The Battle of Hill 187, 02-03 May 1953: 3RCR in Korea
Capt RA Appleton, CD - Regimental Adjutant
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An Ill-Fated Fighting Patrol
It is 2220 Hours, 02 May 1953, on a dark, moonless night in Korea. A 16 man Canadian fighting patrol, faces blackened and weapons at the ready, lies in wait in a deliberate ambush position. The men are from Able Company, 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment. The patrol has taken up a position in No Man's Land, between the opposing Chinese and UN front lines, on the floor of the Sami-ch'on River Valley. Both sides have long since fortified the high, rugged hills and ridges that overlook the valley from either side. The Canadians have come down from Hill 187, the dominant feature that is occupied by their battalion, 3RCR. To their front looms Hill 166, the all too familiar Chinese bastion.
The Canadian patrol, commanded by Lieutenant G.B. "Gerry" Maynell, has departed friendly lines only two hours previously. From the outset, members of the patrol have detected movement all about them. There is the growing sense among the Canadians that they are not the hunters this evening, but rather the hunted. A large body of troops is now heard approaching from an unexpected direction, the rear. Maynell orders his men to shift positions and take cover behind the bank of a rice paddy. Over the radio he calls for illumination. A flare, fired from a 60 MM mortar of Charlie Company, bursts into light overhead revealing an oncoming force of at least 60 Chinese soldiers.
The Canadians open fire with small arms and grenades and the enemy responds in kind from very close range. With grenades bursting all about and the Chinese unleashing a devastating burst of automatic weapons fire, Lieutenant Maynell is shot in the head and probably killed almost immediately. Corporal Joseph C. McNeil, the Patrol 2ic, now takes command of the shattered detachment. After half an hour, with ammunition running low and other bodies of Chinese troops manoeuvring to trap the patrol, McNeil breaks contact and leads his men back toward friendly lines some 400 yards away. Wounded men are carried or dragged.
On the verge of reaching the point of re-entry into Canadian lines, a gap in a minefield, McNeil's patrol comes under withering fire again from yet another enemy force, now positioned to cover the gap. The patrol is dispersed; some members are able to penetrate the minefield, while others are trapped on the slopes between overwhelming numbers of Chinese below and the defending Canadian platoons above. The Able Company patrol has come to grief in the midst of a well organized, battalion-sized attacking force about to burst upon the Canadian defenders of Hill 187. These are the first shots and opening moves of what will become the battle for Hill 187.
The Birth of a Battalion
What would eventually become the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment, was initially a Regimental reserve company, formed at Fort Lewis, Washington. The purpose of this company was to funnel reinforcements to 2RCR, the first unit of The RCR to serve in Korea (May 1951 – April 1952), and then to 1RCR (April 1952 – March 1953). With the decisive entry of Red China, in overwhelming strength, into the conflict in November 1950, it was finally realized that the war would be a protracted one. The maintenance of a Canadian brigade-sized formation in Korea would require further rotations of units beyond the two already forecasted. Thus 3RCR was officially formed at Fort Lewis on 10 January 1951.
The Commanding Officer was Lieutenant-Colonel K.L. "Ken" Campbell, an astute and observant professional. Commissioned into the 48th Highlanders in 1940, he was a veteran of the Second World War, seeing action in both Italy and North West Europe; serving also with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards and the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment. The Second-in-Command was Major R.G. "Slim" Liddell, MBE, an officer of The RCR both before and during WWII. He was one of the "originals" who had commanded A Company from Pachino, Sicily to Ortona and beyond. The other senior appointments in the Battalion at this time were:
- Adjutant – Captain G.L. Teather;
- OC A Company – Major R.A. Couche;
- OC B Company – Major S.G. Mackness;
- OC C Company – Major S.G. MacDonald;
- OC D Company – Major D. Cameron;
- OC Support Company – Major J.C. Clarke; and
- OC HQ Company - J.S. Wilkinson.
Eventually, Warrant Officer 1st Class J.M. MacKay would become Regimental Sergeant-Major of 3RCR (September 1951 – March 1954). The Battalion's initial strength was 37 Officers and 439 Other Ranks, soon augmented by a draft from Petawawa of 3-263. From the outset 3RCR was plagued by an inability to retain unit cohesiveness and mount effective, sustained collective training. The Battalion continually had to assimilate intakes of recruits, while simultaneously forced to surrender many of its best and most experienced men (including Officers and NCOs) to 2RCR.
In May 1951, 3RCR departed Fort Lewis (loaned to the Canadian Army for the purpose of training during the winter months) for extended summer training at Wainwright, Alberta. As of September the unit moved once again, to Petawawa. By January 1952 the Battalion had trained and processed some 1,000 personnel who had subsequently been transferred to either 2RCR or 1RCR. Although by the end of January unit strength was nevertheless at 1,200 all ranks, by April 3RCR would lose more drafts of soldiers and officers to the two senior Battalions. Predictably, the continuing drain of experienced men impacted significantly on morale and training.
As of 30 April, 3RCR was on its way back to Wainwright to train over the summer months. It was there on 03 September 1952, at the Base Theatre, that Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell announced to the assembled Battalion that 3RCR would deploy to Korea in the spring of 1953. The Battalion would relieve 1RCR, now almost halfway through its own tour (April 1952 – March 1953). In October, 3RCR had re-assembled in Petawawa, carrying out more complex collective training. In Korea, 1RCR was fighting the epic battle of Kowang-San, 22-24 October. Even as late as December, the Battalion was forced to relinquish three of its officers to 1RCR as replacements in Korea. That same month Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell completed a recce in Korea, while 3RCR in Petawawa bid farewell to 2RCR. That unit, having completed it s own tour in Korea in April 1952, had been stationed in Petawawa during the interim. Now 2RCR was on its way to a new home at Wolseley Barracks, London, Ontario. Significantly, 3RCR would not receive its full compliment of officers until January 1953, including one of the company commanders.
Finally, on 27 February 1953, 3RCR boarded trains at Petawawa for Seattle, Washington and the sea voyage to the Far East. On 01 March the Battalion embarked on the USNS General C.C. Ballou. The immediate destination was Japan. The troop ship docked at Yokohama on 17 March. The troops were forthwith transported to the base of the 25th Canadian Reinforcement Group at Hiro, Japan. Here they were confined to barracks from 18-22 March. On 22 March 3RCR sailed for Pusan, the southern Korean port that acted as point of entry for Canadian and other UN forces coming into theatre, arriving on 23 March.
Upon arrival in Korea, the Battalion headquarters group consisted of the following personnel:
- Commanding Officer – LCol K.L. Campbell;
- Second-in-Command – Maj A.D. Egan (since December 1952);
- Regimental Sergeant-Major – WO1 J.M. MacKay (since September 1951);
- Adjutant – Capt J.E. Miller;
- Quartermaster - Capt G.E. Skaling;
- Signals Officer – Capt F.J. Spicoluk;
- Intelligence Officer – Capt C.W. Carswell; and
- Transport Officer – Lt. A.J. Hocking.
Of the three battalions of The Royal Canadian Regiment to serve in Korea, 3RCR arrived in theatre arguably the least prepared to fight in a major campaign. This was certainly not the fault of the officers, NCOs, and soldiers then serving in the Battalion. From its very inception, 3RCR had been plundered time and again of trained personnel, in order to reinforce and provide replacements for the 1st and 2nd Battalions. Predictably, this had caused problems related to morale, unit cohesiveness, and achieving high standards of collective training. This unit was certainly the most diverse and least homogeneous of the three battalions. The first unit to serve in Korea, 2RCR, consisted mainly of Canadian Army Special Force (CASF) men, most with a WWII background. These were volunteers, rather than professionals, who had enlisted for a fixed period of 18 months. The men of 1RCR were of the Permanent (Regular) Force, long-service professionals, who were paratroopers for the most part. Part of the third rotation of Canadian ground troops into Korea, 3RCR had something of an ad hoc nature, consisting of a mixture of Special Force volunteers, seasoned Regulars, and very recent recruits.
Campbell had mixed feelings about his officers. None of his company commanders had been with 3RCR before the summer of 1952 and one had not actually arrived until January 1953. He felt his more senior officers, the majors, were for the most part too old and not physically fit enough for the rugged conditions of Korea. Although impressed by the enthusiasm and potential of his junior officers, he was generally dissatisfied with the level of their professional knowledge, especially when it came to patrolling, and regarded them as somewhat undisciplined.
Another disadvantage was that even after almost three years of war in Korea, the Canadian Army had failed to develop a coherent doctrine regarding defensive operations. This was indeed a glaring omission as the war in Korea had been static and defensive in nature since October 1951. Even by 1953, Canadian troops were not being properly trained or equipped to wage a defensive campaign in the harsh Korean environment. Canadian routine in defence did not emphasize patrolling, with the result that the Chinese dominated No Man's Land, the terrain between the opposing front lines. Canadian units often manifested a complacent attitude towards developing or even maintaining existing defensive positions.
