Friday, April 24, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong

Peter Worthington, a founding member of the Toronto Sun, served with 2 PPCLI during the Korean War in which he commanded troops in battle. Today writes in the Toronto Sun about this little remembered, but vital battle to save Seoul from the Chinese Army

Peter Worthington, April 24, 2009

If Vimy Ridge was the perfect set-piece attack in WWI, a case can be made that on a reduced scale, the battle of Kapyong in the Korean war, fought by 2nd Battalion of the Princess Pats, was a perfect defensive battle that, arguably, saved Seoul from being captured by the Chinese.
Canada's triumph at Vimy Ridge in 1917 was the first battle of WWI decisively won by the allies.

Kapyong was the most vital battle fought by Canadians in the Korean war, but is not well remembered -- except by those who were there, by those who followed and, of course, by Koreans.

Today, Apr. 24, is the 58th anniversary of that battle in 1951.

In subsequent battles, the Van Doos and RCR had greater casualties than the Pats endured at Kapyong, but none where the stakes were so high.

The Patricias were the only Canadian unit in Korea at the time, commanded by Lt.Col. "Big Jim" Stone, a soldier's soldier who had enlisted as a private in WWII and had served in every rank up to colonel, winning two Distinguished Service Orders by war's end.

As battalion commander he was tough, had a good eye for ground, and would not commit his men to action until he felt they were ready for battle.

The Pats were due for a rest when the Chinese launched their 1951 spring offensive across the front, with the goal of re-capturing Seoul. The coastal road was guarded by a battalion of the Gloucester Regiment -- the Glorious Glosters -- while the Kapyong valley route to Seoul was held on one side by an Australian battalion, the other side by the Pats. Both were supported by U.S. tanks and New Zealand artillery.


The Chinese hordes attacked the Australians first, and by nightfall the Aussies pulled back, leaving the Patricias as the only obstacle to stop the Chinese advance on Seoul, 50 kms away.
Hugely outnumbered, Stone ensured that his companies and platoons mutually supported one another by interlocking fire. He made it clear that come what may, there would be no retreat. Alive or dead, his battalion would not leave its Kapyong position. This tended to focus the troops.

The attack came at night from several directions -- even from the rear on battalion headquarters, which had a lot of machine guns in for repair. These wrought havoc on the attackers.

The Chinese inevitably over-ran some positions, but there was no retreat. The Canadians called New Zealand artillery fire on their own positions, inflicting enormous damage on the attackers.

Valour was a given, and by dawn the Chinese attack was not only blunted, but crushed. On the coastal road, at the same time, the Glosters were annihilated. Their companies and platoons were isolated, and fell. Of the battalion, 37 survived, the rest were casualties or prisoners. By their gallant defeat, the Glosters were accorded military immortality.
So well-prepared were the Patricias that "only" 10 were killed. Always chary at awarding medals, Col. Stone figured it was just another day in war. He earned another DSO, and awarded one Military Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, a couple of Military Medals to individuals.


Civilians assumed with so few killed and so few gallantry awards given, that Kapyong couldn't have been much of a battle -- not like the Glosters who were wiped out. But the Americans knew, and awarded the Patricias a Presidential Unit Citation (the first ever to Canadians) -- a small blue ribbon in a gold frame that 2nd Battalion soldiers wear to this day.

There are three tests of a great defensive battle: 1. That you lose no ground and hold the enemy; 2. That you inflict horrendous casualties; 3. That you endure few casualties. The Princess Pats excelled in all three. Until the end of the war, the Chinese got no closer to Seoul than Kapyong.

Today it's largely a forgotten battle in a forgotten war, despite grateful Koreans ceding an acre of land in the Kapyong valley to Canada for a memorial that is annually honoured.


Writer Of The Purple Sage... said...

It is interesting that each unit in Kap'yong recalled the battle from its own perspective.
You've written as though Canada won this fight. Understandable: the Americans have a similar spin on their efforts as does 3RAR (Aust.). But everyone talks about "NZ artillery support" almost as an afterthought.
Yet 16 Fld Regt fired 10,000 rounds in just two days, their withering firepower so accurate that several units were able to call in fire right in front of their own positions, and live to tell the tale. As the Chinese advanced to below the maximum depression of the gun barrels, my father told of jacking up the gun trails, so the 25pdrs could fire down into the valley. The Chinese even got up into the gun lines, whereupon there was no-quarter-given hand-to-hand combat, gunners swinging pieces of timber against bayonets...and winning!
Yes, the Pats did a great job, the "Glorious Glosters" not so much (a more in-depth appraisal shows they were wiped out because of some stupid decisions they made), the Yanks did a runner as did the ROK. While so many forget the whole Korean War, let those who care not forget the guns of the Royal New Zealand Artillery!


War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.