United Nations Medal

Music Title

Highland Cathedral

Korea 1950 - 1953...

1st Bn Royal Ulster Rifles 1950........

In the rain drenched dawn of June 25th 1950, North Korean Armed Forces crossed the 38th Parallel and began advancing into South Korea.  So began a bitter and costly war which lasted just over three years and ended in stalemate.  But it was the first of the United Nations wars - The first major war to be fought voluntarily by 23 nations allied together for no other reason than to stop an act of aggression that threatened world peace.  By the end of 1950 troops of most of these nations had arrived to strengthen the Army of South Korea which joined to such forces as the United States could in the first place, make available, had been in the early days outnumbered and hard pressed.

The British troops included the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group.  This was formed in Colchester and consisted of the 1st Bn Royal Ulster Rifles, the 1st Bn Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the 1st Bn The Gloucestershire Regiment with under command, The 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars and supporting arm in proportionate strength.  When the 1st Bn Royal Ulster Rifles received their warning order their strength was less than half that of a battalion at war establishment.   They were accordingly joined by four hundred reservists of the North Irish and the Lancastrian Brigades.  Many of them were complete strangers to the regiment and many were in fact, Englishmen.  None had expected to have to fight again, but they rose magnificently to the cause and with their experience of the second world war, allied to their steadiness and determination, they quickly became riflemen heart and soul.

At the time the battalion set sail the war appeared to be virtually over, for the powerful United Nations army, mainly American, including two British battalions which had been promptly dispatched from Hong Kong had held and driven back the army of the Communist Republic of North Korea.  So nothing more than occupation force duties and minor anti-guerrilla operations were anticipated.  But before the voyage was over the Chinese Communist Volunteers had surged across the Yula river and thus the whole character of the war was changed.

In early November the battalion disembarked at Pusan, and for a year were to fight in Korea.  The land of scrub covered mountains and dank lush valleys, of Siberian cold winters and humid tropical summers.  They were railed north east to Suwon and then transported forward to Uijongbu, where under the direct command of Headquarters 8th Army, they were committed to operations against the guerrilla forces which had been by-passed by the swift advance of the United Nations Army.

The next move was to Munsan-Ni and by the end of November winter clothing had been issued.  This consisted of a string vest, worn next to the skin, two heavy pullovers, heavy woolen underwear, oiled socks on the feet, and frost proof ski type boots.  Over all, a loose windproof suit of light, very closely woven, camouflaged material.  The trousers were tied close at the ankles and waist by cords, the jacket was pulled tight at the hips, buttoned close at the wrists and had a hood, the rim of which could be drawn tight around the face.  An American ski cap with peak and ear flaps was eventually issued.

The war situation by this time had deteriorated.  The 8th army had been rushing towards the Manchurian border and the 29th brigade now re-assembled, had moved forward to Pyongyang the capital of North Korea in reserve to the US 1st Corps.  But the United Nations forces were met, checked and split apart by the Chinese counter offensive.  The 29th brigade occupied a blocking position and then withdrew following the remainder of the army south across the Teadong.  The withdrawal of the eighth army which was regrettably  a headlong retreat, completely out distanced the Chinese advance, no attempt made to delay or contest it.  By mid December a defense line was being prepared on the south bank of the River Imjin and to this line the enemy gradually closed up by the new year.  The 29th brigade was in corps reserve and neither the Rifles nor the other British regiments were favourably impressed by the psychology of the withdrawal and the intensive preparations thereto. There was no attempt made by the higher command to instill the will to stand and fight.

The Chinese attack.......

On the last day of 1950 the Chinese attacked across the Imjin river, penetrating the defences of the 1st Republic of Korea ( R.O.K.) Division and established a bridgehead from which they quickly broke out.  So it was on the 3rd/4th January 1951, that the Ist Bn Royal Ulster Rifles fought the first of its two major actions in Korea that of Chaegunghyon.

The second of the two major operations in which the battalion took part was the Battle of Imjin on the 23rd to 25th April 1951.  Although both the R.O.K. and US flanking formations were heavily engaged  the full weight of the attack of the Sixty Fourth Chinese Communist army was directed on the sector held by the 29th brigade the battalions of the latter were disposed on a very wide front.  The Belgian were forward across the river. South of river the 5th Fusiliers and the Gloucester were left and right forward battalions respectively with a gap between them of four thousand yards.  The Rifles were initially holding a locality in depth but were moved forward in support of the 5th Fusiliers.  And as at Stormberg Junction fifty years before, riflemen and fusiliers fought shoulder to shoulder.  Both battalions were hard pressed and some ground had to be given by the 5th Fusiliers but the local situation remained, in general reasonably stable, and the enemy, despite persistent assaults was stopped.

The Belgians surrounded on three sides , resisted stubbornly and eventually managed to fight their way out across the river.  The situation of the Gloucester's on the left however became very serious, under intense pressure they had been forced to pull in all companies onto a single feature ( now known immortally as Gloucester Hill ).  They were thus by-passed and completely surrounded, their supply route cut and their position dominated from the vital peak of Kamk San which lay behind and between the forward positions and from which the enemy could not be dislodged.

 The Withdrawal............

The withdrawal of the brigade was ordered on the morning of the 25th April as the enemies penetration on the western sector had become so deep as to threaten the encirclement of the whole brigade.  The Gloucester's were trapped and annihilated.   And again as in Stormberg the 5th Fusiliers and The Rifles withdrew as a point force, to date the battalion had suffered no casualties however the withdrawal was a different story, the situation had by this time rapidly deteriorated. 

The withdrawal route lacked cover and came under heavy fire, the Chinese swarmed down and from every ditch, bank, and building along the route poured in a murderous fire upon the unprotected infantry mounted on the tanks of the 8th Hussars.  The Brigade withdrew to a blocking position thence in a state of utter exhaustion to rest on the south bank of the Han river.  The Battle of Imjin was over the casualties of the battalion were 10 Officers and 176 other ranks mostly missing.  Although the enemy offensive had rolled to within 5 miles of Seoul, it had broken on the river line.  The Gloucester's in their epic action were destroyed but the sixty fourth Chinese Communist army had been rendered virtually ineffective for an appreciable period.  And Seoul the South Korean capital the prize for which the Chinese had gambled and lost, had been saved.

The "Times" newspaper of London published a full report of the battle which concluded with the words:-

"The Gloucester's for what they had done now and what had went before it deserve to be singled out for honourable mention, but they did not stand alone The Northumberland Fusiliers and the Royal Ulster Rifles along with other commonwealth units each with a past to live up to, shared with the Gloucester's in this most testing of all hazards on the battlefield, attacked by overwhelming numbers of the enemy.

"The fighting 5th wearing St George and the Dragon and the Irish Giants with the Harp and Crown have histories that they would exchange with no one.  As pride, sobered by mourning for fallen observes how well these young men have acquitted themselves in remotest Asia.  The parts taken by the regiments may be seen as a whole.  The motto of the Royal Ulster Rifles may have the last word  Quis Separabit".  ( Who shall separate us )  

Royal Ulster Rifles resting after the withdrawal