Patrolling and Raiding Warfare in Korea c. 1952-1953: American and British Experience. Part 2
Did you enjoy part one of James Goulty’s guest post?! Here’s part two! If you would like to learn more Eyewitness Korea is out now.
All patrols and
raids required a degree of preparation and planning, if they were to
stand any chance of success. This covered a myriad of issues, ranging
from how operations were to be controlled to administrative issues,
such as making sure men were adequately fed and rested before a
patrol. One reason Operation ‘Full Moon’ was so successful, was
because the troops involved had undergone thorough training
before-hand, and crucially co-ordination with supporting tanks and
artillery had been meticulously worked out. A company commander from
the Royal Norfolk Regiment stressed, it was vital to condition troops
to become ‘patrol minded,’ especially as it could appear to them
that patrolling was ‘a routine duty.’ Likewise, they should never
be sent out ‘without a complete rehearsal beforehand.’i
In this regard good communications were vital, and if radio/wireless
failed, some form of back-up such as signalling flares had to be
available, especially so patrols could call down defensive fire (DF)
if needed to cover their withdrawal.
Reflecting on his
experience as a draftee with 9th
Infantry Division in 1953, Carl Ballard, similarly noted ‘we
rehearsed patrols in the rear of positions in similar terrain,
including the position of the BAR [Browning Automatic-Rifle] and
riflemen etc. General Clark’s son was the Battalion Commander and
very good at getting them out on the ground and trying to be prepared
for patrol work.’ii
effort to prepare troops, some patrols and raids went awry. In the
depths of the Korean night, against a wily and tenacious foe,
potentially there was much that could go wrong. It took time to
acclimatise to the darkness of the Korean night, and new men were a
liability as they initially tended to stumble about like drunks.
Similarly, noise was a major concern, particularly as the enemy was
generally deemed to be stealthy and good at moving about at night.
American platoon commander John Sullivan bemoaned, that ‘GIs made
one hell of a racket, what with thermal boots crunching on the frozen
ground and weapons and ammo banging together.’iii
Coughing could be a major bug-bear, particularly when trying
patiently to lay an ambush. One Marine with a chronic smokers cough
remembered how an irate officer made him chew on a little cigarette
tobacco, which seemed to relieve his symptoms.iv
Similarly, if anyone tried to smoke on patrol, that could also invite
disaster when spotted by the enemy. American infantryman Rudolph
Stephens noted that when a patrol unwittingly ‘bumped’ into
another friendly patrol, it could spark a fire-fight, and cause
unnecessary casualties. As American rifles and carbines wouldn’t
fire as fast as Chinese Burp guns (sub-machine guns), one lesson
troops had to learn quickly in Korea was how to differentiate between
the sounds of different weapons, so as to tell friend from foe.v
Notably, enemy action could hinder the progress of patrols or raids.
One British officer found the Chinese frequently attempted to deploy
superior numbers, ‘to envelop our own patrols by going round both
flanks presumably in an attempt to surround them and cut them off
from our own lines, and to prevent our own patrols from calling for
Alternatively, a ploy used by the enemy was to ambush American or
British patrols in proximity to their own lines. In this they were
aided by the nature of American and British defences, as extensive
use of minefields ensured there had to be designated gaps for troops
to safely exit/enter positions and these were sometimes ruthlessly
One way to counter this was for units to employ extra patrols
specifically tasked with guarding these minefield gaps.
arose from the vagaries of the Korean climate and unwelcome
attentions of wild life. Corporal Clark Finks, a National Guardsman,
remembered setting up an ambush on the last patrol he went on, when
he was savaged by a large black ant, the ubiquitous insect of Korea.viii
Patrolling/raiding occurred all year round, and winter could be
especially severe to deal with. Marine officer James Brady vividly
recalled having to wear a parka, field jacket with wool lining, plus
an assortment of woollen sweaters, shirts, trousers, mittens, gloves
and thermal boots, in order to stay warm while waiting to ambush ‘the
gooks [North Koreans].’ix
motivation could also overshadow their reaction towards patrolling,
given the stalemate type of situation that existed in Korea by 1952.
Many Americans ‘felt useless in the stable situation we were forced
to accept. We could die, and the outcome of the war would not be
Another factor particularly prevalent in the American military was
the ‘body count attitude,’ something, that would resurface in
Vietnam. Patrols/raids would be deemed to have killed a set number of
enemy troops, and this statistic was passed up the chain of command.
The U.S. Army
Official History even admitted that for intelligence purposes patrols
were of limited use, as few prisoners were taken and often little or
no contact was made with the enemy.xi
It would be naïve to think that some American and British patrols
didn’t resist the temptation to deliberately avoided contact with
the enemy, particularly as during part of the overall effort to
dominate no man’s land patrols did not necessarily always confront
the enemy. Some may even have sent back false situation reports by
radio, once going to ground relatively near to their own positions.
