BEFORE AND DURING THE BATTLE OF KAPYONG
by Michael Czuboka
Czuboka (centre foreground) in Seoul on 27 July 2008 for the 55th Anniversary
of the Korean War Armistice
I: JOINING THE SPECIAL FORCE FOR KOREA:
was born in Brandon, Manitoba to Ukrainian immigrant parents in 1931. My father,
a CN section labourer, like thousands of other Ukrainians, was unjustly interned
by Canadian authorities during WWI simply because he was classified as a citizen
of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, an enemy of Britain and Canada during that world
war. The Ukrainians, ironically, had come to Canada to gain freedom from an oppressive
and foreign regime. I believe that my father wanted his three sons to be good
Canadians, but that he was probably never able to overcome his belief that he
was an unwanted foreigner in Canada. If he had lived long enough, he would certainly
have been proud of the fact that all three of his sons, Walter, Bill and Mike,
would eventually became commissioned officers in the Canadian Forces. It is certainly
true that I, as a young man, needed to prove that I was a good Canadian and that
this was one of the reasons I joined the Canadian Army in 1950.
summer of 1950 I was an 18 year old construction labourer living in Rivers, Manitoba,
a CN Railway town, and working on renovation projects at the nearby Canadian Joint
Air Training Centre. I had earlier graduated with a Grade 12 "senior matriculation"
standing, but jobs were scarce and I considered myself fortunate to have employment
of any kind. I wanted to further my studies with a university degree in either
arts or science, but neither my parents nor I had any money for that purpose.
I had grown up in Rivers and I was impressed by the young soldiers, sailors
and airmen who served at CJATC, and especially those who wore wings. While attending
high school in Rivers I became an air cadet, gained military experience by attending
summer camps at air force bases, and was promoted to sergeant, the highest cadet
rank in #320 Rivers Squadron. My older brother Walter, as a Flying Officer with
the Royal Canadian Air Force, had completed 52 air missions over the Atlantic
Ocean and Europe during WWII and I admired him greatly. I had been too young to
serve in the war and I felt that I had been left out of a great and exciting historical
event. A military career greatly appealed to me and the Korean War would eventually
give me a chance for the kind of an adventure that I had missed during WWII because
of my youth.
Korean War broke out in June, 1950, and later in that summer the Canadian Government
announced that it would recruit a "Special Force" for the purpose of
serving in the war. What was especially appealing to many recruits about this
force was its limited 18 month period of service. In those days, those who enlisted
in the Canadian Forces were usually required to enlist for at least three years.
Moreover, it was practically impossible to get out earlier than three years. It
was almost like being in the French Foreign Legion. You signed your life and freedom
away. The Canadian Army, in those days, was lacking in sensitivity and human relations
skills. Soldiers did not have any "rights" as we know them today. You
were required to obey all orders without questions of any kind. It was a joke
but also a reality when lieutenants, or sergeants, or even corporals said: "I
need three volunteers to go on a dangerous patrol and I have decided that the
volunteers will be you, you and you".
In early August, 1950, shortly
after the Special Force enlistments began at recruiting depots across Canada,
I decided to travel from Rivers to Fort Osborne in Winnipeg, a distance of about
125 miles, in order to join up. But how would I get there? My funds were limited.
Fortunately, I knew a CN Railway fireman and he smuggled me into a caboose at
the end of a freight train going to Winnipeg. I arrived full of enthusiasm but
was initially rejected because of my age.
"How old are you?"
the recruiting officer asked skeptically. "You look like you are about 15!"
" I know that I look younger, but I am 18 years old" I truthfully
"That's too young to be in the Special Force" he said.
"You have to be at least 19. Go home and come again when you are 19".
I did go back to Rivers but I returned to Fort Osborne about two weeks later
and hesitatingly, and with considerable trepidation, told another recruiting officer
that I was 19 years old. He did not look at me too closely and did not seem to
care. I was a warm body and the army was not too particular. I was never asked
for a birth certificate or documentation of any kind, either then or ever. I aged
by one year instantaneously and was immediately enrolled, at my request, into
the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. I wanted adventure, and the infantry
was the place to get it.
On August 22, 1950, at about the time I was
scheduled to travel by train to the PPCLI in Calgary, Canada's railway workers
went on strike. The problem was solved by the Royal Canadian Air Force. I, along
with other recruits from Winnipeg's Osborne Barracks, were loaded onto C-47 Dakota
aircraft and flown to Calgary. We arrived, a lot of us sick and vomiting because
of a bumpy ride on a hot August day, and were immediately housed at Currie Barracks.
