1 KSLI in the Korean War, 1951-52.
The battalion spent most of 1948-49 carrying out Public Duties in London but on August 11th 1949 it embarked at Liverpool on the Transport Empress of Australia for Hong Kong, where it had last served 58 years ago, during the outbreak of the notorious “Hong Kong Plague”. The men were able to go ashore at Port Said and Singapore, but when Hong Kong was reached the camp was found to have been wrecked by a typhoon, and everyone had to wait on board while it was being re-pitched.
1 KSLI Officers in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong.
The camp was a tented one at Sek Kong, which the Battalion occupied until the following summer. The place itself was a rice swamp within a circle of hills and it took its name from a tiny village nearby. 1 KSLI was part of the 40th Division under Major-General Evans, CB, CBE, DSO, and it set about serious training for the defence of Hong Kong and the New Territories. The emphasis was on defence. Almost every week the Battalion went off to the hills for some kind of exercise, carrying with it large quantities of stores, and the men soon became very fit.
Sometimes Brigade mobile exercises brought exciting chases with the KOSB and the South Staffs over the hills between the Chinese frontier and Kowloon. At the end of the year the Chinese Army, in its drive South West, reached the border of the New Territories. The Battalion expected that it would have to fight, but in the end nothing happened. When it became clear that there was to be no armed conflict, restrictions were somewhat relaxed, which meant that there was more time for sport and amusement, and the Battalion was able to produce teams to take part in all the Divisional competitions. They won the Cross Country Race, the Brigade and Divisional boxing and the Land Force fencing, with both light weapons and bayonet.
One of the effects of the Public Duties in London was an outstanding ability at Drill, and as a result it was required to produce the majority of the guards of honour which fell to the lot of the Division. One was for General Sir John Harding, KCB, CBE, DSO, MC, C-in-C of the Far Eastern Land Forces, and another for General Sir Robert Mansergh, KBE, CB, MC, when he arrived in October to take up his appointment as Commander of the land Forces in Hong Kong.
At Sek Kong Camp
1950 - 51 : Training in Hong Kong
A permanent camp was being constructed at Sek Kong and the Battalion began to look upon it as its own possession. But when it was completed it was handed over to a Tank Battalion, and the KSLI was ordered to a camp at San Wai, which was better than the old tented camp. It did consist of wooden huts, though these had stood condemned as long ago as 1918, and as it was perched on the side of a hill facing south-east it caught the breeze and was much cooler than Sek Kong. It was also close to the railway station of Fanling, which made Hong Kong more easily accessible.
In the Autumn the war started in Korea, and battalions of the 27th infantry Brigade left for this front almost immediately. As the chances of a speedy end to the war began to recede it became clear that reinforcements would be required from the Hong Kong Division. The tempo of the training increased, but the preliminary orders for the KSLI at first anticipated a move to Malaya. However these were cancelled in April, and it began to prepare for service in Korea.
The Battalion was lucky to have had eighteen months of training in Hong Kong, where the conditions were very similar. On arrival in Korea many of the circumstances were found to be unusual, and there was much to be learnt about the mobile form of warfare which was taking place. But the sound basic training and the fitness of the Battalion, combined with the happy corporate spirit that had grown up, certainly gave it a good start.
The Advance Party under Major Thursby (3 Officers and 40 Other Ranks) sailed on April 19th on the USS Montrose. They joined 1 Middlesex at Inchon on the 27th and they remained there gathering information and preparing to take over drafts and stores, until the arrival of the main party. The Battalion's own journey was postponed by a typhoon, but Inchon was reached on May 13th. The Montrose was ordered to practise assault landings, so the troops were unable to use the LST's for disembarkation, using the ship's own landing craft.
Boarding the USS Montrose for Korea.
The concentration area was alongside the Middlesex in a bend of the River Han and the lay-out of the camp astounded the War veterans. Everything was arranged in straight lines with no attempt at concealment from air or ground attack though it was close behind the front line.
The Battalion was part of the 28th Commonwealth infantry Brigade, under Brigadier G. Taylor, DSO - a mixed collection of troops, including Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Indians, as well as Americans and British. It was attached to the 24th US infantry Division, then in Reserve. There were few similarities with modern warfare. Perhaps a combination of Italy in 1944 and the North West Frontier of India in 1930 would produce the best answer. The roads were dusty or muddy, and often steep; always ahead there was a continuous panorama of formidable looking mountains up which supplies had to be taken.
Between May 15th and 19th the Battalion occupied defensive positions without making contact with the enemy. Patrols were sent out daily at Company, and once even at Battalion, strength, and they had small brisk fights with the enemy. On May 18th 'C' Company under Major Evans formed the infantry element of one of these task forces, which had to ascertain whether Kumgong-Ni was occupied. It was protecting the right flank, and had a grand view of the enemy attacking the tanks with bombs and climbing all over them. The tanks opened fire on everything they could see. including the Company, but there were no casualties, and one prisoner was picked up during the advance.
