Military history


Gloster Hill

They will remember for a little while in England. The soldier does have his day. I want to remind you this afternoon that it is not enough to remember now. We've got to show what we think of their sacrifice in the way we conduct ourselves in the days ahead.

— The chaplain of the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, at a memorial service in Korea, April 1951.

IN THE SUMMER of 1914 the nations of Europe sprang to arms in an uproar of popular hysteria. The French Republic raised a hundred divisions in ninety days. The German Empire had its reservists in Belgium within weeks, and the United Kingdom soon sent millions of men onto the battlefields of Flanders, where nine hundred thousand of them lie buried beside more than a million French comrades-in-arms.

In 1940, with less enthusiasm but with equal will, Europe again waged internecine war. The Third Republic lost half a million dead, and went down to humiliating defeat and captivity. The British Empire lived its finest hour, but put its manpower and resources to such strain that they would not soon recover.

Victory, each time, was a will-o'-the-wisp.

Americans, who were largely spared these bloodbaths, often cannot understand why, when the jaws of hell yawned once more in 1950, few Europeans showed much inclination to rush into them.

Twice in a generation Europeans had "defended themselves," and now, while America blew an urgent trumpet, urging them to prepare to defend themselves once more against the Bear, response was slower and much more uncertain than Americans desired.

The famous British Navy was a shell in 1950. France, which had levied a hundred divisions in a matter of days, could not raise twenty-five given a decade. It was as much as an alarmed United States could do to persuade these nations, with their smaller allies, partially to rearm in defense of their own homelands, under NATO.

Slowly, painfully, under the menace of overt Communist aggression, the armed forces of NATO became reality, but America's North Atlantic allies were not willing to fight in remote Korea. They were, actually, already fighting part of that struggle in other places.

The British had troubles in Malaya, and other areas.

In Vietnam, De Vigny's centurions, hamstrung by a weak and hesitant government that had neither the courage to support nor to withdraw them, were fighting the Communist Vietminh to the death.

Inevitably, illuminating the woes that America had fallen heir to, the burden of the fighting in Korea fell upon the United States and the Taehan Minkuk.

The maximum military support rendered by members of the United Nations to the Republic of Korea was as follows:


Armed Forces Committed

United States of America

7 Army divisions; 1 Marine division army and corps HQ's, almost all logistical and support forces.

1 tactical air force and supporting elements; 1 combat cargo command, air; 2 medium bombardment wings.

1 complete naval fleet, including a fast carrier task group, blockade and escort forces, reconnaissance and antisubmarine units,supply and repair units; military sea transport services.

United Kingdom

2 army brigades of 5 infantry battalions; 2 field artillery regiments; 1 armored regiment. 1 aircraft carrier, 2 cruisers, 8 destroyers, with Marine and support units.


1 army brigade of 3 infantry battalions; 1 artillery regiment; 1 armored regiment. 3 destroyers, 1 air transport squadron.


1 army brigade of 6,000 men.


2 infantry battalions; 1 fighter squadron; 1 air transport squadron; 1 carrier, 2 destroyers, 1 frigate.


1 regimental combat team of 4,000 men; 2 corvettes, 1 air transport squadron.


1 regimental combat team.


1 infantry battalion; 1 gunboat.


1 infantry battalion; 1 air transport squadron.

New Zealand

1 artillery regiment; 2 frigates.


1 infantry battalion; 1 destroyer.


1 infantry battalion; 1 frigate.


1 infantry battalion.


1 infantry battalion.

South Africa

1 fighter squadron.


1 infantry company.

In addition the Scandinavian nations, with Italy, furnished hospital units. India, conspicuously neutral, sent a field ambulance unit. Other nations furnished food, or money, in limited amounts.

The United States' contribution was ten times that of all other nations combined, excepting the Republic of Korea. The Taehan Minkuk received wholesale American aid, of course—but it suffered the devastation of most of its territory; its cities were destroyed, and it lost 1,312,836 men, women, and children, soldier and civilian alike, during the course of the war, more than one in twenty of its total population.

