table.
"There's a good raid we want to lay on," he drawled, "and we'd like to have you Aussies with us - in fact, we've been keeping this one warm for Bataan."
"We'd be delighted," the Australian said, "but where are you going in?"
"To Ponggu-Myon, in daylight, with all the fire-power and support you can give us," the Texan said.
He was standing now, as Bracegirdle always remembered him, with his thumbs hooked into his belt above the two pearl-handled six shooters in stained holsters on his thighs.
"I'm putting thirty agents ashore tonight to take a last look around. The weather's just right and the tide should be O.K. for the morning of the 19th. We think ..."
Planning for 'Operation Round-up', first daylight combined raiding operation of the Korean War, had begun.
Both these leaders - top units in an international team which worked so well together - knew war and what it involved. Now they were at it again. Both knew that the war of ideologies that had begun for one in 1939 and for the other among the bomb bursts at Pearl Harbour, was still going on.
Warwick Bracegirdle had been at the Battle of Matapan in the Mediterranean (where he had won his first DSC in Piraeus) and among the Kamikazes off the Philippines (where he had won his second DSC). And now, in command of the Australian Tribal class destroyer Bataan, which the American carrier Bataan always referred to as "Junior", he had what he called his 'Parish' to patrol and protect off the west coast of Korea. But because nobody could be too sure what 'Braces' Bracegirdle would do at any given moment - he would go in and fight at the drop of a hat - and because of his piratical clothes and likeable whimsical manner, he was always the target for good-natured leg-pulling. The officers of a Canadian destroyer off Korea referred to him as 'The Black Terror' and his ship as 'The Grey Ghost of the West Coast', while the Americans and British called Bataan 'The Big Top' or just 'Braces' Circus'.
George Lamm, on the other hand, despite his Texan pistols, was a much more conventional, more reserved man - though a first class soldier and, like Braces, a good bloke to be with in a tight spot. He had been one of General Matthew Ridgway's paratroopers dropping through the murk on Europe, and was now in command of a group of South Korean coastal commandos known as the Western Wolfpack Guerrillas.
On the morning of this first conference - 15 May 1952 - when Bataan was off Taeyonp-yong-do Island at the entrance to the long Gulf of Haeju, the uneasy truce in Korea had lasted ten months - time enough for the Communist armies to have built up their land strength alone to nearly 1,000,000 men and for Peking Radio to be again shouting threats which seemed to foreshadow a new Red offensive. During the truce, however, guerrillas operated on both sides of the cease-fire line which sliced Korea in two a little north of the 38th parallel. The search for "intelligence" constantly went on.
"Operation Round-up" was part of the pattern of a harassing war that never stopped. But to understand Round-up you first have to know something about the area where it took place and why it was important, as part of the overall picture, to the Allied Command in Korea.
On the west coast of Korea, about 100 miles north-west of Seoul and Inchon, there is a peninsula called Ponggu-Myon which pushes a blunt snout into the Yellow Sea. And from this snout more than a dozen little islands dribble down and across the entrance of Haeju Gulf, a long narrow dent of treacherous water which floods and ebbs at seven knots and where slack water is almost unknown.
Most of these rugged islands, with rocks, reefs, mud-flats and tide rips holding them apart, ride low in the restless water of the Yellow Sea. They are as green as the grass of southern England, but as bald as St. Paul's. Refugees, fleeing to the islands from the Communist mainland, were responsible for this baldness. They cut down all the stunted growth of trees and even grubbed the roots for fuel. At low tide these displaced hungry people dug for shellfish along the shores of the islands to boost their thin rice diet.
There is one island, however, and the largest, which is high and rugged, with steep cliffs against the jaundiced sea, and only one small village beach which invites you, a little churlishly, to land and then only at high water. This is Taeyonp-yong-do. It was this island, about six miles from the enemy-held mainland, which was the headquarters of Commander Bracegirdle's Parish and Captain Lamm's Wolfpack Guerrillas. Its code name, for all operational purposes, was "Apple Pie", although all other islands in the area, as you will notice, took their code names from favourite brands of Western firewater.
