A short testimonial regarding the French Battalion in Korea
By Lieutenant-colonel François de Germiny
Commanding Officer in 1953 of the French Battalion
and of the Régiment de Corée during the First Indochina War
The following typewritten text was sent by the former Corporal Jean-Marie SCHILTZ to myself, Louis-René THEUROT, who read it and understood the full historical significance of it. I wrote a preamble to introduce the text ...
"As a former secretary of the French Battalion HQ in Algeria, I was used to doing the same kind of work with the same type writer used at the time. When reading it, I discovered a story: the story of the French Battalion during the Korean War. It was not really a discovery at all. I knew this story as there is no shortage of books on this epic, but I could only admire the style and the way of recounting the events in a few pages "... This is the text of a speech delivered at Saigon, in front of General Navarre during the reception of the French battalion in Korea which has become the newly French Regiment of Korea, having recently disembarked, that is, around November 1st, 1953.
Louis René THEUROT
I will try to tell you a few facts regarding the French Battalion in Korea, talking about the men, and describing their fighting spirit. The facts are those that the Battalion had experienced in Korea. The men, our volunteers, who served with honor within the battalion. The spirit is the one that animates the United Nations Forces. Such will be, gentlemen, the three folds of my talk.
Set up during the fall of 1950, the French Battalion of the United Nations arrived at the harbor of PUSAN on November 28th of the same year. It was commanded by Lieutenant-General MONCLAR who had, for the occasion, renounced his rank and resumed the rank of lieutenant-colonel: to tell the truth, Lieutenant-General MONCLAR was there with the title of Commander of the French Land Forces of the UN; the French Battalion itself was directly commanded by Major LEMIRE, who was to be replaced, a few months later, by Major de BEAUFOND. On the same day that the Battalion arrived at BUSAN on November 28, the Chinese crossed the Yalu River with 30 divisions; they thus inaugurated the third phase of the war, transforming, as you know, the political conditions of the conflict.What was the 3rd phase of the conflict? You must remember: the Allied Forces were forced to abandon the banks of the Yalu River and to perform a retreat but which was, besides, beautifully executed. The enemy crossed again the 38th parallel and occupied SEOUL once again. Then, allied resistance hardened, the enemy slowed down and furious battles took place to stop them. It was during these battles that the French Battalion was engaged for the first time.The city of WONJU was then, in the central sector, a particularly important node of communications that it was necessary to preserve to ensure the regrouping of the Allied Forces. The 2nd U.S. Infantry Division (Indian Head) covered WONJU with its three infantry regiments: the 9th, 25th and 38th.The 2nd Infantry Division had been in Korea since August 1950. It was a magnificent division with a glorious past. The 2nd Infantry Division had been created in 1917 and was involved in all the operations of the western front to the end of World War I. During World War II, this Division fought again in France, from Normandy to the Belgian border and Germany. The French Battalion in Korea was sent to reinforce the 2nd Infantry Division: in fact, the battalion was attached to the valiant 23rd Infantry Regiment to which it belonged for the duration of the war. On January 7th, the French battalion was engaged and placed on the left of the 23rd with a mission to cover the flank of the Division.The terrain was very rough, and the weather was harsh. It was extremely cold with temperatures of -25 ° Celcius. The snow covered the ground without, however, hindering too much the traffic on foot, although the winter wind further aggravated these conditions.The Battalion was barely installed on its positions when the Chinese launched their attack. They were numerous and ardent, seeking to infiltrate or to remove our points of support. Fire support from mortars and artillery helped them but the battalion was holding its positions. It held for 5 days of uninterrupted battle, delivered at the end by close combat and bayonet charge. The French battalion held as long as its mission required it. It was only on January 12th, and 13 hours later, that the rest of the 23rd regiment and the division of which it covered the withdrawal. It then received the operational order to withdraw. The Battalion did this perfectly and in the right order.Thus, from its first engagement, the French battalion proved its value and, to the extent of its means, played a decisive role in its area of responsibility. It fought hard and successfully, not only against the Chinese, but also to show its valor to its brother in arms, the 23rd. The French battalion gained the right to be a part of the fighting force of the 8th Army. The American commander was struck by its valor in combat and completely respected its “esprit de corps”. This trust was always justified.Using the same course of actions, which were very similar to what they did during the battle of WONJU, the UN Forces cut off the advance of the Chinese divisions to get the necessary time to prepare and launch their counter-offensive. This