3RCR in Korea: The First Weeks
From Pusan 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment travelled by train to the railhead at Tokchon. Here, on 24 March, the Battalion was met by a party that included LCol Peter Bingham, the CO of 1RCR, and LCol Ken Campbell. From this point, 3RCR was trucked to the rear area of the 1st Commonwealth Division, near Kuam-ni. This location was south of the Imjin River and 12 miles distant from the front line, known as the Jamestown Line in this sector. Since 30 January the 1st Commonwealth Division, including the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, had been in Army reserve. It was while the Division was in reserve that the third rotation of units within the Canadian brigade would take place.
On 25 March 1RCR and 3RCR officially completed a handover at Kuam-ni. As honour guards from both units looked on, the banner of the 1st Battalion, which had continued to fly atop Hill 355 during the monumental struggle for Kowang-San, 22-24 October 1952, was now lowered and replaced by that of the 3rd Battalion. The Regimental Sergeant-Major of 1RCR, Warrant Officer 1st Class F.A. "Fred" Burns, symbolically passed on his drill cane to the RSM of 3RCR, WO1 J.M. MacKay. For the educational benefit of 3RCR, 1RCR now demonstrated a battalion attack. Tellingly, 3RCR had never had the opportunity to conduct collective training at higher than company level. "...neither 3 RCR nor 3 R22eR had the advantage of collective training, at either the battalion or brigade level, before arriving in Korea. Having served as training units in the two years since their formation, the two battalions had managed to conduct only a limited training program prior to embarking for the Far East."
On 28 March 1RCR departed Tokchon by train for Pusan, the beginning of its journey home to Canada. On 01 April, 3RCR received an increment of 100 South Korean soldiers, who would be integrated into the Battalion, three Koreans attached to each section in the unit. These were the "Katcoms", the title taken from the name of the program, Korean Augmentation to Commonwealth Forces. They were also referred to as "Katousas" from Korean Attached Troops. The program was intended to reinforce Commonwealth and UN units and create a pool of trained South Korean troops. However, it was also an indication of the low regard for the fighting ability of Republic of Korea (ROK) army formations. Nevertheless, despite initial misgivings, the Canadians were eventually to feel both respect and affection for their South Korean comrades, who proved to be brave, loyal and enthusiastic. This was certainly an early example of mentoring indigenous forces, a forerunner of the OMLT program in Afghanistan.
As of 06 April, 1st Commonwealth Division once again reverted to operational control by U.S. I Corps and began to move back into the Jamestown Line. The Division replaced the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, a formation that had fought at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge during the Second World War. While this relief was taking place the battle of Pork Chop Hill was fought, 16-18 April, in the eastern part of the Iron Triangle. With peace talks about to resume at Panmunjom, the Chinese were testing UN and American resolve with this local offensive action.
Against this background, 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment moved into the Jamestown Line on the night of 19/20 April. The Battalion carried out a relief in place with the very much under strength 1R22eR (Royal 22ieme Regiment). The soldiers of 3RCR had entered a twilight world where they would sleep by day and operate by night; and where they would eat "chop-chop" (C-rations). The defensive position occupied by 3RCR was based on the feature known as Hill 187. Hill 187 was located in the centre of the 1st Commonwealth Division front. Having failed at Pork Chop Hill, the Chinese were now about to turn their attention on the 3RCR defensive complex at Hill 187.
3RCR on Hill 187
On 03 October 1951, US I Corps (including 1st Commonwealth Division) had carried out Operation Commando, a five division attack along a 60 kilometre front in the Iron Triangle. The intent was to establish a bridgehead beyond the Imjin River, placing the South Korean capital, Seoul, beyond enemy artillery range. By pushing the front a further 10 kilometres beyond the Wyoming Line, the rail supply line and main east-west lateral road used by UN forces would also be made more secure. On 04 October, 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier John Meredith "Rocky" Rockingham, assaulted Hill 187. This feature fell to the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Stone. The same day the 1st Battalion King's Own Scottish Borderers, of the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, had captured Hill 355 (Kowang-San), just four miles to the northeast. By 05 October, 1st Commonwealth Division had reached the Jamestown Line and began digging in. Subsequently, the summit of Hill 187 was occupied by C Company, 2RCR, the remainder of the Battalion's rifle companies being placed on other nearby high features.
By April 1953, neither the Jamestown Line nor the defensive position at Hill 187 had changed appreciably since 2RCR had occupied Hill187 in the autumn of 1951. The defensive position was based on the dominant feature of Hill 187, located halfway between Hill 355 and the Hook. From Hill 187, three ridges radiated in a generally westerly direction towards the Nabu-ri stream and the Chinese defences beyond, based on Hill 166. The most northerly ridge was 800 yards long and ended in a feature called Hill 97. On the same ridge, 400 yards east of Hill 97, was Hill 123. The next ridgeline 500 yards to the south, extending from Hill 187, was somewhat longer and culminated in the Songgok feature. Finally, the third ridge ran in a south-westerly direction to a dominant feature called Hill 159. Hill 159 was 700 yards southeast of Hill 97.
Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell had deployed his four rifle companies in a box-like formation to cover a frontage of about 2,400 yards. Each company was located in a corner of the square. Charlie Company, commanded by Captain M.J. Mullin, occupied the most vulnerable position, closest to the enemy lines. This was on the northern-most ridge, at the north-west corner of the box. 7 Platoon, commanded by Second Lieutenant E.D. "Ed" Hollyer, and 8 Platoon, under Lieutenant D.W. "Doug" Banton, straddled Hill 97, with 7 Platoon on the western slope (at end of the ridgeline) and 8 Platoon on the eastern slope. 9 Platoon was 400 yards distant to the east, on Hill 123. The Chinese-held Hill 166 was only 1,500 yards distant across the Sami-ch'on Valley.
Able Company, officer commanding Capt J.G. "Jack" Jenkins, was the furthest from the enemy, with its 1, 2, and 3 Platoons located on and around the summit of Hill 187. The only company sited to provide direct supporting fire for Charlie Company was Baker Company, 500 yards to the south on the second ridge. Its three platoons, 4, 5, and6, were positioned just east of the Songgok feature, overlooking Songgok village. Dog Company, consisting of 10, 11, and 12 Platoons, was in Battalion reserve on the third ridge, dominated by Hill 159. Battalion HQ was located about 900 yards due east of Hill 159.
Unlike the more elaborate and well-built defences protecting Hill 355, the terrain and fortifications at Hill 187 presented a defender with certain significant problems. "...the ground surrounding the UN-held position, known as Hill 187, was exposed, less fortified and wide open to observation by the Chinese from Hill 166, just across the Sami-ch'on River valley." In a post-war critique, Lieutenant-Colonel Ken Campbell gave an evocative description of the ground surrounding Hill 187 and the tactical limitations that it imposed on the defender:
"The terrain was made up of steep-sided hills joined by steep-sided ridges and separated by valleys varying from narrow bush-choked ravines to wide flat bottomed valleys floored with [rice] paddy…Because of the width of front allotted to a battalion, usually twenty-five hundred to four thousand yards, the defensive position usually consisted of platoon positions on the more prominent hills loosely grouped into company positions suited to the ground pattern. The fashion was to have a platoon position consist of a more or less circular trench around the hill with the fire trenches spaced along the front and sides of the hill and the living quarters on the back."
3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment was situated as the left forward unit of 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade. On the immediate right, or to the north of 3RCR, was 3PPCLI (CO: Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Fairlie Wood). In Brigade reserve was 3R22eR (CO: Lieutenant-Colonel J.G. "Tony" Poulin). On the immediate left, or south, of 3RCR was the 29th British Infantry Brigade Group. The perceptive Ken Campbell immediately noted the poor state of the defences at Hill 187. The earthworks were "...badly run down. The wiring was insufficient. The trenches were not deep enough. There were gaps in the communication trenches. The fire bays were of a poor design and had no adequate overhead cover. The bunkers wee too high, too lightly timbered and had too little overhead cover, They were also far removed from the fighting positions."
The previous Canadian and American occupants had clearly done very little to improve the defences at Hill 187. They had also failed to patrol aggressively and as a result the Chinese dominated No Man's Land. The enemy had built up an accurate picture of the defensive layout and of the Canadian routine in defence around Hill 187. Chinese patrols, supported by artillery and mortars, relentlessly probed the Canadian lines, eventually keying on the Charlie Company positions on Hills 97 and 123. Chinese fighting patrols and relentless shelling ensured the Canadians were severely hampered in their ability to improve their own defences, obtain information about the enemy, or regain the initiative. The Chinese very quickly identified 3RCR as an inexperienced battalion, new to the front lines. The enemy began planning and preparing for an offensive action against Hill 187, with a special focus on Hills 97 and 123. In the interim, there could be no sustained effort by 3RCR to improve the defences.
