by Bruce Cherney (part 4 of 4)
With the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) rearmed with ammunition and rejuvenated by the food and water supplies dropped by parachute by U.S. Air Force (USAF) C-119 Boxcar transport aircraft, the Chinese likely knew that the Canadians were intent to continue to defend their position on Hill 677.
The failure to take Hill 677 on April 24 and 25 in the face of stubborn resistance by the Canadians also reinforced the tactical decision by the Chinese not to proceed with further futile attacks against a well-entrenched position.
Patrols sent out to reconnoiter the situation around Hill 677 reported the absence of enemy preparations for another attack, but sporadic small arms fire was encountered.
A member of D Company reported, “If there are Chinese in the areas, they must be asleep.”
A few men sent out on patrol were unfortunately wounded by PPCLI booby-traps set on the hill’s approaches before the battle. When explosions were heard, the Pioneer Platoon, which laid the grenade booby-traps, warned the patrols where the devices were located.
Michael “Mike” Czuboka, with the 81-millimetre Mortar Platoon at Kapyong, said that his unit was ready for more action, but the Chinese didn’t renew their offensive, “and we were allowed to leave.”
The Patricias were replaced in the line by U.S. Eighth Army troops on April 28.
On April 30, 1951, the Winnipeg Free Press was finally able to report that the battle fought was at Kapyong under the headline, Canadians Help to Save Eighth Army, although some specific details were still being censored by the military brass.
Robert Euson, an Associated Press correspondent, filed a dispatch from the U.S. Eighth Army headquarters saying that the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, which included the PPCLI, was rushed into the line in the nick of time to save the Eighth Army from being cut in two.
Reuters correspondent Ronald Batchelor said the 27th Brigade had plugged a 10-mile (16-kilometre) gap in the UN line at Kapyong. He reported U.S. Major-General William Hogue as saying that the soldiers at Kapyong fought against “tremendous odds and did not budge an inch.”
Hogue added that the “Australians and Canadians,” who bore the brunt of the attack, had in his opinion killed as many Chinese “as the combined strength of two Commonwealth battalions.”
Following the battle, Czuboka said a man from his platoon went out onto the killing field and counted 100 dead Chinese and then stopped counting.
Lieutenant-Colonel “Big Jim” Stone, the commander of the Patricias at Kapyong, told reporter Manfred Jager (Free Press, April 27, 1981): “I think the thing about Kapyong, mainly, was that nobody panicked. They stayed. The front broke everywhere and we were the only battalion holding in the whole of Korea on our side at the time.”
Czuboka, who is now 81 years old and living in Winnipeg, said he wasn’t overcome with fear when the Chinese attacked, because “you’re too occupied,” and that as a 19-year-old soldier, he felt invulnerable. “Other people would get it, not you,” he commented.
It was only after the battle that the peril of their situation began to set in.
“When you leave the line,” he said, “you understand how lucky you were.”
Czuboka also mentioned the fate of the British Army’s Gloucester Battalion to show just how fortunate the Canadian defenders had been.
“The Gloucesters were to the west of us (at a position along the Imjin River) and after the battle there were only 50 men left out of 900, all the rest had either been captured or killed,” said Czuboka.
The sacrifice of the Gloucesters at the Battle of Imjin River and the Canadian and Australian soldiers at the Battle of Kapyong stopped the Chinese spring offensive from April 22 to 25, and allowed the UN forces to hold the line at the 38th Parallel.
Czuboka, the young man from Rivers, Manitoba, who had volunteered at age 18 to serve in Korea in 1950, later attended university, thanks to federal government financial support as a veteran of the Korean War, and became a high school teacher and principal, and a University of Manitoba instructor. He is the vice-president of Unit 17 of the Korean Veterans Association (KVA) and editor of the unit’s newsletter, The Rice Paddy.
The units that participated in the Battle of Kapyong were awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation and, after much debate, members of the Second Battalion were finally permitted to wear the emblem of that citation on their sleeves immediately beneath the Regimental Flash.
