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Avatar of GI KoreaBy on July 17th, 2008 at 4:22 am

Heroes of the Korean War: Lieutenant Colonel George Koumanakos – Part 1

» by in: Korean War

Historical Parallels
The recent animated film 300 dramatized the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC that featured a protracted battle between a small Spartan force led by King Leonidas that was tasked with delaying the advance of the overwhelmingly much larger force of the invading Persians led by King Xerxes.

The battle was portrayed as the small Spartan force protecting the fledgling start of western democracy from being enslaved by the dictatorial Persian King. This movie would go on to be a huge box office success and raise public awareness about the significance of the battle. However, though this famous historical battle happened nearly 2,500 years ago few people today (even in Greece) realize that Greek soldiers just 55 years ago had fought in their own modern day Battle of Thermopylae during the Korean War for similar reasons and fortunately even better results.

Background
When the United Nations authorized the use of force to expel the North Korean military who had invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 for the sole purpose of reuniting the peninsula under communism, one of the nations that provided a large contingent of combat troops was the nation of Greece. Greece volunteered to supply one Air Force transport squadron and one combat infantry battalion of 840 men to fight in the defense of the Republic of Korea.

It would seem strange at first that a small nation like Greece would be willing to send so many soldiers to fight in a war that on the surface would appear to have nothing to do with them considering how far Korea is from Greece and the fact the nation has no geo-strategic implications to Greek security. However, before the Korean War Greece had its own internal civil war against a communist movement that was ultimately crushed by the Greek government. Greece’s own experience against communist backed forces caused much Greek sympathy with the situation that South Korea was now faced with.

Another factor that influenced Greece’s decision to go to war in Korea was that their ancient rivals, the nation of Turkey had also agreed to send a large combat force in support of the US led war effort in South Korea. Turkey had sent a large combat force to build stronger defense relations with the United States in case Turkey ever needed military assistance in return from the US due to the looming threat of Soviet expansionism. Much of the same thought process could be attributed to the Greek government that sat on the frontier of Soviet expansionism as well. So there was a variety of reasons for why the Greeks decided to go to war in Korea and with that decision the Greeks really did their best to put together a capable combat force to fight for the freedom of South Korea.

Arrival in Korea
The Greeks arrived in Korea on December 9, 1950 and their Air Force transport squadron was immediately put to use in support of allied operations. The Greek ground forces which were deployed under the name, The Royal Hellenic Battalion had to go through initial pre-combat training at the allied training facility located in Daegu. Unlike some other allied nations that had arrived in Daegu for training the Greek forces were quite well trained on arrival due to many of the soldiers in the unit having prior combat experience fighting in the Greek civil war.

By January the Royal Hellenic Battalion would see its first combat operation when it was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division and fought in the Battle of Hill 381 at Icheon on January 29, 1951. The unit would go on to conduct other combat operations in Korea with the division, but when the Korean War’s frontline began to solidify and the war turned into one of holding hill top garrisons as peace talks went on at Panmunjom, the Greeks spent a year defending the South Korean frontier near the village of Yeoncheon just north of Seoul before being moved to conduct operations in the Chorwon area which had by then begun to be known as the infamous Iron Triangle.

Despite the amount of combat the Greeks had seen in two and half years of fighting in the Korean War the bloodiest fighting and their greatest combat achievement of the entire war would occur ironically enough during the very last days of the war.

Prelude to Battle
By June of 1953 an armistice from the peace talks at Panmunjom appeared to be imminent. The Chinese military leadership understood that a truce could be signed at any time and thus they began a series of operations to capture key strategic territory from the United Nations forces that would give the communist allies a military advantage when a truce was signed. One of the most key pieces of terrain that the Chinese wanted to capture was a lonely mountain top outpost in the Iron Triangle known simply as Outpost Harry.


The Iron Triangle area during the Korean War.