The inshore patrolling of Haeju Gulf, its islands and adjacent coasts, was no casual haphazard thing. It had objectives all linked with Allied military strategy in Korea. The main object was to defend the islands and use them for a number of purposes: As jumping-off places for guerrilla raids and Intelligence agents and as receiving centres for escapees from Chinese and North Korean Communism; as radar stations and flight markers for Allied planes; as centres for sea rescue by boats and helicopters.
Attack or constant threat of attack from the sea - the Peninsular War technique all over again - was also designed to force the Communists to keep troops along this coast, even though the coast was far north of the actual battle line in Korea, and to complicate the Red Army's logistical problems and its relations with the local people, many of whom were bitterly anti-Communist.
The islands were also defended, and the waters around them patrolled, so that at least 700 South Korean junks, vital to South Korea's food supply, could work the fishing grounds along the edge of the Yellow Sea. These high mat-sail junks carried identification numbers painted on their bows, flew special coloured pennants issued by the Fishing Control points at each village beach, had South Korean Marine liaison officers in patrol boats which moved around with the fleets, and were allowed to operate only in daylight - a precaution which made sure that any unauthorised junk or sampan which moved at night would be treated as an enemy by patrolling United Nations blockade craft.
Up to May 1952, the Western Wolfpack Guerrillas had often raided the mainland, but always at night, never in force, and never as part of a true combined raiding operation with supporting arms. Under "Operation Round-up", however, they were to attack in force in daylight under naval and air cover, hold Ponggu-Myon Peninsula as long as possible, destroy guns and installations, rescue anti-Communists, and, most important, take prisoners.
On paper, even with the aid of sea and air, this looked a difficult assignment, for agents Captain Lamm put ashore confirmed that the enemy had at least two battalions of mixed Chinese and North Koreans covering a small area of country, plus three or four 75mm. guns and at least two 120mm. guns, plus many well-established gun positions along the coast and just inland among the terraced slopes of hillside paddy and vegetable farms. Some of these guns were in caves, natural or man-made, and could be run out, fired and withdrawn.
Four days after Commander Bracegirdle and Captain Lamm had started their planning in Bataan off the cliffs of Apple Pie, and with no time for any landing rehearsals because the Wolfpack had other commitments, Round-up was turned on.
Although Lamm personally led the attack and was responsible for its direction ashore, the overall leader was Bracegirdle with Bataan's bridge his raiding headquarters. From there he could talk direct to the Wolfpack units ashore, to a United States Marine Corps naval gunfire unit, commanded by Lieutenant E. Hale, on Cho-do Island (code name "Brandy") inside Haeju Gulf and within uncomfortably easy range of enemy 75's, and to the British aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (Captain Charles Evans) 60 miles offshore in the Yellow Sea.
Early on the morning of 19 May 1952, Bracegirdle moved Bataan to her first bombardment position near Mu-do Island (code name "Rum Punch") and about 5,000 yards almost due south of the snout of Ponggu-Myon Peninsula. There he dropped his anchor underfoot - just enough to hold the destroyer firmly in her preselected bombardment position against the tide that was flowing into Haeju like a river in flood - and swung his six slim 4.7's to face the mainland.
With him on the bridge were Lieutenant Frank Dunn, U.S. Army and second-in-command of the Wolfpack Guerrillas; Lieutenant R.B. ("Dick") Nunn, Navigator; Lieutenant J.S.B. ("Barb") More, Communications Officer; Commissioned Gunner J.H. ("Beau") Guest; Yeoman of Signals John Trimble; and Navigator's Yeoman Able Seaman Jack Campbell. Lieutenant J.G. ("Jock") Yule, the Gunnery Control Officers, was in the Director Tower, behind and above the Compass Platform, and Sub-Lieutenant J.L. Jobson was in the Plot, one deck below.
Most of the Australians wore ordinary action working dress - light blue shirt and navy blue dungarees - but Braces, who liked to vary his action uniform, had added this morning an old dark blue sweater and suede shoes.
The joint raiding operations plot for the coming attack was on the flat top of the anti-submarine cabinet, and at the aft end of the bridge, squatting on the deck, grouped eight radio operators, plotters and interpreters, all South Koreans in the jungle green and peaked caps of the Wolfpack.
