MINEFIELDS AND OTHER ESCAPADES
Lieutenant Colonel John Malcolm Hutcheson, born 4 October 1927, Townsville, Queensland, joined the Regular Army from Duntroon Royal Military College, attended Sydney University 1949-52; served in Korea 1952-53, commando training UK 1955-56; Officer Commanding 2 Commando Company 1956-58; Staff College 1959-60; Jungle Training Centre 1960-61; Chief Instructor and Commanding Officer, School of Military Engineering 1968-71; Vietnam (1971-72); Chief of Staff Headquarters Communications Zone 1972-73; resigned 1973. awarded the Military Cross (MC) 1953.
In the absence of readily available reference material and shortage of time, rightly or wrongly, I am writing this paper from memory. Therefore, after forty years of memory lapses I must apologize for errors of fact and names which I have overlooked.
The basic mining devices which I encountered in Korea were the United States of America "Jumping Jack" US (M2 A2) and the "Meat Tin" US M3, both of which were anti-personnel. The anti tank mines, which were limited to a Chinese wooden box mine and a United Kingdom "Cake Tin" and a US "flying saucer" shaped mine none of which I recall seeing laid in anger. Trip flares were plentiful and in reserve positions "Kansas Line" I encountered hand grenades "mills" bombs in tin cans. Also in the paddy fields in front of the battalion positions on the Kansas lines 50 litre drums of fuel were dug in and detonated via fuse and trip-wires (fugasse?).
The jumping jack anti-personnel mine (M2 A2) was activated by some unfortunate soldier stepping on a small cluster of three prongs which activated a charge or by tripping a wire. As a consequence a 60mm mortar bomb less fins was thrown one to two yards into the air. About half a dozen soldiers in patrol formation could expect to be killed, wounded or nicked in such an explosion. Often an 'activator' who stood directly on the three prongs was hit just below the small of his back and in my experience was always killed. Indirectly, he may have shielded soldiers to his front. When jumping jacks were laid in low lying ground such as paddy fields, flooding waters tended over time to make some fuses soggy so that some mines became imperative (but not guaranteed).
The second anti-personnel mine was like a large meat loaf tin about 18cm x 11cm wide x 9cm deep with a similar fuse to the jumping jack. The mine was often laid, in hasty minefields, on top of the ground and trip wires spread appropriately on three sides of the mine. Unfortunately, a strong bush or grass fire, from flares etc was capable of causing this mine to explode, tearing open the tin.
My escapades as the assault pioneer officer of 3 RAR (15 August 1952 to 27 February 1953) and the intelligence officer of the 28 Field Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers (R.E.) (28 February 1953 to 5 October 1953) enabled me to traverse the main divisional position and back to the reserve positions. The Main Position, "Jamieson" Line, stretched from Hill 355 on the east (right) to the Hook on the west (left). The 1ROK (Republic of Korea) was on our right and the United States Marine Divisions and Turkish Brigade was on our left. "Kansas" Line which was on the forward slopes of a massive mountain Kamaksan (Hill 355 "Little Gibralter")and immediately south of the Imjin River served as the a Divisional Reserve Position. On the west of Kamaksan was the "Gloucester Valley" (site of the Gloucester Regiment stand) which is a long pass and was the historic invasion route to Seoul. On the east was another broader pass down which the MSR (main supply route) went to Seoul.
There was an intermediate position on low lying hills just to the north of the Imjin River which was called the "Wyoming Line". The main supply route (MSR) ran approximately south to north and crossed the Imjin near Divisional Headquarters at the high level steel "Pintail Bridge. The Glouster Valley road also ran about south to north and crossed the Imjin River at the "Teal" Bridge which was converted from an US floating bridge to a low level timber structure during 1952. A road in front of Kamaksan but to the south of a long feature on the west called the Lozenge and Castle Hill on the east connected the two routes. Castle Hill has been used for centuries to guard the ford at the Teal Bridge site and the entrance to Glouster Valley, which has been an invasion route to Seoul.
I was posted to the British Commonwealth Forces in Korea (BCFK) Engineer Regiment in Kure (Japan) from the 1 Field Engineer Regiment Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) in Australia in the first half of 1952 as a newly promoted captain (10 December 1952) fresh from Sydney University to do Garrison Engineers duties. In about July 1952 Captain "Roy" Pugh who was the assault pioneer officer of 3 RAR arrived in Kure Hospital. My Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel P.P. Jackson told me to make ready to replace Roy. I went to Haramura where my eyes were opened by the unusual (cracking) style of the British Commandant, the (tough) French speaking Canadians (22 RCR), and British reinforcements. But, my best experiences were with Major 'Mac' Newton (later Officer Commanding Headquarters Company, 2nd in command and Acting CO 3 RAR, as we played with fuses and mines after tea in his tent.