Outpost Harry had received its name because other adjacent hilltops were known as Tom, Dick, and then there was Harry. However, unlike Outposts Tom & Dick, Harry stretched out as a peninsula like landmass from the rest of the allies’ frontlines and the landmass was connected to a Chinese occupied hilltop known as Star Hill. The hill top that the allies garrisoned on OP Harry was 1,280 feet high and looked across the ridge line of the landmass back at Star Hill which was only about 400 yards away and slightly taller then OP Harry.

The reasons the Chinese decided that OP Harry was an important tactical landmass to capture was because the hill offered the best observation of the surrounding area that allowed the allies easy view of any enemy troop movements on their side of the frontline. If the hill was captured the allies wouldn’t just lose their ability to observe Chinese troop movements, but the allies would also have to fall back a distance of about 10 kilometers because the Chinese would have the ability to rain down accurate artillery on the allied side of the border due to the great observation the hilltop provided of the Kumwha Valley that the allies currently occupied.

chorwon-valley.jpg
This picture of the Kumhwa Valley during the Korean War.

At the time OP’s Tom, Dick, & Harry were all being defended by the US 15th Infantry Regiment of the US 3rd Infantry Division. At the time, the Greek Battalion, which had become known as the Sparta Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Koumanakos and was attached to the 15th Infantry to help fortify this section of the frontline. Companies from the regiment would rotate defending the outposts the regiment was responsible for holding on their sector of the frontline. The regiment at the time had roughly 4,000 soldiers including the Greek Battalion to defend their sector.


Greek Battalion Commander LTC George Koumanakos

The Chinese on the other hand had decided to commit their entire 74th Division of 13,000 soldiers in their offensive operation to capture the OP Harry from the US 15th Infantry Regiment and fully expected the operation to be a quick and easy success due to the sheer size of the force they were committing. The confidence of the Chinese was quite evident to the soldiers of the 15th Infantry defending the OP because the Chinese made no effort to disguise their offensive operation. The evidence was quite clear that the Chinese were going to launch an attack as additional troops, equipment, and supplies could be seen entering the Chinese side of the frontline. An attack was imminent and the soldiers of the 15th Regiment to include Colonel Koumanakos and his men of the Sparta Battalion braced themselves for the heavy combat to come.

The Battle of Outpost Harry Begins
The Chinese assault began on June 10, 1953 with a heavy artillery and mortar barrage on the allied positions. A night time assault which was customary by Chinese forces during the Korean War due to the allies’ air superiority was launched against all the 15th Infantry Regiment’s positions to include the Chinese main effort attacking across the ridge line from Star Hill to capture OP Harry. The American defenders of OP Harry held off the Chinese attack until day break but fighting continued.


View of Outpost Harry with the Chinese held Star Hill in the background.

Just after midnight on June 12th the Chinese forces through hand to hand fighting against US forces had captured the northern trench of OP Harry. Once the trench line was captured the Chinese then began efforts to reinforce it before proceeding over the hilltop to capture the southern trench line the US forces still occupied. As the Chinese began to reinforce the trench line a US counterattack using heavy artillery and tanks targeting Chinese soldiers trying to reinforce those in the trench line was launched. The Chinese began to take heavy casualties and by day break withdrew out of the northern trench line when it became apparent they would not be able to successfully hold it from US air attack once the sun came up.

During the day the Chinese continued their artillery barrage on OP Harry as a fresh batch of US forces rotated on to the hilltop while the prior unit carried their dead and wounded off the mountain. Over 200 dead and wounded were pulled off the hill from the previous days fighting all because of the need to hold a bald barren hill. The next night would be a near exact repeat of the night before as the Chinese would once again capture the northern trench line to only lose it once again due to a US counterattack and the Chinese having to abandon the trench line at daybreak. The next day the American unit dragged their dead and wounded back down the hill and were replaced by another American company just like the unit before it.

greek_group_s.jpg
Greek and American soldiers at Outpost Harry.

