The Argyll and Sutherland
Korea 1950 - 1951
Part 2 - Pursuit and Withdrawal
All photographs are the property of RHQ Argylls and may not be reproduced or copied without permission from RHQ Argylls.
For three or four days after the battle for Hill 282 the Battalion remained in the same area reorganising, patrolling and consolidating its position. It also ferried all its transport over the river. On 26th September the Americans, driving south from Waegwan, made contact with the 27th Brigade, whereupon the Brigade was ordered to move into Sonju. No resistance was expected, as the Americans had units in the area, and none in fact was met. The role of the Brigade was to search and clear the area round the town and the area between the Naktong and Point 282. This work, although much hampered by mines, was completed without casualties. On the 27th reinforcements arrived from the U.K., and this enabled Lt.-Colonel Neilson to re-form his third company. In this draft were volunteers from other regiments who had already heard, on their way up, accounts of the battle for Hill 282 and the great prestige enjoyed by the Argylls as a result of it. A young lance-corporal from the Gordons in Germany wrote: 'I have managed to get into the mortars. I had to give up my stripe, and believe me I was glad to. This is no place for green soldiers like me to take the lead, it's a job for the old soldiers, and we have many of them. 'The mortar teams here are red-hot and know their stuff. It's a pleasure to be with them and it's a grand platoon.'
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On 3oth September the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment joined the 27th Brigade, which hereafter was known as the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. On 2nd October the Battalion moved north to relieve the 3rd Battalion of the Fifth Regimental Combat Team near Kumchon. Its position was south of the town and facing south, with the task of mopping up any enemy stragglers, by-passed during the advance, who might try to find a way out through Kumchon. This task only occupied the Battalion for two days, for there was more important work farther north. The pursuit was now moving fast, and the Commonwealth Brigade was to take part in it. The first step was to a concentration area north of the South Korean capital, Seoul. The Brigade Commander and his three Battalion Commanders left on 5th October for the north. The Battalion left the same day for Taegu by road, thence by air to Kimpo, where it arrived about 6 p.m. and bivouacked on the edge of the airfield. The M.T. went by road, and the 150 miles to Seoul were covered in two days.
The next move was a short one, to Kaesong, overlooking the 38th parallel, and here the Brigade came under command of the 1st U.S. Cavalry Division. The Battalion arrived on l0th October and found the town full of troops and almost undamaged, and from the adjacent hills the inhabitants had a close-up view of the battle, still in progress, that was to drive the invader from South Korean soil. On 13th October General Sir John Harding, who was on a visit to Korea, came to the Commonwealth Brigade area and, as 1 A. & S.H. were the only battalion conveniently concentrated, he addressed all ranks as representing all their comrades in the Brigade. He said:
'All ranks of the Argylls, I want to congratulate you most warmly on what you have achieved since you have been here. What I say is to be regarded as being addressed to the Brigade as a whole. I congratulate the Argylls and the Diehards. You remember when I said good-bye to you in Hong Kong I said that the honour and reputation of the British Army and the British people rested in your hands. You have maintained that reputation and maintained it very well indeed.
Well done the Argylls!
Well done the Diehards!
Well done the 27th Brigade!
'I have heard personally from your Brigadier of the operations in which 'B' and 'C' Companies of the Argylls were engaged on 23rd September. I was most deeply impressed with the courage and endurance with which you attacked the enemy, the heroism with which you accepted the casualties you suffered and the energy and gallantry with which you returned to the attack. That engagement reflects the very greatest credit on you. I feel extremely proud of you, and the people at home will be proud of you too.'