one was ready. It was launched on January 31st and this was the beginning of the 4th phase.In turn, the Chinese were retreating. With another battalion from the 23rd, the French battalion was involved in recon and push on the road towards the enemy. At the end of the same day of the 31st, the two battalions arrived at a sort of pass where a railway crossed at two tunnels. The Americans code named this place: TWIN TUNNELS. The two battalions were installed “en garde” on the heights, on both sides of the road.At 04.00 hours (am) on February 1st, a violent Chinese attack took place on the whole position. A whole regiment of Chinese launched an assault against the French battalion alone, supported by numerous mortars and artillery.On our side, the direct artillery support was missing. It could not follow the progress of the two battalions the day before. The battle was intense. It lasted until 14.00 hours and it was thanks to the intervention of air support that the two battalions were relieved. It was a bloody battle. In 10 hours, the French battalion had 32 dead including 3 officers and 180 wounded. But the Chinese had been pushed back. They retreated.The two battalions followed their recon mission behind the enemy, and on February 3rd, after the battle of TWIN TUNNELS, the French battalion and the American battalion reached CHIPYONG-NI. On the 4th, the rest of the 23rd joined them with tank reinforcements. The whole regiment as a Combat Team with all its reinforcements set up a perimeter defense, because we had to make a stand at CHIPYONG-NI to blunt the Chinese attack so that the Eighth Army could carry out a counter-attack before the Chinese had a chance to consolidate their forces. Patrols were launched to determine the Chinese positions, and small skirmishes took place. Brutally, on the 12th at 22.00 hours the enemy launched a massive attack on the whole allied perimeter (please note that the Chinese made use of the night to render useless the allied air support). An entire Chinese division was involved in this attack with many mortars and artillery. The encirclement was total. It lasted three days and due to the surrounding by the enemy our troops had to be supplied by air drops. But they all held, including the French battalion. Our position was not broken and we were even able to take a hill that a friendly unit had had to leave due to another mission. Once again, our attitude was irreproachable.On Hill 1037, three weeks later, eventually the French battalion had the satisfaction, not of defending a position, but of driving the enemy out of its positions. It was, however, an objective that its geography and its steep slopes made particularly tough. The battalion acted alone with the support of a battery of artillery.On the 4th, we started to attack and failed. But we did not give up, and on the 5th, at the cost of huge efforts and heavy losses, we succeeded. We held the position to stop the Chinese counter-attack, which had been triggered, and our aviation helped us to block the enemy. The battalion paid a high price: 30 killed including 2 officers and more than 150 wounded. But we were victorious and when, a few days later, the 38th parallel was crossed again, we were proud to have contributed to this success. But this success was only temporary. Again, the enemy tried to break up the balance. Despite our losses of men killed in action, wounded and prisoners, we were able to rebuild our strength and we could seek other decisive battles again.On April 22nd 1951, a new general offensive was launched, particularly violent on both wings of the front. This was the 5th phase.The 8th Army, once again, had to retreat but this time the enemy had to pay the price of its offensive, which, moreover, could not go very deeply towards the south. Turning to hasty operations, the French battalion had the opportunity to show its valor again. I would simply point out that for this period the most useful commitments of the French Battalion took place at the battle of SOYANG-NI.It was on May 17th that the Communists had been attacking for more than three weeks. In the eastern sector, held by the 2nd Division, the enemy tried a last effort. The Chinese succeeded to penetrate deeply between the 3rd Korean Corps and the 10th American Corps.With the 23rd regiment, which covered the left flank, the French battalion received a mission to delay the enemy forces. The Chinese were innumerable and particularly aggressive. They penetrated into our perimeter, which was overstretched to the right and to the left of the battalion and, there, severely pressed the front. The battalion held the whole day of the 17th, the following night and the morning of the 18th. On its right, the 23rd had been ordered to retreat. The 23rd did it with difficulty because the Chinese established a blockade on the same 23rd fallback road. The battalion remained alone. At 17.00 hours, the French battalion received the order to withdraw. The battalion did it brilliantly, found the trucks waiting and, according to the commander's plan, drove 30 kilometers away down to the south. The Chinese found no one then, were soon short of food and ammo, and had to stop their offensive. The enemy was at the end of its efforts and the third counter-offensive of the United Nations could be triggered.With the 2nd division, the French battalion attacked at INJE. It then took part in the pursuit which brought