The Battle of Haktang-Ni

The Battle of Haktang-Ni was one of the principal actions fought by the Belgians during the entire war. The battle which lasted from 9–13 October 1951, took place just north of the city of Chorwon which today is just over the North Korean border.

Broken Arrow

The hill of "Broken Arrow" is an isolated ridge about 1,500 meters long, extending from south to north and dominating the surrounding plain for hundreds of metres in each direction. It is rocky and entirely clear of cover. At the northern extremity of the hill is the steepest and highest point of the hill, the centre section plateaus before a very steep rocky outcrop to the extreme south. It was labelled Hill 391 by the US Army.

Map of Haktang-Ni

10 October 1951: The Belgians arrives at "Broken Arrow"

The Belgian battalion arrived at Haktang-ni at 14h00 in the no-man's land (4 miles in front of other UN positions held by the Puerto-Rican 65th Infantry Regiment) between UN and Chinese lines on 10 October 1951 and dug in. C Company dug in at the northern peak, while next B Company entrenched in the northern section of the central plateau. In order than the southern point would not be taken by Chinese forces and used as a base for mortar attacks, the 40-men of the Heavy Weapons Company (equipped with American supplied watercooled .30 Machine Guns and M20 recoilless rifles) took up position on the southern peak 300–400 metres away from the rest of the battalion.

Map of Hill 391

The Belgian Contingent was badly under strength at the time of the battle (comprising only 560 men instead of the more usual 900) since the battle occurred in the middle of a troop rotation in which many soldiers who had been in Korea since February 1951 - including the 1st Luxembourg detachment, which formed part of A Company, Belgian United Nations Command, had returned home in September 1951 and replacements had not arrived. 6 Luxembourgers reenlisted for a second tour, so were present at Haktang-ni.

10-11 October: Chinese Artillery Attack

Almost immediately from their arrival at "Broken Arrow", Belgian forces came under fire from artillery fire from Chinese 76mm guns and mortar fire. One Belgian soldier was killed, several were wounded. In the evening of 10 October, the first Chinese patrols attacked the positions of B Company. Recognising the importance of holding the position, the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Major General Robert H. Soule visited the positions at Haktang-ni by helicopter.

As evening fell on the night of 11 October, the Belgians again came under fire - this time from Chinese 60mm mortars from neighbouring Hill 317.

12th October 1951: Start of the Battle

In the early morning of 12 October 1951 several small-scale Chinese assaults were repelled. First, at 03h45 an enemy patrol, supported by machine gun fire, attacked the Heavy Weapons Company. It was eventually driven back by US artillery fire from 10mm and 155mm artillery. One Belgian soldier was killed during this assault with six soldiers wounded of whom two were Korean soldiers attached to the Belgian battalion.

Later that day, from 08h00 to 15h00, patrols from B Company climbed nearby Palli-Bong Hill (Hill 488) which was being used as an observation post by Chinese forces. A second patrol from the Reconnaissance Platoon reached nearby Hill 317 found an enemy ammunition dump, which they destroyed, and then returned to Haktang-ni.

During the day, numerous "squads" of 5-10 Chinese soldiers had infiltrated behind the Belgian lines. The thick fog that had covered the battlefield during the day dispersed at 23h30 at the same moment as the main Chinese assault began on the Heavy Weapons Company.

13 October 1951: Main Chinese Assault

The main Chinese attack on the Heavy Weapons Company began at 23h30 on 12 October. The Chinese troops were advancing on the front line of the ''Reconnaissance Platoon in perfect silence, moving through the barbed wire, when they can under fire from machine guns and flamethrowers. At the same time, B Company and the Heavy Weapons Company came under attack. Chinese troops even took the position used by the HQ of the battalion.

During the night, the bodies of many wounded and dead Chinese soldiers were recovered by their comrades. Indeed only 4 wounded Chinese soldiers remained on the battlefield at daybreak. They were taken prisoner by the Belgians.

At 02h00, renewed Chinese assaults began on the Heavy Weapons Company. However, by 04h00, the main attacks had been repulsed and all positions re-occupied. At daybreak, Hill 317 was re-occupied by Belgian troops, and a reconnaissance patrol from C Company came under machine gun and mortar fire from Palli-Bong hill.

When the smoke cleared, 98 remaining Chinese corpses were found in front of Belgian lines, giving the only estimate of Chinese soldiers killed during the battle although, all together, the casualties suffered by the Chinese forces were probably much higher.

On orders from the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, the Belgians withdrew from positions back to the UN lines, taking up positions on Hill 362. Withdrawing from Haktang-ni, the Belgians watched a heavy artillery barrage falling on their vacated positions.

The Belgian contingent was awarded the citation of "HAKTANG-NI" on the flag of the unit and a "Haktang-ni" bar was added to the campaign medals of those who served at the battle.