Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Kapyong: Aussies and Canadians beat back massive Chinese attack targeted at Seoul

February 25, 2014

Had they not held, the UN might well have surrendered the peninsula to the Chinese

27th British Infantry - British Commonwealth Brigade: From Pusan to the Yalu and back


North Korean tanks cross 38th parallel

The NK invasion of the ROK on June 25, 1950 was a surprise. Having gone through WWII in the Pacific, and having divided the Korean peninsula into two pieces, the DPRK in the North and the ROK in the South, the US withdrew all its ground combat forces from the peninsula and focused its full attention on the occupation and reconstruction of Japan.


Some interesting history.

In January 1950, prior to the NK invasion, President Truman announced the US would not become involved in disputes over the Formosa Strait and would not intervene if the CHICOMs attacked Formosa. He viewed the problem to be a Chinese civil problem and did not want to get involved, though I will say the US viewed Formosa as much more important than Korea.

The NK invasion of the ROK changed that outlook. Truman declared the Formosa Strait neutral and sent the US 7th Fleet there to prevent any outbreak of hostilities. The net result was that Formosa was now under US protection.

President Truman met with his security advisors on the evening of June 25 (Washington time). He directed a few things be done in response to the NK invasion, one of which was to use air power to cover the evacuation of US citizens and destroy NK tanks if necessary.

This is interesting. Robert Dorr, in his book
B-29 Superfortress Units of the Korean War, wrote that Truman “distrusted airmen,” seeing them as “glamour boys” flying needlessly expensive aircraft. Nonetheless, when the North Koreans invaded, the USAF was the only service that could get iron on the target right away, and to Truman’s credit, he committed the USAF right away.

Of historical importance, he directed US actions be confined to the United Nations (UN) and to Korea. This would become important because he later called the US response to the invasion a “police action” under UN auspices so he would not have to ask Congress for a Declaration of War. The American public accepted this, and accepted continuation of the draft to build up forces.
The UN, created only in 1945, took the job, at least in name, as a cover for the major Allied interventions.

It turns out the US Air Force (USAF) had already begun preparing for the evacuation of Seoul. The US Army Air Corps had by this time changed into the USAF, a new (1949) and separate service. This would be the USAF’s first shooting war.


On June 27, 1950, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 83, recommending that members of the UN provide assistance to the ROK "to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security to the area.” This is a photo of that UNSC vote. On July 7, 1950, the UNSC recommended that members providing military forces and other assistance to South Korea "make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States of America.” So the UNSC delegated the combat job to the US.

The reality was the US was in charge. President Truman named General of the Army Douglas MacArthur the commander-in-chief of the UN Command (UNC). Most of the foreign forces came from the US, and most of the directives and orders for conduct of the war came from Washington. Truman did all this without seeking a constitutionally mandated Declaration of War. As an aside, keep in mind that MaArthur was also in charge of the occupation of Japan. In this role, he was known as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. As a result, in MacArthur’s mind, he was in charge of quite a bit, quite a bit indeed --- occupation of Japan and the war in Korea, the latter of which would ultimately involve China, which MacArthur sensed was in his domain as well.


As said earlier, NK forces invaded the ROK across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950. And, as said earlier, only ROK forces were there to defend.


The NK took Seoul three days later, on June 28. This photo is from NK propaganda literature showing NK forces coming through Seoul in June 1950. Almost without hesitation, Truman authorized USAF forces to attack North Korea and the US Navy was told to blockade the coast. USAF forces immediately began evacuation, naval escort, combat air patrols to protect transport aircraft, and reconnaissance flights, and the shooting started fairly rapidly.



USAF F-82 Twin Mustangs (top photo) shot down three enemy aircraft on June 27, 1950. These enemy aircraft were intending to attack USAF transport aircraft at Kimpo Airfield in Seoul attempting to support the evacuation. USAF B-29 bombers (bottom photo) attacked the NK on June 28, 1950, eight hours after the UN authorized the use of force. The B-29 destroyed much of Japan’s home islands in fire bomb attacks in WWII and ultimately dropped two atomic bombs. Those used in Korea were often brought out of storage. By August 1, 1950, four bomb groups had moved to Japan to fight in the war.

But recall the US had no ground combat forces in the ROK. Its closest forces were the 8th Army, tasked with the occupation of Japan. This army was in no shape to enter a war. It was an occupation force that had been allowed to lose its fighting edge.

The American assumption was that the NK would be scared to death if it knew it would have to fight the Americans. Unable to muster much of anything out of the 8th Army on the quick, the US sent a
500 man Task Force Smith (a Talking Proud story, a must read for terrific background history on all this) from Japan to try to stop the advance.

The Task Force, from the 1-21 Infantry, was driven by truck on July 1, 1950 for about 75 miles to Itazuke AB Japan, took six C-54 transports to Pusan, and after some foul weather delays, made it to Pusan, ROK. A field artillery battery sailed by ship.


The men were driven by truck for about 17 miles to a train station at Taejon and arrived on July 2. This shows them disembarking at Taejon. Lt. Colonel Charles B. “Brad” Smith (shown here), in command, went to the office of General John A. Church. Church was on MacArthur’s staff, in charge of the General Headquarters Advance Command and Liaison Group, Korea, located in Japan. I believe Church at the time was n the ROK checking out the situation. John Toland, in his book, In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953, wrote about the encounter:

“Church pointed to a place on the map. ‘We have a little action up here. All we need is some men up there who won’t run when they see tanks. We’re going to move you up to support the ROKs.’ ”

Major General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th Infantry Division (ID), which was ordered to go to Korea as soon as possible, had already told Church when they were in Japan:

“When you get to Pusan, head for Taejon. We want to stop the North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as far north as possible.”