back the allies, and this time definitively, north of the 38th parallel. Thus, during the first five months of this year, 1951, the battalion almost constantly maneuvered or fought. It took part in 5 major operations. It did this mostly in extremely harsh conditions. Hard because of the combat, hard because of the country’s terrain which was formed of mountainous areas, very high hills, and very steep slopes. It was hard because of the atmospheric conditions which, during the winter, were very rigorous. Lastly, hard because equipment, clothing and supplies, despite the efforts made by American logisticians, had not yet reached the near perfection they would eventually attain. The volunteers from the battalion spent their winter nights rolled in a blanket in the hollow of a road ditch or in the shelter of a bush on some peak when they did not have to use them to maneuver or fight.In June 1951, when the other side announced its desire to negotiate thus proving that after three unsuccessful attempts, the enemy renounced the invasion of South Korea, the French Battalion could take its fair share of success: three American Presidential citations whose representative flames, attached to our pennant, bear the names of TWIN-TUNNELS, CHIPYONG-NI and SOYANG and three French citations to the Order of the Army, sanctioning its losses and its sacrifices.The hope raised in the world by the opening of the PAN-MUN-JON negotiations then lead to disappointment which lasted for a long time. For the combatants, the war continued but it was going to change shape. In this war of hard, often exhausting but exciting movement, there was to follow a period of gradual stabilization which would end up taking the shape of the war of positions of the years 1915-1917 (in France) ... As in the past, it involved violent fighting on the battlefield, especially those actions undertaken by the battalion on the front line.In September 1951, the battle of HEARTBREAK RIDGE was code named CREVECOEUR in French. At this point, the Allied Command had to improve a situation in the eastern sector that the end of the offensive in June left too unfavorable. They had to remove from the enemy a large mountain sector, which kept the name of HEARTBREAK RIDGE or CREVECOEUR. The operation lasted one month, from September 12 to October 12 because it was necessary to take from the enemy, one by one, a series of strong points where the Chinese had strongly entrenched its troops.For the battalion, these operations culminated in the removal of Hill 931. The 23rd was given the task of removing the hill. It failed three times. Then it was the turn of the French battalion to be engaged. On September 23rd, the battalion launched an assault, but it failed, and Captain Goupil, commanding the B Company, was heroically killed in action. On the 27th there was a new attempt, but again failure. Lieutenant-General MONCLAR then proposed, and imposed, a new plan to the American command.Instead of attacking in vain, on this rising, narrow ridge, which did not allow to manoeuver, it was necessary to attempt an attack from the side during the night. After a long and difficult progression, the second-lieutenant DU REAU, with his platoon, surprised a Chinese battalion. He was soon joined by the rest of the French battalion that followed. After a heavy fight, the position was removed from the enemy. Through the efforts and sacrifices that were necessary, the battle of CREVECOEUR or HEARTBREAK RIDGE remained among our veterans of the battalion as the hardest times of the campaign. Yes indeed, and I think that many of our allies are of the same opinion.One year later, in October 1952, came the battles on Hill 281, and ARROWHEAD. The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel BORREIL, who took over command in December 1951 from Lieutenant-General MONCLAR. The French battalion was located in the region of the famous iron triangle whose peaks were marked by ruined cities, CHORWON, KUMHWA and PYONGGANG.The iron triangle monitored two of the main southbound invasion routes, leading to SEOUL. The allies held CHORWON. KUMHWA and PYONGGANG were held by the Communist forces. From PYONGGANG to CHORWON, was a valley of five to six kilometers wide (which was exceptional) and flat. It was truly an invasion corridor. On the western flank of this valley there were two major movements of land, the WHITE HORSE held by the 9th Korean Division (ROK), and the Hill 281 (ARROWHEAD) held by the French Battalion, right wing element of the 2nd US Division. The French battalion were on the front line on October 3rd. On the 5th, Chinese artillery and mortar fire support intensified, a sign that corroborated the intelligence that the command already had, moreover, on the imminence of a Chinese attack. On WHITE HORSE, enemy preparations were the same.On the day of 6th, the shelling became intense and on the evening of the 6th, the Chinese attack was triggered. After a heroic struggle and, as their mission dictated, the pioneers, at least those who survived, retreated from their position outposts they occupied on the main position held by the A Company. The pioneers platoon leader, Lieutenant PERRON, was wounded four times. In the hell of shelling, we did not know where he was. We thought that he was already dead. In fact, he had lost consciousness due to his wounds. He had been taken prisoner, but managed to escape. Eventually, he crawled to