Aug 10, 2012

Nikos Deja Vu - 15/10/1950 - Anniversary of the Greek Expeditionary Forces in Korean War

Greek Expeditionary Forces
Korean War Anniversary
15/10/1950 - 15/12/1953

The Greek Expeditionary Force (GEF) in Korea (Greek: Εκστρατευτικόν Σώμα Ελλάδος, abbreviated ΕΚΣΕ) was formed in response to the United Nations appeal for assistance in the Korean War. It comprised a reinforced Army infantry battalion and a RHAF flight of 7 transport planes.

The Transport Flight

The seven C-47s of 13th Flight, with 67 Air Force officers and personnel, departed from Elefsis air base at 08.30 of November 11, 1950. They belonged to the 355 Transport Squadron, known for its participation in the recent civil war. The majority of the officers and NCOs of this first mission were experienced airmen, veterans of the Middle East campaigns of WWII and the Greek Civil War.

At noon of 3 December 1950, the first Greek aircraft landed on Korean soil. Immediately the Greek flight was attached to the 21st Troop Carrier Sq. (later renamed 6461 TC Sq.) of 374th Wing of the USAF, based initially at Daegu. From May 14, 1951, the flight was based at Kimpo air base. Until 23 May 1955, when it left, the Greek flight, which distinguished itself for the boldness and determination of its crews, carried out 2,916 missions, under exceptionally unfavorable conditions, comprising air evacuations, transports of personnel, prisoners and every kind of material, drops of supplies and ammunition, replenishment of allied bases and collection of operational information. In total, its planes carried 70,568 passengers, 9,243 wounded, totaling 13,777 flight hours, losing 12 officers and NCOs as well as 2 C-47s.

The Army Component

Originally, the Greek government intended sending a brigade to Korea, but with the quick UN victories in autumn 1950, the expeditionary force was downgraded to a battalion. The unit, sent in November 1950 under Lt Colonel Dionysios Arbouzis, was composed of 849 men and 6 vehicles in an HQ company and three rifle companies with one MG/mortar platoon and three rifle platoons each. The men were all volunteers from the 1st, 8th and 9th Infantry Divisions.

From August 23, 1951 it was expanded to 1,063 men, at which strength it remained until the armistice, in December 1953. It was subsequently increased to the level of 2,163 men until April 1955, to be gradually withdrawn afterwards, with only 191 men remaining by December 1955. A representative section of one officer and 9 men remained further until May 1958.

Battalion Events Timeline

1950

November 15: Embarkation at Piraeus.
December 9: The Greek battalion arrives at Busan.
December 16: The Greek battalion moves to Suwon, attached to the US 1st Cavalry Division as the "4th Battalion (GEF), 7th Cavalry Regiment".

1951

January 16: Remnants sweeping operation at Wolaksan, Haseoksan, Munsusan and Sinseol summits.
January 29: Battle with 3,000 Chinese at Hill 381, west of Icheon.
February 8: Battle with the Chinese Army at Hill 489, north of Gonjiam-ri.
March 7: Attack on Hill 326, east of Yongdu-ri.
April 7: Advance to Geumhaksan, north of Hongchen.
April 27: Defence of Hongje-dong area of Seoul.
May 26: Advance to Imjingang via Nogosan and Gamaksan.
June 9: Advance to Wyoming line, north of Yeoncheon.
August 4: Battle with the Chinese Army near Churadong area.
October 3-10: Battle with the Chinese Army at Hill 313 ("Scotch Hill"). The hill was captured on October 5, with 28 KIA.
December 30: Deployed at Imjingang S-curved area.

1952

January: patrol duties attached to the 15th Infantry Regiment, US 3rd Infantry Division.
March 17: Battle over Kelly, Nori, Betty outposts.
May 23: The 1st company guards Kohe-do island prisoner camp.
July 23: Advance to Imjingang S-curved area again after improving the corps for 4 months.
August 7: Surprise attack at Hill 167 near Imjingang.
September 28: Battle with the Chinese Army near Nori Hill area.
October 29: Return to the US 9th corps, move to Cheolwon area.
December 14: Entice and destroy 1 Chinese company at Yujeong-ri.
December 27: 14 soldiers are killed in a transport aircraft crash in Jinhae.

