Thursday, 27 July 2017

Korean War 1950-1953 The Turkish Brigade Engages!

In 1950, Communist North Korea invaded free South Korea and surged across the 38th Parallel that had previously been the dividing line between the North and the South. The United States of America responded by way of a military intervention by sending combat troops to aid the South Korean government and succeeded in halting the North Korean’s advance in so doing and in fact, the latter were forced to retreat after the American’s began amphibious assaults behind their lines.

For  time, it appeared that the American’s would save South Korea and also liberate North Korea from communist control in one fell swoop however, on the very cusp of so-achieving this goal, Red China launched a surprise attack which in turn inflicted heavy casualties on the American’s who were forced southward to take stock. For the majority of this bloody war, which was to be the first of its kind in as much as it was a United Nations coalition operation, was spent in a frustrating stalemate along the 38th Parallel. This article concentrates upon the involvement of the Turkish Brigade in the Korean War, a fact that few these days are even aware of!


The advance party of the Turkish Brigade or Turkish Armed Forces Command arrived in Pusan on 12 October 1950. The main body numbering 5190 troops arrived five days later, on 17 October. Brigadier General Tahzin Yazici commanded the brigade. Colonel Celal Dora was assistant Brigade Commander. When the main body arrived the brigade went into bivouac near Taegu where it underwent training and received U.S. equipment. 

The brigade was attached to the U.S. 25th infantry division and so after limited, training the brigade moved north to the Kaesong area to join the division. From a very early stage however, the language barrier proved to be formidable and this was to have repercussions and impact as the war unfolded. 

"4500 soldiers in the middle of the firing line have known how to create miracle. The sacrifices of the Turks will eternally remain in our minds." - Washington Tribune
The Turkish Brigade Provides "Cease Fire"

The Turks in the Korean War

(The Turkish perspective from "The Korean War -- a short history by the Turkish War Veterans Association.) ** Note that apart from correcting English and translations, the wording is unedited.

The Turkish Brigade has been the subject of the world's praise, by showing a very superior combat capability which provided our state with honour through the successes it won one after another during the three year period of blood and fire starting from the hardest and most critical moment it entered the battlefield until the signing of the "Ceasefire" agreement. Because addressing all the battles of the Turkish Brigades, however briefly, will extend the subject, we will just suffice to list the battles fought and briefly address the most important ones.

The Turkish brigades, between the dates of November 1950 and July 1953, have fought the following battles the Kunuri diversion; the Kumyangjangni-Illi-431-639 -Imjin attacks; 22/23 April 1951; the Chorwon-Seoul diversion; the Taegyewonni defense; the Barhar-Kumhwa-701 attacks; and the Wegas defense battles. We will not just talk here about the battles accomplished by our Brigades--for the Turkish brigades have accomplished all their war tasks without default but about four important battles which affected the course of the war. And these are the battles of Kunuri, Kumjangjangni, Taegyewonni and Vegas.

The Kunuri Battle

The United Nations Forces started to attack on the morning of 24 November 1950, under the command of Five Star General Douglas MacArthur with the objective being the Yalu River (Border Line). At this time the Turkish Brigade constituted the reserve force of the IXth Army Corps, 3.5 km West Southwest of the town of Kunuri. The attacks of the United Nations Forces had easily developed until the evening of 25 November. However, the attacks of the Chinese, which began as raids on the night of 25/26 November 1950, created great surprise and confusion at the fronts.

When morning came on 26 November it became clear that the Chinese Forces had penetrated the front of the II South Korean Army Corps situated in the Central Segment of the front and that they had stalked behind the U.S. Divisions situated on the western segment of the front. Especially the Chinese Forces, advancing towards Tokchon from the area of the II (Second) South Korean Army Corps had started to threaten the Eighth Army and specifically the IXth (U.S.) Army Corps.

