in Korea - August 1950 to April 1951
including Hill 282 - 23rd September 1950
written by former ‘C’ Company Argyll, Peter C Le P Jones
Foreword - this account is being written principally regarding the action on Hill 282 on the 23rd September 1950 and is intended as an attachment to the print of this action that hangs in our house.
This print is a copy of an original painting that hangs in the Argylls museum at Stirling castle in Scotland. The museum, part of the Argylls Head Quarters, is well worth a visit. In addition the more detailed battalion history, The Argylls in Korea, should be read, as otherwise this would be an even longer document with much repetition. Of necessity this account must be from my own experiences in regard to ‘C’ Company.
Hong Kong - from 1949 the Argylls were stationed in Hong Kong. In June 1950 I was lucky enough, along with two other Argylls, to have our names drawn from a hat to sail with the Navy to Kure in Japan in order to be present at the annual Naval Regatta held there - a supposed holiday. The three of us, along with representatives of other regiments, boarded H.M.S. Jamaica a six-inch gun cruiser while other troops boarded a Corvette, H.M.S. Black Swan.
Before reaching Japan the Korean war started and the ships were diverted to support United Nations forces in Korea, to bombard the North Korean coastal supply routes, various military installations, convoys of lorries, tanks and guns along with anything else needing attention. Having been locked below decks during the first action, we presented ourselves smartly to the Gunnery Officer as soon as action stations were ended and begged to be on deck next time to help in any way possible. We did not want to be enclosed, hang this being enclosed in a steel tomb, or so it seemed to soldiers. We were all appointed to pass ammunition to the 4” Guns (Ships secondary armament), Bofors and Multiple Pom-Pom guns.
We, the Black Swan and an American anti-aircraft Cruiser, were attacked on one occasion by eight Korean Motor Torpedo boats. The ensuing fight was great to watch, huge 6” gun broadsides (very noisy) being fired into the water causing massive waves. This was to create columns of water in front of the MTB’s with the object being that they would run into the wall of water and sink, which several did - hitting a small boat doing 40 knots was otherwise very difficult. By the end of the action seven had been sunk or disabled and one beached itself, the crew running away whilst we blasted their abandoned MTB to pieces.
On another occasion we were bombarding a convoy including artillery pieces. They were firing back when an unlucky shell hit the mast just above our heads and burst showering the troops and sailors on the other side of the ship with shrapnel, killing and wounding five or six men. Again we were lucky, but one Argyll got a tiny splinter in his wrist and from this action he could claim to be the first Argyll causality in the Korean War.
We eventually left the ship at Nagasaki and had a two day train ride from the South Island to North Island, much of the country looking like Scotland. We arrived at Kure Naval Base where the Japanese Fleet sailed from when they attacked Pearl Harbour.
visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki while we waited for transport back to Hong Kong,
eventually boarding H.M.S Ocean, an
aircraft carrier that was being used as supply ship between Singapore and
Around that time The United Nations / Americans wrote to the British, “For God Sake send us something”, we were later jokingly known as the “For God Sake send us some thing Brigade”.
So the Argylls sailed from Hong Kong on the 24th August 1950 aboard a 6” gun cruiser H.M.S. Ceylon to join the United Nations forces as part of 27 Brigade, which included the Middlesex Regiment, ourselves and not much else - we did not even have our transport. I had been born in Ceylon on the 30th June 1929, which was at least for me a good omen and that is what it turned out to be, as I came through the nine-month campaign unscathed.
landed at Pusan in South Korea to be greeted by a hysterical noisy welcome from
the Koreans and an American Black Band of some doubtful ability as musicians,
but certainly not lacking in enthusiasm. The
Argylls disembarked and entrained, but there was much difficulty keeping the
sailors from joining us and at least one sailor was found by the naval police
hiding under a seat - they wanted to join their army friends.
I remember it the journey to the front-line was not far, but took rather a long
time due to the unwillingness of the engine driver to go more than short
distances and then go to sleep. He eventually had to be forcibly made to
continue by an officer standing with a drawn gun to persuade him. At the end we
finished up in an apple orchard, with the most delicious apples that could be
picked from where we slept on the ground. The next morning everyone who had
eaten the apples had upset stomachs and it was discovered by our Medical Officer
that the apples had been sprayed with arsenic against insects - removal of the
powder relieved the problem. This was a short break before business began.
