Please Note: This account focuses mainly on the Black Watch and te Duke of Wellington's Regiment's involvement in the Battle of the Hook. The entire infantry brigade was involved during this battle, including the King's Regiment, we hope to expand this page to include the other regiments as more information becomes available.
The Black Watch Arrives
The 'Hook' is a crescent shaped ridge which was selected as a feature of tactical importance in the Commonwealth divisional sector of the united Nations line south of the 38th Parallel. The Hook was a key position, where the UN Main Line of Resistance turned sharply south-west away from the natural line of the Sami-Chon Valley. The central ridge of the Hook inside the 100-metre contour which gave this precariously held piece of real estate its name was only 120 meter's above sea level. On the right it was connected to another ridge known as 'Sausage' and on the left rear to Pt 121. Both Sausage and pt 121 were set back from the Hook and less vulnerable. The Hook dominated the approaches to the two vital Imjin crossings. A breakthrough at the Hook made possible the systematic roll-up of virtually the whole west sector of the American Eighth Army Front. The nearest next line of defense for the UN was five to ten miles south of the Imjin. The Korean terrain is a rolling mass of mountains and valleys, rendering tanks virtually useless and degenerating the ground war in Korea to World War One style artillery bombardments and infantry attacks.
The history of the hook was bloody, in March 1952 the Canadian 'Princess Pats' had withstood a savage assault by the Chinese which had cost the Chinese 31 dead, and the Canadians' 4 killed and ten wounded despite more than two hours of hand to hand fighting. The next eight months were an uneasy calm disturbed only by bombardments which grew steadily more intense as Chinese artillery techniques improved. Activity flared up on other sectors of the UN front, but most of the Chinese effort was concentrated on building up and strengthening their own defenses. By the late autumn of 1952 the Chinese defenses stretched back for some twenty miles, and it was estimated that they had 900 pieces of artillery and seven Chinese armies totaling 160,000 men facing the UN armies. Military Intelligence experts believed that no Chinese attack would be forthcoming as the Chinese attempted to grind the UN into concessions at the peace talk at Panmunjon.
Nevertheless, fighting flared up in October when the Chinese attempted to seize key points on the ancient northern invasion route to Seoul. On 14th November 1952 the Black Watch had relieved the shattered US Marines at the Hook under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel David Rose who set about reinforcing the battered and destroyed US Marines positioned which showed the 7th Marines lack of enthusiasm for field-works and entrenchment's. Using 800 Korean laborers and a troop of sappers the positions on the Hook were rebuilt the work starting on the 14th November. While constant patrols were sent out into No Man's Land since the beginning of November. The Marines positions had not been deep or dug in, as a consequence many of them had died, the Jocks grumbled as they dug the new trenches. Wiring parties laid an elaborate barbed wire fence to protect the new defenses, as Battalion signalers laid out a complex pattern of communications which would be capable of withstanding the heaviest bombardment. The number of wireless sets and telephones was doubled or tripled to provide extra redundancy and prevent loss of communications when a trench was overrun. This enabled Rose to call down artillery fire much more accurately than his predecessor had been able to do. The Chinese gave Rose just four days grace before attacking and the new positions were only half-completed. This was preceded by a steadily increasing artillery barrage.
The Second Battle for the Hook
The Second Battle of the Hook started at about 7pm on 18th November when Two Companies of Chinese infantry were spotted by a standing patrol on Warsaw, 500 yards below the forward positions on the Hook, they radioed a warning back to the Hook. The patrol was quickly attacked and silenced by the Chinese. Half an hour later the company deployed on the Hook was attacked form three different directions. The battle relied mainly on the forward platoons. The Dukes watched the battle from their positions on Yong Dong, two thousand five hundred yards away, and laid into the Chinese with their machine guns firing on fixed lines over the Samichon valley and across the Black Watch for over eleven hours. At the end, over 50,000 rounds had been expended. A lull in the battle came shortly before midnight as the Chinese appeared to have withdrawn, but a half hour later a bugle announced tier return and the crump of grenades punctuated the din of exploding shells and machine gun fire. The Chinese were plainly visible.
