by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
Canadian Press (CP) correspondent Bill Boss, who was assigned to report on the activities of the Second Battalion of the Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), wrote that “wave after wave of Chinese (were) repelled in a knock-down, drag-out battle” in the vicinity of Kapyong, beginning on the night of April 24, 1951.
According to Lieutenant Brian Munro, an Able Company platoon commander: “Panic spread like an electrical current, bouncing from slit trench to slit trench. The men began to change positions amongst themselves, wanting to fight and die with a buddy.” However, a series of expletive-laced shouts of encouragement from Sergeant Tommy Prince and the other company NCOs, gradually helped the men to regain their composure (Rugged Defense, the Battle of Kapyong, by Jason Mallette, August 29, 2004).
Prince, who was a member of Manitoba’s Brokenhead First Nation and a highly-decorated veteran of the the Second World War, knew that their situation was extremely perilous, so he had to motivate the men to hold their ground or they would perish in the Chinese attack.
In a June 28, 1996, Free Press report of the 45th anniversary of the battle at Kapyong Barracks in Winnipeg, Nick Oshanski said that while he was dug in on Hill 677, he was “surrounded by what seemed like millions of Chinese ... He sent up flares and we could see the enemy everywhere.”
The third attack came around midnight. Six Platoon headquarters and the remaining section ran out of ammunition and were ordered to fix bayonets and stand fast.
Boss wrote that one sargeant in the thick of the action “hurled his bayoneted rifle like a spear when his ammunition gave out.”
The fourth assault was at 1 a.m. on April 25, after the moon came out. The enemy soldiers were dispersed by quick and accurate mortar fire.
The fifth attack came from the east at about 2 a.m. B Company was unable to prevent penetration, and a Chinese force attempted to infiltrate Stone’s Tactical Headquarters (Tac HQ). The .30-calibre and .50-calibre machines guns of the Mortar Platoon were called into action.
“With the crack of the machine guns, and the 81 mm mortars firing at their shortest range, the enemy never had a chance,” Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Stone, the commander of the PPCLI battalion, later related (Recipe for Victory: The Fight for Hill 677 during the Battle of the Kapyong River, 24-25 April 1951, by Brent Wilson).
Czuboka’s 81-millimetre Mortar Platoon rained bombs on the enemy in support of the rifle companies, armed with .303-calibre Lee-Enfields and Bren guns — each company also had two Vickers .303-calibre machine guns — that came under attack, helping to slow down the Chinese attackers.
“The main action we had was when 500 Chinese came up from behind us (in the evening of April 24),” said Czuboka. “We turned our mortars around 180 degrees. The Chinese were only about 100 metres from our position.”
He said the Chinese approached silently, not using their common tactic of blowing bugles and shouting.
“We had half-tracks mounted with .50-calibre machine guns. Without the mortars and machine guns, I think the battalion would have been wiped out.”
The men wielding the machine guns commanded by Gray raked the Chinese ranks at a distance of only 40 metres. At such close range, the machine gun fire mangled the attackers, stopping them in their tracks.
“The mortars were very effective — rapid fire sent a shell out the barrel every two to three seconds — and with the machine guns we stopped the action,” Czuboka added.
Meanwhile, D Company on the left flank was having an equally rough time. Shortly after last light, enemy groups found their way round the flank, but were quickly dispatched by machine gun fire.
At 1:30 a.m., an enemy force attacked and overran 10 Platoon and continued towards 12 Platoon. Lieutenant Mike Levy, a platoon commander with D Company, called for artillery and mortar defensive fire on their own position (Triumph at Kapyong: Canada’s Pivotal Battle in Korea, by Dan Bjarnason — the author uses interviews with veterans to disprove the claim that Captain Wally Mills, the D Company commander, actually called for the bombardment), and, amidst the exploding shells, the Patricias fought on.
Levy personally directed the artillery fire by radio, going from sector to sector on Hill 677, and moving the barrage from left and right, up and down, wherever it was most needed to fend off the attackers. At times, the shells landed just 15 metres from the entrenched Canadians.
The shelling halted the Chinese advance and saved the position held by the Canadians.
During the 30th anniversary of the battle, Major Gordon Dunbar, who was a private in 1951, told reporter Manfred Jager (Free Press, April 27, 1981), when the artillery barrage was called onto their position: “We knew that we were dug in well, and had at least a chance this way. The Chinese were above the ground, on the other hand, and the only thing to do was call in the artillery to get rid of them when they were overrunning our position.”
At 4 a.m. on April 26, Lieutenant-Colonel Stone realized that there would be a problem replenishing the forward companies with ammunition if the battle raged on past dawn. He called for an airdrop that took just six hours to arrive from a base in Japan. Ammunition and rations dropped by United States Air Force Flying Boxcars landed accurately on the Canadians’ position with the exception of only four chutes falling out of reach.
To the weary Canadians it was a welcome sight. “It was tremendous,” said one soldier, who was so hungry after hours of continual fighting that his “stomach was in knots.”
Rearmed and rejuvenated by the food supplies, the Chinese likely knew that the Canadians weren’t going away soon and would continue to defend their position.
Czuboka said that his platoon 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. Army troops on April 28.
On April 30, 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 specific details were still being censored.
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.
(Next week: part 4)