The Task force then took a train north to Pyongtaek and Ansong, about 15-20 miles south of Osan. Colonel Smith drove his jeep to the north a bit and chose a position at Suwon where he would put his men down. The ROK 1st and 6th Divisions were fleeing in disarray from the North Korean onslaught. Remember this ROK 6th Division. It will show up again at the Battle of Kapyong.

As mentioned earlier, the US thought the enemy would turn around once they saw US soldiers. They did no; the assumption was wrong. The military leadership also wanted Smith to buy time so it could get the 24th ID there from Japan that they thought could stop the advance.

Smith’s men fired the best weapons they had at North Korean Soviet-made tanks at nearly point blank range and their ordnance simply bounced off and the tanks kept moving south, sometimes driving away almost as though they were mocking the Americans. Task Force Smith had no choice but to withdraw to the south. Reinforcements came in from the 24th ID but they too were forced to withdraw to the South, to what became known as the Pusan Perimeter, in the southeast corner of the peninsula.

The NK forces chased the US forces aggressively and attacked the Pusan Perimeter ferociously throughout August 1950.

It is at Pusan where the story of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, the 27 BC, begins. The 27 BC is the focus of our story. I am going to take you with the 27 BC from Pusan to the Yalu and back and then show you how the 27 BC ended up at Kapyong, about 40 miles northeast of Seoul, from which it would defend against the Chinese Fifth Offensive that attempted to retake Seoul and force the UNC to withdraw from the peninsula.

So let’s talk a bit about the Pusan Perimeter.

At Pusan, the Allied forces had their backs to the sea. The man in charge for the Allies on the peninsula was Lt. General Walton “Johnnie” Walker, USA, commander of the US 8th Army. The 8th Army had been slated to invade the Japanese Home Islands if required to end WWII. Such an invasion was not required, so the 8th Army entered Japan as an occupation force. As such, it was hollowed out, spread throughout Japan, and had lost its combat readiness. It was a mere shell of itself.


Once the NK invaded, the 24th ID of the 8th Army was ordered to Taegu, about 60 miles northwest of Pusan. It arrived from Japan on July 2, 1950. Walker had tried desperately to rebuild his divisions in Japan, but he had not completed the job. Nonetheless, he was ordered to go to Taegu and bring his forces in Japan with him. He set up the command post of the 8th Army in Korea (EUSAK) in Taegu. The ROK Army (ROKA) took a beating during the invasion and through a succession of defeats was forced southward to the Kum River in central ROK, along with those US forces that tried to help. On July 17, Walker assumed operational control of the ROKA. On July 20 the 24th ID was forced out of Taejon, also in central ROK, its commander, Major General Dean having been captured. Taejon was about 120 miles northwest of Pusan. Then the newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division was forced out of Yeongdong on July 25, about 94 miles northwest of Pusan and only 25 miles southeast of Taejon.


Pusan Port 1953

The moral of the story was that Allied forces were being pushed southeast toward Pusan. It hosted a large South Korean deepwater port on the Tsushima Strait between the ROK and southern Japan. General Walker was in a bind. He could not lose Pusan, he was running out of space in which to maneuver, he needed the port to bring in reserves to help, and he needed the reserves to break out. On July 29, 1950, he issued perhaps his most famous order: “Stand or die.” This order read as follows:

“We are fighting a battle against time. There will be no more retreating, withdrawal or readjustment of the lines or any other term you choose. There is no line behind us to which we can retreat.…There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end.…We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together.…I want everybody to understand we are going to hold this line. We are going to win.”

With that bit of background, the time is now to introduce the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade (27 BC), initially called the 27th British Infantry Brigade.

The brigade originated in 1939 as the British 27 Infantry Brigade and fought in WWII. It went through some reorganizations during the war and was reformed in 1948 and sent to Hong Kong in 1949. It consisted of one battalion of the Middlesex regiment, the 1 MX, “The Diehards,” The Duke of Cambridge’s Own; and one battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the 1 A&SH. The brigade, Brigadier Basil A. Coad in command, was given a few days notice it was to go from Hong Kong to Korea and fight. Each battalion was understrength and mostly conscript. At the moment, its two battalions were solely British. The brigade was told to pack lightly.


The British brigade, notified to proceed on August 20, departed Hong Kong on August 25. The 1 MX embarked on the fleet repair carrier HMS Unicorn while the 1 A&SH embarked on the cruiser HMS Ceylon. They were escorted by New Zealand destroyers. The brigade arrived at Pusan in southern ROK on August 29, welcomed by an American band.


This photo shows bagpipers of the AS&H on August 29, 1950, piping ashore at Pusan a battalion of their Scottish regiment and a battalion of the English Middlesex Regiment.

As of August 28, 1950, in addition to the 1 MX, 1 A&SH, the British 27th Infantry Brigade had a brigade signal troop, a troop of 17 pounder anti-tank guns with the Royal Artillery (RA), an ordnance field park with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC), and 11 infantry workshops manned by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). I will not elaborate much on these additional outfits, only on the infantry units. I will only say they were mission essential.

These were the first allied ground forces to join the Americans and South Koreans. They had to move so quickly, and Britain was so unprepared, that its men were told they would have no trucks, no armor and no artillery to take with them. They were completely reliant on the US for transport and on other Allies for artillery, tanks and air. Keep this in mind as we proceed. The brigade became known by the men as “The Fire Brigade” and the “Something for God’s Sake Brigade.”


On this map, the lower red arrow points to the 1st Cav Division, to which the 27th Brits were attached. The upper arrow points to the ROK 6th Division, which will be a central point of discussion later as we get into the Battle of Kapyong.

