No.41 Commando in Korea, 1951
During the Spring of 1951, The Independent Commando had re-equipped, and its strength had risen to about 300. They trained for coastal raids once more, as the North Koreans and Chinese once again held the coastlines. Amphibious raids against the west coast were ruled out, due to the high rise and fall of the tides and practically all raiding was made against east-coast targets.
The first of these was a demonstration in force, where 41 Commando would be landed in LVTs. After two rehearsals in March, the Commando was embarked on Friday 6th April 1951. The intention had been to put the Commando ashore before first light, but that was sacrificed because of very thick fog.
In the early hours of 7th April, LCP(R)s of the Underwater Demolition team found the fog so thick off the coast between Songjim and Hungnam, that no landing could be made before daylight. Therefore, the armoured LVT(A)s with their 75mm Howitzers led in the assault, after USS Fort Marion had flooded down, to launch them. The naval bombardment began two hours before H-hour, 0800, but fog prevented air support all day, and visibility continued to be 100 yards or less. The LVTs crawled out of the water only five minutes late, and by 1000 hours the first demolition charges had been brought in by the assault engineers, and the mortar platoon by LCP(R). Only one 12-man enemy patrol came into the area in the next six hours and was easily driven off. The railway line was blown, the crater was over 100ft long, and mines were laid before the Commando withdrew without casualties, and they cleared the beach by about 1600 hours. The small number of civilian casualties caused by the naval bombardment, had been treated by the Sick Berth Attendants landed with the commando.
The following week, planning began for a more permanent base for raids, and some islands were chosen off Wonsan, 80 miles behind the enemy's lines. Wonsan lies in a great bay, with the high ridge of Kalmaka behind it, and a peninsula jutting south from it's other shore making a large area of almost landlocked sea. During May and June, the Commando carried out exercises, and enjoyed the hospitality of the British Embassy. The planned operations, however, were postponed, owing to peace talks, until 1st July, when C troop landed from an LST on Yodo Island. More troops from the Commando moved to these island the following week,and were spasmodically shelled by guns on the mainland and neighboring islands.
The UN forces retaliated, by bombarding Wonsan and coast defences from the sea and air. By the end of July 1951 two canoes, an LCVP with an officer and 4 men, were making successful reconnaissance, during which the Fire control parties spotted, and corrected the fall of some of the destroyer's 200 shots.
B troop arrived in the island during the second week of August and lived in tents on the high ground of Modo Island, which it took over from South Korean Marines, who passed four 0.5in heavy machine guns to the Heavy Weapon Troop.
B troop's first reconnaissance was made by a section in rubber boats towed by an LCP(L) or an LCVP. Three hours ashore proved this mainland beach to be deserted, observation posts and small standing patrols, were established on various islands in the next few weeks, by either rubber boats or LCVPs. The commandos, reinforcing their own base islands with mortars registered (pre-ranged) on likely landing beaches in case the North Koreans attacked the islands. These mortars at other times were put on islands in range of the shore defences for brief bombardments before withdrawing the following night. A number of mainland villagers were questioned, and later the North Koreans began reinforcing the coast, as the Commando had been placed to force them to draw resources away from other areas.
Towards the end of August, the Commandos were hit by a Typhoon and an LCPR was washed onto the mainland near Wonsan and Five Royal Marines became POWs. D Troop relieved C troop in early September, and the round of camp improvements and small recce raids, mixed with occasional shelling continued throughout the next few months.
Cruisers and destroyers protecting the island garrison were shelled, and shelled the coastal defences in return. These ships included HMS Belfast and Consort. They brought in mail, and received from the Commando, intelligence reports on enemy positions. No major raids were mounted in the last few weeks of October while peace talks were in progress, but the Commando occupied more offshore islands, and put out defensive minefields and wire. The Marines taught themselves to use the 75mm recoilless rifle and became proficient with 81mm mortars, made reconnaissance raids in November, and in Decemeber made the last of their landings on the mainland. In two of those, the ambush and recce parties were attacked by North Koreans and successfully withdrew.
By now, the coast railway was heavily defended, and UN planes had destroyed most of the bridges. Tunnels could not be destroyed with the material which could be landed by small boats, and the commandoes were unable to find the North Korean high speed boats reported in the area, nor the Chinese railway gun which had fired on their bases. Nevertheless, the Commando had ably proved The Royal Marines' skill in raiding. They had received a Presidential Citation for their Chosin operation the previous year and gained 30 British, and 14 American, gallantry awards.Their losses in 1951 were relatively light compared to the Chosin operation, an officer, and a sergeant were killed in canoe raids, and some 20, all ranks, were wounded.
Although the west coast of Korea was considered impractical for regular raids, on 20th May 1951, the detachment from HMS Ceylon made one of several regular raids on this coast north of the 38th Parallel, as did the detachment from HMS Belfast. In the 20 May landing, the marines came ashore after a heavy naval bombardment and negotiated a beach minefield, before searching a coast village and going inland, but met with no opposition, despite being ashore for several hours.
Some detachment landings and fleet bombardments were made in 1952, but no SBS operations were carried out before the Armistice was signed. After the Armistice, the RM prisoners of War were returned to the UK, except for one man who stayed with the Chinese under the terms of the Armistice agreement, of which the British government was a signatory. All the prisoners had been under great mental and physical stress during their time in North Korean hands, as the Communi tried to convert them to their ideology. Extra food and medicine was used as a coercive for co-operation, and of the 31 Marines captured, 10 died while POW and the others were released with the 978 British POWs that were repatriated in September 1953.
No.41 (Independent) Commando had disbanded in February 1952.
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