Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Kapyong: Aussies and Canadians beat massive Chinese attack back

February 25, 2014

The Battle of Kapyong, April 22-25, 1951


If you’ve gone through the introduction and the first two sections, you’ve come a long way. Congratulations. You have tracked the British 27th Infantry Brigade and then its successor the 27 British Commonwealth Brigade (27 BC) from Pusan all the way north nearly to the Yalu, back to the 37th parallel, and now up to the 38th parallel and actually a bit beyond. And, you have gone through the movements that set the stage for the Battle of Kapyong, So at long last, we’ll discuss the actual battle and most important, in the next section, reflect on some memoirs I have found from men who were there.

Google Kapyong and you will find splendid and far more detailed descriptions of the battle, some formal presentations with animation. Allow me to lead you to two I liked:

I would also want to highlight for you a book that describes the battle in considerable detail on the Canadian side in a most credible way. It is:

Triumph at Kapyong: Canada’s Pivotal Battle in Korea, by Dan Bjarnason

In addition, I also want to highlight for you a book that describes the battle in considerable detail on the Australian side, and in a most credible way. It is:

The battle of Kapyong: 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, Korea 23-24 April 1951, Bob Breen

Believe me, there is a lot to read about this battle, much of it presented in great depth.


So, here we are, April 1951, Seoul is being challenged yet again, for the third time, this time by six Chinese armies. I should underscore here this is no Korean War, this is a Sino-Korean War. China has the lead. China’s overall objective was to take the entire peninsula, but at this point the main Chinese objective was to take Seoul. An incredible amount of fighting and force movements have occurred in a relatively short span of time, June 25, 1950 through April 1951.

Defense of Seoul was the number one goal of the Allied forces. There were two important battles that took place north of Seoul, while the 8th Army and its Allies stood just to the south but north of Seoul, along the No-Name line, a line which had to be held at all costs or the UNC might well have left the Korean peninsula.

One was the Battle of the Imjin River. The Chinese launched a major attack toward Seoul on April 22, 1951, just a bit to the west of Kapyong. This area was protected by the British 29th Brigade. The British 29th Infantry Brigade was composed of three British and one Belgian infantry battalions supported by tanks and artillery, Brigadier Tom Brodie in command, shown here.

His force consisted of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, “The Glosters,” Lieutenant-Colonel James P. Carne in command; the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (RNF), Lieutenant-Colonel Kingsley Foster in command; the 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR), Major Gerald Rickord in command; and the Belgian battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Crahay in command. Support units included 45 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, tanks from the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and 170th Independent Mortar Battery, Royal Artillery. The US 3rd Division would send forces to help.


The Chinese attacked with three divisions across the Imjin River, north of Seoul. The front was about 12 miles wide. Four battalions could not cover this expanse well; they were widely separated, and the Chinese pushed through the gaps. Brodie put the Glosters on the west flank, on what came to be known as “Gloster Hill,” the RNF near the center, the Belgians on the north side of the river virtually across the river from the RNF, and the RUF in reserve to deploy north if required, and such deployment was required right off the bat.


This may well be a staged photo, but it is represented to show Chinese forces attacking across the river.


The Battle of the Imjin is also known as the Battle of Gloster Hill, out of respect for the 1st Gloucester Battalion which defended it and took the brunt of the attack. Gloster Hill, also known as Hill 235, is shown here courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.


Among the most noted groups in the Allied fight was the 1st Gloucester Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment, about 866 men strong. They would be surrounded by an estimated 27,000 Chinese of the 63rd Army on Hill 235. The fighting was so intense that I Corps ordered the bulk of the 29th Brigade to withdraw. But the Glosters could not withdraw, mainly because the battalion had been reduced essentially to company size. Incredibly, they held through April 24 and into the night of April 24-25. During the morning of April 25, Lt. Colonel Carne, their commander, ordered them to escape to British lines to the south “as best they could.” Only Delta Company managed to escape to British lines to the rear; the rest of the battalion was either killed or taken prisoner. But they had held long enough, and maintained their reputation as “The Glorious Glosters.”

Of the 1,091 killed, wounded, or missing in the 29th Brigade, 620 were from the Gloucesters. Five hundred twenty-two of the Gloucesters were taken prisoner, of whom 180 were wounded and another 34 died in captivity. The Gloucesters lost 59 KIA. The Chinese 63rd Army attacked with three divisions of about 27,000 men, and lost an estimated one-third, or 10,000.

Max Hastings, in his book
The Korean War, would say:

“Though minor in scale, the battle's ferocity caught the imagination of the world.”