Accordingly, when the IX Army Corps advanced towards enemy positions, the Turkish Brigade who had been held back in reserve then formed against the forces threatening its eastern side and rear.  After dusk on 26 November the Turkish Brigade began to march by way of the Kunuri-Kaechon-Sinnimni-Wawon-Tokchon. The Brigade was given the task of capturing the town of Tokchon. The Turkish Brigade had started to advance towards the battlefield having undertaken a very rare and heavy war task which reserves could ever meet against disproportional enemy forces and under negative conditions. (SIC)

Having spent the night in Wawon the Brigade mobilised at 0530 in the morning (27 November). As the units were crossing the steep Karill Yon Mountain and as the Advance Guard were descending on the Tokchon Valley (1430 hrs) the Army Corps gave the order "Do not advance any further and get on the defensive on the line which you have reached." General Tahsin RAZICI having read in the order the seemingly an unimportant by-line "If you do not have troops in Changsangni, our aircraft have identified a force about the size of a regiment whose nationality is unknown" perceived a danger and ordered the Turkish Brigade to get on the defensive not where the Army Corps ordered, but 15KM to the rear of their new position on the Wawon line 15 km away. General Yazici's decision would take the Turkish Brigade back from the point of imminent destruction and bring it to a position that would prevent the destruction of the allied forces (by the Chinese).

Let us briefly dwell here: We have to show the degree of validity of the claim that "the U.S. General deployed the Brigade by using it as a pawn", a claim that has tried to be imposed on our public. When our combined accounts are looked at it is obvious how General Tahsin Yazici took responsibility whenever required to protect the existence of the Brigade and to successfully implement the tasks of war. General Yazici never gave in to the short and sharp orders of the U.S. Generals such as Stop-Go*. The reinforced Reconnaissance Unit which was the rear guard of the Brigade prevented the enemy from striking the Brigade at night, by distracting the enemy raid which started on the night of 27/28. * The inference here is the US GOC was using the Turkish Forces as an expendable resource.

At 0800 hours on 28 November the Battle of Wawon began: That day all of the attacks of the numerically superior enemy forces first against the Pass Axis and then against the Pass' Points of Shoulder were broken (by the Turkish Brigade). In the fore-noon the close enveloping operations were defeated with our counter offensives. In the afternoon upon the efforts of the enemy to cut the Kunuri-Wawon road by transferring forces to the back beyond the effective area of the Brigade, General Yazici ordered preparations to be made for the withdrawal of the Brigade to the Sinnimni segment. It was understood that both sides of the Brigade were open and that friendly forces had withdrawn. We would want to strongly emphasize this point.

During the Korean War the enemy always found the opportunity to surround the Brigade by penetrating neighbouring friendly unit fronts. But no enemy attack ever succeeded in penetrating the front of the Turkish Brigade. The Brigade started to withdraw to the Sinnimni segment from Wawon after dusk at 1830 hours. The units which withdrew to Sinnimni hastily started to occupy defensive positions. At 2400 hours the attack of the enemy started in the form of a raid. While the units which were situated in favourable terrain continued to defend, the other units of the Brigade failing to hold started to withdraw towards Kunuri. Part of the units which had withdrawn were stopped west of Sinnimni through the tough and resolved stance of the Brigade Command and put in a new defensive position.

On the morning of the 29th November, an attack was undertaken with an Infantry Company to save the II'nd Battalion and the 2nd Company which were under enemy encirclement in Sinnimni. The enemy circle was broken and the safe withdrawal of the units to Kaechon was provided for. The attacks undertaken by the enemy in the afternoon against the Kaechon position were destroyed to their last soldiers. However the forces which the enemy sent beyond the effective area of the Brigade to the rear could not be intercepted due to the rapidity of their ex-filtration.
Faced with this situation, at 1530 hours General Tahsin Yazici ordered the II'nd and III'rd Battalions to withdraw to the west of Kaechon. 

Before the battalions could get 2 km. away from Kaechon, they were divided into small groups by the effective incoming artillery fire they received from three directions. As the Brigade was entering the night of 29/30 November, the Hacham-Kunuri road was cut and the enemy circle was complete. At 1715 hours the I'st Battalion which had withdrawn from Kaechon engaged in combat in the Hacham circle. Although the units were dispersed and liaison and management was nonexistent, the small groups managed by the young officers started to break the enemy circle. The Brigade succeeded in getting out of the Hacham circle through attack and infiltration actions which continued all night long.

On 30 November 1950 the various groups advancing to Sunchon from the south of Tunuri met with a new enemy circle here. The Sunchon Pass had been under enemy control for the past two days. The attacks which the 2nd US Division undertook from the north and the British Brigade from the south had not produced results. After a short rest, our infantry started to attack the enemy which had dug in on the Sunchon Pass. With this attack in which US Infantry and tanks also participated the pass was opened.