After about a week of inaction in Kaesong the 1st U.S. Cavalry Division moved north and the 27th Brigade was ordered to go with it. The Battalion moved on the 15th and at 3 p.m. on that day it crossed the 38th parallel into enemy territory and a few hours later harboured at Kimchon. It was here that Lt.-Colonel Neilson disclosed to the officers the plan for the future. The 27th Brigade was to go through 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment and advance on the town of Sariwon; in other words, it was to lead the pursuit on the main axis. The 24th U.S. Infantry Division was to make a sweep west and then drive on Sariwon by way of Haeju. As a preliminary move, 27th Brigade moved on 16th October to Sohung, immediately in rear of 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. At Sohung Lt.-Colonel Neilson got in touch with the Commander of the battalion of 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment which was in occupation of it, and arranged to pass through the following morning. There were no United Nations troops forward of Sohung, consequently 1 A. & S.H. were about to lead the pursuit to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
'A' Company (Major A. D. R. G. Wilson) was advance guard, and he had under command one platoon of Sherman tanks, one platoon 3rd U.S. Engineers, a section of machine guns and a section of 3-in. mortars. The advance started at 6.40 a.m. on 17th October, with the leading platoon mounted on the tanks. The column proceeded at an average speed of five miles per hour and was delayed only by sniping in the villages of Hungsu-Ri, which caused 'A' Company to deploy in order to clear it, and Masan-Ni; both were soon cleared, and by 2.30 p.m. it was only four miles from Sariwon. Here 'A' Company ran into a certain amount of opposition from an anti-tank gun and small-arms fire. The leading platoon dismounted from the tanks and engaged the enemy, keeping all the time a firm base on the road. Just at this time the liaison aircraft which had been flying ahead of the column elected to land on the road in front of the tank on which the Company Commander was riding, effectively cutting him off from his leading platoon, while opening up a gap of 800 yards into which the Press and many high-ranking officers began to infiltrate. Their role was not clear, but they appeared to be interested in what had developed into a race for Sariwon between the 1st U.S. Cavalry Division, as represented by the 27th Brigade, and the 24th U.S. Infantry Division. At any rate, in the words of the Company Commander, 'they did not aid the general conduct of the battle'.
From his position Major Wilson was able to see about forty to fifty enemy running away to a flank from an orchard. He ordered No. 2 platoon to attack, while No. 3 from the high ground on the right was to cover the flank of No. 2's attack. At 3.30 p.m., after five minutes' rapid fire by mortars, machine guns and tanks, No. 2 platoon attacked with such determination and speed, and so close to their own covering fire, that the enemy were unable to put up any kind of opposition. No. 2 platoon killed 42 of the enemy and captured 10 machine guns, all in well-prepared positions. The attack was a model of its kind and opened up the road to Sariwon. It was now 4 p.m. and the plan was for 'B' Company to secure the road and area round it at the entrance of the town, while 'C' Company supported by tanks was to pass through 'B' and establish itself at the northern exits. These moves were complete by 5 p.m., when the Australian Battalion passed through, took over 'C' Company's task and established a firm base to the north of the town. Although the town was clear, except for snipers, who were extremely active but difficult to detect amongst the heaps of rubble, there was a danger that the enemy, retreating before 24th U.S. Infantry Division, would enter the town from the south-west, and to meet this threat Lt.-Colonel Neilson was ordered by Brigadier Coad to block the approaches from that direction. Neilson decided to use 'C' Company for this task, and he, with a reconnaissance party, set off to have a look at the ground, but just as they left 'B' Company area in the centre of the town they met a lorry-load of North Koreans, who had taken the route anticipated by Brigadier Coad. The enemy soon saw their mistake and they and 'B' Company opened fire on each other with Neilson's reconnaissance party in between. They quickly baled out of their vehicles and ran for cover, and when safely ensconced behind a wall, they too joined in the general firing. The action was brought to an abrupt conclusion when one of 'B' Company threw a grenade into the lorry, killing the remainder of the enemy.
After this diversion, Neilson and his party continued with their reconnaissance, and when they had reached the south-west outskirts of the town and were about to return, they suddenly found themselves, in the fading light, motoring between two lines of North Koreans, one on each side of the road, marching into the town. Unable to turn round, the party drove on at full speed, and though the first few enemy files opened fire, the vehicles were allowed to proceed when it was not returned. After four or five miles they cleared the enemy column, turned off the road and bivouacked for the night, heartened but amazed at their wonderful escape. The following morning, after making contact with the leading elements of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division, they rejoined the Battalion. The North Koreans, some 2000 strong, whom they had passed through, were all accounted for by 3rd R.A.R. when they entered Sariwon. That night Major Gordon-Ingram took over the temporary command of the Battalion, and, after making firm in the centre of the town, arranged for its systematic clearance the following morning.
