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Battle of Pork Chop Hill

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Three years into the Korean War, the United Nations and the Chinese armies dug in along natural defence lines stretching across the peninsula and engaged in attrition warfare. Armistice negotiations begun in June 1951 had broken off but had resumed with Josef Stalin's death in 1953. During the talks the Communist forces - fully aware of the wars unpopularity back in America, where the vast majority of UN troops hailed from - began to test the Americans resolve with a series of low intensity conflicts along the front. One of these battles took place on a place called Pork Chop Hill.

The terrain

Pork Chop Hill earned its name from the shape of its contours. It was an isolated parcel of land sitting directly on no man's land between the two forces, roughly 600 feet high and overlooked by the Chinese-held heights of Old Baldy to the East and Hassakol to the north. The intention was that Pork Chop would serve as an outpost that would absorb the first impact of any communist offensive directed at the American line. The crest was encircled with a partially roofed trench that was punctuated at 30 yard intervals by bunkers made from sandbags and timber. One problem was the shallow length of the soil on the hills bedrock. This meant that the sides of the trench had to be built into earthworks, across which the defenders would have to lean if they wished to engage targets on the steep slopes below, which would leave them exposed to enemy fire. Another problem was the entrance on the reverse slope extended upwards to end in a hollow near the summit, effectively dividing the position into two areas. The command post was located at the heart of the defences and the rear was a cook house affectionately known as 'chow bunker'. Downslope of the trench of the hill was guarded by two or more barbed wire entanglements with a few gaps for patrols and an open area to the east.

The military command

Pork Chop lay within the sector of Major General Arthur Trudeau's 7th division and was the specific responsibility of the 31st Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel William B. Kern. [1] On 16th April Kern's garrison on Pork Chop consisted of two platoons from E Company under the command of Lieutenant Thomas V. Harrold, with a total of 96 men including attached artillery observers and engineers.

Intelligence sources suggested that the Chinese would mount a major attack that night. During the day, the sound of singing had drifted across the valley from Hassakol. The Chinese were building a series of tunnels which would serve as forming up points for the their assault troops. Harrold had been warned of this possibility but seemed too confident about his own security, believing any attack would occur around Pork Chop Hill. He manned listening posts on the valleys between Pork Chop and her neighbours, spreading twenty men out to these areas. He also dispatched a patrol of ten men with intent of taking a prisoner, effectively reducing his force to sixty six men.

At about half ten in the evening, two Chinese companies moved from their tunnels and began advancing rapidly towards Pork Chop. They scattered the patrol; A few members managing to return safely to the main American Line further south. They also quickly over-ran the American listening posts. The commanders on the Hill didn't know what was happening, as their listening posts had been destroyed. Chinese artillery fired at eleven in the evening and Harrold responded by coding in the rocket signal, informing his superiors that he was under severe attack. Five minutes later American shells fell on the forward slopes.

This however was not enough to stop the Chinese. They swarmed into the trench line, turning left and right to outflank one bunker after another, throwing stick grenades through doorways.

References

  1. Bryan Perrett, Against All Odds! (2001, London) p. 208