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Korea - 1951-52

China Enters the War

The Chinese were worried that the UN forces would not stop their advance at the border and would continue into Chinese territory and amassed 270,000 troops on the border. The UN commander, General Douglas Macarthur, publicly expressed the view that the UN attack should include targets within China. President Truman believed that this would not further the aim of eventually securing a peaceful settlemet and, so, sacked Macarthur.

The Chinese, with limited air support from the Russians, then moved 18 divisions into Korea.

On 27 November 1950, approximately 120,000 Chinese troops surprised and encircled 30,000 UN troops at Chosin Reserve. Over 17 days, the UN forces make a fighting withdrawal to the coast.

An estimated 35,000 Chinese were killed in the battle while more than 6,000 UN troops were killed or missing.

From Novemeber 25 to December 2 1950, the Chinese launched a series of surprise attacks on UN forces along the Ch'ongch'on River. The attacks effectively destroyed the US 38th Army's right flank forcing it to withdraw to the 38th parallel.

The Chinese began a new Spring Offensive in April 1951, with the intention of recapturing Seoul. The Chinese launched a major assault between 22 and 25 April in the Battle of the Imjin River where vastly outnumbered, mostly British, UN troops held off a Chinese attack for three days.

At the same time, the UN forces including Australians, repelled Chinese forces at Kapyong.

The Battle of Kapyong

On 22 April 1951 about 10,000 Chinese attacked a South Korean position, which was supported by New Zealand Artillery, at the northern end of the Kapyong Valley.

The Chinese quickly broke through and the South Koreans retreated, abandoning their weapons and vehicles.

A British regiment was sent in to support the New Zealanders but both were subsequently ordered to withdraw to prevent pointless casualties.

3RAR and a Canadian regiment were sent in to halt the Chinese advance by blocking the two approaches to Kapyong.

The Chinese sent wave after wave of massed troops first against the Australian and then the Canadian positions throughout the night.

Autralians occupy a Chinese trench
Autralians occupy a Chinese trench

Communications between 3 RAR and Brigade Headquarters had failed early, mostly due to the large number of South Koreans retreating through their position tearing out the line from the Command Post, and because direct radio communication was obstructed by the rugged terrain.

The next morning A Company's commander, Major Ben O'Dowd, managed to contact a US Marine General who thought it must a Chinese spy calling because he was convinced that the Australians must have been wiped out.

At daybreak, the Chinese were in very exposed positions in front of the Australians and were forced to withdraw, leaving hundreds of casualties.

Running out of ammunition and other supplies, the Australians finally withdrew, under New Zealand artillery support, the following afternoon but the Canadians continued to hold their position.

At 3pm, a US Marine airstrike was called on the Chinese but mistakenly hit the Australians. Two Australians were killed and several were badly burned by napalm.The Chinese tried to exploit the situation by launching an attack but were repelled by the Australians who inflicted heavy casualties on them.

The Chinese continued to attack the Canadian position throughout the following night but the strength of the attacks gradually abated. The following day, the Canadians, with US tank support, were able to clear the Chinese from their position and the US 5th Cavalry occupied the former Australian postion.

About 1,000 Chinese were killed in the battle; 32 Australians were killed, 59 wounded and 2 captured; 2 New Zealanders were killed and 5 wounded; 10 Canadians were killed and 23 wounded; and 3 Americans were killed and 12 wounded.

3RAR was awarded a US Presidential Citation for its part in the battle.