The citation was announced by Lt.-General James Van Fleet, the commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, on June 26, 1951. The 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and Company A of the 72nd U.S. Heavy Tank Battalion also received citations for their participation in the action around Kapyong.
The citation read: “The seriousness of the break-through on the central front had been changed from defeat to victory by the gallant stand of these heroic and courageous soldiers.”
Stone received the citation from Canadian Defence Minister Brooke Claxton in Edmonton on August 5, 1951. Claxton had earlier received the citation in Washington from U.S. General Omar Bradley.
For his actions at Kapyong, Private Wayne Robert Mitchell, originally from Virden, Manitoba, received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Twice wounded during the fire-fight — one bullet wound to the chest, the other shrapnel from a grenade — Mitchell of 6 Platoon used his bren gun to hold off Chinese attackers.
“Although wounded,” read the citation for the DCM, “he refused to leave his bren gun and was inspirational to the remainder of the platoon ...
“At one stage, seeing his platoon sargeant with six wounded men pinned down by enemy fire, voluntarily, and without regard for his safety, he rushed toward the enemy firing the bren gun from the hip, thus allowing the wounded to be moved to safety.”
By the end of the Battle of Kapyong, the Patricias suffered 10 dead and 23 wounded.
The small number of casualties against overwhelming odds was indicative that the Canadians on Hill 677 fought a well co-ordinated defensive battle, using the steep hill to their advantage. It is a tribute to the men and their commanders that they were resolved to hold their position and were successful in repelling continual Chinese assaults without faltering.
“Kapyong demonstrated that morale, spirit of the troops, or call it what you will,” Stone later said (PPCLI Archives, quoted by Brent Wilson in his book, Recipe for Victory: The Fight for Hill 677 during the Battle of the Kapyong River, 24-25 April 1951), “is probably the most important factor in battle, and all the logistical support, the finest plan and the many other factors that are considered as requirements to fight a battle, are subsidiary to it.”
In total, 26,791 Canadians served and 516 died in Korea, the first war fought under the banner of the United Nations, although it was the Americans who were responsible for the direction of the war.
On July 27, 1953, the Korea Armistice Agreement was signed at Panmunjom along the 38th Parallel, ending three years of fighting.
Stone, who served during the Second World War and the Korean War, told Jager: “There ought to be a better way than killing one another when you run into disagreements.
“It’s very much like fisticuffs. You do that when you’re young and immature. In school, people used to wrestle a lot when they were young.
“But when you grow up and become an adult, it ought to be possible to find a way to resolve disagreements by talking them out.
“It’s too bad men still think they have to fight it out.”
Czuboka, who returned to Seoul, South Korea, to attend a ceremony commemorating the 55th anniversary of the end of the war, said the South Koreans remain grateful to this day that the Canadians helped “save them from communism.”
“If we (the United Nations force) hadn’t gone to Korea, South Korea wouldn’t be the rich and free country it is today,” added Czuboka.
Veteran Affairs Minister Steven Blaney in January announced that the Canadian government has designated 2013 as the Year of the Korean War Veteran, the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict. “It is our duty today to pay tribute to more than 26,000 Canadian men and women in uniform who came to the aid of South Koreans during the Korean War,” he said.
On April 23, Blaney and Canadian veterans visited the strategically and historically significant joint security area at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. The area is most noted for the peace talks that began there on October 25, 1951, and was designated as the Joint Security Area on July 27, 1953, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
On April 24, Veterans Affairs Minister Blaney and Canadian Veterans of the Korean War participated in the Revisit Korea Program to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. A special ceremony was held at the Canadian Korean War Memorial Garden in Naechon. The Memorial Garden is located northeast of Gapyong-gun, just below the hills where the Battle of Kapyong (now referred to as Gapyeong) took place in April 1951.
— other sources of information used in this article include Veterans Affairs Canada, The First 75 Years, a publication of the PPCLI, an interview with Michael Czuboka as well as his 2008 article, My Military Career: Before and After the Battle of Kapyong.