1st Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment,

Tour in the Line, Aug to Nov on HILL 355

Reproduced from The Connecting File; Winter-Spring 1953

At 2340 hrs 8 Aug 52 1 Bn The Royal Cana­dian Reg­i­ment relieved 1 Bn Welch Reg­i­ment in the line. The relief was unevent­ful and as the Roy­als set­tled into strange hun­kers and groped their way along unfa­mil­iar trenches there was no inkling of the hard fight­ing that was to come. Even so no man was unaware of the hon­our accorded to his Reg­i­ment in its being made respon­si­ble for the defence of Hill 355 for that fea­ture, nick­named by the Amer­i­cans, “Lit­tle Gibral­tar” is the key to the high­ways lead­ing to Seoul.

On 28 Aug the RCR set out to gain con­trol of the val­ley sep­a­rat­ing Hill 355 and the enemy posi­tions. This was quickly done so that by 8 Sep an offi­cer and 3 ORs were able to lie-?up in “no-man’s land” for 48 hours, direct artillery fire on observed groups of enemy, sketch enemy posi­tions and return with infor­ma­tion of such value that artillery and air strikes were later accu­rately directed against known enemy locations.

Two weeks later this same dar­ing offi­cer, Lt Russ Gard­ner, and five ORs went out once more and in broad day­light snatched an enemy sig­naller from under the noses of the enemy. A party of Chi­na­men who endeav­oured to cut off the escape of Lt Gard­ner and his group were shot down. For this exploit Lt Gard­ner won the imme­di­ate award of the Mil­i­tary Cross and his second-?in-?command, then Cpl, now Sgt Fowler, was awarded the Mil­i­tary Medal.

But life was not all glory. Enemy shell and mor­tar fire caused casu­al­ties almost daily. Old-?hands saw their bud­dies car­ried off the hill dead or wounded. Rein­force­ments going for­ward passed ambu­lances on their way to the rear areas. The arrival of heli­copters to evac­u­ate seri­ously wounded men became a fairly com­mon occur­rence. When enemy shell fire stopped, it seemed that rain started, bunkers leaked and trenches and fight­ing bays became flooded. As fall approached the nights became almost bit­terly cold to troops still wear­ing sum­mer dress. Still the spirit of the Reg­i­ment pre­vailed; tails were up and rhe Reg­i­men­tal Ban­ner flew from the very top of 355 for all to see!

Per­haps at no time was the spirit of the Reg­i­ment bet­ter expressed than it was on 6 Sep when Lt Col P. R. Bing­ham was ordered to form and place a fifth rifle com­pany on the ground by night­fall to take over a posi­tion held hy the Royal 22nd Reg­i­ment who, because of a seri­ous lack of rein­force­ments, were short of per­son­nel. Within three hours of receipt of this order E Coy I RCR was a real­ity. By 2130 hours E Coy had assumed respon­si­bil­ity for the new area. The Royal Cana­dian Reg­i­ment thus added a new chap­ter to its dis­tin­guished history.

Active patrolling con­tin­ued. Some patrols spent hours in the val­ley and on enemy dom­i­nated fea­tures with­out mak­ing con­tact with the Chi­na­men. Oth­ers went out, met the enemy in an exchange of small arms fire and grenades, inflicted and received casu­al­ties and with­drew. Unsung of as they were, these patrols were grim epics in minia­ture which if fully described, would record acts of brav­ery in the face of the enemy, feats of endurance in bring­ing back wounded along twist­ing paths and through nar­row trenches and tri­umphs of dis­ci­pline over the unknown and dan­ger­ous. Towards mid-?September the enemy became more patrol minded. Each of the Battalion’s out­posts reported one or more con­tacts dur­ing this period. These con­tacts var­ied from sharp clashes dur­ing which the enemy attempted to rush the defend­ers to a much more sub­tle tac­tic when the enemy con­tented them­selves with throw­ing stones in an effort to draw fire and to force the defend­ers to dis­close their num­bers and arma­ment. The extent of the enemy probes was often judged only at dawn when a Chi­nese body would be

Recov­ered from the wire or enemy weapons and equip­ment were found on the blood-?stained ground.

It was in Sep that 1 RCR got a bit­ter sam­ple of what was later to become almost nor­mal when dur­ing this period numer­ous shells and mor­tar bombs landed in the Bat­tal­ion area. Shell fire in the bat­tal­ion area roughly equalled the total received by the remain­der of the whole divi­sion dur­ing the same period.

With the begin­ning of Octo­ber the enemy “hate” grew even more vicious. On the first of the month 250 shells landed on an out­post called VAN­COU­VER com­pletely destroy­ing it and killing or wound­ing all its defend­ers. The sec­ond day fire con­tin­ued on A Coy which had drawn a great deal of fire the day pre­vi­ous. Every two min­utes with monot­o­nous and ter­ri­ble reg­u­lar­ity a large cal­i­bre shell would shake the whole posi­tion. A stretcher-?bearing party in the act of evac­u­at­ing a wounded man was killed out­right. By an ironic quirk of fate the injured man went untouched and was able to make his way to safety. A Lord Strath­cona Horse tank was hit and put out of action That night the tank was removed and not replaced. With the com­ing of first light the shelling was resumed. By dusk more rounds had landed in the posi­tions held by 1 RCR. Of the total some two thirds had been directed against A Coy which was relieved on the night 2/3 Oct by D Coy.

