The Argyll and Sutherland
Korea 1950 - 1951
Part 3 - Return to Hong Kong
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The gun fire heard the previous evening had indeed heralded a new Chinese offensive, and by 6.30 a.m. on 1st January 1951 the Battalion was standing by ready to move at short notice. By 10 a.m. it was on the move, less 'B' and 'D' Companies, both at Inchon, the former on guard over rear Corps Headquarters and the latter re-forming. The Battalion had the support of a platoon of tanks and a heavy mortar company. The Brigade took up positions 6 miles north of Uijongbu with 1 Middlesex and 1 A. & S.H. east and west of the road respectively, and 3 R.A.R. on the same axis 3 miles farther north. The task was to cover the withdrawal of a South Korean division. The enemy succeeded for a time in cutting the road between 3 R.A.R. and the rest of the Brigade, but the Australians, assisted by an air strike, soon cleared the block. This incident delayed the planned withdrawal of 3 R.A.R. and it was dusk when they passed through 1 Middlesex and 1 A. & S.H. to take up a new position just north of Uijongbu.
Early on 2nd January 1 Middlesex and 1 A. & S.H. started to withdraw through 3 R.A.R. to a harbour area in Seoul, where 27th Brigade was to come into reserve. 'D' Company from Ichon joined the column as it passed through Uijongbu. After settling in Seoul, 'C' Company relieved one platoon of 'A' at Al Jolson Bridge. On 3rd January 'B' Company rejoined the Battalion. That afternoon the Brigade was ordered to cover the general with-drawal through Seoul, and this involved holding the main bridge over the Han River as well as the Al Jolson. The Middlesex and R.A.R. took up positions on the perimeter, while the Battalion, less 'C' Company, formed a number of road-blocks in the centre of the town and then took up positions covering the roads which led in from north and east, with 'A' and 'B' Companies forward and 'D' in reserve. After 1st U.S. Cavalry Division and 24th U.S. Infantry Division had passed through the Brigade line, it was planned that 3 R.A.R. would withdraw, followed by i Middlesex, who would pick up 'B' Company en route. 'A' and 'B' Companies were to hold the northern approaches to the main bridge until all other units had passed through.
They were then to withdraw and the bridge was to be blown behind them. 'C' Company was to perform a similar task at Al Jolson. The withdrawal went as planned and was not interfered with as the enemy did not follow up closely. The Battalion, the last unit to leave the north bank of the river, was clear of Seoul by 10 a.m. on the 4th. The destination of the Battalion was Yodonae, some 60 miles to the south, but the first stage to Suwon, 17 miles, took six hours, so great was the congestion caused by streams of refugees. It was not until the early hours of 5th January that the main body of the Battalion arrived in its harbour area at Yodonae. It began to look like a race back to the old Pusan bridgehead, but, as it turned out, Yodonae was the low-water mark of the Allied retreat, for the following day, to the surprise of all, 27th Brigade turned north once again and moved 20 miles to Changhowon-Ni and took up a position on the left of the 1st Battalion 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment of the 24th U.S. Infantry Division. This Battalion claimed that their ancestors fought against the 93rd at New Orleans. Here the Brigade stayed for a month, and for none of that time was it in contact; patrols went forward as far as 8000 yards without meeting the enemy. In all probability the inactivity was due to severe weather conditions. The temperature was invariably below zero, and on 14th January it fell to twenty below. Chang-howon-Ni soon became known as Frostbite Ridge, but the actual incidence of frostbite was kept very low by the Commanding Officer's permission to light small, well-screened fires in the trenches. There were only a few cases, easily the lowest recorded in any front-line unit. On 18th January Lt.-General Sir R. Mansergh, K.B.E., C.B., M.C., General Officer Commanding Hong Kong, visited the Battalion and inspected 'A' Company's position. He held out hopes that the Battalion would return to his command in the not too distant future.
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On the 22nd the Brigade received its own artillery in the shape of the 16th Field Regiment Royal New Zealand Artillery, thus further strengthening the Commonwealth element. 163 Battery, under Major Moore, was earmarked to support the Battalion, and continued to do so until it left the country. On the 27th the Battalion was visited by Major-General Bryan, the new Commander of 24th U.S. Infantry Division. By this time units of the 1st U.S. Cavalry Division had passed through 27th Brigade to carry out a limited offensive, whereupon the Brigade became Corps reserve, at two hours' notice to move anywhere on the Corps front. Reconnaissances towards Yoju preceded a move to that place on 4th February, with the object of securing it.