But while the troops sent by U.N. members were small in number, they were usually high in courage and effectiveness. Most of them, from the six-foot Imperial Guardsmen of Haile Selassie, to the half-wild Algerians of the French battalion, were professional soldiers. Some, like the British, were recalled reservists. Almost all came from units of long history and proud tradition in their native armies.

Most of them, from the bayonet-wielding Turks to the knife-swinging Thais, earned the admiration of American troops.

A few of them wrote proud history.

At the first of April 1951, the U.N. forces, now half a million strong, had crossed the parallel in most places. The CCF, bleeding badly from multiple wounds inflicted by air, sea, and ground action, were hurrying more and more troops into North Korea, until their strength reached three-quarters of a million.

The Chinese still had numerical superiority, and they thought they had the initiative, too. They began to plan what they called First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive. This offensive would concentrate on the western portion of the battle line, and its objective was the Korean capital of Seoul, thirty-five miles to the south.

In the meantime, the Eighth Army kept making limited attacks, until in the third week of April its forces were ten miles above the parallel everywhere except at Kaesong. In the center of the line U.N forces were striking toward the Ch'orwon-Kumwha-P'yonggang complex, an important communication and supply area called the Iron Triangle.

The original Iron Triangle—so called because the steel rails connecting the cities formed a rough triangle on the map—had had Hwach'on as one base, but when Hwach'on fell to the Eighth Army, the correspondents so liked the phrase that the town of P'yonggang, farther north, was put in Hwach'on's place.

The U.N. probe was confident, but cautious. Ridgway planned no sweeping attack, but he was determined to see how far the Eighth Army could go.

Spring had come to Korea, with spring rains, and the countryside was briefly beautiful with grass and flowers. But the skulls of men killed during the winter snows, loosened by the thaw, rolled down the hillsides to rest among the azalea and forsythia just bursting into bloom.

With spring there came to Korea not rebirth but further death.

The United States 3rd Infantry Division struck toward Ch'orwon, up the road running from Seoul, and on 21 April was some ten miles below the city, and ten miles north of the Imjin River. On its right, IX Corps, consisting of the Marine Division and one ROK division, prepared to attack along the line running from Kumwha to the Hwach'on Reservoir. On the 3rd Division's left stood the British 29th Brigade, with a front-line strength of four thousand, and the 1st ROK Division.

The British Brigade was just south of the Imjin, and had sent exploratory patrols across. Crossing an area of flinty two-hundred-foot cliffs and rocky gorges, the patrols reported nothing much to bar the way.

But here, some thirty miles northwest of the ROK capital, was fought the fourth battle for Seoul.

On 22 April the Chinese struck the 17,000-yard front of the British Brigade with six divisions, more than fifty thousand men.

On the eve of St. George's Day, the 29th Infantry Brigade consisted of the 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, just south of the Imjin, an attached battalion of Belgians, the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, on the brigade left, and the 1st Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles, in reserve. In brigade support were the 45th Field, Royal Artillery, equipped with 25-pounders, and the 8th King's Royal Hussars, who had once charged on horseback at Balaclava but who now rode fifty-ton Centurion tanks.

Each of these was a unit long known to history, and steeped in glory.

The Fusiliers began in 1674, and wear the badge of St. George and his dragon on their berets. The Gloucestershire Regiment—"Glosters"—dates to 1694, and their battle standards stream with the names of Waterloo, Quebec, and Gallipoli, on 22 April 1951 forty-four in all, more than any regiment of the British Army.

Since the time English bowmen wore red crosses on their breasts, the day of their patron, St. George, has been sacred to English arms. For 23 April the British Brigade planned festivities, both gay and solemn. The Ulsters, who had lost more than two hundred dead along the Imjin in January, planned to dedicate a monument. The Fusiliers had readied a turkey dinner, and had made from colored paper the red and white St. George's Day roses for their caps. The Royal Artillery, not to be outdone, had even flown in real roses from Japan.

