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The Diggers of Kapyong

The story of the Aussies who changed the course of the Korean War


Tom Gilling

Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2024

Paperback    288pp     RRP: $34.99


Reviewer: Adrian Catt, May 2024


This easy-to-read and engaging book focuses upon the involvement of the men of the Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), and those re-deployed from British Commonwealth Occupation Forces – Japan (BCOF), to the war between North and South Korea in the period of 1950-51; especially detailing the Battle of Kapyong.

Beginning with an outline of the lead-up, whilst identifying the key nations and personalities that would become involved in the Korean War, the reader is told how and why the aggressors and defenders both thought and acted prior to, and indeed during conflict, and what their strategic goals and fears were; and also why these roles were reversed on a number of occasions [Seoul changing hands Four times].

The North initially invaded the South with the backing of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and presumably the tacit approval of the Soviet Union. The South was defended by a hastily formed UN coalition of Nations led by US Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur directed a number of successful manoeuvres which drove the Northern Forces beyond the 38th Parallel, driving the aggressors as far North as the Yalu River.

From this point, MacArthur appears to have made mistakes personally, as well as ignoring field intelligence which was being ‘shaped’ or concocted by his Intel Aide, General Willoughby, in order to pander [allegedly] to the ego and reputation of MacArthur.

MacArthur failed to believe the PRC would re-group and attack the South a second time, but a bitter onslaught was fought in the most appalling and miserable cold conditions of winter. The warriors on all sides faced frost-bite, hypothermia, snow blindness, and death from the weather, as well as from hard-fought battles. The North had a seemingly endless supply of troops, but the UN Forces had air-superiority, napalm, tanks and … 3RAR !

Gilling describes the battles which coalition forces fought prior to Kapyong. 3RAR also saw action at the Battles of Apple Orchard, the Falling Bridges, Chongju, Twin Tunnels, and finally the most significant battle (because it changed the outcome of the Korean War to eventually become a stalemate) the Battle of the Kapyong Valley.

Fought from the 23rd to the 25th of April 1951, the Battle of Kapyong was won courageously by 3RAR against PRC forces dug in on the spurs and ridgebacks of mountains overlooking the Kapyong Valley and the Kapyong River. Fighting was bloody and relentless and often at close quarters. The odds were stacked against 3RAR, but their deft tactics, including directing the use of US tanks and close air-support, eventually secured victory at Kapyong. This battle was vitally important because the victor controlled the vital conduit pass through the mountains that allowed men and materiel to flow from the North directly into Seoul some 30 kilometres away.

The war saw MacArthur sacked by President Truman and ended in a stalemate ‘Cease Fire’ between North and South, which is still in place at the 38th Parallel some 70 years later. Gilling asks whether anything of value was really achieved by either side?  Was all the death and destruction and the waste of billions of dollars worth the effort?

This is a well-written and factual account of the Korean War which enlightens the reader to many facts and much detail. Nicely done! One disappointment feature was the basic and simplistic maps in the Forword which lacked detail/marking of key locations often mentioned in the text, and also failed to show the important UN strategic lines of Utah, Kansas and Wyoming. Nevertheless, an enjoyable and authoritative read based upon the official diaries of 3RAR, and veterans’ accounts, which can be appreciated by all readers.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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