Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Valley

On New Year’s Day 1951 the Chinese launched an offensive against the Allied forces defending the south, the main axis of their attack was Seoul. Thousands of Chinese soldiers surged through the snow, and US and Korean forces were unable to hold them. As the Chinese attack advanced, the British 29th Brigade was put into position to hold them. Part of that brigade was the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) who took up position around Chaegunghyon.

Men of the RUR Advancing to the front.
The RUR took up position with B and D companies on the ridgeline running roughly north/south, with the battalion’s 3in mortars behind them. The other side of the valley had A and C companies. The HQ, 4.2in mortars and the "Battle Patrol" were all in the valley spread out. The "Battle Patrol" seems to have been both a reconnaissance formation, and the battalion reserve. In addition, the RUR were supported by some ten Cromwell tanks, which had been cobbled together from the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussar's and some observer tanks from the 45th Field Artillery Regiment. In the latter case the tanks would have served as the forward observer vehicles, however, in this battle they would be pressed into use as gun tanks. These ten tanks formed Cooper Force. To the west of B and D companies was a US unit, holding the village of Koyang.

Just after 0300 on the 3rd of January, firing was heard from the US positions and very shortly afterwards the Americans informed the RUR that they had withdrawn from Koyang, this meant that the RUR's flank had been turned, or would have been if D company had not been deployed behind B company along the ridge line. At just after 0500 movement was seen in front of the British lines. Illumination flares were fired from the 2in mortars, and a number of males in civilian clothing were trying to pass through the barbed wire. Both B and D companies opened fire and drove the figures off. About ninety minutes later a patrol was sent out into the misty morning. Minutes later there was a commotion, a grenade explosion and a short burst of fire and the patrol never responded to calls on the radio.
Then the Chinese struck. By accident or design they managed to hit the join between D and B companies. The Chinese infantry had used the foggy morning and darkness to infiltrate right through the defender’s wire and close with their positions. Each of the two platoons that were attacked reported the first warning they had was soldiers approaching waving white flags and yelling out "South Koreans. We surrender!" This sowed some confusion at which point the main Chinese force launched itself into vicious hand to hand combat. Both platoons were forced backwards, the line had been breached, and a Chinese bugler was reported on the peak of the ridge line sounding out success. The Chinese started to move down the slope towards the rear areas. The 3in mortar position was in danger of being overrun, so much so that the crews had to fire the weapon at below the minimum recommended range, bringing their fire down dangerously close to their own positions.
This meant that the 3in mortar rounds were falling almost vertically. Which also meant that there was no cover, even the gullies the Chinese were using offered scant protection, indeed possibly increased the effect of the bombs when they hit. Then the 4.2in mortars joined in, then a field artillery regiment in support opened fire on the breech. Cooper Force moved forward and poured their fire into the Chinese salient. Finally, both of the infantry companies had reinforced their flanks as the position was breached and began to put enfilading fire onto the attack. By now it was daylight, at 0900 more support arrived in the form of four P-80 Shooting Stars. These fell upon the Chinese with napalm and rockets. A company had been withdrawn from the eastern position and were directed to attack up the hill and retake and restore the front line. By 1310 the front line was restored and the battle over. In total the RUR had suffered sixteen wounded and four killed, thirty Chinese dead were counted within the perimeter of the line. Even more were likely killed outside or during the afternoon, as when Chinese movement was spotted artillery fire was brought down on them. In the course of the afternoon an improvised South Korean force built from elements of other formations that had been torn apart in the previous days fighting was brought up to provide defence in depth behind the RUR. Meanwhile the Irishmen improved their positions.

Although the Chinese had been stopped here, elsewhere the battle was going badly. With Allied positions crumbling as per usual, it was decided that the 29th Brigade would have to retreat as well. The South Koreans were pulled out immediately, because it was felt their presence would only confuse matters in a night-time withdrawal. The RUR would move out at night. The Battle Patrol, with their Carriers and Cooper Force would be the last to pull out, as they were the most capable of moving and fighting while in contact. The rest would go by truck. Late that night the RUR managed to disengage from the Chinese and move down the floor of the valley on the single narrow icy road. If any part of the convoy stopped then there would be a massive traffic jam at the mercy of the Chinese. About 2130 the convoy had been in motion for about thirty minutes when the trucks were bathed in light. Overhead a US flare dropping plane had illuminated the company to see if it was friendly or could be attacked. The plane made several passes and the RUR were unable to make contact with it to tell it to stop.
Captioned as one of 8 Hussar's Cromwells.
Shortly afterwards the Chinese began mortaring the road. Then from the crest of the valley ridge came thousands of Chinese soldiers firing and grenading the convoy. Bitter fighting broke out as everyone fought to keep the convoy moving and to defend themselves. Cooper Force and the Battle Patrol moved down the column trying to keep the fighting under control. At one point the Chinese cut the road, it was only re-opened when a sharp and courageous assault was put in by two officers. The tanks of Cooper Force were assaulted with grenades and pole-charges, and all knocked out one by one. Eventually the RUR was scattered with several formations making their own way out to re-join the lead of the convoy that had managed to escape the attack. Seven soldiers were picked up the following day by a US helicopter pilot who landed in the middle of enemy territory to lift them to safety. In this battle around 157 Irishmen were killed. This battle became known as the Happy Valley.
One of the captured Cromwell's, Crewed by the North Koreans.
There is one final footnote. At least two, maybe more of the Cromwell's were recovered by the Chinese forces. As China's tank arm was very immature and took no part in the fighting the tanks were transferred to the North Korean Army. One was later recaptured at the Incheon landings, and subsequently put into service by the South Korean Marines. The other was destroyed in February, by a Centurion tank of the 8th Hussars. At a range of 3,000m the commander of the Centurion spotted an unknown tank on the other side of the River Han. The tank was sheltering under a bridge so as to avoid attracting the attention of US airstrikes. The Centurion dispatched it with a single shot, which hit the Cromwell in the side. It was only later it was determined what the tank was.

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