Sunday, 7 June 2015

Battle of the Imjin River 1951 - Chain of Command

British Centurion tanks move up in the Imjin river area
In April 1951 a massive offensive was launched in the Korean War by Chinese forces in support of the communist North Koreans designed to breakthrough United Nations defences on a line north of the South Korean capital Seoul.

The fighting just north of the city was to lead to one of the most celebrated actions in British military history and added new laurels to an already famous British infantry regiment, the "Glorious Gloucester's" who had gained fame during a much earlier conflict, the French Revolutionary Wars; when at the Battle of Alexandria and with the battalion attacked from the front and rear by French troops, the rear rank of their line, calmly turned about and repulsed the enemy from both directions, gaining them the distinction of wearing their famous badge on the front and back of their headdress.

That famous regimental indefatigably was to stand them in good stead when, along with the other members of the 29th Brigade, they found themselves at the eye of the storm as the Chinese offensive pitted the 27,000 men of the 63rd Army against the 4,000 men of the brigade, nearly a 7:1 ratio in favour of the Chinese army. The defence of their position holding the main road into Seoul severely mauled the spearhead 63rd Army, causing 10,000 casualties, forcing it to be withdrawn and buying time for other UN forces to create a new line north of the city bringing the whole offensive to a halt.

The 29th Brigade also paid a heavy price, losing about 1000 of their number in the battle. Both the 1st battalion of the Gloucester's and Troop C, 170th Independent Mortar Battery Royal Artillery together with the Belgian United Nations Command were awarded Presidential Distinguished Unit Citations by President Harry S Truman, and prompted General James Van Fleet, commanding general of the US 8th Army to describe the actions of the Gloucester's as;

"The most outstanding example of bravery in modern warfare". 

Heavy Weapons section, from the "Gloucesters", painted by Steve
So to our salute to the brave defenders along the River Imjin and our annual trip to deepest darkest North Devon at Chez Chas and our rendition of this most famous of battles using Chain of Command from the very talented rule  magicians at "Too Fat Lardies".

I should say first off that this is a very big battle using rules designed for the lower levels of the tactical engagement in modern warfare, so we cunningly "bath-tubbed" the whole affair by breaking our game into a series of three games representative of the night and day battles that characterised the nature of the fighting over the first three days as the Chinese attempted to break the UN line. Also we used our platoons of Chinese and UN troops to stand in for the battalion formations that would have occupied the various hills along this section of the Imjin river.

The Belgian/Luxembourg Volunteer Battalion
I should also say that, as one of the Chinese commanders attacking Hill 194 occupied by the Belgian battalion, I very much appreciated what the Duke of Wellington once said when illustrating the difficulty of describing how a battle went from the perspective of someone involved. Battles, he said, are very much like attending a ball, you only really know what went on in your corner of the ball room. With the Duke's words in mind, I will try to capture the flavour of our battle along its length representing a day and two nights of battle.

Centurion Tanks of the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars, with the guns of the 45th Field Regiment Royal Artillery behind
The picture below shows our table , with the River Imjin and Hill 194 occupied by the Belgians closest to camera, the central hill feature occupied by the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers directly guarding Route 11 the brigades L.O.C and path on for the reserve unit, the Royal Ulster Rifles.

Further up the table is what would be later known as "Gloucester Hill", beyond the central ridge feature that represented one of the many gaps between the UN troops, open to exploitation by the Chinese during the battle.

View of the terrain around Gloucester Hill with the ford over the Imjin river off table, top left
The important road junction on Route 11 guarded by the tank laager centre and the exposed position of the Belgians over the river.
Sorting out the troops and admiring the outrageous shirts and shorts on display - oh well when in North Devon as they say! 

Final preparations before the start of the day's entertainment
The plan for the day was to fight the three areas of the table as standard Chain of Command games, with a night battle played in the morning. This would lead into a day battle fought after lunch, culminating in a further night battle after the 3pm coffee and tea break, ending the day about 7pm in time for dinner.

The Chinese casualties would be replaced entirely after each game, whilst the UN would have to test to recover theirs with the likelihood of only getting about a third recovered. Any UN troops killed in hand to hand combat where the Chinese force held their ground were lost for the next games.

Additionally morale points over six at the end of game resulted in the award of a chain of command dice with the remaining points put in the pot towards another and lost jump off points could be used by the enemy to move their set up in the next games further into enemy territory.

Thus the attritional nature of these battles were reflected in the three Chain of Command games played in sequence.
63rd Army moral records set up at the start of the first night attack
Tom and I had the honour of commanding two platoon groups of Chinese infantry each having three sections consisting of a commander, seven riflemen and two men on a light machine gun. We each had a senior commander, together with light mortar, heavy machine gun and anti tank sections, plus a section of SMG men, very useful in close combat, and an OP for a heavy 120mm mortar section for the daylight battles to come.

In addition to the special troops, we had some special attributes, with our Red Banners allowing the group carrying them to shrug off one shock each time and buglers that when blown caused all UN sections and teams within 24 inches to test for shocks with a 6 on a d6. Both these specials came in very handy during the game. As the senior Chinese commander, I also had the dubious services of a Commissar who, if called on to join a unit, could shoot one member and then test to remove 1d6 of shock.  He too came in handy.