In retrospect, “minor in scale” might be off the mark. This was a most important and costly battle.

The 29th Brigade held just long enough to inflict horrific damage on the Chinese and enable Allied forces to halt any further Chinese advance toward Seoul down this avenue. Had the 29th not held, the ROK 1st and US 3rd Infantry Divisions would have been in great peril. But this did not happen and their efforts helped the Allies stop the Chinese at the No-Name Line and save Seoul.

The second major battle was the Battle of Kapyong, the subject of this report, also one defending a second avenue of approach to Seoul, also one that helped the Allies stop the Chinese at the No-Name Line and save Seoul. It was fought in the main by the 27 BC. As a reminder, the Order of Battle (OB) for the 27 BC was the 1 MX, 3 RAR, 2 PPCLII and the 16 RNZA.

In case you have forgotten, or just jumped to this section, the abbreviations break out as follows:

27 BC: 27th British Commonwealth Brigade
1 MX: 1st Middlesex Regiment, Britain
3 RAR: 3rd Royal Australian Regiment, Australia
2 PPCLII: 2nd Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Canada
16th RNZA: 16th Royal New Zealand Artillery, New Zealand

One other abbreviation I will use a lot is the ROK 6, for the ROK Army 6th Infantry Division


As said in an earlier section, elements of the 60th (Parachute) Field Ambulance platoon, the 60 PFA, from India, Lt. Colonel A.G. Rangaraj in command, were also attached.

Of all the units in the 27 BC, the 2 PPCLII had the least combat experience. You will recall both the 1 MX and the 3 RAR had gone from the Pusan Perimeter all the way up to near the Yalu and now back.

Brigadier Brian Arthur Burke, left, was now in command of the 27 BC, having taken over just about a month before the battle, on March 23, 1951. He was temporarily promoted to the rank of brigadier when he took over. He had been serving as a colonel deputy commander before his boss, Brigadier Coad, went to Hong Kong on compassionate leave because his wife was seriously ill. What an awesome responsibility Burke would now have.

FergusonBrian StoneJR
ManAndrew MoodyJack

Lt. Colonel Ian Bruce Ferguson (top row left) commanded the 3rd RAR, Lt. Colonel J.R. Stone (right), commanded the 2 PPCLII, Colonel Andrew Man (bottom row left) commanded the 1st MX, and Lt. Colonel Jack Moody (right) commanded the 16 RZNA.


Here we have identified the Kapyong River, the Pukhan River, and at the very bottom, the location of Kapong City. The Chinese came down the road along the Kapyong River through the valley area. The Chinese had three avenues of approach to Seoul by this time, but decided to concentrate one of its first efforts on the Kapyong approach, and almost simultaneously on the Imjin River approach. The Chinese 40th Army sent its 118th Division to the Kapyong battle, about 10,600 men.

While General Ridgway had moved his forces as far north of the 38th parallel as they could get, he understood his forces had not destroyed the Chinese armies located above the 38th parallel. He knew the enemy was planning a major offensive and had a significant force up there.

Ridgway was not stupid. He knew the MSR out of Kapyong into northeastern Seoul had to be held. The Chinese could not be allowed to defeat UN forces and proceed to Seoul yet again.

Just prior to the battle of Kapyong, the 27 BC was located about 19 miles north of Kapyong. However, knowing that the Chinese Fifth Offensive, nicknamed “Impulse,” was about to begin, the IX Corps moved the ROK 6, Brigadier General Chang Do-yong in command, up to relieve the 27 BC and take on the front line. The IX Corps simultaneously moved the 27 BC back closer to Kapyong to be held in reserve. The 27 BC moved to positions just south of Kapyong, resting and retraining in reserve. The 1 MX was just a bit to the north of the 27 BC along with the 16 RNZA. The 16th was to provide artillery support to the ROK 6, and the 1 MX, an infantry battalion, was to protect the 16th, so at this point, they were moving in tandem.


This photo is Chinese and is said to show Chinese forces pursuing the ROK 6 near Kapyong.

Michael Hickey, in his book
The Korean War: The West Confronts Communism, wrote Chang Do-yong was a skilled commander but his troops left a lot to be desired, and made little effort to dig in, despite advice to the contrary. He commented, “As darkness fell the (ROK 6) division was in disorder; some of its units were already moving to the rear in defiance of orders while others waited nervously to see what would happen. There was little or no attempt to prepare a solid defense.”

It became clear quickly that the ROK 6 was about to disintegrate under the Chinese offensive. Its forces fled in disarray. The 16th RNZA and 1 MX pulled back as well to positions near Kapyong.