Our first position was on a hill beside the Naktong River, which overlooked a road running alongside the river. The enemy (Gooks as they became known) were on the other side of the river well within small arms (rifle and machine gun) range. Our arrival at this point was to take over from an American unit.
At the dead of night my unit, ‘C’ company, reached this position by a somewhat circuitous, dangerous and not recommended route - we had got ourselves lost. By moving down no-man’s-land along the road between the Americans and Gooks (North Korean’s) who held positions over the river. This was all something we did not realise fully until later (what price the fog of war) and was done with considerable luck and all without attracting the enemy who were some two / three hundred yards away.
eventually found where we should be. The
Argylls, who were keeping quiet as is normal, were suddenly met by the Americans
– all hell let loose with great welcome greetings being shouted mainly by the
black American troops who made up the majority of the unit.
The object was not to let the enemy know what was going on and the
greeting certainly frightened the Argylls who did not usually conduct war in
we were to discover that American Combat units (equivalent to our Battalions)
were in many cases a very undisciplined lot - their Airborne, Marines and some
Combat units were excellent.
American was heard to call in a loud voice, down into a dip in the ground,
“Who dat down there?” and the reply, “Who dat up there calling who dat
down there?” The enemy must have
heard this, as they machine-gunned in our general direction and the Americans
left rapidly. Our platoon and one
other took up positions at the top of the hill, while another platoon took up
positions at a location nearer the bottom.
There was much patrolling and good deal of exchange of fire. One patrol lost two dead, with Captain Neil Buchanan and his batman, both badly wounded, managing to bravely give covering fire to allow the rest of the patrol to withdraw with several wounded.
During the next two nights the Gooks sent patrols against our Vickers machine guns within the lower platoons position. Although they wounded some men on the first night, but on the second night when they returned just before dawn no one fired until the light grew stronger. Then the Sergeant ordered them to fire and the Gooks lost ten dead and several more were seen to be wounded. This was all teaching us about the Gook and was to stand us in good stead for the future. After some two weeks we were relieved.
Next started what was to be very much the story of Korea, climbing in trucks. travelling with tanks as escorts, moving forward and clearing locations of enemy and then on again.
Hill 282 - 23rd September 1950
after the UN Forces started to move forward we came to a range of hills running
each side of the road and the enemy fired on our convoy. Brigadier Coad ordered
the Middlesex troops to clear the smaller hill to the right, which they did with
‘A’ Company took up a position on a smaller hill at the bottom of Hill 282
and as there was insufficient light ‘B & C’ companies took ‘lying
up’ positions in front of ‘A’ Company and bedded down on the ground for
the night. I doubt many slept, as
this was our first dawn attack and all were naturally very apprehensive of what
was expected to happen, wondering whether we would be found wanting and how
would we acquit ourselves. The question that ran through my mind, and I am sure
the minds of others, was how many Gooks were up there and what was going to
happen. Would you be wounded or killed?
never got better with each attack, but the first going into the unknown was the
worst - thereafter it was no longer not the unknown, but rather what you had
experienced before. Each assault
was always a different situation and always full of the unexpected – this was,
to put it mildly, somewhat nerve racking.
Just before dawn on a dry day, we were told to prepare ourselves and to leave our heavy gear and blankets where they were and just take our water bottles weapons and ammunition.
hasty breakfast on cold American ‘C’ rations - a cardboard box with a black
substance between two layers of brown cardboard that burnt very well with no
smoke to heat cans of food delivered daily.
Each box consisted of three main meal cans, 20 cigarettes, coffee
sachets, coca slab (marvellous), two small cans of fruit salad or similar.
formed up with ‘B’ Company on the right and ‘C’ Company on the left.
Each company was to climb up through dense fir woods on two separate spurs
leading to the top.
The command advance was given at 5.15am and we moved off, our platoon being in the lead for ‘C’ Company. Every tree and mound you felt may hold Gooks ready to fire, a time of high nervous tension and natural fear.