There would be no festivities this St. George's Day, but the men of the 29th Brigade would wear their roses all the same. They would wear them into battle as desperate as any their forefathers had seen, from Acre to Agincourt.

For on the eve of St. George's Day, at 6:00 PM. the Chinese struck.

The Belgians, across the Imjin, were surrounded first. Then, the Northumberland Fusiliers were brought to battle, but without concern at Brigade HQ. Efforts were made to relieve the Belgians; first a column of the Ulsters tried, then a patrol of tanks, without success.

While concern for the Belgians mounted during the night, they went relatively unscathed, though cut off. On the 23rd they were able to sideslip across the Chinese lines on their right, and withdraw.

It was on the brigade left, where the Glosters held four miles of rugged front, that the main blow fell, when St. George's Day was one hour old.

The Chinese, their horns and bugles raucous in the clear cool night, came across the Imjin in wide, massive waves. The very first washed screaming into A Company, in front, and swamped it. The Able Company commander went down, with two of his officers. The company command post was overrun.

The company radio operator fired his rifle until it went dry, then used it as a club to beat off the Chinese swarming out of the dark. Then, as the Chinese split around him in the fire-prickled night, he crawled to his radio.

"We are overrun. We've had it. Cheerio."

The other companies held, while the entire brigade, from one end of the 17,000-yard front to the other, was now locked in close combat. By dawn the 1st ROK Division, on their left, had been forced back, and by midmorning Chinese crawled over the flinty hills on the Glosters' flank and rear.

The battalion supply offices were overrun, and the battalion split away from the brigade, while a full regiment of Chinese fixed them from the front.

By radio, the Glosters were told to hold their high ground, where they were, and this they did.

The 45th Field fired in their support until gun tubes shimmered. In all, the 25-pounders fired more than a thousand rounds per tube, more even than the average at Alamein. They fired until almost every round of British ammunition in Korea had been exhausted, and at times they fired into Chinese riflemen less than one hundred yards away.

They protected the guns, and continued the mission. More than that cannot be expected, or said, of any artillery.

But as 23 April lengthened, then waned, the Glosters, fighting on, began to run out of supply. They needed ammunition, fresh guns, medicines. They had no food, except some bread and a few hard-boiled eggs.

American air tried to drop supply to them, but the battle was too close about the beleaguered hills. The air drops had poor success.

But all the air power that could be thrown into the battle swarmed down from the sky, rocketing, blasting, searing the Chinese-dotted hills with napalm.

In spite of the continuous rumble of the artillery, in spite of air power, the CCF trickled behind the two other battalions. The Ulsters and Fusiliers were cut off, too. The Brigade HQ was under small-arms fire. A number of green replacements just in from England for the Fusiliers were fired on, and some were killed before they could join.

All day the 23rd, and all that night, the Glosters beat off swarming infantry attacks, holding their precious high ground. At dawn of the 24th, the Glosters' situation was serious.

Able Company had been swamped by the first wave, and insistent pressure had worn Baker Company down to an effective strength of one officer and fifteen other ranks. The remaining men fought back from deep foxholes, into which sleeted unceasing machine-gun fire. It was impossible to move without being hit.

Commanding the original 622 officers and men of the Glosters was Lieutenant Colonel J. P. Carne, a tall, normally reticent officer who had been with the regiment twenty-six years. Carne, calm and pipe-smoking, drew the companies back onto the hill on which he had placed his own CP. Despite the heavy fire, the maneuver succeeded; now the Gloster line had shrunk from four miles to a few hundred yards, but the line still held.

Carne, in weak radio communication with Brigade, asked only for helicopters to carry away his desperately wounded. But the fire was too close and too intense for the copters to come in. Carne was asked if he thought a relief column through the hills could reach him.

"No," he said, with complete honesty.

But on the afternoon of 24 April a battalion of Filipinos led by American tanks was ordered toward Gloster Hill. The column ground to within less than two thousand yards of the British before the lead tank caught fire and blocked a defile. Lashed by unbearable fire, the column retreated.

