Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews - Provided by Rob Jerrard

Neat Books

One of the Chosin Few

Author: Dave Brady

ISBN: 0954719301

Publishers: Neat Books

Price £7.99

Publication Date: 2003

This book is the graphic story of men at war. Not told by a historian or a general, but a Royal Marine with a rifle in his hand, fighting for his life behind enemy lines in the Korean War. The author, Dave Brady, is an intelligent and articulate man who tells his vivid and heroic account with the humour and camaraderie that can only exist between well trained, fit young men of an elite fighting unit, turned loose on the world; from the fleshpots of Tokyo to the vicious hand to hand battle of the Chosin Resevoir and beyond.

Brady states his motto is, 'He who fights and runs away, lives to run away another day.' But this belies the man. I was fortunate to serve with Brady, as he is universally known, in the Metropolitan Police at Hornsey Police Station in North London. He was awarded no fewer than twelve Commissioner's Commendations, the Queen's Award for Bravery and is the holder of the Queen's Gallantry Medal. A hero twice over!

Even those who do not know Brady and have no interest in the Korean War will be enthralled by this incredible book and will be unable to put it down. James Neat Publisher

Foreword

In 1950 Dave Brady was serving as an Assault Engineer (expert in demolitions, mines and defence works) in the Royal Marines when volunteers were called for to form a commando unit for service in Korea. Initially employed on raiding the North Korean coast, after the breakout following the Inchon landings, 41 Independent Commando joined the United States Marine Division in the drive for the Yalu River through the inhospitable 7,000 ft. mountains where the screaming North wind from the Russian Steppes reduced the temperatures to a numbing minus 56 degrees.

Dave Brady tells how he was isolated after an ambush when the Chinese hit the Ist. Mar. Div; of his encounter in the snow with a Chinese soldier and of how he made his way through enemy territory to the relative safety of a U.S. Marine Corp outpost. This is one Britisher's story of the great fighting with­drawal of the fine Marine Corp's Division from the mountains to the sea.

Subsequently the book recounts how 41 Commando oper­ated from bases inside the Communist held harbour of Wonsan some sixty miles behind the main battle line. Throughout, the story is spiced with tales of friendly rivalry between the British and American soldiers and of brushes with authority of both nations.

Brady quickly establishes himself as the unit `wag', always ready with an apt remark, usually at an inappropriate moment. This account of his service with a remarkable force which maintained high morale despite heavy casualties is told in an amusing, self deprecatory style with none of the false heroics often associated with books of this kind.

After leaving the Royal Marines, Brady joined the Metro­politan Police and was presented by the Sovereign with the Queen's Gallantry Medal for his part, while unarmed, in the arrest of armed robbers. His book `Yankee One and George' recounts some of his experiences in 25 years of police work was published in 1984. (Plans for second edition by Neat Books)

Colonel Peter Thomas 41 Independent Commando The Royal Marines

Preface

Prior to the second World War, Korea was an integral part of Japan. It was intended that after the defeat of Japan, Korea would be established as an independent state. Russia entered the war towards the end of the conflict. As Communist forces moved south from Russia, American forces travelled north up the peninsular. The opposing armies met on the 38th parallel which passed across the land at about halfway. Here a line was established as a temporary border, which, as the years passed, hardened into a permanent line between the two politically different halves of the state. The north became the People's Democratic Republic and the south the Republic of Korea. The Russians retained a strong presence in the north and the Americans maintained token occupation forces south of the parallel.

There was considerable antagonism between north and south as their political stances hardened. The north had a huge Rus­sian-equipped army under the command of its president, an army officer, General Kim 11 Sung. The army of the south was pitifully armed in comparison.

On 25th June 1950, after a number of `Border Incidents', the North Korean army launched a massive invasion led by a strong force of T34 tanks of Russian manufacture. They quickly brushed aside weak opposition. The United States sent to Korea its occupation army from Japan. This army had grown soft through years of easy duty in occupation and were no match for the hard-bitten Communist troops, and were eventually pushed into a small enclave in the south-east of the country around the city of Pusan.

The Russians, were, at this time, boycotting the United Na­tions and in their absence a resolution was passed which allowed the members of the United Nations to come to the assistance of the South Koreans. The Russians could not veto the resolution because of their absence from the Security Council.

Korea is, in the far north, mountainous and inhospitable, with no major roads through the mountains. The main line of communica­tion and supply between Vladivostock, in Russia and the communist front line was a single-line railway track which hugged the east coast. This very important supply line consisted of many long tunnels through the coastal mountains and was not vulnerable to air strike or bombardment from the sea. It was obvious that it would require attrition by forces landed from the sea to curb the war supply situation of the communist forces. Further, to guard the coast against raids by aggressive commandos would require many thousands of North Korean troops who could more usefully, from the enemy point of view, be employed elsewhere.

