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Category: Korea

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Ham in the sandwich 

R. K. Cashman, MM  of 3 RAR

Ham Sandwich Hills - Big and Little Nori

That little ridge-line across the river is Ham Sandwich, nearest and smallest being where the mine field and graveyard were located and where Chinese mortars dug in. Next portion further along being the middle size hill was our possie, and later known as Little Nori. Final and northern hill was where the main Chinese were dug in. It was known to 3 Id as Big Nori and the site of much drama. The plane came down between those two features. All was finally lost to Chinese lads.

I am a member of an American outfit called Imjin Buddies, they are mainly vets from 3 Id and as happened had a lot of service on the 'ham' hills. They knew them as Big and Little Nori and after the Philippine outfit had the cleaners put through them, various other units from 3 occupied and fought over our little set of hills. They were eventually lost to the Chinese for good by a Puerto Rican unit, 65th. Infantry Regiment I think. Anyway the Americans had those hills until about July 52 I believe and the Imjin Buddies sent me this photo of our position, taken many years afterwards. 

Can't remember the date as usual, except it was November 1951 which for me is an excellent beginning. The drama of winning then losing hill 317 or Kowang San was over, and everyone was quite browned off about the whole affair. Thus it did not come as any great surprise, to learn that we in B coy. 3RAR were to move positions. This period held few shocks for the Digs from Oz, nothing new could happen. That is what we thought at least!

However we were somewhat startled, to find ourselves carted to the foot of a very big mountain and along with our gear, dumped. Probably more surprising to us Commonwealth Division chaps, was to discover we were to share this bleak and rocky monolith, with none other than the famous Custer's regiment.

To this day nobody seems to have any idea what the hell we were doing there, I mean B coy. wasn't adjoining the 7th. Cavalry, Lord no we were practically riding their horses. So there we are under the command of our fearless leader, the ever green 'Wings' Nicholls, and what a fine body of shell-shocked lads were the men of B, many hadn't gotten over the thumping received from The Hinge battle. This feature now is occupied by a South Korean observation post, titled Typhun, and looks quite a pleasant spot. Not so when we intrepid GIs. and Diggers tried to carve a hole in its flanks. The weather was miserable, the Chinese angry, the ground rocky and so on.

Click to enlarge

LMG Training, July '53 Myself under hat, and Don Harris. Very effective at discouraging unwanted visitors. The body measures time at a different speed, in combat. Would you pick that I was only 20 when that was taken? 

The place was one of the rare spots that was covered with trees, this didn't help for digging either, because of the tree roots. Nor were they a great comfort when a Chinese shell hit a tree, and gave us an airburst for our troubles. We did have one moment of excitement though when 'Thanks giving day' arrived. Lucky us got to share the Turkey and trimmings, with our generous comrades, I seem to recall ice-cream also.

Thus we misplaced mob of B coy. shared the hill and duties with by now, the 3rd.Inf.Div. as I recall; the 7th. having packed their saddle bags and moved on. The task of patrolling seemed to have become our regular job, that was no great drama except that it was necessary to cross the Imjim river first. Being Autumn and getting cold, it was no fun prowling about the rather large valley to our front, in cold, wet, gear. Meanwhile knowing 'Charlie' was dry on his side, and could likely hear us sloshing around like a school of fish.

 Prefabricated Bunkers

Fancy fortified position, inherited from the Poms. n.b. Not at the Ham In the Sandwich position.

Now we have moved up in style, this was the first time we came across prefabricated bunkers in the line. No way would these be referred to as foxholes, they were too good. This is a rear position plainly, and on The Hook in 53.

My guess would be that engineers and Korean labourers built them, not your ordinary line soldier. Those on the forward areas were under ground, and constructed using solid timber beams for frames and roof. They were as good as you could hope to get in every defensive way, and would need a direct hit from a fairly large calibre shell to destroy them.

I do not know if the Americans or Brits built these, the former I suspect as the cost could have been out of the Brit range at that time! Geez I look skinny here, things must have been getting to me by now!

More adventures lay in our path though, like the night we bid the outpost crew good evening as we passed through, I took my boots off this night, to keep them dry of course. Lo and behold we no sooner do our water ballet, and 'Charles' arrives to greet us on the other side. Well it wasn't what you could call a strategic retreat, rather a mad scramble to get back across the river, boots wet and all. During this departure from the North bank to the South, we all did our best to alert our allies manning the outpost, that it was indeed the blokes they had moments before wished a safe night; returning home under duress. Most were wearing Slouch hats, and we were calling out in decidedly un Chinese fashion, but no, this wasn't enough to stop some itchy finger from letting loose with the .30 cal. Luckily the lad hosing us and the river, was as frightened as were we, thus none were hit but we did emerge from the river quite angry. Pretty damn wet as well, seeing as most of us swam at least 100 yards down-stream to avoid the .30 cal. projectiles coming our way.

This still wasn't enough for we lucky few in 6 platoon, there was a sweeping bend in the river right in front of our hill. Still on the southern side but north and further along, were a few features some American General wanted, and as a result the lads from 3rd were having a hell of a job trying to oblige him.

Now without a sketch map this is hard to picture, so you will just have to do you best and not blame me. Where the river turned, and opposite where all 3 Divs. drama was going on, was a long but low three hilled feature. This must have looked somehow untidy to a man of greater rank, than we could muster in 6 platoon. Resultantly we unhappy few found ourselves loaded to the hilt, and making our way to occupy portion of the ridge. Hard to say if it was a good guess, or someone knew what was going on. The thing was that we crept on to the middle bump, found it empty of soldiers of an unfriendly persuasion, and promptly set up a defence perimeter. I believe it was the very next night when we found all was not well, Charlie came calling on us with a smallish probe, and at the same time set up a couple of largish mortars.