A Chinese offensive had been expected, but here again, although the Battalion stayed for a week and carried out extensive patrols, no contact with the enemy was made. On the 13th the Brigade entered on a new phase of the war, a slow methodical advance, during which the enemy had to be dislodged from a series of well-fortified and camouflaged positions. It was no longer a question of motoring or marching along a road. The Chinese had occupied all the prominent features on the route, and it was from these they had to be dislodged. Cold, uncomfortable and unglamorous work, but it was after all the type of warfare for which the Battalion had trained so assiduously in Hong Kong. Throughout most of it the Battalion was fortunate enough to find that the enemy had withdrawn from its objectives before an attack could be launched. It was seldom in contact, and it fought no major action.
The main difficulties were the administrative ones of maintaining companies supplied with food, ammunition and water on heights often over 2000 feet and far from the road. These problems were solved in the same way as they had been solved on the Naktong River at the beginning of the campaign; by the impressment of local Koreans as porters. These porters did excellent work, and it was not long before they became very attached to the companies for which they worked. The Brigade, now four battalions strong, the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry having joined, started the advance on i4th February when it moved to Tangu-Ri and then on through Toksan-Ni, Somwa, to Chohyon, where it arrived on the 21st. As each bound was reached, a new battalion passed through, and as it happened, most of the opposition was encountered by 3 R.A.R. and 2 P.P.C.L.I. The Brigade remained in the area of Chohyon until 2nd March, when it moved to Morun-Ni. And so it went on, by short stages, with desultory fighting here and there, until nth March, when the Battalion reached its final objective, a hill over 2500 feet near Tochon.
On 13th March the 1st Battalion of the 5th U.S. Cavalry Regiment relieved the Battalion, which moved back to a rest area about 20 miles behind the line. It was the first real rest the Brigade had enjoyed since the beginning of the campaign, for here it had no operational duties. On 15th March, for the first time for six months, the pipes and drums were able to play Retreat, and on i8th March a Brigade Church Parade was held, after which the Brigade Commander presented medals that had been won during the campaign. On 20th March Lt.-General R. N. Gale, C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., Director General of Military Training, visited the Battalion, while on 24th March, the last day in the rest area, Brigadier E. A. Burke, D.S.O., recently Deputy Commander of 29th Infantry Brigade, arrived to assume command of 27th Commonwealth Brigade vice Brigadier Coad, who left for Hong Kong pending his appointment to command 2nd Division in Germany.
On 25th March the Battalion set off on what was destined to be the last leg of the Korean campaign. The pattern was again mountain warfare in the region of Kapyong. It involved holding a firm base on the road running through the valley while the mountains, rising to between 3000 and 4000 feet, were cleared successively. It was slow, hard, but unspectacular work, sometimes unopposed, but occasionally encountering opposition. It had, however, an unfortunate ending, only two or three days before the Battalion was finally withdrawn. On 4th April both 'A' and 'D' Companies found their respective objectives not only occupied but strongly defended. In the opening burst of fire against 'A' Company, 2/Lt. M. J. D. Cawthorn was killed when leading his platoon, and later in the morning 'D' Company, after it had passed through 'A' and was approaching its own objective, encountered heavy small arms and a wired-in position just below the crest. Lt. J. Milner, attached from the Dorsetshire Regiment, who was leading platoon commander, was killed in the action that ensued. Minefields accounted for other casualties, and in addition to the 2 officers killed, 1 officer and 10 other ranks were wounded during the fighting from 4th to 6th April.
On 5th April 'C' Company found itself established on the summit of a mountain 3000 feet high on the 38th parallel looking once again into enemy territory. On 8th April 2 P.P.C.L.I, passed through 1 A. & S.H., after which the latter, less 'B' and 'C' Companies, came down into the valley at Karim with the task of dealing with any trouble that might occur on the L. of C. Here the Battalion stayed for over a week, carrying out a number of patrols and inter-company reliefs of 'B' and 'C'. l0th April, described in the War Diary as an uneventful day, brought the great news that the 27th Brigade was to return to Hong Kong on relief by 28th Brigade from Hong Kong, and furthermore that 1 A. & S.H. was to be the first to go. 1 K.O.S.B. was to relieve 1 A. & S.H., while 1 K.S.L.I, relieved 1 Middlesex. The sailing date for the Battalion was given as the 26th with the proviso that no crisis intervened. During the i7th the companies still in the hills rejoined the Battalion in the valley, and hopes were high when, on the same day, the Brigade was relieved and moved back to a rest area.
The next week was spent in preparing for the move and saying good-bye to a host of friends. On 20th April Major-General G. C. Evans, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., Commander 40th Division, Hong Kong, visited the Battalion, and that evening the officers gave a farewell party attended by the officers of all the units in the Brigade. On the 22nd the Battalion became non-operational with a view to its immediate relief, but the following night the Chinese attacked the South Korean Division that had taken over the 27th Brigade front, and much of the ground won in the recent advance was lost. Dawn on the 23rd broke to the ominous sound of gun fire, and it was not long before reconnaissance parties were on the move and new positions were being prepared. Wireless sets, tools, etc., which were already packed for embarkation, were reissued. Throughout the night of the 23rd the noise of battle came closer, and the now familiar stream of refugees was again on the road. At dawn, small arms and mortar fire were heard on the 3 R.A.R. front, but at 9 a.m., to the surprise and relief of all, companies were ordered to close on Battalion Headquarters and prepare to move to Inchon for embarkation. By 11 a.m. the trucks had arrived and were soon loaded and under way, but even at this stage there was a last-minute effort to stop the move. That it was allowed to continue without interruption was due to the fact that there were not enough vehicles and special equipment for both the Battalion and its relief, 1 K.O.S.B.