On 21 April 1953, Brigadier Jean Victor Allard relieved Brigadier M.P. Bogert as commander of 25CIB. During the Second World War Allard had been a brilliant Commanding Officer of the Royal 222e Regiment from January 1944 in Italy and an equally effective commander of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade in Northwest Europe as of March 1945. He had been wounded in action and won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) with two bars. Brigadier Allard brought an analytical focus, willingness to innovate, and operational sophistication previously missing from senior Canadian field commanders in Korea. However, as his predecessors experienced, he found that his hands were tied by higher governmental policy and political constraints."...our orders were to wage a strictly defensive war…A brigade commander could not on his own initiative, mount an offensive that would involve more than a platoon…I was unable to test either the defensive capability of my opponents or the offensive capability of our own troops…If our enemy happened to dominate our positions, we had to let him snipe at us, with the ensuing loss of life that might have been avoided by capturing certain peaks from our adversary"
The Battalion sought to improve and expand the defensive works at Hill 187. However, Chinese artillery and mortar fire intensified and began to concentrate on the Charlie Company positions on Hills 97 and 123. On 22 April, 3RCR suffered its first combat fatality. The administrative areas of Able and Baker Companies, where field kitchens were located, were heavily shelled. Six personnel (including four Korean labourers) were wounded and Lance-Corporal P.G. "Paddy" Redmond was killed at the Able Company position. Although with the RCASC, Redmond had served with The RCR for many years. Chinese mortar fire was especially accurate, causing ongoing casualties. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell was now able to perceive from the pattern of Chinese artillery and mortar fire that the enemy was registering targets in Charlie Company's location. Campbell ordered an increase in patrolling, laying on more standing patrols and increasing the size of fighting patrols. This was designed to learn more about Chinese intentions and wrest back control of No Man's Land.
Significantly, on 26 April peace negotiations were resumed at Panmunjom, while concurrently a limited prisoner of war exchange took place. These negotiations had originally begun on 25 October 1951, after the onset of the static or defensive phase of the Korean War. After a lengthy impasse involving the exchange of prisoners of war, the talks had been suspended on 08 October 1952. Three factors now led the Communist Bloc to allow negotiations to proceed: the election of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as President of the United States in November 1952; the sudden death of Marshal Josef Stalin, the implacable dictator of the Soviet Union, on 05 March 1953; and the continuing decline of the Chinese economy, resulting from the large-scale Chinese war effort in Korea. The Chinese willingness to negotiate was predicated on the belief that they could strengthen their negotiating hand by scoring tactical successes on the battlefield. By demonstrating offensive prowess and inflicting casualties on UN forces, in particular seizing prisoners, the Chinese were confident that they could end the war on terms favourable to themselves. This had been their motivation in recent aggressive actions at Old Baldy (November 1952) and Pork Chop Hill (April 1953). Facing an untried, inexperienced opponent holding a vulnerable defensive position at Hill 187, the Communist Chinese were confident of scoring both a psychological and substantive success.
The Battle of Hill 187: The Opening Moves
In late April 1953, many factors pointed to an imminent Chinese attack on or in the vicinity of Hill 187. Enemy artillery and mortar fire was increasingly keying on Charlie Company in the days prior to the attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell and the British Counter-Battery Officer from 1st Commonwealth Division HQ staff were convinced that the Chinese were registering targets within the Charlie Company position, on and around Hills 97 and 123. Enemy patrol activity had increased significantly to the north and west of Charlie Company. Most alarmingly, Chinese patrols had been cutting gaps in the wire covering the approaches to the Company's lines. Finally, on 30 April, the GSO 2 Intelligence, Major P.A. Mayer, passed the word to 25CIB HQ that an attack on Hill 187 was considered imminent.
The soldiers themselves expected some sharp enemy action any day. Private Eddie Nieckarz, a soldier in 9 Platoon, Charlie Company, on Hill 123, "...expected a bombardment or firefight on May 1, the Communist May Day." In fact, that night a Chinese patrol moved up to the wire in front of Charlie Company, throwing stones into the trenches in order to provoke a response. This it did, as the Canadians called down defensive fire tasks to their front, duly noted by the Chinese. Brigadier Allard also believed the Chinese were planning some bold stroke at Hill 187. "During this period of preparation the enemy fire cut and kept open a gap in the tactical wire on the right flank of the right forward platoon. His patrols had drawn our DF tasks, had discovered the positions of our standing patrols and the few gaps through our wire and minefields. From these reports, I expected that the enemy would stage a raid, or possibly make some special effort..."
In response to the Chinese patrols cutting wire in front of Charlie Company's positions, the CO ordered an increase in patrolling, to include ambush patrols sent out to destroy the Chinese wiring parties. In addition, detachments were identified to act as standby patrols in the event that any of the Canadian ambush patrols were compromised and hit by the enemy. Against this background, on the evening of 02 May, Lieutenant Gerry Maynell's 16 man fighting patrol from Able Company made its way through the communication trenches from Hill 187 to Hill 97. Second Lieutenant Ed Hollyer waited for the patrol from near his 7 Platoon trenches on Hill 97. Upon the arrival of the friendly patrol, Hollyer led Maynell and his men in silence down to the gap in the minefield and wire in front of 7 and 8 Platoons. Hollyer counted the patrol through the gap and watched them disappear into the black night. The time was 2030 Hours.
Even as Maynell's patrol departed friendly lines it was being monitored by Chinese detachments assigned to cover the gap in the minefield. Meanwhile, other enemy groups, tasked to neutralize any Canadian patrols found in No Man's Land this night, were already stalking Maynell and his men. The Able Company patrol quietly moved 110 yards west from the gap and then changed baring, proceeding a further 300 yards to the north. Members of the patrol had both heard and sighted enemy movement on the way out and nerves were stretched taut by the time the ambush position was occupied.
The men were armed with an assortment of automatic weapons, including Sten Guns (the crude, British-designed 9 MM submachine-gun) and Bren Guns (the .303 calibre, magazine-fed light machine-gun). A few had even managed to obtain (probably through bartering liquor) the highly prized American M2 Carbine, desired for its compact size and automatic capability. During the static phase of the Korean War, fighting invariably took place at night and at very close quarters, often in the confined space of a trench. The Chinese infantry employed a weapon that was almost perfect for such actions, the 7.62 MM PPSh-41 submachine-gun, also called the Shpagin Machine Pistol. The PPSh-41 was rugged, utterly dependable, and a viciously lethal weapon at close quarters. Referred to by Western troops as the "burp gun", it gave the Chinese soldier a huge advantage over his Canadian opponent, who was typically armed with the bolt-action, .303 calibre Lee-Enfield Mark IV Rifle.
Now bumped from the rear, the Canadians engaged a much larger party of enemy soldiers from an improvised hasty ambush position. However, Maynell's patrol was outnumbered, outgunned and at a distinct disadvantage. Private H.A. MacDonald was to recall afterwards: "…the enemy were close. I could see them. We were firing our Brens and Stens and tossing grenades and the enemy returned with burp guns and grenades. I heard Mr. Maynell shout, 'You're doing good boys, keep pouring it to them.' It must have been shortly after this that he was hit. Our patrol called for artillery support but the shells landed too close so we had the support called off. After we had been firing for about half an hour we ran short of ammunition. Corporal McNeil went around checking to see how much we did have... Then McNeil told us to follow him. We moved out slowly for we had a few guys hurt. The flares that were going up made things tough for us. The Chinese caught us in the open as we were trying to come in. The man carrying Mr. Maynell was hit so he had to put the officer down but Mr. Maynell must have been dead anyway."
Breaking contact with the enemy, Corporal McNeil led the patrol back towards friendly lines. While some men carried or supported the wounded, others formed a rear guard, lobbing grenades and firing bursts to keep the enemy at bay. Approaching the gap in the minefield, the patrol was hit again by another Chinese force firing from ambush. "A favourite trick of the Chinese was to come right into our minefields and ambush us on our own routes," recalled Dan Loomis, a combat seasoned platoon commander from the previous 1RCR tour. The patrol scattered, some able to make it through to the friendly side of the gap. For his bravery and calm leadership during this action, Corporal Joseph McNeil would subsequently be awarded the Military Medal (MM).
Meanwhile, help was on the way in the form of a standby patrol, led by Lieutenant D.W. "Doug" Banton, the platoon commander of 8 Platoon, Charlie Company. At 2250 Hours Banton brought a section's worth of his men down from Hill 97 and soon reached the gap in the minefield on the near side. He now met survivors of Lieutenant Maynell's patrol fleeing through the gap, who then proceeded up to 7 Platoon's position. Lieutenant Banton was warned of the large numbers of enemy, apparently both inside the gap now and on the far side. Aggressive and impetuous, he nevertheless resolved to push through the gap and assist any of the wounded who had not made it back to friendly lines.