KSLI Bren gun position.
Following a Brigade Conference on May 19th the Battalion took part in its first set-piece attack. It was to be the spearhead of an offensive whose objective was Point 486, and 'A' and 'D' were the Assault Companies, with 'B’ in Reserve and ‘C’ guarding the left flank. The attack began at 07.00 hours and by 08.00 hours the objective was captured after the Reserve Company had been called up. A Platoon under Sergeant Rudd cleared the last of the enemy defenders in a spirited action. The position was held in strength and the Battalion was fortunate to capture it at the cost of two men killed and eleven wounded.
Gaps were made along the front and on the 21st the Battalion was ordered to occupy Point 358. By 16.30 hours this had been accomplished in spite of a tremendous cloud burst, but communication with Brigade HQ broke down. However liaison was eventually effected on the afternoon of the 22nd, and next day both Points 672 and 444 were captured, and it was clear that strong enemy forces had only just withdrawn. Vast quantities of small arms and clothing had been left behind.
That evening HQ with 'A' and 'D' Companies arrived at Kagon-Ni with orders to capture Points 639 and 388 the next morning. The CO brought down his tactical HQ with 'B' and 'C' Companies to join them at Pigum-Ni, and this was done so successfully that all objectives were taken with no casualties by the afternoon of the 24th. This ended the May offensive and eventually on the 29th May the Battalion was ordered to the west to come under command of 1 (US) Corps North of Seoul, where was to spend the rest of its time in Korea.
On May 30th Lt.-Colonel V.W. Barlow, DS0, OBE, took over the Battalion from Lt.-Colonel A.S. Shaw-Ball, DSO, who had commanded it for the last three years.
On the Imjin River.
A defensive position was occupied on the south bank of the Imjin River, but nothing was known of the situation on the north bank and on June 1st two Platoons of ‘C' Company were sent out to find out as much as possible. They were commanded by Major Evans, and had with them a troop of tanks under Major P.H.V. de Clermont. Unfortunately most of the tanks were bogged down before reaching the River, and only two were able to give fire support. The crossing had to be carried out in assault boats ferried over by the pioneers, and the two Rifle Platoons came under a machine gun and mortar fire when they had been taken over.
Eventually the Patrol was considered to have achieved its object and was withdrawn section by section. Two men were killed and eight wounded, among them Major Evans quite severely and Lt.. Marston. Pioneer Sergeant Raison received the Military Medal for his work in ferrying, having crossed the river at least 14 times, always under fire.
Preparing for a night raid.
For three weeks patrols went across the River, some in Platoon strength, and two of them consisting of two Companies with machine guns, mortars and tanks in support, commanded by the CO. Contact with the enemy was made on several occasions and at least a dozen were counted dead, with no corresponding casualty.
On the 19th June the Battalion relieved the Canadians in an area surrounded by US Cavalry units, isolated from the rest of the Brigade. Here a bridgehead over the river was held, through which the other two Battalions of the Brigade passed to carry out their patrols. Capt. R.E. Garnett took over as Adjutant on July 5th and Major A.R. Taitt assumed Command of ‘B’ Company.
Life continued to progress pleasantly though Companies and Platoons did become more dispersed as areas to be held were discovered further away. But on July 18th the Battalion returned to the main Brigade area to become part of the new 1st Commonwealth Infantry Division under Major-General Cassels. By early August this Division was ready for its first operation, called Operation Hunter, which was a raid across the Imjin well into the Chinese area.
The Battalion was chosen for this attack, and in support were placed various tank, artillery, engineer and medical sub-units. Korean porters had to be used when wheeled vehicles could go no further, and no administrative arrangements had been made in case of very bad weather. The river was crossed early on August 4th, though the tanks had to be left on the bank, and moving forward quickly the high ground objective was occupied by midday. It began to rain with increasing intensity, the river rose over twenty feet and all ferries and bridges were swept away; a new channel was formed which left an island marooned in the middle and here were stranded the Korean porters together with Major Phillips and RSM Knight, and they received no food until an American helicopter landed some rations the following afternoon.
The Battalion was completely cut off from any food supply, and was ordered to spend two more nights in its exposed position. One helicopter deposited rations on an empty hillside, another dropped petrol, ammunition and cookers but no food, and out of another one came only the Divisional Commander. Luckily the RASC Commander brought a few rations when he arrived, but early on the 7th a suspected enemy patrol brought down some misdirected Artillery fire, which killed one man in 'A' Company and wounded three others. Fortunately supplies did arrive that day and as the floods receded the Battalion was able to cross the river before midnight. What should have been a straightforward operation was turned into a shambles by bad weather.
