Motto: Steady . . . On
|The BCT emblem|
The 10th was originally known as the 3rd Battalion Combat Team, a unit activated on 29 April 1949. The 3rd BCT was re-designated the 10th BCT (Motorized) in January 1950 to reflect its new role as the Philippines’ only armored battalion. It had a company of 29 American-made medium tanks (M4 Sherman) and another company of light tanks (M5 Stuart).
The 10th was chosen as the first PEFTOK battalion for Korea because the Philippine Army believed it admirably suited to the “slugging type” of conventional warfare in Korea. The battalion motto, “Steady . . . On,” referred to the tank crew practice of shouting the phrase, “Steady . . . On!” when aiming their tank cannon and machine guns at a target. Col. Mariano Azurin, the first commanding officer of the 10th, was a tank man trained at the US Army armor school in Kentucky.
|10th BCT infantryman.|
Press coverage of the 10th was so extensive Filipinos knew the oldest soldier in the battalion was 54 years old while the youngest was just 18. Daily English-language newspapers such as the Evening News, The Manila Times and The Philippine Herald assigned war correspondents to cover the battalion’s exploits in Korea.
At 9:00 a.m. on 2 September 1950, 60,000 Filipinos crammed the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila to watch the 10th BCT parade prior to its departure for Korea on 16 September.
Upon its arrival in Korea on 19 September, the battalion’s strength stood at some 1,400 officers and men. Its “teeth” consisted of three rifle companies, a medium tank company, a reconnaissance company equipped with light tanks and a field artillery battery.
Both tank companies arrived in Korea without tanks since the Americans had agreed to provide new tanks to replace the battalion’s 17 M4 Shermans and one M10 “Wolverine” tank destroyer sent to Korea prior to the battalion’s departure. These tanks, however, were destroyed during the UNC retreat to the Pusan Perimeter before the battalion got to use them in combat.
|Men of the 10th march in the snow.|
The 10th spent its first two weeks “in country” acclimatizing to the terrain, continuing unit training interrupted by its abrupt departure and taking in weapons and supplies. Bivouacked initially in the town of Miryang, 35 miles north of Pusan, the 10th was moved to other towns farther north and joined the war in the city of Waegwan. The battalion was first attached to the US 25th Infantry Division.
Preceded by its reputation as a battle hardened anti-guerilla unit, the battalion was first given the mission of hunting down North Korean guerillas interdicting the main supply route (MSR) of the United Nations Command (UNC). The battalion’s first area of operations, based on Waegwan, covered more than 800 square miles and harbored about 3,000 guerillas.
North Korean guerillas were mainly regular soldiers of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), well armed and with an excellent knowledge of the rugged terrain. These soldiers had taken to the hills either because it was their mission, or because they had decided to fight on after being cut off from their units by the victorious UNC advance into North Korea following the Inch’on Landings on September 15.
In September 1950, the UNC estimated that there were 35,000 communist guerillas in South Korea disrupting UNC road and railroad communications and attacking UNC units behind the front line. At Waegwan, the 10th took the war to the guerillas but at a price in casualties. Pvt. Alipio Ceciliano was killed in a guerilla ambush along the Naktong River, the first Filipino killed-in-action in the Korean War. The battalion was deployed on anti-guerilla operations during the first six months of its tour in Korea.
On 31 October, advanced elements of the 10th crossed the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea, an event reported to the Filipino public by War Correspondent Johnny Villasanta, who accompanied the advanced unit. Villasanta was the first Filipino war correspondent in Korea.
The next day, the rest of the battalion moved further north to Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, and was given the mission of securing the MSR from Kaesong to Pyongyang and clearing the area of guerillas.
At the outskirts of the town of Miudong, the battalion fought its first pitched battle, this against a North Korean battalion, killing 50 while losing one man. "The Battle of Miudong/Singye” was the first battle fought, and won, by the Philippines on foreign soil.
In a bold raid on November 5, a five-man commando team led by Lt. Venancio “Bonny” Serrano captured 77 North Korean soldiers and sympathizers plus arms and ammunition.
