Author Topic: The forgotten Canadian heroes  (Read 1659 times)

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The forgotten Canadian heroes
« on: March 31, 2012, 10:46:33 PM »

This looks to be a big year for Korean veterans — a memorable year for those rapidly dwindling numbers who served in that “almost” forgotten war of 1950-53 that saved South Korea from Communist totalitarianism.

In August there will be The Last Hurrah gathering of Korean vets in Winnipeg — Aug. 28-31 — mindful of last fall’s final gathering of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion Association, whose members fought from Normandy to the Baltic Sea in the Second World War, meeting up with the Russians.

Like the 1st Paras, most Korean vets are now in their 80s. Many are frail and travel can be difficult.

Activities planned for Winnipeg include a possible visit to the Canadian Forces Base Shilo, where many vets did parachute training in the 1950s and 1960s.

That’s August, but in April, 60th anniversary ceremonies are planned in Korea to mark the battle of Kapyong, where the 2nd Battalion Princess Pats turned back a massive Chinese attack, and likely saved Seoul from being recaptured.

Mike Czuboka was 18 in 1950, just out of high school, when he joined the army and fought at Kapyong (Hill 677). He stayed in the army, was commissioned and later became superintendent of Manitoba schools. Today he’s vice-president of Unit 17 of the Korean Veterans Association (KVA) and editor of the unit’s newsletter, the Rice Paddy.

Also Involved in both the Kapyong ceremonies and The Last Hurrah is John Bishop — a corporal at the battle of Kapyong who retired as a lieutenant-colonel and today is president of the Canadian KVA.

It’s fair to say that Kapyong was the most significant battle Canadians fought in Korea — a “perfect” defensive battle that until relatively recently has never been fully appreciated (except by Koreans and, perhaps, by the Chinese).

In a small way, it is the “defensive” counterpart to Vimy Ridge, the “perfect” offensive battle of the First World War.

A book by Hub Gray, who was there, Beyond the Danger Close, describes what he remembers of the battle, and two authors who were not there have also written books: Ted Barris’ Deadlock in Korea and former CBC journalist Dan Bjarnason’s Triumph at Kapyong (to be published in the fall). All immortalize the battle.

Unlike Canadians, Australians have always recognized Kapyong as a unique and significant battle and are making a TV documentary about it.

A “perfect” defensive battle hinges on three things: Resoundingly defeating an attacking enemy, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers, and suffering relatively few casualties among defenders.

All of which 2 PPCLI achieved.

Toward the end of April when the Chinese had launched a massive attack across the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel, the Pats were called out of reserve to defend one side of the mouth of the Kapyong Valley. The 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) defended the other side.

The Chinese goal was to recapture Seoul, and possibly break the allied line. Some 300,000 Chinese troops were on the move.

Consider: On the coastal road to Seoul was the British Army’s Gloucestershire Regiment — at Kapyong, the Aussies and Canadians. Much has been written about how the “Glorious Glosters” were wiped out.

Isolated platoons and companies had poor interlocking fire, and were overrun.

Of a battalion of 700, perhaps 50 escaped. The rest were killed or taken prisoner.

For the Glosters it was a disaster.

At Kapyong, the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) was attacked first.

After ferocious fighting, the Aussies had to withdraw, leaving only the Canadians to stem the Chinese tide.

But for the Pats, the valley leading to Seoul was open.

Lt.-Col. “Big Jim” Stone, who’d enlisted as a private in the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in the First World War and held every rank up to half-colonel, had a good eye for ground.

He and his company commanders anticipated how the Chinese would attack the high ground, and sited the platoons accordingly.

Every man knew there would be no retreat. It was hold firm or die. This dictum tended to focus one’s attention.

The Pats held high ground, and when the Chinese attack came on the night of April 24-25, 1951, fortunately the Chinese had advanced ahead of their artillery. The Canadians had lethal support from U.S. tanks and New Zealand artillery.

Dan Bjarnason has called the 2nd battalion “amateur” soldiers — not meant disrespectfully, but grotesquely wrong.

By the time the Pats went into action in Korea, Jim Stone and his handpicked officers and NCOs had weeded out many “Special Force” recruits, and molded the battalion into arguably the most “professional” combat soldiers in the theatre.

The 700 Pats not only held their ground, but fought hand-to-hand when ammunition ran out, and called allied artillery on to their own positions when overrun by the Chinese. And thought nothing of it.

By dawn, Chinese casualties were at least 1,000 — the Patricias had 10 killed, 25 wounded. The Chinese had had a bellyful, and pulled back.

A reason why Kapyong was not better known at the time is perhaps because the soldiers who fought it, didn’t think they were doing anything special. Just another day for them.

That ain’t amateurism, folks, that’s professionalism.

Col. Stone apparently felt similarly. At Kapyong, the 2nd Battalion PPCLI became the first Canadians to be awarded the U.S. Distinguished Unit Citation (which Ottawa initially refused the unit the right to wear).

Stone was awarded his third Distinguished Service Order (DSO), but recommended only one Military Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), and one Military Medal (MM).

Subsequent battalion commanders were more generous, awarding 33 MCs during the war, seven DCMs and 55 MMs. Col. Stone apparently felt his men at Kapyong were just doing what soldiers did, no big deal.

But Kapyong was a huge deal — a perfect defensive battle worthy of analysis, study and understanding at war colleges. Witness, Australia.

In retrospect, the 2nd Patricias have been shortchanged.

Over at the Glosters, Lt.-Col. James Carne, as a prisoner of war, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership and defiance of Chinese harassment, drug brainwashing, and constant solitary confinement.

But some feel a court of inquiry might have been appropriate for the poor deployment of British troops, inadequate defensive measures, and lack of cohesion and interlocking defensive fire. It was something of a screwup.

Historically, the Brits glorify gallant defeats — while relishing the courage of soldiers. Witness Isandlwana, Khartoum, Jutland, Dunkirk. Tobruk and, more recently, the Glosters at the Imjin river.

The bravery of the Glosters is not challenged.

Most histories of the Korean War remark on the 700 Glorious Glosters being wiped out by 11,000 Chinese, while ignoring the Princess Pats holding firm against a similar number at the same time as the Glosters’ defeat.

For the Kapyong anniversary ceremonies, a platoon of serving PPCLI soldiers will be an honour guard.

Apparently — and this is hard to believe — there’s been no special effort in Canada to ensure that veterans of that battle take part in ceremonies.

It is to be a routine veterans’ visit, even though the Koreans (who pay for accommodation) expressed the hope the Kapyong veterans would attend.

Kapyong vets attending will be coincidental. At least John Bishop will be there.

Despite recent books, likely Kapyong will recede back to obscurity once this year is done.

That seems the Canadian way with its military.
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