This cycle would continue until June 15th when Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos was alerted that his men of the Sparta Battalion would be the next unit to defend OP Harry. By this time nearly two US infantry battalions of soldiers had been decimated by the five prior days of fighting on the hill and the Greeks would be the next to withstand the fury of the Chinese attacks.

Next Posting: Defending “Outpost Harros”

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  • Recognizing Heroes of the Korean War
    8:56 pm on July 17th, 2008 1

    [...] 1953: Lieutenant Colonel George Koumanakos (Greece), Commander Sparta Battalion, Batle of Outpost Harry [...]

  • Picture of Day: Outpost Harry
    12:59 pm on December 15th, 2008 2

    [...] sure read my prior posting on Hero of the Korean War Lieutenant Colonel George Koumanakos of the Greek Sparta Battalion that fought on Outpost [...]

  • Andreas Koumanakos
    5:51 am on December 23rd, 2009 3

    What happened with the comment of Mr. STAVREAS? I have an answer for him.

  • Andreas Koumanakos
    6:10 am on December 23rd, 2009 4

    I am sorry, but I have to disagree with STAVREAS at all points of his letter.

    I fear that Mr Stavreas is acting as a provocateur. I am afraid that every thing he writes about captain Skaltsas has been given to him from Skaltsas himself. This is a known method Skaltsas uses, for years now, in order to show that he looks a bit alike to his Commander Koumanakos.

    Also, I am afraid that mr. STAVREAS is not a real person, at all. Because…

    1. – Captain Skaltsas is named Kostas and not George.

    2. – He was a grammar school teacher and not a lawyer.

    3. – Yes.. Koumanakos was to the war for nine years

    before his arrival to Korea, but not Skaltas.

    4.- No.. Skaltsas is not the most decorated officer of the

    Greek Army. It is ridicules to be said things like that.

    Skaltsas is not coming from any productive military school. This creates to him a sense of inferiority and after the death of Koumanakos, Scaltsas disseminates inaccurate things and events, in spite of the fact that Koumanakos proposed him for promotion twice.

    5. – It was a mission to the Greek Battalion to defend the SECTOR HARRY and the Battalion Commander Koumanakos determined both, the Defense and the Fire plans of the Battalion, as well as the mission of each company. Captain Skaltsas was assigned to defend with his company “P” on the HILL 420 ( O.P. HARRY).

    That hill is located 425 yards northeast of MLR and contained trenches deep enough to walk in. It was fortified with reinforced bunkers and could accommodate from approximately 150 up to about 180 fighting men. The CP had earth tel. line with the bt CP and the S2 and S3 Section. Double barbed wire of four lines enclosed the entire hill top and a system of roots covered the flanks of the hill up to the top, to help the action of tanks. These roots were opened under the personal supervision of Col. Koumanakos. He was waiting CCF from the flanks.

    6.- Mr. STAVREAS is writing.. “ Skaltsas designed the strategy of action of his company.” What strategy? Does he know what strategy is? Of course.. not the strategy of a corporal.

    He had not any particular jurisdiction to develop personal strategy or other initiative, beyond his mission to defend the hill 420. Apart from that, what kind of strategy can develop a company commander on a top hill, circled by barbed wire in a trench line with semi permanent defensive works (bankers and trenches), except of asking for more artillery fires and lighting cells. And this is what he did.

    Captain Scaltsas was presented in a documenter and himself says: “I was called by my battalion Commander Koumanakos and he told me. “ Kostas… you are going up to the hill, (HILL 420) and you will do this and also that.” I am afraid that this is the only truth he says because all the rest he said were exaggerations and ignorant of history.

    7. – The battle of HARRY was given in the Sector Harry from entire the Battalion and not on the Hill 420 from the Company of Captain Skaltsas. The company “P” of Captain Skaltsas simply has made a good job. That is to say, they did in their trenches a good use of their weapons, against the approaching Chinese. And then before they reach the barbed wire, the Battalion Commander Lt. Col. George Koumanakos gave the order for a counter-attack from the two other companies, from the left and the heavy Tank Platoon from the right and the Chinese repelled and escaped. No Chinese stepped in the trenches of O.P. Harry.