I was booked to leave Iwakuni at 0900 hours (9 am) on or about 14th August 1952 but either the courier left early or the staff car from Kure was late. Anyway, the US Air Traffic Officer (ATO) quickly put me in amongst the mail bags on another cargo plane. I was to be met at Seoul Airport by Captain Owen Magee (Garrison Engineer Seoul). When I arrived, Owen was missing. I rang his office, he was most apologetic for mistaking the courier as my means of transport. He apologized for the next 48 hours which I spent with him. By train to Uijongbu and truck to 3 RAR via Battalion Headquarters to Major "Bill" Morrow's D Company where the pioneer platoon was located, on top of the company's vital ground. The platoon position consisted of a communication trench and a series of two man bunkers on the muddy sliding reverse slope just above Captain "Paddy Malony's" Mortar Platoon. Each night we would endeavour to dig weapon pits on the forward slope. Each day either or both the rain and enemy shells would wash or blow the pits away.
When I joined,3 RAR, 17 August 1952, it was located on the Hills 179 and 187 almost opposite the enemy's three apostles (Mark, Luke and John features) and overlooking the north east arm of the Samichon River. Bill Morrow's D Company was on Hill 159 which was between 179 and 187 and despite the rain was moving forward of 159 to be level with C Company (Ralph Sutton) so that two companies would be on the approaches to the battalion's vital ground, viz. either or both 179 and 187 on which were located B Company and A Company ("Nimblefoot" Norrie) respectively.
I spent some time getting to know minefields. There were a few records in the battalion but the red triangles told their tales. After about a month, the platoon was relocated as part of the defensive position of BHQ. At the CO's direction via Major Harry Hind (OC Support Company) we redug the platoon and an outpost position with deep, correct to rules bunkers viz. four foot of overhead cover which meant the holes had to be dug 13 feet. The platoon was now comfortable and we began to do some patrolling by night and work on the Kansas Line by day (mostly on the Lozenge which was battalion's location on that 'fall-back' line).
Major "Jimmy" Norrie sent me on one of my first missions down a short tunnel into an underground bunker which his 'diggers' had penetrated. This bunker contained about four Chinese stick grenades, some detonators, and a wooden anti-tank mine. I took these devices down the back of the hill, took the TNT (Tri nitro toluene high explosive)and primer out of the mine and blew up this explosive and the detonators and grenades.
The empty box mine accompanied me to the School of Military Engineering at the end of my tour of duty. The box anti-tank mine was about 30cm x 30cm x 15cm made from timber packing cases. Part of the top was hinged with metal pivots. A thin piece of wood swung into position under the hinged lid. So that a vehicle or tank running across the lid broke the thin piece of wood. The hinged lid struck the detonating device and via the primer the TNT was exploded.
My next adventure was to take a section of pioneers down to a small deserted farming village/homestead and blow it up as the enemy was prone to hide in the village by night. The village was inside the 3 RAR boundary which we shared with 1 RAR which was to our right (east). As the village was in dead ground to the enemy positions on the hills opposite (the three apostles) our section was able to approach and work in peace. Major Ralph Sutton's Charlie (C) Company gave us a firm base as they were the right forward company through which we came and returned. The section souvenired coins, plates, pipes, trinkets etc as we placed white phosphorus grenades in the thatched roofs and linked these grenades with fuse instantaneous. I told the section commander to retreat up the hill to C Company. But no, industrial relations prevailed as the section insisted on seeing the big bang from their handiwork. I pushed the plunger of the exploder in true 'Bridge on the River Kwai' style. Well, there sure was a big bang. The phosphorus smoke billowed like an atomic bomb and floated off towards C Company. The village burnt quickly and reduced itself to black ashes. Now the fun began. The enemy shelled C Company like the war was really on. A few shells dropped a bit short. Later that day the field battery commander (Major "Alf" Watt), a wonderful fellow and Ralph Sutton claimed none of the shells or mortars were directed at our pioneer section which was located outside a minefield gap in no man's land until the shelling stopped. We then went home, strung out along a rising ridge from C Company to A Company, as an enemy 50 cal Machine Gun (MG) tended to make a nuisance of itself from the three apostles (feature 227 Mark, Luke and John, ). At a later date one of my pioneers sustained a hole in his upper left arm and a month or so in hospital from the said 50 Cal.
The Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) told me that he had complained to the Commanding Officer (CO) Lieutenant Colonel R.L. "Ron" Hughes that the diggers (wounded or otherwise) were chastising him for being a base wallah. So the CO organised a nice quite night patrol with lots of soldiers under Captain John Waterton (ex Royal Marines) to do a sweep in front of Major "Bill" Morrow's D company. Well, RMO's, John Waterton's or beginner's luck, the patrol had a massive fire fight about fifteen minutes after the patrol passed through the gap in the wire in front of the D Company positions. So I was told to dash down to D Company Headquarters and go out to guide the patrol, in particular the wounded through the minefield gap or get them of trouble if the diggers wandered into the minefield. Fortunately, the pioneer platoon had built a screened road with corduroy over the swampy valley floor to a bridgehead near the new D Company Headquarters. So, in the pioneer jeep, one of the few in the battalion, my driver with a radio and myself without lights drove precariously to D Company. Bill Morrow dispatched me through his company position into and through the minefield gap. As I arrived at the enemy end of the gap a towering figure approached, it was the "Doc" (RMO) followed by some wounded and others and, in the rear, John Waterton all of whom muttered conflicting war stories. After about an hour I withdrew and went home. I recall it was the first night of several nights when I heard the stretcher bearers in the ambulance jeeps singing as they slowly made their way to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) (behind Battalion Headquarters (BHQ).
Well, as luck would have it, the Intelligence Officer (IO) Captain Brian Poanga, a New Zealander on detachment to the Royal Australian Regiment, called me during the next day to brief me on a patrol which I was to take out the next night to find a sniffer dog 'Kingsman' which had been with John Waterton, learning the ropes, before the 1st Kings Battalion took over from our battalion. As an engineer/pioneer I was expected to know all about dogs. Off we went, three men and a dog just after last light, through D Company, down the minefield gap, turn right down the side of the hill and out through a gap in the wire into No Man's Land calling words to the effect "Where are you, Kingsman?" as we swept left around the front of D Company. The patrol noticed that the grass was trampled very heavily. So did the dog. He chose to follow the tracks or swathes in the grass which apparently led to China with an excellent scent.
The dog was big and strong so it took me at least 60 yards before I was able to realise that we were or could be going the wrong way. So I endeavoured to continue the sweep around D Company left forward platoon, home to Bill Morrow with no news of the Kingsman but lots about the battlefield. Later that night, another patrol led by Lieutenant "John" Hooper found the body of our Kingsman.
By now I had struck up a relationship with the Royal Engineers at Divisional Headquarters so that I was able to get some original minefield maps and records in particular of our location. However, the best learning process was to walk the minefields in each battalion area and in particular after the battalion occupied a new position. The Commander, Royal Engineers (CRE) Lieutenant Colonel Peter Moore DSO and bar, was prone to consider me one of his officers and consequently briefed me at times, in particular, when he appeared out of the gloom on rainy nights. The Royal Engineer (RE) sappers said that he never slept!
The wiring in the 187 position was classical protective and defensive wire between platoons and companies. There were protective minefields in front of A Company whose forward platoons looked straight into the valley and eyeball to eyeball with the enemy on Mathew (the Western Apostle going east to Mark, Luke and John). D company forward platoons were on high ground which tended to be back from the Valley. Hence their protective minefields were wrapped over rather than around the front of their ridge. About six months later when I was the Intelligence Officer of 28 Field Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers (RE) a British battalion (1 Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (1 RNF) was in the 187 position. Their right forward company was attacked with severe enemy penetration of platoon positions before being repulsed. I went into the company position on the morning after the battle as it was suggested that the enemy had charged, frontally through the protective minefield. There were a few enemy dead from small arms and shrapnel or may be mines just inside the home wire of the minefield but they appeared to have been blown there or tried to 'bug out' via the minefield. Being familiar with the area and talking to the company commander there was a simple reason for the initial success of the Chinese surprise attack. The enemy had crossed the valley close to or along the inter-battalion boundary between the Naechon and 187 positions, through 'my' burnt out village and through a gap in the inter-company/battalion wire and formed up on our side of the wire. There was probably a friendly standing patrol close to the company position but not able to observe or apparently hear the enemy forming up. In hindsight one might say the gap should have been closed when not in use or a standing patrol placed there before last light (the gap was defiladed from the enemy). Alternatively, the natural Forming Up Place (FUP) should have been wired to preclude its use. We used the area itself and the answer is not as easy as it seems. However, whatever the lessons, it is crystal clear that the enemy did not form up and attack through the minefield. On other occasions, in particular on 355, I noted that the enemy seemed to be aware of our minefield gaps and used them to enter our friendly positions. The enemy could read the meaning of red triangles and was keen to stay away from minefields.