Emerging from the gap in the minefield, Lieutenant Banton began shouting, hoping to bring in any survivors. He deployed his Bren gun team, Privates Boyce and Hummer, to cover the entrance to the gap and set of with the remainder of his men. Within a hundred yards, Banton and his standby patrol stumbled into another Chinese ambush. Doug Banton was hit by the blast from a grenade and then by another grenade. He was killed. The patrol scattered, unable to bring Banton's body with them. There were now survivors from two compromised patrols, Maynell's and Banton's, scattered on the slopes beyond Charlie Company's defences.
The Battle of Hill 187: The Battle is Joined
The Able Company ambush patrol and the Charlie Company standby patrol had fallen prey to a large-scale Chinese raiding party of at least 400 troops. The enemy intent was to isolate and overwhelm the Charlie Company defensive positions on Hills 97 and 123; inflict maximum casualties and damage, taking as many prisoners as possible; and hold the captured ground long enough to demonstrate Chinese offensive power. The strategic purpose was surely to enhance the Communist Bloc bargaining position at Panmunjom, where talks had resumed only six days prior. The organization of this powerful raiding force was sophisticated indeed. There were five distinct groups.
The first was a covering force consisting of at least three fighting patrols. These Chinese patrols were to sweep No Man's Land of any Canadian patrols and dominate the approaches to Charlie Company's positions. They would win control of the gaps to the minefield and support other elements as these performed their allotted missions. The covering force was set in motion at 2000 Hours when Chinese artillery and mortars began to drop shells and bombs on Charlie Company.
While the covering force engaged the two Canadian patrols and moved to take control of the gaps in the minefield, the second group, dedicated to creating or exploiting gaps in the wire, moved forward on the flanks to the wire obstacles. One party identified gaps blown in the wire by the bombardment and enlarged these with Bangalore torpedoes, then rolled grenades into the gaps to explode any mines. Another follow-on party then moved through the gaps in the wire, hurling grenades towards the Canadian trenches to simulate that the wire was still being shelled and mortared. Meanwhile, the actual shelling and mortaring was taking place on Charlie Company's positions above. Guides were now sent back to lead the assault groups forward to their forming up points.
There were three different assault groups. One was made up of three bombing parties of 15 men each. These would use grenades and satchel charges to clear and destroy trenches, bunkers, and firing bays. Then there was the group consisting of two platoon-sized assault and snatch parties. These troops would close with the Canadians defenders, overcome resistance and take prisoners. Finally, the third and largest group of company strength would function as a tactical reserve and exploitation group. Starting at 2300 Hours, these three assault groups moved forward by phases. By 2350 Hours all groups were in position. The bombing and snatch groups were inside the wire waiting for the moment to attack. The reserve/exploitation group lay waiting 1,000 meters in the rear.
Ironically, this complex Chinese raiding organization was reminiscent of nothing so much as the large-scale trench raids executed with much élan and ruthless determination by the battalions and brigades of Canadian Corps during the First World War. Canadians such as Brigadier Victor Odlum had, after all, invented the large-scale trench raid. It is interesting to speculate what Canadian troops in Korea might have accomplished by way of larger-scale fighting patrols and raids in conjunction with the massive fire support available. However, this remains a moot point as the hands of field commanders at all levels were tied by higher policy imposed for the sake of political expediency. UN soldiers were forced to fight the Chinese under the most restrictive handicaps (e.g. no unauthorized offensive action whatsoever above platoon level) imposed by their own politicians.
As Midnight approached there were still isolated Canadians, survivors of the two patrols, wandering in No Man's Land. From his position on Hill 97, Ed Hollyer, commander of 7 Platoon, could see the Chinese assault groups formed up inside the minefield, obviously preparing to attack. His platoon was the most exposed and had borne the brunt of recent enemy shelling. There were only two solidly constructed bunkers in the Platoon's area and the wire obstacles to the front had all but disappeared. His Platoon had only two machine-guns that were effectively sited. At 2400 Hours Chinese shelling and mortaring of Charlie Company dramatically increased to a crescendo. Up to three shells were bursting every second. Soldiers hurriedly had to take cover in the back of their trenches. Heavy machine-guns now began to rake 7 Platoon's lines. B Company, the only company which could support Charlie Company with direct fire, also came under heavy shellfire.
Even as the enemy shells and mortar rounds exploded throughout 7 Platoon's area, the Chinese storming parties surged forward. The Chinese curtain of fire was now lifted to the rear as the Chinese swarmed into the 7 Platoon trenches. Within seconds 8 Platoon was also under attack, many of its trenches being overrun. The Chinese moved along the trenches, using grenades to silence the Canadian defenders. Those concussed by the grenades were quickly taken prisoner by the enemy snatch parties. At one point Private Greenway of 8 Platoon saw six Chinese soldiers moving along the top of a communication trench; he opened fire with his Sten gun killing three. The three who survived dropped grenades into the trench wounding several Canadians.
Just before Midnight, Lieutenant-Campbell Campbell initiated the counter-mortar fire plan, known as "Parasol". At the same time he called for 81st Field Regiment to execute the defensive fire (DF) tasks on the approaches to and close by Charlie Company's positions. Aware of the worsening crisis at Hill 187, Brigadier Allard at 25CIG HQ had placed the guns of 81st Field Regiment under the direct control of 3RCR. Land line between 7 Platoon and Charlie Company HQ had been destroyed by Chinese fire. However, through an attached signals officer, Lieutenant Laurie G. Cote, who had a wireless radio, Second Lieutenant Ed Hollyer directed the close-in friendly artillery fire. Simultaneously, Hollyer fought off assaulting Chinese with hand grenades. Despite the reactive Canadian defensive fires, the Chinese, accepting heavy casualties, continued to press home their attacks, swarming over the positions of 7 and 8 Platoon. The advancing Chinese cleared trenches and fire bays with grenades and satchel charges, killing many Canadians; following after the bombing parties, the assaulting Chinese infantry took many dazed and wounded Canadians prisoner.
In 7 Platoon lines Lance-Corporal Les Badowich confronted the onrushing swarms of Chinese with his Bren gun, emptying magazine after magazine, while hand to hand fighting went on all around him. Over at 8 Platoon, a sniper team consisting of Private Jim Gunn and Private O'Connell was about to be overrun. Not wanting to be identified as snipers if captured, the two removed the scopes from their rifles (a US M-1 carbine with infra-red scope for night shooting and a Lee-Enfield with standard scope), placing these in a poncho which they hid at the back of their trench. Gunn and O'Connell hurled all their remaining grenades at the Chinese then took cover. The enemy swarmed into the trench firing submachine-guns and throwing grenades. The two Canadians were knocked out by the grenade blasts. Coming too, Jim Gunn was taken prisoner, but luckily O'Connell was left for dead. At the same moment, Corporal James Pelletier, an 8 Platoon section commander also wounded by grenades, was also being captured.
After the death of Lieutenant Doug Banton, Corporal W.D. Pero had assumed command of 8 Platoon. Despite the heavy shelling, the relentless Chinese onslaught, and the losses already suffered, Pero rallied his men to mount a stout defence. He succeeded in establishing a firm blocking position within the shattered 8 Platoon lines. From this blocking position, 8 Platoon were able to defy all further Chinese efforts to expand their bridgehead on the eastern slope of Hill 97. For his magnificent leadership Corporal Pero would subsequently be recognized with the award of the Military Medal (MM).
However, the situation was desperate on the other flank of Hill 97 as the Chinese now overran 7 Platoon. At the moment of supreme crisis, Ed Hollyer now calmly called down artillery fire on his own position. Word was quickly passed for the survivors of 7 Platoon to take cover in the bunkers. At Charlie Company HQ, Lieutenant George Ruffee, the attached Forward Observation Officer (FOO), adjusted the fire of the combined batteries of 81st Field Regiment. The Canadian gunners unleashed a devastating concentration of 3,400 shells. Meanwhile, at Brigade HQ, Brigadier Allard and the CO of 81st Field, Lieutenant-Colonel H.W. Stearne, co-ordinated additional fire support from the medium and heavy guns of 1st Commonwealth Division and US I Corps. Within minutes an overwhelming storm of artillery, mortar, tank and machine-gun fire swept over Hill 97 and the approaches to the Charlie Company positions.
Lieutenant Laurie Cote was under close assault from Chinese moving through and above the 7 Platoon trenches when the devastating avalanche of fire came down. As Chinese and Canadian soldiers alike scrambled for cover, a Chinese soldier, instantly killed by the blast, was blown on top of Cote in his trench. Many more Chinese caught in the open on Hill 97 had been eviscerated. As well, the fire of the medium and heavy guns of the Divisional and Corps artillery had now largely succeeded in both containing and isolating the Chinese attack. These bigger guns were ranging on the approaches to Hills 97, 123 and 187; on the enemy routes across the Sami-ch'on Valley; on his forming up points; and finally on the enemy's own artillery and mortars.
The tipping point in the battle had clearly arrived. Higher Chinese headquarters were pressing the raiding force to continue the attack. However, despite early success at Hill 97, the Chinese had suffered very heavy casualties and their attack had clearly bogged down. Local commanders on and around Hill 187 were urging a withdrawal. Ed Hollyer, at about 0100 Hours, now requested a suspension of the bombardment of Hill 97 by 81st Field Regiment.