The Chinese managed to get a footing on the hook under the pressure of repeated attack on a very narrow front. Despite heroic counter-attacks by the jocks, the Black Watch was forced back by sheer weight of numbers. Rose called on a counter-attack, which would be no mad downhill rush but more a search and clearance operation. Using the Centurion tanks of the B Squadron, The Royal Inniskilling Dragoons the Black Watch started to clear the Hook of the Chinese. Dawn broke about 4.30 am and the fighting was still going on. The jocks pressing forward, and having failed to consolidate their positions the Chinese were not prepared to carry on the fight in daylight and they , as battlefield clearance squads moved into take out the Chinese wounded. A few of the jocks had been captured when the forward platoons were overrun, but most had stayed safe in their tunnels and dugouts when their positions were known to be lost and occupied or overrun by the Chinese. Daylight brought the battle to an end.
Chinese attacks continued throughout the rest of the year and into 1953, at the end of January American Troops relieved the Commonwealth Division on the line and the Division was pulled back to rest, reorganize and retrain. The Black Watch returned after two months, and deployed to the Hook. One Rifle company was deployed on each of the features' four hills, Pt 121, the Hook, the Sausage and Pt 146. Another rifle company was loaned from the Dukes to be deployed on Pt 146. Despite the American commanders gloomy report, the Black Watch found the Hook the same, a constant barrage of shelling with the Chinese habitually shelling the supply route leading up to the back of the ridge, a large proportion of their shells landing close to the Black Watch Command Post. The Hook had, meanwhile, exploded in the colours of spring as the fields came alive with flowers and weeds. The Chinese artillery was based in a semi-circle of hills opposite the hook, the guns were kept in tunnels, manhandled out to fire and then quickly pushed back again to safety away from UN counter bombardment and air attacks. On 7th May there was a heavy daylight bombardment and an Auster plane sent up to locate the enemy positions was shot down. By dusk it was apparent that more than the usual activity could be expected that night. The standing patrol on Warsaw was ordered to withdraw after reporting massing Chinese infantry in the caves at the foot of its hill. Rose called for artillery attacks, and the US Corps artillery answered eight Eight 8-inch guns. After a hour of shelling and 72 shells, the Chinese appeared to have called off their attack but they tried again at 2am.
The Chinese approach was detected by the standing patrol on Ronson, and the Jocks were ready. Bathed in the light of 560-mm mortar flares and searchlights, the enemy were caught in a cross fire of machine guns from the Hook and Pt 121, while the 20th Field Regiment poured proximity-fused high explosive onto Ronson ridge and the 3-inch mortars dropped bombs on the Chinese mortars. When Chinese were spotted swarming over the Seattle slopes, the Turkish UN troops joined in, directing their own artillery fire onto Seattle. Anxious not to be caught napping the Turkish rang the Black Watch Command POst. An English speaking Turk asked; ''Ow, many casualties 'ave you?'. David Rose replied 'A few.' The Turk then asked ''Ave you withdrawn?' To which David Rose replied 'The Black Watch do NOT withdraw!' in a tone which could not be doubted. However, at that moment the Chinese were within twenty yards of the Hook's forward trenches struggling to break through the protective wire apron. Three Privates fired off about 7500 rounds into a the Chinese troops but claimed only modest scores of three or four Chinese. A whole lot more probably went down. With the Chinese well and truly battered by the artillery and mortar fire, Rose ordered a counter-attack which ran into trouble when it was attacked by Chinese and a close-quarter fight ensued.
The Chinese turned their artillery onto Pt 121 and the ridge connecting it to the Hook. The Jocks showed the Chinese, repeatedly, that they were fiercely averse to being taken prisoner. By 4.30am David Rose had learned that his counter-attack was in trouble and smoke was launched to cover the movement of his fighting patrols, and a platoon was ordered out to Ronson to rescue the fighting patrol out there. As it turned out, the Fighting Patrol managed to get back to the Hook trenches despite some losses. For a Second Time, the Chinese had failed to evict the Black Watch from the hook. The Dukes relieved the Black Watch on the night of 12-13th May 1953 and expected to be attacked at any time.