During the day the Battalion killed 150 North Koreans and took 50 prisoners, at a cost to themselves of one killed. The capture of Sariwon enhanced the reputation of the Battalion and of the whole Brigade. It was looked upon as an important objective, and its early capture was considered by the American High Command as a brilliant feat of arms, as is shown in the following letter to Brigadier Coad from Major-General Gay, commanding ist U.S. Cavalry Division:
'Congratulations on your splendid and sensational drive through enemy territory. I know it is a proud day in your Brigade's record, and one that deserves the envy of all combat soldiers. 'It is a great pleasure to have a Unit such as yours associated with 1st Cavalry Division. The men of your Brigade are true fighting soldiers. 'You and the members of your Brigade have, in capturing Sariwon, accomplished a marvellous military feat. 'I send my sincerest congratulations to you and all officers and men of the Argyll and Sutherland Battalion, Middlesex Battalion, also the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, who sped 31 miles in 12 hours to deal the enemy a disastrous blow.'
The enemy were now on the run, and to keep him so was the aim of the pursuers. The next target was the North Korean capital Pyongyang, and moving behind the Middlesex the Battalion harboured for the night of 20th October in sight of it. It had been a triumphal progress with the villagers waving South Korean flags and welcoming the troops with shouts of 'Banzai'. It had been anticipated that the occupation of the capital would end, for the time being, the operations of 1st U.S. Cavalry Division, but, although this was so, there was to be no rest for the Commonwealth Brigade, which was transferred to 24th U.S. Infantry Division and ordered to lead the pursuit up the main axis to Sinanju on the banks of the Chongchon River.
The Brigade moved off again about noon on 21st October with 1 A. & S.H. in the lead. There was some difficulty in crossing the Taedong River, on which Pyongyang stands, as a number of American units were jockeying for position to cross as soon as possible, but, once over, good progress was made and by late afternoon the Battalion had reached a point just south of Yongyu. On the way there had been minor resistance, quickly disposed of by 'C' Company, which was leading. At this point it became apparent to Brigadier Coad that the Brigade was becoming somewhat isolated, no move having yet been made by the 24th U.S. Infantry Division from Pyongyang, now some twenty-five miles behind, and he ordered a halt. Neilson then sent a patrol through Yongyu to try and contact a unit of 187 Airborne Regimental Combat Team, which was believed to be just north of the town. This proved to be the case: it was firmly established on high ground clear of it. During the night very heavy rifle fire and automatic fire broke out from the direction of Yongyu and it was feared that the Airborne unit was in serious trouble, but this proved wrong for more casualties had been inflicted on 'A' Company, on the fringe of the battle, than on them. The following day the town was cleared and burnt, and the night was spent in and around it before the advance to Sinanju was resumed. On the way there no further trouble was encountered, villagers turning out with South Korean flags to welcome the Battalion's arrival. Slight shelling greeted it at Sinanju, but it was apparent that the enemy had withdrawn across the Chongchon River. There was some slight delay here as the bridges across both estuaries had been blown, but the Middlesex effected a crossing unopposed, and they were followed later by 1 A. & S.H. and 3 R.A.R., who crossed a bridge which had meanwhile been completed by the American engineers. The Australians pushed north almost as far as Pakchon before swinging west across the Taeryong River. Here they ran into trouble and the companies which had crossed the river found themselves up against enemy infantry supported by tanks and had a rough night. Early the following morning 1 A. & S.H. was ordered forward to cross the river north of the Australians to enlarge the bridgehead. Artillery and ten American tanks were allotted to support the attack, and 'B' and 'C' Companies ferried across the river on the latter, and attacked with them about noon. They took their objectives without loss and found on them only one or two enemy machine guns and their dead crews. The enemy had withdrawn again.
The Battalion led the advance on the 28th with its leading platoon mounted on tanks. The main opposition came from tanks, and this imposed long delays on the column, although the air gave all support that could be desired, frequently spotting and destroying tanks in the path of the Battalion. These delays made it impossible to reach Chongju in daylight, and the Battalion halted for the night about a mile away, and it was fortunate it did so as there turned out to be a strongly held and well-sited position defending the town. The following day 3 R.A.R. encountered stubborn resistance, which took the greater part of the day to overcome, but by the evening all was set for the entry to Chongju, which was to take place the following morning, 30th October.
