Dutch Volunteers fighting in the Korean War

written by Elie van Schilt, veteran NDVN soldier

Chapter XIV : Hill 325 west of Wonju

When the first rays of the cold winter sun fall on Wonju airport, most Dutchmen have arrived there. Some had been able to sleep just a few hours, most spent the night sitting near a fire.
The battalion is almost out of transportation, troops had lost some of their weapons and equipment. Everybody assumes that the Dutch battalion will be taken out of combat for a while. The boys are exhausted because of lack of sleep. What arrives that morning is food, not much, but sufficient to end the feeling of hunger.
It is freezing cold, and the stiff freezing wind blows across the airfield where there is no obstacle. The almoner comes asking if anybody saw the father, some saw him running during the struggle, others have seen him sitting in a corner, probably he was already wounded by then.
The company commanders hold inspection, but they can't say who is dead, wounded or missing, still Dutchmen come in who have spent the night somewhere else, because they could not proceed, because of exhaustion, or because they were unable to find the airport in darkness.
In the morning Major Eekhout arrives, now the colonel has fallen, he is provisorical battalion commander, he has to immediately take on that task by ordering the battalion to return to the position west of Wonju. The officers protest instantly. The troop is completelt burnt out, spiritually and physically. There is no transport and they are short of weapons and equipment.
Yet the order can not be altered, these are my instructions. The Chinese have broken through and have to be held up. This time Wonju has to be held, at any price, this is the 2nd Division's task.
The almoner says "at any price". Was the price paid last night not high enough ? How many fell ?
I know, says the major, but I can't help it. This is our battalion's order. Transport will be offered. A Company goes first. The trucks come at 11 o'clock, there is still time. One Dakota after the other land on the airfield bringing ammunition, food and bandage, and take wounded with them on their way back, among them a number of Dutchmen.
Among the troops one thought is dominant. We have to take revenge for the colonel and all those who fell. They are all alike angry about the Chinese and decide to pay them back for the attack on Hoengsong.
They don't have to wait long. Four Chinese divisions approach southward, across the Korean mountains. Partially on small ponies and partially on foot. The mountains, lying under a cover of snow, seem brown because of their uniforms, our aircraft report that the valleys north of Wonju are filled with Chinese.
The Dutchmen have taken up position on hill 325. To the left of them an American battalion, to the right the 187th airborne regiment. From the top of hill 325 you can see over kilometers into the valleys to the north, from where the Chinese are expected. In the distance there is a fast flowing river passing between steep mountain faces, in those mountains the Chinese have been sighted, marching distance, a few hours.
All day artillery and mortars take the valley in front of hill 325 under fire. From the top you can see granades detonate, an explosion of smoke and snow. Hill 325 is located about 17 km to the west of Wonju. Everything what lies here in position has just one order : hold on to your position at any cost. Under no circumstances may Wonju fall into the hands of the Chinese, it is strategically too important. Major Eekhout has been given this order from the commander of the 38th Regiment.
Battalion command is lodged in a small railway station situated at the foot of hill 325. The command post of A Company is lodged in a small Korean house not far from battalion command.
The boys are depressed, the death of the colonel, the father and so many others afflict them deeper than their own troubles. There are only a few words, in their thoughts they review what happened the last days.
A Company has given out the order that only one sleeping bag for every two soldiers may be carried up the hill to avoid the risk of being bayonetted while lying in the sleeping bag, too many Americans have died that way (note : the first sleeping bags had to be opened completely in order to get out. Only after a few men suffocated after having turned in the bag and a couple of Americans had been killed while in their bag, did new sleeping bags with a safety zip come out, these opened immediately if pressure was applied by both elbows or otherwise). Near every machine gun nest a double guard is posted. One may sleep, the other is on guard. Because our boys are totally exhausted, our boys have to put up an extra effort to climb the snow-covered mountain with ammunition, food and water, it is more crawling than walking, because of the ice they sometimes slip back down for meters. Once on top, everyone is assigned a place where the machine gun nest has to be dug out.
They know best that this has to happen, many have fallen because they had not dug such a nest, or because they did not wear a helmet. There is another advantage, you warm up by digging it. The night was quiet, the only sound is from the 38th Regiment artillery, which keeps the valley continuously under fire. It is bitter cold, a stiff easterly wind has set in again. In the intense light of exploding granades you can see the skyline of the mountains where the Chinese now should be. But who says that they are not, at this moment, busy slipping across the valley approaching on the positions of the Dutch, the Chinese prefer to attack during the night, at that time our troops have no air support, and all U.N. troops fear night attacks.
The Chinese know, and to increase the effect, they attack yelling and shouting, sounding horns.
Now we can not only hear exploding granades, but from the side of B Company machine gun fire, and indeed soon afterwards B Company reports that they are under attack and have to retreat, they report that thousands of Chinese emerge from the morning fog, then run up the mountain, there is no way to fend them off, if you shoot down one line, another one climbs over the corpses and takes their place. Under such heavy pressure, B Company has to fall back in other positions. Then something miraculous happens, the Chinese do not cointinue their attack, turn westward, climb down the hills and retreat into the valley. This became necessary, because just in this moment artillery and mortars take the retreating Chinese under murderous fire. Yet, for B Company it was very difficult, in the attack on Hoengsong they lost all their communication equipment and they had not yety received any replacement. All reports had to be transmitted orally, this cost a lot of time. It took 4 hours until B Company had moved into their old positions, which connect with positions of other troops of ours. In the meantime, the retreating Chinese are taken under heavy fire, resulting in their ranks thinning considerably.

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

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