The brutal winter of 1950 was the coldest in 200 years with temperatures well below zero. Despite this incredible cold, the 10th was without the heavy winter clothing that would allow its men to survive and fight in this arctic environment. This supply omission strained relations between Col. Azurin and the commanding officer of the American regiment to which the 10th was then attached. Azurin protested forcefully and was relieved of his command.
The 10th was then fragmented, its companies being deployed to five widely separated towns. The battalion subsequently received its heavy winter gear but Col. Azurin was sent home and replaced by Col. Dionisio Ojeda .
|Alert crew of an M24 Chaffee.|
Plunging southward, the CPV re-took Pyongyang and Seoul within the year. The 10th retreated with the UNC in this harsh winter of defeat that men of the US Army derisively called “The Big Bug Out.” The US defeat at the Battle of the Yalu ended its “Home for Christmas” campaign, and forced the US Army into the longest continual retreat in its history. As a rearguard unit, the 10th was one of the last UNC units to re-cross the 38th Parallel “the wrong way.”
The battalion spent its first Christmas in Korea in the town of Suwon along the Han River. When the American-led UNC launched its counterattack in February 1951, the 10th went on the offensive as part of the US 3rd Infantry Division (Rock of the Marne), a unit that fought in Europe in both World Wars.
By this time, the CPV was spent, suffering heavy losses in men and materiel. It began a deliberate withdrawal towards its bases in North Korea to refit and replace casualties. In March and April, the 10th was in continuous action, capturing hill after hill from the Chinese. Now a front line fighting unit, the 10th pushed northward towards the 38th Parallel defeating Chinese counterattacks along the way.
By 14 April, the hard-driving 10th was the northernmost of all UNC units. The men were exhausted after close to two months of non-stop fighting but were in high morale. On the 17th, the 10th was stood down and reverted to the reserve of the US 65th Infantry Regiment (the famous “Borinqueneers”) composed of Puerto Ricans. The battalion was down to some 900 men. Most of its casualties, however, were non-battle in nature.
The Battle of Yuldong
What we Filipinos commemorate as The Battle of Yuldong (formerly spelled Yultong) was part of the biggest battle of the Korean War. The CPV and NKPA had massed over 250,000 men for their “Great Spring Offensive” against the advancing UNC. It was the largest communist offensive of the Korean War.
|Filipino mortars fire on the enemy.|
UNC strategy at the time involved establishing “lines” across the breadth of the Korean peninsula. These lines were used as springboards for attack or as sanctuaries in defense. This strategy was made possible by the narrowness of the Korean peninsula, which is less than 200 miles across at its widest. A series of these lines, which ran west to east, were built at intervals across the peninsula.
The northernmost of these lines, called Line Kansas, was located about 10 to 14 miles north of the 38th Parallel. Line Kansas had two northward bulges called Lines Wyoming and Utah, making both lines the northernmost UNC positions and logical targets for any counterattack.
The 10th was rushed to reinforce Line Utah on 22 April amid positive signs of an imminent communist counterattack. The 10th defended a three-mile sector of the 40-mile long UNC front line in western Korea located above the Imjin River. It was still attached to the US 3rd Infantry Division.
Arriving at the front on the morning of 22 April, the battalion quickly took over the forward positions of the 1st Battalion, US 65th Infantry Regiment, part of the US 3rd ID. The Filipinos began to improve their positions, digging more foxholes, siting machine guns and stringing more barbed wire. The 10th held a portion of the left shoulder of Line Utah astride Route 33, a major highway connecting Seoul to the city of Chorwon further north.
The Puerto Ricans of the US 65th Infantry Regiment, probably the best US infantry unit on the western front, dug in one of their battalion's on the 10th’s left flank. To the Puerto Rican’s left stood the British 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group consisting of the Belgian battalion, the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles, the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and the 1st Battalion of The Gloucestershire Regiment. These units were within the sector held by the 3rd US ID. Defending the left of the British was the ROK 1st Division, which also held the city of Munsan-ni, the western anchor of the UNC line.
A battalion of the Turkish Brigade, part of the US 25th Infantry Division, held the line to the right of the 10th. The battalions of this division were strung out to the right of the Turks as were the battalions of the US 24th Infantry Division. The US 3rd, 25th and 24th Infantry Divisions constituted the US I Corps defending the western sector of the UNC line. The US IX Corps held the right of US I Corps.