The bayonet of the Turkish Infantry had once again asserted its rule, and had opened the Sunchon Pass where the 2nd Division had come up against a stone wall. Thus the battles of the Brigade which were given the name Kunuri came to an end in a successful conclusion. The Turkish Brigade had succeeded to provide the necessary time and space for the withdrawal by preventing the encirclement of the Eighth Army and the IXth Army Corps and the destruction of the 2nd US Division, through the battles it fought on the dates of 27-30 November. The Turkish Brigade, which had no war experience, was affecting a great battle from its roots, was saving the friendly Army, which was starting to roll down a dangerous cliff, by stopping the superior numbers of enemy forces. Thus the Brigade was achieving fame in the world by playing an important role in the course of the war in its first battle.

Echoes of the Kunuri Battle

"The courageous battles of the Turkish Brigade have created a favourable effect on the whole United Nations Forces." - Time
"While the Turks were for a long time fighting against the enemy and dying, the British and Americans were withdrawing. The Turks, who were out of ammunition, affixed their bayonets and attacked the enemy and there ensued a terrible hand to hand combat. The Turks succeeded in withdrawing by continuous combat and by carrying their injured comrades on their backs. They paraded at Pyongyang with their heads held high." - G.G. Martin - British Lieutenant General

"The Turks are the hero of heroes. There is no impossibility for the Turkish Brigade." - General Douglas MacArthur - United Nations Forces Commander in Chief

"The military situation in Korea is being followed with concern by the whole American public. But in these concerned days, the heroism shown by the Turks has given hope to the American nation. It has inculpated them with courage. The American public fully appreciates the value of the services rendered by the Turkish Brigade and knows that because of them the Eighth American Army could withdraw without disarray. 

The American public understands that the United Nations Forces in Korea were saved from encirclement and from falling in to the hands of the communists by the heroism shown by the Turks."
December 1950, from the commentary of a US radio commentator The Turkish Brigade, as can be understood from the summary of the Kunuri battles and the echoes it produced in the world, had successfully accomplished its mission. The Brigade was proud to have informed the country of the news of success which the state and nation expected, at the highest level. A handful of soldiers had provided the state with power, great opportunities and esteem.

Kumyangjangni Battle

The United Nations Forces had been morally and materially very shaken at the end of the enemy attacks which had started on the night of 25/26 November 1951. The efforts to stop the enemy were not producing any results. The Chinese who had gained the initiative were advancing and were striking the United Nations Forces blows one after the other.
Winter, snow, battles lost one after the other and the losses suffered had left nothing resembling morale in the United Nations soldiers. 

The atmosphere was one of total defeat. The Chinese had become something which could not be stood up against or dealt with. From private to general the Army was engulfed in an air of subversive, dissolving, and collapsing panic. The various reconnaissance units were returning in panic and giving exaggerated hope breaking reports. Thus under these conditions plans had been started to be prepared for the evacuation of Korea and the units were ordered to reconnoitre secretly the avenues of withdrawal and places to board transport. 

In these hopeless and dark days in which the soldiers had completely lost their will to fight and the Chinese had advanced just waving their arms, according to rumours General MacArthur said "Try at once the Turkish Brigade and wait for the news which will come from them. Do not make a decision before letting the Turkish Brigade reconnoitre."

Whatever the case was, the Brigade this time was being sent to the fire at a critical stage, just as it was at Kunuri. The Brigade was being given a new and important war task, which would play an important role on the testing of the battles.

On 25 January 1951 the Turkish Brigade started to advance towards enemy lines by starting from two columns. After advancing 1.5 km. the enemy was engaged. The companies started to attack enemy positions like arrows out of bows. At 1000 hours the fortified positions of the enemy were entered and enemy resistance was crushed. The companies did not wait long to open and spread again and started to look for the enemy.

After advancing north about 2.5 km. the defensive positions of the enemy were encountered at the 185 altitude Hill line. The 10th Company succeeded in entering the enemy defence position at 1500 hours in this segment where intensive fire battles took place. A relentless and close combat had started all along the front. The enemy was defending its position literally to "its last breath". Darkness had fallen but decisive results could not be obtained. The enemy was resisting and our soldiers were attacking. A very complex and dangerous situation had occurred with the enemy and friendly forces mixed within each other.

