The Battle of Kapyong 23/25 April 1951
Kapyong was the largest and most strategically significant action in which Australian troops were engaged in the Korean conflict, as part of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade supported by a US Army Heavy Tank Battalion.
China entered the war when the United Nations forces had pushed the North Koreans back after the amphibious landing at Inchon outflanked the North Korean forces in the South. China poured ten of thousands of troops into the campaign. The Commonwealth Brigade was tasked to block the advance of the Chinese south along a tradional invasion route towards Seoul through the Kapyong Valley.
On 22 April, the Chinese launched their spring offensive, routing the South Korean 6th Division and driving them back down the Kapyong Valley.
At this time 3RAR had been 'off-line' and enjoying the hospitality of a Turkish Battalion deployed as part of the UN Forces. The occasion marked the lead up to ANZAC Day commemorating a time when the Australians and Turks had been ranged against one another at Gallipoli 35 years previously in 1915. Although enemies, they had gained a great respect for one another and that was mirrored on this occasion. There was however, to be no ANZAC Day ceremony for 3RAR. They were warned for action and set off poste haste.
Elements of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade moved forward of the town of Kapyong. The 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) , and 3RAR dug in on the high ground on either side of a seven-kilometre wide valley. The following day, the Chinese were engaged by the Australians and Canadians as well as Company A of the 72nd US Heavy Tank Battalion (equipped with Sherman tanks) and the supporting New Zealand Artillery. Two nights and days of close combat followed and on the evening of 24 April the Australians were forced to withdraw from their positions and, with the support of the Canadians and New Zealand artillery, fought their way down a ridge, rejoining the majority of the brigade in the Kapyong valley. Casualties had to this point in time been evacuated by the Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Don Beard, on the backs of tanks brought forward to the 3RAR position.
The action is summed up in the US Presidentail citation awarded to 3RAR, 1PPCLI and Company A 72nd Heavy Tank battalion following the battle:
BATTLE HONOURS – By direction of the President, under the provisions of Executive Order 9396 (Sec I, WD Bul. 22, 1943) Superseding Executive Order 9075 (Sec III, WD Bul. 16, 1942) and pursuant to authority in AR 260-15, the following units are cited as public evidence of deserved honour and distinction.
3RD BATTALION, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT
2ND BATTALION, PRINCESS PATRICIA'S CANADIAN LIGHT INFANTRY COMPANY A
72ND HEAVY TANK BATTALION (UNITED STATES)
are cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of combat duties in action against the armed enemy near Kapyong, Korea, on the 24 and 25 April 1951. The enemy had broken through the main line of resistance and penetrated to the area north of Kapyong. The units listed above were deployed to stem the assault.
The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, moved to the right flank of the sector and took up defensive positions north of the Pukham River.
The 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, defended in the vicinity of Hill 677 on the left flank.
Company A, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, supported all units to the full extent of its capacity and, in addition, kept the main roads open and assisted in evacuating the wounded.
Troops from a retreating division passed through the sector which enabled enemy troops to infiltrate with the withdrawing forces. The enemy attacked savagely under the clangor of bugles and trumpets. The forward elements were completely surrounded going through the first day and into the second. Again and again the enemy threw waves of troops at the gallant defenders, and many times succeeded in penetrating the outer defences, but each time the courageous, indomitable, and determined soldiers repulsed the fanatical attacks. Ammunition ran low and there was no time for food. Critical supplies were dropped by air to the encircled troops, and they stood their ground in resolute defiance of the enemy. With serene and indefatigable persistence, the gallant soldiers held their defensive positions and took heavy tolls of the enemy. In some instances when the enemy penetrated the defences, the commanders directed friendly artillery fire on their own positions in repelling the thrusts. Toward the close of 25 April, the enemy break-through had been stopped. 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.
The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry; and Company A, 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion, displayed such gallantry, determination, and espirit de corps in accomplishing their missions under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set them apart and above other units participating in the campaign, and by their achievements they brought distinguished credit on themselves, their homelands, and all freedom-loving nations.
BY COMMAND OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL VAN FLEET:
The result of the action was that the Chinese advance was halted and Seoul was saved from another attack. The men of 3RAR sustained heavy casualties, with 32 killed, 53 wounded, and three taken prisoner.
Following the battle, the 27th Brigade was withdrawn from Korea. 3RAR, however, remained and was taken on strength of the 28th British Commonwealth Brigade, part of the newly formed 1st Commonwealth Division. 3RAR's war was a long way from over.
Compiled by Steve Larkins 2016
(Steve was a Platoon Commander in 3RAR, when acquisition of a detailed knowledge of the Battle of Kapyong was drilled into newly arrived junior officers)