Unfortunately, the Army was not ready to receive us and we languished for many
days in our civilian clothing. Finally, in about mid-September, we were equipped
with WWII vintage uniforms, webbing, kit bags, boots, mess tins, and .303 Lee
Enfield rifles. Shortly afterwards we were shipped to Wainwright, Alberta, to
undergo basic training. Our training was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
"Big Jim" Stone, the CO of 2 PPCLI and Brigadier John Rockingham, commander
of the 25th Infantry Brigade. Both officers had had served with distinction in
WWII. In fact, most of our senior non-commissioned and commissioned officers were
veterans of the war that had ended only about five years earlier.
II : TRAINING FOR THE KOREAN WAR AND SAILING TO KOREA:
was located on the sandy site of the former 25 square mile Buffalo National Park
in central Alberta. It served as an artillery, armoured and infantry training
area during WWII , and briefly as a German prisoner-of-war camp at the end of
the war. Its facilities were expanded considerably at the beginning of the Korean
War, but in November, 1950, it was decided that the entire 25th Canadian Brigade
would be moved to Fort Lewis, Washington because of the better facilities at that
location. It was apparently cheaper to rent from the United States than to spend
a lot of money on Wainwright. We did not complain. The idea of living and training
near Seattle, a large American city was very appealing to the men of all ranks.
Seattle, we reasoned, probably contained a lot of beautiful women who were anxious
to consort with handsome and heroic Canadian soldiers.
In late November,
1950 several trains began transporting soldiers from my regiment, the PPCLI and
other units, from Wainwright to Fort Lewis. We were loaded onto old wooden colonial
railway coaches. These ancient and fragile vehicles had originally been used to
haul immigrants, like my parents, to the Canadian Prairies. Tragedy stuck on November
21, 1950 when two trains, including a troop train, collided at Canoe River in
British Columbia, killing 21 people, including 17 soldiers from the Royal Canadian
Horse Artillery. Investigators later decided that these deaths were caused primarily
by the weaknesses of the wooden coaches in which we were travelling. It was alleged,
by some, that the Government and military authorities were negligent because of
their decision to transport soldiers in these ancient and dangerous conveyances.
The investigators noted that none of the civilians who were riding in modern and
strong steel coaches died in this collision and concluded that the soldiers had
died as a result of government cost-cutting.
Shortly after our arrival
at Fort Lewis the Canadian Government decided that only the 2nd Battalion, Princess
Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry would be sent to Korea on an immediate basis.
The communist forces of North Korea had been pushed back to the Yalu River on
the border with China and General Douglas MacArthur, the United Nations commander,
had declared that the war would be over by Christmas. It appeared that 2 PPCLI
was being sent as a token occupation force and that the rest of the brigade would
probably not follow.
I arrived at Fort Lewis on November 21, 1950, I was a rifleman in the PPCLI. One
day a number of us were called to a special parade and we were told that we were
being re-assigned. Most were sent to rifle companies, but when my name was called
out I was told that I was now a member of 2 PPCLI's 81 mm. mortar platoon. "Mortar
platoon?" I asked myself. "What is a mortar platoon and what will I
be doing?" I vaguely remembered seeing mortars in WWII movie newsreels, but
I knew next to nothing about them. I would not see any 81 mm. mortars until after
we arrived in Korea. I wondered why and how I was assigned to the mortar platoon,
and I concluded that it was simply an arbitrary decision and not for any particular
reason. That's how the army worked in those days.
On November 25th, after
only four days at Fort Lewis, we were shipped to Port Angeles and loaded onto
the Private J.P. Martinez, a rusting "liberty ship" from WWII. These
vessels had been welded together for temporary use and did not appear to be very
seaworthy. The facilities were crude and the food was almost inedible. I still
shudder over the memory of seeing large black cooks sweating into the soup and
food that they prepared in the galleys for our consumption. We had coloured meal
cards and ate at badly coordinated times to announcements on loudspeakers such
as: "Yellow cards will chow now; will chow now." The weather was some
of the worst in memory and even the ship's crew were seasick. I spend the first
week in my bunk flat on my back and next to my rifle. The bunks were six deep
and jammed together in the hold. The odour of unwashed bodies and feet was almost
unbearable. Moreover, we learned, about half way across the stormy and badly-named
Pacific, that the Chinese had entered Korea in large numbers and that the United
Nations forces were in retreat. We were going to a full scale war and not occupation
duties as previously announced. After about 23 days, including brief stopovers
in Hawaii and Japan, we arrived at Pusan in South Korea. We disembarked to the
sounds of a welcoming U.S. military band. We were in the "land of the morning
calm", the nickname sometimes given to Korea. It was December 18th, and we
had arrived just in time to prepare for Christmas.
