Monday, November 24, 2008

Canadians in often-overlooked Korean War held their ground

Canadians in often-overlooked Korean War held their ground
Soldiers faced some of the most brutal battles in history
Gerald Vander Pyl, For Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2008

While the bravery of Canadian soldiers during the First and Second World Wars has been well-documented, many people know relatively little about the role Canada played in the Korean War.

Yet it was during that conflict when Canadians faced the most dire circumstances imaginable -- vastly outnumbered and completely surrounded by the enemy -- but still managed to defeat their foe.

The story of the battle at Kap'yong remains one of the most heroic in Canadian military history; and it occurred only a few short years after the end of the Second World War.

In 1950, the Communist forces of North Korea invaded South Korea and the United Nations Security Council responded by declaring war. Canadians once again found themselves heading for battle in an unfamiliar country far from home.

William Johnston, a historian with the Directorate of History and Heritage at National Defence Headquarters, says the war had already seen several ebbs and flows by the time the Canadian Army Special Force arrived. At one point the North Koreans had battled all the way south to Busan, but were then were pushed back almost to the border with China. Eventually the dividing line settled near the 38th parallel, just north of the Kap'yong River Valley.

By April of 1951, the Canadians had been involved in several successful operations and had turned over those positions to other forces in order to rest and regroup at Kap'yong.

But that rest would be short-lived as a huge army of Chinese "volunteers" -- who had earlier poured across the border into Korea -- launched a new offensive against the UN forces on April 22.

Johnston says the initial wave of the attack was aimed at Seoul, but then a Chinese division stormed down the Kap'yong River Valley, where the Canadians and Australians defended separate hills west and east of the river, while British and New Zealand regiments guarded the rear position.

Hub Gray, a veteran of the battle at Kap'yong and author of Beyond the Danger Close: The Korean Experience Revealed, says the resulting battle was brutal.

Only 22 years old when he served as a lieutenant with the 2nd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry's mortar platoon, he says the attacking Chinese resulted in thousands of South Korean soldiers retreating en masse. Enemy forces gained kilometre after kilometre of territory.

"A panicked army is something you never want to see," says Gray.

Directly in the path of the attacking Chinese and North Koreans at Kap'yong, the Australians were taking a beating and eventually called in an air strike, which resulted in disaster as the bombs hit their own positions.

Staggered, they were forced to withdraw on the evening of April 24, leaving the Canadians alone and slowly being encircled by enemy forces as darkness fell.

Outnumbered almost eight to one, Hub says the Canadians faced wave after wave of Communist soldiers throughout the night of April 24 to 25. He says any attacking soldier felled by the Canadians quickly had his place taken by another.

At one point, the Chinese, who Hub says wore rubber-soled shoes rather than the traditional army boots, managed to quietly sneak almost 500 soldiers up Hill 677 where the Canadians were dug in to make a final stand. Discovered at the last possible moment, the Canadians opened fire with eight machine guns and averted disaster.

Johnston says the attacks continued against the Canadian companies that stood their ground until the enemy was finally repelled for good at Hill 677 midday on April 25, and the story of the Canadian bravery at Kap'yong still resonates to this day.

Commentary: I wonder if "The Battle of Kap'yong" is fully recounted in Korean history books? This article is the first I heard of it. As soon as the Royal Military College started linking to this repost of the Vancouver Sun article (which itself is a rebuttal to the article on lack of educational qualifications for foreign ESL instructors in Korea) google plans to suspend my blog and nearly three years of links, commentary, photographic or otherwise on the topics of my greatest interest. Let me tell you about the time I was shortlisted for English content editor at Google India or perhaps the time that Google wrote to me requesting a free referral to a local Korean HR Representative recommendation?

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