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Holding the Line in the Far East

For the Week of Monday, April 16, 2018

On April 22, 1951, the Battle of Kapyong began. Canadians fought alongside Australian and New Zealand forces in an attempt to stop the advancing Chinese and North Korean armies during the Korean War.

The Kapyong River Valley, photographed a year after the battle
Courtesy of the Australian War Museum

On June 25, 1950, war broke out as the armed forces of communist North Korea crossed the border at the 38th parallel and invaded democratic South Korea. The United Nations (UN) responded, demanding a cease-fire and calling upon member nations to rally in defence of the South. UN forces drove the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel, almost all the way to the border of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese then entered the war, helping the North Koreans retake much of their lost territory. Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent reluctantly responded to the UN call to action, at first committing three destroyers to serve in the Far East and then, in November 1950, sending ground troops.

By the spring of 1951, UN forces were caught in a brutal battle with the North Korean and Chinese forces at the 38th parallel. In late April, after suffering heavy causalities in a Chinese and North Korean counter-attack, South Korean forces attempted to retreat south through the Kapyong Valley. Covering this retreat, the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, which included members of the 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), established defensive positions in the valley. On April 23, Chinese and North Korean forces attacked Hill 504, forcing the withdrawal of the Australians, who were fighting alongside the American 72nd Tank Battalion. Two kilometres away, on the steep and defensible Hill 677, 700 soldiers of 2 PPCLI braced for an attack by 5,000 Chinese troops.

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An artistic rendering of the Canadians holding Hill 677 in the Kapyong Valley in late April, 1951
© Ted Zuber, Holding at Kapyong, CWM 19900084-001, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

It began on the night of April 24. Close-quarters combat using bayonets and constant, heavy bombardment of the Canadian position continued late into the following day. Determined to hold their line, Canadians suffered only 23 casualties, compared to roughly 2,000 Chinese casualties. The PPCLI received a prestigious United States Presidential Unit Citation for their efforts at Kapyong.

Canadians in the Korean War is a designated national historic event. To learn more, read “The Forgotten War”: Canadians in Korea, 1950-53 and Canada and the Korean War in the This Week in History’s archives.

Parks Canada launched This Week in History 20 years ago! Check out @ParksCanada and visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage.

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