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Apr 25, 2012

Anzac Day, with a tribute to Kapyong.

Map: Battle of Kapyong.

Korean war veterans tend to feel that they fought in a forgotten war. This is probably an overstatement as it gets mentions, but probably less attention than it deserves. Perhaps the fact that it sits between two longer wars – WW2 and Vietnam may have something to do with it.

The defining battle for Australians in Korea was the Battle of Kapyong, fought on the night of 23Apr 51 and through the following day. The 24th of April is officially ‘Kapyong Day’ but it is generally overshadowed by Anzac Day on the 25th. The Battle of Long Tan which was smaller, less significant, but no less courageous, has fared better with its day on the 18th of August.

At Kapyong the Australian 3rd Battalion and the Canadian 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry set up defensive positions on hills either side of the Kapyong Valley to block the Chinese spring offensive from reaching Seoul, and with some American tanks and New Zealand artillery were able to block a Chinese Division after heavy fighting.

The following transcript gives an idea of the situation:

Early in the evening, retreating South Koreans streamed past the Commonwealth position, with Chinese forces closely intermingled. Soon afterwards a platoon of American tanks supporting 3 RAR was overrun. The Kapyong valley was too large an area to defend with the forces available, and the brigade was spread very thinly.

Throughout the night the Chinese repeatedly pressed the Australian positions, attacking in waves over their own dead and wounded.

At dawn, A Company, under the command of Major Bernard "Ben" O'Dowd, found that the Chinese had infiltrated its position, but a counter-attack was able to eject them. Meanwhile B Company, which had spent the night on a hill near the riiver, discovered Chinese occupying some old bunkers on a small knoll. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued with grenades and bayonets. C Company, under the command of Captain Reg Saunders, was in position to reinforce both A and B Companies.

"Major O'Dowd then directed the radio operator to contact anyone. The American 1st Marine Division answered but their operator refused to believe who our operator was speaking for. Major O'Dowd took the phone and demanded to speak to the commanding officer. The general in charge of the [Marine] division came on the phone and told O'Dowd we didn't exist as we had been wiped out the night before. Major O'Dowd said, 'I've got news for you, we are still here and we are staying here.”
Both the Australian and Canadian Battalions were awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation for their actions (Image left).


  1. Coincidentally, I just finished the book "To the Last Round". Of the American books on the Korean War, few give other UN forces other than passing mention.

    The American Army, when engaged in the "Bug-out Boogie", often blamed the ROK forces on their flanks for giving way. It seems the British and Commonwealth troops feared the Americans giving way on their flanks as much as the ROKs doing so.

    Michael Hickey (an Aussie veteran of the conflict) has an excellent book "The Korean War: The West Confronts Communism."

  2. Gary, Anzac Day is something along the lines (I think) of your Memorial Day. It starts with a dawn service and there is a parade and other functions in the middle of the day.

    It seems odd that Commonwealth forces would have much reason to worry about the Americans. Our forces contained a generous sprinkling of hardened WW2 veterans which probably had a fair bit to do with the successful defences against overwhelming odds at Kapyong and Imjin River.

    I would imagine that US forces would have contained a similar mix.

  3. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.