BAPTISM UNDER FIRE - HILL 532

An excerpt from the recently published book
BEYOND THE DANGER CLOSE
The Korean Experience Revealed
 by Hub Gray

 It has been said that Lt.-Col Jim Stone's belief in his own opinions was such that, having arrived at a decision, he had a reputation for being impervious to change! Is it possible the action at D Company on Hill 532, subse­quently influenced Stone's decision on recommending honours or awards in recognition of D Company's defence at Kapyong?

March 7th 1951 , 2PPCLI participate in a 27th Brigade attack: Patricias objective is Hill 532, to their right 3RAR are to take Hill 410. The battalion at the conclusion of the day suffered 7 killed 1 and 28 wounded, all but one were from D Company. Almost one quarter of the company are casualties. Captain Gordon Turnbull, acting company commander, reported to Stone, that Lieut Michael Levy under performed during the attack. 2 Such a report would represent the very antithesis of the expec­tation for officers serving under James Riley Stone. Is it possible Turnbull's report left Stone with a lingering concern about Levy's fighting abilities? Had Levy become Turnbull's pawn in an attempt to camouflage his own ineptness? Stone, after Hill 532 removed Turnbull from a combat command to become adjutant, the administrative officer of the battalion. Was Stone's assessment of Levy's actions at odds with Turnbull's assessment; Levy retained command of 10 Platoon. The recollection of the high rate of casualties at 532 would be ingrained in Stone's memory.

March 4th.  The 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade occupies a salient extending into the enemy's position for nearly 8,000 meters.  The 7th Calvary Regimental Combat Team (Brigade) is 5,000 meters away and well south of the battalion. The Patricias' companies are stationed in the hills but their position is relatively static. They are wait­ing for the 6th ROK Division on the right, to advance to straighten out the line. 2PPCLI War Diary: "Men are being rotated out of the front line for hot meals and a change of clothing. The wind‑proof pants are not standing up to the wear and tear of the terrain; there will have to be a new issue if the men are to keep warm. There is only one case of fro­zen feet in the battalion. The American socks are too thin and the troops are having a great deal of trouble with trench foot." 3

A Brigade Orders Group on the 6h of March defines the coming operation. Captain RK Swinton, adjutant, makes a reconnaissance (recce) of the forward access road. Company commander's recce the ground they are to assault from the forward positions held by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.                           

On the 7th the troops rise at 0300hrs; they descend from their dug in positions on the hills.  The luxury of hot water for shaving as well as a hot breakfast is a great morale booster. The paymaster is present, allowing the men to make pay assignments in case of their death. The two padres hold small services. The administrative and spiritual preparations leave everyone a little tense; it is a certain fact that some amongst the Patricias will not live to see tomorrow; others will carry wounds for the rest of their lives.                                                                                                                                                  

The battalion is to advance across a broad valley floor to ascend Hill 532. From the War Diary: "At 0500 hrs Stone and his Advance Tactical HQ moved forward in jeeps to the pass at Hill 419. Advancing from the startline: D Company, Advance Tactical HQ, B, A, C, companies, Mortars, and finally Tactical Main , commanded by Major Gordon Henderson, Battle Adjutant.  The Machine Gun platoon, under Captain Andy Foulds, had gone ahead earlier, and the 81 mm mortars and the 4.2" mortars (US Army) were to base plates at 0600. The attack was delayed due to road conditions until 0700." 3                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                    
Lieut Rod Middleton: "The radio man from the 4.2" mortars serving with the American Forward Fire Officer attached to our company, commented Korea was a hell of place to celebrate his 19th birthday, we all joined in a chorus of 'Happy Birthday.' Our spontaneous Canadian salutation touched the radioman. The soldiers each took two bandoliers of .303 ammunition, two fragmentation grenades, extra ammunition for all the Bren light machine guns, while I took 64 rounds for my 9mm pistol. I also carry red, white and green flares for the Very Pistol. I too choose to carry a rifle; it is not a time to be seen as an officer by the enemy. Magazines are loaded and the grenades charged. We form up on the road in single file, one section at a time. At the start line the pioneers cleared the mines, other booby traps and barbed wire entanglements. We cross the start line right on time, 0700 hrs.” 4

-continued page two...

 

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