by Bruce Cherney (part 1)
At the time, Michael Czuboka could neither vote nor have a beer in a pub, but the then 18-year-old lad from Rivers, Manitoba, was still intent upon answering Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent’s call for recruits to serve in the Canadian Army Special Force, which was to be sent across the Pacific Ocean to Korea to join the United Nations (UN) forces attempting to repel the North Koreans who had invaded the south.
Czuboka had admired his older brother Walter’s contribution to Canada’s war effort during the Second World War. His elder brother served as a Flying Officer with Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), completing 52 missions over the Atlantic and Europe.
Czuboka had been too young to serve in the Second World War, but with the outbreak of the conflict in Korea, he had an opportunity to emulate his brother in another “great and exciting historical event.”
In August 1950, St. Laurent emphasized that the expedition to Korea was to be a “police action” when he announced Canada’s participation: “Fellow Canadians, the Government has authorized the recruitment of an additional army brigade which is beginning on Wednesday. This brigade will be known as the Canadian Army Special Force. This brigade will be available for service in Korea as part of the United Nations forces. The United Nations action in Korea is not war. It is police action intended to prevent war.”
External (Foreign) Affairs Minister Lester Pearson, a strong advocate of the UN and a major contributor to its organization, persuaded a reluctant St. Laurent to support Canada’s participation in the Korean conflict. Pearson, a future prime minister of Canada, would receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis through the first use of UN peacekeepers.
A problem for Czuboka, now 81 years old and living in Winnipeg, was getting to Osborne Barracks to enlist, since the money he earned as a labourer was limited.
“Fortunately, I knew a CN Railway fireman and he smuggled me into a caboose at the end of a freight train going to Winnipeg. I arrived full of enthusiasm, but was initially rejected because of my age.”
Two weeks later, he returned from Rivers to Winnipeg and lied about his age to another recruiting officer. Czuboka was not asked for documents and was immediately enrolled in the army. At his request, he was admitted into the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPLCI). As a new recruit, Czuboka was placed aboard an RCAF C-47 Dakota and shipped off to Currie Barracks in Calgary. His basic training would take place at Wainwright, Alberta.
The alleged “police action” was in reality an all-out war that had its roots in the division of Korea at the 38th Parallel when the Second World War ended.
The two Koreas came into existence following the defeat of Japan by the Allies in 1945. Once the Japanese had been vanquished, the Soviet Union occupied the north and installed their own communist surrogate, Kim Il-sung, as the nation’s head, who would eventually declare himself to be “Great Leader.”
In South Korea, the U.S. occupying forces set up a shaky democracy under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. Like Il-sung, Rhee wanted to unify the two Koreas, using force if necessary, which contributed to mutual animosity between the neighbouring countries and consternation for the Americans. Even the Soviets were becoming jaundiced by the actions of Il-sung at a time when they were hoping to focus all their attention on events in Europe. As a result, the Americans were able to convince the Soviets to allow the UN General Assembly to sort out the mess.
In 1949, both the U.S. and Soviets withdrew their troops from North and South Korea. But before the Soviets left, they provided the North Koreans with great quantities of modern military equipment, including tanks and airplanes. The military balance then shifted in favour of North Korea.
Once the super powers had vacated their respective “spheres of influence,” frontier skirmishes became common in divided Korea, resulting in concern in the UN that a “civil war” would soon erupt.
With the Cold War serving as the backdrop, North and South Korea became the new battleground between conflicting ideologies — the communist bloc led by the U.S.S.R. and the Western democratic nations lead by the U.S. Thrown into the mix was the People’s Republic of China (communist) led by Mao Zedong, which came into being in 1949.
Kim Il-sung travelled to Moscow and Beijing to secure support for his invasion of the south. His mission’s success was confirmed when Soviet dictator Stalin finally approved his plan. Initially, Stalin hesitated, as he feared American intervention. Stalin only relented when he was assured by the North Korean leader that it would be a swift war supported by masses of communist sympathizers inside South Korea. Stalin was told by Kim Il-sung that the war would be over before the Americans could intervene.
As events transpired, none of Kim Il-sung’s assurances to Stalin turned out to be accurate. Stalin would later comment that the Soviet Union didn’t want to become deeply involved in the war, because it was “Kim Il-sung’s affair.”
The war started on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel. The importance of the Korean War is in its context of being the real commencement of the Cold War — the waging of the war and its aftermath has influenced international politics for decades. In Korea, the U.S. showed it was prepared to act decisively against international communist aggression and serve as a bulwark of western democratic interests, even with the threat of either a Soviet or Chinese intervention as a possibility. In particular, the U.S. strengthened its commitment to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), raising it from the status of a political organization to a military force.