III: KOREA FROM DECEMBER, 1950 T0 APRIL, 1951:
Pusan was a collection
of huts and ramshackle buildings that housed tens of thousands of refugees. A
pungent odour of charcoal, fish and human excrement filled our nostrils. Fortunately,
we did not stay long. Big Jim Stone advised General Walker, his American superior,
that we were not ready to fight and needed about six weeks of training. General
Walker reluctantly agreed, but not until after Stone produced formal instructions
that he had received from Ottawa.
were moved to an orchard area near Miryang, about 50 kms. north of Pusan, and
our training there lasted until mid-February. We also spent some time in the neighbouring
hills hunting guerillas. It was at Miryang that I first learned how to use an
81 mm. mortar. I was assigned to a "number two" position. My responsibility
was to feed "bombs", or "shells" into my mortar. Feeding bombs
into the barrel of a mortar required good coordination because a "double
feed" into a barrel would cause an explosion and wipe out the whole mortar
crew, as happened on more than one occasion. Our platoon had six half-tracks with
a three man mortar crew each. Each half-track had one .50 caliber and one .30
caliber machine gun mounted. We carried several hundreds bombs, most of which
were of the high explosive variety, and a few that were made of phosphorus and
used for creating smoke. Range was determined by an elevation-finding sight on
the side of the mortar. Small packages of explosives called "charges"
were added or removed at the end of each bomb for the purpose of increasing or
decreasing distances of delivery. In later years I learned that mortars are considered
by military experts to be extremely effective infantry weapons.
What I remember most about Miryang is the clean, relatively odourless air, the
cozy sleeping bags, folding cots and tents where we slept, and the hot food. It
was in an orchard area and human excrement was not spread on the fields and rice
paddies as in most parts of Korea. After leaving Miryang, and for the rest of
my tour in Korea, I slept in a slit trench or simply on the ground and ate canned
American "C" rations most of the time. More than once, during the cold
Korean winter, I woke up only to find myself covered in snow.
year in Korea was one of rapid movement. We moved frequently from February to
April. It was not until the fall of 1951 that both sides began to prepare relatively
permanent defensive trenches and bunkers that were reminiscent of those that were
used in WWI. During most of the period between mid-February and mid-April , the
Chinese gradually retreated northwards. Seoul was retaken in mid-March and the
UN forces, including our battalion, began to push across the 38th parallel and
into North Korea. During these first few weeks of combat 2 PPCLI had 14 killed
and 42 wounded. Casualties were light compared to those suffered by Canadians
in WWI and WWII, but we were certainly in a real war and not a police action.
My own problems were relatively minor.
On one occasion when I was feeding
bombs into our mortar on a "rapid fire basis", a "delayed action"
took place. One of the bombs did not emerge from the barrel as was anticipated.
I instinctively lifted my head next to the barrel, in keeping with normal procedure,
and I was greeted with a loud explosion as the faulty projectile exited. Blood
immediately came out of both ears. As a result, I suffered a permanent hearing
In early March, when it was still very cold, I was stricken
by a serious case of dysentery. I lost total control of my bowel movements. I
became very sick and was loaded onto an Indian Jeep Ambulance and was transported,
along with two seriously wounded Chinese soldiers, to an American MASH hospital.
I still remember the groans and occasional screams of my Chinese companions during
our bumpy ride. I remained at the MASH hospital for about one week. I was visited
only once in the hospital by an obviously inebriated Canadian sergeant who thought
that I had been wounded in action. When the sergeant found out that I had dysentery
and not a wound, he quickly terminated his visit. As previously mentioned, the
army in the 1950's was not known for its sensitivity.