Almost immediately, on September 5, the brigade was in the fight defending the Pusan Perimeter. It landed at Pusan in tropical clothing on August 29, 1950. It moved immediately up to just below the Naktong River to get organized. Within a few days, it had taken over a 10 mile front, stretching its limits. At the time, it had only two battalions. The 1 MX did not have its full complement and would have to wait a few weeks until a company of the Queens Regiment arrived from Germany for reinforcement.

The 27th was assigned to the US 1st Cavalry Division and was positioned on its southern flank. Its follow-on force, the 27 BC, would be assigned to a variety of American divisions throughout the war, often when trouble spots emerged that needed reinforcement.


The Naktong River (shown on the map) provided a natural barrier. General Walker ordered all his forces to withdraw behind that river and stand. Here you see US forces on the near side of the Naktong, and on the far side you see the swarming NK enemy.

The Allied forces held out for six weeks in this neck of the woods. The enemy could not break through and started to withdraw. The US lost almost 5,000 KIA, 12,000 WIA, and 2,700 MIA, with about 400 POWs. The ROKA probably lost about 40,000. The enemy lost, and it is only a rough guess, perhaps 60,000-70,000. The British losses were comparatively few.



On September 15, 1950 the newly formed US X Corps, Major General Edward Mallory Almond in command, employing mostly US Marines although his force did include the US Army’s 7th Division and some ROK units, did an end run around the enemy landing at Inchon, west of Seoul.

The Naval Historic and Heritage wrote:


USS Toledo heavy cruiser firing 8-inch 55-caliber guns at enemy targets around Inchon

“Preliminary naval gunfire and air bombardment began on 13 September. The 1st and 5th Marines went ashore on the morning of the 15th. Resistance and casualties were modest, and initial objectives were quickly secured. Over the next several days, as supplies and troops poured ashore at Inchon, the Marines moved relentlessly toward Seoul. Kimpo airfield was taken on 17 September and was in use to support operations two days later. On 29 September, after days of hard street fighting, Seoul was returned to the South Korean government.”

The Inchon landings threw the NK for a loop and opened a second front. With long logistics lines, much of their force was locked into battle at the Pusan perimeter to the south, while the US Marines had taken hold to their north. The enemy was, to a large degree, trapped.


US forces recapturing Seoul September 28, 1950.

In retrospect, the US command made a mistake. It was so focused on retaking Seoul it failed to box in the retreating enemy forces that were caught between the 38th parallel and Pusan, and as a result, many made it back to North Korea for another day.


General Walker understood the NK forces were in a bad fix. So on September 16 Walker’s force began to break out of the Pusan Perimeter, assaulting enemy forces, in attacks equally as bold as the Inchon landings. The 27th Brits were ordered to cross the Naktong but came upon stiff enemy resistance. Then Walker committed his 24th ID and on September 20 attached the 27th Brits to it. Together they crossed the Naktong on September 22. The 27th played a leadership role in the breakout. The fighting was fierce, the British were mistakenly attacked by USAF fighters carrying napalm, the 1 A&SH was hurt badly, but on September 24 the British 27th and 24th ID made it to Seongju, roughly in the area of the ellipse.

The NK took a beating during the breakout. They were short on supplies, they had already incurred large-scale losses, and during the time the 8th Army was held up and holding the perimeter, a good number of forces and equipment arrived at Pusan for reinforcement, including artillery and about 500 tanks. Troop strength in the perimeter had grown to about 180,000 of which 9,200 were ROKA, and the British 27th had about 1,600 men with the rest being Americans. Furthermore, US air and naval gunfire pounded the enemy day in and day out. The NK had been on the attack for six weeks, and had failed to push the Allies into the sea. With Inchon, they collapsed and had no choice but to retreat. They would retreat under fire and the US and British forces chased after them.

General MacArthur felt the enemy had been largely destroyed as a fighting force. North Korean soldiers who survived began moving quickly to the 38th parallel and back to “safety.”

I would caution here not to make the breakout sound like it was a walk in the park. It was not. In fact, it was initially in spurts. The NK still had about 98,000 men, though they were untrained and undersupplied. General Walker encountered problems on the eastern section of the perimeter, and then problems near Taegu. He kept shifting his forces around to respond to each incursion. The NK continued planning offensives in the area, and they mounted many strong attacks. It took about a week before the breakout could pick up real steam.

The 27th was relieved by the US 7th Cavalry and then General Walker withdrew the 27th to rejoin 8th Army control. I cannot say for sure, but I believe Walker took control over the 27th because he knew he would continue moving north and cross the 38th parallel, and he wanted to be able to put the 27th where he needed it the most.


On September 28, 1950, the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) arrived in Korea, was attached to the 27th British Brigade, and joined the brigade on October 1. The photo shows some of the men of the 3 RAR viewing Pusan for the first time, from the deck of the US troopship
Aiken Victory. They were mostly conscripts.

As a result of the Aussies’ arrival, the 27th British Infantry Brigade was renamed the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, the 27th BC, or I will say frequently, the 27 BC. So the 27th now had the British 1 MX and 1 A&SH, and the Australian 3 RAR. The 3 RAR had been on occupation duties in Japan and, like most forces coming from Japan, had very little training before coming to Korea.

With Seoul back in Allied hands, a decision was made to cross the 38th parallel and head north. There had been weeks of hemming and hawing in Washington as to whether or not to cross the 38th. Concerns about the Soviets and Chinese entering the war were most certainly there. This decision process is an interesting study. But on September 27, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent MacArthur a directive enjoining him to destroy the North Korean Armed Forces, and authorized him to cross the 38th. However, stuck in there were urgings to MacArthur to keep a close watch on the Soviets and Chinese, and all bets could be off if they entered the war. The directive got fairly detailed on this subject.