The 1 Middlesex and 3 R.A.R. were to clear the way as far as the Tokchong River, which runs north and south to the east of the town, and 1 A. & S.H. was then to cross the river and enter the town. The bridge over the river had been destroyed, but air reconnaissance showed a ford. By 1.30 p.m. the way to the river had been cleared, and 1 A & S.H., supported by tanks, passed through. It had no difficulty in fording the river and met with no opposition other than slight shelling from enemy tanks beyond the town. At 6 p.m. 21 U.S. Regimental Combat Team passed through and the Commonwealth Brigade went into divisional reserve.
Two sad incidents marred the last stages of the pursuit: Major I. D. McN. Reith, A. & S.H. and Brigade Major to the Commonwealth Brigade, was killed when his vehicle over-turned, the edge of the road having given way when it was passing a stationary convoy; and Lt.-Colonel Green, commanding 3 R.A.R., was mortally wounded by a shell which exploded in his headquarters. During the 1939-45 War Colonel Green had served with distinction in the Byron Regiment, affiliated to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
On 31st October the Brigade enjoyed its first day of rest since the 15th, and it looked, as far as it was concerned, as if the war was about over. For fourteen days it had led the pursuit up the main axis of the advance. It would have been a fine effort on the part of any Brigade, but it was a magnificent performance on the part of what was after all only a scratch force, hurriedly assembled and thrown into action. The Brigade now looked forward to the period of rest it had earned, but, unbeknown to all, a dangerous situation had arisen by the intervention of Chinese Communist formations, referred to by the Chinese Government as 'volunteers'. The arrival on the scene of a new and well-equipped enemy was a severe setback to the hopes and expectations of the United Nations Forces, who, one and all, had assumed that the campaign was in its closing stages, and that they would be back in their permanent stations for Christmas, as forecast by General MacArthur. It had occurred, too, at a time when many units were exhausted after their vigorous pursuit and not suitably grouped to counter this new threat. The preponderance of manpower had now shifted in favour of the Communists, but the United Nations were still the masters in the air.
On 1st November the Battalion moved to Pakchon and harboured near 24th Division Headquarters. This was blacked out, and such an unusual occurrence gave prominence to rumours that all was not well. At midnight, Neilson was summoned to 27th Brigade Headquarters and ordered to move the following morning to Taechon to join 1 Middlesex. It was while he was at Brigade Headquarters that Brigadier Coad told him that the Chinese had joined in the war. By 8 a.m. the next morning the Battalion was on the move to join the Middlesex at Taechon. Here the two battalions were to cover the withdrawal of the regimental combat teams still to the north and north-east. By the morning of 3rd November the two battalions were in a very exposed position. The regimental combat teams had been withdrawn and, although no contact had been made with the enemy, air reports gave their position about four miles to the north. As far as was known, the nearest friendly troops were at Pakchon, with the road between them open to attack. The two battalions were due to withdraw on Pakchon that evening, but, as they appeared to be fulfilling no useful purpose at Taechon, and as every hour the threat to their withdrawal route increased, Neilson asked and obtained permission to withdraw earlier. The Battalion got away at midday on 3rd November supported by ten tanks, and with these and the F Echelon vehicles the whole move was carried out on wheels. It had taken place none too soon, for forty minutes after the tail of the column had cleared Taechon the enemy entered the town from the north. The withdrawal was unopposed, and the Australians were found to be holding the important cross-roads at Kasan, at which point the most direct route from the Yalu joined the road along which the Middlesex and Argylls were withdrawing.
