Dutch Volunteers fighting in the Korean War

written by Elie van Schilt, veteran NDVN soldier

Chapter VI : Street Fighting in Wonju and Continued Retreat

Loaded our boys drag along the way, dead tired. For two days they are now in action, had almost no sleep at all, meals are handed out irregularily, most boys are hungry. The cold requires extra food, but if there is food, it is just a mouthful, just sufficient to stop the feeling of hunger.
Because of heavy traffic over snow, the road turned slippery. The road is still heavily frequented by refugees, with carts loaded with all kinds of things, among them cattle that they also take with them. This road, which runs from Wonju to Hoengsong, is located in a valley on both sides of which are high mountains; several 100 meters from the road there runs a river, runs so fast that it did not freeze over. Behind the river there are the mountains, and here Chinese have already been observed.
Some boys cannot watch that along the refugees even old men walk, carrying packs, and take their loads over for a while. They approach Wonju, which is located on the back of a hill crossing the road, where a defensive position had been established. American soldiers are busy digging themselves in, which is soothing to the Dutch, as they are the rearguard no more.
Yet there is a small light, a meal is delivered and everybody can eat as much as he wishes, the kettles, were the kooks are handing out meals, are surrounded by hungry men. As far as lodging is concerned, that is more difficult, just because they came in as rearguard, and that all lodgings had been occupied already; but after a lot of effort to find lodging for all boys, be it that primitive. They could not enjoy it for long; after an hour, the order comes in : move out. Not far, to the southern end of the city. Here they enjoy more comfort, they are lodged in houses; to make a fire or turn on a light is out of the question, and everybody is waked every three hours to have them prepared for everything. They have to sleep in their outfit, with the gun within arm's reach.
Between three and six o'clock in the morning they have to be most attentive, for this is the time the Chinese prefer for their attacks, so that the position is occupied at daybreak. Around three in the morning people are awoken by the whistling of a train, shots are fired and in the distance you can hear machine gun fire rattle. It seems North Korean guerillas have entered the city, there is heavy fighting in Wonju.
The battalion has to move out and take up position. They are told, organized guerilla bands have entered the city overnight, have occupied the station, set a couple of trains on fire, in the northern district of the city there is heavy fighting, our troop has to prepare itself to participate in street fighting. Street fighting is among the worst, you can be taken under fire from almost any direction, you have no field of fire, you can't see well, at every street corner somebody can lie in hiding. Some of our boys find a North Korean guerilla behind a hedge. One of our officers could prevent that they lynched him. The wind is stiff, the boys begin to suffer from the cold, it seems that shooting came closer, too. Colonel den Ouden orders his men to take up a defensive position, the boys lie in the snow, waiting what happens. Some fell asleep despite lying with their head in the snow. Finally, daybreak is coming, is is less dangerous to participate in street fighting when it is daylight. But the battalion receives a new order. It has to defend the southern end of the city, to take up positions in the surrounding hills. Colonel den Ouden assigns positions. It is the same old story. We have to stay here to provide the Americans with an opportunity to withdraw. Did the last of them pass, is it our task to provide the rearguard. A Company is stationed on the left side of the road, B Company in the hills on the right side, O Company is split and assigned to both companies. The American withdrawal continues all day, they are dead tired and tension is high, so high that, in one instance, they begin shooting at their own troops who are positioned on a cottage.
Sometimes waggons pass through with P.O.W.s, also with wounded, some so badly, that blood drops off the waggons. It is mostly young North Koreans, which, for the fight in Wonju, have changed their uniforms for civilian clothing. From the P.O.W.'s report it seems that they have simply entered the city in a train and thus immediately occupied the station.
Now, in the vicinity of the airport, white and red balls go up in the air, the Americans are busy blowing up the place, ammunition depots detonate violently, aircraft not ready to take off are set on fire. All day fighters fly over Wonju and surroundings to cover the Americans' retreat, small reconnaissance planes observe the areas to the sides and report those troop movements they observe.
At a certain moment such a reconnaissance pilot observes that the Chinese are setting up a machine gun nest on top of a mountain, only a few km from the Dutchmen. If that succeeds, the entire road is within range, it has to be prevented. But then several fighters dive from high altitude and cover that top with a hail of fire and iron. From the position of the Dutch battalion, the action is visible. It continues all day, the American fighters dive again and again taking Chinese, who attempt to infiltrate the flanks, under fire.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 15th 2002

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