With the recent activity in North Korea, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the New Zealand Ordnance contribution to the Commonwealth Forces during the 1950-52 Korean conflict.
New Zealand contribution of Kayforce has been written about often and the actions of 16 Field Regiment and 10 Transport Company which are rightly held in high esteem by all, have overshadowed the efforts and achievements of the minor Kayforce units.
New Zealand contribution to the United Nations Forces in Korea was Kayforce. A volunteer force raised explicitly for service in Korea, Kayforce was composed of 16 Field Regiment, RNZA with a Light Aid Detachment, a Signals troop, a Transport Platoon and many smaller ancillary units including an Ordnance Section.
Authorised in July 1950, and comprising 1056 men, Kayforce was recruited from:
- members of the Regular Force,
- men with previous military experience from the Second World War and
- men too young to have served during the last war, and had prior little military experience.
The Ordnance Section, comprising 1 officer and six men was commanded by Captain G.J.H Atkinson with three soldiers recruited directly into Kayforce, and thee regular RNZAOC soldiers;
- Lance Corporal N.W Beard,
- Private K.R.M Gamble,
- Private T.A Hill.
Captain Atkinson, LCpl Beard and Private Hill had all previously served with Jayforce in Japan and would have experience of the systems used by the Commonwealth Ordnance Depot which would become invaluable shortly.
While the Force was busy training, the Staff at the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham had been preparing Kayforce’s equipment against the G1098 (War Equipment Table) including:
- 35 – 25 Pounder guns
- 345 – Vehicles
- 62 – Gun trailers
- Ammunition and stores to support initial operations
These were non-tactically loaded onto the charted freighter the SS Ganges which departed for Korea in late November with an advance party of 1 officer and 14 other ranks. The main body left from Wellington on 10 Dec 1950 on the SS Ormonde. Additional members of the advance party departed for Korea by air transport.
The main body arrived at Pusan, Korea on New Year’s Eve, the Ganges had arrived some days some days earlier and already discharged much of Kay Forces equipment onto the Pusan docks. HQ K Force and the advance party had wasted little time and acquired accommodation for the Headquarters in downtown Pusan, and had shelter for the main body prepared at an abandoned school on the outskirts of the city.
It was immediately to the task of unpacking the stores and preparing it all for action. A difficult task considering that the stores had been loaded on the Ganges non-tactically and consequently, locating and matching up equipment to subunits was a slow process. For example, finding wireless sets and all their vital parts and then mounting them on vehicles was challenging because they had been packed into a number of cases which required tracking down from a myriad of packing cases unloaded onto the Pusan docks. Guns had to have wax and grease protective coatings removed before they could be ready for action, add to his the sub-zero temperatures of a Korean winter in clothing designed for temperate New Zealand, it was a challenging task, which with no doubt a good deal of kiwi ingenuity, was accomplished in good time.
16 Field Regiment joined the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade on 21 January 1951, and four days later was in action for the first time.
Commonwealth Ordnance Support in Korea
The Commonwealth Forces were fortunate to have the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) Base Ordnance Depot (BOD) at Kure in Japan from which Ordnance Support could be coordinated. In the Process of winding down, the BCOF had shrunk from a strength of over 20000 to less than 2000 and the BOD had shrunk from a combined RAOC, RNZAOC, RIAOC, RAAOC Depot to a single RAAOC depot. The war in Korea gave it a further lease of life, and it provided sterling service in the early years of the war.
National Items such as uniforms would be supplied from contributing counties, items such as Arms and Ammunition were provided from 3 BOD in Singapore and the UK on a 4 monthly automatic resupply.
Ordnance Support in Korea consisted of;
- 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Ordnance Field Park,
- 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Ordnance Field Park,
- RAAOC Forward Ordnance Laundry (Seoul),
- RAAOC Base laundry Detachment (Pusan),
- RAAOC Salvage Depot (Pusan),
- 4 Ordnance Composite Depot (4 OCD) RAOC.
4 OCD was an ad-hoc unit made up with RAOC elements from COD Didcot and CAD Bramley in the UK and was scaled to support the 29 Brigade OFP with 14 Officers and 327 Soldiers, of whom 45% were reservists with some skill fade. Organised into three Sub Depots and an ASD. 4 OCD had been at Taegu in Korea since 20 November 1950, but the Chinese advances had prompted its evacuation to Pusan in January 1951. With some elements later evacuated to Kure in February, leaving elements such as port handling at Pusan and the Ammunition Section at Haeundae. 27 Brigade (later to become 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade)was added to its dependency, followed by the entire 1st Commonwealth Division in mid-1951.