The Duke of Wellington's Regiment at the Hook
The Dukes relieved the Black Watch on the night of 12-13th May 1953 and expected to be attacked at any time, with the Chinese loud-speakers boasting that the British would be evicted from the Hook on the 13th. The Dukes were given a lay of the land, along with the positions of the minefields and the Black Watch's defensive artillery plans. Every company commander in the Hook defenses had a map with an overlaying trace of the pre-arranged tasks. This enabled him to bring the co-ordinated effect of artillery, mortars and machine-guns to bear on any attack at very short notice or to say quickly whether the fire on any particular task would endanger his patrols. The Dukes also had two troops of 'C' Squadron, 1st Royal Tanks of Centurions in support. In Korea, as in all other wars since indirect fire became standard, the Infantry complained of friendly artillery shells landing short. The Dukes were slightly stronger than the Jocks and there was a squeeze of accommodation until new bunkers and weapons pits could be dug. When the two units handed over, they exchanged telephone systems, but rations, machine guns and radios all went away with the Black Watch to be replaced by the Dukes own equipment. The forward platoons were relieved first, so that if the Chinese sprang an attack, a reserve platoon of Black Watch would be available to deal with it. In position, the Platoons were met by section guides who had spent the previous 24 hours in the position. Every effort had been made to conceal the relief from the Chinese with patrols still running and four days of relative peace and quiet enabled the Dukes to settle in and organize their routine. During the quiet, the bunkers were strengthened, strong points and observation posts were reinforced.
The Chinese returned to the Hook on ten night of 17/18th May shortly after 11pm when reports started to be received form the Dukes' standing patrols that the Chinese could be heard clattering and sometimes seen moving on all the spurs leading into the Hook. As the Chinese approached artillery fire was called down and the patrols opened fire with their own weapons. By 2.30am, the Chinese seemed to have pulled back and a patrol was sent out, but got less than fifty yards when it ran into an enemy patrol. The Patrol pulled back when it realized it was outnumbered, both sides suffered casualties. A prisoner captured in the early morning of 18th May, gave the Dukes invaluable warning of an impending Chinese attack, but he did not have the date of the attack. The Chinese would outnumber the Dukes by almost five to one, and their method of approach would guarantee them relative immunity from the existing planned concentrations of artillery fire.
After 18th May, tension grew as casualties from Chinese artillery grew. Parties of Chinese took to moving around in full view of the defenders in daylight and probing their positions at night. Between the 10th May and the 28th May, the start of the Third Battle of the Hook, the Dukes suffered fifty casualties from artillery and mortar fire. The price of a year in Korea was roughly the same for every Infantry regiment, 40 to 50 killed and 200 to 250 wounded. The Chinese launched a probing attack on 19th May leading with an artillery barrage and the probing attack was found to be a reconnaissance in force. The Chinese mounted another attack on Warsaw the next night but withdrew by dawn. More attacks followed in the following days, and the Black Watch were ordered back into the fray, taking up positions on Yong Dong having replaced the Kings'. The Kings' mounted an raid on the Chinese stronghold on Pheasant but it went wrong and a minefield stopped the attack, and the King's pulled out with their wounded. The Chinese had continued their probing attack during the Kings' raid. A fighting patrol was sent to investigate the caves at the base of the Hooks' surrounding hills and investigate to see if the Chinese were there. They found the Chinese sanctuaries estimated their size and charted their locations. From this information, the Dukes' knew that they would be facing at least one Chinese battalion, followed by possibly two more. This meant that the forward platoons would have odds of three or five to one.
As the Chinese artillery pounded the british defenders, the tangle of barbed wire defending the Dukes weapon pits was becoming almost insurmountable and against this the Chinese artillery hoped to blast paths for their infantry. During the relative quiet of 26th May, the Dukes swapped two platoons between Pt 121 and the Hook. Wiring continued the following night despite a near full moon and a clear sky. The 26th May saw the United Nations forces supporting artillery carry out ranging, blasting artillery shells into the Hooks' positions in order to get an accurate range if the artillery was called upon to take out captured weapons pits and trenches on the Hook, which would, with airburst shells shred the occupying Chinese while the British troops remained safe in their bunkers and dugouts. On 27th May, the Chinese opened their barrage again. The barrage also landed accurate fire on both Green Finger and Warsaw outposts from their standing patrols. A patrol had gone out on the 26th, and found Chinese working on the caves and moving into positions to attack the Hook.
On 28th May, at about 10.15am the Chinese mortaring and shelling began again. It did not stop until the battle was over. Shortly before 2am, heavy guns started to pick off individual weapons pits and dug outs. One of the two Centurions dug into the Hook was hit but the other remained in action. Routine was forgotten as bunkers collapsed and men were buried alive, although a Chinese attack was possible it was not guaranteed but the preparations had been more thorough then ever before. At 4 o'clock, Shells were cascading down and gaps in the communications system were already apparent, this may have been just a preliminary to another vigorous patrol. A little over two hours later, the situation began to look like more than a probe. At 6pm, the Ronson standing patrol was caught again by a blast of mortar bombs while moving up the communication trench to take up its position. Chinese wireless messages and Army Intelligence warned the commander, Brigadier Kendrew that an attack on the Hook was on its way.