But MacArthur now had a directive, from the US JCS, not the UN Security Council. He would use this directive frequently as authorization for him to take actions he wanted to take, actions not always in line with what Washington wanted.

The ROK I Corps crossed the 38th in the east on October 1, two ROK II Corps divisions crossed in the center on October 6-7, and then on October 9 Eighth Army forces crossed from the west, north of Kaesong, headed to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

One of the remarkable things about this war is how fast units moved. Indeed, once the breakout was firmed up, the movement against the NK was a rout.

I’d like now to track the 27th BC up into the NK and nearly all the way to China.


With the 3 RAR in its ranks for only one day, the 27 BC moved north to Kumchon, shown by the top red arrow on the map. The 27th had little problem taking Kumchon. Now the other shoe fell. The 8th Army on October 5 ordered the 27th BC to get up to an area north of Seoul. The brigade went by truck on the Taegu Road for a while and then took a plane to Kimpo Airport in Seoul. After arrival, the brigade bivouacked at the edge of the airfield. The brigade was then instructed to go to Kaesong, which is very close to the 38th parallel, at 37 degrees 38 minutes to be exact. Today, it is actually across the DMZ in North Korea, but back in this war, there was no DMZ, only the 38th parallel.


Once in Kaesong, the 27th took about a one week break. The 1st Cavalry Division arrived and the 27 BC was told to move out on October 15 with the 1st Cav and cross the 38th parallel. It did so and stopped at Kumchon. Now an end-around plan was developed. The 1st Cav would keep moving north on the Pyongyang-Kaesong Road, with the 27 BC. Then came a major order for the brigade: starting on October 17, take the lead on behalf of the 1st Cav, cross through the 7th Cav Regiment’s lines, and make your way to Sariwon. The 24th ID was told to swing west to Haeju out of Kumchon and then head up north to Sariwon. The 27th went through Hungsu-Ri and Masan-Ni with little trouble but encountered increased resistance about four miles south of Sariwon. As a point of interest, as I read the history, there seemed to be sort of a race between the 1st Cav and 24th ID to get to Sariwon, with the 27th BC acting on behalf of the 1st Cav to which it was attached. The 1st Cav was putting its bets on the 27th!

The 1 A&SH had been out front, but then the 3rd RAR moved into and through Sariwon and stopped just to the north of the town. There was some confusion among the North Koreans and some elements of the 27th in the Sariwon area. I commend a very good history of the
1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland (1 A&SH) to read the details. But the bottom line was the 27th secured Sariwon.

The commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, Major General Hobart Raymond “Hap” Gay, commended the 27th BC:

“Congratulations on your splendid and sensational drive through enemy territory. I know it is a proud day in your Brigade's record, and one that deserves the envy of all combat soldiers. It is a great pleasure to have a Unit such as yours associated with 1st Cavalry Division. The men of your Brigade are true fighting soldiers. You and the members of your Brigade have, in capturing Sariwon, accomplished a marvelous military feat. I send my sincerest congratulations to you and all officers and men of the Argyll and Sutherland Battalion, Middlesex Battalion, also the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, who sped 31 miles in 12 hours to deal the enemy a disastrous blow.”

The 27th British Infantry Brigade was hastily sent to Korea from Hong Kong, and the 3 RAR, mostly conscripts, was taken out of occupation of Japan, with little training, and sent to Korea. These soldiers learned fast and that learning would pay huge dividends once they had to defend Kapyong. They were most certainly getting battle hardened.


After Sariwon, the 1 MX took the lead for the 27th BC and by October 20, Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was in sight. The US 1st Cavalry Division entered Pyongyang on October 19, 1950.

We have to pause now for a moment. Thus far, we have concentrated on the thrust up western Korea because we wanted to track the 27th BC. But there was plenty of action over on the eastern side, mostly involving ROK forces, and they were also pushing to the north, quite rapidly in fact. It did not take a rocket scientist in Beijing to figure out what was at risk here. Clearly the UN forces were coming toward China.

Chinese leaders met from October 2-5 to discuss the issue and debated whether to send forces into Korea. Mao Zedong and Zhou en Lai wanted to go in, but others did not. One commander refused to command Chinese forces into Korea, so Mao chose General Peng Duhai, shown here. Zhou sent a delegation to Moscow on October 8 to talk it over with the Soviets. Stalin gave conditional and somewhat reluctant support. On the delegation’s return, the Chinese leadership decided to send 300,000 troops into North Korea. They started entering on October 25. They moved mostly at night to avoid detection.

General MacArthur met with President Truman on Wake Island on October 15 and MacArthur told Truman he was sure the Chinese would not enter.


The Chinese crossed the Yalu on October 19. This is a photo showing them about to cross.


On October 21, the 27 BC was attached to the US 24th ID. The 27 BC continued heading north. On October 21, the 1 A&SH took the lead and, with just a bit of difficulty, the 27 BC made it across the Taedong River on which Pyongyang is located, marked with a green arrow on this map. Its major problem was there were so many UN forces crossing it was tough to get in the queue. It then proceeded north. I’ve got to go to a different kind of map now. The lads have run me out of map!


The 27 BC next headed to Yongju. Interestingly, the 24th ID stayed behind in Pyongyang. So Brigadier Coad had to send a reconnaissance team into the town to search for the US 187 Airborne Regimental Combat Team (RCT).