Companies were still liable to be detached to considerable distances from HQ, but the rest of the month was spent in the same Reserve area as before. On September 8th the Battalion went across the River to protect the ferry from marauding Chinese and to see the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade safely over. A defensive position known as Wyoming was dug by the Canadians to give the crossing better protection. Apart from some patrols at Company strength these positions were occupied for the rest of the month, when orders were issued for the biggest attack which the Battalion was to make in Korea.
The Kowang San “Commando”.
The object was for the KOSB to capture Point 355, which dominated the area to the west and south for some distance. The Battalion was to support the left flank, and as a fierce fight was expected tanks of 'A' Squadron 8 Hussars were available throughout, with 130 guns of various caliber and plenty of ammunition for the MMG and Mortar Platoons. Major G.R. Chetwynd-Stapylton took over as Second-in-Command from Major Thursby.
The attack started early on October 3rd and 'D' Company occupied Point 208 without opposition, though the tanks became bogged down. ‘B’ Company passed through, and occupied the hill at 173169 at a cost of only six wounded. Then ‘C' Company pushed forward to attack the spur, and advanced through broken country and thickly wooded hills. Supported by fire from ‘B' Company, and under heavy and accurate enemy fire, they succeeded in capturing the position. Two men were killed and seven wounded, but it was clear that after the initial defenders had been pushed back the rest of the Chinese force ran away. Cpl. Wade was awarded the DCM and Cpl. Pendlebury the MM, while Capt. Houghton-Berry was mentioned in despatches.
Pte Pikes takes cover during a Chinese mortar bombardment.
These positions were consolidated and held for the night, during which four tanks and the porters managed to bring up supplies. At dawn on the 4th October 'D' Company went forward again with the aid of the tanks and a fire support Platoon from 'C' Company. The attack on Point 210 was brilliantly successful. The tank troop drove right up to the enemy positions firing straight at the bunkers. By 10.15 hours the height was captured, with one man killed and seven wounded; 41 of the enemy were dead, and 11 had been taken prisoner. Major Cottle, who directed the attack, received the DSO, and Lt. Borwick the MC; Pte. Norton won the MM.
By this time Point 355 had been occupied and the main object achieved. But it was decided to exploit the success by capturing Point 227, a hill 1400 yards further west. 'A' Company was detailed for this and succeeded by 17.00 hours after some hard fighting. Lt.. Ballenden continued to command his Platoon after he had been wounded and was awarded an MC. This point proved to be extensively fortified and could not be cleared before nightfall, so the Company had to share it with the remnants of the Chinese. The night passed without serious incident.
Re-organisation took place over the next few days, but the expected counter-attack did not come until October 12th when 'C' Company had taken over Point 355. The artillery fire was the heaviest yet encountered but there was no penetration of the position. Another attack followed on 'D' Company on Point 227, but it was a badly coordinated effort, easily repulsed. Cpl. Whitmore was awarded the MM, but only one man was killed and one wounded; the enemy lost sixteen dead and one prisoner.
Fighting patrols continued daily on both sides for the rest of the month, and there were occasional clashes on this scrub covered ground. Casualties did occur, among whom Lt.. Whybrow was wounded, but they remained very few. On November 4th a heavy barrage on the KOSB to the north was followed up by an unexpected infantry attack. One unlucky shell landed on 'B' Company HQ and killed Major Taitt and three signallers. Capt. G. Hudson MC from the Royal Fusiliers took over his Company. Later that evening the attack concentrated on Point 227, again occupied by 'D' Company, and considerable defensive fire had to be put down in order to beat it off.
One Sergeant was killed and three men wounded, but the enemy was never able to penetrate the wire and left behind twenty -seven dead; from the prisoners it was discovered that a large number of Bangalore torpedoes had been brought along to gap the wire. 'D' Company used the 3.5 Bazooka with great success to deal with them and their supporting machine guns. The object of these attacks, including two heavy ones on the KOSB and the Royal Australian Rifles was to recapture Point 355, which could be used as a bargaining factor in the peace talks at Panmunjon.
After an uneasy lull, the next phase of the offensive began on November 17th. Heavy artillery fire concentrated on 'A' Company, mostly from direct fire guns which were difficult to locate in the haze of dust and smoke. Many were buried in the bombardment, and when the infantry attacked, HQ and two Platoon positions were overrun. Only No.1 Platoon held on, while the enemy captured the hill and took large numbers of prisoners. The majority of these, taking advantage of the prevailing confusion, were later able to escape, Lt.. Chambers, who had taken command of No.1 Platoon, brought back valuable information, and 'D' Company, less one Platoon which was left behind, moved forward. No further counter-attack took place that night, but next morning it again advanced with good artillery and tank support, and the whole hill was re-occupied without opposition.