1953

March 11: Battle between reconnaissance squads at Hill 438.
May 16: Deployed at Junggasan, north eastern sides of Cheolwon.
June 16: Battle with the Chinese Army at Hill 420 (Outpost Harry).
July 16: Battle with the Chinese Army at Hill 495, south of Bukjeongryeong.
July 25: Battle with the Chinese Army at Hill 492, north of Seungam-ri.

Awards and Recognition

The 13th Flight received a U.S. Presidential Citation for its participation in the evacuation of US Marines at Hagaru-ri in December 1950. The GEF battalion received its first U.S. Presidential Citation in February 1952 for the capture of Scotch Hill.

The Greek company involved in the defence of Outpost Harry received the following U.S. Presidential Citation:

"DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY Washington D. C., 10 March 1955 GENERAL ORDERS 18
DISTINGUISHED UNIT CITATION Company P Greek Expeditionary Forces Battalion (Second Award) is cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Surang-Ni, Korea during the period 17 June to 18 June 1953. Assigned the defense of a vital outpost position (Harry), the company encountered a major enemy assault on the evening of June 17. After an intense concentration of enemy mortar and artillery fire, the hostile forces, which had taken up an attack position on the northeast and northwest side of the outpost, moved rapidly through their own and friendly artillery fire to gain a foothold on the northern slope of the position. Refusing to withdraw, Company P closed in and met the attackers in a furious hand to hand struggle in which many of the enemy were driven off. The aggressors regrouped, quickly attacked a second time, and again gained the friendly trenches. Immediately, the Greek Forces launched a series of counterattacks, simultaneously dispatching a diversionary force to the east of the outpost which successfully channeled the enemy thrusts. After 2 hours of close in fighting, the aggressors were again routed and the friendly positions restored. The outstanding conduct and exemplary courage exhibited by members of Company P, Greek Expeditionary Forces Battalion, reflects great credit on themselves and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and the Greece."

(The Greeks won six U.S. Distinguished Service Crosses, 32 Silver Stars, 110 Bronze Stars. 19 members of 13th Flight received the U.S. Air Force Air Medal for the Hagaru-ri evacuation operation in December 1950)

Documentary/footage
from the "Time Machine" TV
(In Greek language with English subtitles)

Greek Expeditionary Forces - Korean War - Part 1 of 5

Greek Expeditionary Forces - Korean War - Part 2 of 5

Greek Expeditionary Forces - Korean War - Part 3 of 5

Greek Expeditionary Forces - Korean War - Part 4 of 5

Greek Expeditionary Forces - Korean War - Part 5 of 5

Defending “Outpost Harros”
June 16, 1953 (Outpost Harry)

Prelude to Battle

By June of 1953 an armistice from the peace talks at Panmunjom appeared to be imminent. The Chinese military leadership understood that a truce could be signed at any time and thus they began a series of operations to capture key strategic territory from the United Nations forces that would give the communist allies a military advantage when a truce was signed. One of the most key pieces of terrain that the Chinese wanted to capture was a lonely mountain top outpost in the Iron Triangle known simply as Outpost Harry.

Outpost Harry had received its name because other adjacent hilltops were known as Tom, Dick, and then there was Harry. However, unlike Outposts Tom & Dick, Harry stretched out as a peninsula like landmass from the rest of the allies’ frontlines and the landmass was connected to a Chinese occupied hilltop known as Star Hill. The hill top that the allies garrisoned on OP Harry was 1,280 feet high and looked across the ridge line of the landmass back at Star Hill which was only about 400 yards away and slightly taller then OP Harry.

The reasons the Chinese decided that OP Harry was an important tactical landmass to capture was because the hill offered the best observation of the surrounding area that allowed the allies easy view of any enemy troop movements on their side of the frontline. If the hill was captured the allies wouldn’t just lose their ability to observe Chinese troop movements, but the allies would also have to fall back a distance of about 10 kilometers because the Chinese would have the ability to rain down accurate artillery on the allied side of the border due to the great observation the hilltop provided of the Kumwha Valley that the allies currently occupied.

Infantry Regiment of the US 3rd Infantry Division. At the time, the Greek Battalion, which had become known as the Sparta Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Koumanakos and was attached to the 15th Infantry to help fortify this section of the frontline. Companies from the regiment would rotate defending the outposts the regiment was responsible for holding on their sector of the frontline. The regiment at the time had roughly 4,000 soldiers including the Greek Battalion to defend their sector.