    The regimental Commander Col. Ackers in his record writes.. “The whole operation took place around the hill..”

    Captain Skaltsas personally narrated it to me, when I asked him on this subject. He told me. “How they could get in the trench line? They didn’t pass the barbed wire at all. I had a team of four soldiers and we were inspected the barbed wires and if by chance some CCF could approach the fence… we fired on him.”

    This is the truth and this is the only strategy he could develop as a Company Commander closed in a trench line on a top hill circled by multiple sets of barbed wire.

    Land combat involves contact with an enemy throughout the depth of an operational area. Combat power is the ability to fight. It is the total means of destructive or disruptive force, or both, that a military unit or formation can apply against the adversary at a given time. Commanders combine the elements of combat power— maneuver, firepower, leadership, protection, and information— to meet constantly changing requirements and defeat an enemy. Never the less, defeating an enemy requires increasing the disparity between friendly and enemy forces by reducing enemy combat power. Commanders do this by synchronizing the elements of friendly force combat power to create overwhelming effects at the decisive time and place. Maneuver is the means by which commanders concentrate combat power to achieve surprise, shock, momentum, and dominance. Operational maneuver involves placing Army forces and resources at the critical place in time to achieve an operational advantage.

    In the case of Harry Sector battle, only the Battalion Commander Koumanakos had such ability and not the Company Commander Skaltsas that was unable for any kind of maneuver.

    Fifty five years later the records of the Harry battle were published and now Captain Skaltas and his friend Stavreas can be informed what happened at that battle.

    ENTRIES IN THE 15TH INFANTRY S2/S3 JOURNAL

    FROM 31 MAY TO 30 JUNE, 1953

    A RECORD OF EVENTS DURING THE DEFENSE OF OUTPOST HARRY

    Outpost Harry Survivors Association

    Outpost Harry was located in what was commonly referred to as the "Iron Triangle" in Korea. This was an area approximately 60 miles north of Seoul and was on the most direct route to the South Korean capital for the CCF. Outpost Harry was located 425 yards northeast of MLR and contained trenches deep enough to walk in. It was fortified with reinforced bunkers and could accommodate from approximately 150 up to about 180 fighting men.

    Thirty-nine years later, 11 veterans from around the country decided to hold a reunion at Fort Stewart GA to honor of the Outpost Harry Siege. It was decided at that time to meet yearly around the anniversary date of June 10th to commemorate those that defended and preserved the outpost and to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

    Thus the Outpost Harry Survivors Association was

    established. Since that first reunion meeting, The Outpost Harry Survivors Association has grown to over 250 members.

    Acknowledgements:

    The material in this journal was provided by OPHSA member Bob Baker and covers events which occurred during the defense of Outpost Harry during the period from 31 May to 30 June 1953.

    EXCERPTS FROM 15th INFANTRY S2/S3 JOURNAL 31 MAY to 30 JUNE 1953

    14 JUNE

    0010 – OP George rpts that Harry is getting short friendly

    VT rounds.

    0020 – OP Harry is getting 120mm mortars from a back

    azimuth 6400.

    0023 – Harry rpts short frdly arty still coming in.

    0205 – OP Harry suspects CCF around position.

    0220 – OP receiving SA fire from right. Request

    increased illumination and FPF fires be laid to left

    and front.

    0255 – Est 75 CCF coming up left side of OP Harry.

    0315 – A Company/ I 5th rptd seeing something moving

    up left rear of Harry. 81mm fire requested.

    0405 – OP George rpts AW fire from left rear of Harry.

    Unable to determine position.

    0435 – Harry reports bunker burning on left rear of OP

    0500 – G/15th departed MLR for Harry

    0505 – 2nd Bn/15 relieved by 1st Bn/15. 5th RCT

    assumed responsibility for left of battalion sector

    and OP Tom.