Opposite the 10th were the CPV 31st, 34th, 35th and 181st Divisions that were part of the CPV 12th Army. This army, which at full strength numbered some 40,000 men, formed part of the CPV III Army Group along with the CPV 15th and 60th Armies. More than 200,000 “volunteers” in 18 armies and 50,000 NKPA regulars were massed for their “Great Spring Offensive.” This formidable horde was supported by the heaviest concentration of Communist artillery yet seen in the war.
The Filipinos set-up an Intelligence Outpost (IOP) some five kilometers forward of their front line to give advance warning of the impending Chinese attack. At about 8:30 pm, the IOP reported large numbers of Chinese leaving their positions and heading towards the battalion. The IOP then withdrew into the safety of the battalion’s positions. The Chinese reported by the IOP belonged to one of the four divisions comprising the CPV 12th Army that would become the battalion’s antagonists at Yuldong.
At five minutes past midnight on 23 April, Sunday, the entire 10th BCT took the full impact of the Chinese assault. Baker Company defending the right was the first to be hit. After hammering the rest of the battalion’s positions with artillery, mortar and automatic weapons fire the Chinese charged the Filipino line to the noise of bugles, whistles and gongs.
They ran into a wall of fire thrown up by the 10th, hundreds of Chinese falling to the defenders. The battlefield was in chaos. Although heavily outnumbered, the men of Able, Tank, Recon and Baker Companies in the front line resisted furiously backed by their howitzers and mortars. The battalion’s front line remained unbroken.
Disaster, however, struck the UNC battalions on the 10th's flanks. The Chinese quickly overran the Turkish battalion, exposing the 10th's right, and began to encircle Baker Company defending that flank. The Puerto Rican battalion holding the 10th's left flank staggered under the massive assault, and while two companies withdrew fighting, the rest of the Puerto Ricans prevented the Chinese from rupturing their lines.
Amid a rapidly collapsing western front, the Filipinos and the Puerto Ricans held firm, denying the Chinese the quick victory they needed to crush the UNC.
Farther left, the British stood up to the first Chinese assaults. After an initial repulse at the hands of the Gloucestershire battalion on the left of the British position, however, the Chinese forced a crossing of the Imjin River at Korangpo-ri. The Chinese then drove hard inland, surrounding the Gloucestershire battalion at its Solma-ri position and outflanking the other battalions of the brigade, which were forced back to escape encirclement.
Many of the UNC battalions holding the 10th's left and right flanks were in retreat by the morning of 23 April. With its flanks "in the air," the 10th stood alone in a salient almost surrounded by a torrent of assaulting Chinese. The most threatening penetration, however, occurred further east in the vicinity of the city of Hwach'on. The CPV routed the South Korean 6th Division in the US IX Corps area and poured southward threatening to cut off UNC units north of the Imjin River.
The Chinese, however, continued to attack and their persistence, despite terrible losses, being rewarded when one of their regiments overran the lone Tank Company platoon of just 17 men posted on a ridge (not a bridge) overlooking Yuldong village.
The Chinese were immediately counterattacked and driven off the hill by the heavily outnumbered men of Tank Company (which didn't have any tanks). Capt. Conrado Yap, commanding officer of the Tank Company, was killed in this counterattack. His men had, however, retrieved the bodies of Lt. Jose Artiaga (Yap's closest friend) and the men of Lt. Artiaga's shattered and badly understrength 1st Platoon.
Lt. Artiaga received the Distinguished Service Cross for leading his grossly outnumbered men in the most dramatic saga of the Battle of Yuldong. Capt. Yap was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, the Philippines' highest award for heroism, while the Tank Company received a unit citation from the US Eighth Army for this valiant action.
At dawn on 23 April, the 10th supported by two of its M24 light tanks counterattacked the surprised Chinese, who were regrouping following the murderous night battle, killing many and driving the survivors out of its positions.
Lt. Alfredo Cayton, the battalion’s supply officer, led a supply convoy that brought ammunition and food the following morning. At one of the forward positions, Lt. Cayton looked out across a smoke shrouded but eerily silent battlefield littered with what appeared to be large numbers of brown rags as far as his eyes could see. He turned to the .50 cal. machine gun crew defending that sector and asked what those rags were.
