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The Battle of Kapyong - when Australia went to war with China and won. Lest We Forget.

The US Presidential Unit Citation is a US army award for bravery that can be bestowed on an entire unit. It is awarded to units of the US army and co-belligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. 3RAR was serving as part of the US-led UN forces in the Korean War (1950–53) when it was decorated for the outstanding bravery demonstrated by the men of the battalion at the battle of Kapyong in April 1951. At this time the award was known as the Distinguished Unit Citation. It was redesignated the Presidential Unit Citation in November 1966.

[Transcript of citation]



Office of the Commanding General

APO 301


number 453                 23rd June 1951

Section 1


BATTLE HONOURS – By direction of the President (of the United States), under the provisions of Executive Order 9396 (Sec I, WD Bul. 22, 1943) Superseding Executive Order 9075 (Sec III, WD Bul. 16, 1942) and pursuant to authority in AR 260-15, the following units are cited as public evidence of deserved honour and distinction.




are cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of combat duties in action against the armed enemy near Kapyong, Korea, on the 24 and 25 April 1951. The enemy had broken through the main line of resistance and penetrated to the area north of Kapyong. The units listed above were deployed to stem the assault. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, moved to the right flank of the sector and took up defensive positions north of the Pukham River. The 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, defended in the vicinity of Hill 677 on the left flank. Company A, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, supported all units to the full extent of its capacity and, in addition, kept the main roads open and assisted in evacuating the wounded. Troops from a retreating division passed through the sector which enabled enemy troops to infiltrate with the withdrawing forces. The enemy attacked savagely under the clangor of bugles and trumpets. The forward elements were completely surrounded going through the first day and into the second. Again and again the enemy threw waves of troops at the gallant defenders, and many times succeeded in penetrating the outer defences, but each time the courageous, indomitable, and determined soldiers repulsed the fanatical attacks. Ammunition ran low and there was no time for food. Critical supplies were dropped by air to the encircled troops, and they stood their ground in resolute defiance of the enemy. With serene and indefatigable persistence, the gallant soldiers held their defensive positions and took heavy tolls of the enemy. In some instances when the enemy penetrated the defences, the commanders directed friendly artillery fire on their own positions in repelling the thrusts. Toward the close of 25 April, the enemy break-through had been stopped. The seriousness of the break-through on the central front had been changed from defeat to victory by the gallant stand of these heroic and courageous soldiers. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry; and Company A, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, displayed such gallantry, determination, and espirit de corps in accomplishing their missions under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set them apart and above other units participating in the campaign, and by their achievements they brought distinguished credit on themselves, their homelands, and all freedom-loving nations


                Leven C. Allen

                Major General US Army

                Chief of Staff   


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For my dad's brother the late Leo Smith who was there.   The Royal Australian Regiment.   Duty First.   Lest we Forget.

Kapyong - 23-24 April 1951

“At last I felt like an Anzac, and I imagine there were 600 others like me.”
Captain Reg Saunders, Officer Commanding, C Company, 3 RAR

Kapyong came to be the most significant and important battle for Australian troops in Korea.

In April 1951 the Chinese launched their spring offensive with the aim of retaking the city of Seoul. They quickly overran South Korean forces defending one of the major approach routes, the valley of the Kapyong River. Thirty kilometres further south, the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade hastily occupied defensive positions in an attempt to halt the Chinese advance.

On 23 April, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson, and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, occupied prominent hills on either side of the seven-kilometre-wide valley, where a small tributary joined the Kapyong River. Also forward were headquarters units, tanks and artillery. The 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, were to the rear.

Early in the evening, retreating South Koreans streamed past the Commonwealth position, with Chinese forces closely intermingled. Soon afterwards a platoon of American tanks supporting 3 RAR was overrun. The Kapyong valley was too large an area to defend with the forces available, and the brigade was spread very thinly.

Throughout the night the Chinese repeatedly pressed the Australian positions, attacking in waves over their own dead and wounded.

At dawn, A Company, under the command of Major Bernard "Ben" O'Dowd, found that the Chinese had infiltrated its position, but a counter-attack was able to eject them. Meanwhile B Company, which had spent the night on a hill near the riiver, discovered Chinese occupying some old bunkers on a small knoll. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued with grenades and bayonets. C Company, under the command of Captain Reg Saunders, was in position to reinforce both A and B Companies.

"Major O'Dowd then directed the radio operator to contact anyone. The American 1st Marine Division answered but their operator refused to believe who our operator was speaking for. Major O'Dowd took the phone and demanded to speak to the commanding officer. The general in charge of the [Marine] division came on the phone and told O'Dowd we didn't exist as we had been wiped out the night before. Major O'Dowd said, 'I've got news for you, we are still here and we are staying here.'"

Fighting continued throughout the day with the Australians holding their positions, and the Chinese also engaging D Company. But late on 24 April, with their position now untenable, the Australians were forced into a fighting withdrawal down a ridge to the valley, where they rejoined the brigade. Their withdrawal was supported by New Zealand artillery from the 16th Field Regiment. Having found the Canadian position unassailable, the Chinese made no further attacks. By the afternoon of 25 April the road through to the Canadians had been cleared of Chinese and 2 PPCLI was relieved by US Army units. On Anzac Day 1951, the Australians rested after a long fight.

Thirty-two Australians were killed and 53 were wounded for their part in stalling the Chinese advance and preventing Seoul from falling into enemy hands.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his skilful leadership, and the Australian and Canadian battalions both received United States Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations for their part in the battle.

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US General J Van Fleet presents US Presidential Citation to member of 3RAR after the Battle of Kapyong

Australian Battles