At one point during the shelling, I asked for it to be lifted to investigate the situation. The enemy had sustained heavy casualties, the trenches being literally filled with them. The Chinese were rolling their dead and wounded over the lip of the hill where litter bearers were hauling them away. I returned to pass a situation report back, but was unable to establish communications. If Battalion H.Q. could have been informed at this point, a counter-attack would probably have been successful and a number of prisoners taken. A signaller was dispatched from the bunker with the task of trying to make contact.
Second Lieutenant Hollyer took the opportunity to check on the state of his men. Including Lieutenant Cote and himself, there were only eight left. 7 Platoon's trenches, fighting bays and bunkers had been all but destroyed. At 0130 Hours, Hollyer contacted the OC of Charlie Company, Captain Mullin, and requested permission to withdraw 200 yards to 8 Platoon's position. Noting that numbers of Chinese were now starting to withdraw from Hill 97, Hollyer further called for artillery fire on the forward slopes of the feature. Using this fire mission as cover, Hollyer and his men now withdrew to the opposite flank of Hill 97. By 0145 Hours Hollyer led the remnants of 7 Platoon into the 8 Platoon lines. Shortly thereafter, Lance-Corporal G.P. Julien, also of 7 Platoon, also brought his section of eight men in. Given up for dead, Julien had kept his men together throughout the battle, fighting off the Chinese and finally leading his section to safety.
Lance-Corporal Les Badowich stayed back to cover the retreating men. When he finally attempted to move as well he was taken by the Chinese. Corporal Ernie Taylor of Able Company, acting as a stretcher-bearer, was also captured while trying to evacuate wounded from Hill 97. The Pioneer Platoon commander, Lieutenant Gordon Owen, suffered the acute embarrassment of being captured after he had taken cover in the 7 Platoon latrine. He had tried to fight from this position, but his sidearm jammed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell was anxious to launch a counter-attack to regain Hill 97. He thought to use Dog Company, but was restrained by Brigadier Allard who sited the Battalion's lack of a tactical reserve. Allard ordered 3R22eR to dispatch a rifle company to occupy Dog Company's position, so that Company could then re-capture the lost ground. At this juncture, Ed Hollyer reached the Charlie Company Command Post. He assured the CO over the radio that the Chinese main force was indeed withdrawing and that a fighting patrol would be able to retake the position.
Campbell ordered Hollyer to take 20 men from Able Company to secure 7 Platoon's area and evacuate casualties. Tanks from B Squadron, Lord Strathcona's Horse (OC: Major J.S. Roxborough), provided direct fire support as Second Lieutenant Hollyer re-entered 7 Platoon's position. Immediately the detachment came under sustained, heavy mortar fire and was pinned down until dawn. The Chinese were covering the retirement of their attacking force. Eventually, at 0400 Hours, Dog Company, 3RCR was relieved in place by D Company, R22eR. In turn Dog Company moved to relieve the remnants of Charlie Company, occupying the 8 and 9 Platoon positions, on the east slope of Hill 97 and on Hill 123 respectively.
By first light the Chinese were increasingly desperate to withdraw their last remaining forces back across the Sami-ch'on Valley to the safety of their own well-fortified lines. Chinese mortars bombarded the forward slopes of Hill 187, especially Hills 97 and 123, with HE rounds; a thick smoke screen was laid down in the valley to conceal the retreating troops. Canadian tanks fired into the smoke and UN artillery and mortars continued to hammer the suspected withdrawal routes of the enemy. At 0500 Hours the Chinese were still in full retreat.
In the morning, following the Chinese bombardment, the survivors of 9 Platoon, Charlie Company, emerged from under their overhead cover on Hill 123. To their utter dismay they found by a forward trench the body of their acting section commander, Private Danny Wellington. Throughout the horrific events of the night before, Wellington had been a pillar of strength. No matter how heavy the shelling he had constantly exposed himself, moving from trench to trench, steadying his soldiers, reassuring them with his presence. Private Wellington had been everything a leader should be. Tragically, he had died alone without his men even knowing.
Dog Company relieved Charlie Company, occupying only the 8 and 9 Platoon positions. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell had made the determination that the 7 Platoon position was too beat up and only a listening post was placed, for the time being, on the western flank of Hill 97. That night a platoon from Dog Company was sent forward under cover of darkness to re-establish 7 Platoon's one-time position. In the course of reoccupying the Hill 97 position, Dog Company found the bodies of six Chinese soldiers. Undoubtedly the enemy had suffered heavy casualties during all phases of the raid. Nevertheless, once the Chinese began to withdraw at around 0130 Hours, they had succeeded in bringing back there wounded and had recovered almost all their dead.
At 0642 Hours the arrival of helicopters to evacuate Canadian casualties signalled the end of the battle. Stretcher-bearers and medics had brought in the dead, carefully folded them in blankets, and arranged the bodies in a long row. The number of Canadian dead at Hill 187 was shockingly high. Some 26 had been killed in action; a further 27 were wounded; while seven had been taken prisoner. The South Koreans attached to 3RCR had suffered too. KATCOM casualties included four killed, 14 wounded, and four captured. From the Korean Service Corps five were dead, five wounded, and four missing.
Aftermath and Assessment
The battle at Hill 187, 02-03 May 1953, was Canada's bloodiest engagement of the Korean War. It was also the last significant action fought between Canadian and Communist Chinese forces. The peace talks at Panmunjom would continue and an armistice was finally signed on 27 July 1953. The Battalion would remain in Korea until the spring of 1954.
Firepower had been a decisive factor throughout the battle at Hill 187. The Chinese expended an estimated 2,000 artillery shells and mortar rounds in support of their large-scale raid. In response, the artillery of 1st Commonwealth Division had fired 8,000 shells. The 25-pounder guns of 81st Field Regiment alone had fired in excess of 4,500 shells. Not surprisingly, the support weapons of 3RCR had been extremely active. The 81 MM and 4.2 inch heavy mortars of Mortar Platoon, combined with the 60 MM mortars of the rifle companies, had fired some 3,500 rounds.
It cannot be denied that the Chinese had been able to achieve at least some of their tactical aims at Hill 187 before they were forced to withdraw. The Chinese were battle hardened and veteran troops. The Chinese People's Liberation Army had extensive operational experience, dating back to 1927. It had triumphed over the Kuomintang in the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949) and been highly effective against the Imperial Japanese Army during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Communist Chinese forces did lack the sophisticated logistical support and overwhelming firepower of Western armies. However, the Chinese infantry were particularly well armed, equipped and clothed to operate in the harsh conditions of Korea.
During the prolonged static phase of the Korean War (November 1951 – July 1953), engagements were typically fought by night and at close range. The Chinese soldier was highly adept at night operations and patrolling. Chinese tactics, especially in the attack, have previously often been described as unsophisticated; the image portrayed that of massed, densely packed formations of screaming infantry. This was largely a myth.
For the CCF [Communist Chinese Forces] concept of fluid infantry warfare, violent submachine gun and grenade attack was very effective…The Chinese occasionally attacked in massed, or "human wave" assaults, when it was considered absolutely essential to take a vital point. More often the attacks were in company strength, using every form of concealment and surprise. Their concept of a line of battle was essentially to flow around obstacles with the idea of assembling at their objective for a final assault…One battle-experienced Marine, listening cynically to press reports describing attacking hordes of Chinese, asked, "How many hordes are there in one Chinese platoon?"
When 3RCR went into the front line for the first time on the night of 19-20 April it was a relatively untried and inexperienced battalion. Previously having acted as a reinforcement and replacement pool for the two senior battalions of the Regiment, unit cohesiveness was in doubt. The training the soldiers had received at Ft. Lewis, Wainwright and Petawawa would prove unsuitable to the nature of the terrain, enemy, and type of warfare that would confront them in Korea. When the Battalion went into the Jamestown Line on 19-20 April, it inherited a wholly unsatisfactory tactical situation that was none of its own making. Through aggressive patrolling the enemy had long since established its dominance of No Man's Land. The defensive positions at Hill 187 had been under-developed and poorly maintained by previous occupants. Continued aggressive enemy patrolling and incessant, heavy shelling would insure that 3RCR could do little to redress these problems in the brief 12 days before the Chinese struck.
In the aftermath of the action fought at Hill 187, Brigadier Allard carefully analysed the engagement. He identified three problem areas related to Canadian defensive doctrine and how routine in defence was practiced: poor siting, construction, and maintenance of defences; inadequate patrolling; and dependence on inflexible fire plans. Allard quickly ordered and oversaw improvements in defences; established a Brigade patrolling school as a prelude to increased and far more aggressive patrolling; and instituted a more adaptive system of controlling artillery fire based on forward observation posts.