I was also infected
with malaria in Korea but it did not surface until the summer of 1952 when I was
taking a course at Camp Borden in Ontario. Flash forward about a year. It took
the doctors at Camp Borden Hospital several days to diagnose my illness. My temperature
rose rapidly to about 106 degrees and I became delirious. Two young and attractive
female lieutenant nurses rubbed my mostly naked body with alcohol to bring my
soaring temperature down. I was a shy corporal at the time, but I was having hallucinations
and I mischievously asked: "You are really enjoying this, aren't you? Fortunately,
they chose to ignore my remark. Corporals, in those days, were expected to always
speak to lieutenants in respectful terms.
back to Korea. In the middle of February, 1951, our battalion was loaded onto
trucks and half-tracks at Miryang in preparation for our move to the front, at
that time about 200 kms to the north. I remember the cloudy skies, snow-covered
valleys and mountains, icy and winding roads and the bitter sub-zero cold. It
took us about two days to get from Miryang to the front. Very cold Arctic winds
from nearby Siberia often descend down the Korean peninsula, and they certainly
came frequently in the winter of 1950-51.
As we arrived on our half-tracks
at the Korean village of Kudun, near the front line, we were suddenly confronted
with a scene of horror. I had never seen a dead body until that day, but now something
like 68 black and mostly naked American bodies were scattered all around us. They
had been bayonetted and shot by the Chinese, and their weapons and clothing had
been removed. They were frozen solid and looked like black marble statues. Some
were magnificent physical specimens and I remember feeling overwhelmed with pity
over their horrible fate. We were later told that this had been a black infantry
company. Some had their ring fingers cut off, and their winter clothing, sleeping
bags, boots and weapons had been removed. The Chinese coveted American clothing
and weapons and took them whenever they could. Apparently these black American
soldiers, led by white officers, had posted a single sentry on the previous evening
and had not dug slit trenches. Although only about 68 bodies were counted on that
day, it was subsequently reported that more than 200 had been killed. In later
years I read a report by the Chinese Communist Forces "CCF" 116th Division
which claimed that two companies of the U.S. 23rd Infantry Regiment had been annihilated
at dawn on February 14, 1951. American infantry companies do hold about 100 soldiers,
so if two companies were wiped out, 200 dead seems like a reasonable estimate.
The Chinese had a habit of removing dead bodies, and especially their own.
I was shocked by this bloody spectacle and ate very little for the next several
days. I knew that we were in a war, but I was not prepared for such a sudden and
violent introduction. I noticed that my three companions on our half-track were
also taking it badly. All had turned very pale and silent. Our commanding officer,
Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Stone, on the other hand, considered this to an important
lesson for all of us. We would, in future, never be allowed to use sleeping bags
in the front line. And needless to say, it became apparent that a strong contingent
of sentries was always needed, and especially at dawn, the time when the Chinese
preferred to attack.
IV: THE BATTLE OF KAPYONG:
The Chinese Spring Offensive of April,
1951, turned out to be the greatest battle of the Korean War. The introduction
to Hub Gray's excellent book Beyond the Danger Close states that a part of this
offensive began immediately north of Kapyong when "10,000 men of the South
Korean 6th Division panicked and fled running south, leaving a 16 km gap in the
front line. Two Chinese divisions, with 20,000 men blitzed southward 40 km in
36 hours to Kapyong, where the badly outnumbered 1,700 men of
2 PPCLI and
3 RAR were ordered to hold the line." According to Gray, 2 PPCLI was considerably
under strength at this time, with only about 700 soldiers in the front line rather
than a full battalion component of 940.
In the meantime, a few miles
further west, the British Gloucester Battalion heroically held its ground and
was virtually wiped out. Most of the Gloucesters were either killed or captured
and only about 56 out of about 900 survived the battle. Our fate could easily
have been the same. Of course, we we did know any of these details at that time.
We were simply told that the Chinese were attacking in large numbers and that
we would have to stop them.
In late April we were in a reserve position
in the Kapyong area. Our activities included cleaning weapons, undergoing kit
inspections and replenishing our supplies of ammunition and other supplies. We
appreciated getting periods of uninterrupted and peaceful sleep. Japanese Asahi
beer was available and eagerly consumed. For the first time in several weeks we
enjoyed hot meals. American "C" rations, which we used in front line
positions, consisted of predictable and boring cans of meat, vegetables and fruit.
Late April also brought spring to Korea. The weather was warm and pleasant, and
I have often wondered if it was at this time that a malaria-infected mosquito
Unfortunately, our respite was quickly and rudely interrupted.