The Royal Navy was committed to the war, and they were the only organisation amongst the United Nations forces troops capable and trained to fulfil attacks from the sea on the all ­important east coast railway line. These forces were the Royal Marine Commando units. There was a brigade of these elite marines already in action, in Malaya against communist forces there. The Malayan War was being won by the British Army supported by the Commando Brigade.

When the request was received for the raiding unit to go to Korea it was decided not to weaken 3 Brigade and therefore a small highly trained group of 200 commandos were formed from various Royal Marine Commando units in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

They grouped at Plymouth and were eventually flown to Japan where for reasons of supply, they were equipped with American gear. The United States troop-carrying submarine Perch and two assault personnel destroyers, Wantuck and Bass were placed at the disposal of the new unit. Thus was born, the 41st Independent Commando Royal Marines.

The unit was smaller than a normal Commando and con­tained a higher than usual quota of specialists due to the tasks they were to be asked to perform. The vast majority of the unit were operational troops; the disadvantage of this policy became apparent when in November 1950 the unit suffered 50 per cent casualties and no reinforcements were available for some time. By chance, these casualties decimated the specialist sections of the unit which curtailed raiding activities for many months.

The specialists consisted of

  Assault engineers: They were highly trained in demolition techniques under commando raid conditions. Generally it was to get these specialists ashore that the whole organisa­tion of the raiding unit was tuned.

• Heavy weapons: The term `heavy weapons' was a misnomer because the heaviest weapons used had to be capable of being carried on the back of a marine: 81mm mortars and light and heavy machine guns were the prime weapons used to support the unit during the raid. Whilst in a static role on the Wonsan Islands they used 75mm recoilless rifles to harass the mainland Chinese.

• Signallers: Both short range and long-range signal capabili­ties were required for contact between individual sections and with supporting ships at sea. As most operations were at night and visual signals could not be used, the efficiency of communications was essential for success.

• Swimmer-canoeists: Highly specialised and trained commandos used for reconnaissance.  Lonely work requiring considerable initiative and personal courage.


REVIEW BY ROB JERRARD

As a person who has family and personal connections with the Royal Marines I found this an exciting read. 

As a boy in Southsea I lived for a time with my paternal grandparents who had lost a Royal Marine son in WW2.  My Granny encouraged me to join the Royal Marine cadets at Eastney Barracks, where apparently my Great Grandfather had lived when serving in the RMA.  He also served in HMS Warrior.

This story of the Korean War is told with a lot of humour, and if I may say so, with the sort of vivid language one would expect from a Royal thinking back to such dangerous times, eg ‘shit and derision I may have been the last away, but I was definitely the first to emerge from the tunnel going like a long dog’!  So be prepared for some strong language.

I have to confess I do not know a great deal about the Korean War.  It was a war fought by my friends’ elder brothers, as was the Malayan Emergency.

In 1950 Dave Brady was serving as an assault engineer in the Royal Marines when volunteers were called for to form a commando unit in Korea.  Never volunteer I hear you say.  Dave ‘volunteered’ in the service sense, ‘you, you and you’.  If you have ever served in any of the forces you will know what I mean. ‘Hands up those that can ride a bicycle’; ‘you can, right grab that broom and sweep up’.  Dave ‘volunteered’ because it was a charge of attempted ducking of an Egyptian Officer or volunteer. 

This is an interesting and honest account of the 41st Independent Commandoes Royal Marines fighting in Korea.  Thirty-one did not return and a further twenty-six were taken Prisoner of War of which nine are included in the thirty-one who died – almost 50%, a very high price to pay. 

Dave’s description of screaming hoards of Chinese running towards them blowing bugles must have helped him later in life, a demonstration in London must have seemed like a picnic to him. Dave became a London Policeman and is the holder of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.  Demonstrators aren’t normally intent on killing you, but at times it seems like it.

Dave tells how he was isolated after an ambush and how he made his way through enemy territory to the relative safety of a US Marine Corp outpost. 

Dave says that he found the arrogance of RN officers towards the lower deck almost offensive – he talks about the Royal Marine discipline as being more severe in some respects but administered in a different way because their governors shared their hardships.  I agree to a certain extent, however I wouldn’t tar all RN officers with the same brush.  The RN has been around a long time and whilst there were some who were arrogant and looked down on you, there were many officers who I served with who I had the greatest respect for, and I personally never had a bad Captain, indeed I would describe some as gentlemen. 

The good test for a book is that you cannot put it down, this book passed that test, and what’s more, I now know more about the Korean War and the part played by the Royal Marines.

Rob Jerrard