Looking carefully at the map, you can see the parachutes drawn near Sukchon to the west and Sunchon to the east. This photo shows them jumping to those targets on October 20, 1950. This was the 187 Airborne RCT. They airdropped behind enemy lines in this area. The 27 BC recon team found them to the north of Yongju, clear of it. I might say here that at this point in time, several reports have said the 27 BC was leading the advance to the Yalu for the 8th Army. You can see why the 8th Army took control of the 27th early on.

Just as a reminder, the 27th BC still consists of the 1 MX, 1 A&SH, both British, and the 3 RAR, Australian.

With Yongju taken care of, the 3 RAR led the way. But before it moved out, the 187 Airborne RCT, in the town, asked for help, so the 1 A&SH went in there to assist. The 3 RAR passed through their lines to the north, riding on US Marine Corps M4 Sherman tanks. It was attacked by a rear guard element but took care of it too. It turns out the NK 239th Regiment found itself caught in the middle of the Americans, British and Australians, and was just about completely destroyed. This went down in many diaries as the 3 RAR’s first big victory.


Next stop, Sinanju, which is just off the map to the north. On or about October 22, the 27th BC arrived in Sinanju largely unopposed. Just north of Sinanju is the Chongchon River, and it looked like the enemy had crossed it hoping it would serve as some kind of delaying barrier. Both bridges across the river had been blown up.


The 1 MX crossed it unopposed. Good luck for the 1 MX. This photo shows the battalion starting to cross the river at Sinanju. Heckuva way for a battalion to cross a wide river flowing into the Yellow Sea deep in enemy territory! In any event, the 1 MX was followed by the other two battalions, but these two crossed over a bridge built by the Americans. The next target was Chongju.

Now we’ll have to switch to yet another map.


This map will give us a chance to take pause. Note where the 27 BC is at present, the bottom red dot, Sinanju. It was now moving to Chongju through Pakchon which I will talk about in a moment. But first, look at the incredible offensive conducted by UN forces since the Pusan Perimeter. Remember, Pusan is in far southeast ROK. This map shows the main routes that took the UN forces up to the Yalu River. On our timetable, the 27 BC is not quite there, but you can see it is not far. In reading the maps, I believe the ROK 6th Division was the closest to the Yalu.

I should remark, based on a few maps I have seen, that the 27th BC was not always moving together, as one; the three battalions and their individual companies were often spread out a bit, though I believe they were on balance well coordinated. I have had to talk mostly in terms of the whole brigade as I cannot describe the whereabouts of each battalion and company in this report.


That said, this is a relevant map to show my point and also reflect where everyone in the brigade was toward the end of October. Disregard the legend and focus more on the geography, place names and the location on various dates of each battalion. Note that the Chongchon River separates Sinanju and Pakchon. Also note that by October 30 the 3 RAR was at Chongju while the 1 MX had moved northward up the Taeryong River.


Chinese forces mounting hillside attack, November 1950

Recall, however, I said the Chinese, estimated at about 300,000 strong, secretly crossed the Yalu River into the NK on October 19. They launched their First Phase Offensive on October 25, attacking UN forces close to their border. This attack eased Stalin’s mind and he promised to provide Soviet air cover for the Chinese force. The attack shocked the UN force leadership, even though there had been plenty of warnings, which they disregarded. The Chinese beat up the ROK II Corps in the center and on November 1 attacked the US 8th Cavalry, overrunning its positions at Unsan. The UN forces fell back to the Chongchun River. But then, the Chinese mysteriously withdrew and did not push their attack forward. As a result, the UNC leadership felt that would be the extent of the Chinese intervention, that the Chinese were just firing for effect. They still insisted everyone would be home by Christmas.

They were wrong again.

I believe Brigadier Coad notified his senior officers on or about November 1, 1950 that the Chinese had entered the war. Life gets a little confusing now. In looking at the above map, you see the 3 RAR had taken Chongju on October 29-30, and the 1 MX had traveled up the Taeryong and was located up north on October 31.

Suddenly, it seems to me, on November 1 or thereabouts, the 27th was notified that it would have to cover a US withdrawal, I believe largely of the 1st Cavalry Division, from an area largely located to the north and northeast. The brigade was told to protect the bridgehead at Pakchon and the road south to the Chongchon. As it maneuvered to do this, elements of the brigade came into contact with the Chinese, who had theoretically withdrawn after their first offensive. But American reconnaissance reflected the Chinese had about a division size unit that was sweeping southward to the east of the 27th BC. The Chinese were now attacking forces of all Allies up here.

Recall that the Allied leadership believed the initial Chinese intervention followed by a withdrawal meant they were not serious about making a big deal of all this. As I said, they were wrong again. Indeed as one reads through the history, one finds some serious top level strategic and tactical mistakes made by the Allied military leadership, including by General MacArthur.

Next, the Chinese launched their Second Phase Offensive. On November 25 they struck at the ROK II Corps again and hit the US 2 ID. Fighting was now occurring everywhere.

Reports are a bit sketchy here, but as I read them various elements of the 27th BC spent most of their time going back and forth between Pakchon and the Chongchon River to support forces withdrawing from the north. There had been some thought given to removing the 27th and returning it to Hong Kong. The British 29th Infantry Brigade was now on hand but a decision was made that the 27th could not be spared. But now a problem. It is winter, and neither the 27th BC or the British 29th Infantry were prepared with clothes needed to fight in winter. They did the best they could and associations back home began to send needed clothing.

Here’s where a guy can go crazy. Despite all that was going on, and with the 27th BC positioned a bit north of Pakchon in the I Corps Reserve, on November 24 it was informed it would participate in a final offensive to the Yalu River to the north. General MacArthur had decided to take the Chinese on, intending to push them back to China and end the war by Christmas. Legend has it MacArthur was itching to invade China. He still believed the Chinese were not serious and he believed his forces, who had fought so valiantly from Pusan, could take the Chinese down.