The Brigade's task at Pakchon was to hold part of a bridge-head across the Chongchon River, while the Battalion was to face west on the west bank of the Taeryong River, with 'A' Company detached to the south, guarding the road to the Chongchon bridges and keeping an eye on the railway bridge across the river. No trouble came until the early morning of 5th November, when phosphorous shells were observed bursting a mile or two behind down the road and in the general area of the road to the Chongchon bridge. No one knew what had occurred until some time later, when it became apparent that large numbers of the enemy had infiltrated between the Brigade position and that of the American position to the east. They had gone due south and then swung in west to cut 27th Brigade's L. of C. Air reconnaissance later gave the strength of this infiltration as a division, probably an exaggeration, but the force was certainly large enough to cause considerable concern not only to the Brigade itself but also to the American Corps staff, who feared it might be impossible to extricate it. To counter this move Neilson ordered 'B' and 'C' Companies to the east bank of the river, a very slow process across a large concrete bridge, partially demolished, but over which it was just possible to move in single file. As soon as 'B' Company was over, it was sent off with six tanks to attempt to clear the road. 'C' Company followed up as soon as it had crossed, and these two companies, in conjunction with 'A', succeeded in forcing back the Chinese. 'B' and 'C' then formed a defensive flank to the east of the road, facing east, and this stabilised the position. Meanwhile 'A' Company, also supported by tanks, was ordered northwards to assist, in conjunction with the main Battalion attack, in clearing the road. On its way it was able to render timely assistance to 61 Field Artillery Battalion (U.S. Army). 'C' Battery from this Battalion guarded an important bridge over the river, and against it the Chinese had concentrated their attack. This battery had put up a magnificent performance. When 'A' Company 1 A. & S.H. came on the scene it found that the battery had formed its guns into a circle and was shooting at point-blank range. As men at the guns were hit, others went in to take their place and it was, in the words of Major Wilson, a most inspiring sight. Two tasks now confronted 'A' Company, to clear the road and extricate 'C' Battery and to keep the road 'through' once it had been cleared, and it looked to Major Wilson as if both objects would be attained by the capture of a small hill about half a mile east of the road. Leaving one platoon as a firm base on the road, 'A' Company, supported by tanks, mortars and machine guns, attacked this objective. In twenty minutes the hill was captured and it provided some excellent target practice over the far side for the tanks and other supporting arms. By 10.30 a.m. the position had been stabilised, but trouble broke out again half an hour later in the shape of a strong counter-attack, which overran the weak platoon that had been left to defend the hill, after the whole of one section had been killed or wounded and the mortars and tanks had exhausted their ammunition.
With the help of No. 2 platoon and the machine guns, the remnants of No. 1 platoon were extricated, and both took up a new position, separated from the enemy by an open stretch of paddy. By 11.30 a.m. the ammunition had been replenished and, helped by carriers sent up by Battalion Headquarters, the position was once again secure. The main task of the Company was now to help hold the road and keep it open for the operations of the rest of the Brigade. This operation, in which the whole Battalion had been involved, cleared the Brigade withdrawal route and inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy. It cost the Battalion five killed and six wounded. This action had been well fought by the Battalion and received tremendous air support all day, and that it made a big impression on the American artillery battalion which saw it is clear from the following letter, addressed to Brigadier Coad from the Commanding General of the Artillery of the 1st U.S. Cavalry Division:
1. May I take this means of expressing the appreciation of myself and officers and men of my command for the timely and vigorous support you afforded on 5th November 50
2. Needless to say our situation was critical when the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders arrived. As you know, our small arms ammunition was close to exhaustion and the enemy strength was increasing as their reinforcements came in. To watch your men advance to our relief was a most welcome and heartening sight.
3. This was the first opportunity my command has had to work with the British and you would have enjoyed hearing the favourable comments of my men during and after the action. They were greatly impressed by the discipline, coolness and workmanship of the British under fire. The British will always have strong supporters in this Battalion.
4. Please express the thanks of this Battalion to your command and may I hope we may again be given the privilege of serving with you.'
At 2 p.m. 3 R.A.R. moving south from Pakchon passed through 'B' and 'C' Companies and went in to attack the hill for which 'A' had fought earlier in the day. When this was successful, and the road made safe, the planned withdrawal of 27th Brigade to the Chongchon River began, and by nightfall the Battalion was established with its back to the river in contact with an American engineer unit on its right. The withdrawal was not interfered with, but during the night 3 R.A.R. on the left of the Brigade position had to repel two attacks. Next morning the enemy had disappeared and patrols moved a few miles north without making contact. From 6th November until the 24th there was a very slow but methodical advance back again north to Pakchon; contact was seldom made, for the speed of the advance was dictated by the necessity of conforming to the movements of adjacent units.
It was about this time that 27th Brigade began to understand fully the effect Chinese intervention was to have on their own particular fortunes. During this period an officer of the Battalion had, in fact, been sent back to Army Headquarters to make preliminary arrangements for its return to Hong Kong before the winter really set in, but the Brigade could not be spared. There was no question of relief, even although the 29th Brigade was now in the field, and it found itself committed to a full winter campaign in a country where sub-zero temperatures were common and with no protection against them other than British battledress. However, the requirements for a winter campaign were soon made good from American sources, and undoubtedly the windproof jacket and the fur hat were the most popular items. Strenuous efforts were also made at home by Brigadier dark, Chairman of the Regimental Association, and by the Lords Lieutenants of the Counties of the Regimental area, and it was not long before comforts began to arrive, by air, from these sources.
