Barbula And Old Baldy, March 1953

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Barbula and Old Baldy,March 1953:Colombia’s Heaviest Combat in Koreaby Charles H. Briscoe“Rampant Lionof the Infantry” insigniament. The Eighth Army commander, U.S. General JamesA. Van Fleet, concluded that “continued pursuit of theenemy was neither practical nor expedient. The mostprofitable employment of UN troops  .  .  .  was to establisha defense line (Line Kansas) on the nearest commanding terrain north of Parallel 38, and from there push forward in limited advances to accomplish the maximumdestruction to the enemy consistent with minimum danger to the integrity of the UN forces.”4That meant Line Kansas was to be fortified in depth.Hasty field fortifications would be constructed along thePyonggang24 US2K XXX25 US X 2KXI X IXXX24 US X6KPOLARXIX X XXNOMADIron TriangleKumhwaWYOMINGChorwonnprovided an infantry battalion and a frigate to serve with the United NationsCommand in Korea from 1951–1955. It wasthe only Latin American country to provide forces.1 The Batallón Colombia bravelyfought the Communist Chinese in numerous engagements in 1951 and 1952, earninga U.S. Presidential Unit Citation duringthe Kumsong Offensive. However, it wasthe heavy fighting in March 1953, whilethe peace talks were in progress, that trulytested the mettle of the South Americans.This article will focus on the two mostsignificant actions of the Batallón Colombiain Korea, Operation BARBULA and thefight for Old Baldy. In a period of ten days,the Colombians suffered 114 killed, 141wounded, and 38 missing in action, theequivalent of two rifle companies.2 TheUN Servicepurpose of this article is to place thoseMedaltwo battles in proper context in order toshow how earlier success in OperationBARBULA created conditions that contributed later to a controversial loss.This study is relevant because the KoreU.S. Presidential Unitan War was key to the development of aCitationprofessional Colombian armed force andwas a benchmark in the social and political transformation of the country. BecauseColombia was the only Latin Americancountry to support the principles of international, collective security in Korea, the Batallón Colombia and its naval frigates became“showcase” elements for their military services, the nation, and the Americas.3 Whenthe Batallón Colombia reached the front lineson 1 August 1951, the war was a stalemate.The UN objective in Korea had shiftedColombia’sfrom military victory to a political settle-XXI X IXI X IXXBoundary ChangeEff. 28 Aug 1951NewPukOldg-GaColombiaha n24 USXHwachonReservoirXX2 USX2K X 2 USKANSASN2 US X 6KX6KXXXXXCT DTCS DSIX2 USXXXXXChunchonIXFriendly Situation—August 1951 highlighting Lines Kansas,Wyoming, Nomad, and Polar.Vol. 2 No. 4 15

Colombian positions on the main line of resistance whileattached to the 24th Infantry Division near Chup’a-ri overlooking the Kumsong Valley, 1951.forward slopes of Line Wyoming [Combat Outpost Line(COPL)] to blunt enemy assaults and delay them beforethey reached Kansas, the main line of resistance (MLR).Having trained to fight offensively, the Batallón Colombiawould primarily defend. Only limited attacks would beconducted against the Chinese forces.5 Attached to twodifferent U.S. divisions (21st Infantry Regiment, 24thInfantry Division until late January 1952; then to 31stIX Corps shoulderpatch21st InfantryRegiment(Gimlets)DistinctiveUnit Insignia24th InfantryDivision shoulderpatchInfantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division until October1954), the Colombians would defend the MLR and conduct patrols and raids between the lines until the armistice on 27 July 1953. However, while peace talks wereongoing at Panmunjom, the Chinese launched a majoroffensive in the spring of 1953, to capture several UNoutposts on dominant terrain that overlooked the MLR.6When the 7th Infantry Division returned to the MLRthe end of February 1953, it had been reassigned from theIX Corps to the I Corps sector. The Batallón Colombia