Let us know if you agree to cookies
This website uses cookies to improve user experience. Please let us know if you agree to all of these cookies. You can change your cookie preferences at any time on our Cookies page; there is a link to it in the footer at the bottom of the website.
Yes, I agree to all of these cookies   No, take me to settings
All Posts, Military History

Patrolling and Raiding Warfare in Korea c. 1952-1953: American and British Experience. Part 1

Here’s the first part of James Goulty’s latest guest post! Keep a look out for part two which will be landing on the blog later this week… enjoy!

By spring 1952, the
ebb and flow of the first year of the Korean War had given way to
static warfare, as nether side was prepared to risk seeking all out
victory. Instead fighting continued while peace talks were held, and
the ultimate object became maintaining the status quo, something many
combat troops found deeply frustrating given the dangers they faced.
The American led United Nations Command (UNC) was tasked with
mounting an ‘active defence,’ broadly along the line of the 38th
Parallel. This entailed being prepared to resist Communist attacks,
and simultaneously maintaining an aggressive stance, despite the
nature of the war. Troops lived in bunkers or ‘hootchies,’
normally situated on the reverse slope, and extensive trenches were
dug. One American Marine found it felt as if the MLR (Main Line of
Resistance) formed a ‘continuous avenue from coast to coast,
cutting the peninsular of Korea in half.i
Typically, snipers, tanks, artillery and airpower were deployed to
destroy hostile defences, harass the enemy, and break-up his attacks.

Infantry troops about to board helicopters to be transported to front lines, at the 6th transportation helicopter, eighth Army, in Korea.
NARA FILE#: 111-SC-422077

Despite changes in
technology, and the vastly different Korean terrain, frontline
conditions in many respects bore a resemblance to the trench warfare
of the First World War. The American approach was to position the
MLR at the forward base of hills, and employ a linear defence with as
few gaps as possible between units. In front of this was the OPLR
(Outpost Line of Resistance), intended to provide early warning of
enemy attack, and ‘roll with the punch,’ rather than be held at
all cost. Yet, in reality some American commanders attempted to hold
outposts and this caused heavy casualties, as well as destabilising
the MLR owing to the need for counter-attacks. In contrast,
British/Commonwealth doctrine espoused the employment of FDL (Forward
Defensive Localities), situated in depth, capable of all
round-defence, and sited on the crests or sides of hills.ii

Within the context
of maintaining an ‘active defence,’ both the Americans and
British believed in aggressive patrolling, and it fulfilled numerous
functions. As the commanding officer of 1st
Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI) explained, the overarching
intention was ‘to dominate no man’s land,’ and patrolling
enabled UN troops to learn about the enemy’s positions and habits
while preventing the enemy from doing likewise. Secondly, it sought
to provide a protective screen in front of the main position, through
which the enemy would have to risk passing if he was intent on an
attack. Consequently, patrols would provide early warning of any
attack that would enable friendly artillery to hit enemy troops as
they formed up for an assault, and before they got too close to UN
positions. These were invariably on steep slopes that offered some
protection to the attacker, as owing to the topography only mortars
could successfully engage them at close range.iii

Amongst some
American commanders, patrolling was additionally viewed as a vehicle
by which to keep men ‘sharp.’ As the American Official Historian
commented, the planning and conduct of patrols ‘kept frontline
troops alert and gave them valuable experience under combat
Such attitudes tended to be resented by the Marines and the British,
who saw no need to mount operations and risk casualties for such
reasons. In January 1953 GOC 1st
Commonwealth Division stressed, ‘No patrols will be sent out
without some specific object. On no account will commanders send out
patrols for patrolling sake, nor will they order sub-units to provide
so many patrols per so many days. Any form of routine patrolling is
dangerous because it invites enemy ambush, it kills initiative, it
wearies the men both mentally and physically and it achieves

Several types of
patrol were employed by the Americans and British. Fighting patrols
were intended to make contact with the enemy, and could even form
firm bases from which to raid enemy positions. Usually, they were
organised on an ambush basis, and targeted routes or terrain features
likely to be used by the enemy. This acted as a means of countering
Chinese or North Korean activity in no man’s land, and pushed them
back towards their own defences. George Brown experienced fighting
patrols as a National Serviceman with the King’s (Liverpool)
Regiment, towards the tail end of the war. He ‘felt very
comfortable’ with this type of activity, despite the anxiety
generated by leaving forward positions at night and potentially
confronting the enemy. Typically, there were fifteen heavily armed
men geared-up for close combat, plus an officer or sergeant leading
the patrol. This often included two Bren gunners to provide automatic
firepower, and men designated as ‘bombers’ who carried around
‘sixteen grenades, all primed, in extra water bottle holders,’
unlike anything he’d experienced previously during training.vi
However, as former Marine platoon commander Howard Matthias recalled,
enemy fighting patrols would attempt to mount ambushes and capture
prisoners as well. Consequently, the Korean night became dominated by
‘a life and death game-who could gather the most information and
who would be able to ambush the other.’vii