The Chinese on the other hand had decided to commit their entire 74th Division of 13,000 soldiers in their offensive operation to capture the OP Harry from the US 15th Infantry Regiment and fully expected the operation to be a quick and easy success due to the sheer size of the force they were committing. The confidence of the Chinese was quite evident to the soldiers of the 15th Infantry defending the OP because the Chinese made no effort to disguise their offensive operation. The evidence was quite clear that the Chinese were going to launch an attack as additional troops, equipment, and supplies could be seen entering the Chinese side of the frontline. An attack was imminent and the soldiers of the 15th Regiment to include Colonel Koumanakos and his men of the Sparta Battalion braced themselves for the heavy combat to come.

The Battle of Outpost Harry Begins

The Chinese assault began on June 10, 1953 with a heavy artillery and mortar barrage on the allied positions. A night time assault which was customary by Chinese forces during the Korean War due to the allies’ air superiority was launched against all the 15th Infantry Regiment’s positions to include the Chinese main effort attacking across the ridge line from Star Hill to capture OP Harry. The American defenders of OP Harry held off the Chinese attack until day break but fighting continued.

Just after midnight on June 12th the Chinese forces through hand to hand fighting against US forces had captured the northern trench of OP Harry. Once the trench line was captured the Chinese then began efforts to reinforce it before proceeding over the hilltop to capture the southern trench line the US forces still occupied. As the Chinese began to reinforce the trench line a US counterattack using heavy artillery and tanks targeting Chinese soldiers trying to reinforce those in the trench line was launched. The Chinese began to take heavy casualties and by day break withdrew out of the northern trench line when it became apparent they would not be able to successfully hold it from US air attack once the sun came up.

During the day the Chinese continued their artillery barrage on OP Harry as a fresh batch of US forces rotated on to the hilltop while the prior unit carried their dead and wounded off the mountain. Over 200 dead and wounded were pulled off the hill from the previous days fighting all because of the need to hold a bald barren hill. The next night would be a near exact repeat of the night before as the Chinese would once again capture the northern trench line to only lose it once again due to a US counterattack and the Chinese having to abandon the trench line at daybreak. The next day the American unit dragged their dead and wounded back down the hill and were replaced by another American company just like the unit before it.

This cycle would continue until June 15th when Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos was alerted that his men of the Sparta Battalion would be the next unit to defend OP Harry. By this time nearly two US infantry battalions of soldiers had been decimated by the five prior days of fighting on the hill and the Greeks would be the next to withstand the fury of the Chinese attacks.

On the morning of June 16th the Greeks began their march up the hill to OP Harry as American soldiers from the 15th Infantry Regiment they were replacing, dragged their dead and wounded down the mountain. By now the Greeks had begun to call Outpost Harry, Outpost Harros which means death in the Greek language. This moniker was appropriate considering the amount of blood that was being spilled to defend this remote hilltop fortress. When the Greeks reached the hilltop fortress they were amazed to find nearly nothing left standing due to the blasting the hilltop had taken from Chinese artillery. The Greek soldiers had knew the hilltop had been fairly devastated, but even though they were forewarned about the damage done to OP Harry the level of destruction once on the hilltop still surprised them and made them wonder how anybody had survived such an attack in the first place? More importantly it made them wonder how they were going to survive such an attack as well?

Realizing how the hill could not be held if the fortifications were not reconstructed, Colonel Koumanakos immediately had his soldiers with the aid of Korean Service Corps workers, begin redigging the trench lines as well as reconstructing the sandbagged fortifications. The Chinese rarely ever attacked during the day so as much work as possible had to be completed during the daylight hours they had left. The Greek soldiers felt like they were digging up a graveyard due to the sheer amount of Chinese bodies left on the hill. The smell death wreaked everywhere from the decomposing Chinese bodies. Occasionally the Greek soldiers and KSC workers would find an American body intermingled with the masses of Chinese bodies which really showed how up close and personal the hand to hand combat had been to hold the hill. As the American bodies were found the Greeks would carry them back down the hill to be transported to a casualty collection point. It was a grim task that made the Greek soldiers if the next morning it would be them be dragged down the mountain like their American comrades?

Reconstruction on the southern trench line of OP Harry was going well, but Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos faced a great problem with trying to refortify the northern trenchline of the hilltop garrison. When he sent soldiers to the northern side of the hill to begin the reconstruction the Chinese soldiers were able to see them unlike with the southern trench line and began to rain down accurate mortar fire on them. The first casualties for Colonel Koumanakos men during the Battle of Outpost Harry came from this mortar barrage. Koumanakos ordered his men back to the southern side of the hill and decided to wait until dark to begin work on the northern trenchline again.