Chinese patrol markers "locked down" in front of the wire at Hill 194, with Belgian markers, including the tent
Our section of the Imjin would prove a particularly hard nut to crack in that it was the only section where the defenders had had enough time to lay prepared defences in the form of wire sections that helped to funnel our attacks and allow the Belgian troops to concentrate their fire at selected points thus stopping our troops from massing to overwhelm a section of the line.

The first night attack on Hill 194 as the first Chinese troops cautiously approach the position
We spent the first night battle learning, as newbies, that assaulting the UN troops piecemeal was pointless as their fire-power and dug in status was too powerful for our poorly trained volunteers. If they were hard to tackle in night conditions the daytime would bring additional issues.

However after discussing the finer points of our fruitless attacks we got our heads together and quickly came up with a plan that utilised the merits of the five command dice each of us rolled that governed the activities we could order each turn. On a double 6 the benefactor could opt to take two turns one after the other thus allowing multiple unit attacks to be generated by those close enough to assault. This together with the spending of a Chain of Command dice would allow us to deploy a unit in ambush to add their attacks to the assault. Add in a few bugle calls and we thought we might stand a chance of kicking some Belgian butt!

Another Chinese column seeks to penetrate the wire on Hill 194
Further Chinese troops infiltrate the UN position along Route 11, Red Banners to the fore
On other fronts, the night battle had proved more successful in the centre as a massive Chinese assault led by Comrade General Chas smashed into Steve's Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, taking out one of their sections and threatening their hold on one of the central hill top positions.

The Chinese lead elements deploy of their jump off markers close to the hill occupied by the Fusiliers still yet to deploy of the marker above
This attack led to an early request for assistance from the Royal Ulster Rifles who started to deploy in support of the Fusiliers, with a constant concern of Chinese infiltration down the ridge of high ground in the centre, not held by UN troops.

Tom's troops gather ready to take the hill in an all out bayonet charge
Meanwhile the first night of combat had seen the Gloucester's under Vince, imperious atop their hill, leaving Mike and Nick scratching their heads rather like Tom and I, in how they were going to make their attacks count in daylight.

Belgian fire-power brings the first Chinese attacks to a halt

The Belgians deploy ready to repel the first attacks as star shells light up the night
The first attacks move in against the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers holding the centre
The Fusiliers in the centre reel in the first night of battle as the flanks hold firm
With daylight now upon us both Tom and I patiently deployed our infantry as close to the Belgian positions as we dared, going to ground and soaking up the stinging fire from the UN troops, until Tom finally rolled the double six we had been waiting for.

The Gloucester's prepare to honour their history deploying to repel attacks from different directions
Wasting no time, Tom ordered in two of his rifle sections up the slope on the river side of Hill 194, supported by an ambush attack on the target Belgian section by five of my SMG boys who crept in close and poured on ten d6 of added fire causing a casualty and a shock, followed up by a bugle call putting a further shock on the surprised Belgians.

Comrade Generals John and Chas look relaxed in this informal picture taken behind 63rd Army lines
In went Tom's riflemen wiping out the Belgian section and taking control of the UN jump off point. With my troops at the base of the hill threatening to follow Tom's assault with one of their own, Andy, commanding the Belgians, was desperate to put a stop to the fight sooner rather than later.

With one of my sections pinned down and carrying five shocks I was keen to support the progress of our advance and now was not a time for sentiment. The battalion commissar was ordered in to take control in readiness for our next attack. Calmly announcing his arrival to the commander he promptly shot one of the less enthusiastic soldiers and proceeded to remove the five shocks with a single die roll. Suddenly his attention was called skyward as the roar of low level jet engines could be heard approaching.

Taking advantage of his unerring ability to roll multiple double sixes of his own, Andy had called up air support to strike at my troops in the valley and relieve the pressure.

The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers suffer early casualties on the first night as their lines are penetrated
With minimal casualties on the first night, the Belgian repel the first clumsy attacks through the wire
However God was wearing a red star on this occasion as the napalm strike when it came caused more shocks than fatalities and the shock reducing glorious red banner was enough to prevent my command group having to be removed from the table. Tea time couldn't have come at a more momentous time leaving the Chinese in control of a UN jump off point and a toe hold on Hill 194 even if the senior command group was little bit singed from the UN air attack.

The battle builds up on Gloucester Hill
Whilst Tom and I had been engaged in our struggle with Andy's Belgians, Comrade General Chas had pushed the Fusiliers back to the second hill top prompting the 25lbrs of the 45th Field Regiment to turn towards the threat posed, as Hussar Centurion tanks cautiously probed towards the river supported by Philippine infantry and Royal Ulster riflemen.

Chinese forces probe the defences looking for a weak points, whilst the Ulstermen and Gloucester's hold the perimeter
On the right flank the Gloucester's under Vince seemed untroubled by the battle going on around their hill and and after dealing with a probe to the rear of their position brought the full weight of their line to bear on the attacks to their front.