We heard firing from ‘B’ Company who had pulled ahead of us and had surprised a breakfast party of Gooks. Soon after we came on unmanned enemy trenches. By now there was a lot of firing and some mortaring all around the area.
arrived at the top and met up with ‘B’ Company. No 7 platoon of ‘B’ Company under the command of
Lieutenant Jock Edington were engaging the enemy in a large fire fight in the
woods to the left, which turned out to be only half of the hill which was a
surprise to us all. This area
latterly was found to contain a Gook observation post that was controlling their
platoon was told to hold a position immediately below the top ridge as a
reserve. But, we were soon under
fire from the enemy who were working their way round the hard pressed 7 platoon
who had done sterling work against a numerically superior enemy.
The Argylls killed many, but eventually had to retire despite being
reinforced by Lieutenant Buchanan’s platoon.
Both platoon commanders were badly wounded: Lieutenant Buchanan was
subsequently killed with other wounded when the American planes dropped Napalm
were getting bad with a considerable number of wounded and killed when Major
Muir the Battalion 2i/c arrived with a party, some from the Middlesex Regiment,
carrying stretchers loaded with ammunition. They were to try and evacuate the
The Americans had withdrawn their artillery support from us, as they said there were no enemy on the Hill. Because of the height of the hill, some 900ft, our 3” mortars could not reach the enemy over our position from where they were located. Our Vickers machine guns were with ‘A’ Company and could not fire over the hill, although they did give covering fire into the woods where the enemy were infiltrating round our left flank.
support from artillery or mortars our Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel
Neilson, called in the American Airforce to attack the Gooks.
In the middle of our position we laid out our florescent aircraft
recognition panels in the correct code for the day - these panels were used to
warn planes on the whereabouts of UN troops.
heard the planes, US propeller driven Mustangs, arrive and hopes ran high.
But, instead of hitting the Gooks they dropped Napalm on us killing some
of our wounded and severely burning others.
Many had to try and escape the wall of fire by running from the position.
location was fortunately on a mound and burning petrol and oil went down the
gully within 30 feet of us - we were singed from the heat. The planes came back
machine-gunning our position. There was naturally tremendous shock, despair and
anger with frantic attempts to get the correct Veri-Light flare to stop them.
The signaller had been killed, I and another Argyll were desperately trying to find the correct Veri-Light flare, which was in the dead soldiers haversack, firing this would stop the attack. Finally we found the correct red flare and as one of the American Mustangs came in machine gunning we fired the flare, which he saw. ‘A’ company were also being machine-gunned and were firing Veri-Lights.
Muir was still on the Hill and gathered the few remaining unhurt men of whom I
was one. He led the charge to the
crest where one remaining Argyll, Private Watts, with one or two others were
still holding and defending the position - the Battalion History says there were
only fourteen of us. The enemy were late in taking advantage, but had by this
time realised what had happened and came charging up the Hill.
I was near Major Muir on his right while he and I think his Batman manned and fired a 2” mortar from Major Muir’s hip. They were sitting on the top of the crest, in full view of the enemy under heavy machine gun fire. I was firing at the Gooks as they advanced with all the few Argylls left doing the same - we had only two Bren Guns. Major Muir was leading a charmed life it seemed, but was soon hit by two bursts of machine gun fire and mortally wounded. He had to be carried off the Hill, but died upon reaching the bottom.
conditions were so bad and casualties so high the CO gave Major Gordon Ingram
'B' Company Commander, permission to withdraw the remainder of both
companies and we moved of firing as we went.
enemy by this time had reached the top of the Hill and were firing at us. One
Gook was after me as he placed a round each side of my head, luckily missing.
It must have been my lucky day, as earlier two machine gun bursts came
within 12” each side of me and I made a very hasty drop into a deserted Gook
foxhole having also escaped the earlier Napalm.
One Argyll while trying to retire was attacked by three Gooks - he bayoneted one and took his Burp Gun (Chinese machine gun) and killing the other two, he then escaped.
all were carrying wounded or extra weapons to deny these from the enemy. No
doubt due to the severe fighting, the enemy did not pursue us and we reached the
bottom of the Hill safely.
returned to ‘A’ Company’s position unbowed, yet sadly a much smaller
number than that which had left in the morning, having suffered some 90 plus
casualties with 13 dead out of a total of some 180 from the two companies
assembled that morning. I saw Major
Muir’s body at the bottom of the Hill where he had been left when he died; he
later was awarded a Posthumous VC.
we were under strength, we had left Hong Kong with only three companies instead
of four. After Hill 282 we were
down to just two companies in the battalion until reinforcements eventually
before dark I led some of the remaining men to collect blankets and ponchos from
where we had left them in the morning at the bottom of the Hill.