Our commanding officer, Big Jim Stone, was suddenly ordered to take 2 PPCLI to
positions on Hill 677 north of the Village of Kapyong. At the same time, the 3rd
Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was instructed to occupy Hill 504,
a lower feature located immediately across from Hill 677. The valley below was
a critical part of main route to the South Korean capital of Seoul, and the Chinese
understood that they needed to control Hills 677 and 504 to allow a safe passage
Lieutenant-Colonel Stone demonstrated his competence and experience
as a veteran of WWII by taking his company commanders on a reconnaissance of Hill
677. Captain Lloyd Hill, our 81 mm. Mortar Platoon commander, also accompanied
this group. We were later told that Stone and his officers studied the approaches
that the Chinese would likely use during their attack. Companies and platoons
were to be deployed, as much as possible, in mutually supporting positions. The
advantage of Hill 677 was that it contained many very steep approaches, which
meant that the attackers would often have to monkey run upwards to get at us.
In those days the mountains of Korea had very few trees and visibility was unrestricted.
During visits to Kapyong in 2003 and 2008, I was amazed at how Hill 677 and other
Korean mountains were now covered with thick forests. In April, 1951 the mountains
were mostly bare and the Chinese were especially vulnerable to grenades that were
rolled down towards them on the steep and visible slopes. To a large extent, however,
the defence of Hill 677 would depend upon artillery and 81 mm. mortar fire.
At first it looked as though we would not be able to get our half-tracks and
81 mm. mortars to the top of Hill 677. Lieutenant Lorne Hurst, the Pioneer Platoon
commander, said that our half-tracks could not make it up because of the very
narrow track. Stone did not agree. According to Hub Gray, Stone growled at Hurst
and said: "Hurst, get the half-tracks up that bloody hill!" No one ever
questioned Stone's orders and Hurst quickly complied. In retrospect, it can be
concluded that the survival of the entire battalion eventually depended, to a
large extent, upon the 81 mm. Mortar Platoon. Our supporting New Zealand and American
artillery batteries were also very important, but they were not as readily available
as our mortars. If the Mortar Platoon had not reached the top of Hill 677, it
would probably have been ineffective. If fact, if we had been left in the valley
below we would have been very vulnerable and likely would have been eliminated
by the Chinese very quickly. The Chinese were swarming all over the valley below.
As it turned out, our .50 caliber machine guns, deployed in a key position on
Hill 677 and commanded by Lieutenant Hub Gray, 2 IC of the Mortar Platoon, would
soon afterwards save the entire battalion from total destruction.
recall our ascent with our heavily loaded half-tracks onto Hill 677. It was getting
dark and difficult to see anything. The route consisted of a single narrow trail
and wound dangerously back and forth on its way to the summit. A slide into one
of the deep ravines that bordered the trail would have been disastrous. In some
places the trail was blocked with large stone outcrops and these had to be blown
away with explosives. Then, when we were almost at the top, one of our half-tracks
broke down. Stone threatened to push it into a nearby deep ravine. Fortunately
a mechanic, Bob Hoffman, arrived and revived the vehicle, which had apparently
stopped because of a dead battery.
Soon after arriving near the top of
Hill 677 we unloaded our mortars and set them up in small rice paddies. The ground
was very hard and it was impossible to dig down more than a few inches. However,
the rice paddies, with their stone walls, did offer some protection. My Number
One Robbie Roberts and I unloaded all of our mortar bombs in a pile close to our
mortar. I believe that we had about 2,000 mortar rounds on board. The whole Platoon
probably hauled about 12,000 mortar bombs to the top of Hill 677. I recall that
our half-track was so full that we were forced to sit haphazardly on top of our
heavy and volatile load. A single enemy shell or rocket could easily have instantly
detonated the whole load and blown all of us to kingdom come. The other five mortars
were set up similarly on rice paddies that were close to ours. I dismounted the
.30 caliber machine gun from our half-track, as I usually did, in order to provide
We were assigned "defensive fire" tasks.
This allowed us to zero in on the places where the Chinese were likely to attack.
These targets were called "Fox 1, Fox 2, Fox 3, and so on. When the Chinese
later attacked one or more of our rifle companies, we were given commands such
as: "Rapid Fire on Fox 1!"
