Canada’s Contributions to the Korean War
The United States has a long history of sharing the sacrifices of war with our northern neighbor of Canada and the Korean War was no different. With the outbreak of the Korean War the Canadian government did not immediately deploy troops to fight in the Korean War. The far east had never served any strategic national interest for Canada, especially a small, very poor country like Korea, which very few people had ever heard of before. Plus even if the Canadian government wanted to deploy soldiers to Korea, they simply did not have the manpower to do so. The Canadian military was not large enough for a deployment and maintain troop strength at home as well. After World War II, Canada had drastically reduced it’s military to a peace time size that was only interested in home land defense. With the United States as their southern neighbor and only Native American tribes as their northern frontier it didn’t take a very large military to compose a home land defense force.
As the fighting in Korea escalated and the United Nations put out a call to arms from it’s members to defend Korea, the Canadian government began to seek volunteers for what they called the Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) and was to be commanded by Brigadier General J.M. Rockingham. The CASF was to be composed of a full combat brigade of soldiers and it was going to take a few months to raise and train that many soldiers to fight in Korea. While the force was being formed the Canadian government had cargo planes from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) begin transport duty for the UN forces between Ft. Lewis, Washington State and Haneda Airfield in Japan. Ft. Lewis was the major dispatch point of troops and supplies to fight in Korea. The RCAF contributed a total of 22 planes to help transport the needed supplies into the combat theatre. Additionally the Canadian government dispatched three naval destroyers to Korea. The destroyers arrived in July 1950 and would later serve during the September 1950 Inchon Landing Operation.
After General Douglas MacArthur’s successful Inchon Landing Operation it appeared that the Korean War was winding down and that full combat brigade of soldiers was not needed. So instead of deploying an entire brigade it was decided that only one infantry battalion would be deployed to Korea.Â That battalion would be the second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.R. Stone.
PPCLI’s Deployment to Korea
The second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry regiment sailed from the port of Seattle to Korea on November 26, 1950 and didn’t arrive into the port of Yokohama, Japan until December 20, 1950. However, by the time the ship arrived in Japan the course of the war had changed dramatically. The Chinese military had entered the war and the UN forces were in full retreat from the Chinese onslaught. The Canadians had expected to take part in mop up and peacekeeping duty when they left Seattle, but by the time they reached Japan they discovered they were going to fight in a bloody, full scale war. The battalion was quickly rushed to the Korean peninsula and their first base camp would be in the city of Miryang near Daegu. Here the battalion would conduct training to prepare them for combat conditions in Korea. However, the battalion quickly found themselves in combat against South Korean communist guerrilla forces located in the southern mountains of Korea. After completing it’s actions against the guerrillas the PPCLI was assigned to the British led 27th Commonwealth Brigade which also included units from Australia and New Zealand plus one company of American tanks from Alpha Company 72nd Armor Regiment.
The PPCLI joined the 27th Brigade in mid-February and the Canadians saw their first combat action of the Korean War in late February during the UN offensive to the 38th parallel following the Chinese defeat at Chipyong-ni by the US 23 Infantry Regiment and their attached French Battalion. It was during this advance that the Canadians also received their first combat casualties of the Korean War. In April of 1951 the 27th Brigade was assigned to move south and construct blocking positions in the hills of Myeongjisan mountain just north of the city of Kapyong. The Chinese had launched their Spring Offensive of 1951 to recapture Seoul and the Kapyong valley was one of three high speed avenues of approach to capture Seoul. The other two were the Uijongbu and Munsan corridors. The Chinese had decided that the Kapyong Valley would be where they would concentrate their attack to recapture the Korean capitol. The Chinese command figured that if they recaptured Seoul they could negotiate a ceasefire from a position of strength since they controlled the South Korean capitol.
The Chinese main effort during much of the Korean War focused on attacking South Korean frontline units first and then attacking American and UN units from the flanks after crushing the South Koreans. The Battle Kapyong would be no different. On the night of April 22, 1951 the Chinese 60th and 118th Division attacked the ROK 6th Division near the Hwacheon Reservoir just North of the Kapyong valley. The ROK 6th Division folded almost immediately into a full scale retreat back down the valley towards the 27th Regiment. The first column of ROK Army vehicles, equipment, and men flooded the 27th’s line before they had even been able to construct adequate fighting positions. What little obstacles and most importantly the communications wire the 27th had been able to put up were tore down as the South Koreans stormed South down the valley. As the South Koreans passed the 27th lines the retreat was able to be halted 5 miles south of Kapyong. The ROK 6th Division commander reported the next day that he was able to round up and organize 5,000 of his men or about 50% of his combat power from the day before.
After the two Chinese divisions had routed the ROK 6th Division, the CCF 118th Division was chosen to continue the attack down the Kapyong valley to finish off the ROK division. On the night of the April 23, 1951 the lead elements of the CCF 118th had hit the frontlines of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade, which the Chinese commanders had not even realized were there. Thus the 27th though greatly out manned by about 3 to 1 by the Chinese had one advantage and that was surprise, which would help them fend off the Chinese attack.
The Battle of Kapyong
The first Chinese units moved quickly down the valley floor in pursuit of the retreating ROK units and smashed into Australian positions on each side of the valley augmented with the American tanks from Alpha Company 72nd Armor Regiment. The initial contact was chaotic because the Aussies and the Americans at first thought the soldiers coming down the valley were more retreating South Koreans. The fighting that erupted was ferocious, but the Australians and their American allies continued to hold on despite the huge disadvantage of limited obstacles and having no artillery support. The Australians could not communicate with their supporting New Zealand artillery battalion because of the retreating South Koreans ripping out the communications lines. Quickly the Australians were surrounded and the New Zealand artillery had to withdraw from their positions South of the Australians once they came into contact with the enemy. The New Zealand artillery withdrew further south down the valley and set up an artillery support position behind the British Middlesex Regiment.
