Remembering Hill 355 — a forgotten battle in an almost forgotten war


The moment from the Korean War that sticks with retired lieutenant-colonel Brian Simons occurred originally of the Battle of Hill 355 — a now largely forgotten wrestle in an usually ignored war.

A younger signaller connected to the Royal Canadian Regiment, Simons — a newly minted lieutenant on the time — was up on the rocky hillside at a battalion outpost when Chinese artillery and mortars opened up with their first deafening barrage.

“It was noisy,” Simons, 92, instructed CBC News in an interview from his residence in North Vancouver. “We had been firing artillery and mortars as effectively, and machine weapons and so forth.

“During the day there was a heck of a lot of noise, however when the Chinese mortars landed, after all, not solely was it noisy, however a few of our boys had been harm and killed.”

On his means again to headquarters, shells whistled overhead and pounded the hilltop, kicking up nice gasps of dust and mud, turning the hillside a chalky white.

‘It regarded like the entire high of the hill exploded’

Other troopers, talking years after the battle, swore the Chinese bombardment was so intense it shaved a foot off the highest of the summit.

“It regarded like the entire high of the hill exploded directly,” mentioned former lance corporal Gordon Bennett, who was with a firm of troopers that had simply come off the hill and gone into reserve behind the strains.

Simons made his means down the hill below fireplace and bumped into one other younger officer, simply arrived from Canada, ready for a jeep. They struck up a dialog earlier than he continued on.

Lt. Brian Simons in Korea close to Hill 355. “I assume you can say that we had been hopeful that our actions would deter the Chinese however we did not know what number of there have been or what that they had in the way in which of weapons or anything,” Simons mentioned. (Brian Simons)

On responsibility on the headquarters half an hour later, the telephone rang. Simons realized a mortar had landed on the spot the place he’d been standing and the younger officer, solely a few hours on the entrance, had been mortally wounded in the pinnacle.

“It was upsetting,” Simons mentioned.

The Battle of Hill 355 raged over Oct. 23 and 24, 1952 — 70 years in the past.

It happened at what the South Koreans name Kowang San, 40 kilometres north of Seoul. It represented a private milestone for Simons — his first time in main fight.

Historians see the battle as an vital turning level in the war, one which helped form the notion of the battle down the a long time.

For Simons, the expertise was way more vivid and private than something a historical past textual content might convey.

Clearing bunkers in the darkish

He recalled the strain and apprehension at headquarters because the bombardment left the positions round B Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) in shambles. Soldiers on the hilltop, dazed and rattled, confronted waves of Chinese troopers who clawed excessive and thru the communication trenches.

The Canadians, clustered in small teams and platoons, slipped away — or in some instances performed lifeless — as night time fell.

“I assume you can say that we had been hopeful that our actions would deter the Chinese however we did not know what number of there have been or what that they had in the way in which of weapons or anything,” Simons mentioned.

Two different RCR firms counterattacked in a single day — Bennett was amongst them. He recalled how Canadian artillery delivered punishing belows to the Chinese, who had no alternative to dig in.

Bennett began clearing bunkers in the darkish.

“Whether it was the nighttime or the center of the day, it would not actually matter,” he mentioned. “It’s all nonetheless a horrifying proposition and we did not know precisely what to anticipate, however we had been anticipating to combat and visibility wasn’t any worse than ever is there. I imply, we might see the place we’re going and will see our goal.

“We did not need to begin throwing grenades into bunkers as a result of we did not know who was in them. Might have been our guys.”

Lt. Brian Simons in a tent close to Hill 355. The battle that day would grow to be Canada’s second-deadliest engagement of the war: 18 killed, 35 wounded and 14 taken prisoner. (Brian Simons)

When the solar got here up, Bennett observed wires everywhere and thought at first they had been broken trench phone strains. Many of them, he mentioned, had been swiftly set booby traps which didn’t detonate because the Canadians tugged on the wires.

The battle was the second bloodiest day in Korea for the Canadian Army — 18 killed, 35 wounded and 14 taken prisoner.

It was a watershed moment in the war, mentioned one historian.

“The Battle of Hill 355 and October ’52 marked an vital new section.” mentioned Andrew Burtch of the Canadian War Museum. 

No longer had been Chinese and United Nations forces punching by way of one another’s strains in dramatic advances and withdrawals. The war had settled into a bitter, grinding stalemate, with the identical patches of floor buying and selling palms at a regular price in blood and lives.

It’s the section of the war folks bear in mind essentially the most — futile, violent, expensive battles for faceless, numbered hills. 

“I believe each the Chinese and the UN had been making an attempt to bleed one another white in this timeframe to achieve essentially the most benefit on the on the negotiating desk,” mentioned Burtch, referring to the negotiations that ultimately produced an armistice — however no closing peace — between the 2 Koreas in the summer season of 1953.

A Canadian Korean War veteran touches the identify of a fallen soldier he knew as he visits the Korean War Memorial on April 25, 2013 in Seoul, Republic of Korea. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Burtch mentioned the Battle of Hill 355 additionally represented a turning level on the house entrance — the purpose at which the Canadian public began shedding curiosity in the Korean marketing campaign.

“People had been nonetheless combating, being wounded, dying, taken prisoner, taking prisoners, in locations like 355,” he mentioned, “And so even because the war was ongoing, the folks at residence, after all, did not actually have a nice understanding of Korea.”

And that, he mentioned, was one of many elements that contributed to how rapidly Korea pale from the general public consciousness. Other elements included the continuing Cold War in Europe and general war fatigue.

The troopers who survived Korea got here residence to no parades and little recognition, not like troops from the First and Second World Wars.

And for years, they needed to combat the stigma of being the women and men of a forgotten war.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here