On 22 April 1951, the invading Chinese Army threatened Seoul, capital of South Korea. The Chinese forces had pushed back the United Nations defenders, but they still had to confront a heavily outnumbered Canadian infantry battalion of determined volunteers. Kap’yong is simultaneously one of the finest small unit actions in Canadian history and a forgotten battle in a war that has never received due attention in Canada. In Kap’yong: The Forgotten Battle, Canadian and Chinese veterans reflect on those fateful events of over 60 years ago. The Canadian defenders at Kap’yong comprised the 700 men of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), raised specifically for service in Korea. The volunteers included young men eager for adventure, as well as many Second World War veterans. One of the latter, Colonel Jim Stone, a soldier renowned for his toughness, commanded the battalion. The Canadians were united in their ignorance of Korea and their shock at the poverty and chaos that greeted them when they arrived in the war-ravaged peninsula in December 1950. Although the American-led United Nations forces, reeling from North Korean/Chinese offensives, ordered the Canadians to move immediately to the front line, Colonel Stone refused, insisting that his troops needed more training. Those troops validated his stand through their excellent performance at Kap’yong.
On 22 April 1951, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s Spring Offensive had already made impressive gains. South Korean forces were in panicked retreat, the Chinese had shattered the British forces in their path, and the Communist attackers had forced a tough Australian battalion off of Hill 504. Only 2 PPCLI barred their route to Seoul through the Kap’yong Valley. Atop Hill 677, the feature’s metric height, the Canadians awaited the advance of the Chinese, fully aware that retreat was not an option. Moving silently through the night, the attackers, who outnumbered the Canadians almost ten-to-one, swarmed the Canadian positions. In close quarters fighting that included bayonet actions, the Patricias’ “A,” “B,” and “C” Company, with the aid of the Support Company, repulsed the Chinese. “D” Company bore the brunt of the assault, however, and also held the key to the outcome. Surrounded, the lead platoon, under command of Lieutenant Mike Levy, took the extraordinary move of calling in artillery on their position. The accurate fire of the New Zealand gunners finally broke the Chinese attack and inflicted hundreds of casualties on the Communist forces. The Patricias lost a dozen men of their own, but they held: Seoul remained free. While 2 PPCLI became the first Canadian unit to be awarded the prestigious United States Presidential Unit Citation, there would be no domestic recognition for the victors when they returned home. The Forgotten Battle sheds much needed light on the vital action at Kap’yong.