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 Regiment, 2nd 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

Despite every 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 artillery support.’vi 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 targeted.vii One way to counter this was for units to employ extra patrols specifically tasked with guarding these minefield gaps.

Other challenges 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

Troop’s 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 affected.’x 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

In the 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 action.’xiii By comparison, the British Sten gun was considered mechanically unreliable, although some units, trialled the Patchett sub-machine gun deemed to be an improvement.

Similarly, American 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 that.’xiv

The Browning Automatic-Rifle [BAR] was highly valued by most Marines and soldiers because it had ‘long range and, with its bipod, extraordinary steadiness.’xv 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.

i TNA, WO 231/90, BEQ: Major A. L. Gordon (1 R. Norfolk), 11 September 1952.

ii Carl Ballard Interview: GVSU (VHP).

iii John A. Sullivan, Toy Soldiers: Memoir of a Combat Platoon Leader in Korea (Jefferson, NC: McFarland &

Co, 1991), p. 45.

iv Anonymous Marine in Lee Ballenger, The Final Crucible: U.S. Marines in Korea, Vol. 2: 1953 (Washington,

D.C.: Potomac Books Inc, 2002), p. 90.

v Rudolph W. Stephens, Old Ugly Hill: A G.I.’s Fourteen Months in the Korean Trenches, 1952-1953

(Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 1995), pp. 152-153.

vi TNA, WO 231/90, BEQ: T/Major B. Aikens (1 R Norfolk), 1952.

vii For examples of this tactic see: Nicholas Harman (Subaltern with 1 RF) in B. S. Johnson (ed), All Bull: The

National Servicemen (London: Quartet Books, 1973), pp. 250-251; Cpl. Elgen Fujimoto (Item Company,

179th Infantry) in Louis Baldovi (ed), A Fox Hole View: Personal Accounts of Hawaii’s Korean War

Veterans (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002), pp. 275-276.

viii Corporal Clark Finks (‘L’ Company, 223rd Infantry Regiment) in William Berebitsky, A Very Long Weekend:

The Army National Guard in Korea, 1950-1953 (Shippensburg, PA: White Main Publishing Co, 1996),

pp. 231-232.

ix James Brady, A Memoir of Korea: The Coldest War (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000), pp. 93-94.

x Sullivan, Toy Soldiers, p. 101.

xi Hermes, Truce Tent and Fighting Front, p. 188.

xii Author’s Correspondence: Major Norman Salmon (Intelligence Officer, 1 Welch, Korea 1951-1952),

May 2007.

xiii TNA, WO 231/90, BEQs: 2/Lt. B. Moore (RUR att. 1 R. Norfolk), 5 October 1952 and 2/Lt. M. F.

Reynolds (The Queen’s Royal Regt att. 1 R Norfolk), 11 November 1952.

xiv Herm Jongsma Interview: GVSU (VHP).

xv Brady, The Coldest War, p. 47.

xvi Carl Ballard Interview: GVSU (VHP).

xvii Imperial War Museum (IWM) Dept. of Documents: P.125, General Sir Michael M. A. R. West Papers

(GOC 1st Commonwealth Division, 1952-1953): File MW1: Notes entitled Patrol Dogs: Uses and

Limitations, 6 Sept 1953; 1st Commonwealth Division Infantry Liaison Letter-KOREA No. 1, July 1953.

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