Later, the Filipinos tried again, now accompanied by Belgians, some Puerto Rican infantrymen, and tanks from the 8th Hussars. They ran into thousands of Chinese in the hills and gorges, and fell back.

The American 3rd Division, which had fallen back south of the Imjin now and which was not yet under heavy pressure, abandoning its own probe toward Ch'orwon, tried to break through with tanks and infantry.

They were not able even to get close.

On the hill, the Glosters held fast, as the sun sank. By now a gap of seven miles had been opened between them and the other units of the 29th Brigade.

All night they fought off Chinese, now coming at their hill in desperation. The Glosters were spoiling the First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive, at its very start. Before them already lay several thousands of dead Chinese, and they still had teeth.

But at dawn they had only some three hundred men fit to hold a gun, and ammunition was so low that officers whispered to hold fire until the assaulting infantry was fifteen yards away.

And at dawn of the 25th, the brigadier commanding the 29th received new orders: fall back. The Fusiliers and Ulsters were badly hurt, and with the front holding solidly elsewhere, and supporting units behind them, it was senseless slaughter to keep the decimated British on line.

Those Fusiliers and Ulsters who were on their feet came out in good order. Their wounded, two hundred of them, were loaded onto tanks. Coming out, the tanks were brought under fire. The decks and sponsons ran slick with blood, and the dead and dying lay so thickly across the tanks the gunners could not traverse the tubes. But the hurt and dying were brought out, and the 29th Brigade, two-thirds of it, fell back.

Miles deep in Chinese territory now, the Glosters were on their own.

And they were almost done, this 25th of April.

At Alexandria, Egypt, during the battle for the Nile, the Gloucestershire Regiment had approached the French in two long ranks, one to kneel and fire, one to hold off the enemy with the bayonet while the second row reloaded. They were surrounded.

Their officers shouted, "Rear rank—right-about-face! Fire!"

Back to back, the Glosters fired and repelled charges until the French retired.

Ever since, the Glosters, alone in the British service, have been entitled to wear two cap ornaments, one in front, one in back.

On Gloster Hill, Korea, one hundred and fifty years later, the Glosters fought back to back again. These were no longer the mindless automatons of Wellington's legions; many of them were reservists called to the colors upon the Korean emergency. Most of them were past the age of thirty; a great many of them had left wives and children behind in Britain.

But whatever else they might be, they were men of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

Just before daylight, the Chinese bugles made the rocky hills eerie with music, as they marshaled to charge again. There were three hundred Glosters on the hill, and a bugler. The bugler put his own horn to mouth and blew long reveille.

The sound of the Chinese horns died away.

Then, as the Chinese listened in amazement, the Gloster bugler sounded short reveille, half-hour dress, and cookhouse. While the brassy music died, in the still before the firing began again, the Glosters cheered.

At 0605, by radio, their brigadier told them they had his permission to leave Gloster Hill.

Lieutenant Colonel Carne said he was surrounded and could not break out. He asked for air support.

He got it. Dive bombers shrieked down upon their hill, blasting the ground only thirty-five yards beyond their holes. Individual Gloucesters threw smoke grenades to mark the spots they wanted hit. It was close, desperate work, but it sent the CCF reeling back.

At 0755, after fighting continuously for almost sixty hours, Carne reported to Brigade that his radio batteries were almost gone. He asked for the air and artillery to continue pounding in close.

Then Carne talked to his acting company commanders, sheltered by a fold of ground near the CP where the wounded litter patients, some five dozen of them, lay about. He told them the battalion was done. They had a choice of surrendering or trying to fight their way out in small groups.

The commanders of Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog said they would try to fight their way through.

There was no hope of taking the seriously wounded through. With these volunteered to stay Colonel Carne, Regimental Sergeant Major Hobbs, the doctor and chaplain.

Hobbs and Carne had lived their entire adult lives within the Glosters; it was unthinkable to them to desert their own. The surgeon and chaplain, brave men each, could in no other way fulfill their callings.