The Army Corps gave the order for "Turks to fix their bayonets where they reach and not withdraw even one step".
The companies thought attacking and finishing the job of the enemy more logical than waiting nose to nose with the enemy under the maddening cold and as if on cue started attack all together. At 0500 hours on the morning of 25 January the defensive positions of the enemy were wholly captured. The Infantry who did not want to let the enemy take a breather continued to advance at 0700 hours on 26 January. After 5 km. a new defensive line of the enemy was encountered. The Brigade was attacking with all its capabilities in this segment which the enemy was defending with all its power and insistence.

In this battle in which the Brigade emerged with honour, the attack which the enemy undertook against Seoul produced no results. The command which did not want to miss the opportunity formed by the Brigade breaking the attack power and morale of the enemy did not delay the decision to replace defence with attack. The enemy which could not find the opportunity to change its battle formation from attack to defence started to withdraw towards the 38th parallel suffering a heavy defeat.

As the Brigade was taken back after this famous new battle it was met with the enthusiastic show of sympathy and appreciation by the friendly soldiers along the way. The friendly soldiers were running along the road and shouting, "The First Returns". The location where the Brigade gave the night battle on 17/18 May was given the name "The Turkish Fortress".

The Commander in Chief of the United Nations Forces, General Matthew B. Ridgway, said, "I had heard of the fame of the Turkish soldiers before I came to Korea. The truth is I had not really believed what I had heard. But I now understand that in fact you are the best, and most trustworthy soldiers of the world"

And thus explained the emotions he felt and the assessments he reached from the Teagyewonni Battle.

In June 1951 the United Nations Forces had advanced up to the Imjin River-Chorwon-Kumhwa line. The trials at 1950 and 1951 could not obtain decisive results and the parties mutually went on the defensive and stopped the attack operations. This meant that the Korean War had remained where it started and that the war had not reached the established objective. Now no other operations could be made except ambush, reconnaissance and battle front line conflicts. The great military operation had stopped. The parties who understood that they could not solve the Korean problem with arms had started "cease fire" discussions.

The discussions held at Panmunjon were protracting and were not reaching a result. The fact that the discussions were often being out and reconciliation could not be provided was increasing the chances of the big military operation restarting. For this reason the parties were strengthening their defence lines, and were waiting ready to meet possible attacks. The enemy had started to prepare in order to once more try its luck with arms. The attack which had been undertaken not much later with large forces against the front of the Turkish Brigade had two aims. Either they would have their demands accepted at the Panmunjomn "cease fire" discussions or they would reach the conclusion by penetrating allied lines.

Thus this attack which the enemy had much previously planned in a detailed manner and put into implementation by using all its experience had started on 28 May 1953 at 1948 hours. The techniques employed and the will to fight shown by the enemy in this attack had been of a commendable level. In this attack, which continued for thirty hours, all the echelons of the enemy from private to general fought with all their strength in the recognition of the importance of the aim pursued.

For this battle would be the last one to establish the result in Korea. In case of defeat they would have to accept the consequence, but if success would be achieved the military operation would develop and at least political advantages would be gained. Thus the Turkish Brigade had to again meet an enemy attack which had a decisive aim and which was well prepared and resolute. In the front the positions were very close to each other. Such a situation had serious tactical disadvantages.

Besides, having to wait in tight, humid and dark positions was tiring and irritating the soldiers. As the days passed in such a manner on 28 May at 1948 hours the war again became bloody with the attack of the enemy supported by intense fire. The enemy attacks which intensified on the front of the II'nd Battalion of the Brigade led to very bloody and sometimes crisis-like battles on the hills of Garson [Carson], Big Vegas, Elko and Little Vegas  which continued for thirty hours.