The minefields in front of most positions were typical of the initial defensive layout of the Jamestown Line, namely one mine per five yards of frontage. If the trip wires were still intact throughout, then the effective density would have been much higher. However, two winters 1951/52 and 1952/53 reduced that effectiveness. Nevertheless the enemy took few, if no risks, with our minefields.
During our period in the 187 position the Royal Engineers with the assistance of 'my' pioneer platoon laid about 200 yards of Commonwealth pattern minefields of 4 mines per yard of front on the east side of 187 to guard the approaches to the two tanks which were dug in, in "Elephant Houses" (large bunkers). Bruce Robertson's Anti-Tank Platoon was nearby. The slope was strewn with loose rocks. One of the British corporals with whom I had become very friendly was arming his section of the minefield and stepped on a mine which he had just armed. He died. Apparently, in the rocks he had difficulty in finding the mines in the cluster. Hence, in his/the confusion he was disoriented. The impact on my assault pioneers was traumatic. These soldiers were keen to avoid future mining operations.
I first met Lieutenant "Joe" Quinlan when the Commanding Officer sent myself and two of my pioneers on a standing patrol. This standing patrol (SP) was located well out in front of Joe's platoon which itself was the left forward platoon of Major Bill Morrow's left forward company and virtually an outpost, just to the south of the old village of Songgok. I collected a phone from Joe Quinlan and proceeded along the valley to the south of Joe's ridge, " Bird Shit Valley". The SP consisted of a hole about 600cm deep and just big enough for the three of us to sit in, each being responsible for a 120 degree arc. The phone was connected back to Joe via an existing cable. About half way through the patrol the silhouette of an enemy patrol of about seven moved around our right front and disappeared. I unhooked the phone to stop it ringing and then, when the coast was clear, I phoned Joe. The return route was along the top of the ridge. There was a small ditch across the ridge at about one third of the way back. My companions crossed the ditch while I waited on the enemy side. Suddenly, as I crossed the ditch, to my right, there was a massive rustling of bushes. I opened fire, but absolute silence in response. We anxiously waited for a reaction I met my buddies on the far side and waited. I decided to consult with Joe. When we arrived at his front gate, Joe decided that I had fired on one or more deer?? Joe knew the area well. A few weeks before his platoon had reluctantly carried about six dead enemy (including an officer) from the vicinity of the SP up the steep 800 metre track to a jeep head. I understand that they had been killed in an artillery barrage. Because pioneers are considered to be experts at digging holes in hard and frozen ground I was given the task of burying the dead down by the battalion shower point. Even with explosives the task was long and difficult.
After three or four weeks in reserve in the Castle Hill area on the Kansas Line, the battalion, retrained, experienced, rekitted in winter clothing and refreshed, moved into the Yong Dong position. This was considered to be a relatively quiet location. However, on one occasion the assault pioneers motor driven hot water system was mistaken by the enemy as the exhaust from a tank. Consequently the area behind the platoon position was shelled. On another occasion the platoon lookout called me to observe three trucks coming down the Samichon Road and moving in behind the Three Apostles. 3 RAR was temporarily in the 29 British Brigade. Hence, I contacted the Royal Artillery (RA) Observation Post Officer (OPO) who either did not believe me that this miracle had happened or he could not see the spectacle from his Observation Post (OP). The battalion officers and non commissioned officers (NCOs) had been able to fire selected tasks with the New Zealand gunners in 28 Brigade. Hence I was disappointed when I was not allowed to 'fire' the guns.
When 3 Battalion RAR arrived in Yong Dong the assault pioneer platoon was located in hoochies dug in on the enemy side of a deep re-entrant. This reserve role enabled me to patrol the defences in particular the minefields and wire. Often, I was able to patrol and explore by day as the enemy was several thousand metres away. The first lesson I had driven home to me was "'watch your front". I was following the outer minefield wire along the Samichon just in front of the Jamestown Line when I saw the mesmerizing three prongs of an M2A2 Anti Personnel (AP) mine. Apparently the fence had never included the mine within the boundaries of the minefield. I encountered this situation on a number of occasions in the future. Whatever the cause one needed to be alert. A few months later a very capable Royal Engineer officer was killed when he stood on a mine at or near the fence of a reserve minefield. It was a sad loss.