An uncomfortable day was spent removing the dead and strengthening the defences, with enemy artillery fire increasing all the time. The Chinese attacked in the dusk, and 'D' Company was ordered to withdraw.
Infantry reinforcements were not arriving in sufficient numbers and the necessary reduction of Platoons meant reduced fire power, as well as making the arrangement of sentries and reliefs very difficult. A Platoon equipped with American Browning machine guns was formed under Lt.. Lanyon, and this proved a great help. Certain areas were particularly selected by the enemy for short, sharp artillery bombardments and Companies were regularly interchanged to equalise the strain.
On March 14th those members who had gained awards during the campaign paraded at Divisional HQ and received their decorations from the GOC. As the shelling increased daily it became apparent that something was about to happen, and on April 5th after concentrated shelling on both the KOSB and the Battalion, the infantry attack came in. The brunt of this was borne by the KOSB, but the Battalion fired all its weapons in their support and by midnight the attack had failed. Nor could patrols sent out next morning make any contact with the enemy. On April 15th the Battalion relieved the Canadians and spent its time until the end of June in the Wyoming reserve positions.
On May 22nd the Battalion was ordered to provide a Company to form part of a British-Canadian force to go to the island of Koje-do, to help the US and South Korean forces to handle the Prisoners of War who were held there. The task was entrusted to 'B' Company and the Assault Pioneer Platoon under the command of Major Bancroft. It moved on May 23rd by road to Tokchon, and then on by rail and sea until at Koje-do it found itself part of Peterforce.
On June 3rd it took over guard responsibility for Compound 66, which held 3,200 North Korean prisoners. For three months this compound had not been entered by the US guards, and the prisoners had been able to organise themselves, even making crude weapons, and they spent their time singing Communist songs and digging tunnels for communication with adjacent camps. ‘B' Company mounted their guard alternately with the Canadians for a twenty-four hour period, providing one Officer and ninety-two Other Ranks for this duty.
US troops came to clear up this Compound on June 13th, with 'B' Company and the Canadians under command. All arrangements were made in case of resistance, but in the end the prisoners moved out quietly and there was little trouble as they were screened and re-identified. Many dead bodies were found, presumably men killed by their fellow-Communists, and with the aid of mine detectors and diggers a number of tunnels were discovered and many arms caches, mostly consisting of spears. During the re-screening over 2,000 prisoners asked the UN forces for protection from their own comrades, and others were murdered as they tried to seek this protection by crossing the wire.
On June 25th the Commonwealth contingent obtained full responsibility for 2,000 prisoners in Compound 3. It was organised in accordance with normal British practice, and when the force left on July 10th excellent results had been obtained. The prisoners were obedient and even fairly polite, the compound was clean and well drained, and the stocks of weapons had all disappeared. A member of 'B' Company described Koje as "a crazy island of dust, dirt and evil smells", but a good job had been done there all the same.
The end of Korea.
In June, between sessions of training, digging and wiring, time was found for an athletics meeting with the Australians and the New Zealand Gunners. The Australians won easily, but at least the Battalion was not last, and revenge was gained later when the Australians were overwhelmed in a boxing match.
On June 29th 1952 the Battalion went up forward again, joined by seventy men from the Royal Leicesters, who soon settled in. Each night ambush patrols were sent out to or across the River Samichon and on July 9th an 'A' Company patrol met a Chinese patrol head on. Lt. Pack, who had already gained the MC for gallantry was killed here together with one Other Rank. Cpl. Newton skillfully withdrew the patrol and was awarded the MM.
'B' Company returned from Koje-do on the 17th and rejoined the Battalion. On the 26th Lt.. Lanyon of the Browning machine gun Platoon was killed by a US trip flare which went off accidentally in his Platoon area. It was a tragedy that two such fine young Officers as Pack and Lanyon should be killed on this last tour in what was supposed to be a quiet sector.
As the seasonal rains the roads and bridges disappeared like magic, as before. But during August an advance party of Royal Fusiliers arrived to take over, and on the 26th, still in pouring rain, the Battalion moved to the Divisional staging post at Britannia Camp. After a round of farewell parties with the Commonwealth friends of the Battalion, on the 30th there was the final inspection by General Cassels and a presentation of silver bugles was made to the New Zealand Gunners, 3 Royal Australian Regiment and 60 Indian Parachute Field Ambulance, as tokens of friendship and respect.
On Sept. 9th the Battalion left by train and after a memorial service for those who had fallen, held at the UN Pusan Cemetery on the 14th, it embarked in the Empire Pride for England.