The ROK commander was able to rally about 2,500 of his troops, so the 16 RZNA again moved north and the 1 MX moved up with it to protect it and assure that both units could fall back again if necessary. That was necessary and they did fall back to the area of Kapyong city. It was a good thing the 1 MX tagged along with the Kiwis because they escorted them down the valley and attacked the enemy in the vicinity of the 3 RAR CP.

The 16th carried many of the 1 MX infantry on their vehicles and guns. This withdrawal of the 16th and 1 MX has been described as “hair-raising.”


Placing the 27 BC at Kapyong in reserve and bringing back the 16 RZNA and 1 MX was a brilliant move, as you will see. But there was nothing easy about all this. When the ROK 6 was beaten, the 27 BC had to move around a lot to prepare to hold the line below where the ROK 6 fell. It is amazing they could move through these mountains so quickly and still have time to position and dig in. This photo shows the 16 RZNA men moving their 25 pounder --- she was mobile, but the mud was the mud. The Kiwis had to move five times during the battle because their positions were threatened.


This is an overall view of the valley.


Given the rout of the ROK 6, on April 23, the 27 BC was told to move up to positions just north of Kapyong City and take up defensive positions along the Kapyong Road to Seoul. This map shows how the 27 BC finally positioned itself for battle. The 3 RAR and 2 PPCLII moved into a blocking position on both sides of the road and river, just north of the town. The 1 MX stayed to the south held in reserve, while the 16 RNZA also remained to the south, from where it could provide artillery. You’ll see this map a few times to help keep everything straight. I’ll talk in a moment about the American tanks and a few other US units with the 3 RAR.

I want to interject one point I gained from British war documents. One document maintains that the UNC plan, if the Chinese met with initial successes, was to surrender land voluntarily and move south in orderly planned withdrawals. There were two exceptions in the plan. One was to stop the Chinese from passing through Kapyong and the other was to stop the enemy from crossing the Imjin and heading south. The protection of Kapyong was left to the 27 BC and the Imjin to the British 29th Infantry Brigade. This is worth remembering once you go through some of the memoirs of those who fought at Kapyong. It is curious why the 8th Army selected the British and British Commonwealth to make these final stands on the two avenues of approach to Seoul. They were, of course, flanked by US forces and mostly US forces were standing at the NoName Line just north of Seoul just in case.


This photo shows members of the 2 PPCLII wading through the Kapyong River to get into position, just to give you an idea of the environment which the 3 RAR would have to tackle during the fight, as you’ll learn shortly.


This map was done by authors,
Passing the test: Combat in Korea, April - June 1951. It highlights the two main hills occupied by the Australian and Canadian forces as described below. Military writers like to talk in terms of the hills, as that pinpoints the geographic locations.

What we have here is the 2 PPCLII on the left bank of the valley, the 3 RAR on the right with its HQ down in the valley just a tad to the south, the 1 MX to the south of the 2 PPCLII on the west side, held in reserve, the 16 RNZA in about the same area, and the HQ 27 BC just outside Kapyong City on the left bank as well. On the west side of the river, the “mountain” range rose about 600 meters with Hill 677 at the top with the 2 PPCLII. On the east side was Hill 504 with the 3 RAR. The 1 MX was on the west was on a high point known as Sudok San, located about seven kilometers from Hill 504 and four kilometers from Hill 677. In effect, the 27 BC occupied a triangle overlooking the road. I put “mountain” in quotation, because these were not the Rockies. They were more like ridges and hills, but they were mighty steep, making them a challenge.

The 16 RNZA wisely withdrew from supporting the ROK 6 and located itself close to and just south of the 1 MX. The 16 RNZA withdrawal was a difficult one, though orderly. At some points they had to stop and fire nearly at point blank range. The Kapyong Road was narrow, they could not have any lights on, and of course the road was clogged with refugees and fleeing ROK 6 forces, mixed in with attacking Chinese forces. Just as the Kiwis got out, the Chinese took over the ROK 6 Divisional Headquarters. Once it fell back, it organized behind the rest of the 27 BC and immediately opened fire to support the Aussies and Canucks. Its initial targets were at the mouth of the Kapyong Valley.

I should mention that neither the 3 RAR or the 2 PPCLII had any dedicated infantry protection on the flanks. That made them extremely vulnerable to being surrounded, which is exactly what happened.

The Kiwis fired almost without pause. It is my understanding that the Kiwis also had seven American artillery batteries under its command, which I will talk to later.

The Canadians and Aussies did not have good communications with each other, so they fought relatively independent of the other, in their own battles, employing runners back and forth to coordinate planning, actions and convey orders, as well as they could, which declined over time.