This was a risky proposition considering the Chinese usually attack at night which meant the soldiers probably had little time to reconstruct the trench. As night fell Colonel Koumanakos pulled his machine gun teams forward to overwatch the soldiers he had working in the darkness to reconstruct the northern fortifications. Surprisingly that night the Chinese did not attack the outpost. The Greeks were lucky that the Chinese had taken a night off on their offensive to reconsolidate and rest their troops. Ceasing this opportunity Colonel Koumanakos had has men work through the night to rebuild the northern defenses. At daybreak the Chinese saw the Greek soldiers working on the northern defenses again and began firing mortar rounds at them once again. With some of the fortifications reconstructed enough to shelter from mortar fire in, the Greek commander decided to keep his troops on the northern hill face in order to keep improving the defenses despite the mortar fire. The Greeks worked throughout the day improving the northern defenses despite the mortar fire and then that night the readied themselves for the inevitable Chinese onslaught that was sure to come.

The Final Chinese Offensive

At 11PM the night of June 17th the Chinese onslaught did come as the Chinese after their operational pause made their last ditch effort to capture OP Harry. However, this time it wasn’t the Americans they would be fighting but the men of Colonel Koumanakos Greek Battalion. Just like in the prior days battles the Chinese just through sheer numbers was once again able to get into the northern trench line. Colonel Koumanakos soldiers just like the ancient Spartan warrior of King Leonidas fought hand to hand against the vastly numerically superior foes. By midnight the Greeks were able to push the Chinese back out of the northern trench line due to the stubborn defense by the Greeks as well as the massive artillery advantage the allied forces employed against the advancing Chinese. Despite this initial setback the Chinese were not done with the Greeks yet.

The Chinese launched another attack on the northern trench and this time brought even more soldiers to capture it. The Greeks fought on the hill for three more hours that included once again hand to hand combat in the northern trench line. The Chinee by 3AM on June 18th had recaptured the northern trench line and tried to refortify by massing a ring of artillery fire around the position to deter any counterattack. However, Colonel Koumanakos decided to commit another Greek company of men backed by a platoon of US tanks to recapture the trench line. The Greek soldiers charged through the artillery fire and descended into the trenches to expel the Chinese invaders. The counterattack was successful and the Greeks successfully recaptured the northern trench.

Day break on June 18th approached and the Chinese who still had not captured OP Harry and were in fact reeling from the heavy casualties inflicted on them by the gallant Greek defense of OP Harry. Seeing that they had no chance of recapturing their lost positions the Chinese decided to start withdrawing back down the hill in defeat. The Battle of Outpost Harry would be a combat victory worthy of the recognition of their ancient Greek ancestors since the Sparta Battalion had held their ground despite overwhelming odds.

However, like the American units they had replaced, the next morning the Greeks began their grim task of dragging their own dead and wounded back down the mountain. Amazingly the Greek casualties had been relatively light in comparison to the Chinese with six Greeks being killed in action with 21 others wounded. The Greek battalion would continue to rotate companies on to OP Harry until June 21st when they handed the outpost back over to the US 15th Infantry Regiment. After the final battle against the Greek defenders the Chinese never did attack again as the allies continued to hold the hill.

The Aftermath

It is estimate out of 13,000 Chinese soldiers used to assault OP Harry 4,500 of them died with many wounded which left the entire Chinese division combat ineffective for the few remaining weeks of the war. The allies losses were heavy though they were no where near as bad the sacrifice in blood the Chinese made on their assault on OP Harry. American units had 91 men killed as well 8 Korean KATUSA soldiers. The Greeks would ultimately loose 15 men over the course of the eight day battle to defend OP Harry. American and Greek units also had a combined total of 419 more men wounded in action. The amount of men that died, Chinese, American, Greek, and Korean over eight days of fighting over a featureless hill is staggering; especially when one considers that when the ceasefire was signed a little over a month later on July 27, 1953, the allied forces agreed to abandon this featureless hill anyway as part of the Armistice Agreement. There has probably never been as many people killed and wounded in the history of warfare fighting over such an utterly barren and featureless rock. To make matters worse the sacrifice by the men on OP Harry have never been truly remembered as well as overshadowed by more famous battles during the Korean War that didn’t nearly have the same amount of lives lost or strategic significance of the Battle of Outpost Harry.