wasoperationally ready. The battalion’s intense integratedtraining of 201 replacements from the 8th contingent waskey to Colonel William B. Kern awarding it a top performance during regimental maneuvers in late November1952, and again in February 1953.7 Operation BARBULAplaced the Colombians back into the ground war.On 10 March 1953, Lieutenant Colonel Alberto RuízNovoa, third commander of the Batallón Colombia, sent CCompany (-), commanded by Captain Gustavo Acevedo,to attack two enemy strong points on Hill 180. They wereabout five hundred meters in front of the 31st Infantrysector. These two strong points screened the ChineseMLR five hundred meters to the rear. After the twoYokkok-chonOld ColombiaOperation BARBULAN32(US)Captain Jorgé Robledo Pulido briefed Operation BARBULA(right to left) to General Mark W. Clark (UN Command),General Maxwell D. Taylor (Eighth U.S. Army), ColonelWilliam B. Kern (31st Infantry), Lieutenant General Paul W.Kendall (I Corps), and Major General Wayne C. Smith (7thInfantry Division) with a sand table terrain model.16 Veritas31(US)SidamakOperation BARBULA (10 March 1953)200Elevations in meters00.5 Miles.5 KM

7th InfantryDivision shoulderpatch31st InfantryRegiment(Polar Bears)Distinctive UnitInsigniaI Corps shoulderpatchColombian platoons crossed a narrow valley, the element commanded by Second Lieutenant Andrade wasto attack Strong Point A. Simultaneously, Second Lieutenant Miguel Piñeros Grimaldi and his platoon were toassault Strong Point B. Intelligence estimates were thatboth strong points were defended by infantry platoons.In the early morning darkness, the two Colombian platoons managed to get within fifty meters of their objectives undetected. 8Then, at 0700 hours, the platoons simultaneouslycharged the strong points with fixed bayonets. Thecourageous Colombian infantrymen jumped into thetrenches throwing hand grenades. Bloody hand-to-handfighting ensued as more Chinese rushed out of bunkersand fighting positions. Numbers of Colombian wounded quickly exceeded the capacity of litter bearers. TheKorean Service Corps personnel brought along to carrythe wounded fled when the attacks began. After an hourof intense fighting, it became deathly quiet as the dawnarrived.9Observing the fights with binoculars, CPT Acevedospotted two Chinese platoons rushing toward Hill 180.He quickly called in artillery support. The counterat-Batallón Colombia defensive positions on the reverse slopeof the Main Line of Resistance.tack was blocked, but the enemy stayed within smallarms range and directed heavy machinegun fire on thestrong points. At 0950 hours, LTC Ruíz Novoa orderedthe immediate withdrawal of both platoons. Lieutenant Piñeros Grimaldi pulled his platoon back, but 2LTAndrade had radio problems and kept his platoon inplace. Observing that some Colombians were withdrawing, the Chinese concentrated their fire on Andrade’splatoon. As their casualties mounted, 2LT Andrade waswounded. Litter bearers had been reduced to crawlingamong the wounded and dead. CPT Acevedo requestedthat his third platoon be sent to retrieve the woundedand dead.10Under heavy enemy fire the third platoon led bySecond Lieutenant Luís A. Bernal (Silver Star, 21 June1952) rushed forward to begin a search and rescue. By1100 hours, most of the casualties had been evacuated toan emergency aid station on the MLR. Operation BARThe Eighth Army FrontThe West Sector31 March 1953XXXXCCF 47XXXXCCF 23Sibyon-niHill380Eighth Army Main Line of ResistanceEnemy Front Line Order of BattleT-BoneElevation in Meters01005001000 and above00ArrowheadOldBaldy10 Miles10 KMgonsYePorkchopHillR.XXXXCCF 47Hill 179Big NoriLittle NoriOutpost KellyLittleGibralter1xxROK7The HookDetroitBunker HillHill 67Hill 90Hedy21 MarxxUnarmed Korean Service Corps personnel carrying hotfood to the Combat Outpost Line.ROK 1VegasHill XCCF 46( )2The Eighth Army Front 31 March 1953 showing the OldBaldy, Porkchop Hill, and T-Bone outposts.Vol. 2 No. 4 17

