K Force Ordnance

The 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, have overshadowed the efforts and achievements of the minor Kayforce units, including the small RNZAOC contribution.

1st Commonwealth Division Patch. Wikipedia Commons

New Zealand’s 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 of one Officer and five men of the regular army RNZAOC were to be commanded by Captain Geoffrey John Hayes Atkinson with five regular RNZAOC soldiers.

  • Lance Corporal Neville Wallace Beard,
  • Lance Corporal Bruce Jerome Berney,
  • Lance Corporal James Ivo Miller,
  • Private Keith Robert Meynell Gamble,
  • Private Thomas Allan (Tom) Hill.

Captain Atkinson, LCpl Beard, and Private Hill had all previously served with Jayforce in Japan and had experience with the systems used by the Commonwealth Ordnance Depot which was invaluable.

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 with Lance Corporal Berney representing the RNZAOC.

The main body, Including Lance Corporal Beard and Privates Gamble and Hill. left from Wellington on 10 Dec 1950 on the SS Ormonde. The remaining members of the advance party, Captain Atkinson and Lance Corporal Miller departed for Korea by RNZAF Dakota.

The main body arrived at Pusan, Korea on New Year’s Eve. The Ganges had arrived 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 challenging 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 several 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 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 were 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.

The following is a snapshot of Ordnance Support in Korea consisted of;

  • Base Ordnance Depot, RAOC (Pusan),
  • 27th British Commonwealth Infantry Brigade Ordnance Field Park,
  • 28th 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 Advanced Ordnance Depot, RAOC,
  • NZ Base Ordnance Section, RNZAOC.

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.

Showering in Korea, May 1952. Alexander Turnbull Library

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.

K Force Ordnance Section, Pusan, Korea. Colonel Atkinson/Public Domain

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 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 was 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), Lieutenant Colonel M.F McLean, the OFPs were divisionalized 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. Early in June 1952, Lieutenant Colonel McLean was killed in a traffic accident. This resulted in Atkinson been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel as he assumed the role of Commonwealth Division CRAOC on 16 June 1952.  Atkinson relinquished the appointment of CRAOC on 6 August 1952 when Lieutenant Colonel B.B  Jackson, RAOC arrived in Korea as the replacement CRAOC.  Reverting to Major and resuming the role of 2IC Divisional CRAOC, Atkinson handed over the command of the New Zealand Ordnance elements  to Captain P.W Rennison, RNZAOC and returned to New Zealand in January 1953.   Atkinson was awarded the MBE for his services in Korea.

Records indicated that there was at least two or three rotations of Ordnance Officers and Other Ranks between 1950 and 1956, including;

  • Captain Geoffrey John Hayes Atkinson, 1950 to 1953,
  • Lance Corporal Neville Wallace Beard, 1950 to 1952,
  • Lance Corporal Bruce Jerome Berney, 1950 to 1954,
  • Lance Corporal James Ivo Miller, 1950 to 1952,
  • Private Keith Robert Meynell Gamble, 1950 to 1952,
  • Private Thomas Allan (Tom) Hill, 1950 to 1952,
  • Private Desmond Mervyn Kerslake, 1951 to 1953,
  • Corporal Leonard Ferner Holder, 1952 to 1953,
  • Lance Corporal Owen Fowell, 1952 to 1953,
  • Private Dennis Arthur Astwood, 1952 to 1953,
  • Corporal Wiremu Matenga, 1952 to 1954,
  • Warrant Officer Class Two Barry Stewart, 1952 to 1955,
  • Lance Corporal Thomas Joseph Fitzsimons, 1952 to 1954,
  • Private Gane Cornelius Hibberd, 1952 to 1953,
  • Staff Sergeant James Russell Don, 1952 to 1956,
  • Corporal Gordon Winstone East, 1952 to 1956,
  • Sergeant Harold Ernest Strange (Harry) Fry, 1952 to 1954,
  • Captain Patrick William Rennison, 1952 to 1954,
  • Lance Corporal Alexander George Dobbins, 1953 to 1954,
  • Private Richard John Smart, 1953 to 1954,
  • Private Ernest Radnell, 1953 to 1956,
  • Private Abraham Barbara, 1953 to 1955,
  • Corporal Edward Tanguru, 1954 to 1955,
  • Gunner John Neil Campbell, 1954 to 1955,
  • Lieutenant John Barrie Glasson, 1954 to 1956.
Corporal Harry Fry and Private Owen ‘Chook’ Fowell at the R&R centre, Tokyo, early 1953. O Fowell/Public Domain

With the Armistice in place, the 1st Commonwealth Division was deactivated in 1954 and reduced to a Commonwealth Brigade Group until 1956, when then, in turn, was replaced with a Commonwealth Contingent of battalion strength until its final withdrawal in 1957.

Major G.J.H Atkinson, RNZAOC, Korea 1951. Colonel Atkinson/Public Domain

The New Zealand Ordnance Contribution was small.  Atkinson, who started as a Captain commanding five men in 1950, had by 1953 become the Second in Command of the Division CRAOC HQ, including a spell as Division CRAOC, providing an excellent example of New Zealander’s punching above their weight on the international stage. 

Dress Embellishments

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.

1st Commonwealth Division patch, 1st pattern with Kings crown © canadiansoldiers.com
Commonwealth Div_zpseaxnomie
1st Commonwealth Division patch, the 2nd pattern with King’s crown. Courtesy David M Kellock
1st Commonwealth Division Patch, 3rd pattern with Queens Crown. Wikipedia Commons

Copyright © Robert McKie 2017