At the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 the Australian Army was a shadow of the force which had served from 1939 to 1945.
Demobilisation and financial restrictions, imposed since 1945, had resulted in an Army with very limited available combat options. In 1950 the undermanned element of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan was all that was available to Australia to meet the crisis in Korea. Due to constraints imposed by their terms of enlistment, and the poor state of readiness of many of the BCOF soldiers, very few were available for immediate deployment. Unwilling to send what would have been a small and unprepared force into battle, the Army withheld committing any troops to Korea for several months.
In the meantime the first-ever regular infantry units of the post-war Australian Army had been formed with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) being brought up to war strength and readied for service in Korea. The soldiers of 3 RAR were mostly Second World War veterans and all had volunteered for service in Korea.
In October 1950 3 RAR, operating as an integral part of the British Commonwealth 27th Brigade, took part in the pursuit of the broken North Korean army after the Pusan breakout. Hard fighting followed as 3 RAR, along with all other UN forces, contended with the Chinese intervention.
The Korean War was, above all, an infantryman’s war which the Australian battalions, composed as they were of veteran soldiers, engaged in with consistent competence. Even though Australians were offered few opportunities for higher operational command, the Australian Army did provide some senior leadership positions of the British Commonwealth forces in Korea with Lieutenant General Sir Horace Robertson being the first of four Australians to fill that role. During the three years of the Korean War the Australian Army deployed approximately 10,600 soldiers.
The armistice was signed at 1 am on 27 July 1953. Sporadic fighting continued throughout the day, but as evening fell the guns fell silent. The armistice came into effect at 10 pm, ending three years, one month, and two days of war in Korea. The end came so suddenly that some soldiers took some convincing that the fighting was really over. The former belligerent nations each withdrew two kilometres in accordance with the armistice agreement, forming the Demilitarized Zone which still exists today. Australian forces remained in Korea as part of the multi-national peacekeeping force until 1957. Regrettably severe tension still exists in that part of the world, a legacy of the Korean War.