A forgotten hill in Korea…….

 

SC.6603 CORPORAL K.E.FOWLER THE ROYAL CANADIAN REGIMENT

 

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In October 1952, during the Korean War, battles were waged over hills, most unknown now except by a number in the history books.  Kowang-San (Hill 355) is no exception; in fact until I had started to research what happened around the 24th of September 1952 to a Canadian Corporal, I had never given much thought to anything other than the action at Imjin in the Korean War.  It was on or around the 20th of September that Lieutenant Gardner (later Major; MC CD) took Corporal Fowler with him to observe the Kipon’gol ridge on a 48hr reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines, from this they observed that on the northern slope there was an enemy field Kitchen with much activity around it.  On the 24th of September, The two men and four others set out to the area near the field kitchen, with the daring intention of capturing an enemy soldier. As they reached their destination, Corporal Fowler and Private Moody crept to a bunker and listened for in the days previous the enemy would have been barely feet away, although they found it to be empty.  Corporal Fowler under the cover of Corporal Moody searched the bunker but to no avail, it was then that they hit upon the idea of the field kitchen.  It was there Corporal Fowler and another member of the group went forward into an enemy communications trench and there they found and cut a telephone wire.  They then concealed themselves in the undergrowth and waited; within five minutes a burly Chinese soldier emerged to deal with the break.  The pair jumped the man, struck him on the head, and bound his hands with shoelaces and stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth to stifle his screams… All the time the enemy, were barely 200 feet away and could at any moment have arrived and either captured or killed the men.  As they got up the creek bed, around 75 yards further, with the writhing prisoner several Chinese soldiers emerged from the kitchen and gave chase firing at the men as they did so.  Corporal Fowler returned fire but was met by machine gun, rifle and pistol fire in return. 

 

Major Gardners obituary on: http://theroyalcanadianregiment.ca/news/majgardner.html  says;

 

“During a fighting patrol, mounted by Lieutenant H.R. “Russ” Gardner and five men of B Company, including Corporal K.E. Fowler, a Chinese signaller was snatched from an enemy kitchen area, while five other Chinese soldiers were shot dead. The prisoner proved to be from the 346th Regiment, 116th Division, of the Chinese 39th Army. For this action Gardner was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and Fowler won the Military Medal (MM).”

 

He, Fowler, was present at the battle for Kowang San (Hill 355); between the 22nd and 25th of October 1952. Corporal Fowler was with no.6 platoon, Area 2. 

 

The following is an excerpt from the Royal Canadian Regiments own account of the battle [http://theroyalcanadianregiment.ca/individual_submissions/KowangSan.html]:

 

As of last light, 22 October, B Company’s field defences had been reduced to a deplorable state by the continuing Chinese bombardment. Many bunkers had caved in, most of the reserve ammunition buried and telephone lines cut. With enemy mortar and artillery fire continuing to intensify on Area 2 an attack was anticipated that night. As a result B Company remained at 50% alert throughout the night with one man up in each weapon pit while his partner slept. Chinese sappers worked in close to B Company’s positions, destroying wire obstacles with crude bangalore torpedoes.

 

By dawn on 23 October, the situation in Area 2 was precarious in the extreme. All communication with the rear had been cut and enemy shelling had destroyed all of 6 Platoon’s bunkers, forcing the soldiers of this platoon to move to their left and take shelter with 5 Platoon. Lieutenant Gardner assumed command of the two combined platoons and Lieutenant Clark acted as a runner to Company Headquarters (HQ) and Battalion HQ to the rear. The weight of Chinese fire kept B Company pinned down during the day; any movement above ground was next to impossible. As a result, neither food nor ammunition could be pushed forward to the beleaguered platoons of B Company.

 

The enemy barrage on B Company increased dramatically for ten minutes then rolled on to the rear and flanks. A massive Chinese infantry assault on Area 2 was only minutes away and withdrawal was impossible. Major Cohen and Lieutenants Gardner and Clark and Sergeant Gerald E.P. Enright (5 Platoon Sergeant) hurriedly organized the 30 survivors of 5 and 6 Platoons into some semblance of defense. Blocking positions among the shattered trenches were established and men who had lost their weapons organized into bombing parties. Enemy small arms fire was heavy to their front and large numbers of Chinese began to move in from the flanks. Area 2 was now being attacked by the equivalent of two enemy battalions.

 

In the centre Lieutenant Gardner and another small band of B Company men fought desperately against hundreds of Chinese attacking from the south. On the verge of being overrun, Gardner ordered his men to make for the safety of A Company’s trenches. He bravely remained to cover their retreat emptying his automatic carbine at the oncoming Chinese. In this action Lieutenant Gardner was repeatedly hit by enemy fire and eventually went down, but not before he personally shot five Chinese soldiers. He pretended to be dead as hundreds of Chinese moved through B Company’s position, ruthlessly bayoneting the bodies of any fallen Canadian soldiers that they found. In the darkness and confusion Lt. Gardner was able to crawl to A Company’s trenches, dragging with him a wounded comrade. They had been the last Canadians alive in Area 2.

 

The Battle of Kowang-San, fought between 22 and 24 October, 1952 had lasted 33 hours. In that period 1RCR had suffered 18 killed, 14 missing, and 35 wounded. Enemy casualties were unknown but believed extremely heavy. In fact, in the aftermath of the battle, helicopter observers counted up to six hundred Chinese bodies scattered across the battlefield.

 

The defence of Hill 355 had been the bloodiest and most significant action fought by 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment during its eleven month combat tour in Korea. Throughout this period, the Battalion would suffer a total of 282 casualties, including 51 killed in action, 204 wounded, and 14 taken prisoner. The Korean War, 1950-53 had only been the second occasion in its history that The RCR became a three battalion regiment (the first being during the South African war, 1899-1902). Each Battalion in its own turn would serve a combat tour in the theatre of conflict. Total casualties suffered by the Regiment in Korea were 117 killed and 408 wounded.

 

 

And so, I learnt about the battle for “Hill 355”, as bloody and hard fought as the battles at Imjin, and the Chosin Resevoir.  Korea is still rightly called the “Forgotten War”.

 

Kowang San: http://theroyalcanadianregiment.ca/individual_submissions/KowangSan.html  

 

Major Gardner, MC CD: http://theroyalcanadianregiment.ca/news/majgardner.html

 

The Canadian patrols during the Korean War: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=bixhkOzc9DcC&pg=PA299&lpg=PA299&dq=CORPORAL+K.E.FOWLER&source=bl&ots=eeiFpwojVs&sig=jCcbiJhq7bE-k5V3s-XFIxZvxvk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RH1GUfkHicbRBffGgGg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=CORPORAL%20K.E.FOWLER&f=false

 

Awards: http://www.korean-war-medals.com/canada/awards.shtml  

 

General Interest: http://www.canadianletters.ca/letters.php?letterid=10113&warid=&docid=2&collectionid=387

 

 

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