During that first night hundreds
of shadowy figures poured past us in a southerly direction. We were told that
these pathetic and usually weaponless men were remnants of the Republic of Korea
6th Division, but we were not sure. They could have been Chinese and North Koreans,
and it is entirely possible that some of them were indeed our enemies. Infiltration
was a common Communist tactic. These unwelcome intruders sometimes came to within
50 meters of our position and they made us extremely nervous.
sat and waited. The Chinese decided to attack the Australians on Hill 504 first
and from our position high on Hill 677 we had a grandstand view of the battle.
Large numbers of Chinese soldiers were seen massing in the valley below. Several
American tanks were engaged in the battle and one was knocked out. The Americans
performed heroically even though they were engulfed in large numbers of swarming
Chinese. We later learned that three of the American tank commanders were killed,
and that the Australians had 33 men killed and 58 wounded before they were overrun
and forced to withdraw from Hill 504. We were now alone and the Chinese turned
their attention in our direction.
The first Chinese attacks were against
Baker Company. The company's three platoons, with about 30 men each, were located
approximately 200 meters to the northeast of our position. Because Baker overlooked
the valley, it is likely that the Chinese considered it to have the most important
strategic position. Able, Charlie and Dog companies were situated in higher isolated
positions to the north and west of Baker company and further away from the river
Although we were close to Baker company and could hear all of
the violent battle noises, we did not, at that time, know about all of the hand
to hand fighting that was taking place. Baker was being subjected to typical CCF
tactics, including bugles and human waves. We fired hundreds of mortar rounds
in support of the company, but we were not able to directly observe the results
of our action. But we were very effective. For instance, Lieutenant Charles Petrie
of Baker Company later recalled that on one occasion, as dusk approached, 6 Platoon
reported that the enemy was forming up in a re-entrant and preparing for an attack.
Our battalion 81 mm. mortars opened fire on this force and "decimated it."
Somewhat later 6 Platoon fixed bayonets and forced the Chinese to retreat. Mortars
are an extremely effective infantry weapon but bayonets can also be very persuasive
under the right circumstances.
The next two days and nights are a blur in
my memory.We frequently fired large volleys of mortar bombs in support of the
rifle companies, and in particular Baker and Dog. After trying and failing to
dislodge Baker company, the Chinese attacked Dog Company in large numbers. Lieutenant
Mike Levy, the commander of Dog Company's 12 Platoon, initiated a mortar and artillery
bombardment of his own position in order to stem the Chinese assaults.
were told that we were surrounded and to expect an assault on our position at
any time. The attack that we were expecting came in the evening of April 24th.
We did not immediately notice their presence, but about 500 Chinese began to climb
from the valley floor towards our location. They were advancing quietly in our
direction and they were not signaling their approach with bugles and loud shouts
as was their usual habit.
Lieutenant Hub Gray quickly took command of
the eight .50 caliber machine guns that were mounted on our half-tracks. Whether
by a stroke of genius, or as a result of sheer luck, these vehicles were located
in a very favourable position for the purpose of confronting the advancing enemy.
The machine guns were mounted on circular swivels and could be turned rapidly
to any direction. Gray handled this critical situation efficiently and calmly.
He waited until the leading formation of Chinese was only about 40 meters short
of our position before giving the command to fire. The eight .50 caliber machine
guns opened up and began cutting a bloody swath in the Communist ranks. I have
often wondered by Hub Gray was never given any kind of recognition for his very
significant and important action. At the very least, in my opinion, Gray should
have been "mentioned in dispatches". Unfortunately, military awards
are not always given in a fair and objective manner.
I was totally unaware
of the approaching enemy until the moment that Gray opened fire. We were, as usual,
doing defensive fire tasks for the rifle companies. As soon as we became aware
of the Chinese in our vicinity, we turned our mortars around about 180 degrees,
raised them up to an almost perpendicular angle, and began launching bombs on
a rapid fire basis. Our mortar bombs travelled only about 100 to 200 metres and
began landing in the midst of the Chinese.
It was a devastating slaughter.
Jim Wall, a private in the Pioneer Platoon, described the scene as follows in
Beyond The Danger Close: "Approaching our position in the dull light on night
they looked like a bunch of ants groping their way up the hill. It is frightening
watching them slowly ascend, and to realize that they are coming to kill us. When
Gray orders the machine guns to fire there are masses of the fallen, dead and
wounded. Those left standing grab what they can of their casualties and are running
and tumbling down the hill heading for the river." On the following day one
of our men went to the killing field, counted more than 100 dead Chinese, and
then stopped counting. It is highly likely that many other bodies had been dragged
away in keeping with Chinese practice.
