THE BELGIAN FORCES IN THE KOREAN WAR (BUNC)
© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2002 - 2017
THE CHATKOL BATTLE HONOUR
The marvellous defence of the BUNC at Chatkol was rewarded by their third battle honour on 22 July 1953. The translated citation reads as follows :
"Article one - The Volunteer Corps for Korea is mentioned on the Army's Order of the Day :
At Chatkol (Korea), during the months of March and April 1953, the Volunteer Corps for Korea, defending a particularly threatened sector, under a storm of fire, with unwavering cool and calm, repulsed over ten attacks by a fanatic enemy. It thus showed its will to maintain at all costs the positions with which it was entrusted. This citation entails the battle honour "CHATKOL (Korea)" to be put on this unit's flag."
The Chatkol Battles (28 February - 21 April 1953)
The positions at Chatkol were part of the eastern section of a part of the frontline that, because of its form, was called the Boomerang and ran from Hadong-Ni to Tapkol. The map shows the original dispositions of the BUNC but these would, in the course of the 55 days the battalion was there, undergo changes. Except for the first four nights, each night would be characterized by one or more skirmishes or attacks, ranging between 2-3 men patrols to battalion strength assaults. Relating them all would be too repetitive so only a few characteristical ones will be described below.
Soon after entering the frontline, a sort of daily routine was set up : at night, the battalion's positions would be fully manned and half an hour after sunrise everyone, but those on guard duty, turned in to sleep till noon. In the afternoon, work on new defensive positions or repairs to existing ones would be undertaken. In front of each company was an outpost, the first letter of their code names reflecting the company that was responsible for manning them : Alice, Barbara and Carol. They would be occupied by some three men in daytime and by up to 10 men at night. Those outposts and also other small listening posts in no-man's land were not under orders to be defended at all costs, they served as advance warning posts.
The night fight of 8 - 9 March involved the retaking of the Carol outpost. The Carol outpost was located in what the Chinese thought the ideal entry door to the BUNC's positions. Manned that night by a section of 7 men with two machine guns, it was overrun by an enemy attack of involving some 100 Chinese and a diversion in front of B-company's lines. All through the night, all units of the battalion were under enemy fire from artillery, mortar and small arms. Accompanied by artillery fire and under cover of a smoke screen, a counterattack managed to retake the post at 06.45 h, advancing through heavy fire from Hills 399 and 419. The Chinese had abandoned the outpost in the meantime. Losses amounted to 5 dead and 17 wounded, Chinese losses were estimated at minimum 25 killed and 40 wounded. This action certainly was no victory but showed the circumstances in which many nights at Chatkol had to be lived through.
On 13 March, a skirmish was fought over the Alice outpost. Attacked at 00.15 h. after a preliminary artillery bombardment, the outpost's occupants soon realised they were attacked by far superior forces and, according to standing orders, withdrew to the company lines under heavy enemy fire. It was soon found that one man was missing and immediately orders were given to find him. A mere quarter of an hour after having been abandoned, outpost Alice was retaken and the missing man's rifle found, broken by an explosion. Nearby traces of blood didn't forbode much good but the patrol continued on its way to look for the missing soldier and toothcombed no-man's land up to the enemy positions on Hill 419 to no avail, returning to the lines just before dawn. However, at about 06.00 h., an apparently wounded man was observed crawling towards the company lines and the missing soldier thus returned to the battalion. Prior to being dispatched to the nearest MASH (hospital unit), he told his tale of being knocked out by a nearby explosion which cut up his face and upper body with small shell fragments. On regaining conciousness, he found himself dragged on his back, feet first, by a Chinese soldier using telephone wire for the purpose. Choosing his moment carefully, he kicked the Chinese soldier in the proper spot and landed him in a ravine and crawled away. Disoriented and weakened by loss of blood, he waited for dawn to return to the lines. This tale serves to show the manner in which the Chinese returned their dead and wounded to their own lines after battle.
On the morning of 25 March, at around 04.30 h., a small listening post between C-company and Carol was attacked by some 20 Chinese. The post was manned by Pvt. De Grieck and his assistant with a machine gun and a rifle as their armament. Calmly warning both Carol and C-company, Pvt. De Grieck accurately counted the Chinese and described their advance. He was ordered to retreat and exemplarily lead the retreat in five rearward movements, alternating cover by the MG and rifle. For this example of mutual fire support and variation of movement, he received a battlefield promotion to corporal and was awarde the War Cross with palm (12).
At a regimental briefing on 30 March, the US regimental C.O. advised the BUNC's C.O. that intelligence had indications of an imminent attack with the Belgian sector as its main point of assault. Although the battalion would normally have been relieved a few days earlier (usually after 21 days in the front line), it was felt that the battalion could stay at its positions as a new unit would be far less familiar with the terrain. This was fully agreed to by the Belgian C.O. From that day onwards, the US colonel would phone the Belgian C.O. each day enquiring if the battalion needed to be relieved and would receive the same answer every day : "No Sir, everything's OK." ... until one day, on 19 April, he received an evasive answer after the battle of the previous night.
Prior to that night, events in April proved to be a busy time for the battalion. During the night of 7 - 8 April intense and very accurate artillery and mortar fire and assaults on Carol and B-company's positions caused heavy casualties again : 10 dead and 14 wounded. Though Carol was once more recaptured, the whole of the position was so devastated that trenches and manholes were completely filled in, barbed wire, minefields, trip-flares ... all was gone. Coupled to this was the fact that the brunt of the attacks had always been felt by C-company and as a result, it was decided to switch A and C-companies in the lines. In the following nights A-company would repair the Carol outpost and profited from the fact that Chinese attention was mainly focused on the left flank of B-company, thus enabling the work to continue almost unhindered. By the time the Chinese assault came, everything was as ready as could be. The attack came just after midnight of 18-19 April when simultaneous enemy movements were signalled from all companies. All assaults were repulsed in front of the lines, not a single enemy soldier being able to reach the trenches which was usually the case with such determined attacks and resulted in close combat with heavier casualties. At about 01.15 the Chinese ended the assault and withdrew. At dawn 32 Chinese dead were counted right in front of the lines and it was estimated that Chinese losses would have totalled at least 60 dead and many more wounded. The BUNC had one K.I.A. ...
The battalion would later, from 15 May till 25 June, serve another extra long stretch in the front line : 40 nights at Hadong-Ni, and would in July return to its old positions at Chatkol. They would remain there till relieved on 15 July and be in reserve till the cease-fire which was signed on 27 July 1953.