For its part, the 1 MX and 3 RAR had become battle hardened as the result of fighting its way from the Pusan Perimeter to the Yalu and back. But such was not the case for the 2 PPCLII, which had just recently arrived.

Hickey wrote, “(Lt. Colonel) Stone (2 PPCLII commander) found that the haphazard recruiting methods adopted in Canada to raise the brigade promised for Korea had allowed undesirable elements to volunteer.”

Stone was a controversial character, but seemed to have earned the respect and admiration of his men as a very fine commander. Nonetheless, he might have cut his troops some slack on that remark, remembering his men and those training them in Canada and the US thought they were going to be an occupation force and the men did not learn they were gong into combat until have way across the Pacific Ocean!

I want to return to Stone for a bit. Dan Bjarnason, an author and expert on Kapyong, has remarked to me by e-mail that he thought “Stone was a remarkable leader. He was a war hero in Italy and his experience fighting in rough hilly terrain gave him an eye for ground that paid off at Kapyong. When he arrived at the hill hours before the attack, he went out over the ground the Chinese would come from … then tried to see what they would see and how they would probably attack … and laid out his defences accordingly. He was an extremely unpleasant fellow. He died about eight years ago … grumpy to the end, and hated historians and reporters … but the men at Kapyong say they're alive because of stone.”

As an aside, Dan also commented that “Stone was also informed at the time of the battle that his daughter was dying of eye cancer, so he had a lot on his mind.

Be that as it may, Stone had bought some time to prepare his troops in Korea, and they were where they were with no alternative but to fight and complete their mission, one they knew to be critical to the outcome of the war.

So the attack is about to begin. The Chinese 40th Army’s 118th Division had the task. By my reckoning, it employed three regiments, the 353rd, 354th and 355th.

The Chinese had overpowering numbers of troops. However, they were in such a hurry to capitalize on beating up the ROK 6 that they left their artillery and supplies behind as they moved southward. They had almost no mortar ammunition. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

The Chinese attacked the 3 RAR first, so let’s take a look at it first.


The 3rd RAR had its four companies on the eastern slopes. You are looking eastward from the 3rd RAR Bravo Company position showing the positions of the other three companies. Hill 504 turned out to be an important strategic location, and Delta Company was located there.


As events would happen, the American Alpha tank company, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion (A-72 Tanks) of the 2nd ID, three platoons with about five Sherman tanks each, was there with the 3rd RAR, Lt. Kenneth W. Koch in command. This photo shows one tank driving across a cultivated paddock on the low section of the area occupied by B-3 RAR. Two Australian soldiers are behind the tank studying a map.

How and why A-72 Tanks were almost exactly where the 3 RAR is not entirely clear. But the key idea is they were there.

The A-72 Tanks operated independently. They were not under 3 RAR command. Major Ben O’Dowd, commanding 3rd RAR Alpha Company, complained about this set up, mainly because this as not what infantry-tank cooperation doctrine demanded. He felt the Americans were fighting their own war, and complained Lt. Koch “was his own boy.”

Whatever the case, the A-72 Tanks were “on location.” In other words, they were there, they had the same mission as the 27 BC, to block the entry to Seoul from Kapyong and so they were in the fight with the 3 RAR.


The 15 Sherman M4A33E8s were potent machines at the time, each with a 76 mm canon and three machine guns, .50 cal and two .30 cal. Their problem, however, was they needed infantry protection, and the only infantry protection they would get here was from the 3 RAR. There were also two US mortar companies there. This photo shows a Sherman firing while in Korea, operating in an artillery-like mode.

In addition to A-72 Tanks were the US B-74 Engineers and B-2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, with two companies, Alpha with the 2 PPCLII, Bravo with the 3 RAR. All these units were also located in the area and became part of the fight and supported the 3 RAR fight and ultimate withdrawal. The book,
Passing the test: Combat in Korea, April - June 1951, provides some very interesting discussions about how those three units acted and interacted during the 3 RAR’s withdrawal. One of the bottom lines of the withdrawal involving all these units was all the vehicles, tents, tent poles, duffle bags and all of those kinds of things, were often too many to take in a rapid withdrawal. A lot of fast battlefield decisions were made to be sure, and there was a lot of effort put into retrieving as much as could be gotten under the circumstances. I regret I cannot dig into this here.


The 16 RNZA was over on the other side of the river, close to the 1 MX. It played a crucial role when the Chinese attacked the A-72 Tanks and 3 RAR. I need to spend a moment on its role.