As the Battalion left, part of 3 R.A.R. had been cut off, and both 1 Middlesex and 2 P.P.C.L.I. were engaged in the battle, and on its way out it passed the New Zealand artillery, whose guns were firing hard in support of the gallant fight put up by 3 R.A.R. and its old friends the 5th U.S. Cavalry Regiment on their way up to the battle. By midday vehicles and stores were being handed over to the relieving battalion, and also a number of officers and men who were not due for relief. These that were left had less than six weeks' service in Korea or had originally been sent out as reinforcements for 29th Brigade. The Battalion arrived at Inchon after dark and was accommodated for the night in a large schoolhouse. Before dawn the following morning the Battalion started to embark in landing-craft which were to ferry the troops out to U.S.S. Montrose lying in the stream. The pipers of the Royal Ulster Rifles played as the men marched aboard the landing-craft.
On board the U.S.S. Montrose all ranks received a very kind and hospitable welcome from their American hosts, and they soon settled down to a large breakfast in comfortable and friendly surroundings. In the afternoon the U.S.S. Montrose sailed for Hong Kong, and the departure from Korea had at last become a reality. As the transport sailed out of harbour she passed H.M.S. Belfast, wearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Scott-Moncrieff, with the ship's company mustered to salute the Battalion with three cheers, and with the Royal Marine Band playing on the quarter-deck. As the cheers died away and the band stopped playing, a solitary piper in highland dress was seen and heard in the forward gun turret playing the regimental marches, 'The Campbells are Coming' and 'Highland Laddie'. As he finished, he turned and saluted the quarter-deck and disappeared from view. It was a moving spectacle and a magnificent tribute by the Royal Navy to the work of the Battalion in Korea, a tribute all ranks were very proud to receive. It was a happy voyage, thanks to the unsparing efforts of the officers and crew of U.S.S. Montrose to do all they could to make everyone comfortable.
On the morning of 29th April the ship passed through Lyemun Pass into Hong Kong harbour, and on board were Brigadiers Coad and Burke, past and present commanders of 27th Brigade. They had come out with the pilot to greet the Battalion. As the ship steamed to its berth in Kowloon the pipe band played the regimental marches and the U.S.S. Montrose flew the regimental flag—probably the first occasion on which a ship of the U.S. Navy has flown the flag of a British battalion. On shore were Lt.-General Sir Robert Mansergh, K.B.E., C.B., M.C., Major-General G. C. Evans, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., and many other officers and friends. The regimental band was there too, and it played 'The Thin Red Line' during disembarkation. Before entraining for Fanling, Sir Robert Mansergh addressed the Battalion and thanked them for their fine work in Korea. At Fanling the Battalion found itself in the same camps it had left eight months earlier, with Headquarters on Dodwell's Ridge. On arrival in Hong Kong all ranks were delighted with the message sent by H.R.H. The Princess Elizabeth, Colonel-in- Chief, which read:
'Now that the Battalion has returned to Hong Kong after many months of distinguished service in Korea, please inform all ranks of my very great pride in their achievements which have upheld in the highest degree the best traditions of the Regiment.
'(Signed) Elizabeth, Colonel-in-Chief'
The Battalion returned to Hong Kong with 22 officers and 612 other ranks. 5 officers and 109 other ranks were transferred to the 1st Battalion K.O.S.B. before leaving Korea. On arrival, 1 officer and 125 other ranks, sick and wounded, rejoined, and 1 officer and 86 other ranks left behind by the K.O.S.B. were posted. Volunteers from other units, who had joined before the Battalion left for Korea, were returned to their parent units, leaving in the Battalion 30 officers and 645 other ranks.
The casualties suffered by the Battalion during their eight months' campaign were:
Officers—killed, 6; wounded, 10.
Other Ranks—killed, 29; wounded, 126.
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Honours and Awards
British Awards: V.C., 1; D.S.O., 1; Bar to M.C., 1; O.B.E., 2; M.B.E., 1; M.M., 2; Mentioned in Dispatches, 12.
American Awards: Distinguished Service Cross, 1; Silver Star, 5; Bronze Star Medal, 9.
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
Thin Red Line Magazines
Hong Kong 1951 – 1952
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Updated: 11 October 2014