While the platoon was in this reserve position I sent one or two sections back to the RE Field Park Squadron to manufacture a stockpile of the timber framework for four man bunkers. We had used our stock up on the 187 position. The platoon were a bit peeved when we had to hand over the stockpile to the 1st Battalion Black Watch instead. Although they could hear the noise on the "Hook" position, little did the platoon realise that the Black Watch was copping "the lot", nor that in 1953, the battalion itself would be on the Hook so the bunker frames would serve us as well.
After a few weeks, part of support company went forward into defensive positions. The assault pioneer platoon was about centre front in the overall battalion layout. Hence, the episodes with the "chuffa" hot water system (mistaken for a tank) and the trucks moving behind the "Three Apostles". The platoon was sent on a number of fighting patrols. The best that I remember was when we were sent to examine a new anti-tank ditch which the enemy had dug opposite our battalion position and running west on his side of the Samichon into the enemy Forward Defensive Localities (FDLs) The patrol left our FDLs at last light with the customary "muck up" with the radio communications. They never seemed to work when needed. We leap-frogged from paddy bund to paddy bund with two leading scouts in front until the patrol reached a ford known to us, across the Samichon river. The main part of the patrol formed a firm base on the friendly side of the Samichon. I took one scout and waded across the river. It was freezing cold, fast, chest deep and wide. When we reached the far bank we found that it was almost vertical and over six feet high. I had spent a lot of time studying the tank ditch through binoculars and estimated its locality by paces. I paced out the distance while my buddy watched our rear and sides. I expected to see the trench outline cutting through the bank. Nothing seen. So I struggled up the bank and there it was. The "'cunning" Chinamen had left about a metre from the end of the ditch to the Samichon, uncut. I noticed the "pitter patter" of tiny feet on the uncut section of the well-worn patrol path. My patrol buddy joined me and we proceeded to measure the dimensions of the trench and cautiously walk up the trench towards the enemy FDLs. It was now bright and clear under a virtually full moon on a cloudless night. I saw the silhouette of a sentry and the outline of an untrussed bridge (width unknown). My first inclination was to capture the sentry, which seemed to be the current catch-cry or alternately shoot him and retreat. Then the penny dropped. Our role was to report the details of the anti-tank ditch. We had a few obstacles before we could return to the battalion position. Besides there would be a few problems in getting out of the ditch to grab the sentry, particularly as he might not have been alone and a single shot usually brought maximum retaliation from Chinese troops. So with regret I turned for home. My loyal companion followed (we did not speak through the whole patrol).
At the end of the trench, the "coast" was clear so we hauled ourselves out and walked a few paces along the high bank until we saw an easy way down to the river level. Always alert we waited, short of and observed the ford crossing. The return journey seemed slower and colder. From the firm base we began our journey cautiously home. Before we reached our FDLs there was a heavy bombardment in the area of the ford. I learned later than Lieutenant George Zwolanski had taken a patrol to the ford and received the enemy fire, probably meant for our patrol. Later the Commanding Officer ordered the platoon to erect a long double apron fence from the wire on the Yong Dong feature to the west down to the Samichon. My senior corporal was given the task with his section and a section of Korean labourers. After about a week I asked him why he was not finished. He replied that the fence was longer than anticipated. It was then that I discovered that instead of constructing the obstacle on top of the ridge the section was weaving the wire down the reverse slope over 'dongas' etc to avoid being seen by the enemy even at 4000 metres in a 'quiet area'. Soldiers are not fools.
Hill 355 (Kamaksan) was shaped like Gibraltar. Hence, its nickname "Little Gibralter". 3 Battalion RAR moved from Yong Dong into Area 6 on the Wyoming Line for about one month during December 1952 until early January 1953. After a number of training exercises which included moving in vehicles by night to practice reinforcing battalions in the line, we were told that 3 RAR was to take over from 1 RAR on Hill 355. As assault pioneer officer I went forward before Christmas to learn the minefield layout from "Gil" Lucas (1 RAR's Assault Pioneer Officer). Gil was an outstanding worldwise teacher. He had been promoted from the ranks and knew how soldiers thought. On one reconnaisance patrol I picked up an Owen Gun from the enemy side of the wire on the western approach to the left forward company of 1RAR. The Intelligence Officer, Captain "Harry" Sayers had the audacity to demand that I hand over the weapon as it had (probably) belonged to Lieutenant "Digger" James who had recently been seriously wounded in that area. Sayers impressed me as battle wise.