This photo shows a 16 RNZA 25 pounder artillery gun firing during the battle. The Kiwi gunners knew the 3 RAR was under heavy pressure, even cut off and alone. I’ll get just a bit ahead of myself to highlight what the 16th did. One report said:

“The New Zealand gunners, stripped to the waist, continued to pound the enemy relentlessly, but in spite of heavy losses, the Chinese repeatedly threw wave after wave of troops into the artillery barrage in suicidal attempts to overrun the Australian positions. During the thirty hours preceding the dawn of Anzac Day (April 25), the regiment fired about 10,000 rounds at targets ranging in distance from 10,000 yards to 3,000 yards. The amount of artillery available permitted a terrific volume of fire to be directed against the masses of Chinese infantry advancing in waves in the open. Australian casualties were heavy, but the Infantry, with the support of the artillery, accounted for an estimated 1,000 Chinese killed and 3,000 wounded. At dawn on Anzac Day all the brigade infantry were holding their ground although about this time the Chinese massed for the greatest assaults of the battle. Meeting the advance with murderous fire, the Australians piled up at least 500 enemy dead around their positions. Then the break-through started to frizzle out.”

One report I read said the 16th, once in position, fired its guns for four days almost without pause.


The American 213th Field Artillery Battalion (Utah Battalion) equipped with 155 mm Long Tom self-propelled cannons, such as shown here in action in Korea, came under the command of the 16 RNZA and supported the Aussies as well. On one day, it fired 800 rounds, and those with the 3 RAR said their “gunnery was accurate and murderously effective.” On multiple occasions they caught the enemy in the open in daylight and struck with air-burst artillery. I should mention that the Kiwis sent officers to each of the American artillery batteries as fire controllers and some were sent out as forward observers. As an aside, Kiwi Captain Donald Scott directed fire for the Americans. He and his radio operator Lance Bombadier Don Forbes climbed the slopes of Hill 504 to get a good view and started calling in the American fire. Scott saw the American fire was about 200 yards short. He concluded the Americans were farther south than he had thought, so he simply added 200 yards to his directions and the fire was right on target.


I must also note that the US 17th Field Artillery brought it’s 8-inch howitzers (as shown here) to bear on the enemy up on Hill 504. The unit had moved from Chunchon.

Australian Post reported in 1951, “(Australians in forward companies) were fascinated by the terrible deliberation of shelling. Major O’Dowd said the artillery fire is what enabled the rifle companies to get out.

I have come across a
War Diary assembled by the 27 BC and will extract from it along the way. You may wish to go through it in further detail.

The 3rd RAR was the first to get hit on the night of April 23-24, with the Chinese 354th Regiment attacking their positions on Hill 504. According to the War Diary, the battle started in the early morning hours of April 24 when the 3 RAR requested defensive fire at 0005 hours. The Kiwis then spotted enemy in their fire lines and opened up.

The diary says, “There were two battles underway; one in front of Hill 504 and one around the 3 RAR HQ.” The diary mentions the 3 RAR’s communications were very poor.

Two battalions of the Chinese 354 Regiment attacked one of the three US tank platoons, located just to the north of Bravo and Alpha Companies, and roughly in between the two. The Chinese drove back the US tanks supporting Bravo Company. The tanks withdrew down to the valley floor, locating near the 3 RAR HQ.

The diary said there were intense battles but also lulls. As a result, the 3 RAR worried the enemy was infiltrating its lines on the right flank and behind.

There was another tank platoon located just to the south of Bravo Company, and it began firing at the Chinese 354. The 354 was in the process of enveloping both Alpha and Bravo Companies. Then more elements of the 354 came down and attacked the 3 RAR HQ which was on the low ground just south of its main force. The HQ had to withdraw. A company from the 1 MX responded to help.

The 3rd RAR was in huge trouble, and feared it could not make it through the night. The Chinese 355th Regiment entered the battle on the northeast side and drove southward on the 3 RAR’s east side. The 16 RNZA all the while kept firing at both Chinese regiments. The sad reality was the 3 RAR was surrounded. Bravo Company tried to retake its position but could not do it, and withdrew back between Charlie and Delta Companies. The 354 then hammered Alpha Company and along with the 355th started attacking Delta Company as well.

The 3 RAR fought all day long but could see its position would be untenable through the night. It was told to prepare to withdraw to 1 MX lines on the west side of the river. It had to withdraw or face annihilation. Delta Company was on high ground at Hill 504 so the other three companies withdrew through its lines. Delta Company laid down smoke screens to cover the withdrawal.