“Dead Reds,” the Filipino gunner curtly replied.
Lt. Cayton wept at the massive slaughter. It was the first time he had seen so many dead men in one place. Despite their being the enemy, the Chinese were still human beings, he told me.
The US 3rd ID ordered the battalion to withdraw, a disengagement the 10th accomplished while under constant attack from the Chinese and without other UNC units to cover its withdrawal.
There was, however, no rest for the exhausted 10th. Barely rested from its terrifying ordeal and with its men dog-tired, the battalion on the 24th was thrown into a tank-led British counterattack to free the trapped Gloucestershire battalion.
The Filipinos attacked with their M24 light tanks, one of which was destroyed by the Chinese. More Filipinos died. The 10th fought to within 1,500 meters of the trapped battalion, the closest approach by any of the UNC units involved in the rescue attempt, but were hamstrung by unfavorable terrain that allowed no room for maneuver.
Standing firm against the British, Filipino, American, Puerto Rican and Belgian attackers, the Chinese eventually destroyed the Gloucestershire (or Gloster) battalion after a fierce four-day struggle. Only 50 of 750 Glosters escaped death or capture. The British fought to the last bullet against three Chinese divisions of the CPV 63rd Army.
The Battle of Yuldong cost the 10th BCT 10 killed, 26 wounded and 14 men missing in action. Five more Filipinos were killed in the vain attempt to rescue the Gloucestershire battalion and others were wounded. These light casualties in a major offensive testified to the courage and fighting skill of the men in the front line. CPV dead littered the battalion's positions. The 10th emerged from its first great battle intact and undefeated.
The UNC lost over 7,000 men during the first day of the Chinese counterattack. Balanced against this were CPV losses totaling more than 70,000, according to the UNC. The entire UNC line, however, fell back before the Chinese attack to a prepared defense line above Seoul. Withdrawing to this line brought the 10th more losses.
On 26 April, a Chinese regiment surrounded and captured an entire Filipino platoon of 40 men in a sudden attack. The confused fighting during the nerve-wracking withdrawal saw many examples of heroism from the ranks. Staff Sgt. Nicolas Mahusay gave his life in a heroic attack on enemy mortars that had pinned down the battalion. He was cut down by enemy fire after silencing the mortars and allowing the battalion to escape,
The small village of Yuldong in the mountains of North Korea became the scene of the bloodiest battle fought by a PEFTOK battalion in the Korean War. The Philippines commemorates the Battle of Yuldong every year to honor all Filipinos who served in Korea.
Peace and war
During the UN counterattack in June 1951, the 10th was once more in the fight, battering Chinese rearguards impeding its advance. The 10th led the UNC advance to the Taejo River where it killed 65 Chinese and secured the vital Chorwon Reservoir. The battalion then reverted to the reserve of the US 3rd Infantry Division. The commanding officer of the 3rd ID, Maj. Gen. Robert “Shorty” Soule, said the 10th was the best Allied unit in his division. The brilliant battle fought by the battalion at Yuldong earned it the nickname, “The Fighting Filipinos.”
The repulse of the Chinese Spring Offensive in April and the second phase of this offensive in May brought the combatants to the peace table. Armistice negotiations to end the war began 10 July 1951 in Kaesong, a village in North Korea. With the beginning of peace talks, the war of movement and big battles came to an end and was replaced by savage small unit actions for strategic terrain.
The CPV used the lull to reinforce and bring up its heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns. As a result, artillery barrages by both the Chinese and the UNC were heavier than those in World Wars 1 and 2. Half of the Americans killed during the Korea War died during the truce negotiations.
The 20th BCT, which was to replace the 10th, took over the Filipino front line on 6 September. On 27 September, the 10th was finally pulled out of the war. The Fighting Tenth, as it was now called, arrived in Manila on 23 October to a rapturous heroes welcome.
In its 398 days in the Korean War, the battalion lost 63 men killed, 145 wounded and 58 missing-in-action, for a total of 266 battle casualties, the highest casualty toll among all five PEFTOK BCTs. On 5 May 1952, the battalion’s dead returned to the Philippines, with many buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.