I had lots of excitement and interest on 355. Almost every night or early morning I was out on some escapade or simple minefield reconnaissance. With the help of one pioneer signaler, I walked, checked and re-plotted the minefields which varied from close-in protective, defensive and tactical low density minefields to special tactical high density Commonwealth pattern minefields. One of my early tasks was to find the minefields between Hill 355 and Hill 227 ("John"), partly because the enemy had clobbered the Canadians in this area, who were on 355 prior to 1 RAR. At one stage the enemy had held a forward platoon position of the left forward company. The platoon area was badly damaged by artillery bombardments. Hence its Australian name "Surrey Hills" after a tenement area in Sydney. 3 RAR (and probably 1 RAR) left at least part of Surrey Hills to standing patrols and tightened up the perimeter as a consequence.
One of my early tasks was to find a Commonwealth pattern minefield which had been laid by the Canadians in the most likely enemy Forming Up Place in front of our positions. This minefield hindered all movement for both sides up the adjoining ridges. I had a copy of the minefield record. Hence, by day I was able to use binoculars to find some natural features shown on the record and to work out compass directions for the approach and 'discovery' routes. The records showed that if I went to a very large rock I would be at the north east corner of the minefield wire. As I had seen a snippet of the wire at this rock with my binoculars it seemed to be a good start point. I started out, with a signaler, via the Surrey Hills feature on a compass bearing late at night and found the big rock. It was gigantic. So I climbed on top and looked down to find the wire. Nothing seen. What to do now ? Be a mountaineer and struggle down the dark side of the rock on to the wire or a mine? Or is there a better idea? I climbed back off the rock to the signaler who was patiently waiting and by compass bearing headed parallel to the minefield. I then left the signaler as a firm base and with a mine-prodder, worked slowly forward towards the minefield. After about 40 minutes I saw a path and then a wire with triangles which was parallel to the path. I plodded further until I found a mine and worked out the pattern, in particular, as I could see the paths made by the laying party. I sat and thought. I went back to the wire and the path and sat upon my haunches. I had reasoned that the path had been made by several movements of the wiring and minefield recording party. Cautiously I went southwest until I saw a very definite track which formed the datum line for the laying of the minefield. Then after exploration, the datum point, the enemy side wire, the mines etc were revealed. I was even able to go and check the existence of the corner of the wire under the big rock. The minefield had been laid accurately and well recorded. I rejoined the signaler and was welcomed home by Captain John Waterton, Officer Commanding B Company. The Commanding Officer seemed pleased and commented that Brigade was also happy. Then he said something about "maybe you should take the radio with you when you go into the minefield?". About 30 years later I found out what he meant. A warrant officer photographer said to me I have been waiting to see you. I was your signaler one night on Hill 355. It transpired the young signaler had been harangued for several hours by the "bosses" to give situation reports, ("sitreps"} which he provided in the vaguest terms.
Another typical patrol was to find the minefield running approximately north-south on the eastern side of 227. With one of my assault pioneers (also ex-Royal Marines United Kingdom ) I set out after midnight from the northern end of Lieutenant "Jack" Kelly's Anti-Tank Platoon position through an abandoned outpost position and in the moonlight found the minefield outer wire which was about six inches from the ground and without triangles. This minefield had been laid when we held 227. Hence, the low wire was the original enemy side of the minefield. It was low and without triangles because that had been the practice. We followed the wire to the north and confirmed that it was intact. We were probably seen by an enemy standing patrol at the top of the re-entrant. On the return journey the enemy mortared the approach to the abandoned outpost. My buddy managed to get his clothes entangled in the mass of barbed wires that had been laid to close off the approach. After he untangled himself he went into one of the abandoned weapon pits while I made sure that the gap in the wire was closed off. The area must have seemed like daylight in the moon light because someone opened fire with small arms very close to me. Afterwards, John Waterton told me that the fire came from 227.