In contrast,
reconnaissance or listening patrols relied on far fewer troops and
were tasked with gathering specific information rather than making
contact with the enemy. An American infantryman with 40th
during spring 1953 in the Punchbowl area, recounted: ‘…our orders
were to go out and recce patrol and try and figure out what the enemy
were up to and how many there were. We would try to report how many
we thought were there and we did not know. We knew we were
outnumbered. But we had far superior firepower, better weapons and
more of them. We thought we were outnumbered three to one, later on
we found out it was probably more like twenty to one which was the
scary thing. This went on for about six and a half months.’viii

related form of patrolling was to employ standing patrols, consisting
of only two to three men, as routinely employed by
British/Commonwealth forces in front of their mainline instead of
outposts. These acted like antennae, were in regular communication by
radio or field telephone with the main position, and provided
advanced warning of any attack. Stanley Maud, a National Servicemen
with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, discovered on these patrols
soldiers were supposed to ‘listen and you watch and if you see or
hear any of the enemy then the Battalion is willing to sacrifice all
three out there to get the rest of the lads standing-to.’ix
However, as the GOC 1st
Commonwealth Division emphasised, small patrols (2-3 men) stood a
good chance of being able to ‘fade out’ on making contact with
the enemy in a manner in which a section/platoon or larger body of
troops probably couldn’t achieve.x

A sense of the
scale of the nightly patrol effort by British units during 1952-1953,
can be gauged from records of 1 DLI. Firstly that Battalion
maintained a screen of standing patrols in front of its main position
and in front of these one to three fighting patrols normally set
ambushes. Additionally, several reconnaissance patrols usually
operated, either independently or employed the ambushes as firm
bases. Consequently, as many as 100 men were routinely required to
operate ahead of the main position, and this was not uncommon.
However, it risked weakening those defences and demanded that all
troops constantly remained offensively minded, plus required a high
level of leadership and training if such a screen was to be
maintained successfully over a prolonged period.xi

A platoon commander
from the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment considered the overall
patrol situation analogous to ‘a game of chess.’ Under a patrol
master, usually a company commander in a command post, ‘the
standing patrols were the pawns, the recce patrols the knights, the
smaller fighting patrols the bishops and the larger officer led
sorties the queens.’xii
Yet, most patrols were greeted with trepidation by participants
and the hours preceding them, were filled with anxiety. National
Serviceman Neville Williams saw action with the Assault Pioneer
Platoon, 1st
Battalion Welch Regiment. His was the most forward unit in his
Battalion and frequently in contact with patrols. ‘Going out on
one of these patrols the lads would often look cheerful, but at the
same time were tense. Returning at daybreak they looked altogether
different. Their eyes had a haunted look and their faces almost
skeletal, as they plodded back wearily to their positions…suffering
the after-effects of tension, fear, relief and utter weariness.’xiii

represented a logical extension of patrol activity within the context
of the limited war that troops were being tasked to fight. These
could vary in intensity and scale. First Battalion Duke of
Wellington’ Regiment for example, often employed small ‘snatch
patrols’ where troops entered enemy positions in order to capture
prisoners, something that was frequently difficult to achieve
In contrast, during July 1952 near Panmunjom, a company sized force
from 1st
Marine Division, raided enemy positions destroying bunkers and
killing several enemy troops.xv

US Marine Capt. Francis “Ike” Fenton glowering in despair as he is told that his company is almost out of ammunition as they try to hold off a heavy counter-attack by North Korean forces in the Naktong River area.

An ambitious and highly successful daylight raid on an enemy position was also mounted by 1st Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on 24 January 1953. Code-named ‘Full Moon,’ it took advantage of the early morning sun to dazzle the defenders, and resulted in the destruction of an enemy tunnel.xvi This was unusual as the majority of patrolling occurred at night. On occasion armour was even deployed successfully on raids by both the American and British, especially where terrain was favourable. During Operation Jehu (17 June 1952), Centurion tanks from 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards attacked Point 156, with some success, inflicting damage against Chinese defences.xvii


We hope you have enjoyed the first part in James’ latest guest post. Part two will be live soon!


Russ, The Last
(New York:
Zebra Books, 1985), p. 82

Jeffrey Grey, The
Commonwealth armies and the Korean War

(Manchester: MUP, 1988), pp. 143-144.

Durham County Record Office
(DCRO), Durham Light Infantry Archives, DLI 195/8, Commanding

End of Tour Report, 1st
DLI Korea 1952-1953, Section 8 Patrolling, p. 5.

Walter G. Hermes, U.S.
Army in the Korean War: Truce Tent and Fighting Front

(Honolulu: University Press

the Pacific, 2005), p. 188

The National Archives (TNA), Kew, WO 308/94, GOC Personal Memorandum
No. 9: Patrol Policy, 1st

Div 23 January 1953, paragraph 4, p. 1.

George Brown in Adrian Walker, Six
Campaigns: National Servicemen at War 1948-1960

(London: Leo

1993) p. 22.

Howard Matthias, The
Korean War: Reflections of a Combat Platoon Leader
Father & Son,

p. 95.

Dan Pfeiffer Interview: Grand Valley State University (Veterans
History Project).

Stanley Maud in Adrian Walker, A
Barren Place: National Servicemen in Korea 1950-1954

(London: Leo

1994), p. 109.

TNA, WO 308/94, GOC Personal
Memorandum No. 9: Patrol Policy, 1st
Comwel Div 23 January 1953,

6, p. 2.

DCRO, DLI 195/8, Commanding Officer’s End of Tour Report, 1st
DLI Korea 1952-1953, Section 8

p. 7.

2/Lt. John Stacpole in A. J. Barker, Fortune
Favours the Brave

(Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2002), p. 47.

Neville Williams, A
Conscript in Korea

(Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2009), p. 109.

Stanley Maud in Walker, A
Barren Place
, p. 109.

Hermes, Truce Tent and
Fighting Front
, p.

See for example, ‘A
Daylight Raid in Korea’

in The Iron Duke Volume 29, No. 88, April 1953, pp. 72-74.

For further details on Operation Jehu see: Gen. Sir Cecil Blacker
and Maj. Gen. H. G. Woods, Change

The 5
Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, 1928-1957

(Colchester, 1978), pp. 105-108.