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To 16 Fd Regt in Korea

The Hook

The original 16th Field Regiment as seen from the front-line trenches

Korea, November 1952 to 27 July 1953

by SB Matthews

To Tales from the Trails

On the 14 November 1952, the Commonwealth Div's sector was moved sideways to the west, one battalion position. The 1st Bn, The Black Watch relieved the 7th US Marines on the infamous Hook feature. The Marine Commanding Officer who was totally disillusioned with the position's vulnerability gave the Scots 24 hours before being pushed off. Four nights later at 2100hrs 18 November, the Chinese struck. The Black Watch held with the assistance of the New Zealand gunners. Captain Dereck MacElvogue was OPO for the New Zealand 163 Battery on Pt. 146, the highest feature in the Hook group. Pt. 146 is a continuation of the Hook ridge at the eastern end of the sprawling feature. When Colonel Rose, CO of The Black Watch asked for an Uncle target onto his battalion headquarters, MacElvogue queried the coordinates four times before firing a Regimental target. The position was not lost.

The US 2 Infantry had a hot time on The Hook while the Commonwealth division had its spell out of the line. According to the Author Tim Carew in his book 'THE KOREAN WAR', which was originally entitled 'Korea -- The Commonwealth at War', the Hook was lost and retaken 20 times between January and April 1953. The Marines called it rolling with the punch. For all that, it sounds to me like an exaggeration.

The Black Watch returned to the notorious position on April 7th and a month later in the early hours of the 9th May were attacked again. The defenders again used the Artillery to good effect but this time, the British 20th Field Regiment had the honour of providing fire support. This was as it should be as they were the supporting artillery for the 29th Brigade. More Uncle targets were requested although not this time directly onto the main position, which was not penetrated. Instead, the pressure was onto outposts such as Ronson and Seattle, which were overrun. Large numbers of tanks were deployed in the Hook area. Some were manned and some commanded by Kiwis. The Centurions used their Besa machine-guns to good effect against the mass infantry. The Turkish positions to the west were attacked in Brigade strength at the same time. Their artillery fired VT (variable time - radar airburst) on to the top of Seattle as a part of their own defensive fire, but it was also of assistance to the British battalion.

The next serious attempt to take the key position did not eventuate until the night of 28 May when The Duke of Wellington's were given a drubbing by two Chinese battalions, despite heavy defensive fire from the NZ gunners. A counter-attack by the King's Regiment who were occupying the defence in depth positions, saved the situation. Then two companies of The King's, on Pt. 146, were attacked in battalion strength from Pheasant, the easternmost feature of a range of Chinese-held hills, directly north across the valley. The Kiwi artillery wiped the Chinese battalion out before it reached its objective.

The Chinese assaults petered out. But in anyone's language it was a close run thing. Even the Duke of Wellington would have agreed.

29th Brigade was no longer strong enough to hold The Hook. The Duke's were played out and were immediately reinforced by the Royal Fusiliers from 28th Brigade. The Black Watch, who had left the theatre, had been replaced by the Royal Scots. Green by theatre standards, they were deployed on the Yong-Dong, a quiet part of the front on the other side of the Sami-chon valley from The Hook. The King's were time expired and on their way south to Pusan. But not on the slow train. Their replacement battalion was not yet in the country. General West, the Commonwealth Division's respected Commander, acted decisively.

Without delay, he ordered the 28 Brigade onto The Hook. 2 RAR were to take the forward position, with 3 RAR backing it up with two companies on Pt. 146. The remainder of 3 RAR was put in close reserve to the south. The relief of a battalion from a front-line position on one flank of a divisional sector and moving it into another front-line position on the other flank, before first light, is a rare manoeuvre. To do the same thing with a second battalion the following night, is even rarer. The two Australian battalions were themselves replaced on Hills 355 and 159 by battalions of the 25th Canadian brigade.

The Turkish Brigade on the left had been relieved by the 1st US Marine Division.

The effect of the new deployment on the Chinese, was almost instantaneous. They must have realised that they had been outsmarted. Instead of continuing to attack the Hook, they switched their efforts onto the Marines.