In addition, the American A-72 Tanks covered the withdrawal with fire and smoke. The tanks also protected the withdrawing vehicle columns.

The Aussies fought bravely and killed Chinese like flies, but the Chinese kept coming as they did not seem to care about their losses. Alpha Company had lost most of its ground. The US tanks then worked to open a corridor for the 3 RAR to withdraw and make its way over to the 1 MX. The New Zealanders opened up with artillery to stop the Chinese from attacking the southernmost Charlie and Delta Companies.


Reaching the 1 MX would be no easy chore. It was on the other side of the valley, about two miles away, and the 3 RAR was going to have to cross the valley and ford across the river to get over to the 1 MX. The 3 RAR also knew there were Chinese down there, which caused the 3 RAR to plan to stay on the ridge line to the southwest and then scurry to the valley and make its break to cross the river at night in the moonlight. This is a modern-day photo of the river looking at the hills occupied by the 27 BC. They made it down the crest of the ridge line to the valley, crossed the valley to where the 1 MX was and then down to the location of the 27th Brigade HQ. The 3rd RAR withdrew in an orderly way, but this was a fighting withdrawal. Three platoons did not take the designated route on the ridge line and came under fire, as expected, while streaming down the valley riverbank. The 355th Chinese chased them down to the valley and in the valley. Companies leapfrogged each other, stayed ahead of the Chinese and crossed the river to the 1 MX. The 355th broke contact and went back up the hill, not wanting to engage the Patricias. At times the men of the 3 RAR worried they might be firing at their own men, but that turned out not to be so.

It took about six hours to make it down the ridge line during the tactical exit. The 3 RAR made it across, largely in tact, getting to the 1 MX by about 11 pm.

The 3 RAR, while positioned now on the west side of the river, knew the 2 PPCLII was under attack and began attacking the Chinese to help defend the Patricias. Furthermore, with their trucks still operational, they made 80 mile turn-around runs to the Seoul airhead to load up and bring back supplies.

While no one wants to withdraw, the valor of the 3 RAR gave the 5th Cav 24 extra hours to plan its counterattack and push the Chinese off their positions. It proved to be quite a challenge to get the 3 RAR off the hills and over to the other side of the river while two 5th Cav battalions moved in to prepare for the kill.

A moment on the 5th Cav play here.

The Korean War Veteran, which produced a brief summary of reporting done by Dan Bjarnson’s book, Triumph at Kapyong, said this about the 5th Cav:

“The U.S. Army had a very sizable force deployed at Kapyong, larger even than the 27th Commonwealth Brigade. The 5th US Cavalry Regimental Combat Team (RCT) had one battalion positioned southeast of the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment and one southwest of the Princess Patricias. On April 25 two battalions of the 5th Cav RCT launched a series of daylight attacks against enemy troops. The enemy was on the hard fought positions the 3rd RAR had to give up after suffering extremely heavy casualties on the night of April 24-25 and exhausting most of their ammunition. The CO of the 5th Cav RCT studied and directed the artillery shoots and planned the attack from the Patricias’ B Company position. The next day, April 26, one more battalion of his troops relieved all of the Patricias units and deployed more than 100 soldiers equipped with M1 rifles on each of the four Patricia rifle company positions.”

In his paper, “Love and duty, A Canadian remembers the Korean War,” Vince Courtney said this about the 5th Cav:

“At Kapyong it had been a remarkable military achievement just to get the troops into the field on a few hours’ notice. It was a remarkable achievement for the Commonwealth units to move an entire brigade of three infantry battalions and an
artillery regiment into blocking positions to meet the attacks of two enemy divisions. It was no less so to also put batteries
from three American artillery battalions and the three infantry battalions and organic artillery unit of the U.S. 5th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team into position during the enemy offensive, along with the other units in the blocking team. They were all there. All of them counted. But big pictures often are tedious.”

Let’s now switch over to the Patricias, the 2 PPCLII.


The Chinese continued their advance. The 353rd and 354th Chinese Regiments of the 118th Division of the 40th PLA Army moved toward the 2 PPCLII. The 355th Regiment remained on the east side of the valley. The 16 RNZA remained south of the 1 MX and the 3 RAR was positioned with the 1 MX. The battle on the east side was essentially over.

The next stop for the Chinese was to come up against the 2 PPCLII. The Canadian 2 PPCLII was a battalion with four companies, Alpha through Delta. I’ve seen its manpower figures vary between 700 and 900, all volunteers. They were up against about 5,000 Chinese from two regiments, the 353rd and 354th. The Patricias were on the west mountain, the most notable of which was the Hill 677 overlook with the 1st Battalion of the 1 MX and 16th RNZA just to their south. Furthermore, the US 61st Field Artillery brought its 105 mm howitzers into position. I believe they were located in the eastern side of the river, but could easily see the 2 PPCLII under attack.


