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Department of Defence
Media Release


14/06/2008 MECC 176/08







One of Australia’s most distinguished war time leaders, General Sir Francis Hassett AC, KBE, CB, DSO LVO psc, IDC, Chief of Defence Force Staff from 1976 to 1977 passed away on the 11 June 2008.


General Hassett entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon aged 16, graduating in 1938.  His career spanning more than 42 years saw him undertake a wide variety of positions, including Chief of the Defence Force Staff.


He saw active service in World War II, Korea and Malaya. At age 23, he was the youngest officer promoted to Lieutenant Colonel during WWII, a rank at which he served with great distinction in the Korean War. As the Commander of the 3rd Battalion, of the newly formed Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), he led the Battalion through some of the toughest fighting of the Korean War.


General Hassett is best remembered for his achievements in command of an under-strength battalion at Maryang San, regarded as perhaps the single greatest feat of arms by the Australian Army in the Korean War. He went on to be an innovative leader in Malaya, developing successful counter insurgency techniques that still inform Army tactics today.


He served his nation with distinction, being mentioned in Dispatches for bravery twice and receiving an immediate Distinguished Service Order following the battle of Maryang San.


A significant, enduring legacy was his reorganisation of the Army from state based regional commands to commands based on the core functions of Training and Field Forces. As his many decorations and honours testify, General Hassett was recognised for his inspiring leadership, constant achievement and his relentless dedication to duty, in a sequence of tough and challenging appointments.


General Hassett served as Chief of the General Staff (now Chief of Army) and as Chief of Defence Force Staff. Shortly after his appointment to Chief of Defence Force Staff, General Hassett received a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976.


General Sir Francis Hassett retired in April 1977 and lived in Canberra.  He was a fine man, warrior chief, and remarkable servant of the nation.


Details of services and media arrangements will be advised separately.








Francis George Hassett was born in Sydney on April 11th 1918.  After completing his education at Canterbury High School, he entered the Royal Military College Duntroon, graduating in 1938.  His first posting was to the Darwin Mobile Force, where he commanded the Mortar Platoon.  Ironically, due to the constraints of the Defence Act, the DMF was officially designated an artillery unit and he thus began his infantry career in the artillery.


The experience gained in this unusual Unit clearly prepared him well for the demands of war service.  The outbreak of the war saw the then Captain Hassett posted as Adjutant to the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion.  His career progressed rapidly, to Brigade Major of the 18th Brigade and, at 23 years of age, to Lieutenant Colonel and a senior staff job on the headquarters of the II Australian Corps.  He finished the war as GSO I of the 3rd Australian Division on Bougainville.  He was Mentioned in Despatches twice and wounded during the Libyan campaign while serving with the 2/3rd.


After the War, he was able to hone his professional education with a stint as Instructor at the Staff College before the Korean War saw him thrust once more into battle.  After briefly commanding 1RAR in Australia, he took command of 3RAR, part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade in Korea, on 6 July 1951 and led the Battalion through some of the toughest fighting of the War.  This reached its peak in October-December 1951 in Operation Commando.  In this operation, designed to strengthen the Allied position, the Commonwealth Division’s objective was a line of hills to its front – 3 RAR’s being Hill 317, perhaps better known as Maryang San.  With careful and innovative planning and decisive leadership, 3 RAR achieved where several previous attempts by American forces had failed. 


Following Korea, he spent several years in key instructional and administrative posts before returning, in 1960, to the 28th Commonwealth Brigade, now in Malaya, as its commander.  The Brigade was a key part of the Far East Strategic Reserve.  On leaving Malaya, he attended the Imperial Defence College in London then spent a period as DCGS and 1968 to 1970 as GOC Northern Command.


However, in the words of the entry in the Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, his most important overall contributions to the Army were still to come.  In 1970-71, he headed the Army Reorganisation Planning Staff and was instrumental in a major overhaul of the Army’s internal structures.  Having proposed the new structures, he was then appointed Vice-CGS and charged with implementing the changes.  In 1973, he was appointed CGS of the revitalised Australian Army and in 1975 Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.


After a diverse and demanding career, General Hassett retired in April 1977 and lives in Canberra.  He has published a number of learned articles and papers on Defence topics.






Media contact: Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664






Issued by Ministerial and Executive Coordination and Communication,
Department of Defence,
Canberra, ACT
Phone: 02 6127 1999 Fax: 02 6265 6946
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