"Operation Fauna" - 10-11 December 1952

AWM 042310Hill 355, "Little Gibraltar", dominates the countryside.042310

"It takes intestinal fortitude, 'guts' of the highest order, to drop into the unknown, the 'bottomless trench' of unknown enemy bunkers. There is no time to think about it. You jump, you hope, you move swiftly, you do your job, you get out."
Lieutenant Gus Breen

At the end of November 1952, the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR), under the command of Lietenant Colonel M. Austin, had secured and were holding the approaches to Hill 355, "Little Gibraltar" with continuous patrols. Recent advances by the Chinese on a spur across the valley from Hill 355 concerned Brigadier Thomas Daly, Commander of the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade. He decided a raid must be made on their position. "Operation Fauna" had two objectives: one, to capture enemy prisoners, to gather intelligence about the identities of the Chinese relief battalions that had recently arrived in the area; and two, to destroy enemy bunkers and prevent the Chinese from advancing their line any further.

As the Chinese troops were well-established in the area, surprise was essential. Under the command of Major A. S . Mann, B Company aimed to make the climb in the early morning hours of 11 December, attacking the Chinese position in the rear, from the north-eastern spur of Hill 355. They would be supported by the 16th New Zealand Field Regiment and two assault pioneer platoons.

Private Desmond Guilfoyle recalled some of the soldiers more humorous exchanges that allayed the tension of the outset of the operation:

"'Famous last words recorded here', it's Jock McKenna again.

"'I'm not sure whether to go for a M.M. or a V.C.', someone calls out.

"'I'd rather go for a beer', Old Harry replies, as we go over the top and down the slope!"

The slopes of Hill 335 were icy and dangerous, and progress was slow. Yet their appearance was clearly a surprise and confused the Chinese troops in the communication trenches. However their shouts and bursts of gunfire alerted their comrades further forward. They began to fire on the Australians, who continued trying to penetrate the Chinese positions. Artillery shelled the area in support of the Australians, assisting their advance forward.

Despite careful initial planning, the Chinese defence proved stronger than had been anticipated; gun fire and grenades rained on the troops, one-third of whom were wounded. Although the capture of enemy prisoners was a major objective in this operation, it proved impossible to achieve. The Chinese were skilful at staying hidden, in well-fortified bunkers and underground tunnels. The Australians were ordered to withdraw without having captured any prisoners.

Twenty-two men were wounded and three reported missing during Operation Fauna, one of whom was recovered the next day by a search party. Although the mission had been unsuccessful, many men from 1 RAR were decorated for their bravery in the attack, their last action in Korea before returning home.