    0745 – G Company relieves C/5th RCT on Harry.

    2045 – Bn switchboard reports land line to OP Harry out.

    Commo accomplished through A Company.

    2220 – Since 2050 there have been 3 casualties on Harry

    due to enemy mortar.

    15 JUNE

    0030 – Land line to OP Harry reestablished.

    0125 – Harry reports CCF in trenches. Request FDF

    0130 – E Company counterattack force is alerted to move

    out. Tanks order to move out immediately.

    0135 – Main attack is on the right side of Harry.

    0147 – Bunker burning on left rear of Harry. Requests

    more litter bearers immediately.

    0151 – OP Harry requests all outer defensive fires.

    0155 – Land line to Harry has been knocked out.

    0159 – Small arms fire has almost stopped.

    0210 – E Company departed MLR for counterattack.

    0217 – 1st Platoon, 15th Tank Co arrived at Bn CP in

    preparation for counterattack.

    0224 – Bn CO to A Company to remove mines from road

    leading to Harry.

    0218 – OP Harry is receiving fire from Old Charlie

    0227 – Major Dennison, 2nd Bn XO, directed to take

    command of OP.

    0238 – Flares are too far to the left for Harry.

    0242 – There is still SA fire and hand to hand fighting on

    forward portion of hill.

    0243 – George Company reports LT Walker, CO,

    wounded. LT Yomoshito assumed command.

    Flares are in right position but a little too high.

    0245 – Bn S 1 I reports approx 20 casualties have arrived

    at forward aid station.

    0249 – MAJ Thomas order commo personnel to relay

    land lines to OP Harry.

    0252 – Tanks departed MLR

    0315 – Easy Company is now on Harry.

    0315 – Major Dennison departed MLR to organize and

    command hill. Still some sporadic SA fire from

    Hill.

    0315 – Request from Harry to lift FPF, fire only outer

    ring of defensive fires.

    0332 – Secondary explosion from burning bunker on OP

    0345 – B/15th departed for 2nd Bn area for possible

    counterattack on Harry. Harry requests more litter

    bearers, have 10 casualties to be evacuated.

    0350 – Major Dennison reports all CCF cleared from OP Harry and hill is secured. Requests medical assistance.

    0400 – OP Harry requests counter mortar on Star and

    Bunker Hill and Counter battery on Mushroom

    and Henry hills.

    0420 – It was estimated that 100 CCF were in night's

    action on Harry. 25 CCF KIA, no WIA estimate as yet.

    0504 – MAJ Dennison requested a few fresh people to

    help in reorganization of OP Harry. Also

    requested KSCs (Korean laborers) be dispatched.

    0525 – Land line to Harry reestablished.

    0700 – Lead elements of G Company departed Harry.

    1530 – Lead elements of A/15th Inf departed MLR to

    relieve E Company on Harry

    1910 – A Company/15th completed relief of E

    Company/15th on OP Harry.

    2225 – Harry requests illumination. Heard noises.

    16 JUNE

    0217 – OP Harry reports sighting of undetermined

    number of CCF moving northeast vic CT517429.

    Arty being placed.

    0930 – P Company, GEF, completed relief of A Company

    on Harry.

    0935 – GEF Battalion completes relief of 2nd Bn/15th Inf

    on MLR.

    1945 – 35 to 40 CCF advancing in trench from Star Hill.

    Arty fired. Est 30 CCF casualties. There were 4

    WIAs from incoming rounds: 1 GEF, 2

    houseboys, and 1 sergeant from smoke generator

    team.

    2258 – OP Harry heard noises vic CT509424. Flares

    fired. No enemy sightings reported.

    17 JUNE

    1445 – 39th FA reports est 50 CCF in the trench line in

    front of OP Harry. Arty being placed.

