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Mixed bag.

From time to time I get letters of stories of Korean War incidents which are worth sharing. These tales represent all three elements: land, sea and air. I will let the Senior Service lead off

This account comes from Colin Hatchett, who served with the Royal Navy on HMS Charity.

The destroyer had been assigned a position off the North Korean coast, but all day nothing had been seen. Suddenly the lookout reported "Man on a bike proceeding north along the coast road!"

The Officer of the Watch perked up "Is it a North Korean on a North Korean bike?" Reply: "Yes, Sir, he's a North Korean on a North Korean bike!"

"Right," says the now not-so-bored officer. "Target? to the gun crew, who quickly came to life, and gave a bearing some way ahead of the cyclist. "Fire One!" A hit on the hillside a few hundred yards ahead of the cyclist who stopped, turned around, and frantically pedaled in the opposite direction.

Another fire order and another explosion in front of the cyclist, who once more reversed his course. "Cyclist has reversed to his original course? sang out the lookout, and a further round was fired on the original bearing. A little more North Korean hillside was destroyed. This time the cyclist braked sharply, his bike slewed out from under him and he abandoned it to its fate as he dived for cover in the nearest monsoon ditch.

Net result of this little action? A highly amused lookout, a satisfied Duty Officer, practice for the gun crew, three shots expended at taxpayers' expense, three holes in North Korean real estate, one slightly damaged bicycle and one "heart and mind" that we failed to win over. (Thanks to the Hertford Branch, British Korean Veterans Association.)

Some time ago I was chatting with then-Chief of the Defence Staff, General Ramsey Withers (I am a notorious namedropper). General Withers was the last Korean War veteran to hold that post and had served with the Sigs and Vandoos. I mentioned an incident where a U.S. Artillery major, with one of the massive eight-inch Persuaders, insisted on passing through our forward area to somewhere several kilometers in front of us. I found that after passing through my unit (1KSLI) he repeated the process through then-Lieutenant Withers's position.

The artillery group was last seen heading towards the enemy's rear, and to the best of my knowledge was never seen again. My theory was that the officer mistook his "SOS" target for his gun position, while others attribute it to the sort of map reading that most cynical "other-ranks" expected from their seniors. General Withers sent me this account:

"Both the 240-mm Persuader and the 155-mm Long Tom artillery battalions promoted the idea of "sniping" (deploying a single gun detachment forward, usually just behind the infantry battalions in action, to engage targets deep in enemy territory that had been identified from aerial photos). Their motivation seemed to us to be more bureaucratic than the desire to destroy the enemy because we learned about the point system for rotation.

"U.S. soldiers served in theatre until they had accumulated a certain number of points and then they went home. Highest points were given to those at the front and the number dropped the farther back you served; the heavy artillery units did not do terribly well. However, if a soldier was deployed one day in a month up front, he got the higher score. Thus single gun detachments were sent up in the morning and returned to the relative tranquility of their batteries at last light.

"We in the infantry battalions disliked the practice because, by the time the Persuaders or Long Toms had done their dirty work, the Chinese would have tried to figure out the offending gun position and started to lob stuff in that direction. It usually landed on the infantry."

(Author's note: Do any Korea vets remember the "Burma Shave" type signs on the MSR? I still recall: "155s are not so hot, eight full inches, that's a lot, twice as much for the Chinese, too, the Persuaders are the thing for you!")

Finally, the World Cup and South Korea's great display notwithstanding, I am no great sports fan. However, I would like to pay a tribute to the late baseball great, Ted Williams. In his autobiography he describes an incident during his stint as a Marine Corps Pilot in the Korean War:

"(Near Pyongyang) we must have had 200 planes just bombing the hell out of them ... flying pretty low. Had to, to hit our targets with any accuracy.

"I got hit with small arms fire ... It hit my hydraulic lines and was enough to set off every damn light on my control panel like it was a #@$! pinball machine ... I could barely control the stick." (A fellow pilot signaled Williams to eject.)

"Those cockpits were so damn small and I was so goddamn big that if I had blown out of that plane I would have left my knees behind ... even then I was thinking `no knees, no baseball.'

(His buddy, Lieutenant Hawkins, guided the crippled plane to an airfield, with "dozens of planes trying desperately to land.")

"Then blam! A wheel door explodes, should have taken the damn wing right along with it. So I'm coming down at 225 #$$% miles per hour ... I hit the ground and skidded faster than hell for 2000 feet. I couldn't get out of the plane, but finally I did and dove right to the ground. I was so mad that I flung my helmet right down. That plane caught fire and there was nothing left of it but a blackened pile of junk."

Ted Williams was back in the air again the next day.

It has been suggested that I write an article on allied POWs in Korea. I know, and have picked the brains, of three of them. If anyone can help by providing stories and/or details to add to any future article, they would be appreciated.

Remember the Korea Veterans convention and reunion in Edmonton, from 5-8 September this year. Contact me for details.
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Author:Peate, Les
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:1025
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