On the night of April 22 1951, Chinese forces launched a major offensive against United Nations forces defending the South Korean capital, Seoul, and positions further east.
Next morning the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade (including the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment) was ordered to the valley of the Kapyong River about 60 kilometres north-east of Seoul, where South Korean forces were being driven back.
During fierce fighting on April 24 the Australians and a Canadian battalion, supported by a New Zealand artillery regiment, stalled the Chinese advance before eventually withdrawing after dark.
At a cost of 32 men killed, 59 wounded and three missing (taken prisoner), the Australians helped hold up the Chinese 60th Division and inflicted heavy casualties totalling more than 500 killed alone. For their contribution to this action, 3RAR was awarded a US Presidential Citation.
Serviceman RSM Warrant Officer Lionel Douglas Haig McCombe MBE served from September 29, 1952 to August 29, 1953. He was a soldier of the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR Unit) and was Regimental Sergeant Major at Puckapunyal.
An article written by HR (Bob) Downey on behalf of the 2RAR Association, describes training at Puckapunyal before Australian units were sent to Korea.
“That with the entry of Australian ground forces to Korea, its focus was on retraining of former servicemen who had enlisted from the Southern States to reinforce 3RAR and many hundreds of such soldiers served in 2RAR for shorter or longer periods depending on their skill levels. Some regular members of the 2RAR volunteered for service in Korea with 3RAR. This situation continued till about mid-1952. By this stage LTCOL RL Hughes was commanding 2RAR with MAJ D Dimsey the 2IC and CAPT L Eyles as the Adjutant. For the other officers there was a constant stream in, and out of Puckapunyal as reinforcements were moved out. Some examples of this can be seen from the marching out of officers in May and June of 1952”.
About the constant need of reinforcements Downey wrote “The one constant was that Warrant Officers and senior NCOs stuck, and provided the continuity so vital to a unit but so many had left the Battalion by June. Among the outstanding trainers in the battalion since March 1951 was the RSM, WO1 Lionel McCombe, who had selected so many bright young regular soldiers and given them extra tuition before first parade every morning. These young soldiers were the backbone of the Sergeants Mess from that point onwards”.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honors of 1954 Lionel McCombe was presented with the Member of the British Empire MBE.
For their part in Kapyong, 3rd Battalion, RAR, the Canadians (who had fought their own lonely battle to the west) and a company of American tank battalion were awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation a US Army award for bravery which was installed on an entire unit. The 3RAR was serving as part of the US-led UN forces in Korea when it was decorated.
After the Battle of Kapyong Australians remained in the 38th parallel fighting trench warfare in appalling conditions that were dirty and cramped with some UN soldiers freezing to death in their trenches.
Although a stalemate had been reached, frequent patrols, probes of enemy positions and intelligence gathering meant Australian troops still saw considerable action.