the line held by A Company after two days of extraordinary adventures.The Chinese attack came up against the position held by A Company, the commanding officer being Lieutenant POUPARD. Again, the fire support of the Chinese artillery was hell: 25,000 shells struck all of our positions from October 6th, 06.00 hours (am), October 7th 06.00 hours (am), even during the Chinese assault. An entire Chinese regiment, the 339th, was engaged, battalion after battalion. This regiment lost 600 soldiers on the battlefield. The position was held. The American reinforcements could arrive and the American artillery could start a massive fire support.The Chinese attack failed. On the right, the Koreans (ROK) were also attacked and launched a series of counter-attacks. The French battalion, still threatened on its front, covered and supported the Korean units and, finally, WHITE HORSE was saved, as ARROWHEAD was saved. The French resistance on ARROWHEAD deeply impressed our American leaders and friends. They concluded that it was better to stand on the spot than to abandon a position and try to win it back. But many of them told me, with the simple frankness that characterizes them, that few battalions could have held as the French battalion did.CREVECOEUR and ARROWHEAD were corner stones for the French battalion, two dramatic moments of the period of stabilization. These two moments should not make us forget the long stays on the front line in so-called calm sectors but where it was necessary to be on perpetual alert, to keep its nerve under the firing and shelling of setting or enemy harassment, to face the partial attacks, to fight against the bad weather and to participate at night in this extraordinary activity characteristic of the Korean war: patrols, ambushes, commando actions, vigils, refueling, relief in a perpetual tense of units and men.The nights of Korea with glittering moonlight that facilitated refueling and relief movements discouraged enemy patrols, but did not help ours. Dark nights were conducive to silent approaches, just as favorable to Chinese infiltration as it was for ours and serving mortars and artillerymen always for our observers, who were ready to launch lightening shells or to trigger their firing plan.After these nights, everyone in both camps was falling asleep and once again Korea deserved its name of the "quiet morning country". Such was, in broad outline, the history of the French battalion in Korea. Such were the facts which I announced to you in this short testimonial.
Who was actually involved in this story of the French Battalion? Who were the authors of these facts? In short, who were the men? That's what I want to tell you now. The answer is simple: the men were French, French of all kinds, French men from Normandy or Provence, Senegal or Algeria, French from cities or from the countryside, French from the active Army or the reserve. All of them were volunteers. They had come to Korea, attracted by a taste for adventure and the desire to fight. Most had also come to serve an ideal. They knew who they were fighting for and why. But others did not care, and some even came because their sentimental or professional life had given them disappointment. But all in the crucible of the battalion, and in the test of combat, were assuming a common spirit. A strong feeling motivated them then, the pride of being French and the will to do honor to their battalion and to their country. Sometimes their military training was incomplete and the art of the leader was knowing how to take advantage of their potential skills.In my battalion I had a brave old man who had belonged to the Air Force as a non-flying staff. He was from Vendee (western France), certainly motivated by the most aggressive intention towards our enemy, but his age, as well as his military aptitudes, didn’t give him the skill to be a soldier on the front line. I had entrusted him with the charge of our helicopter fields, which were to always be ready to receive the medical evacuation helicopters or those of our generals visiting or under inspection. Our helipads were never better operated, regularly trimmed and maintained than by this faithful servant. Every time a helicopter was announced, he was there, signaling the location, guiding the pilot to land, then repairing the damage caused by the blast of the blades.He had his big day when Marshal JUNE came to see us while we were on the front line. General ALLARD, General TAYLOR, commander of the army, General KENDELL, commanding the 1st corps, General FRY, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, accompanied him. We had five helicopters at a time, what an event for him and us! But thank God, we also had in our ranks our elite warriors, veterans of World War II or First Indochina campaigns, or even young professional soldiers attracted by the fight.It was on these soldiers that Company Commanders and Platoon Leaders counted for dangerous patrols and delicate ambushes. They formed the nucleus around which their comrades clung together whenever there was something hard to do. They were particularly numerous in our platoons of pioneers, specialists of night actions, and ready to implement their sniperscopes : infra-red rifles allowing them to own and aim at night. It was with them and thanks to them, that bull eye shots were particularly successful. Not everyone could have the pride of hand-to-hand combat experiences. Oh