Men who had been carrying stretchers and had been driven down by the
flames were starting to drift back to our position.
days later we had our packs brought up to us and we were told to take anyone’s
pack, I walked over and there was my own pack. We had not shaved or washed for
several days, so to have ones own pack returned was especially welcome.
heard, rightly or wrongly, that the American pilots before attacking had radioed
their base to say there were florescent panels on the ground in the correct code
of the day. Their base said that
there were no UN troops on the Hill and that the enemy were using captured
panels - they ordered them to attack hence we were hit instead of the enemy.
American Pilots visited the wounded in hospital and were most upset about what
had been done - the fog of war rears its ugly head again.
Hill 282 we had a few days break from rushing around, though we were still near
the front line when our reinforcements arrived from the UK, quite a few of whom
were volunteers from other regiments but keen as mustard to join what they
thought was an elite unit. What price the notoriety and press coverage of Hill
282? They soon realised we were just a normal Scottish Battalion doing an
unpleasant task as best we could.
the end of September our transport caught up with us and once again the advance
continued daily until the end of October. We
were joined by an Australian Battalion and later New Zealand 25 pound gunners,
Indian parachute, Field Ambulance unit and Colonel Snows American unit of 4.2”
mortars. This Commonwealth 27th Brigade was later joined by two
advances were made in convoys of lorries with tanks, or in set piece assaults
with one battalion passing through the other day after day. The Korean
Peninsular has large ranges of hills running across it, instead of up and down
the peninsular, thus making very hard work of the advance.
battalion would attack one hill range one day and then the other would pass
through the next day and so on. We had the Australian Battalion supporting us,
they were superb fighters and loved a scrap, the Middlesex were partnered by the
Brigade was moved by air and road to north of Seoul. I was lucky to fly and we
were loaded on to American Sky Master troop / cargo planes.
The American Load Master handed us each a parachute, showed us how to
wear it and simply said if the plane gets hit jump out and say 1000, 2000, 3000
and then pull the ripcord. This was greeted with usual Jock remarks that are
unprintable, false bravado and with some prayers that we would not have to try
this urgent way to earth. Luckily all went well and we landed safely.
The Brigade moved forward and crossed the 38th parallel after the Americans had had a vicious battle to capture it. Rumours abounded and many said that the Argylls and Middlesex would be sent back to Hong Kong for Christmas - we were all very poorly equipped having come from Hong Kong in tropical clothing having been intended as a stop gap until the much heralded 29th Brigade arrived from the UK. This of course turned out to be false and both brigades remained in Korea.
various moves forward heading north, the battalion ‘spearheading’ entered
Sariwon the North Koreans Aldershot. ‘A’
company led the way and had a good firefight assisted by Sherman tanks and soon
had the enemy on the run.
remember advancing with ‘C’ company, in the usual freezing conditions
through the so-called high street with men each side of the road.
We got out to the far end of the town and waited while the Australian’s
moved through us. Next we were told to move back to the south side of the town.
As we moved south on each side of the street, other men were found to be moving
north in the centre of the street.
our horror we realised that these were North Koreans but for a while every one
kept very quiet and moved along very much on the alert. The Koreans thought that
we were Russians arriving to help them and even gave our Mortar platoon Officer,
Robin Fairrie, a Korean comfort girl in his jeep.
