Supporting the First ROK Infantry Division

by Robert S. Usher

Korea - often I remember the calm of the early morning, with a faint light beginning in the East.  Sometimes the peculiar call of a pheasant, or from the North the peck-peck-peck of a machine gun, where the P.B.I. (Poor Bloody Infantry) would be at “stand-to” from before first light.

My gun detachment and I arrived in Korea with Roger Battery of the 81st Fd Regt RCA on about 18 April, 1953.  I took over the number two gun of A Troop, A Battery, 1 RCHA from Sgt Sam Kozak, whose air of professionalism left me feeling somewhat inadequate.  That gun became E2 in Easy Troop.

The GUN would be sitting there, as guns have sat for generations past. Moisture forming and dripping from the closed breech, a bit of oil dripping from the cradle.  The flashlight is lying across the layers seat, and the short rammer lies across the trail.  The closed breech is pregnant with a round of high explosive (H.E.) and a cartridge with charge three.  Six rounds make six mounds under a poncho on the left.  As the light strengthens, the muzzles of the other three guns become visible through the ground fog.  Number One, slightly ahead and on the right is in the capable hands of Harry Davidson, an acting sergeant with fewer than two years service, as solid as the original Gibraltar. Number Three, very close on the left, commanded by J.A.R.P. MacDonald, late of 1st Light Battery (Para) and recently confirmed sergeant, an excellent soldier and loyal friend.  Number Four is further to the right and well ahead, captained by Sergeant Hank Monney, a veteran of perhaps three years service and the oldest man on the guns of Easy Troop.  Immediately behind my gun pit and up an extreme slope sits the troop command post, attached to the guns by the four umbilical pairs of wires to the Tannoy sets (a British public address system).  Boss of the command post is 2nd Lieutenant Frank Bayne, a former ranker from the R.C.E.M.E. Corps.  He has been our gun position officer (GPO) for almost two years now, is well accepted and respected.  

On a quiet morning, reveille will be announced by Mr. Bayne blowing into the microphone of the Tannoy, which produces a rather harsh rustle at the guns.  Soon the lads will be appearing in any order of dress, slopping about in unlaced boots, eyes half open, scratching and groaning, needed that first smoke and desperately needing a urinal.  By eight o’clock everyone is shaved, shined and fed.  Novakovski has prepared and delivered the morning ammo return and the guns are put out of action in rotation for daily maintenance.  

Perhaps this is a good place to explain the general attitude that existed within the troop at that time as I saw it.  While we were mostly very young and generally lacking in military experience, there was a definite feeling of dedication to duty and an understanding of the need to provide support for the lads at the front, strictly in accordance with out orders from the troop command post.  It should be appreciated that the troop was the extent of our experience and of our small world.  The words coming from the Tannoy speaker were the law, the inspiration and the end.  Our pride was our performance as gunners.  We never needed to discuss it.  

With reference to our support of the 1st R.O.K. Division, I mentioned in a letter to my Mother dated 8 July, 1953, that we would be firing in support of the units in front of, and to the right of Little Gibraltar, and that the other two batteries were moving on that day to positions where they could reach that area.  Colonel Nicholson states in The Gunners of Canada ... that “a rearrangement of the brigades of the Commonwealth Division, completed on 12 July, 1953 made the Canadians once more responsible for Hill 355, where they had the 1st R.O.K. Division on their immediate right.”                      

Getting back to the troop, support of Hill 355 called for a switch of slightly more than 90 degrees.  This required that the gun platform had to be repositioned to allow for the length of the trail, and that ammunition had to be moved to the opposite side of the gun pit.  We had perhaps 200 rounds of H.E. ammunition in a separate enclosure to the left of the gun pit and perhaps twenty feet away.  Since the gun was now facing the rear, the ammunition supply was now on the wrong side of the gun and about ten feet further away.  So there had to be a constant shifting and handling of 100 pound boxes of projectiles, and lighter but bulkier boxes of cartridges (4 projectiles to a box, 8 cartridges to a box, projectiles 25 lbs each, cartridges about 5 lbs each).  

The weather was extremely hot and when the action became intense the barrels became very hot with paint blistering off, and were cooled by filling with water from time to time as the situation permitted.

There has been some controversy about the use of proximity fuzes during that period.  The availability of fuzes, and the deep cavity shells and the time required to prepare them did not permit impromptu concentrations of vast quantities of proximity fuzed ammunition. The firing of such ammunition was a tricky business as there was no safe time ring on the proximity fuzes at that time.  The fuze (T97) had a long body requiring a deep cavity shell.  The shells provided were fuzed with 119 impact fuzes, and the deep cavity had been filled with a cloth bag of high explosive material.  In order to prepare the shell for proximity use, the 119 fuze had to be removed with a fuze wrench, the cloth bag was pried out with a screw driver and the proximity fuze screwed into the projectile.

One who has never known the joys of such experience (by candle light yet!)  has little right to criticize those who were stuck with it.  But I distinctly remember firing such ammo directly over one corner of the command post.  

Regardless of all that, the weather during the day was extremely hot, our time by night as well as by day was spent answering to the call “Mike Target!, Mike Target!, Mike Target!” (this meant a regimental target, in this case involving twenty-four guns).  We ate or slept when we could, but it seemed to be a never ending experience.  A short note to my Mother dated 20 and 21 July states, “still firing towards Hill 355.”

We were not keeping score nor were we counting rounds fired, except a rough count of cartridge cases for gun history purposes.  We were not greatly surprised to learn that from 12 to 16 July, firing was almost constant with the enemy making nineteen repeated attacks on Hill Betty over a twenty-four hour period.  To keep us on our toes the enemy attacked the Hook position on 24 July which required a switch of almost 180 degrees with the accompanying shift of furniture in and around the gun pit.

This was about the end of my shooting war in Korea, although the pressure was still on for a few weeks until all the cleaning up and moving were over.

As I write, I have before me a “Letter of Appreciation” dated 4 August, 1953 addressed to H.W. Sterne, Lt Col Arty., C.O. Canadian 81st Arty. Regt.  It is a photocopy made from a large and elaborate document from “Headquarters, 1st R.O.K. Inf Division, Office of the Commanding General, signed by Kim Dong Bin, Brig Gen.  In part, he writes, “I wish to express my deepest appreciation for your outstanding cooperation .... since 10 July 1953 to date ....  Particularly, your most admirable efforts during this period were in the action on Hill Betty, 15-16 July when the enemy made nineteen repeated attacks.  Your skillful voluntary action caused continuous supporting fires to be placed on enemy targets accurately and ensured the 6th Company of the 11th Regiment to repel the enemy wave attacks breaking the threat of their being surrounded.  Your support brought them success in securing Hill Betty to the last.”

I think of this as a great tribute to a regiment comprised largely of civilians who had been together for little more than a year.  And let it not be said that the least part played in all of this was that of the yawning, scratching, hairy gunners who kept the guns firing when and where fire was called for.

Well, that’s about it.  The rest, as they say is history.

Robert Usher arrived in Korea, April 1953, as a sergeant and detachment commander of a 25 pounder gun of the 81st Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (later redesignated 4th Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery).  He was commissioned in 1966 and served for 32 years in the Canadian Armed Forces.  He lives in Oxford Mills,Ontario, and can be reached at (613) 258-4851.   



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