Despite all this, it is important though to realize these men did not die in vain. The valiant defense of OP Harry showed the Chinese that the allies were still resolved to defend South Korea as well as the battle delivering a huge blow to Chinese morale with the steep casualties they received attacking OP Harry. These steep casualties served to speed up the armistice talks to end the war to stop the heavy losses the Chinese were taking. The fact that the large agricultural plain of the Kumwha Valley remains as part of South Korea today is largely because of the sacrifice in blood made by the men who fought on OP Harry back in 1953. I wonder how many people in South Korea know that the existence of a large portion of some of the nation’s most productive agricultural land is because of the largely unknown efforts of a battalion of soldiers from the far away land of Greece?

In the aftermath of the battle a number of awards for combat valor were handed out to include for the first time in US military history five Distinguished Unit Citations to five different companies for actions during one battle. Distinguished Unit Citations were award to four companies from the US 15th Infantry Regiment and to Company P of the Greek Sparta Battalion that conducted the hand to hand fighting to hold Outpost Harry on the final night of the Chinese assault.

Here is the wording of the Company P’s
Distinguished Unit Citation:

Company P Greek Expeditionary Forces Battalion (Second Award) is cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Surang-NI, Korea during the period 17 June to 18 June 1953. Assigned the defense of a vital outpost position (Harry), the company encountered a major enemy assault on the evening of June 17. After an intense concentration of enemy mortar and artillery fire, the hostile forces, which had taken up an attack position on the northeast and northwest side of the outpost , moved rapidly through their own and friendly artillery fire to gain a foothold on the northern slope of the position. Refusing to withdraw, Company P closed in and met the attackers in a furious hand to hand struggle in which many of the enemy were driven off. The aggressors regrouped, quickly attacked a second time, and again gained the friendly trenches. Immediately, the Greek Forces launched a series of counterattacks, simultaneously dispatching a diversionary force to the east of the outpost which successfully channeled the enemy thrusts. After 2 hours of close in fighting, the aggressors were again routed and the friendly positions restored. The outstanding conduct and exemplary courage exhibited by members of Company P, Greek Expeditionary Forces Battalion, reflects great credit on themselves and are in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and the Greece.

In total the Greek forces in the Korean War would be awarded six Distinguished Unit Citations, along with individual servicemembers being recognized with 32 Silver Stars and 110 Bronze Stars from the US military. A total of 4,992 Greeks would fight in the Korean War with 186 men killed in action and 543 more wounded. The final Greek unit would redeploy from the Korean peninsula in 1955 with the stabilization of the Demilitarized Zone.

Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos six month tour of duty in Korea would come to an end on July 20, 1953 just days before the signing of the Armistice Agreement officially ending the war. He would receive many combat awards due to his service in Korea. He would go on to become a Lieutenant General in the Greek Army and would remain the nation’s most decorated military officer before retiring and unfortunately passing away in 2003. However, nothing in Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos long military career would be able to surpass the truly heroic stand against overwhelming odds by the soldiers of the Sparta Battalion he commanded during the Korean War.
Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos was not only respected by the soldiers of the Sparta Battalion but also US soldiers respected him more then many of their own leaders as evident by this passage from a book written by a soldier who fought in the Battle of Outpost Harry:

For the first time in my experience we had company. In addition to the scouts, this bunker housed a forward observer for the artillery, along with his aides and other occasional guests. For example, it was the custom of the commander of the Greek Battalion, Colonel Koumanakos to sleep on the front line when his troops were on line. He and his staff would come forward to the outpost at night, returning to their battalion headquarters to work during the day. This resolve of the high ranking Greek officers to expose themselves to the same dangers as their men impressed me at the time and still impresses me. Our squad had not seen its own officer up front in the two months I been on the line. So far as we knew, neither had our other squads seen him. To see the lieutenant, someone had to drive back to regimental headquarters. If the lieutenant needed to communicate with us, he used the telephone, if it was working, or the radio.

Lieutenant Colonel Koumanakos may not have been singularly as heroic as King Leonidas, but his combat leadership as witnessed by both Greek and American soldiers is sure to have made the spirit of King Leonidas proud and that is why he and all the soldiers of the Sparta Battalion are truly heroes of the Korean War.

In memory of the soldiers of the Greek Forces

Nikos Deja Vu
http://n1999k.blogspot.com

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