The remnants of A, B, and C companies started off the hill in the respite the savage air attacks had given them. On the hill Colonel Carne and the leader of the fourth party, Captain Michael Harvey of Dog Company, watched these dirty, hungry, unkempt, staggering, proud men march away into oblivion.

Harvey got his own party, about a hundred, ready to move out.

As they started down the hill, Carne asked quietly, "Any of you chaps happen to have a spare twist of tobacco?"

Captain Harvey, not yet thirty, was a reserve officer and a veteran of the Hampshire Regiment. Until this moment, he had considered himself a Hampshire man strayed from the fold. On the 25th of April, Michael Harvey, with no discredit to the Hampshires, became a Gloster.

A somewhat untidy man wearing large horn-rimmed glasses, Harvey ordered his group not to follow the three other parties moving south toward friendly lines, but to do the unexpected—head due north for at least a mile then bear west and south toward the Americans.

He told all hands, "We must travel fast. There can be no stopping to aid anyone who is wounded."

Amazingly, for several miles, moving north and then west, they neither saw nor encountered Chinese. Harvey, knowing the CCF liked to run the ridges, crept cautiously down the deep gorges. When they turned to head south again, they bumped into a CCC patrol; they killed these men, and kept on.

Mile after mile the exhausted, stumbling Glosters crept along the rocky corridors.

At last they entered a valley, almost a canyon, with clifflike sides and a stony floor almost a quarter-mile wide. A stream flowed through the valley, and Harvey's men proceeded down this for nearly a mile.

And then, suddenly, the cliffsides swarmed with the black dots of Chinese, and automatic weapons ripped at them from right and left. Harvey estimated forty guns opened up on them. Some Glosters fell, but the others leaped into a narrow ditch that ran along the valley. Under heavy fire, leaving men behind, they crawled along the rocky, foot-deep ditch on bleeding hands and knees.

The ditch disappeared in places, and more men were hit running to new cover. American planes came over them, recognized them, and poured fire into the surrounding cliffs, without much effect.

Desperately, they crawled on, moving south.

At last, more than five hundred yards ahead, Harvey saw tanks he recognized as American spread across the valley, firing. Still under heavy fire, but joyous now, the Glosters crawled rapidly toward the American Shermans.

The tanks were receiving fire from the Chinese, and the American lieutenant in command had no inkling that any friendly troops could be to the north. As the first Glosters rushed forward, he gave the order to open fire.

Cannon and machine guns lashed the stumbling Glosters, and six of them fell.

An American liaison plane, directing air support over the escapees, knowing them for British, went into aerial convulsions. The pilot swooped low over the tanks, waggling his wings at them, waving. The lieutenant, puzzled, continued to direct fire at the ragged men trying to close with his tanks.

Harvey, lying panting on the ground, found a stick. He tied his kerchief to this, stuck his cap on it, and crawled forward, waving it like a pitiful flag. The stragglers of his column, their ammunition gone, were screaming as Chinese slipped down from the ridges and bayoneted them.

The liaison pilot, sensible now, flew low and dropped a frantic note. At once, the Shermans ceased fire.

The remnants of the Gloster Battalion crawled into their line and crouched behind the meager protection of the armored hulls.

Together, then, the tanks sweeping the hostile hills with fire and steel, they retreated down the valley until the protection of the ground allowed the British to climb up on the tanks.

The American crewmen were frantic at their error. One, almost in tears, took off his shoes and gave them to an English soldier who came up on the tanks with bleeding feet.

The American officer said over and over again to Harvey, "My God, how many of your people did we hit?"

None of the Glosters would say.

For more than three miles, still surrounded by the CCF, the tanks fought back, bringing the remnants of the Glosters through. The tank lieutenant was hit, but they kept the swarming enemy off the Glosters' backs. They came out.

At the end, in the American lines, there were only thirty-eight men with Harvey. His was the only party that came through.

To the right of the 29th British Brigade, the American 3rd Division had dropped back to the Imjin River at the start of the CCF offensive. It had good positions and, better yet, it had confidence.