The central position is reinforced with more communist troops
Tea and cakes on board and feeling fully refreshed both sides reorganised their troops and set up on their positions according to the previous day's fighting.

For Tom and I, now able to deploy troops on to Hill 194, our new position had forced the Belgian troops away from the forward slopes and from the route down to the trestle bridges over the Imjin and on to Route 11. Consequently my troops could nestle protected on the forward slopes as they gathered preparatory to another mass charge and ambush attack, this time covered by the darkness.

On the following day the attacks on Hill 194 succeed in penetrating Belgian defences and air support is called in response
In addition Tom could send of troops to exploit down to threaten the Royal Artillery gun line close to the Imjin bridges. Our strategy was to creep as close to the Belgians as we could before a double six attack, that had proved so successful the previous day. Andy, to his credit, was not prepared to allow us the luxury of a timed attack that was reasonably inevitable and called on the RA gunners to prepare a barrage on Tom's infantry.

Attacked with napalm and gunfire, the Chinese troops maintain the attack causing more UN casualties at the point of the bayonet and capturing a jump off point.
The first ranging shot forced our hand and caused us to attack sooner rather than later. The charge was held by the Belgians leaving them shocked and bloodied but intact. Our infantry was not ready to attack again and the situation stalemated as the RA observer was unable to register his marker round in the gloom and was not prepared to risk the 25lbr fire falling inadvertently on to the Belgian position.

The Gloucester's remain in firm control of their hill
The situation along the rest of the line remained fairly static with the UN troops managing to stabilise their lines and dish out more casualties for the few sustained as the close of play ended with the call to dinner.

The British guns get calls for support from the centre whilst the tanks prepare to hold open Route 11
The battle produced very similar casualty rates to the historical in that Tom and I reckoned we lost about six to seven sections plus four or five teams to the one and a bit Belgian sections taken out over the three actions. Not quite 10:1, but close.

Philippine troops move up to support the Irish Hussars tanks
A days gaming like this takes a lot of planning and preparation together with great people to play the game with. All of us had a brilliant time with lots of laughs to go with it. This was only my second game of CoC and I came away really impressed with the subtle simpleness of the rules that incorporated all you would expect from the Lardies, great simulation combined with great fun.

Thanks to Vince, Andy, Mike, Nick, John, Steve, Clive and Tom for a great day of gaming and much fun, and especially to our host and game-meister Chas for pulling it all together.
Britain's Bloodiest Post War Battle - Youtube

Next up, pictures of the WWII vehicle rally for D Day that drove past our Imjin River re-fight venue, and the 2/24e Ligne.


  1. Hi Jonathan, really interesting read. I believe my old neighbour Sandy was in a tank during this fighting. I remember him telling me about it. Just before he past away a few years back he was over in our house and I was showing him my 1/72 scale British kits and he told me about the hell they went through!

  2. Just like being there, although I seem to remember a greater number of losses amongst the Chinese than is reported here. Maybe it was the fact that they were so far away from the Gloucesters, that it was difficult to tell how many were left to run away.
    A really good bash run by "Veteran wargamer" Chas (He played with Don you know). Chain of Command gave the usual good game, with judicious use of the "COC" dice being the key to victory. The Belgians were certainly desperate for all the COCs they could get. Very excitable these continentals don't you know.


    1. Well after being on the receiving end of all those liberally applied "COC" dice and having my uniform reaking of napalm, the very singed banner of the Peoples 189th Division holds pride of place in the hearts of the veterans who survived the attentions of the UN air power - Power to the People!

  3. Hi Paul, thanks mate. Yes I know from my own experience, talking to veterans really makes you appreciate that through their sacrifices we later generations have been spared compulsory warfare. As a father of two sons I look forward to the day when the rest of the world decides that war is just something to be remembered by looking at wargames.

  4. No doubt there are entire chinese factories devoted to lightly scorching "genuine 189th banner" to sell on ebay.
    Buy one, get one free.


    1. Knock off Chinese Army banners made in China, now that is a thought to conjur with.
      It these days of not being quite so communist as the past I suppose we shouldn't be surprised

  5. Great read and report, I was wondering where all the Chinese volunteers conversions? And from what base where they converted from?

    1. Hi, thank you and welcome to the blog.
      I have a quote from Chas, the man who put the game together and prepared the majority of the figures.

      "The Chinese summer uniforms used Warlord Japanese plastics.
      Using green stuff the cap war re-modeled as a Mao Hat, then the trousers built up over the leggings. Also removed webbing with scalpel. On some used green stuff again to do cross blanket which was used to carry the rice.
      For Chinese winter uniform used warlord Siberian Russian plastics, basically just needed to add trousers to them.
      In addition was able to cross weapons from Russians to Japanese for bit more variety."

      Hope that helps

    2. Thank you, that's what I was thinking he had used. There is a server lack of Korean War figs out there. And since I am not wealthy enough to commotion a line of figs myself I was thinking that might be the next best thing.
      I will give Chas's idea a go.

      Thanks and Cheers.