The 2 PPCLII was located on Hill 677. I cannot say for sure, but I believe Hill 677 was somewhere in the yellow circle are thereabouts on this Google Earth That’s the Kapyong River to the north. I show this to you because you can see how close to the river they are, you can see the many ridges and steep hills, and you can imagine seeing the enemy down below coming at them.



Brent watson, writing for Canadian Military History, “Recipe for Victory: The fight for Hill 677 during the Battle of the Kap’yong River 24-25 April 1951,” presented this photo of Hill 677. He describes the view this way:

“Road leading to the northeast face of Hill 677. Able and Charlie Companies were located here. The held by Doy company was on the high ground to the right.”

So when comparing this to our map, this view is actually taken from the north side looking southward, but to the northeast face of the hill.

In their book,
Dundurn Korean War Library Bundle, by Fred Gaffen, Dan Bjarnason, Ted Barris, Mark Bourrie, John Melady, the authors wrote that the “unevenness of the terrain forced the Patricias to break up into smaller groups, the companies, which, in most cases, meant they could not even see each other even in daylight, let alone support each other.” They said, “Hill 677 is about a mile and a half across, gullied, wooded and impossible to defend in the classic manner of deploying companies to support each other.” Each company was essentially on its own.

The Chinese attempted to encircle the Canadians as well. Lt. Colonel J.R. Stone, the 2 PPCLII commander, described their position on Hill 677 as a “virtual Canadian island in a sea of Chinese soldiers.” In their book,
Dundurn Korean War Library Bundle, the authors noted:

“Nothing chills an infantryman more than the realization that he is surrounded, especially as night falls.”

Col. Stone is said to have been one very determined commander, a controversial one as well. In any event, he is quoted as saying:

“Let the bastards come! Nobody leaves.”

He is said to have come up on the radio to say:

“We’re surrounded. We’ll hold this position until we’re ‘relieved.’ “

This is much the same as what was said by Colonel Chester Puller, USMC while in Korea. He commented:

“We’re surrounded...that simplifies our problem.”

Some in the battalion were surprised by Col. Stone’s position, but it became crystal clear to them that they were going to hold, and they were going to take care of their buddies by their side.

The Chinese attacked over and over again, but without success. I have seen one report that said once they started attacking the 2 PPCLII, they would send maybe 100 men or so at 15 minute intervals, over and over and over.
The Chinese called for reinforcements, and those Chinese soldiers chasing the Aussies came over to help. They began crossing the Kapyong River. It was nighttime and Stone called for artillery. The New Zealanders had repositioned themselves and pounded the Chinese in response. The Chinese crossing the river were dead meat. Those who made it through the artillery were met by heavy Canadian machine-gun fire.

The Chinese also attacked from the west. Again, the call went out for the New Zealanders to fire, often right on the Canadian positions. The fire suppressed the Chinese attack and allowed the Canadians to reposition, a move which allowed the New Zealanders free rein to attack with gusto outside Canadian lines.

Pvt. Don Worsfold of the 2 PPCLII described the Chinese advance like this:

“The Chinese were advancing at a solid grit, six abreast. It is as if we are witnessing disciplined Roman Legions advancing, advancing, advancing ... the Chinese are intent on destroying us ... I’ll tell you this is no morale builder.”

Mike Czuboka said, “The general feeling was we were in deep shit.”

Czuboka credited their machine guns:

“In my opinion the .50 calibre and .30 calibre machine guns firing in unison near the tactical HQ saved all of us at Kapyong. Their vicious firepower is thunderous and overwhelming. It is fascinating watching the various fire patterns, the trajectory of the machine gun tracers is so close they are almost firing upon us.”

As an aside, Mike Czuboka wrote an outstanding paper,
“My military career before and during the Battle of Kapyong.” It is a personal memoir and I commend it to your attention.

The Chinese attack failed, which allowed the American tanks and withdrawing Australians to reorganize and rearm behind the 1st Middlesex. For a time, the 2 PPCLII, by virtue of being surrounded, had lost its supply route in. The Canadians called for supplies and four American USAF C-119 transports from Japan responded dropping in supplies within six hours of notification, making their flight in low and slow, risking anti-aircraft artillery fire.

Once done, the 1 MX moved forward and cleared enemy groups from the rear who had been an obstacle to ground resupply and the road to the 2 PPCLII positions was re-opened.

