The Battle of Kapyong, 23 to 25 April 1951
In late April 1951 three Chinese army groups launched the Fifth Phase Offensive…
North-east of Seoul, 19th Chinese Corps destroyed 6th South Korean Division leaving the road to Kapyong open. The route was quickly blocked by 27th Commonwealth Brigade.
The heights overlooking the road on either side were occupied by 3RAR on the right and 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) on the left.
Photo: Battle of Kapyong diorama created for the Korea exhibition at the Australian War Memorial, 2007. AWM ART93183
In support behind these 2 battalions, which would bear the brunt of the attack, was 1st Battalion the Middlesex Regiment (1MR), one company of United States (US) tanks, 2 US mortar companies and 16th Field Regiment, Royal New Zealand Artillery.
This combined UN Command force of 2,800 soldiers was facing the Chinese 118th Division with 10,600 men.
To block the valley through which the road to Kapyong ran, the Brigade needed to hold a long front. A continuous line was not possible, so the infantry companies of both 3RAR and 2PPCLI deployed an all-round defence several hundred metres apart from each other. Each fought its own small battle.
The night of 23-24 April was clear and cold, with snow on north-facing slopes. At 9:30 pm, 118th Division, having decided to deal with the Australians first, drove back the US tanks supporting B Company 3RAR. By midnight two Chinese battalions assaulted B and A Companies.
The attack continued until dawn, while C and D Companies were subject to probes as the Chinese tried to locate the extent of the Australian position.
Meanwhile, the third Chinese battalion of 354th Regiment went around the left of the Australians and attacked Battalion Headquarters (BHQ) on the low ground by the Kapyong River.
The BHQ was withdrawn before dawn. The Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Ferguson then ordered B Company to pull back to the protection of other companies. As this was done, daylight allowed the New Zealand artillery to fire on the massed Chinese infantry now assaulting D and C companies.
By midday, threatened with encirclement, and with a second Chinese Regiment now deploying to attack it, 3RAR was withdrawn from its exposed position. All other companies fell back through D Company which was the last to leave.
By 7:30 pm, 3RAR was deployed safely within the 1MR position.
The following night the 2PPCLI became the focus of Chinese attention. The Canadians held on until dawn on 25 April when the Chinese, having lost over 2,000 men to the Australians and the Canadians, called off their attempt to break through to Kapyong.
Photo: Members of 4 Platoon, B Company, 3RAR who served with distinction as part of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade in the Battle of Kapyong, Korea, 23 to 25 April 1951. AWM 147351
The Battle of Kapyong was costly for the Australians, with the loss of 32 lives, more than 50 wounded and 3 taken prisoner.
Following the battle, 3RAR, along with Canadian and US forces, was awarded the United States Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for its part in the battle.
Each year on 24 April, we pause to honour those who served in the Battle of Kapyong and all those who served in the Korean War, and those who lost their lives.
Photo: An Australian Army veteran of the Battle of Kapyong receives the US Presidential Distinguished unit Citation Device from General James Van Fleet, Commanding the 8th US Army in Korea, on 4 December 1951. Members of the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) served with the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade in the Battle of Kapyong on 23 to 25 April 1951. AWM HOBJ2713