Some time later, when Major "Jimmie" Norrie's A Company was left forward company, a section of infantry waited at the top of the re-entrant under 227 while I went via the Anti-Tank Platoon along the minefield wire with a small wiring party. We erected a high wire with triangles above the low wire fence until I could see the sentry at the top of the re-entrant. He must have been cold because he kept slapping his sides with his hands. We turned east, past caves which the Chinese must have dug for their earlier attack on the Canadians. We met our protective patrol. I had found two Japanese style bangalore torpedoes which I gave to the wiring party to carry. I led the way up the ridge towards the Surrey Hills position When we were about 20 yards from the standing patrol one of the sentries (a reinforcement) opened fire. The shots went close but over my head, probably because the soldier did not allow for the slope of the hill. I stopped and yelled at the sentry. I understand "Jimmie" Norrie did the same from the trenches behind the Start Point. The fire stopped. I turned to signal to my patrol. They were gone. I went back down the track, found the soldiers and went up the hill into A Company. Much to my disappointment the soldiers did not regard the bangalores as important and dropped them when the firing started. Later, I was told that the CO used the incident to point out to the battalion that their marksmanship had to improve.
Possibly, the assault pioneers most exciting task was to go out to a line of weapon pits on a ridge about half way to the Chinese forward defensive positions. Apparently the enemy was able to get into these pits early in the evening and play havoc with our patrols. I understand, the Brigadier directed our CO to send myself and some of my platoon, protected by an infantry section, out to these weapon pits. We were to place a M2A2 anti personnel (AP) mine in each weapon pit and screen the pits with trip flares, so that, when the enemy approached they would trip the flare, our artillery would fire and at some stage the enemy would jump into the pits. I can recall Major "Bruce" Trenerry who had the centre forward D Company, saying on the radio "lay your eggs and come home" as dawn was approaching. However, we had completed our task and returned home just as dawn was breaking. The ruse did work because the trips flared, the artillery fired and when we went to recover the mines there was blood, splints and two torn tunics at the site. Similar to the first patrol, I located the section of infantry at the foot of the ridge as a firm base. The radio team of two was just short of the ridge line and myself and a few pioneers went forward. I was to disarm and recover half of the mines. Another pioneer corporal was to disarm and recover the other half. We had armed our respective mines on the first patrol. After I had completed my half I encountered the corporal, who said that some of his pits were too deep for him to reach the mines. So I asked him to sit on my legs and I disarmed and recovered the rest of the mines. The corporal was a very good soldier but he had witnessed the death of the Royal Engineer corporal who was arming mines in Position 187. As we approached home, the enemy began to mortar the abandoned weapon pits. I grabbed the radio handset and asked for "mortars on our position now". We were on the A Company radio net and Jim Norries' response was immediate because as we arrived at our firm base the artillery opened fire. It was a long steep haul up the hill into A Company's position. The enemy persisted by mortaring and shelling the track but the bombs and shells were far enough away to be ineffective.
One of my favourite tasks was to check the wire of a minefield between our battalion and 1st Republic of Korea (ROK} Division. Sometimes I encountered a ROK (South Korea) patrol walking along a ridge near the end of the minefield. These inspections were during the day, particularly at first light, as the minefield was mostly enfiladed from the enemy positions. My successor "Joe Quinlan" was not so lucky. He was killed by a bullet from an enemy patrol on a similar inspection.
I arrived at the battalion intelligence officer's (IOs) patrol briefing, by chance, one morning. Lieutenant "John" Hooper was being briefed to go on patrol on to the northeast face of 227. I said that was not a wise move as there were minefields across the proposed route of the patrol. But I was told that the dotted lines on the map indicated that the minefields were gone. Fortunately, I was able to convince those present that the dotted lines meant that the minefield wire was only "probably" missing.
The patrol was called off. Unfortunately some Royal Engineer officers also misunderstood this symbol a few months later and a British company group advanced to the attack on to the northern side of the Hook. Several mines exploded and, by bad luck, there were more than the average number of casualties. Hence, the attack was aborted.
28 Field Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers
3 Battalion RAR moved from 355 to "Camp Casey", a Corps reserve position to the south. We went on many battalion and even brigade exercises. During this period the Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel R.L. "Ron" Hughes, returned to Australia. Major "Mac" Newton was acting CO for a period then Major "Bill" Henderson took over. I was reposted to the 28 Fd Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers (RE), initially as a liaison officer (LO) but after about one month I was made the Intelligence Officer. On arrival at my new unit, the British CO sent me with a jeep and driver to draw a map of all the minefields on the Kansas Line. So for about a month, with compass and tape, myself and my sapper/driver trekked the hills.