“Holding at Kapyong,” by Ted Zuber, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

Rollie Lapointe described the transport drops this way:

“Now that was dramatic! They came in low. By Jesus they were like great big gulls. They dropped their stuff right on our position. It looked they were not moving at all: Slow, slow, slow. Then they dropped their asses and the chutes came out. The Chinese figured the Canadians were here to stay.”

In addition, the US 5th Cavalry Regiment moved into position as planned and attacked the Chinese forces all the way up to where the 3rd RAR had been. The Chinese were ordered to withdraw. Czuboka believes the Chinese simply did not know how vulnerable the Patricias really were, instead assuming they had massive resources. The truth was several companies were running out of ammo and grenades. They had to hold fire until the very last moments.

Capt. Murray Edwards, asked if he thought the battle was hopeless, said, “No. It never entered your mind any more than we thought we’d lose World War Two. Anybody on the outside wouldn’t have given us hope, but no one on the inside ever thought of losing the war; it was just not possible. Same as at Kapyong. We never thought we’d be beaten.” I’ll note that others in the fight were not so sure, but they fought anyway, in part because they had no choice.

The combined Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and American counterattacks were too much for the Chinese. They were defeated and withdrew to the eastern side of the river. I have already mentioned the Battle of Imjin to the west, occurring at about the same time as the Battle of Kapyong. Along with what the 8th Army was doing just north of Seoul, the Chinese Fifth Offensive failed and the war was headed to a stalemate, in large part because Washington was satisfied that holding at the 38th parallel would do.


Of course, as ought to be expected, Colonel Stone wrote the praise of the 27 BC:

“For their actions during the Battle of Kapyong the second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment including their attached American tank company were awarded the prestigious US Presidential Unit Citation.”

It is rare for the US to make such an award to a foreign unit. For the Chinese Fifth Offensive, the Glosters and the Belgian-Luxembourg UN Battalion received it for Imjin, a Philippine Expeditionary Force tank company received it for another battle at the Yultong Bridge, at about the same time as our battles. The award was made for “extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of combat duties.”


This photo shows General James Van Fleet, USA, commander US 8th Army and UN Forces in Korea, inspecting members of 3rd RAR after awarding a Presidential Unit Citation to the Battalion in December 1951.


This photo shows the American Ambassador to Canada, Mr. Livingston Merchant, formally presenting the United States Presidential Unit Citation to the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

The 16 RNZA received the ROK Presidential Unit Citation, signed by ROK President Syngman Rhee. It’s worth noting the 16th did not lose a single gun or vehicle in the battle. Interestingly, the ROK awarded this citation to the 16th on November 1, 1951 for its service at Kapyong.

However, New Zealand regulations prohibited its servicemen from wearing honors given by foreign governments. The government ultimately cancelled that regulation.

HarryHonnorROKPUCOn August 18, 2011, Dae-hee Lee (left), the Republic of Korea's consul-general in New Zealand, presented the former soldiers with Korean Presidential Unit Citations, this one to Harry Honnor, who would rise to the rank of brigadier. During Kapyong, he was flying over the battlefield directing 16th RNZA fire. As an aside, he would later command 161 Battery in Vietnam and his men fired in support of the 6th RAR.

In a nutshell, that was the battle. In researching this battle, you can feel the heat of the combat, but at the same time be awed by how well the 27 BC fought given it was so outnumbered and surrounded. It is also remarkable how well timed its withdrawals were, and how effective they turned out to be when withdrawal turned to offense.

Brigadier Burke was relieved of command on April 26, 1951 by Brigadier G. Taylor, commander of the 28th British infantry Brigade. Burke departed for Hong Kong. The British members of the 27 BC, to wit the 1 MX and 11 Infantry Workshops RCEME, reverted back to the 27th Infantry Brigade while those of the Commonwealth integrated into the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade. The 1 MX left Korea on May 18 while the 11 RME was gradually phased out. This meant that the British 27 Infantry Brigade which left Hong Kong on August 26, 1950, had left Korea. The 3 RAR remained in Korea until 1953, for the duration of the war. The 2 PPCLII remained until fall 1951 after which it returned to Canada

As I indicated earlier, I wanted to focus my attention in this report on what has been said and written by and about the men who fought at Kapyong. I have decided to convey the words of the men of the 3rd RAR first, as a group, and then turn to the Patricias. This is essentially the order in which the 27th Brigade was attacked, first the Aussies, then the Canucks. I also have found memoirs by men of the 16 RNZA but had a tough time finding much for the men of the 1 MX. So let’s switch gears and get some reactions from those who were there.