THE BELGIAN FORCES IN THE KOREAN WAR (BUNC)
On 4 January 1952, the BUNC received its first battle honour, for the battles it fought on the Imjin River. Translated, the citation reads :
"By Royal Decree No. 447 of 4 January 1952 the Expeditionary Corps for Korea is mentioned on the Army's Order of the Day for :
Having fought with the greatest valour during the battles on the Imjin, near Hantangang, in Korea, during the period of 20 to 26 April 1951.
During these battles the Expeditionary Corps for Korea, composed of Belgians and Luxembourgers, repulsed the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties by firing and by courageous counterattacks with the bayonet. Following the order to retreat, the Expeditionary Corps saved its weapons, its wounded and its vehicles; on being put back in the line at its own request, it has successfully fought delaying actions which allowed neighbouring units to retreat.
This citation is accompanied by the battle honour "IMJIN (Korea)" solely on the flag of this unit."
The BUNC received two more unit citations for these battles : the US Presidential Unit Citation and the Korean Republic's Presidential Unit Citation.
THE IMJIN BATTLE HONOUR
At the time of the Imjin battles, the BUNC, numbering 600 men, was attached to the British 29th Brigade and on 20 April 1951 relieved the 900 men of the Royal Ulster Rifles in the frontline. Three infantry companies (A, B and the understrength C-company) take up positions on the far right of the Brigade's main line of resistance, in front of the Imjin River. On 22 April increased enemy activity is reported and a patrol of A-company has first contact about 2 kilometres in front of its lines. Promptly it is decided to man a listening post in front of C-company at a point where the enemy could be expected. This post, manned by 1st Sergeant Leyding (1) and a few men, reports enemy movements around 21.30 h at which time B-company also signals enemy attempts to infiltrate. Around midnight C-company is also attacked but the infiltration attempt is stopped and the enemy withdraws temporarily. Attacks on C-company are renewed from 02.00 h onwards but all are repulsed. Around 03.00 h B-company is attacked in its turn but with the aid of mortar fire the enemy is stopped. At 04.00 the enemy renews the attacks on C-company and also charges the positions of B-company with a frontal assault. All attacks are met with determined opposition and both companies maintain their positions. At this point a patrol, lead by Cdt. Poswick and consisting of a platoon from A-company and a MG-section of B-company, is sent out to clear two bridges in the battalion's rear, on its supply route, which are suspected to have been captured by enemy troops that infiltrated through the lines.
At daybreak on 23 April, the enemy doubles its attacks on C-company's positions and manages to push back one of the platoons. Its platoon leader is heavily wounded but brought back from no-mans land (2). Despite the furious attacks, C-company stands fast. Meanwhile, the patrol sent out to secure the bridges in the rear, finds them to be controlled by the Chinese. A determined attempt to clear the area fails (3) and the battalion's supply route is cut. C-company, lead by Lt. Janssens, continues to defend itself heroically (4).
The Imjin Battles (20 - 25 April 1951)
Around noon the BUNC is advised that a retreat will be ordered but is requested to maintain in its position in the line to allow the neighbouring 65th Infantry to withdraw first. At 17.15 h the order to withdraw is received and the bulk of the battalion proceeds to extricate itself methodically and to wade across the Imjin River while air strikes with napalm on the abandoned positions screen the retreat. The rolling stock of some 80 vehicles, covered by two platoons of tanks sent up for the purpose, take the road across the bridges which are still under enemy control and succeed to make their withdrawal without loss of life. As night falls, the entire battalion is safely installed in its rear area.
The BUNC's Imjin positions 25 April 1951The other units of the 29th Brigade's had also been under very heavy attacks and were slowly withdrawing from their original lines. In order to protect the retreat of these units, the roads east and west of the Kamak-San mountains were vital. As soon as the BUNC companies were re-supplied, the battalion - though depleted - announced its readiness to return to the lines shortly after noon on 24 April. Positions on Hill 340 near Sinsan-Ni were taken up covering the junction of both roads. That night only skirmishes with enemy patrols are reported.
In the morning of 25 April, however, intense enemy activity is reported on the western road by a patrol of A-company and a devastating barrage of mortar fire is directed on these enemy units. Shortly after, however, orders are received to retreat and take up new positions near Hansansang-Ni to cover the withdrawal of the Northumberland Fuseliers and the Royal Ulster Rifles. B-company is detached for the protection of the Brigade's Command Post but a troop of 3 Centurion tanks is attached to the battalion in return. Around 12.30 h the enemy takes up positions on Hill 191 and directs heavy fire on the battalion. Shortly after, at about 13.00 h, C-company's position is plastered with artillery and it withdraws south of the road (5 & 6). Around 14.00 h the Ulsters and Northumberlands have sufficiently retreated for the BUNC to receive their withdrawal order and while fighting rearguard actions the battalion slowly retreats. The battalion will finally regroup at Tokchong at 17.00 h and take up positions covering the road to Seoul until replaced in the line at midnight.
In the course of these battles, the 29th Brigade, attached to the US 3rd Division, was attacked by the Chinese 63th Army consisting of 3 divisions, each about 8,000 strong. The Brigade, some 4,000 strong, thus faced a 6-fold enemy majority. The allies eventually halted the Chinese offensive and counterattacks drove the enemy back to their original positions north of the Imjin River.
© Hendrik Meersschaert, 2002 - 2017