The Battle of Sariwon – 17th October 1950
Background: In the initial stages of the Korean War, the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) quickly pushed South Korean and UN forces to the Pusan Perimeter in the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula. However, the tide turned with the successful Incheon Landing by UN forces in September 1950, which allowed for a breakout from the Pusan Perimeter and a rapid advance north. By mid-October 1950, UN forces were moving northwards in pursuit of retreating North Korean troops.
The Battle: On 17th October 1950, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) was advancing northwards when they engaged North Korean troops at Sariwon, roughly 50 miles south of Pyongyang. The NKPA forces were believed to be remnants of several defeated units.
During the battle, the 3 RAR, under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Green, displayed great tactical prowess. However, one of the most remarkable incidents of the battle was a daring bluff by the battalion’s second-in-command, Major Bruce Ferguson.
Amid the confusion of battle, Major Ferguson, accompanied by a small party, advanced on a significant force of North Korean soldiers who were seemingly preparing a defensive position. Making the most of the situation, Major Ferguson bluffed the North Koreans into believing that they were surrounded by a much larger force. He called for their surrender, and remarkably, at least 1,500 North Korean soldiers laid down their arms, effectively ending the battle.
Aftermath: The action at Sariwon was a significant morale boost for UN forces and furthered the reputation of the 3 RAR for their audacity and skill in combat. For their bravery and effective tactics during the battle, several members of the battalion, including Major Ferguson, received commendations.
The Sariwon incident is notable not just for the bravery and skill demonstrated by the 3 RAR but also for the psychological aspect of warfare. Major Ferguson’s audacious bluff highlighted the fragile morale of the NKPA at that time and demonstrated how even in the chaos of war, quick thinking and bold action can lead to unexpected and favourable outcomes.