The Australians requested reinforcements from the British, but the British company sent forward to reinforce the Australians took fire from the Chinese not to far North of the Middlesex Regimental lines and instead of fighting through the fire to aid the Australians the company took up defensive positions on the hillside. Seeing that no help was coming the Australian commander ordered his men and the supporting American tanks to conduct a tactical withdrawal south towards the Middlesex Regimental lines. As the Australians moved southward other supporting elements located behind the Australian lines confused the tactical fighting withdrawal southward as a full scale retreat and began running down the valley leaving their equipment behind. Their was a growing sense of impending disaster as panic mounted. As the Australians moved southward this caused the Chinese to come into increasing contact with the men of the Canadian Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on Hill 677 commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.R. Stone.
LTC Stone seeing the increasing amounts of Chinese soldiers trying to encircle his unit decided to move Bravo company which was located near the valley floor and the only road access into the area further up the hillside to protect the battalion’s rear. LTC Stone had turned Hill 677 into a virtual Canadian island surrounded by a sea of Chinese soldiers. Throughout the remaining daylight of April 24th and into the night the Chinese continued to attack the Canadian positions with no success. The commanders of the Chinese units attacking the Canadian lines requested additional manpower to over run the Canadians. Additional Chinese troops that had been pursuing the Australians along the eastern hillsides of the valley came off the hills and began to wade across the Kapyong River to launch an overwhelming assault on the PPCLI’s Eastern flank. LTC Stone seeing the masses of Chinese soldiers fording the Kapyong River in the moonlight called in an artillery strike. Due to their position the Canadian’s communications lines had not been snapped by the retreating South Koreans. The New Zealand artillery pounded the advancing Chinese soldiers that were exposed in the open river valley. The Chinese soldiers that survived the artillery barrage advanced up the eastern hillside where they were met with overwhelming Canadian machine gun fire.
While the Chinese were launching their attack on the East another large Chinese force pressed their attack on the PPCLI’s Western flank by infiltrating along a high saddle that connected to the ridge line that PPCLI’s Delta Company occupied. Unlike the eastern attack, the Chinese forces in the west were attacking from only a slightly lower elevation than the Canadians and had not been degraded by artillery fire before launching their attack. Hundreds of Chinese soldiers poured into the Canadian defensive lines. The fighting became so desperate that the Delta Company commander called in New Zealand artillery fire on his own position. Artillery rained down on the Canadian position. The artillery fire suppressed the Chinese attackers enough for the Canadians to reestablish their defensive lines and begin directing artillery fire on the advancing Chinese units outside of the Canadian lines.
That night, the mighty Chinese Army that had caused an entire 10,000 man ROK Army division to retreat a day prior, had given their best effort to destroy one Canadian battalion and the Canadians did not budge. The heroic defense of Hill 677 allowed the withdrawing Australians and the American tank company to reorganize and rearm behind the Middlesex Regimental lines. At dawn on April 25, 1951 an Australian counterattack led by the American tanks slammed into the eastern flank of the Chinese forces. As the battle continued to rage the surrounded Canadian commander LTC Stone radioed in a resupply request since his men were running short of supplies and ammunition. In an amazing feat of logistical brilliance six hours later an American resupply plane from Japan flew over the Canadian lines and air dropped in fresh stocks of supplies and most importantly ammunition.
The newly resupplied Canadians combined with the Australian and American counterattack was too much for the Chinese to overcome. Their defeat at Kapyong combined with their additional defeat by the British and American units during the Battle of the Imjim led to overall failure of the Chinese Spring Offensive of 1951 to capture Seoul. If it wasn’t for the leadership of LTC J.R. Stone and his brave men from Canada holding Hill 677 the Chinese may have captured Seoul and that would have possibly led to an embarrassing cease fire where the North Korean communists controlled the South Korean capitol. The modern existence of the Republic of Korea would not have been possible without their current capitol city of Seoul. The Canadians had 10 soldiers killed in action and 23 wounded after the battle, while over an estimated thousand Chinese corpses littered the hillsides from the combined Canadian, Australian, and American defenders. For their actions during the Battle of Kapyong the second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment including their attached American tank company were awarded the prestigious US Presidential Unit Citation.
Birth of the Commonwealth Division and the Holding of the Imjim River Line
After the Battle of Kapyong the remainder of the Canadian forces had arrived in Korea after completing their initial training at Ft. Lewis, Washington. They were at first assigned to the US 25th Infantry Division and participated in a number of battles to shore up the UN frontline positions just North of the 38th parallel. By August of 1951 the entire Canadian brigade was consolidated into the newly formed British Commonwealth Division. The British Commonwealth Division was assigned the task of holding and patrolling the lower Imjim River as cease fire negotiations dragged on for two more years. During this time the Chinese had challenged the Commonwealth Division a number of times, but just like during the Spring Offensive of 1951 the Commonwealth forces held their ground until the cease fire was signed. Today the strategic, sliver of land on the North side of the lower Imjim River held by the Republic of Korea that borders the DMZ was only made possible by the blood, sweat, and tears of the brave men of the Commonwealth Division.
In total 26,791 Canadian soldiers participated in the Korean War. Of those soldiers 1,558 soldiers were wounded and 516 Canadians were killed fighting for the freedom of the Korean people.