Whatever criticisms might be made concerning faulty doctrine and misguided policy, these in no way reflect on the courage, dedication and resourcefulness of the officers, NCO, and soldiers of 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment who fought the battle under some of the most disadvantageous circumstances imaginable. Here was a Battalion with only 35 days in Korea and 12 days in the front lines, when unexpectedly confronted by the most severe test of its tour. It must be emphasized that the battle of Hill 187 was 3RCR's baptism of fire. The performance of the men and officers can only be described as magnificent. The Battalion that emerged from this watershed battle was stronger in every sense.
Because they had bled together, many felt they had been drawn together as brothers. More important for some, they had not bugged out or fallen back; they had shown personal and group courage…3RCR had ultimately held its ground.
Following the battle, ten officers and men of 3RCR were granted almost immediate recognition for their individual gallantry in the face of the enemy. Second Lieutenant Edgar Herbert Hollyer (7 Platoon Commander, Charlie Company), Lieutenant Laurie G. Cote (Signals Officer, RCCS), and Lieutenant George E.M. Ruffee (Forward Observer, 81st Field Regiment, RCA) were awarded the Military Cross (MC). Recently promoted Sergeant Joseph Cecil McNeil (Able Company), Corporal George Patrick Julien (7 Platoon, Charlie Company), and Corporal William Daniel Pero (8 Platoon, Charlie Company) won the Military Medal (MM). Mentioned in Despatches (MID) were Captain M.J. Mullin (OC Charlie Company), Corporal V.E. Collier, Corporal R.J. Brayton (RCAMC), and Lance-Bombardier R.A. Walsh (81st Field Regiment, RCA). Captain John Gallington Jenkins (OC Able Company) would subsequently be awarded the MC. Major A.T.E. Fairweather, Captain F.J. Spicoluk (Signals Officer, RCCS), and Second Lieutenant Kenneth J.W. Reeves would eventually be Mentioned in Despatches.
To the End of the Tour and Beyond
For the duration of May and into June, aggressive patrolling and improvement of defences were the order of the day for the Battalion. Part of this regime meant the systematic identification of enemy observation posts. These were engaged on a daily basis by tank, mortar and machine-gun fire. There were two episodes that involved a departure from this routine. On 02 June, 1st Commonwealth Division marked the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (which had occurred that day at Westminster) with a Divisional parade. Lieutenant A.J. Hocking (Transport Officer, HQ Company) commanded the 3RCR contingent on parade. A "bounteous" issue of SRD (Service Rum Demerara) followed the parade. On 04 June an intoxicated member of the Battalion departed friendly lines on a daylight "whisky patrol." Wandering in No Man's Land, neither shouts nor a shot fired over his head could bring him back. When he turned towards the enemy lines, Mortar Platoon was warned off to lay down smoke if required and a patrol was dispatched in pursuit. When finally caught, the soldier was found to be sound asleep.
On 07 June, the parties at Panmunjom finally reached agreement over the thorny issue involving disposition of prisoners of war. This had been the last major hurdle and with this resolved the negotiations began to move towards a settlement. On this same day, 3RCR was relieved in place by 3PPCLI. The Battalion moved back to a reserve area, where it was able to concentrate on training for the next several weeks. Returning to the front line in mid-July, 3RCR continued to suffer sporadic casualties from shelling, mortaring and enemy contacts in No Man's Land. Sadly, on 21 July 1953, Corporal J.A. Ferlatte was the victim of a "Bouncing Betty" anti-personnel mine. He was the last member of 3RCR, indeed the last Royal Canadian, to be killed in action during the Korean War. Six days later, at 1000 Hours on 27 July, the Armistice was signed. The cease fire came into effect at 2200 Hours that evening.
The terms of the Armistice created a demilitarized zone, at least four kilometres wide, based on the existing front lines. Each side was required to withdraw two kilometres from its front line positions within 72 hours of the ceasefire. Frenzied work parties took place as fortifications and bunkers were dismantled; equipment, ammunition and stores were loaded on trucks and transported to the rear. On 31 July 25CIB occupied new positions, still north of the Imjin River, about three miles behind the forward edge of the old Jamestown Line. Work parties were endless; first involving the dismantlement of the more in depth positions of the Jamestown Line; then the wiring of the Kansas Line. Eventually 14 prisoners of war, including Corporal James Pelletier and Lieutenant Gordon Owen, rejoined the Battalion. By September 1953, a total of 32 Canadian prisoners of war had been repatriated.
As the months passed by the Battalion remained active policing the demilitarized zone, conducting contingency exercises, participating in exchanges with British units, and carrying out administrative duties. In November it was announced that there would be a reorganization of the structure of the Infantry Corps. The third battalions of two of the Regular infantry regiments (The RCR and The PPCLI) would now become the foundation upon which a new regiment would be built. Thus after repatriation to Canada, 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment would become 1st Battalion The Canadian Guards. With Lieutenant-Colonel Ken Campbell remaining as Commanding Officer, the transition would certainly be eased.
With repatriation now imminent, 3RCR conducted a farewell parade on 17 March, St. Patrick's Day. Afterwards, this became an occasion, with much revelry and drinking in the respective Messes, which can only be described as Homeric. On 26 March the Battalion boarded trains for Pusan in the south, passing its relief, 2nd Battalion Queens Own Rifles of Canada, along the way. The voyage home began the next day aboard the USNS Marine Lynx, the very vessel which had carried 1RCR home one year before. Seattle, Washington was reached on 11 April. On the long train ride from Vancouver to Ottawa, members of the Battalion were dismissed en route to go on repatriation leave. The men were re-assembed in June for demobilization. It was on 21 July 1954 when sadly the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment was disbanded, in effect to be reborn as the 1st Battalion The Canadian Guards.
The return and disbandment of third rotation units did not mean the end of Canada's commitment to the security of South Korea. However, numbers were gradually reduced and by May 1955 there were only 500 Canadian soldiers left in Korea, ostensibly acting as peacekeepers. The last Canadian combat soldiers would finally depart Korea in June 1957. In all, 26,791 Canadians served in Korea during the war; a further 7,000 served beyond the ceasefire and until 1957. Canadian forces suffered total casualties of 1,558, including 516 dead, whose names can be found in the Korea Book of Remembrance.
Born on 10 January 1951, disbanded on 21 July 1953, 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment had established a great fighting tradition in its short two and a half years span of life. The Battalion had served for just over a year in Korea, from 23 March 1953 until 27 March 1954. Among the many honours won by Regimental officers and men of 3RCR in Korea were:
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) – Lieutenant-Colonel Kenneth Laidlaw Campbell, MBE, CD;
- Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) – Major Richard Arthur Couche, CD;
- Military Cross (MC) – Second Lieutenant Edgar Herbert Hollyer; and Captain John Gallington Jenkins, CD;
- Military Medal (MM) - Corporal George Patrick Julien; Sergeant Joseph Cecil McNeil; and Corporal William Daniel Pero;
- British Empire Medal (BEM) – Corporal Downs (N.B. mentioned only in The Connecting File, but not in the Regimental History).
- Mentioned in Despatches (MID) – Major A.T.E. Fairweather; Captain M.J. Mullin; Second Lieutenant Kenneth J.W. Reeves; and Corporal V.E. Collier.
Of all the 25CIB units in the third rotation, the casualties suffered by 3RCR were the highest; somewhat higher than those of 3PPCLI and more than four times as great as 3R22eR. With just over three months of active combat in the front lines (20 April – 27 July 1953), the Battalion's casualties were proportionally very high, even compared to those of first and second rotation units. To a large extent this was the result of the action fought at Hill 187, 02-03 May 1953. Total casualties experienced by 3RCR were 114. These included 35 killed (2 Officers – 33 Other Ranks); 71 wounded (1-70); 1 injured; and 7 captured (1-6).
Raised specifically for the purpose of fighting in Korea, 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment had a brief, but glorious life. That glory was paid for in full on the bloody slopes of Hill 187, where 3RCR wrote a shining chapter in Regimental history. The traditions of honour, courage, and sacrifice established by the Battalion of 1951-53 have been passed forward and are enshrined today in its namesake Battalion.
- Bercuson, David J., Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1999, pp. 214-215. All accounts of the action fought at Hill 187, 02-03 May 1953, agree substantially in detail. Various authors have consistently taken their lead from Herbert Fairlie Wood, the former officer of the PPCLI (he had been CO of 3PPCLI in Korea), who wrote the official Canadian Army history of the Korean War, Strange Battleground: Official History of the Canadian Army in Korea, in 1966. Where there are discrepancies are in descriptions of the patrol actions fought during the late hours of 02 May which served as a prelude to the battle itself. I have based my own account on several different sources, including David J. Bercuson.
- Commanding Officer of 2RCR at this time was Lieutenant-Colonel R.A. Keane, 17 Aug 1950 – 02 Jan 1952; the Regimental Sergeant-Major was Warrant Officer 1st Class J.J. T. McManus, 09 Aug 1950 – 26 Aug 1953. CO: LCol P.R. Bingham, 09 Aug 1950 – 31 Jul 1953; RSM: WO1 F.A. Burns, 1950-1954.