The Marines, the poor relation of the American Army who were running the show, inherited a badly planned defensive position. The concept of outposts is for the birds when faced with a horde army. Platoon positions spread across an area, out of support fire range of each other, can be picked off piecemeal. In addition it stretches the artillery support fire capability beyond its limits. Such thin deployment could only reduce the strength of the MLR.

From then on, we had the grandstand seats as things hotted up for the US Marines. Night after night the Chinese put in heavy attacks of at least battalion strength against at least one Marine company position. Sometimes two. Wave after wave of massed infantry. Under Marine artillery fire, the waves receded almost as quickly as they had broken onto the position. We were in the box seats to observe the action. But we were at 2000 metres, too far away to join in. Gradually the gallant Chinese infantry gained the upper hand. Years later it was disclosed that the Marines' Artillery was under an ammunition restriction.

When I had time, I would join some of my Diggers watching the Chinese assaults. The nights were as light as day with illuminating fire from mortars and artificial moonlight. Eventually the Chinese were game enough to attack in daylight. The situation had taken a serious turn, in that the Marines were losing outposts faster, and causing a threatening bend in the front-line. The Australian battalions holding The Hook, were gradually being not only outflanked but almost surrounded.

The New Zealand 16th Field Regiment were once again given the opportunity to save a serious situation. They went to it with a will.

In A Company, on the highest hill on the Hook position, we soon realised that the shells from our Kiwi mates were not only going over our position toward the enemy, but were only clearing our crest by a few metres. We started to wear steel helmets again after one of my Diggers had his shoulder broken by a brass nose cone from a time-fuze shell that exploded above our heads. The New Zealand Field Regiment was giving the Marines the best support available, by using VT fuses as well as timed ones. The Chinese infantry suffered dreadfully. However, they kept the pressure on.

On the night of the 24th, after a 2000 round barrage on C and D companies and the battalion's mortar position, their infantry attacked C Company of 2 RAR on Pt. 121, the southernmost Australian forward company position. The 1st Bn, The Durham Light Infantry moved their reserve company up to block any penetration, coming under Australian command. But heavy defensive artillery fire broke up the attack. 2 RAR's C Company position was bombarded with 2000 rounds of artillery and mortar fire. The dug-in Australians suffered two men killed and fourteen wounded. We, the two forward companies of 3 RAR on Pt. 146 received only a few Chinese overs.

The attacks on the Marines still continued on the 25th and 26th of July. There had still been no enemy action from their positions across the paddies to the north but those attacking the US Marines were now within 1000 metres south-west of us and we were therefore being gradually enveloped in a salient. The progress of the peace talks had not been passed on to us. For obvious reasons, we were kept in total ignorance of the impending truce.

Medium shells sounding like express trains, passed over us with plenty of crest clearance. But right above our heads 16th Field's 25 pounder shells were just clearing our crest. An occasional shell that either did not achieve crest clearance or had an incorrectly set time fuse, exploded over us. We didn't really mind. We knew that they were doing a great job for us as well as our allies. To be fair, we had no more serious casualties from our own artillery, after the bloke with the broken shoulder. Toward midnight, the tempo of the artillery eased off. The US Marines still had an intact line.

The next day was the 27th July 1953. We stood-to as usual.

The Platoon Commanders were summoned to Coy HQ during Stand-to. A Truce was to be signed at 1000 hrs, taking effect at 2200 hrs. Company O (Orders) Group later.

Great news. But until the agreed time we had to stay alert. Fair enough. The day dragged, although there was a much more relieved atmosphere on the position. However we still kept our heads down. The action against the US Marines had been discontinued. But all was not quiet until the big guns stopped firing at 1800hrs. Then the humidity increased as the night closed in, making things uncomfortable.

I sent out our usual Standing Patrol of three men to the bottom of the long spur that lead up to 3 Platoon's position. At approximately 1930 hrs, they were threatened by a Chinese patrol of eight men and withdrew to the main position.

A fighting patrol was organised to re-establish the outpost. The Gunners were consulted on the provision of fire support if required. They were prepared to, but would not fire after 2000hrs. After deliberate delaying tactics at Brigade level, no action was taken at all. Which suited everyone.

2200 hrs arrived. The Australians moved around quietly shaking hands.

The War was over.

Bruce Matthews
May 2000
During the Korean War, Lt Matthews was a NZer seconded to 3RAR.

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