As I read it, here is the 27th BC, which had been going back and forth trying to cover a US and ROK withdrawal, now being told it was going to go up to the Yalu anyway. Wow!


The Battle of the Chongchon was about to begin. This is a tough map to read I know. Just focus top row of blue lines which reflect how the 8th Army had moved forward, and second on the red notations showing how the Chinese had the 8th Army and its Allies covered over the breadth of the front lines. Indeed the UN forces were spread out and historians have noted that Thanksgiving feasts and the thought of being home by Christmas left the Allies not well prepared for this, the Chinese Second Offensive. On November 26 the Allies were stalled. ROKA forces were being beaten back, yet General Walker still insisted on proceeding north. As a result, the fighting was heavy and fierce.

The US 25th ID kept moving north, but the Allies were being penetrated from the east. Walker had to send forces to stop the advance from the East, and he had to recall the 25th ID and tell it to withdraw. By November 28 the situation was looking grim.


Just a few days later, by December 1 you can see the Allies had made a significant withdrawal and the Chinese were hot on their tails. Whole ROK Corps and divisions were collapsing.

As a “water over the dam” story, a book entitled
Disaster in Korea, by Roy E. Appleman, says Brigadier Coad was given an attack order by the IX Corps commander but circumvented that order which resulted in the near destruction of the US 2 ID on November 30, 1950. I don’t know if that is true.


Without going through the details, by December 23 the Allies had withdrawn roughly to the 38th parallel. The withdrawal plus or minus a few rough times was made in a fairly orderly way. Here you see some of them crossing he 38th heading south.

On December 23, the 8th Army was hit by a tragedy. Its commander, General Walton H. Walker died in a traffic accident near Uijongbu while he was inspecting positions north of Seoul. He would be promoted to his fourth star posthumously. Lt. General Matthew B. Ridgway, shown here, who had been serving on the Army staff in Washington, was called on to take command of the 8th Army. He met with General MacArthur on December 25 and took command on that date. He arrived in Korea the next day, December 26. Reports I have seen say that MacArthur, who was submerged in the occupation of Japan, and probably bewildered by the major Chinese offensives which he said would not happen, told Ridgway to do what he has to do. As an editorial comment, we had a saying when I served in the USAF, “An action passed is an action complete.” MacArthur had passed the action to Ridgway.

The 27th BC encountered few events with the Chinese. By December 7, two days after Walker’s demise, it was assigned to protect the IX Corps HQ at Uijongbu, north of Seoul but south of the 38th parallel. However, on January 1, 1951, the 27 BC was directed to move north to cover the 8th Army withdrawal. The 3 RAR held the northernmost position at Tokchon. However, the Chinese were situated such that they threatened to destroy the 3 RAR so the 3 RAR was ordered to fall back, again to Uijongbu. The 3 RAR reassembled after encountering some resistance, and was told to conduct patrols north of Seoul. The 1 MX and 1 A&SH were tasked to protect the main bridges out of Seoul across the Han River. Seoul sits on the Han River but most of the river was on the south side of the main city.


It was roughly at this time that the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the 2 PPCLI, the “Patricias,” was sent to Pusan. The men left from Seattle on November 25 aboard the USS
Private Joe P. Martinez (departure shown here) and arrived in Pusan in December. This would be the first Canadian battalion to participate in the Korean War. It was created on August 15, 1950, so it was a new battalion. It trained in Calgary and in Alberta before heading to Korea. Once in Korea, it trained in the mountains and then entered combat on February 26. It was assigned to the 27th BC which by now was assigned to the US IX Corps of the 8th Army. There was some talk about assigning the 2 PPCLI to the British 29th Infantry Brigade, but the final decision was made to assign it to the 27 BC.

From this point onward, the Australians and Canadians fighting alongside each other was the first time they had done so since 1918.

As an aside, at the time Canada was deciding whether and whom to send to Korea, the UN forces had made their way up to the Yalu. Back in Canada, it seemed like the war might well be coming to an end, the North Koreans would be defeated, and any Canadian force to go there would likely be an occupation force. The Canadians had formed three battalions of the PPCLI. As a result of the aforementioned perspective, they decided to send only one battalion, the 2 PPCLI, about 900 men. Their journey across the Pacific took an agonizing three weeks aboard a ship the Canadians thought sure would break apart at any moment. In any event, about half way across, on October 25, they learned the Chinese had invaded. Little did they know this would set the stage for intense combat and their battle at Kapyong.


By the time the 2 PPCLI arrived in Pusan, the entire character of the war had changed. It was now January 1951 and Chinese forces had crossed the 38th parallel and were launching their Third Phase Offensive. UN forces had to evacuate Seoul again and the Chinese recaptured it on January 3-4, 1951. This photo shows Chinese forces celebrating their capture of Seoul. This was the second time they did this.

The 2 PPCLI was led by Lt. Colonel James R. Stone, about whom we will talk more in the ensuing sections. Upon arriving at Pusan, the Americans told him his force was needed immediately in combat, and trucks were on their way to pick them up and take them to the front. This was a bit of a shock. Stone knew this would be disastrous. His force was not in good shape and was not well trained, in part because it had expected to engage in occupation duties. Stone refused and jumped on an aircraft to see General Walker. Walker listened but did not budge. He would die a few days later, and General Ridgway would take over. The 2 PPCLI then hit a bit of good luck; the fighting began to subside and the 2 PPCLI was not needed that immediately.