- CO: LCol P.R. Bingham, 09 Aug 1950 – 31 Jul 1953; RSM: WO1 F.A. Burns, 1950-1954.
- Maloney, Sean M., War Without Battles: Canada's NATO Brigade in Germany, 1951-1993, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, Toronto, 1997, pp. 21-30. The Canadian government had additionally made a commitment to provide a brigade group to the NATO forces in Germany, numbering 5,800 men. This double commitment stretched the limited resources of the Canadian Army to the breaking point and instigated a manpower crisis, necessitating a previously unforeseen third rotation of ground troops into Korea and a grudging expansion of the Canadian Army. The NATO brigade would be known as 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade (27CIB) and would be commanded by Brigadier Geoffrey Walsh, First Canadian Army's Chief Engineer during the Second World War. This was recruited largely from the Reserve Force and was at inception comprised by the following units: 27CIB HQ; 79 Field Regiment, RCA; C Squadron, Royal Canadian Dragoons; 58 Independent Field Squadron, RCE; 27CIB Signal Squadron; 1st Canadian Highland Battalion; 1st Canadian Rifle Battalion; 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion; No. 55 Transport Company, RCASC; and No. 27 Field Ambulance, RCAMC. The three infantry battalions were composite units derived from specific Reserve organizations. These were organized thusly:
1. 1st Canadian Highland Battalion
A Company – The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada);
B Company – 48th Highlanders of Canada;
C Company – Seaforth Highlanders of Canada;
D Company – Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's); and
Support Company – The North Nova Scotia Highlanders.
2. 1st Canadian Rifle Battalion
A Company – Victoria Rifles of Canada;
B Company – The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry;
C Company – The Royal Winnipeg Rifles;
D Company – The Regina Rifle Regiment; and
Support Company – Queen's Own Rifles of Canada.
3. 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion
A Company – The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment;
B Company – Les Fusiliers Mont Royal;
C Company – The Algonquin Regiment;
D Company – The Loyal Edmonton Regiment;
Support Company – The Carleton and York Regiment.
27CIB deployed to Europe between October-December 1951. Initially stationed at Hannover, West Germany, the Brigade was part of NORTHAG and fell under the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR). The first unit of The RCR to serve as part of the NATO brigade in Europe was 2nd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment. Deploying from Wolseley Barracks in late October 1953, 2RCR (CO: LCol G.C. Corbould, DSO, OBE, ED, Jan 1952 – Aug 1957; RSM: WO1 G.H. Fuller, May 1954 - Sept 1958) was part of the first rotation of units in 27CIB. The Battalion was quartered at Fort York, the brand new Canadian base located near Soest, West Germany. 2RCR would remain in Germany from November 1953 until November 1955, when it was relieved by 1RCR (CO: LCol T.R. McCoy, CD, Dec 1953 – Oct 1957; RSM: WO1 G.M. Fox, 1955-1958). Canada would maintain its brigade commitment to NATO until June 1993.
- Stevens, G.R., The Royal Canadian Regiment, Volume Two, 1933-1966, London Printing and Lithographing Co., Limited, London, Ontario, 1967, pp. 260-263.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., pp. 211-212; Stevens, G.R., Ibid, pp. 261-263.
- Stevens, G.R., Ibid, p. 263.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 212.
- Stevens, G.R., Ibid, p. 264.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 211. This is an opinion consistent with that of other contemporary Canadian historians and applies equally to the third battalions of the PPCLI and R22eR.
- Ibid, p. 212.
- Johnston, William, A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations In Korea, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2003, pp. 348-350; Watson, Brent Byron, Far Eastern Tour, The Canadian Infantry in Korea 1950-1953, McGill-Queens's University Press, Montreal, 2002, p. 18.
- Thomas, Nigel and Abbott, Peter, The Korean War 1950-53, Osprey Publishing Limited, Wellingborough, UK, 1986, pp. 17-21. The 1st Commonwealth Division, a multi-national formation consisting of British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian units, was officially formed in Korea on 28 July 1951. Its first commander was the British Major-General James Cassels. The Division was based on three infantry brigades: the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade (with two British and one Australian infantry battalions; the 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery; and the 60th Indian (Para) Field Ambulance); 29th British Infantry Brigade Group; and 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade. In addition to the infantry component, the Division included an armoured regiment and one squadron; three artillery regiments and two batteries; an engineer regiment and two squadrons; a signals regiment; and three field ambulances. 1st Commonwealth Division would remain active in Korea beyond the Armistice of 27 July 1953, until 1956. It suffered 1,263 killed, of whom 686 were British. As of April/May 1953, 1st Commonwealth Division came under US I Corps in the west of Korea, north of Seoul. The Division operated in a region known as the "Iron Triangle," between the Sami-ch'on River in the west and the Imjin River in the east. The British General Officer Commanding 1st Commonwealth Division at this time was Major-General Michael West.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 348.
- Hastings, Max, The Korean War, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987, p. 239.
- Thomas, Nigel and Abbott, Peter, op. cit., p. 17. As of January 1953, US I Corp consisted of the US 2nd, 7th, and later the 25th Infantry Divisions; the 1st Marine Division; and the 1st, 2nd, and 15th ROK Divisions.
- The defensive line established by Operation Commando in October 1951, the last major UN offensive action of the war. This marked a watershed in the war, after which the conflict entered into a prolonged phase of static warfare that persisted until the armistice in July 1953.
- Thomas, Nigel and Abbott, Peter, op. cit., p. 17. The US 2nd Infantry Division at this time consisted of the 9th, 23rd, and 38th Infantry Regiments; the 12th, 15th, 37th, and 38th Artillery Battalions; the 73rd Tank Battalion; the 13th Engineer Battalion; and the 3rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion. N.B. a US infantry regiment was equivalent to a British or Canadian infantry brigade.
- Hastings, Max, op. cit., pp. 281-282. The American troops involved in the bitter struggle to retain Pork Chop Hill were from the 31st and 17th Infantry Regiments of the US 7th Infantry Division.
- 1R22eR would be replaced by 3R22eR very shortly.
- Denoting that the summit was 187 meters above sea level.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 214.
- Australian-born J.M. Rockingham was a much decorated veteran of the Second World War, serving in the Normandy, Channel Ports, Scheldt Estuary, and Rhineland campaigns in Northwest Europe. In just three years he rose from being a subaltern in the Canadian Scottish Regiment to become commander of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. He was named commander of 25CIB on 09 August 1950. Recalled from his civilian life and employment as a business executive, Rockingham, like the men he led, was a Special Force volunteer. Brigadier Rockingham commanded the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade in Korea from 04 May 1951 – 28 April 1952. He was replaced by Brigadier M.P. "Pat" Bogert, a Regular officer and pre-WWII officer of The RCR.
- Ibid, p. 140.
- Barris, Ted, Deadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1999, pp. 244-245. Other authors have compared the defensive position at Hill187 to an open hand with fingers extended. Hill 187 is at the base of the thumb; the ridgelines radiating from Hill 187 culminating respectively in Hills 123/97, the Songgok feature, and Hill 159 are the three uppermost fingers.
- Ibid, pp. 244-245; Stevens, G.R., op. cit., p. 265.
- Ibid, p. 243.
- Campbell, Lt.-Col. K.L., Summary of Experiences, Korean Campaign, 25 March 1954, DHH 145.2R13.019 (D1).
- Thomas, Nigel and Abbott, Peter, op. cit., p. 21. Following completion of the third rotation of Canadian army units in Korea, 25CIB consisted of 3RCR; 3PPCLI; 3R22eR; A Squadron, Lord Strathcona's Horse; 81st Field Regiment, RCA; 28th Field Engineer Regiment, RCE; 57th Independent Field Squadron, RCE; 38th Canadian Field Ambulance; and 25th Canadian Field Dressing Station. Commanding 25CIB from 28 April 1952 – 21 April 1953 was Brigadier M.P. Bogert, to be succeeded by Brigadier Jean Victor Allard.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p.349.
- General Jean Victor Allard had an illustrious career to say the least. He was an early instructor at the Canadian Army Staff College from 1942-43; Second-in-Command of the R22eR in Italy, 1943-44; Commanding Officer of the R22eR in Italy, 1944-45; and commander of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade, NW Europe, 1945. Following the Second World War his service record includes Military Attaché to the USSR, 1945-48; commander 25CIB and Canadian Units Korea, 1953-54; commander 3rd Canadian Brigade, 1954-56; Vice-Chief of the General Staff, 1958-61; GOC 4th British Division, Germany, 1961-63; Chief of Operational Readiness, 1964-65; Commander Mobile Command, 1965-66; and Chief of the Defence Staff, 1966-69.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 211.
- Stevens, G.R., op. cit., p. 265.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 213.
- Ibid, pp. 213-214.
- Ibid, p. 213.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., p. 245.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 351.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 245-246.