The aforementioned hills changed hands frequently during the bloody battles which continued in big savagery from 1948 hours on 28 May 1953 to 2400 hours on 29 May night and day without stopping. The enemy started the attack at 1948 by smoke bombing the Little Vegas Hill. It entered positions at 2000 hours. As the enemy was reinforcing Little Vegas, our Infantry counter attacked at 2115 with fire support. At 2119 the enemy started to run having failed to hold. The enemy which managed to capture a bunker was destroyed at 2151 with bombs and bayonet charges. At 2152 hours, Garson and Elko were completely smoked. The enemy is turning Big Vegas into hell with artillery and mortar fire. The enemy which entered Big Vegas was thrown back at 2158 with bayonet charges.

Ammunition began to run low at the battle front lines. At 2208 the enemy re-entered Big Vegas. At 2220 hours enemy reinforcements reached Big Vegas. At 2220 hours enemy reinforcements reached Big Vegas. The enemy was subjected to intense artillery fire. At 2240 a counter attack was undertaken against Big Vegas. The enemy attacked Garson at 2245 hours. At 1315 hours our Infantry re-capture Big Vegas. The enemy who had entered Elko was thrown back at 2315 hours. No opportunity was given to the enemy, which had entered Little Vegas, to hold and as a result of a counter attack the Hill was re-captured at 2334 hours. At 2330 the enemy entered Big Vegas. At 2353 the enemy attack against Elko and Garson began. Wired and wireless communications were cut.

The situation started to present a full scale crisis. Hand to hand combat is continuing at battle front lines. At 0040 hours the enemy started to attack Little Vegas. The enemy is trying to capture the battle front lines before daylight. At 0120 the enemy enters Garson.

At 0150 fighting continues with the enemy who has entered some of the bunkers on Little Vegas and Big Vegas. Communications cannot be established with Garson. At 0323 those enemy soldiers entering Little Vegas and those approaching in order to reinforce surrender to our soldiers.

At 0347 the Brigade gives the order to attack Big Vegas. Garson is in the hands of the enemy. At 0427 the enemy reinforces Big Vegas. At 0505 Garson is being shelled. Little Vegas in holding but the wounded cannot be evacuated. With the attack at 1050 we take Big Vegas. The enemy is running. Everywhere there are dead and wounded. 

At 1115 the American company attacked Garson from Elko, however, upon being surrounded by the Chinese, started to withdraw at 1600 hours. At 1543 the Chinese entered Elko. Hand grenade combat started in Elko. The enemy occupied a bunker. After this it entered Big Vegas at 1615. Our infantry immediately counter attacked and threw the enemy back. The battle is continuing high tension.

At 1933 hours the enemy started to attack Little Vegas from Big Vegas.

At 2005 our 2'nd Artillery Battery started to burn. At 2021 it had completely burned. At 2050 the Division decided to evacuate Vegas.

The enemy cannot enter Vegas: But at 2109 our infantry is ordered to withdraw and at 2020 Vegas is completely evacuated. At the end of this bloody battle which continued for some thirty hours the enemy, with the withdrawal of our battalion, had captured Big Vegas, Elko and Garson, but because it [Chinese] had used up all its attack strength it could not undertake another attack against the main battle line.

The attacks of the enemy which it undertook with the large forces it had concentrated and with strong artillery and mortar groups, for thirty hours were caught up in the battle front lines. During these battles, according to the report of our artillery advance surveillance officer, we suffered 300 and the enemy around 2000 casualties. On the other hand General Ridgway explains the casualties suffered in the battles with the following figures "The Turkish Brigade suffered 104 dead and 376 wounded. The enemy losses were established to be 2200 dead and 1075 wounded" (*).

(*) Refer to "The Korean War" written by the General Matthew Ridgway - p. 220.

The enemy understood after this battle that there was no option but to "cease fire" and to restart the laying-down-of-arms negotiations in a lively and willing manner. In fact before long the "cease fire" was signed. The Turkish Brigade affected the "cease fire" which was signed in Korea, through the battles it fought on 28 and 29 May 1953. As can be seen, the Turkish Brigade had often demonstrated successes during the Korean battles, which affected the course of the war. Finally, the Turkish Brigade also fought the last battle leading to the "cease fire". Of course all these battles were not easy and not without loss.

Postscript: The source of the information contained in this article were provided by Lt Col G Brisby Obiit, late of the Royal Artillery and published with his enthusiastic approbation. 


                  Turkish Casualties                  

721 KIA    168 MIA    2111 WIA

Compiled and Edited by

Chris Green

Beşparmak Media Services