These items were positioned at the base of our little hill, and proceeded to hammer the daylights out of our GI buddies across the river. This unhappy group had spent much of the day, dashing up this large bald hill, and with great bravery taken it off Charlie. Now they were on the wrong end of the stick, and when the artillery and mortars hammered them, then large numbers of determined enemy attacked en-mass, they could not hold.

That began our less than happy few weeks on the middle knoll, we were soon to learn that our Asian cousins owned the other two, we were the meat in the middle without doubt. The largest feature was occupied by a well dug in infantry force, the smaller one which had both a cemetery and minefield on it, well that was home to the mortar battery. Charlie had not finished with his little shocks yet, very soon after we took up residence, he came up with the trick of the SP gun.

Now this was a doozy, the lad who thought this up should have been at least a corporal, he was too clever by half to waste a commission on in the PLA, the Commissar would have had him shot. This clever fellow brings his SP gun to the base of our hill, gives us a few rounds at point blank, I don't think they had time to explode when we got them! They did however keep our heads down, whilst said gun battered our Yankee cobbers across the river.

You can of course see that this is brains in warfare, at the very best level. What can the Americans on the receiving end do, not a damn thing because we are in the way. The same applied with the mortar crews, after the nightly frolic with the probing party, we were in no mood nor situation to go tank busting. You may not believe it possible, but we were over there without a bazooka, nor anything better than our couple of Brens. I think we got our rations on a bit of a shuttle service, The Hussars wandered over with a centurion loaded up with goodies now and then.

This began to wear a bit thin after a while, and tempers were short, more so when we could see the foot marks in the frost each morning. Everyone was blaming the others for letting Charlie almost creep into our trenches, we nailed a few now and then but not enough to stop him. Meanwhile the SP is still using us for cover when need be, then withdrawing during the day to Lord knows what safe spot.

One night the mortar lads got a bit cheeky, and let Bluey, one of our Bren gunners, get a decent burst into them. I said nothing next AM but followed the marks through the frost, pretty stupid thing to do. They led me through a re-entrant and to the side of the minefield, there was a stretcher made from two wiring piquets, a poncho, and some c ration cartons. One quilted jacket lay there as well, and it had three neat holes right about where the owner's navel would be.

These tracks led into the cemetery and were easy to follow, but I was dissuaded from doing so by the sight of the jumping jack mines. Those days I knew nothing about mines, and for some unknown reason kept my mouth shut. Thought of taking the jacket back to Bluey for a trophy, or at least prove his kill, but the platoon boss (Mr.B.Falvey SIR) was touchy about things like that. If you read this Skipper, I'm sorry I didn't tell you, we could have got that mortar mob.

So the poor bloody infantry are taking then losing this damn hill over the river, it was like being at the movies for us. We could sit and watch them charge up, get beaten back, then up again until they had it. Within a night or two, Charlie has the thing back again, compliments of our mortars and SP gun no doubt! Watched a truck drive along the dirt track one morning, on the occasion when it was in US hands. Next thing the front of the truck leaps in the air like a piece of paper, Charlie has mined the road behind US lines.

One thing I can be sure about was the guts of the units fighting, I am not so sure about the brains that were ordering. You can only send men to their doom so often, before you call it quits.

What brought on the next bit of high drama, I have no idea! perhaps it was thought that the SP was hiding inside the large hill adjoining ours, and it certainly was occupied by a strong force of infantry. Shooting from us to them would have been maximum 200 yards, with a saddle joining our two high points.

Anyway this bright and sunny morning, we are treated to the sight of four American jet planes circling overhead, perhaps the boss knew they were coming, I didn't! So off peels the leader and dives at the enemy hill beside us, the poor bugger let fly with his rockets at the same time a .50 cal. cuts his tail clean off. He was carrying napalm as well, and I doubt he had the chance to let it go on purpose, but go it did and narrowly missed our forward trench the occupants of which had the air sucked away from them, as well as almost wearing the plane in their midst.

The pilot would never have had a clue I'm sure, he was flat out in attack mode one moment, the next he is part of a large crater that appeared just to our front. I inspected the crater that day and the only thing of any size in side was the breach blocks, of his cannons barely showing in the bottom of the hole. That ended that attack, and the other planes flew home, and if a plane can look sad, they did!

This never ending affair just went on and on, we had a 50% stand-to every night, which more often than not became 100%, I actually went to sleep standing in my pit one night. Should anyone tell you this is B/S. well I am here to swear otherwise.

What the rest of the battalion was doing, we had no idea, in fact we baggy ass Diggers didn't know where the rest of the company was. We certainly knew where Charlie was most of the time, and we had the US army radio checks on us every hour on the hour, to be sure we still owned the hill no doubt!

All sorts of minor dramas took place in the weeks we were there, and to this day that position is only a map reference in the battalion war diary; plus some mention of an outpost. Some bloody outpost. Like all good things it had to end, and our Irish tank pals came over the river early one morning, and escorted us back to the bosom of 3 div. I wish that it was possible to end the story on that happy note, but it isn't. We were replaced by a company of Phillipinos, and Charlie wiped them out before they had time to settle in. That hill is now part of the NK country, and sports a very large propaganda sign, also plays terrible music at visiting tourists.

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