|North Korean troops came to Seoul with 150 T-34 tanks|
There are a lot of talks about how North Korea obtained British Mk VIII, Cromwell light tank during the Korean War. While there were a lot of discussions and arguments over how KPA obtained the tanks that are not made in Soviet Union but made in Britain, several researches have done. This post is going to discuss the source and routine how KPA used British tanks.
During Korean War, though it has not yet confirmed, there is a story which British Centurion tank destroyed British Cromwell tank operated by the Communist Chinese Army (CCA) in early 1951 near the south of Seoul. No one could confirm the story since there is no recorded data or documents.
|Centurion tanks of the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars wait with troops|
of the 1st Commonwealth Division to cross a pontoon bridge over the Imjin River.
Imperial War Museum
However, before the deployment of the tank battalion, the U.S. advised Britain that the road conditions in South Korea are challenging, and maneuverable road is so narrow, that light and medium tanks are also necessary for South Korea.
Britain took this suggestion and deployed Churchill and Cromwell tanks along with Centurion heavy tanks to South Korea.
While the Centurions were the primary gun tank used by the Brits in Korea, a platoon of Cromwells belonged to the 8th RI Hussars and some small number of the OP section of 45 Field Regt, RA. Further, C Co, 7thRoyal Tank Regt was equipped with Mk.VII Churchills, equipped with flame throwers, although they were never used as such. Neither type saw use after spring, 1951.
|A British Churchill tank raises dust cloud as it shells the South Korean capital from its position across the Han River in Yondungpo, South Korea on Feb. 11, 1951. (AP Photo/Jim Pringle )|
Generally people believed that the Cromwell tanks are from Soviet Union. During World War II, Western Allied forces supported Soviet Union with military resources including tanks. It is possible that British also sent a few Cromwell tanks to Soviet Union as a lend-lease aid. After on, Soviet Union possible reinforced KPA or CCA with the Cromwell tanks.
However, this assumption of Soviet Union was wrong. The Cromwell tanks used by KPA was the ones that British tank battalion brought with. In the story of the Cromwell tanks, there is an unknown battle "Happy Valley Battle." This battle was the key to the mystery.
When researched these Cromwell tanks if Korean War with books written in the U.S., there were no mentions about the "Happy Valley Battle" or only a short descriptions were briefly mentioned in the book. The "Happy Valley Battle" is therefore known as a forgotten battle of forgotten war among British Korean War veterans. While the importance of this battle was significant, not too many materials nor archives are remaining.
The following is a link about Happy Valley Battle:
|At Happy Valley or 'Go-yang'|
For four days, British troops of Ulster battalion successfully resisted and earned time for the U.N. troops and Seoul civilians to retreat from Seoul. The day before January 14, 1951, Ulster battalion was ordered to retreat from the defense line to South and regroup with UN troops. However, CCA noticed the withdrawing plan and ambushed Ulster's battalion. 157 British soldiers were killed and 20 soldiers were captured. Moreover, all 14 Cromwell tanks were also captured by CCA.
|After recaptured Seoul, British solders are checking the Cromwell tank|
left in Happy Valley Battle.
|CCA using human sea wave tactic.|
Chinese captured 12 Cromwells from recce troop of 8th RI Hussars during battle in narrow valley near Ujiongbu in late November 1950. Column of this tanks was ambushed by Chinese Infantry and few members of their crews managed to escape.
An eyewitness of destroying Cromwell tanks later complained to researchers and historians that he could not do farming for three years because the destroyed tank's engine oil contaminated rice paddies. His story confirmed that one of the tanks was destroyed by a grenade thrown into the engine room of the tank by CCAs. Other witnesses said, after the U.N. forces recaptured Seoul and marched toward north again, all destroyed tanks were quickly collected by U.N. forces.
|A destroyed Cromwell tank at the Happy Valley Battle|
February 11, 1951, two British Centurion heavy tanks commanded by Captain Strachan and First Lieutenant Redford found an unidentified tank hiding under the right side of Han-river railroad bridge while supporting the U.S. reconnaissance company. The commanders order to engage and destroy the unknown tank. The AP shots shot through the side armor and destroyed it. Interestingly, when commanders checked the destroyed tank, they realized it was a British Cromwell tank. It was Centurion tanks "Cuaghoo" from 3rd squadron that destroyed the tank.
|Today's view of under the Han-river railroad bridge.|
It is road full of traffic right now, but it used to be a sandy beach
|A Centurion heavy tank firing|
|1A Cromwell tank which North Koreans abandoned in Incheon beach.|
A British soldier with beret is checking the tank.
|2A Cromwell tank operated by North Korea soldiers with Soviet tank crew's helmets|
|On September 1949, Mao is inspecting Japanese Type 97 CHI-HA tanks.|
CCA not only did not have firm tank battalions but also had lack of knowledge and skills on operating armored vehicles and tanks. The reason I am mentioning about CCA tank forces is because this relates to KPA using Cromwell tanks.
|USMC passing by a destroyed North Korean T-34 tanks|
Lieutenant General Robert P. Keller, USMC (Ret.)
However, majority of T-34 tanks were destroyed due to lack of experiences compared to those tank crews of the UN forces, and superior fire powers of U.N. forces such as the U.S. M26 heavy tanks and ground-attack aircraft, and the U.S. infantry anti-tank weapons. The M4 Sherman (M4A3E8 model) and British tanks such as the Centurion, Churchill, and Cromwell destroyed numbers of T-34/85 tanks too.
But still, during the early stage of the Korean War, several KPA tank crews remained in the war. Those KPA tank crews had basic knowledge on how to operate T-34 tanks but probably could also operate the British Cromwell tanks in similar ways. Thus, it is possible that since CCA troops did not understand and know how to use tanks, they handed the tanks to KPA to use against the U.N. troops.
The two pictures of Cromwell tank strongly support this theoretical assumption quite well. Thus, it is highly reasonable that the Cromwell tank destroyed by Centurion tank was operated by North Korean tank crews.
|3A Cromwell tank with Korean saying "Marine Corps" at the bottom front of the tank|
|South Korean Marines launching attack at Incheon beach|
|Korean tank crews are learning about the U.S. tanks during Korean war.|
To conclude, there were British tanks used by North Koreans during the war. Those tanks were captured by Communist Chinese Army at the Battle of Happy Valley. However, trained North Koreans operated these tanks instead of Chinese since Chinese did not know how to operate tanks. Although it is very interesting how North Koreans used the Cromwell tanks against UN forces, but we should not also forget the forgotten battle of brave British troops during the Korean War. In addition to this novel story of Cromwell tanks, I hope more people to remember the Happy Valley Battle, which British troops fought against Communist Chinese Army to earn times for UN forces to retreat.