how useful too were the servants of our support weapons, and I think, especially, the men of our 81 mortar platoon who had adopted the British gunners' motto "on the minute".I would be unfair if, in speaking of our men, I omitted to mention our Korean soldiers, our ROK soldiers, as it was said, according to the initials of the REPUBLIC OF KOREA. During the first engagements of 1951, the losses of the battalion had to be compensated by the incorporation of Korean soldiers who allowed the battalion to restore its manpower without waiting for the reinforcements of France, long to come. Then the situation would be regularized. The American units also recruited Koreans and, finally, it was about 200 Korean soldiers, one-sixth of its strength that the French battalion counted in its ranks.These Korean soldiers, for the most part, fought in B Company of Captain GOUPIL who was killed in action. Our B Company was our B ROK Company. The other Korean soldiers were mostly stretcher-bearers. All were admirable, their courage, their discipline, their behavior, their fidelity was above all praise. Many fell in our ranks. Among them, we came to know and to appreciate the Korean soldiers and the Korean people, and we have great faith in their future.When our dear ROK soldiers had to leave us, before we left for Indochina, their sadness was touching. Many would have liked to stay with us and, in particular, those who were from NORTH KOREA. With the Armistice, some of them saw their chances of returning home diminish.These men, French or ROK, were in the hands of a bunch of young leaders, who also came from all branches, but motivated by the same faith and the same will, and for which their troops would have followed them everywhere.I told you that our French volunteers were particularly spurred on by their pride and their responsibilities as Frenchmen. I must say, too, that they were very quickly sensitive to the truly magnificent spirit that animated the United Nations Forces, the fighting spirit within the 8th Army, a spirit of which I would now like to speak to you.
Of course, this 8th Army was first an American one. It was American by its command, by its services, by the number of its GI’s but it also included a number of Korean units, divisions, army corps, which were growing. And it also included United Nations units whose military and moral role far exceeded the numerical importance.There was the magnificent 1st Division of the Commonwealth, the brave Turkish brigade and a series of battalions from Belgium and Luxembourg, Colombia, Ethiopia, Greece, Netherland, Filipino, Thai and France. Other non-combatant units were: Danish, Indian, Italian and Norwegian hospitals, Swedish hospital ship.In the 2nd Infantry Division, to which we belonged, each of the infantry regiments was reinforced by a United Nations battalion. This is how the 9th Regiment had the Thai Battalion and the 38th Regiment had the Dutch Battalion while we were attached to our 23rd Infantry regiment.When Mr. REYNAUD, the Vice-President of the French Government, came to visit us, while we were on the front line, in March (1953), our battalion was temporarily detached from the 23rd Infantry Regiment (at that time in the custody of the prison camps, occupied the center of the divisional task). Our battalion had, on its right, the Thai battalion and, on its left, the Dutch battalion. Due to the circumstances of the moment, we were supported by the British artillery, but all within the American framework of the front line. It was really very much an international army. And this army was motivated by an admirable spirit of friendship and camaraderie; each was ready to devote himself to all, and sought nothing but friendship with the neighbor. This success was due, I have no doubt, to the quality of the American command which managed to lead units of different nationalities, while respecting their originality. It was also due to the military and moral value of our American friends who were always ready to show friendship and also to the will of the warriors of the many nationalities, all aware of being harnessed to the same noble cause.
At the end of my present testimonial, gentlemen, I hope I have not lost your attention and that I have managed to give you a clear overview of the French battalion in Korea : what it did, what it was, the moral framework that surrounded it, an image not too unfaithful. Admittedly, the battalion did nothing that others would not have done in its place and that our French and Vietnamese units do not do here every day in often more difficult conditions. But it was fortunate enough to have had an exceptional mission and the pride of honoring it. This mission was to represent France in the struggle of the United Nations for Freedom. The battalion had fulfilled its missions, its Four French citations to the order of the Army; its Two Korean Presidential Citations would tend to prove it. So the battalion left Korea with a clear conscience, surrounded by sympathy that deeply touched us. Here it is, now, the battalion is becoming the Régiment de Corée (this unit was keeping the tradition of the French Battalion in Korea). In this new structure, we know that it is, in a way, the same struggle that we will have to continue. So we will put the same faith in it as when we served under the blue flag of the United Nations ».
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