The Battle of Kapyong ended very
unexpectedly on April 25th and 26th. By that time our Mortar Platoon was almost
completely out of mortar bombs. The rifle companies were also down to a few rounds
of ammunition. Our food and water was almost gone. We were in a desperate situation,
but for some reason the Communists did not continue with their attacks. However,
the trails and roads leading to and from Hill 677 still appeared to be occupied
by the enemy and Lieutenant-Colonel Stone radioed for help.
On the morning
of April 25th several Flying Boxcars of the United States Air Force suddenly roared
over our position. Parachutes of various colours opened up and drifted into our
position. I eagerly helped to open up the canisters and discovered that we had
been supplied with mortar bombs, rifle and machine gun ammunition, C rations and
water. A minor miracle had taken place. Robbie Roberts and I piled our fresh supply
of bombs next to our mortar. We were ready for action once more but everything
remained strangely silent. We were not called upon to fire again. On the 26th
of April we were ordered to re-load our half-tracks in preparation for a move
from Hill 677.
Our descent down Hill 677 was full of tension. We did
not know if the Chinese were still present. But nothing happened and we eventually
reached the main road in the river valley. A regimental combat team of the U.S.
Army had arrived to take our place. As we drove southward a powerful feeling of
relief surged through my mind and body. In spite of very difficult circumstances,
we had somehow survived.
But what were the reasons for our survival?
I did not give this question much thought in April, 1951, but in later years I
concluded that the Chinese had stopped their attacks at Kapyong because of their
very heavy losses. In particular, I believe that the machine guns firing in unison
under Hub Gray's command saved all of us at Kapyong. Their thunderous firepower
decimated the advancing Communist force of about 500. The Chinese, having already
suffered very heavy losses, must have felt that they had suddenly encountered
a powerful and well-armed enemy.
According to Hub Gray, 2 PPCLI had 35
wounded and 10 killed at Kapyong, which is more than the official total of 23
wounded and 10 killed. Apparently some casualties on Hill 677 took place before
the actual battle began and were therefore not officially counted. In any event,
the 35 or 45 casualties suffered by the Patricias during the Chinese April offensive
was a lot less than the approximately 850 by the Gloucesters or 91 by the Australians.
The United Nations forces, in total, had about 7,000 casualties.
that our limited losses happened for the following reasons. The Patricias were
located on a high mountain with steep slopes that were difficult to climb by the
attackers. The battalion also had massive artillery and mortar support that decimated
the Chinese when they charged. Hub Gray has calculated and observed that in addition
to the Battalion's 81 mm mortars, support was provided by 81 artillery pieces
of the New Zealanders and Americans. That extensive firepower was brought to bear
on very small areas in front of and on top of our companies and it killed thousands
of Chinese. An additional factor was that the Communists had advanced very quickly
over a long distance and that they were unable to bring up supplies and heavy
weapons quickly enough. Moreover, the air was controlled by the American Air Force
which attacked the Communists at every opportunity.
John Bishop, in his very interesting book The King's Bishop, provides an excellent
observation in regard to the significance of the Battle of Kapyong. Bishop served
as a corporal with 2 PPCLI's Able Company at Kapyong. He was later commissioned
and retired after 35 years of service in the Canadian Army. He points out in his
book that if the Patricias had not held at Kapyong, "the way would have been
open for the Chinese to drive the UN forces back to Seoul, and ultimately all
the way to Pusan and into the sea." He notes that when Kapyong, a relatively
small battle, is put into context, the stemming of the Chinese spring offensive
"entailed a massive loss of lives and material comparable in scale to many
of the engagements of WWI." The UN had about 7,000 casualties during April,
1951, but the Chinese total of about 70,000 was much more.
Battle of Kapyong took place more than a half a century ago, I still vividly remember
my involvement as a 19 year old private. Occasionally I dream that I am returning
to Korea and that the Communists have invaded once again. This dream never changes.
I am excited but not afraid because I know that I am going to survive and return
home. It is not an unpleasant dream. Of greater significance is the fact that
I still feel a strong attachment to my regiment. It is still, even after many
years, something like a family to me. "Once a Patricia, always a Patricia"
is certainly true in my case.
published in The Patrician (2008)
Michael (Mike) Czuboka is 1st Vice President
of KVA Unit 17 and is editor of the unit's newsletter, The Rice Paddy