In one of those favourable quirks of history, the Soviet Union was absent when the U.S.-dominated UN Security Council voted to send a military force to repel the invaders. If the U.S.S.R delegation had been present, there is little doubt that the Soviets would have exercised their veto to kill the intervention resolution. The Soviets had boycotted UN Security Council meetings since January 1950, protesting that the Republic of China (Taiwan), held a permanent seat on the council rather than the People’s Republic of China.
The People’s Republic of China in 1949 defeated the Republic of China’s forces led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese nationalists then fled from the mainland to the island of Taiwan (Formosa) and set up their own regime.
Ironically, the Korean War led to renewed U.S. interest in Taiwan, which until then had been ignored by Washington, and prevented the island from being invaded and falling into the hands of the mainland Chinese communists.
When the United Nations Security Council met on the afternoon of June 25, it determined that the armed attack was a breach of peace and called for immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean forces to the 38th Parallel.
When the North Koreans ignored the first UN resolution, another resolution was passed, calling on UN members to “furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.”
By then, the North Koreans had pushed the South Korean and U.S. armies into a tiny pocket of resistance around the harbour of Pusan, South Korea.
The relief of the besieged troops around Pusan came when UN forces gained the upper hand following the amphibious landing at Inchon, immediately west of Seoul, which was orchestrated by U.S. general and UN commander Douglas MacArthur. Following Inchon, the North Koreans were in full retreat. Later, North Korean generals would claim it was a planned withdrawal to thinly spread out the UN force, allowing for a counterattack in conjunction with the Chinese.
As the UN troops neared the border between North Korea and China at the Yalu River, the Chinese threatened to intervene in the war by unleashing the People’s Liberation Army. U.S. President Harry S. Truman asked MacArthur if he believed the threat, and the general replied that the Chinese would not dare attack. MacArthur was also convinced that the UN forces were on the verge of victory and the reunification of Korea.
But the Chinese did dare and they did attack, 300,000 strong in November 1950 (MacArthur soon afterward was relieved of his command by President Truman). The mostly American and South Korean troops in the north were caught by surprise and began a mass retreat to the south. Seoul was captured by the communists, but a UN offensive retook the city in March 15, 1950, and drove the communists back.
It was into this cauldron of conflict that the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry would provide a decisive role. The PPCLI (commonly referred to as the Patricias or Pats) had been formed during the First World War in 1914, and was named after Princess Patricia of Connaught, the youngest daughter of the Duke of Connaught, the governor general of Canada at the time.
Throughout its long history, the Patricias were based several times in Winnipeg and Shilo — the Kapyong Barracks (the barracks received this name on May 17, 1973) in Winnipeg was the battalion’s home base from 1969 until it moved to Shilo, Manitoba, in 2004.
The battalion was transferred to Calgary from Shilo in 1946 and was based in the Alberta city when the Korean War broke out with training taking place at Camp Wainwright. Because of its long association with the province, many of the troops serving with the battalion in Korea were Manitobans.
Czuboka and the entire 25th Canadian Brigade was transported to Fort Lewis, Washington, near Seattle, to undergo further training. It was at Fort Lewis that Czuboka was assigned to an 81-millimetre mortar platoon in the battalion.
While Czuboka was at Fort Lewis, it was announced by the Canadian government that only the Second Battalion of PPCLI would be going to Korea. At the time, the North Korean army was in full retreat and heading toward the Yalu River, the border between China and North Korea. The St. Laurent government was under the mistaken impression that the war would be over by Christmas and the Patricias would serve as a token occuping force.
On November 19,1950, the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry embarked on troop trains and departed for the Pacific coast. On November 25, they boarded the Pvt. Joe P. Martinez, a United States Army transport ship, a holdover “Liberty” ship from the Second World War, which Czuboka described as not appearing to be very seaworthy.
They arrived in Pusan Harbour on December 18 and upon disembarkation, were taken to a school on the outskirts of the seaport.
The Patricias were outfitted on United States Army Scales and training began with the American equipment, particularly weapons. At Miryang, Czuboka first learned how to use a mortar. It was his responsibility to feed the “bombs,” or “shells,” into the mortar. This was absolutely essential training, as a “double feed” into the barrel could result in the meeting of two mortar shells and the contact would create an explosion that was capable of wiping out the entire mortar crew.
(Next week: part 2)