Canadians in Korea, 1950-1953

On June 25, 1950 the forces of North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel into the Republic of Korea, attacking at many points and landing sea-borne detachments on the east coast of South Korea. The magnitude of the assault made it clear that this was a full-scale invasion.

World reaction was swift.  At the request of the United States, the Security Council of the United Nations met on the afternoon of June 25 and called for immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces to the 38th Parallel. As it soon became evident that the North Koreans had no intention of complying with this demand, President Truman ordered the United States Navy and Air Force to support the South Koreans by every possible means.

On the same day, a second UN resolution called on the Members to “furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area”. This was, in effect, a declaration of war on North Korea.

On June 30 President Truman authorized the commitment of American troops. Other UN member nations offered forces and the Security Council recommended that all troops be placed under a single commander. Thus, a United Nations Command was established in Tokyo under General Douglas MacArthur of the United States.

Meanwhile, the North Koreans were pushing rapidly forward through the valleys and rice paddies of the Korean peninsula. The South Korean capital, Seoul, was occupied on June 28, and by the first week of August the UN forces were confined within the “Pusan Perimeter”, a small area in the southeast of the peninsula. They were still being hard pressed when, on September 15, a successful allied amphibious landing was made at Inchon, the port of Seoul. This assault, coupled with a breakout from the Pusan bridgehead, changed the military situation overnight. The North Korean troops were soon in precipitate retreat.

The UN forces moved rapidly northward, recaptured Seoul, crossed the 38th Parallel and advanced towards the border of Manchuria. Then Communist China intervened. At the end of November strong Chinese forces crossed the frontier and launched a massive offensive which drove the UN and South Korean armies back across the 38th Parallel to positions well to the south along the Imjin River.

The Canadian Government, while agreeing in principle with the moves made to halt aggression, did not immediately commit its forces to action in Korea. At the close of the Second World War the Canadian armed forces had been reduced to peacetime strength and were specially trained for the defence of Canada. Furthermore, the Far East had never been an area in which Canada had any special national interest.

The first Canadian aid to the hard-pressed UN forces came from the Royal Canadian Navy. On July 12, 1950 three Canadian destroyers, HMCS Cayuga, HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Sioux, were dispatched to Korean waters to serve under United Nations Command. These ships supported the assault at Inchon and played an especially important role in the evacuation, which followed the Chinese intervention. In the retreat south, a large body of American troops was cut off in the Chinnampo area. The three Canadian destroyers, together with an Australian and an American destroyer, negotiated the difficult Taedong river to successfully cover the embarkation.

Also in July, a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron was assigned to air transport du-ties with the United Nations. No. 426 Squadron flew regularly scheduled flights between McChord Air Force Base, Washington, and Haneda Airfield, Tokyo throughout the campaign.

On August 7, 1950, as the Korean crisis deepened, the Government authorized the recruitment of the Canadian Army Special Force. It was to be specially trained and equipped to carry out Canada’s obligations under the United Nations charter or the North Atlantic Pact. The original components of the Special Force included the second battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and Royal 22e Régiment (R22eR); “C” Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians); 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA); 57th Canadian Independent Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE); 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Signal Squadron; No. 54 Canadian Transport Company, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC); and No. 25 Field Ambulance, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC).

On August 8, Brigadier J.M. Rockingham accepted command of the Canadian Infantry Brigade. However, following the Inchon landings and the UN successes of September and October the war in Korea seemed to be near its end. Instead of a full brigade only the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J.R. Stone, proceeded to Korea.

By the time the troopship steamed into Yokohama on December 14, 195O, the picture had completely changed. Communist China had intervened. In this charged atmosphere of unexpected disaster, the emphasis shifted to the speed with which the battalion could be thrown into action. The Patricias began an intensive training period at Miryang, near Taegu, where they also engaged in actions against guerrilla activities.

In mid-February 1951 the 2nd Battalion PPCLI took its place in the line as part of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade in time to participate in a general UN advance towards the 38th Parallel. This was a strenuous period for the brigade. The country was rugged, the weather bitterly cold and, although the Chinese were withdrawing, a number of sharp encounters occurred. In late February the Canadian unit made its first contact with the enemy, and suffered its first casualties in the Korean hills. At the end of March the Canadians began to move into the Kapyong valley. By mid-April, the United Nations forces were sited north of the 38th Parallel.

On April 11, 1951 General MacArthur was relieved of his command and replaced by Lieutenant-General Matthew B. Ridgway.

It had been suspected for some time that the Chinese were preparing another large-scale offensive, designed to check the UN advance. It came on April 22, 1951. The engagement, which followed, was one of the most severe of the entire Korean campaign. During the night of April 22-23 enemy forces struck in the western and west central sectors. In the attack the 6th Republic of Korea Division, overwhelmed and forced to retreat, was in danger of being cut off and completely destroyed. The task of the Commonwealth Brigade was to hold open a withdrawal route through the Kapyong valley and to prevent deep enemy infiltration.