The Third Battle for the Hook
After a horrendous three minute bombardment, the Chinese rushed the Hook at 7.53pm. Two minutes alter, they were on top of the forward positions. The Chinese charged up the Green Finger ridge, as the forward trenches ceased to exist. The battle for the Hook degenerated into a World War One style fight, with men hurling grenades into and from Trenches, rifle and machine gun fire at close to point blank range and bayonet fights. As the Chinese advanced they collapsed entrances to tunnels and bunkers they could not clear out. More Chinese advanced up Ronson, but their progress was slowed by a barrage of air-burst shells, every gun and mortar, both Chinese and United Nations, was ploughing into the Hook. The Black Watch were firing across the front from Yong Dong while the Turks were doing the same on the other side, with heavy machine gun fire. This holocaust of shells was taken at 8.25pm, having been afraid for the men on Green Finger the artillery had held off, but in the end had to open fire.
Communication between the forward companies and the battalion command post was restricted to Wireless throughout the night. With the incoming information, the Commonwealth artillery was able to switch its fire from one threatened area to another. At 8.45pm, the Chinese launched a second attack on the Hook. fresh troops advanced up Warsaw and although they were badly savaged by artillery, tank and machine-gun fire, they succeeded in joining with the survivors of the first attack. Fierce hand to hand combat ensued between the defenders and attackers.
A platoon from Pt 121 was sent up to the Hook, and another platoon from the rear area replaced it on Pt 121. As the reinforcements deployed, two fresh companies of Chinese attacked Pt 121. They were caught in a ferocious concentration of artillery, tank and machine-gun fire, they suffered the most appalling casualties. Only six of them got as far as the wire in front of the trenches, the attack crumbled in a matter of minutes and faded out. With their failure to consolidate their positions on the Hook, and the destruction of two Companies on Pt 121, the Chinese switched their attention to Pt 146, where two companies of Kingsmen waited for them. For the second time that night, the artillery shredded the chinese as they formed up in front of Pheasant. A complete Chinese battalion had been caught by the guns and virtually wiped out, it was learned later. The Black Watch watched all this from Yong Dong, their relative peace broken only by several hundred shells, including a large number of prematurely detonated British airbursts.
The final attack on the Hook was launched at 12.30am on 29th May. This time the Chinese attempted a lateral approach from the Betty Grable feature in front of Pt 121. Ninety men charged north towards Ronson, and as they moved directly in front of Pt 121 they were caught not only in an artillery and mortar concentration which moved with them but by the the machine-guns of the composite company on Pt 121 and the Assault pioneers on the ridge between Pt 121 and the Hook. This attack never stood a chance. Thirty bodies were countered on the wire they next morning. At 11.45pm, the plan to evict the remaining Chinese from the forward trenches was settled. The British fired the Chinese signal for a retreat just before the start of the counter-attack, however, the counter-attack could not be employed as the positions were untenable and practical difficulties showed the plan to be unworkable. Thus, the attack was changed to a methodical advance up the line of the original trenches, necessarily a painfully slow business. At 3.30am, the Hook was finally secured by the Dukes.
At Dawn on 29th May, the full extent of the devastation on the Hook was revealed. ten thousand Chinese shells had ploughed the terrain into six foot furrows and levelled it like a well-worn football pitch. Chinese casualties were estimated at 250 dead and 800 wounded, the Dukes suffered 149 casualties of whom 28 were killed. Sixteen men were taken prisoner but released after the Armistice Pact was signed in July. A digging out operation to free the men trapped in the Hooks tunnels, bunkers and collapsed dugouts began as soon as it was light. The Chinese artillery let up for a couple of vital hours, before returning to its previous assault. At Noon on the 29th May, the Dukes began to be relieved by the 1st Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, who were later relieved by the King's Regiment who were amazed at the devastation and were supposed to take on any further attacks by the Chinese on the Hook as the Dukes had lost many of their weapons and were exhausted from the nights action. During the third Battle of the Hook, more than 37,000 British shells, 10,000 mortar bombs and a half a million rounds of small arms ammunition was fired. For seven hours, one American gun fired an illuminating flare every two minutes.