The Korean War
More than any other conflict, the Korean War is the forgotten war for the Canadians. At least, it is frequently referred to as such by historians.
Indeed, with the end of the Second World War, Canada demobilized, and yet not five years after the end of this war, Canada was joining in the fight against the North in Korea. The death and destruction experienced between 1950 and 1953 on the Korean Peninsula were easily overshadowed through the time by the Second World War (which spawned the Korean War, as the division of the once unified country by occupying forces of the Soviet Union and the United States proved a great failure and the supposed objective of later unification fell apart in the growing tensions between the former allies).
The Korean War, began in the Land of the Morning Cal, befor dawn on 25 June 1950, when 135,000 soldiers of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea and proceeded along the Ouijongbu corridor en route to Seoul. It took less than three days for the North Koreans to capture the South Korean capital.
Then, under the banner of the United Nations, 16 countries sent troops to aid South Korea’s army. The first to land were the Americans. By the point, the North Korean Army was advancing on the southern port city of Pusan. Fierce fighting stemmed the northern tide. By the end of September, United Nations troops recaptured Seoul. But in January 1951, the capital was again lost, this time to 2,300,000-strong Chinese people’s Volunteer Army who joined the North-Koreans.
In December 1950, the first contingent of Canadians, the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrived.
In March 1951, the Chinese lost Seoul once again.
On 22 April 1951, the Chinese army launched its Fifth Phase Offensive, which involved three field armies numbering more than 700, 000 troops. Its objective was the recapture of Seoul. The 118th Division of the Chinese People’s Army led the operation. It attacked broadly along the entire front, eventually breaking the line by forcing the withdrawal of American and South Korean forces.
On 23 April, the Patricias moved from a rest area some 25 km to the south to establish defensive positions on Hill 677, a feature within corps reserve, 20 km behind the lines.
In the morning of 24 April, a force of 6,000 Chinese attacked Australian positions throughout the Kap’yong valley. The first phase of the Battle of Kap’yong began. It lasted some sixteen hours and it involved wave after wave of Chinese assault troops. Eventually, running low of ammunition, the Australians were forced to withdraw.
Left alone to halt the Chinese advance, one Patricia’s company took up position in an abandoned village next to the ground once held by the Australians. From the limited protection offered by small, thatched-roof huts, they engaged the approaching Chinese. As the enemy attempted to ford the Kap’yong River, the Canadians opened fire, leaving more than 70 Chinese soldiers dead. But the Chinese didn’t desisted and a hand-to-hand combat began. Outnumbered and in danger of being overrun, Captain Walter Mills, the company commander, requested the local New Zealand artillery fire on his position. Shells swept along the ground at the Chinese, as the Canadians laid low in their trenches. A total of 2,300 rounds rained down on the company’s position.
Two hours before down, the assault on Hill 677 was abandoned. Isolated, the Canadians were left with severely depleted ammunition and rations. It was only through air-dropped supplies that the Patricias were able to be properly readied for the resumption of the battle, but the expected new assault never materialized, as the Chinese had suffered heavy casualties. The Battle of Kap’yong had come to an end with the failure of the Chinese to exploit their breach of the United Nations line.
Canadian losses at the battle were light, particularly when compared to those of the Chinese. Ten Canadian soldiers were killed and 23 wounded. It is generally accepted that death among the enemy amounted to more than 1,000.
The victory over the People’s Volunteer Army meant that Seoul would never again be threatened.
Combat ended on 27 July 1953 with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.
In more than three years of fierce fighting, 6,000,000 Koreans were killed, as well as close to 500,000 Chinese soldiers. The Canadians lost 516 men, with more than 1,000 wounded.
Canadian troops remained in South Korea for several years after the armistice. The last to leave, the Canadian Medical Detachment, sailed in June 1957 from Inchon.
Later, Canada participated in every United Nations peacekeeping mission, but it wasn’t until the 1991 Gulf War that Canadians again participated in combat operations. One of a coalition if 34 nations to fight Iraq, Canada contributed a field hospital, a CF-18 Squadron, a supply ship and the destroyers HMCS Athabaskan, Huron and Terra Nova. The Gulf War holds the distinction of being the only war in which Canada suffered no casualties.