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Battle Of The Hook - Korean War

Outnumbered British, U.S., and Turkish forces stood their ground near Kaesong late in the war.

5. Background

The Battle of the Hook was an engagement in the Korean War. The battle there started on the 28th of May, 1953, and continued into the 29th of May. It is named for a crescent-shaped ridge involved in the battle, called ‘The Hook’ near Sami Creek, outside of Kaesong, which served as the capital of the Korean Kingdoms of the Taebong and Goryeo periods. ‘The Hook’ was of crucial importance because it was a tactical staging ground for any assault on nearby Yong Dong, which would have to be captured for forces to carry out an invasion of Seoul, the capital of South Korea. However, even without a subsequent assault into Seoul, having ‘The Hook’ under their control would give the Chinese and North Koreans tremendous bargaining power in the event of a ceasefire and negotiations that were on the horizon.

4. Makeup

Defending ‘The Hook’ for the United Nations were the men of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment’s 1st Battalion. With a strength of 1,500, the ‘Dukes’, as they were known, had arrived at the site less than two weeks prior. It was comprised largely of National Servicemen. Commanding the Dukes was Brigadier Joseph Kendrew of the 29th Infantry Brigade. The Dukes were supported by the 1st Corps of the US Army and other British forces for artillery cover, as well as aid from Turkish personnel. It is uncertain which Chinese units exactly were involved in the assault, and subsequently information about the Chinese commanders is unavailable. It is known, however, that they did in fact number in excess of 6,500 men from infantry and artillery units, greatly outnumbering the Brits.

3. Description

The British and American artillery employed 155-millimeter, 8-inch, and 240-millimeter shells, as well as an assortment of rockets in the fight. In all, 37,818 artillery shells and 325 rockets were fired. The 1st Royal tank Regiment’s Centurion tanks from C Squadron also fired 504 20-pounder shells, and 22,500 machine gun rounds. The Chinese artillery fired about 11,000 shells over the course of one day, including over 200 fired within one hour on the evening of the 28th. The Chinese employed the classic tactic of saturating the desired ground with artillery fire, then sending waves of infantry to swarm the area and attempt to clear the trenches. Outnumbered more than four to one, the Dukes still had an advantage, in that they held the high ground in the area. Conversely, the Chinese forces had to leave the safety of their own trenches to try and capture ‘The Hook’, and suffered terrible casualties as a result. However, after these initial assaults, the Dukes launched a counterattack on the Chinese trenches. Because they had already suffered major losses in their own assaults, the Chinese were unable to repel the Dukes, and were themselves flushed out.

2. Outcome

The Dukes were successful in repelling the waves of Chinese attacks and held The Hook as they were tasked. An essential element of their success was the ferocious shelling that decimated the Chinese forces even before they could mount their attacks. The overwhelming desire by the Chinese to capture The Hook caused them to commit, and lose, unreasonable numbers of troops into the ultimately unsuccessful charges against the British trenches. Due to their heavy casualties from this tactic, they were unable to hold their own reserve positions upon the counterattack. The situation report after the battle summed up the starkly different prices the opposing sides paid. The Dukes had 24 men killed and 20 missing, with 105 soldiers wounded, while the Chinese lost in excess of 1,000 men and had 800 wounded. For every British soldier killed, between 40 and 50 Chinese soldiers lost their lives.

1. Significance

The successful defense by the Dukes at the Battle of ‘The Hook’ allowed the United Nations' (UN) alliance, including the Americans and British, to retain a strong bargaining position at the armistice talks that were to follow. However, this was just a single instance of an assault on The Hook by the Communist forces. In all, four major campaigns were launched to wrest control of this small area that was of such critical strategic significance. None were successful, and it is widely regarded that the failure to capture The Hook dissuaded the Chinese and North Koreans from attempting a major attack on Seoul later on.

Following the battle, Brigadier Kendrew was quoted as stating, "My God those Dukes were marvelous. In the whole of the last war I never saw anything like that bombardment. But they held the Hook, as I knew they would." This Korean War battle was one of the few involving Turkish soldiers in the war.

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