By 23rd November 27th Brigade was back to positions just north of Pakchon and came into I Corps reserve. On the 24th came the opening of what was expected to be the final offensive to the Yalu River, but by the 26th unfavourable news regarding its progress was received. One of the South Korean Corps had been heavily attacked and was beginning to disintegrate, and the enemy were beginning to infiltrate through the gaps; the other was falling back from Taechon, while the 2nd American Division was hard pressed north of Kunu-Ri. The same day 27th Brigade was transferred to IX Corps command, and the following morning, 27th November, 1 A. & S.H. moved into the Corps area at Kunnu-ri.
In the evening of 27th November orders were received for the Brigade to move forward some ten miles that night to strengthen the crumbling line, but these were cancelled and about midday on the 28th the Brigade was ordered to withdraw as quickly as possible to Sunchon to guard the main supply route.
At 1 p.m., as the transport for the move had failed to arrive, Brigadier Coad ordered the Brigade to march, and less than an hour later 1 A. & S.H. moved off, each company headed by its company piper. At 10 p.m., after marching 18 miles, the Battalion was picked up by transport and conveyed the remaining 12 miles to its harbour area. By the 30th it was clear that a full-scale withdrawal was being carried out, for vehicle patrols sent out by 'B' Company, down the main road to Pyongyang, became entangled with a stream of traffic moving south as fast as it could.
On 1st December the Battalion was warned that it might, in certain eventualities, be detached from 27th Brigade and become part of a force under the command of 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment.
The force was centred on the small town of Unsan-Ni, about six miles south-east of Sunchon on the main axis of withdrawal, and its role was to cover this exposed flank for the withdrawal of the main body of the Corps through Sunchon and south to Pyongyang (Map 18). Originally it was intended that the Battalion should only come under command in the event of a serious threat, and a reconnaissance to this end was completed by the Commanding Officer and his 'R' group by shortly after noon on the 1st. He was then told by the Commander 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment that the Battalion, still at Sunchon, would definitely come under command at once and would occupy by 5 p.m. that day a position on the southern rim of the Unsan-Ni perimeter, as yet unreconnoitred. This was a ridge some 1500 feet high and about 5 miles away, and at least 8 from where the Battalion then was. No transport was available to move the Battalion, but, in spite of the difficulties, the task was accomplished, with 'A' and 'B' Companies on the crest and 'C' on the reverse slope. The Battalion had no contact with the enemy, but the neighbouring unit on the perimeter had.
The next morning an adjustment of the positions on the crest was necessary and the companies there set off with difficulty along the razor-back ridge. Meanwhile, about 1 p.m. the Commanding Officer was summoned to the headquarters of the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment and told that a withdrawal south was imminent. He was advised, pending the return of the Commander, who was receiving orders, to recall 'A' and 'B' Companies back along the ridge, and this he did. On the Commander's return, however, it was disclosed that, while a withdrawal was indeed intended, this involved, first, a move by 1 A. & S.H. along the ridge in the direction taken originally by the companies in the morning, the descent of the forward face of the ridge, and the occupation of two separate features, each about 1000 feet high, which, it was hoped, were not already in enemy hands. These features, held by a rearguard of which the Battalion was to be part, would cover the initial move of the force from the Unsan-Ni perimeter as it moved south in the role of flank guard. About three and a half hours were given for the issue of the necessary orders and the completion of the operation, but it was pointed out by the Commanding Officer that this was manifestly impossible.
'A' and 'B' Companies, already a little tired, were turned about again and sent back along the ridge with the two 1000-foot features as their objectives. Meanwhile Battalion tactical headquarters with 'C' Company, an American heavy mortar company and two or three tanks set off for the same area by a longer route—a track which wound along the rear base of the ridge and through a gap in it which was reported fit for all vehicles (Map 18). From then on everything went wrong: the leading tank became immovably wedged at a narrow point on the track, the carriers one after another threw their tracks on the rough going, and the whole vehicle column, including the wireless link with 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, had to be turned round in a very limited space and sent round another way. Finally, all wireless touch with 'A' and 'B' Companies was lost, and it started to snow heavily. However, the marching column moved on and eventually arrived at the first of the l000-foot features about 8.30 p.m. A few Americans were met, but no enemy were seen, and, as there was no sign or sound of 'A' and 'B' Companies, 'C' Company was put on it: something had been accomplished.