With the business of outfitting 16 Field Regiment completed, it was down to routine business for Captain Atkinson and his Ordnance Section. Too small to be an independent unit, the Ordnance Section staff and stocks were absorbed into the British 4 Ordnance Composite Depot RAOC.
The New Zealand Ordnance Section was a welcome addition to 4 OCD, The British were stretched, they were still suffering from the immediate post-WW2 Defence cuts and now were now not only fighting the Chinese in Korea but also fighting a communist insurgency in Malaya. This was placing huge demands on the RAOC organisation and infrastructure. Captain Atkinson was initially placed in command of one of 4 OCD stores sub depots as well as being appointed the Pusan Port Officer for the Commonwealth Forces. Eventually, Captain Atkinson was then appointed second in command and then Officer Commanding of 4 OCD.
The New Zealand Other Ranks were employed throughout 4 OCD, Some were employed at the Ammunition Section at Haeundae, which initially held 60 days of supply of 25 Pounder Ammunition, this was later increased to 90 days. Some of the New Zealand Ordnance personnel were employed across Korea from the Forward Ordnance units at Inchon and Seoul and also at the BOD in Kure, Japan.
On the 10th of February 1951, sparks from a shunting engine in the rail yards adjacent to the 4 OCD location caused a fire which engulfed several tents. Unfortunately, these tents contained not only the ledgers for 4 OCD but also all the Ordnance records for Kayforce. The timing could not have been worse. 4 OCD had only just relocated from Taegu, during which the ledger cabinets had also been lost, losing all the previous month’s issue history. 4 OCD were also busy back-loading stock to Japan as a precaution if the Chinese broke through, both Brigades were involved in heavy fighting against the Chinese and to complicate matters more, the 4 monthly automatic issues from Singapore had arrived in Japan. Much stocktaking under trying conditions was required, but diligent work prevented any loss of support to dependencies.
1st Commonwealth Division
With the arrival of the Canadian 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade, in May 1951, the 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade was redesignated as the 28th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade, and with the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade, the 1st Commonwealth Division was formed in July 1951.
Under the Division Chief of Royal Army Ordnance Corps (CRAOC), Lt Col M.F McLean, the OFPs were divisionlised into a single unit. The Canadian static unit was added tot he establishment of the BOD in Japan.
In December 1951, with the peace treaty with Japan finalised, the decision was made to close the BCOF BOD in Japan, and transfer its responsibilities to 4 OCD at Pusan, which was then renamed 4 Commonwealth Ordnance Depot (4 COD).
Captain Atkinson was promoted to Major and appointed as Second in Command HQ CRAOC. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Atkinson was then appointed the Commonwealth Division CRAOC. Awarded the MBE for his services in Korea, Lt Col Atkinson returned to New Zealand in 1953.
Records indicated that there was at least two or three rotations of Ordnance other ranks between 1950 and 1955, including;
- Corporal Harry Fry, 1953
- Private Owen Fowell, 1953
- Corporal (Temp Sgt) Don, MM, BEM, 1945-56
With the Armistice in place, the 1st Commonwealth Division was deactivated in 1954 and reduced to a Commonwealth Brigade Group until 1956, when that, in turn, was replaced with a Commonwealth Contingent of battalion strength until its final withdrawal in 1957.
The New Zealand Ordnance Contribution was small. But considering that Atkinson, who started as a Captain commanding 6 men in 1950, and that by 1945 had become a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the entire Ordnance Services of the Commonwealth Division is an excellent example of New Zealander’s punching above their weight on the international stage.
Members of the Ordnance Section wore the standard new Zealand khaki beret of the time, with the corps badge with a black diamond backing.
Initially, distinguishing patches were not worn. On the 1st Commonwealth Divisions formation, a patch of a blue shield with a Tudor crown and the words ‘Commonwealth’ in yellow was initially worn. Following Queen Elizabeth II coronation, the crown was changed to the St Edwards crown.
Although probably not worn by members of the New Zealand Ordnance Section, Troops not serving directly in the Commonwealth Division wore a version of the square Commonwealth Forces patch.
Copyright © Robert McKie 2017