Initial Fights for Old Baldy (June–September 1952)Whenthe 6 June 1952 assault toseize Hill 266 was halted by enemy fire,the 45th Infantry Division artillery firedanother 500 rounds on the Communistdefenders. The second heavy bombardment enabled A Company, 180th InfantryRegiment to finally seize control of OldBaldy shortly after midnight on 7 June1952. The adjacent outpost on PorkchopHill (Hill 255) had also been capturedafter an intense fifty-five minute fight.As the enemy resistance crumbled, theinfantrymen of A Company, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division pushed theirway toward the crest of Old Baldy on thelate afternoon of 6 June 1952. Then, enemy artillery and mortars began to raindown on them. “There were no bunkersor trenches to get into,” said Master Sergeant Gerald Marlin, “so we started digging while the shells burst around us. Ialmost crawled into my helmet.”1 Despitethe heavy indirect fire, A Company heldon and cleared Old Baldy of enemy.Once the Old Baldy and Porkchop Hilloutposts had been seized, the men of the180th Infantry, aided by Korean ServiceCorps personnel, worked through thenight to man-carry construction and fortification materials up the hills. Bunkerswere dug and covered with sandbags.This would allow defenders protectedinside to call friendly artillery on topof themselves (air bursts with proxim-0302001603001602Gary Turbak, “Assaulting Suicide Hill,” VFWMagazine (June 2002) at m0LIY/is 10 89/ai 87509634.3Hermes, Truce Tent and Fighting Front, 285, 286, 287, 290,291, 293, 295, 296; Gary Turbak, “Assaulting SuicideHill,” VFW Magazine (June 2002) at m0LIY/is 10 89/ai 0180th InfantryRegimentDistinctive UnitInsignia23rd InfantryRegimentDistinctive UnitInsigniato Ch’orwon2.5 miles720082002nd Infantry Division shoulderpatch0204200Spud2006345th InfantryDivision shoulderpatch20029048747740030016045th Infantry Division News (13 June 1952), 1, 4, citedin Walter G. Hermes, Truce Tent and Fighting Front(Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1992),287.3950200161011160200PorkchopHillSetting up barbed-wire obstaclesat the base of Old Baldy.380200200200fall of 1952—savagely contested, seemingly endless struggles for just anotherhill along the MLR.3020300160ity fuses) when enemy attackers drewclose. The outposts were ringed withvarieties of barbed-wire obstacles. Landmines were placed in enemy avenuesof approach and covered by automaticweapons. Signalmen laid wire to adjacent posts and back to the MLR. Korean Service Corps personnel brought instockpiles of ammunition. The blocking force unit behind the MLR had themission to reinforce the outposts in theevent of heavy enemy attacks. Elementsof the 45th Infantry Division managedto fight off several determined enemyattacks during June and July 1952 untilrelieved by the 2nd Infantry Division.“Mostly they tried to get the hill by overwhelming us,” remembered Private FirstClass Lee Keir, radio operator, WeaponsPlatoon, C Company, 179th Infantry Regiment. “Sometimes their infantry wouldcome rushing in while their own artillery shells were still landing. When weraised our heads, there they were.”2 Taking advantage of the unit changeover, theChinese launched a reinforced battalionagainst Old Baldy on the night of 17–18July. Although the outpost was quicklyreinforced with another rifle company,23rd Infantry Regiment elements wereeventually driven off Hill 266. Despiterepeated counterattacks, the 2nd Infantry Division did not regain control of OldBaldy until 2 August. On 18 September1952, the enemylaunched anotherdetermined attackon Old Baldy. ItWhite HorseHilltook two daysof heavy fighting with tanks toArrowheadforce an enemywithdrawal. The2nd Infantry Division losses numbered 39 killed,234 wounded, and84 missing versus 1,093 Chinesedead. The constantfighting for conThe Old Baldy Areatrol of Old BaldyPlan counter objectives,NMay–June 1952was typical of the200 Elevations in metersbattles waged inthe summer and2001020034711OldBaldy200200002 Miles2 KMThe Old Baldy Area with Old Baldy as Objective #11, Porkchop Hill as #10, and T-Bone above Objective #8.18 Veritas