Under the directions of Major "Ted" Griff I had frequently drawn maps of the defensive position on the Lozenge (part of the Kansas line). There were many red triangles on the northern slopes of the Lozenge as well as in the paddy fields below. However, many of the mine wired areas contained various booby traps, mainly "mills" bombs in tin cans with some wires intact. On the paddy fields were many fuel drums to be detonated by trip wire and fuse (a type of "fugasse"}. Some of the devices would have been spoiled by water but others were still sound, two years after they had been laid. The wire on the Lozenge, some of which had been erected in early 1951 and some by my own platoon during 1952/53, together with the red triangled areas, seemed formidable. I started from the western end of the Kansas Line. The country was reasonably heavily wooded with spectacular views from the tops of the hills across the Imjin River Valley. There were scenes of battles and fire fights with skeletons still in position. One interesting scene was a Chinese mountain gun and crew which must have been shelled or perhaps hit by an airstrike. The gun was right up on the edge of a strategic minefield. The records in this area were very accurate and very clear. Most of these fields have been laid by 'miscellaneous' forces in this case the Belgian troops. As I moved further to the east, the minefields were not as neat and the individual minefield records were hard to match with the ground. Datum points which referred to trees or big rocks were often a challenge. Which tree or which rock was the reference? However, we persisted and eventually the task was complete. With the help of the Royal Engineer Regiment Headquarters draughtsman and a United States Army printing unit, at Army Headquarters, an overprinted divisional minefield map was produced. This map covered all of the known minefields, in particular those on the Jamestown and Kansas Lines.
During my period as Intelligence Officer Royal Engineers (IORE) I was able to re-visit many of the forward Jamestown Line minefields to confirm details and to brief others on various layouts. Periodically I received visitors from units, including a special United States research unit, the Engineer Technical Intelligence Team, (ETIT). A typical request was to accompany a (mysterious) intelligence officer to a minefield on the western divisional boundary. I was shown a well worn path going north through the minefield. On the path, well into the minefield, lay a body in typical Korean winter civilian clothing. I explored the area with a pair of binoculars. It was possible to work out the minefield pattern, in particular around the body (one mine per 5 yards plus trips). I prodded my way along the track both to the front and sides of the track until I reached and checked the body. I checked for some distance around the body because the area was littered with hundreds of photographic negatives (which apparently were the target the spoils). I beckoned to the intelligence officer who came and collected the negatives. Apparently, the North Korean/Chinese couriers had used this track for some time. The dead courier was unlucky. He had, perhaps in the dark, stepped about 200 centimetres to the west of the track and stood on the only mine which was near the track. Most of the trip wires were broken. The jumping jack hit the courier in the small of his back, just under his pack. Hence, the scattering of the negatives.
The units who laid the minefields undoubtedly improved their own defences, in particular where the fields were covered by small arms fire. The pattern with one mine per five yards of front relied on the trip wires to be effective. These fields were able to be laid quickly and served their initial purpose. Passing records between units and handing over the minefields by walking every fence was essential. Regular checking of the fences and the fields was critical. Minefields are weapons and used correctly serve a useful purpose. There could have been more Commonwealth pattern minefields laid along most likely enemy approaches to reinforce the one mine per 5 yards. The enemy actions were constrained by our minefields. Problems with the minefields stemmed from ignorance and a fear born from ignorance and past experiences. Old minefields were still lethal and needed to have their fences maintained. Soldiers who fluked a trip through a minefield were almost invariably killed on their second trip. The original low wire fences needed to be heightened because our own troops sometimes lost their way and blundered into our own minefields. Sometimes, patrols who were disoriented would endeavour to try to find the outer minefield wire. Hence, the need for high fences with plenty of big red triangles. 3 Battalion RAR was reinforced by individual soldiers. Hence, there was a real danger that information would not be passed uniformly throughout the battalion.
I enjoyed my valuable military experiences in Korea. I was able to master the techniques of mine warfare. In addition, my various postings showed me the operations of the whole division. In particular defence, patrolling and comradeship. The Kansas Line minefields laid in 1951/52 were similar to those on the Jameson Line which were laid later in 1952/53. However, the Commonwealth pattern minefields were much more prolific on the Jameson Line. The lessons from Korea are important to remember. The effectiveness of various minefield densities, the avoidance of multiple trip wires and the necessity to cover the minefield with small arms fire must not be forgotten.
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