Dan Bjarnason an author and expert on Kapyong, has told me by e-mail that Walker actually did agree with Stone’s request, “although he wasn’t happy. He actually sent along a liaison officer to make sure the guys weren’t just goofing off somewhere but were really training, and that liaison officer became quite fond of the Patricias.”

The net result was that on December 31, 1950, the Patricias arrived near the village of Miryang, about an hour’s drive from Pusan, and only 75 miles from the fighting. Enemy forces were roaming their area. But Stone had had some time to train his force.

George “Red” Bonney remembered Col. Stone insisting on some training in Korea before going into battle. He said:

“We took a mountain course at Miryang [Korea], [Lieutenant-] Colonel Jim Stone was our [battalion] commander, and we took, I think it was about six weeks training in the mountains. And we were hunting guerillas and learning different tactics that we would need when we were committed to the front. The Americans wanted to commit us immediately, but Colonel Stone had orders by the Canadian government not to commit us until we were properly trained.

“And that was very important because we didn’t really have very much training at that point. We only had about three months in Canada, before we were shipped over. So, we took our six weeks course and so then we had about four and a half months and so then that is the time that we, in February [1951], that we went into the front, into action.”


But they had brought the wrong weapons for the job, such as the Lee Enfield rifle shown here. This was a bolt action rifle in existence since 1895. Of course, it had gone through upgrades but remained bolt action, up against automatic weapons.


They did have some Bren light machine guns as well. I heard one Patricia say 10 guys might have the Lee-Enfield, while one had a Bren and that came with another trooper who supervised use of the gun. It could be carried or put on a bipod. Both the Lee-Enfield and Bren guns were used by British forces and British Commonwealth forces worldwide.

Furthermore, despite their training in Korea, the Patricias were still not well prepared to climb Korea’s steep hills. With regard to the weapons, being good Canadians of sound mind, the 2 PPCLI began to “appropriate” American weapons such as the Thompson machine-gun. They also liked the American bazookas, recoilless rifles and mortars, as well as the American Browning .50 cal heavy machine gun. They hated the British “tin can” helmets, preferring the American helmet, but most often they would rather simply wear their balaclavas or peeked hats. The brass looked the other way even though this was against regulations.


The Government of New Zealand in July 1950 agreed to dispatch a 1,000 man ground force to Korea and to attach it to the Commonwealth formation. It was known as the Kayforce. The 16th Royal New Zealand Artillery Regiment (16 RNZA), formally known as the 16th New Zealand Field Regiment, was the centerpiece of Kayforce, with support units. The 1,050 man force left Wellington on December 10, 1950 and arrived at Pusan on December 31, 1950, Lt. Colonel “Jack” W. Moodie in command, shown here. It was the first RNZA unit to serve overseas and was the first to carry the title “Royal New Zealand Artillery” into battle. Previously the Kiwis were designated “New Zealand Artillery.”

On short notice, the 16th formed a long convoy and travelled some 200 miles on roads not designed for such heavy traffic. It joined the 27 BC on January 21, 1951 and was fighting four weeks later in freezing weather near Naegon-ni. Some of the men and vehicles had a tough time in this weather. As an aside, Kayforce stayed in Korea until 1957.


They brought 25-pounder guns used in WWII, shown here in action in Korea. The 25-pounder had a high rate of fire, 6-8 rounds per minute, and maximum range of 13,400 yards with a high explosive and reasonably lethal shell. It was also very mobile though as you’ll see later pulling these guns through the mud often proved a toil.

On January 3, 1951, General Ridgway ordered the evacuation of Seoul. On January 5, the Allies abandoned Inchon as well. Actually, the Allied retreat had begun on January 1. The 25 ID took up its positions as did the 29th British Infantry Brigade in I Corps, which covered Seoul. Uijongbu was also in I Corps, and the 3 RAR was there, as mentioned earlier. While Chinese forces were attacking the ROK 6th Division, the ROK 6, they managed to trap the 3 RAR at Uijongbu, but the battalion escaped and the 27th BC moved into IX Corps reserve.

Historians note here that the Chinese forces were tired, some even say exhausted. Just as UN forces were overextended up by the Yalu, so too now were Chinese forces starting to get overextended by being near the 38th parallel. They had been fighting continuously since October 25, 1950. But they would have to fight intensely against Allied forces as the latter withdrew. The 25 ID and 29th British took the brunt of the attack, and the 24th ID was struck while trying to withdraw. Chinese pressure was mounting, so the 27th BC was called on to cover the retreat of IX Corps. The 24th ID fought its way out of Seoul on January 3, and the 27th BC crossed the Han River on January 4. As of that date, the entire IX Corps had withdrawn from the city. Most Allied forces managed to fight their way out and get out by January 5. General Peng stopped this Third Phase Offensive on January 7.


The Chinese offensive subsided through about January 15. The 8th Army was sitting roughly on the 37th parallel. Ridgway had a huge problem --- his forces were completely demoralized. Most planning was defensive and involved falling back. He changed that as a matter of top priority, and told his staff to start planning offensives. The idea of abandoning the Koran peninsula was nowhere in Ridgway’s lexicon. Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins visited Korea on January 15 and confirmed Ridgway’s position --- “We are going to stay and fight.” MacArthur was already behind his new commander. That said, there were many others talking about leaving the peninsula all together. The time, at present, however, was not right.

At this moment, Ridgway had about 178,000 US Soldiers and Marines, and about 224,000 ROKA troops, with UN ground contingents from Australia, France, India, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

As a result of the lull, the 8th Army had a chance to get organized. These forces were organized into five corps, west to east, US I, US IX and US X, ROK II and ROK I. The terrain in the east was rougher than the more flat west, so the ROKs had an easier task. The UNC was facing an estimated 290,000 Chinese and NK forces. The Chinese were mostly arrayed in the west and central portions of the front. They assigned the NK forces to the east. So essentially we had the big guys, the US 8th Army and the Chinese facing off in the west, and the not-so-capable ROKs and NKs in the east.