    1745 – GEF (Hallis) rptd 40 CCF in trench at CT519435.

    Arty fired. Est 6 KIA, 20 WIA

    2140 – SGT Thanos reptd Harry receiving Arty and

    mortar fire for past hour.

    2210 – SGT Thanos reptd OP Harry receiving direct fire

    around CP bunker and FO bunker.

    2301 – OP Harry reports 40 CCF at CT506425. Arty

    notified. (This message was relayed by William

    Dannenmaier, author of We Were Innocents: An

    Infantryman in Korea)

    18 JUNE

    0028 – OP George reports estimated two enemy

    battalions attacking from NE and NW

    0030 – SGT Thanos rpts unknown number of CCF

    moving south off Star Mass toward Harry.

    Requests final barrages.

    0035 – OP Harry under heavy mortar and arty shelling.

    Company N 81s and 75s ordered to fire

    supporting. Flare ship on way.

    0040 – CCF advancing up right slope of Harry

    0050 – AW fire down left front and left rear of Harry

    0100 – COL Koumanakos estimates CCF force attacking

    OP Harry at 2 battalions.

    0116 – Bn OP reptd incoming arty rounds decreasing on

    Harry.

    0150 – OP Harry requests continuous arty fire and

    continuous illumination.

    0158 – LT Pappas rptd as of now no CCF actually on OP

    Harry, requests continuous illumination.

    0205 – GEF Bn 6 (Koumanakos) states P Company has a

    great number of casualties. N Company is being

    committed.

    0210 – Orange FO on OP Harry was under attack but

    enemy came only to within 10 yards of trench,

    maybe 1 or 2 got in trenches.

    0218 – Harry rpts 100 150 CCF massing to right of

    CT5064425. (about 100 yards downslope of

    Harry) Mortars placed.

    0238 – Spartan 6 repts 1 platoon of N Company has

    reached Harry. Asks for continuous illumination.

    Chinese have reached the barbed wire.

    0240 – Pappas repts the Chinese are at HG range.

    0245 – Spartan 6 (Koumanakos) Now is the most critical

    time. If we repel them, they will not have time to

    organize another attack. CCF attacking from

    North and right of Harry. Heavy arty and mtrs

    falling on Harry and MLR.

    0313 – CCF in trenches on north nose of Harry. Hand to

    hand combat.

    0330 – N Comp now counterattacking on OP Harry. 1

    platoon of N Company with tanks in valley. 2nd

    and 3rd Platoons of N Company on way to Harry.

    0420 – LT Pappas rpts all CCF driven off OP Harry. OP

    is secure.

    0600 – Spartan 6 estimated that 3 enemy bns attacked OP

    Harry during the night.

    0700 – SGT Thanos, Est friendly casualties were 30 WIA

    and 6 KIA (incomplete)

    0900 – Est enemy casualties for nights action on Harry

    was 120 KIA and 480 WIA

    0910 – Friendly casualties for nights action were: GEF

    Bn 21 WIA, 4 KIA; US personnel 4 WIA,

    KATUSA, 3 WIA, KSC, 2 WIA

    1500 – N Company completed relief of P Company on

    Harry and assumes responsibility for the mission.

    1730 – P Company closed assy area vic Hill 312.

    1800 – R Company completed relief of O Company in

    right company sector on MLR. 1 platoon of O

    Company attached to R Company. 2nd Platoon of

    O Company remained on MLR until daylight as

    counterattack force for Harry.

    2130 – Hvy Mtr Co repts 8 CCF moving toward Harry.

    Mtrs fired with unknown results.

    ……………………………………

    ……………………………………

    I am sorry to have to offend a colleague, but the historic truth is more expensive than a dubious friendship.

    Andreas Koumanakos

    Ret col. Eng. Corp Greek Army.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    10:26 am on December 23rd, 2009 5

    The comment was left on part 2 of this story:

    http://rokdrop.com/2008/07/18/heroes-of-the-korea

 

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