The Chinese, many of whom wore new, clean clothing, and carried bright new weapons, hit them.

On an outpost one N.C.O. yelled: "They're coming! They're coming! Millions of 'em? They're going to banzai us!"

They came, and they were met with fire and steel. When outposts and rifle companies had to give ground, they gave it in good order, and at high price. Men, ordered to hold and fight, showed what soldiers who have learned new discipline and know how to wield their weapons can do.

One triumphant shout from a fire-swept, bloody hill that was recorded 25 April 1951 sums up the actions of many brave men:

"We're holding them! By God, we're holding them!"

Farther east, in the Marine and ROK Zone of IX Corps, Chinese poured into the perimeter of Lieutenant Colonel L. E Lavoie's 92nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion, a self-propelled 155mm howitzer outfit supporting both the ROK and 1st Marine Division.

The CCF had burst through the weaker firepower of the ROK's, scattering a ROK regiment, then turned to strike the United States Marines in the flank. Two ROK artillery units were in their way and were overrun, losing all equipment.

On 24 April the CCF found the 92nd Field in their way. They struck while the battalion was still at mess.

Colonel Lavoie's first warning was the sudden appearance of a bullet hole in his mess tent. He leaped outside, yelling, "Man battle stations! Man battle stations!" to HQ Battery, and ran to his CP to get in touch with his firing batteries.

All the batteries were under close attack. But Lavoie had made each officer and man spend long hours on dry runs, and men sprang to the guns. With both small arms, machine guns, and heavy howitzers, the battalion fought back with viciousness and enthusiasm.

The commander of Charlie Battery reported to Lavoie, "Sir, Battery C has Chinks all through its area."

"Dead or alive?" Lavoie asked.


"To hell with the dead ones—take care of the live ones and make every bullet count!"

The initial, freezing panic of being attacked lasted only minutes. The artillerymen, well trained, tightly disciplined, and superbly led, suddenly realized they could hold their own, and they fought almost cockily, as Lavoie walked about the perimeter, dodging bullets.

One very young soldier saw some Chinese crawling toward the fire direction center. "Look at those sons of bitches! They think they're going to make it—"

He jumped up, fired. "I got one!"

Other men joined him, and the Chinese died.

Within a few hours, the battalion, intact, pulled back to safer positions beyond sniper range, as Marine tanks growled in to relieve them. They hadn't asked for help; they hadn't needed it.

Lavoie, all told, had lost 4 men killed and 11 wounded, and no equipment. Around the battalion perimeter the Marines reported they found 179 Chinese dead.

The First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive, was failing.

It was a long, long way from Kunu-ri, not in time or distance but in the hearts of American fighting men.

Because of British hearts and bayonets, the thrust at Seoul had failed. At least fifteen thousand Chinese were killed along the Imjin; the best their offensive could achieve was a realignment of U.N. lines.

In the west, U.N. troops pulled back, and more units were sent to reinforce the vital Seoul corridor. Ridgway was not interested in real estate; he gave up ground to ensure that no units would be exposed or trapped.

A new line was formed, still north of the parallel in the east, but running just above Inch'on, Seoul, to south of Ch'unch'on in the west, It was heavily fortified.

But by dark of 30 April, the CCF, exhausted, turned and crept north once more. This time, the CCF had met the tiger.

Each year, for the decade following the Korean conflict, on St. George's Day units of the British and Australian armies have sent telegrams of thanks and appreciation to certain units of the United States Army.

Each of the units so honored helped the British in a sticky place.

Each year, a telegram comes to one American tank battalion that gained great tradition and prestige in the bloody hills, whose men, like those of the Glosters, learned to walk the hills with confidence and pride. Because of them, certain men now living in England and elsewhere are still alive.

When the message comes to this battalion, however, the people in the Pentagon do not know what to do with it. On the rolls of the Pentagon, where slowly human hearts and the legends men live by are being replaced by computers, this unit no longer exists.

The Gloucestershire Regiment, now with forty-five battle honors and an American citation, will never understand.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!