We heard it was an American tank commander when being asked if he was Russian who said, “Hell no, we are Americans”. All hell broke let loose for a few seconds and then strangely we went on passing each other, they in the centre of the road and us each side of the road. The Koreans went north to be met by the Australians who killed many of them – one Korean had a full magazine (30 rounds of 303 Bren gun ammunition) in him and still was only just stopped but lived for a long time.
moved back into a secured area for the night and then continued the advance in
the morning through the Aussies who had had a great shooting match the evening
before. The Koreans who had passed through were retreating north and had no idea
the UN was ahead of them in the town.
the morning we met the CO, Lieutenant Colonel Neilson, returning from a recce
they had been on the night before when they too had driven through in their Bren
gun Carriers the same troops that we had met in the town. They were also thought
to be Russians and very carefully reached the end of the enemy column and then
hid themselves until the morning.
on tanks we continued our advance and soon reached Pyongyang where we were one
of the first units through, here we came across a Korean armed convoy that had
been blasted apart by the American Air Force. There were vehicles, mobile
antiaircraft guns, armed vehicles, tanks and bodies everywhere. The tank we were
on was in the lead, and simply pushed aside everything or ran it over, as the
order was not to stop. Best not to look at what we and the following tanks had
done, especially to the bodies.
Yong-Yu the American airborne had been dropped three days before and had a big
battle. When we entered there were snipers everywhere, so we were ordered to
burn the town which we did very efficiently, but as soon as it was well alight
we were told to put it out because the artillery gun limbers could not get
you are told to burn down a town it first causes some concern that you should do
such a thing, then you wonder how to start.
The houses were mainly made of wood and a match to the ceiling straw had
headed for the McArthur Line (named after the Commander in Chief General
McArthur) a point beyond which the UN was not expected to proceed but did. There
was to be some considerable fighting and advancing before the Brigade eventually
reached Chongju where the advance stopped. The Americans moved through in front
and we could clearly see the hills alongside the Yallow River, ahead China’s
border with North Korea.
twenty-four hours the Chinese had entered the war. The Brigade was asked to move
forward and hold a position while other forces moved back. At one stage the
Battalion was some 25 miles in front of all other UN forces. Eventually, the
Americans sent us enough tanks to move the whole battalion out.
We travelled south over hard gained ground and saw much evidence of the
hasty retreat by the Americans who had left masses of equipment, machine guns,
artillery, etc where it had been sited. This was later captured and turned on
the UN forces, along with huge quantities of stores at Pyongyang that had been
only partially destroyed. We did
not catch up with other UN forces for a long time.
was very demoralising to keep retreating, but we did. One night was spent across the river south of Seoul before
the bridges were blown and the whole town was on fire from end to end. The UN retreated south of the 38th Parallel and then dug in. General Matthew Ridgeway took over command when General Walton Walker was killed in a Jeep crash in December 1950. Ridgeway was made of sterner stuff and ordered all Commanders to have plans for advance and not retreat - he later became Supreme Commander of UN Forces when General Douglas MacArthur was relived of his duties by President Truman in April 1951.
We eventually moved forward until we reached Daffodil 3000 feet up on the 38th Parallel. This was at the height of the winter and we occupied an old American, and later Chinese position, at the top of a long ridge on a hill. I remember bedding down for the night close to what I thought was a pile of logs covered in snow. In the morning I noticed a hand sticking out and rather than logs these were all frozen bodies and there were many piles of them amounting to many hundreds of bodies.
to the heavy snow and frost we did not know that we were in an American
minefield. There were tripwires all over the ground, fortunately these were held
firm by the extreme cold thereby not going off, but one did explode when a fire
was lit and the ground thawed out - luckily no causalities.
alerted us but it was impossible to find the location of the other mines due to
the heavy snow and frost. Fires were forbidden, so we had to stay where we were.
I climbed up some rocks that were along a footpath we used daily and held onto a
branch of a tree to help myself up. It was later found when the thaw set in that
another South Korean unit had soldiers killed at this point as there was a wire
attached to the tree and a land mine. We had spent days in the middle of this
minefield and except for one case had got away with it.
winter arrives very quickly in Korea. One
day it is tropical with hot nights, then hot days followed by very cold nights
and soon arctic weather with minus 25 to minus 40 degrees plus.
had spent the pre winter period with frost at night in tropical clothing, a
blanket and a waterproof poncho that kept us mildly warm. Luckily for us the
Americans produced magnificent winter clothing, though it made marching (not
often practised by the Americans) more difficult due to the bulk.
string vests (very warm although a rough garment) worn under British army
shirts, draws (woollen long), battle dress trousers and top, American windproof
trousers, a superb jacket, fur hat and British outer arctic gloves - then try a
We had American sleeping bags made of a blanket material with a zip that undid immediately in case of attack and this was inside a very good arctic British sleeping bag. Get snuggled down in that and then 18” of snow in two hours on top, while we slept with all our clothes and boots on - one was very warm until someone came trudging along and stepped on you to call you for the next two hours on sentry duty.