The morning was fine and cool - like an early winter morning in Sydney - and the mountains far inland were a hard dark blue line above the bottle green coastline. Through his glasses Bracegirdle could see, on the slopes of the first low hills beyond the shoreline, smudges that were low grey peasant farmhouses among the sloping quilt of fields, and once he picked out a sudden white splash, very small and moving fast, as someone scampered across the yard.
As he traversed his glasses he remembered the time, only a few months before, when further north than this, off Chinnampo, Communist guns had fired on Bataan just on dusk. The shells had straddled, beating the sea along the destroyer's sides. Then five flashes, fairly close together, had suddenly ruled bright line along the shore.
"Port 20", he had yelled. "Two hundred revolutions."
The ship shuddered and swung, but all too slowly it seemed. Then the five 75mm. shells whined in. Four slapped the sea, but Bataan jerked as the fifth hit her near the stern, and then she began to vibrate as her after guns opened fire.
Later, when Bracegirdle went aft, there was a hole as big as his head in his own cabin bulkhead, and sixteen shell fragments were found in his quarters, one in the tail of his old frock coat, which was on a hangar near his bunk. Later still, when he reported the good shooting to the Communist gunners, he received this piece of Royal Navy whimsy from the Second-in-Command Far East Station (Rear-Admiral Scott-Moncrieff): "Sorry to hear about your tail".
Round-up began just before 1000. when Bataan opened her bombardment, concentrating her fire on the South of Ponggu-Myon. This bombardment was to cover an initial landing of Blue Force - 120 Wolfpack Guerrillas from Yuk-do Island (code name "Whisky") just east of the peninsula - whose job was to hold the end of the peninsula as a final evacuation beachhead for the main Wolfpack after they had cleaned up the enemy on Ponggu-Myon.
For twenty minutes the shells from the cracking 4.7s burst on and over the red cliffs of the peninsula's snout. Then powered junks, carrying Blue Force, swung round the end of Yuk-do and turned towards the small and only beach at the base of a break in the cliffs. But, instead of heading in, the junks slowed down as they came under Bataan's arc of shells, hesitated and huddled together like brown water beetles.
"They seem to be scared of our shells," Bracegirdle said to the U.S. guerrilla leader beside him.
Dunn nodded. "Looks like it, Commander. They've never gone in before under a day bombardment."
Bracegirdle swept the junks with his glasses. "I think we'd better check fire."
Immediately the guns stilled the junks began to scatter and head shoreward. Then, as they hit the beach and an enemy heavy machine gun began to hammer, Bataan resumed her bombardment, throwing her high capacity shells against the upper cliff face in reddish bursts and then 1,000 yards inland and ahead of the now advancing troops who quickly, and against only very light opposition, took control of the end of the peninsula and sealed it off along a line about half a mile inland.
While this was going on a sampan brought out to Bataan a seriously wounded guerrilla. A machine-gun bullet had ricocheted from his left wrist into his stomach. When he was hoisted aboard Surgeon Lieutenant W. Thompson examined him and decided that he would have to operate immediately to save the man's life. He selected as his operating table the polished table in Bracegirdle's after cabin and in a few minutes he was ready.
As the guns were cracking overhead and the ship was jerking as the shells went away, an American surgeon, who had come over from a nearby tank landing craft which co-operated with the guerrillas, gave the anaesthetic and Doc. Thompson extracted the bullet.
When the guerrilla eventually woke up, in Braces' bunk, he looked down for a long time at the white sheets - this was the first time in his life he had been between sheets - and he looked round for a long time at the unfamiliar cabin - the first he had ever seen. Then he smiled at one of the South Korean stretcher bearers who had brought him out to Bataan and said: "Now I am happy. I know I am in heaven."
Bracegirdle waited until the evacuation beach, so important to the success of the operation, was assured, and there was no sign of a counter-attack. Then he moved Bataan to her second anchorage and major bombardment position, about four miles east of the peninsula, to cover the main landing of the Wolfpack.
