Battle of Kapyong 70 years later

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Navy News / April 22, 2021

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong, with ceremonies taking place from April 21-23, 2021. The battle, which took place from April 23-25, 1951, is recognized as one of the most consequential events contributing to the end of the Korean War (1950-1953) with a signed armistice. To remember the sacrifice of this war on April 21, 2021 there will be a memorial book launch taking place at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, Korea for KAPYONG 70: A Tribute to the Canadian Veterans of the Korean War. A similar book launch is planned in Canada on April 23, 2021.

The Kapyong Valley, approximately 60 km from Seoul, was a strategically important location for UN forces fighting against invading North Korean and Chinese forces. The plan known as the Spring Offensive to invade South Korea was thwarted thanks to the heroic actions of the Canadian soldiers during this battle. 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Stone, was the main UN force involved in the battle after Chinese forces pushed out UN allies. Canadian soldiers of 2 PPCLI, named B Company, were set up overlooking the Kapyong Valley on Hill 677, a crucial location as it was a key route on the way to Seoul.

The Canadians were severely outnumbered by Chinese forces. There were approximately 700 Canadian forces on top of the hill fighting against an estimated 5,000-strong Chinese force that was better equipped. Throughout the night Canadian soldiers were bombarded with mortar fire, while they took cover. The turning point of the battle was when Canadians ordered artillery to fire “danger close,” meaning the enemy was so close to their position they risked being hit by friendly fire. This was not the case, however, and the accurate artillery fire successfully stopped the advancing Chinese forces. Enemy soldiers retreated amidst the incoming shells.

By the end of the battle, 10 Canadian soldiers were killed, yet in comparison to the size of the enemy force it was thought that the entire company would perish. The next morning Canadian soldiers of B Company, having won the battle, received an airdrop resupply. The victory arguably stopped North Korean and Chinese forces from taking over Seoul and continuing with conquering the entire peninsula. After the battle there were long periods of stalemates between the two sides until the UN and North Koreans signed an armistice in 1953.

While not directly involved in this battle, the role of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) during the Korean War was focused on escort duties, supplies, transport, and shoreline patrols. This also meant tasks such as mine detection and destruction, forming blockades to prevent enemy ships from manoeuvring in waters, and resupplying allied ships in the UN coalition. The first three Canadian destroyers sent to Korean waters were, His Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS)* Cayuga, Athabaskan and Sioux. Other Canadian ships involved in the Korean War included HMC Ships Crusader, Haida, Huron, Iroquois and Nootka.

More than 3,600 Canadians served in the waters off Korea before the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. UN naval forces continued to serve, however, evacuating islands that were to be returned to North Korea and carrying out routine patrols. It was not until September 1955 that the last Canadian destroyer left the region.

Among the many duties undertaken by the RCN during the Korean War was the bombarding of rail lines along the enemy coast. The Canadian destroyers that served off the east coast of Korea were part of the Trainbusters Club. The terrain in that part of the country often forced railroad tracks to hug the coast, which made trains tempting targets. Canadian naval guns stopped many enemy trains from delivering their cargo.

It was a difficult job and danger was always close by. On October 2, 1952, HMCS Iroquois was exchanging fire with an enemy gun battery on shore when the ship took a direct hit. Three Canadian sailors died and 10 were wounded in the explosion.

*Of note, on February 6, 1952, Queen Elizabeth II ascended the Throne, following the death of her father, King George VI (1895–1952). Upon her accession, the prefix used by Canadian Navy ships was changed from His Majesty’s Canadian Ship to Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship.

With files from Veterans Affairs Canada.