BULA against the Chinese outposts on Hill 180 inflictedmore than 175 casualties on the enemy, but the BatallónColombia suffered nineteen killed, forty-four wounded,and eight missing in action.11 Significantly, the fights on10 March 1953 were a portent of heavier combat to comeand the casualties would be significant.Three days after Operation BARBULA, the BatallónColombia relieved the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment on the MLR in the early morning darkness. Theywere defending the Togun-kol sector with a companysize outpost on Old Baldy (Hill 266), the high point ofan east–west ridge that dominated the terrain to thenorth, west, and south. Hill 266 had been labeled OldBaldy by the 45th Infantry Division in early June 1952after intense artillery and mortar fire had destroyed thetrees on its crest. The Colombians, having guarded the TBone outpost to the east of nearby Porkchop Hill in January 1953, were familiar with the surrounding area whenthey occupied the center of the 31st Infantry defensiveline on 13 March 1953. The 2nd Battalion was on the leftwhile the 3rd Battalion on the right had another crucialoutpost, the infamous Porkchop Hill (Hill 255). The 1stBattalion was in regimental reserve.12On 20 March 1953, heavy artillery and mortar fire wasdirected on the outposts, marking an imminent Chineseoffensive. The division G‑2 confirmed that assessmentafter interrogating two Chinese deserters.13 This majorChinese offensive was to improve the Communist position during the peace negotiations at Panmunjom. In thewestern sector of the MLR, the 31st Infantry Regimentwould take the brunt of a series of regimental (-) assaultsfrom elements of the 141st and 67th Chinese Divisionsbecause they coveted those outposts on the most dominant terrain, Old Baldy and Porkchop Hill. Just behindthe MLR, COL Kern put a rifle company of the 1st Battalion in a blocking position. LTC Ruíz Novoa posted BCompany on Old Baldy and his A and C Companies onthe MLR.14In the early morning hours of 22 March 1953, the 141stand 67th Chinese Divisions began systematically pummeling Old Baldy with more than 300 rounds of 122mmartillery as well as 82mm and 120mm mortars and heavymachinegun fire.15 Prior to this, the Colombians on OldBaldy had received about a dozen rounds of 122mmharassment fire daily. Under this heavy onslaught of fire,casualties started to mount as the bunkers and trencheson the outpost were seriously damaged. The BatallónColombia counter-fired 1,500 rounds of 81mm mortar intolikely enemy infantry assembly areas. When the heavyvolume of enemy fire did not lessen by the late afternoon,ever-mounting casualties prompted the decision of COLKern to relieve the battered company and reinforce theoutpost that night.16CPT Gustavo Acevedo, the C Company commander, after having an American rifle platoon from the 1stBattalion (his company suffered seventy-one casualtieson 13 March) attached, was ordered forward to relieveCaptain Irmer Perea’s B Company. At 2030 hours, whileC Company was movingtoward the COPL, theChinese attacked A Company manning the MLR.It was quite fortunatethat Captain AugustoBahamon and his company managed to beatoff the assault becausethey were covering theentire battalion sectorof the MLR. Large pilesof determined Chineselay dead or wounded infront of their positions.17At 2105 hours, beforethe relief-in-place ofB Company was completed on Old Baldy, theChinese edattacks against that outpost and Porkchop Hill.Both were preceded byintense artillery andmortar bombardments.The combined Colombian and U.S. elements onOld Baldy inflicted heavylosses on waves of Chinese advancing up theslope. Despite sufferingmassive casualties, theCommunists kept throwing reinforcements intothe fight for Old BaldyOld BaldyPorkchop HillT-Bone. All three of these outposts could only accommodatea rifle company 7Old (US)31(US)17(US)3Enemy Attackon Old BaldySidamak001 Mile1 KMEnemy Attack on Old Baldy–Porkchop Hill Area (23 Mar1953) with Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) arrows forthe MLR attack and the simultaneous attacks on Old Baldyand Porkchop Hill.Vol. 2 No. 4 19N