A defensive position was established with the 2nd PPCLI at Hill 677, the 1st Middlesex Regiment to the left and the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) to the right. The Patricias, completely surrounded during part of the action and supplied by air, defended one height firmly during two days and a night of heavy fighting, losing ten men killed and 23 wounded. For their gallant action the 2nd PPCLI and the 3rd RAR received the US Presidential Citation.

The rest of the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade was undergoing training at Fort Lewis. The Brigade sailed for Korea in April 1951 and came into the line towards the end of May, in time to take part in a further advance to the 38th Parallel.

These newly arrived battalions were deployed in support of the US 25th Division assault along the Ponchon River. In the course of this operation The Royal Canadian Regiment launched an attack upon the village of Chail-li and a neighbouring hill. The attack was successful, but the brigade’s advance had created a deep salient in the enemy lines and the units, without protection on the flanks, were forced to withdraw.

Early in July, at Communist instigation, cease-fire negotiations were begun near Kaesong on the 38th Parallel. These truce talks ran into difficulties at the outset and the suspicion prevailed that they were never intended by the Communists to produce an early peace, but were being used to gain military advantage.

As the negotiations dragged on, the bloody fighting continued along the front lines. The Canadian brigade became part of the newly formed British Commonwealth Division, the first of its kind in history. It spent the long Korean summer engaged in patrolling the region of the Imjin River. During September and October the Commonwealth troops fought to protect the supply route to the Chorwon River, and pressed across the lower Imjin to attain better defensive positions. The line, which was finally established, remained relatively unchanged until the end of hostilities two years later.

In October and November the Chinese launched another series of attacks. In one engagement against the Royal 22e Régiment the focal point was Hill 355, an important feature which dominated most of the divisional front. During the night of November 23-24 the R22eR, were attacked several times after heavy shelling, but no ground was lost, even when one of their forward platoons had been dislodged and another surrounded.

As cease-fire negotiations were renewed, orders were given on November 27 that no further fighting patrols were to go out and that artillery action was to be restricted to defensive fire and counter-bombardment. However, as the enemy continued to shell and send out patrols these restrictions were gradually lifted. From the winter of 1951-52 until the end of hostilities, a period of static warfare set in. It became a war of raids and counter-raids, booby traps and mines, bombardments, casualties, and endless patrolling.

A system of rotation for Canadian units began with the relief of the 2nd PPCLI by the 1st Battalion in November 1951. In April 1952 the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment and 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment replaced their second battalions, and Brigadier M.P. Bogert took command. “B” Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, replaced “C” Squadron in June, and other units of the original force were similarly rotated. A second rotation began with the arrival of the 3rd PPCLI in November 1952, followed in 1953 by the 3rd RCR, the 3rd R22eR, and “A” Squadron of the Strathconas and other replacement units. Brigadier J.V. Allard became Canadian commander in the theatre until 1954 when Brigadier F.A. Clift succeeded him, in turn, at the time of the final Canadian rotation.

As the fighting dragged on into 1953 under the name of the “Twilight War”, defences on both sides grew stronger and deeper. Canadians engaged in patrolling and ambush with the object of dominating “No Man’s Land” and securing prisoners. Early in May the 3rd Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment withstood a strong enemy assault on its position about Hill 187. The attack was repulsed, but the engagement cost the Canadians heavy casualties – 26 killed, 27 wounded and seven taken prisoner.

Fighting in Korea finally came to an end when the Korea Armistice Agreement was signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953. It must be appreciated that every phase of the Korean campaign was a combined operation in which United Nations forces on the sea and in the air played a prominent and vital role. Without naval supremacy and air power the land campaign would have been virtually impossible.

The fact that Korea is a peninsula offered unusual scope for naval support. In providing that support a total of eight ships of the Royal Canadian Navy joined their UN and ROK navy colleagues, per-forming a great variety of tasks. They maintained a continuous blockade of the enemy coast; prevented amphibious landings by the enemy; and supported the United Nations land forces by the bombardment of enemy-held coastal areas, and attacks by carrier-borne aircraft. In addition, they protected the friendly islands and brought aid and comfort to the sick and needy of South Korea’s isolated fishing villages.

Although Canada was unable to provide fighter squadrons to the United Nations, 22 Royal Canadian Air Force pilots served with the American units. They were on exchange duty with the US Fifth Air Force and flew with Sabre-equipped fighter- interceptor squadrons.

Altogether 26,791 Canadians served in the Korean war and another 7,000 served in the theatre between the cease-fire and the end of 1955. United Nations forces (including South Korean) fatal and non-fatal battle casualties numbered about 490,000. Of these 1,558 were Canadian. The names of 516 Canadian war dead are inscribed in the Korea Book of Remembrance.

The truce, which followed the armistice of July 27, 1953, was an uneasy truce, yet the UN intervention in Korea was a move of incalculable significance. For the first time in history an international organization had intervened effectively with a multipower force to stem aggression and the UN emerged from the crisis with enhanced prestige.

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