These troops, 300 of them under Captain Lamm, were on Cho-do Island (code name "Brandy"). They were, like their brothers of Blue Force already ashore, a tough highly trained volunteer force of South Koreans, mostly peasants and fishermen from the coastal islands, but among them was a sprinkling of anti-Communist North Koreans who had escaped to the Allied side. All wore South Korean uniform of jungle green, plus American helmets, and officers had bar insignia on their shirt collars. All carried automatic weapons, slung carbines, grenades and knives, and each fighting platoon was armed with a 40-mm. mortar, a mine detector and demolition explosives. These guerrillas were a quick moving, hard hitting force, especially skilled in night fighting, and they could, and did, do a lot of damage in a short time.
A feature of the organisation of each Wolfpack platoon was the use of boys as runners and as mortar bomb carriers. The smallness and speed of these boys made them invaluable, for a boy could find cover where a man could not. One of these Wolfpack boys was Kim, - a name in Korean which is about a dozen times more common than Smith in our telephone books. This Kim, who was Lamm's runner, was a North Korean whose parents, anti-Communist, had been murdered. He said he was twelve, but he was no bigger than an Australian or American boy of eight. In the jungle green of the guerrillas, but with a small baseball-type cap instead of a helmet, he looked like a small boy playing at soldiers. His appearance and innocent expression, however, were both extremely deceptive. He was, in an environment of ideological murder and mass killing, a bloodthirsty little imp to whom killing was as simple as eating. He had already made twelve parachute jumps from Dakotas, and with the American carbine he always carried and kept in perfect working order, had killed three Chinese soldiers in action. He hated the Chinese even more than the North Koreans he had renounced - and that was a lot. After Round-up, when he excelled as a runner under fire, even the tough guerrillas decided that Kim was becoming a little anti-social for his age. They demobilised him and sent him to school in Seoul - though everyone tipped that school would not hold Kim very long.
The second phase of Round-up began just after 11.30 a.m. that day when Bataan, helped by the almost uncanny spotting of the U.S. Marine naval gunfire unit under Lieutenant Hale, began a systematic bombardment of the main attack area of Ponggu-Myon Peninsula inside Haeju Gulf. Bataan put her shells down on enemy observation posts, on mortar positions, on troop concentrations, and then on the little town of Pupori just behind the beachhead where the main Wolfpack would land.
As the bluish-red bursts of broadside after broadside flowered along the shoreline, Bracegirdle grinned at Dick Nunn and called, "By jove, that's shaking them, Pilot".
"Whatoh next night ashore at Sasebo," yelled Jock Yule, above the clamour, from the Director Tower.
"Get back into your god box," Nunn yelled back as he moved the port engine of the anchored destroyer to keep the guns broadside to the shore.
Earlier, Fireflies and Sea Furies from the carrier Ocean had taken off, but they were too early and had been ordered to stay out at sea in cloud. But at 12.20 p.m. Bracegirdle called on them. Six Fireflies roared in first and laid their 1,000 pounders on enemy troops behind the beachhead, and eight more followed them in with rockets. Then the Furies, almost at deck level, sprayed the whole beachhead area as the powered junks of the main Wolfpack, carrying Red, Green and Yellow Forces, left Cho-do Island and headed for the touchdown points ashore.
The air attack was so concentrated that only once, before the three Wolfpack groups were ashore by 1p.m., had Bracegirdle to call for rocket attacks to wipe out an enemy machine-gun post which the guerrillas reported was firing on the junks.
Red Force was in command of a U.S. Army sergeant, Green was under Lamm, and Yellow was under a U.S. Army private. But, once ashore, the operation had only just begun. Before the three forces could fan inland and then drive south down Ponggu-Myon Peninsula, they first had to get through a deep anti-personnel minefield behind the beach. Some of these mines had been exploded by Bataan's bombardment and by strafing, but the area was still dangerous.
The guerrillas wasted no time. They grabbed some of the local people and ordered them to lead the way through the minefields. Those who refused they drove before them. And as the locals knew the safe paths and naturally had no desire to go up on a mine there were no casualties.
Red, Green and Yellow Forces, operating independently but still close to each other, then began to spread inland, cleaning up pockets of resistance as they went, but within half an hour of the landing the enemy came out of their holes and counter-attacked in battalion strength. Pinned down by superior fire-power, including heavy machine guns and mortars, the U.S. Army private leading Yellow Force - the most northerly force - called for support and was so accurate in his map references that Bataan's bombardment dropped on the massing enemy troops and scattered them so badly that the Communists made no other major attempt to stop the guerrillas. Within an hour of the landing, most of this Communist battalion were pinned down by Bataan's broadsides and individual enemy pockets were being blasted and neutralised by rocket and cannon fire from Ocean's aircraft.