- Shpagin PPSh 41 Burp Gun, 01 May 2010, www.rt66.com/~korteng/SmallArms/ppsh41.html. The standard Soviet submachine-gun of the Second World War., designed by Georgi Shpagin. Crudely simple, cheap, made with metal stampings to facilitate mass production during wartime. In Russia during the war, 3,000 units were produced a day. Over 6 million copies were made. The PPSh-41 fired a 7.62 X 25 MM pistol round. Blow back action, fired from the open bolt position. Durable with very low maintenance in combat conditions, featuring chrome-lined barrel and chamber. Weighed 8 pounds, less magazine. It could be fitted with either a 71 round drum magazine or 35 round box magazine. PPSh-41 submachine-gun could fire 900 rounds per minute, muzzle velocity 1,600 feet per second, maximum effective range of 150 meters. Low recoil. Lethal at close range. Much favoured by the Germans during WWII, it was the second most widely used submachine-gun in the German army. During the Korean War, the Chinese mass produced as the Type 50 submachine-gun.
- Pte H.A. MacDonald interview, 5 May 1953, DHH 410B25.013 (D44).
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., p. 246.
- Doug Banton was a former Carleton University student who had become a Regular army officer. One of his 8 Platoon subordinates, Private Terry Meagher, regarded him as a "gung-ho guy" who was determined to win the Victoria Cross.
- Ibid, p. 215; Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 354. There are certain discrepancies in the various accounts involving Lieutenant Banton's standby patrol. This is especially the case concerning the exact location of where Banton and his patrol were hit by the Chinese. This varies from inside the gap, at the mouth of the gap at the far side, and up to 125 yards beyond the gap. I have relied on the accounts of this action by Ted Barris and William Johnston in their respective books, as being the most detailed and coherent.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., pp. 354-355. I have based my description of the Chinese raiding force on that of William Johnston. His in turn is virtually identical to that of the official Canadian Army history of the Korean War, "Strange Battleground: The Operations in Korea and Their Effects on the Defence Policy of Canada," by Herbert Fairlie Wood. Chinese radio communications were monitored by 1st Commonwealth Division throughout the battle and therefore a fairly accurate picture of the Chinese raiding force is available.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 247-248.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 216.
- Ibid, p. 216.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 2480250.
- Ibid, p. 250.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 355.
- Wood, Herbert Fairlie, Strange Battleground: The Operations in Korea and Their Effects on the Defence Policy of Canada, Queen's Printer, Ottawa, 1966, pp. 233-235.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 356.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 351-352.
- Ibid, p. 217; Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 356.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., 217.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 357.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 248, 252.
- Stevens, G.R., op. cit., p. 266.
- The officers and men of 3RCR who fell in battle at Hill 187 on 02 - 03 May 1953 were:
- Lieutenant Banton, DW;
- Private Bear, M;
- Private, Burak, JN;
- Private Chiasson, MP;
- Private Christoff, JJ;
- Private Clark, R;
- Private Diehl, FA;
- Private Everingham, DW;
- Private Gallinger, PH;
- Private Gardiner, RL;
- Private Giard, RFT;
- Private Grennan, RJ;
- Private Hedderson, TJ;
- Private Keating, JP;
- Private Lucas, WF;
- Corporal MacLean, DHR;
- Private Mehan, JC;
- Lieutenant Maynell, GB;
- Corporal Newell, DL;
- Private Raeburn, IN;
- Private Rice, IL;
- Private Roach, LS;
- Corporal Schoultz, RB;
- Private Spencley, PC;
- Private Wellington, DM; and
- Private Woodbury, TR.
- Sadly, one of the wounded would subsequently succumb to his wounds. Private Clayton Morningstar of Niagara Falls, Ontario, had been hit five times in the stomach during the fighting. Severely wounded, he nevertheless refused to abandon his position or his comrades. He died on 10 May, seven days after the battle. The seven Canadian soldiers taken prisoner on Hill 97 included Private Jim Gunn; Corporal James Pelletier, Lance-Corporal Les Badowich, Corporal Ernie Taylor, and Lieutenant Gordon Owen.
- Stevens, op. cit., p. 267.
- Johnston, William, op. cit., p. 357.
- Reeves, LCol (Ret'd) Ken, Pro Patria 2003: Special Korean War Edition, Issue 85, October 2003, p. 34.
- Shpagin PPSh 41 Burp Gun, 04 May 2010, www.rt66.com/~korteng/SmallArms/ppsh41.html.
- The school was run by Major W.H. Pope, MC, of the R22eR.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., pp. 218-219.
- Barris, Ted, op. cit., pp. 252-253.
- Stevens, G.R., op. cit., pp. 267, 388-389.
- The Connecting File, Regimental Journal of The Royal Canadian Regiment, Fall-Winter 1953-1954, Vol XXV – No.2, The Record Printing Company, London, Ontario, 1955, p. 108.
- Ibid, p. 267.
- Ibid, p. 268.
- Bercuson, David J., op. cit., p. 219.
- Stevens, G.R., op. cit., p. 268. Three Katcoms who were with Cpl Ferlatte were also killed.
- Ibid, p. 269.
- Ibid, p. 271. 3PPCLI was disbanded to become 2nd Battalion The Canadian Guards. On 01 October 1954, The Royal Canadian Regiment gained the addition of a Militia regiment, to be known as the London and Oxford Fusiliers (3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment); in 1958 this unit was renamed the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment (London and Oxford Fusiliers). On 06 July 1970, The RCR regained its Regular third battalion; the Militia affiliated battalion thus became the 4th Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment (London and Oxford Fusiliers).
- Ibid, pp. 271-272.
- Giesler, Patrick, Valour Remembered: Canadians in Korea, Veterans Affairs Ottawa, Ottawa, 1982, p. 25.
- Ibid, pp. 272, 388-389; The Connecting File, Regimental Journal of The Royal Canadian Regiment, Fall-Winter 1953-1954, op. cit., p. 108.
- Watson, Brent Byron, Far Eastern Tour: The Canadian Infantry in Korea 1950-1953, McGill-Queen's University Press, Quebec City, 2002, pp. 109-110.
- Stevens, G.R., op. cit., pp. 384-385.The 26 Royal Canadians who fell at Hill 187 have been identified by name in Endnote 58. The other members of 3RCR who were killed or died of wounds during the Battalion's tour were:
- Sergeant G.W.M. Walker – 12 July 1953;
- Corporal G.E. Doherty – 12 July 1953;
- Corporal J.A. Ferlatte – 21 July 1953;
- Lance-Corporal R.A. Nankervis – 11 May 1953;
- Private H. Ard – 14 May 1953;
- Private C. Morningstar – 10 May 1953;
- Private D.W. Penney – 20 July 1953;
- Private W.P. Regan – 17 July 1953; and
- Private A.E. Storey – 14 July 1954.
- Watson, Brent Byron, op. cit., pp. 109-110. In comparison, 1RCR, which was in active combat for much its one year tour, suffered total casualties of 282: 51 killed; 204 wounded; 13 injured; and 14 captured. This was the highest casualty rate of any Canadian unit to serve in Korea.
Barris, Ted, Deadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1999. Bercuson, David J., Blood on the Hills: The Canadian Army in the Korean War, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1999.
Giesler, Patrick, Valour Remembered: Canadians in Korea, Veterans Affairs Canada, Ottawa, 1982.
Hastings, Max, The Korean War, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987.
Johnston, William, A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations In Korea, UBC Press, Vancouver, 2003.
Maloney, Sean M., War Without Battles: Canada's NATO Brigade in Germany, 1951-1993, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, Toronto, 1997.
Stevens, G.R., The Royal Canadian Regiment, Volume Two, 1933-1966, London Printing and Lithographing Co., Limited, London, Ontario, 1967.
Thomas, Nigel and Abbott, Peter, The Korean War 1950-53, Osprey Publishing Limited, Wellingborough, UK, 1986.
Watson, Brent Byron, Far Eastern Tour: The Canadian Infantry in Korea 1950-1953, McGill-Queen's University Press, Quebec City, 2002.
Wood, Herbert Fairlie, Strange Battleground: The Operations in Korea and Their Effects on the Defence Policy of Canada, Queen's Printer, Ottawa, 1966.
Magazines and Journals
The Connecting File, Regimental Journal of The Royal Canadian Regiment, Fall-Winter 1953-1954, Vol XXV – No.2, The Record Printing Company, London, Ontario, 1955.
Reeves, LCol (Ret'd) Ken, Pro Patria 2003: Special Korean War Edition, Issue 85, October 2003.
Campbell, Lt.-Col. K.L., Summary of Experiences, Korean Campaign, 25 March 1954, DHH 145.2R13.019 (D1).
Pte H.A. MacDonald interview, 5 May 1953, DHH 410B25.013 (D44).
Shpagin PPSh 41 Burp Gun, 04 May 2010, www.rt66.com/~korteng/SmallArms/ppsh41.html.