control) to the 31st Infantry to counterattack the lost outpost from the southwest. When the lead rifle companyquickly became bogged down by Chinese fire, COL Kerncommitted another two companies of the 1st Battalion,32nd Infantry to push past them, link up with the remnants of LT Patterson’s company, and establish a precarious foothold at the base of Old Baldy by evening.21At 0430 hours, 25 March, COL Kern sent anothercompany to flank attack the Chinese from the northeast.This effort was quickly pinned down by deadly enemyfire from Old Baldy. A detachment of tanks enabled theinfantrymen to break contact. The 1st Battalion, 32ndInfantry counterattacked repeatedly without success.Finally, during the night of 25–26 March, the 32nd Infantry battalion was ordered to withdraw.22 MG Trudeaupounded the outpost all day with Air Force, Navy, andMarine fighter bombers on 26 March. The Chinese onOld Baldy hunkered down in their bunkers allowingseveral Colombians who were trapped behind the linesto slip back to the MLR.23Colombian casualties were high for their two and onehalf days of intense fighting on Old Baldy. Ninety-fiveSouth Americans gave their lives, ninety-seven werewounded, and thirty more were missing. Combined,these losses amounted to more than an entire rifle company. Chinese casualties were estimated to be more than500. The Communists had been determined to captureand retain possession of Old Baldy. Thus, in just ten days,the Batallón Colombia had suffered 313 casualties, theequivalent of two rifle companies. In regimental reserve,LTC Ruíz Novoa reorganized the remnants of his battalion into two understrength rifle companies, a heavyweapons platoon, and a command and control platoon.More amazing was that on 27 March, four days after theOld Baldy battle, the shrunken Batallón Colombia movedback to the MLR. That same afternoon, MG Trudeauawarded LTC Ruíz Novoa the Bronze Star for Valor foroutstanding leadership during the Old Baldy battle.24Photo courtesy of LTC Ted Mataxiswhile pressing the assault on Porkchop Hill to the east.Finally, after two hours of heavy fighting on Old Baldy,the rolling onslaught of Chinese infantrymen could notbe stopped. The Communists managed to break throughthe outer defenses at several points, fighting their wayinside the perimeter of bunkers. Fierce hand-to-handfighting broke out. A direct artillery hit on the commandbunker had cut communications to the battalion. A Company, manning the MLR alone, relayed messages fromher sister companies embroiled on Old Baldy. 18Several battalion attempts to resupply ammunitionto the beleaguered units on Old Baldy had failed. TheChinese had registered artillery and mortars on theonly access—a narrow, bare ridge leading from the MLR.Colombian casualties on the outpost mounted rapidly.The interiors of the collapsed bunkers were catching onfire from sparking fuses of hand grenades.Low on ammunition and down to 40 percent effectives(including wounded still capable of fighting), the twocommanders began a withdrawal down the southeasternslope of the outpost. LTC Ruíz Novoa was busy assembling bloodied infantrymen at the base of the hill whenan American rifle company from the 1st Battalion cameto help “mend the situation” on Old Baldy.19First Lieutenant Jack M. Patterson started B Company(-) toward the abandoned outpost at 2130 hours. As theAmericans approached, the Chinese defenders engagedthem in succession with artillery and mortars, thenmachineguns

different U.S. divisions (21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division until late January 1952; then to 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division until October 1954), the Colombians would defend the MLR and con-duct patrols and raids between the lines until the armi-stice on 27 July 1953. However, while peace talks were

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