3 RAR and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2nd PPCLI) as part of the 27th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, were ordered 60 kilometres north-east of Seoul to the Kapyong River Valley to stem the enemy’s advance. 3 RAR dug in on the high ground on the east of the river to form one part of a defence-in-depth blocking position, with 2nd PPCLI on the western side.
The South Korean 6th Division retreated in the face of overwhelming Chinese numbers on the afternoon of 23 April. The Australians and Canadians, with the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment (1 Mx), the 16th Field Regiment (16 Fd Regt), Royal New Zealand Artillery, and Company A, 72nd US Tank Battalion, in support, settled in to face the impact of the enemy advance.
3 RAR fought off waves of attacking infantry with A and B Companies at the front facing extremely heavy fire and bearing the brunt of the attack. Battalion Headquarters 3 RAR was forced to withdraw to 1 Mx’s position south-west of its four companies, some four kilometres from its fighting troops. This effectively left the companies isolated overnight. 16 Fd Regt provided effective fire support which held off the enemy, despite having to relocate its position due to enemy encroachment.
As the morning of 24 April dawned, the open ground below A and B Companies’ positions revealed Chinese forces in great numbers. The artillery, tanks and a company of American mortars poured fire onto the open ground in support of the Australians, causing extremely heavy casualties and a localised withdrawal by Chinese forces. B Company was ordered off its position to higher ground, and then subsequently reordered back to its former position, necessitating a bayonet charge to remove the Chinese now occupying it. This attack failed, placing the Australians in even greater peril.
The Chinese attempted to outflank the Australian positions to the east, meeting D Company on a feature called Hill 504. Again, 16 Fd Regt used its firepower in support, allowing D Company to repulse repeated attempts on its position. In the early afternoon, two United States Corsairs accidentally delivered a napalm airstrike on D Company’s position, killing two soldiers. Shortly afterwards, orders came through to conduct a fighting withdrawal of all four companies south-west through the 1 Mx position. This proved extremely difficult with the pursuing enemy maintaining contact well into the night, before 3 RAR was able to break contact and continue its withdrawal.
3 RAR lost 32 killed in action. Along with its Canadian, British, New Zealand and United States allies, 3 RAR managed to hold the advancing Chinese divisions in the Kapyong River valley for 24 hours, allowing United Nations forces further south to shore up a defensive line. It then successfully conducted a fighting withdrawal to extricate itself from encirclement and rejoin its parent brigade, exemplifying the discipline, courage and skill required to succeed in its mission. For their courageous actions, both 3 RAR and 2nd PPCLI were awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation by the United States Government.
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