Shortly afterwards communications with the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment were re-established, and immediately an order to pull in was received. The road to the south was said to be blocked by Chinese in very large numbers—100,000 was a figure quoted—in the vicinity of which 'C' Company was now deployed alone, and towards which 'A' and 'B' Companies might well be assumed to be heading. They had, however, very fortunately and understandably, lost direction in the darkness, heavy snow and smoke of hillside fires, and they suddenly reappeared in the vicinity of Battalion Headquarters. At this juncture any attempt to withdraw due south was abandoned, 'C' Company was pulled in and the whole force was ordered to rejoin the main axis by the shortest route. This it did without opposition, but it was dawn before the Battalion, travelling in M.T. for the last part of the journey, reached its new position at Sainjang, where it again came under the command of 27th Brigade. The whole episode was a most unsatisfactory and exhausting one, and it achieved nothing, but it illustrates well the confusion that reigned at the time. From first to last the Battalion was on the move. It had no respite during the forty hours the operation lasted. It had to fight over very difficult country, and in most trying weather conditions for much of the time. No sooner had it returned to 27th Brigade than it was on the move again, for after one day in the new position the Brigade started on a move that was to take it, in the course of the next few days, 120 miles to the south.
The withdrawal was a tacit admission that the final Allied offensive had failed and that the Chinese counter-offensive was a very definite threat to the Allied communication routes, but the method of withdrawal, by easy stages, showed that the danger was not immediate. The Commonwealth Brigade was never in contact, nor was it ever attacked from the air; indeed, the only trouble came from the precarious condition of its transport. In poor condition on arrival in Korea, many of the vehicles were now almost beyond repair. In spite of almost superhuman efforts on the part of the maintenance squads, a few vehicles had to be abandoned and blown up. From Sainjang the Battalion moved to Suan on 5th December and to Singye on the 6th. Sibyon-Ni was reached on the 8th, and here the Brigade halted for three days and left on the 11th for Uijongbu, its final destination. From 7th December until the end of the withdrawal, the Battalion assumed the responsibility for the local protection of IX Corps Headquarters. The Battalion remained at Uijongbu until the close of the year, except for 'B' Company, which accompanied part of IX Corps Headquarters to Ichon on 14th December. The Battalion was allotted a patrol area to the west and south of Uijongbu, and retained responsibility for the protection of IX Corps Headquarters until its dispersal about the end of the month. On 12th December news was received that Lt.-Colonel Neilson had been awarded the D.S.O. for conspicuous services during the action at Hill 282 on 22nd and 23rd September.
On 14th December 3 Chemical Mortar Battalion (U.S. Army) came under command of Brigade and a company from it was posted to 1 A. & S.H., while the following day 1 Observation Battalion (U.S. Army), now converted to l05-mm. guns, also joined the Brigade, and a battery from it was earmarked to support each Battalion. 'C' Company of 3 Chemical Mortar Battalion (U.S. Army) was commanded by Captain Snow, and was destined to remain attached to the Battalion, except for brief periods, until it left the country. A close friendship at all levels developed between this unit and the Battalion. An interesting event occurred on 24th December when General Milburn, Acting Commander of Eighth Army, visited Brigade Headquarters to present the Korean Presidential Citation, which had been awarded to 27th Brigade for its devotion to duty while holding the Naktong River line from 5th to 15th September. This presentation should have taken place the previous day and been made by General Walker, Commander Eighth Army, but he met with an accident on his way, from which he subsequently died.
On 30th December the Battalion was reorganised on a four-company basis; 'D' Company was re-formed under the command of Captain G. M. M. M. Howat, M.C. As the Brigade was at rest, but with its future uncertain, the normal New Year celebrations were put forward to Christmas, but nevertheless this eventful year was seen out and the New Year brought in, in the traditional manner, in the Sergeants' Mess—to the sound of gun fire.
If you would like to read more about the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Korea please click The Argylls in Korea for a text file of the book.
History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st Battalion 1939 -1954
The Argylls in Korea
Thin Red Line Magazines
Korea 1950 – 1951 Part 3
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Updated: 11 October 2014