Ridgway had been sending out reconnaissance patrols to see where the Chinese were and what they were doing. The patrols did not return with much useful information. Nonetheless, hell bent on running an offensive, on January 25 Ridgway launched Operation Thunderbolt, highlighted by the red arrow. Both I Corps and IX Corps (27th BC attached) on the western side moved north about 20 miles. The first green arrow points to Uijongbu, where you will recall the 3 RAR was located, but during the period January 3-4 it withdrew through Seoul to Chip’yong-ni in the IX Corps area, the second green arrow. I’ll address the other green arrows in a moment. The red dot reminds you of the location of Kapyong, the theme of this story in case you think I forgot.

On January 27, Ridgway stepped up his Thunderbolt offensive and brought in the X Corps to launch Operation Roundup, which was to the east of IX Corps. The I and IX Corps continued at a slow pace moving toward the Han River and by early February were there, on the river’s banks. Enemy resistance increased the closer they got. The 25th ID kept pressing toward Seoul. X Corps captured Hoengsong and Wonju on February 2.

Things got rough now. While the I and IX Corps experienced good fortunes, the X Corps came under a massive Chinese counterattack in its Fourth Phase Offensive on February 11-11, employing about 135,000 soldiers. The ROK 8th Division fell apart and forced the X Corps to withdraw south to Chec’hon, in the lower right quadrant of the map. During the period the 27 BC moved south of Chip-yong-ni, the ROK 6th on its eastern flank, the 24th ID on its western flank. The 27 BC began moving south toward Yoju, the third green arrow. But then, with X Corps in grave condition, Ridgway ordered the 27 BC and ROK 6 over to X Corps to positions south of Chip-yong-ni, the fourth green arrow. Between the X Corps forces and the new reinforcements, and a helluva lot of air power and artillery, the Allies pushed the enemy back away from Wonju and Chip’yoong-ni.

I might mention here that the 27 BC commander, Brigadier Coad, flew to Hong Kong at around this time on compassionate leave as his wife was seriously ill. Lt. Colonel Andrew Man of the 1 MX, shown here, took command temporarily. Man was told to stay on the north side of the Han River. The brigade was also attached to the US 2 ID which legend has it that at this time did not sit well with the men in the brigade. Chinese forces were massing near Chip-yong-ni and the 27 BC was needed to reinforce. Coad would return for a while.

Ridgway was now feeling his oats, so he ordered both IX and X corps to advance and initiated Operation Killer to a line roughly from Hoengsong eastward. UN forces reached their objectives by the end of February 1951. This meant that most enemy forces south of the Han had been eliminated or pushed out. The weather had been especially bad and many enemy managed to slip to the north.


Ridgway now planned Operation Ripper, designed to recapture Seoul and make it close to the 38th parallel. All hands wanted to get back to the prewar 38th parallel boundary but what they really wanted to do was to destroy as many Chinese forces as possible.The red arrow to the right indicates the area of Operation Ripper, which began on March 7, 1951. One of the high priority targets was Ch’unch’on, noted by the red dot. I show you this because it is close to Kapyong, the subject of this story. The Allies took Ch’unch’on.

Ripper also included the I and IX Corps crossing the Han River with a view toward liberating Seoul, in Operation Courageous. The red arrow on the left depicts Operation Courageous. It was designed to trap as many enemy as possible in this area and destroy them.


I believe the 27th BC’s involvement in Ripper included the Battle of Maehwa-Suan between Hongseonng and Wonju, March 7-12, 1951, shown roughly by the bright green dot. This was a 27 BC fight. The instruction given the 27 BC was to destroy Chinese and NK forces in the area, which was in the X Corps area, around the Maehwasan mountain. All battalions of the 27th participated. The battle actually consisted of a series of battles to take control of various hills, which the 27th did. This was a tough battle for the 3 RAR, which lost 14 KIA and 39 WIA. The idea here was as UN forces were moving north, an effort had to be made to clear out the enemy who were now behind the northward thrusts and to remove them from threatening Seoul.


Once the 27th had finished its job, it was relieved by the US 5th Cavalry. The 27th BC was ordered to a reserve area near Chipyong-ni, shown by the red arrow, which meant it left the X Corps area and moved back into the IX Corps area and under IX Corps control.

The ROK 1 Division and US 3rd ID recaptured Seoul on March 14-15. This would be the last time Seoul changed hands.

The Battle of Maehwa-Suan occurred between March 7-12, 1951. On March 23, 1951, Brigadier Coad was sent to Hong Kong again on compassionate leave as his wife was seriously ill. His deputy, Colonel Brian Arthur Burke, was temporarily promoted to Brigadier and put in command of the 27 BC, while his brigade was resting in reserve. The 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery (16 RNZA) with 3.25-inch 25-pounder field guns was attached to the 27th BC.


By the end of March 1951, the UN Allies were closing in on the 38th parallel (black arrow, follow light line across peninsula). But, intelligence was saying that despite all these defeats and withdrawals, the Chinese were massing forces for yet another offensive, their fifth, a spring offensive. So Ridgway launched Operations Rugged and Dauntless, yellow arrows. These began on April 1 and all objectives had been met until the Chinese did what was expected, they launched their Fifth Offensive on April 22, 1951.

The Fifth Chinese Offensive, among other things, involved the 27th BC and the Battle of Kapyong.