up entailed a mound of snow going down your neck and into the sleeping bag. Two
hours off, desperate for sleep, but difficult to sleep because you only had two
hours - two on and two off, or two on and four off depending on the seriousness
of the situation was an extremely exhausting but quite normal life.
were a number of occasions when we had to route march for many miles because
transport did not appear for some reason or other. On one occasion in the dark
and snow we walked and walked, climbed a steep high hill with enemy all around
in the deep snow. We were told that
we were cut off, and had to climb down back the way we had come.
We passed in both directions a broken down Bren gun carrier that had
thrown a track which, had they known, would have had plenty of time to get
we arrived to see a huge bonfire lit to guide us back to where transport was
waiting across a solid frozen river – tanks and troops were able to cross at
the dead of night. We were so
crowded in the trucks that you could sleep standing up. Someone dropped a Sten gun that fired, but luckily no one was
a hand touched metal it immediately stuck to it causing a large loss of skin.
Snow, when it did snow, fell with abandon, some 18” to 24” in a couple of
hours. When you were on for
two hours and looked round you could see no one and had to walk until you trod
on someone to get your replacement for the next shift.
were full of lice. On one occasion
in extreme cold we had to take off all our clothes in the open and wash from hot
water heated in a forty-five gallon barrel laced with the Medical Officers
disinfectant and heated over a fire – we then put on clean clothes. The old
clothes, on a stick were taken to the First Aid post and put in disinfectant
laced 45 gallon barrels to be deloused. What a relief to be free of the lice,
but this did not happen very often so you just scratched and picked.
We became used to American ‘C’ rations the top two items of which were fruit salad and a huge bar of the very best, at least as far as I was concerned, drinking chocolate. With these came twenty American cigarettes a day - Lucky Strike, Chesterfields, Camel (humpty backs) plus another two hundred every Friday from the American PX (equivalent to the British NAAFI), i.e. 340 cigarettes per week per man. If we had smoked all these it could have been more dangerous than the enemy, instead we used them to bribe the local peasants to carry heavy loads up the hills on their A Frames.
Tapeworms were another jolly little hazard and our MO laced the tea with his various concoctions that were very effective. It was very alarming passing an 18” to 24” tapeworm. Was it your own guts?
During the campaign I was lucky enough to get seven days leave in Tokyo in the middle of apple blossom time. I did not go to visit Hiroshima as some did, as I had already done this when I was on H.M.S Jamaica.
of this account is not in strictly chronological order but rather it is memories
of various events all making up an experience that I would not have missed. At
the time you thought ‘what the hell am I doing here’ and when you got away
with it ‘scot-free’ you felt it was some experience.
I had nightmares for many years after, especially about Hill 282 and
was not all doom and gloom - we had many laughs, great comradeship and on
occasion’s parties, especially with the New Zealand Maoris making a wicked
brew in a bath they had found
in a (dry) paddy field.
The Argylls left Korea at Inchon in April 1951 on board an American troopship the U.S.S. Montrose. H.M.S. Belfast, wearing the Flag of Rear-Admirable Scott-Moncrieff Commander in Chief of British Naval ships in Korean waters, was there to see us off. The ship with all the sailors manning the decks gave us three cheers and their Chief Engineer, a Scot, stood on a forward 8” gun turret in full Scottish Regalia playing Highland Laddie, the Argylls March Past & the Campbell’s are Coming on the Bagpipes - there were not many dry eyes among those tough Scottish soldiers.
All this, first in a tropical summer and then very severe winter with temperatures of minus 40 to 50 degrees – we had slept, ate, washed, shaved and fought in the open in all these conditions.
and lorries had to keep their engines running 24hrs a day, 7 days a week or they
would freeze solid causing ire-repairable damage.
believable now but it was amazing what a human being can put up with when needs
must. As were many others I was 21
years old, some a lot less.
It was wonderful to get back to the warmth of Hong Kong - showers and real beds bliss after sleeping on the ground for all those nine months.
last updated: Thursday, 31 May 2001