However, as one former British battalion intelligence officer
cautioned, usually this type of behaviour would ‘have a habit of
becoming known and can’t be kept secret.’xii
close-quarter combat that characterised patrol engagements, grenades
and automatic firepower were invaluable, despite the difficulty in
being able to distinguish clear targets at night. British soldiers
noted that the high rate of fire of the enemy’s Burp gun ensured it
‘felt that far too many bullets were coming in your direction,’
plus its ‘distinctive noise meant everyone knew the Chinese were in
By comparison, the British Sten gun was considered mechanically
unreliable, although some units, trialled the Patchett sub-machine
gun deemed to be an improvement.
troops had doubts over some of their weapons and equipment. While he
respected the accuracy and reliability of the standard issue M-1
rifle, Herm Jongsma from 15th
Infantry Regiment, 3rd
Division felt you required a weapon like the Burp gun that ‘sends a
wall of lead at you.’ He felt much happier when he obtained an M-3
sub-machine gun or ‘Grease gun’ of .45 calibre. ‘I guarantee
you that when a .45 hits you in the arm or hand you are down. It
doesn’t have to hit you in the arm or chest or anything like
Automatic-Rifle [BAR] was highly valued by most Marines and soldiers
because it had ‘long range and, with its bipod, extraordinary
This as Carl Ballard, who served as a BAR man on arrival in Korea
discovered, ensured you went ‘out first on patrol as you had the
most firepower, then you were last back in so as to protect the squad
again with the firepower of the BAR.’xvi
Yet, like the British Bren gun, it was a heavy weapon to lug on
patrols, often leading new troops to be lumbered with it, and
sometimes malfunctioned in the cold of a Korean winter.
As the war
progressed American and British patrols benefited from several
innovations. Special microphones were adapted by the Royal Signals to
fit radio sets that enabled the operator to make transmissions with
little chance of his voice being detected by the enemy. Despite the
rigours of the Korean climate, and dangers in no man’s land such as
trip wires, successful use was made of patrol dogs to provide
advanced warning of the enemy. By 1953 the sniper or ‘snooper
scope,’ a first generation infra-red night sight fitted to an
American Carbine proved useful, despite being cumbersome to deploy as
the equipment was powered by a large man-pack battery with plenty of
wires that could become tangled in the undergrowth.xvii
Much use also started to be made of flak jackets. Although heavy and
uncomfortable, these offered troops significant protection,
especially from small arms and shell fragments.
TNA, WO 231/90, BEQ: Major A. L. Gordon (1 R. Norfolk), 11 September
Carl Ballard Interview: GVSU (VHP).
John A. Sullivan, Toy
Soldiers: Memoir of a Combat Platoon Leader in Korea (Jefferson,
NC: McFarland &
1991), p. 45.
Anonymous Marine in Lee Ballenger, The
Final Crucible: U.S. Marines in Korea, Vol. 2: 1953
Potomac Books Inc, 2002), p. 90.
Rudolph W. Stephens, Old
Ugly Hill: A G.I.’s Fourteen Months in the Korean Trenches,
NC: McFarland & Co, 1995), pp. 152-153.
TNA, WO 231/90, BEQ: T/Major B. Aikens (1 R Norfolk), 1952.
For examples of this tactic see: Nicholas Harman (Subaltern with 1
RF) in B. S. Johnson (ed), All
Quartet Books, 1973), pp. 250-251; Cpl. Elgen Fujimoto (Item
Infantry) in Louis Baldovi (ed), A
Fox Hole View: Personal Accounts of Hawaii’s Korean War
of Hawai’i Press, 2002), pp. 275-276.
Corporal Clark Finks (‘L’ Company, 223rd
Infantry Regiment) in William Berebitsky, A
Very Long Weekend:
Army National Guard in Korea, 1950-1953
(Shippensburg, PA: White Main Publishing Co, 1996),
James Brady, A Memoir
of Korea: The
Coldest War (New
York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000), pp. 93-94.
Soldiers, p. 101.
Hermes, Truce Tent and
Fighting Front, p.
Author’s Correspondence: Major Norman Salmon (Intelligence
Officer, 1 Welch, Korea 1951-1952),
TNA, WO 231/90, BEQs: 2/Lt. B. Moore (RUR att. 1 R. Norfolk), 5
October 1952 and 2/Lt. M. F.
(The Queen’s Royal Regt att. 1 R Norfolk), 11 November 1952.
Herm Jongsma Interview: GVSU (VHP).
Coldest War, p. 47.
Carl Ballard Interview: GVSU (VHP).
Imperial War Museum (IWM) Dept. of Documents: P.125, General Sir
Michael M. A. R. West Papers
Commonwealth Division, 1952-1953): File MW1: Notes entitled Patrol
Dogs: Uses and
6 Sept 1953; 1st Commonwealth Division Infantry Liaison Letter-KOREA
No. 1, July 1953.