From the 3rd to the 16th enemy shelling main­tained high daily aver­age. From the 17th to the 20th there was a grad­ual increase in the enemy artillery fire. From the 20th to 1730 hrs on the 23rd Hill 355 was rocked by thou­sands of shells and mor­tar bombs totalling 441/2 tons of jagged steel and high explo­sive. The Reg­i­men­tal Ban­ner, ripped by shell frag­ments and grimy from the dirt and dust, still whipped in the breeze.

D Coy had, in turn, been relieved by B Coy night 22/23. B Coy had suf­fered severe casu­al­ties 8 nights ear­lier, when on a Com­pany patrol against an enemy posi­tion it had been ambushed in the dark­ness by a large Chi­nese force. Dawn of the 23rd found B Coy in an area that had been pum­melled almost out of recog­ni­tion. Trenches had caved in, dug-?outs were destroyed and ammu­ni­tion buried. Dur­ing the night there had been a sharp clash with the enemy and two Chi­nese dead lay in the wire imme­di­ately in front of the posi­tion. With day­light the mer­ci­less shell fire resumed.

At 1730 hrs the shelling stopped. The B Coy area was almost a shambles. The men were dazed and shaken, tele­phone lines had been ripped to shreds, wire­less sets destroyed. The lull was uncanny and 1 RCR braced itself for the shock.

The blow was felt at 1815 hrs when an unprece­dented bom­bard­ment fell on B Coy and the Coys to either flank. Hard on the heels of this sav­age con­cen­tra­tion came wave after wave of enemy infantry spilling over the para­pets and through the com­mu­ni­ca­tion trenches. The defend­ers split into small groups and under the Com­pany Com­man­der and Pla­toon Com­man­ders a with­drawal u as car­ried out.

Once it was estab­lished that none of our own troops remained in the B Coy posi­tion, friendly artillery and mor­tar fire was directed on that posi­tion. D Coy, by this time in reserve, was ordered to counter-?attack and restore the sit­u­a­tion. Friendly artillery and mor­tar fire made it impos­si­ble for the Chi­nese to rein­force their hard won ground. Patrols sent out from E Coy gave the hold­ers of B Coy’s area no respite. At 0046 hrs D Coy was in posi­tion to assault. Friendly artillery was again brought to bear on the B Coy area. After a period of softening-?up, D Coy mov­ing in the form of a pin­cers assaulted from the left and right flanks. An ear­lier assault by one pla­toon had been repulsed. Undaunted, D Coy moved in again. This time the issue was never in doubt. By 0331 the sit­u­a­tion was restored. The bat­tle of KOWANG SAN was won.

Now began the task of win­ning hack the val­ley between the Bat­tal­ion area and enemy held posi­tions. The fol­low­ing night Chi­nese were seen and heard attempt­ing to recover the bod­ies of their dead. Time after time they were brought under fire, suf­fered addi­tional casu­al­ties and were dri­ven off. D Coy, a job well done, was relieved by C Coy. D Coy 1 PPCLI came under com­mand 1 RCR and relieved C Coy 1 RCR who, in turn, assumed the respon­si­bil­ity for the old B Coy area. The speed and effi­ciency with which those changes were made is indica­tive of the resilience of the Roy­als. They had received, absorbed and repelled a strong enemy attack. Now they were back at work.

Small patrols were pushed out into the val­ley in an attempt to assess future enemy inten­tions. They dis­cov­ered enemy dead and equip­ment scat­tered in such a man­ner as to indi­cate a hap­haz­ard and hur­ried flight. One young L/?Cpl made four sep­a­rate dar­ing for­ays into cer­tain caves the enemy had used as a first-?aid post dur­ing the attack. Here he found a moun­tain of equip­ment and enemy dead. The same night a pio­neer detach­ment went out and blew the caves in order to deny their future use to the enemy. Other patrols swept the val­ley hop­ing to inflict still fur­ther pun­ish­ment on the Chi­na­men. The enemy had with­drawn behind their for­mi­da­ble defences in order to lick his wounds.

Towards the end of October 1 Bn The Royal Canadian Regiment took stock of its accom­plish­ments. It had held Hill 355 against innu­mer­able well-?trained, well-?armed, fanat­i­cal Chi­nese. It had received and accepted as a mat­ter of course thou­sands of shells and bombs. At no time had the enemy gone unchal­lenged. It could count an unknown but cer­tainly high num­ber of enemy killed. All this was not accom­plished with­out loss. The Bat­tal­ion had suf­fered 38 killed in action, 137 had been wounded and 17 were miss­ing in action. In addi­tion to its own casu­al­ties 1 RCR mourned for tankers, artillery­men and Korean house­boys who had been killed or injured serv­ing with or serv­ing the mem­bers of the battalion.

At 2130 hours 1 Nov 52 Lt Col P. R. Bing­ham handed over respon­si­bil­ity for Hill 355 to Lt Col Austin, 1 Royal Aus­tralian Reg­i­ment. Both Com­mand­ing offi­cers signed a piece of paper hear­ing the following.

To Whom It May Concern:

This is to certify that KOWANG SAN fea­ture 355, oth­er­wise known as LIT­TLE GIBRAL­TAR and attached real estate has been handed over com­plete, slightly worse for wear hut oth­er­wise defendable.