The Chinese always attacked at night. It was April 22, 1951, and the Communists had just launched the largest offensive of the Korean War. Nearly 350,000 troops, spread out across the Korean Peninsula from the Imjin River to the Sea of Japan, slammed into thinly held U.N. positions. The heaviest blows fell in the west and west-central sectors, manned by the American I and IX Corps. The Eighth Army, a multinational force newly under the command of Lt. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, reeled southward in the face of unremitting pressure from Chinese human-wave assaults. The enemy offensive, although long expected, still unnerved a number of frontline units.
This was certainly true of the Republic of Korea’s 6th Division, stationed at the left of the IX Corps front, north of Route 3A and Line Kansas. The South Koreans disintegrated before the Chinese, retreating in disorder for 10 miles, then falling back another eight miles before attempting to regroup and move north again under orders to reoccupy Line Kansas. The New Zealand 16th Field Artillery Regiment and the U.S. 213th Field Artillery Battalion, escorted by the British 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, were sent north up the Kapyong River Valley to provide support for the embattled ROK troops.
These units were attached to the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, which at the outbreak of the enemy offensive was standing in reserve at Kapyong, near the confluence of the Kapyong and Pukhan Rivers and astride one of the prime invasion routes to Seoul. During the day on April 23, Brig. Gen. B.A. Burke, commanding the 27th Brigade, received orders to occupy the high ground north of the town of Kapyong and move into position to control movement through the Kapyong River Valley. Burke put the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (RAR), on Hill 504 east of the river and the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, on Hill 677 west of the river. A distance of about 1.9 miles of open ground separated the two hills.
Despite the presence of the 27th Brigade artillery units, the ROK 6th Division proved unable to reorganize effectively and push forward. In fact, under enemy pressure, the South Korean troops began streaming farther southward in the late afternoon of the 23rd. Captain Owen R. Browne, commanding officer of the Princess Pat’s A Company, described what he saw. “I was witnessing a rout,” he said. “The valley was filled with men. Some left the road and fled over the forward edges…