From the ground forces ashore the signals poured into the communication centre on Bataan's bridge:
"Red and Green one third way to Blue."
"Yellow one quarter due to hold-up by enemy company which has now been neutralised."
"Your bombardment very good."
"Destroyed 75mm. gun."
Once, when Lamm reported: "Slight detour. My guerrillas are cattle rustling," Bracegirdle grinned and said, "To hell with the cows," and signalled, "If you don't get some prisoners I won't evacuate you."
For nearly seven hours the three Wolfpack forces worked their way down the peninsula, killing and destroying as they went, until they finally reached the evacuation beach on the snout of Ponggu-Myon and, with Blue Force, were evacuated by the waiting junks under Bataan's protective gun-fire.
In those seven hours of daylight the Wolfpack had one man killed and four wounded, but killed and wounded more than 150 of the enemy. The Wolfpack also wrecked twenty-seven enemy-held houses, two observation posts, one 75mm. gun, one mortar, three machine guns, one command post and its four machine guns, captured 120 bags of rice and other food and fifteen cows (worth a small fortune in Korean money), and evacuated ten Korean families who, through Lamm's agents, had previously appealed to the guerrillas to save them from the Communists.
The one blunder the guerrillas made was over prisoners - one of the main objects of the raid. Their orders were to take as many as possible, and they could have taken at least fifteen if they had used their brains instead of their guns. Instead, they killed at sight and finished up with only one wounded Communist soldier - much to Lamm's and Bracegirdle's joint disgust.
As the guns ceased firing and the planes went back to their carrier, and as the junks carrying the weary Wolfpack and their plunder moved back to the main base of Taeyonp-young-do Island, Captain Lamm, the U.S. Army sergeant, and the South Korean leader of the Wolfpack, came out to Bataan in a powered sampan and climbed to the bridge.
Bracegirdle held out his hand. "Congratulations, Captain, on a fine show."
"Thanks, Commander," Lamm said, "and thanks for all the help. Your shells came down just where we wanted them."
"But what about the prisoners?"
Lamm shrugged. "I'll tell you about that later." Then he grinned. "The Korean Wolfpack commander here has one for you. It's a present - a Communist calf."
"One what?" said the startled Braces.
"But what can I do with a calf, Communist or Democratic, in a destroyer?"
"I could answer that, Commander - but you'd better accept it. It's his own idea."
And so one bewildered calf - reddish brown in colour - was hoisted on deck, with an Australian sugar bag round its middle, on the torpedo davits.
"On behalf of the Wolfpacks I present you with one Communist calf," said the small round-faced Korean leader.
"I think you for this entirely unexpected windfall," Braces replied.
Then he broadcast over the loudspeakers: "Captain's steward produce four glasses of rum on a silver tray on the bridge."
Three weeks after Braces and his three visitors had drunk that toast to the calf, as it slithered on the deck, that South Korean guerrilla leader was killed in an ambush not far from where he captured it on the peninsula of Ponggu-Myon.
In his final report on "Operation Round-up", written on the way back to Sasebo, Commander Bracegirdle highly praised the work of his American colleagues, Lamm, Dunn and Hale, and then said:
"I consider that the performance of duty of Sub-Lieutenant J.L. Jobson, R.A.N., the ship's Operational Plot Officer ... was of a very high standard and reflects great credit on so young an officer of the Royal Australian Navy. I am proud to mention the high standard of gunnery achieved on this occasion in H.M.A. Ship under my command. This was due mainly to the control of Lieutenant J.G. Yule, R.A.N., the Gunnery Control Officer, and his Director Layer, Chief Petty Officer Lionel T. Fargher, and the exceptional control exercised by Leading Seaman Stanley R. Smith, the Transmitting Station Radar Control rating. This last rating is outstanding in his knowledge and ability to control and anticipate fire control requirements from a Tribal Class destroyer.
For Round-up, Jobson and Smith were mentioned in dispatches, and Bracegirdle won the second Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross.