‘Triumph at Kapyong:Canada’s Pivotal Battle in Korea’ by Bjarnason, is a book that revolves around Princess Patricia’s second battalion comprised of about seven hundred participants who were dispatched into the line of the United Nations forces with the aim of plugging a hole.
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Starting 24th of April 1951 at night, a group of Chinese troops which were battle –hardened communists crossed into Kapyong with the intention of surrounding and destroying the Canadian strong points completely. The number of the troops was estimated at more than five thousand.
The Canadians did not surrender but instead kept on fighting the troops. The number of their rivals outnumbered theirs by almost seven times. The PPCLI managed to counter serious attacks that threatened causing Seoul city, the capital of South Korea to fall.
The book is a tribute that recognizes not only a war that was often neglected, but also the vital play and significant contribution that Canada made to peacekeeping and how it actively thwarted the incursions spearheaded by Chinese communists.
The book was released as the celebrations of marking 60 years of the war were in progress. Its date of release was as important as the story itself.
While the focus of the book was the Kapyong battle, a tiny collection of hills to the Northeastern part of Seoul, Bjarnason deemed it necessary to explain the circumstances that triggered Canada’s involvement in the war, the establishment of the combat group that was instrumental in fighting the new war, and the courageousness of the main leaders in ensuring that the command closely worked with the wider UN personnel, but remained free of direct control from the Americans.
Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses of the Book
Bjarnason succeeds in identifying the key people who participated in the war and represents them very well in the book. Through such key individuals, the book focuses on the crucial role Canada played in a defense mission sponsored by the UN to secure the sovereignty of South Korea.
The defense led to the loss of lives of more than five hundred Canadians. The book tells the story in such a manner that the soldering of the Canadians is notable and the reader can quote their stories.
Among the important people highlighted in the book is platoon commander Mike Levy who led the PPCLI to defeat the Chinese communists despite the many challenges they were going through. In the book, Bjarnason describes the leadership portrayed by Levy during the war as having originated from his character as opposed to the training he had received.
The strong character of Levy that led to their success is explained in the book when a lull was experienced during the battle. The author points out that Levy overheard instructions from a Chinese commander urging his troops to move and finish the American pigs.
He understood Chinese well and shouted back at the officer and informed him that they were Canadians and there were a large number of Canadian soldiers. When the communist troops were about to overwhelm the Canadians, Levy devised an SOS and DFSOS tactic that defeated the Chinese communists.
This is a strength of the book since it successfully brings out the strong character of Levy who used his bravery to drive the Chinese communists away during a time they almost overwhelmed the Canadians. Bjarnason concludes that the bravery portrayed by Levy was a legendary stuff.
He writes that the battle was eventually forgotten just like the war had been forgotten. He says that the story of Kapyong is representative of the qualities of modesty, courage, self-belief and initiative that the Canadians believed constituted the national character of the people.
The soldiers who were on the battlefront at Kapyong were Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry second battalion. The troops had proved themselves capable and had earned respect at Ortona and Vimy. As a result of what they had achieved in the past, they were given the first priority to participate in the Korean battle.
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The book successfully, explains how important leadership was for PPCLI, starting with the brigadier who commanded the troops, John Rockingham. Brigadier Rockingham was a highly treasured veteran in combat activities whose desire was to have the job executed in a professional manner.
There were also other subordinates who facilitated the Kapyong defense. The book gives a detailed explanation of the crucial role played by Lieutenant-colonel Jim Stone, who commanded PPCLI second battalion. He had trained the soldiers in such a way that they were prepared to face a first fire trial in a dangerous territory against an enemy who was heavily armed and attacked mostly at night.
The book presents a clear picture of how a US patrol was brutally massacred after they were found in their sleeping equipment. During this period, Stone instructed that his men on patrol were to use only blankets for keeping themselves warm.
The idea behind the blanket was that it would only provide them with minimal warmth that would not prevent the soldiers from launching counter attacks. The US troops on patrol had been massacred because they were in the sleeping bags hence they were caught without their knowledge.
That attack carried out at Kapyong was motivated by the fifth phase of the Chinese 1951 offensive. It might have been likely that majority of historians knew little of the role Canada played in the battle, but probably they knew about the serious fighting that was witnessed at the Gloustershire Regiment, which was part of the British army to the west.
There were also tales of the defeat of the third Battalion Royal Australian Regiment after the war intensified. While these groups were losing their ground in the battle front, the Canadians remained strong and prevailed at the end.
The book manages to make a clear comparison of the defense and victory of Canadians to stands such as the Spartans and Little big Horn. While the PPCLI was not widely known like the British section during the battle, it was able to counter an onslaught from about five thousand Chinese communists hence averting a deadly attack although they lost their ten members.
The book provides an undoubtedly fast-paced and engaging comprehension. Bjarnason points out that the scope of the book is to reach a high number of readers for them to appreciate the sacrifice made by Canadian soldiers as opposed to having it read by only military historians.
Bjarnason briefly outlines the history surrounding the formation of the unit following the Second World War thus enabling the readers to acknowledge the sacrificial nature of the soldiers and the circumstances under which they fought and eventually lost their lives.
Bjarnason very effectively includes a personal perspective to the battle when he mentions the men together with their prior history, during the war and after the war ended.
Some of the personal tales mentioned in the book include the deeds of Wayne Mitchell who received the DCM medal since he offered fire support using a Bren gun at the height of the attacks. He sustained injuries two times as he attempted to rescue his colleagues by offering covering fire.
Bjarnason also points out that Mike Levy exhibited bravery during the fighting at Kapyong through provision of artillery and mortar fire. At the same time, Levy was hurling insults at the opponents because he understood Chinese.
The book also points out that Captain Mills received an award for his important role of passing information between the support units and the soldiers while Levy’s concentration was on fire.
Bjarnason attempts to make corrections on historical records by describing the valiant performance portrayed by Levy and how his Judaism proclamation made his actions lack the right recognition. This was a form of anti-Semitism that prevailed in the 1950s. Detailed accounts of how the soldiers acted bravely and sacrificed their lives adds strength to the authors attempt to explain the commitment of the soldiers.
The book offers a clear description of the joint effort where the Americans assisted the Canadians to get into the battle front together with the efforts shown by the gunners from New Zealand and medical personnel from India.
The author uses the concerted efforts from different parties to clearly show that the battle was the efforts of the United Nations. In addition, Bjarnason interestingly brings out how Colonel Stone clamored for acclimation, training and patrols in the regions before the soldiers were taken to the line, something that assisted the Canadians so much in surviving the most dangerous stages during the battle.
Despite the strengths that can be pointed out in this book, it nevertheless has some weaknesses. One of the weaknesses of the book is that it cannot be regarded as an absolute military history. Use of maps was enough in complementing the story, but its clarity could have been improved if advanced tactical maps indicating the movements and locations of the Canadian soldiers and the Chinese communists had been used.
Through the book, the reader is provided with various histories of the battle and an outline of the historical role played by Canada in the war. Such works are responsible for giving a big picture view of the war.
Nonetheless, it is of essence to take into consideration that the book does not give a comprehensive war history, rather it highlights the first key battle that the Canadian soldiers participated in Korea, and the crucial nature of the battle that might be sidelined.
Regardless of the nationality of the Korean natives, the book manages to bring out the sense of being slighted experienced by Koreans because they do not have adequate information on their war. Most of them lack information on the horrific situations that prevailed on the Peninsula of Korea.
For instance, there were constant patrols and the war seemed static meaning that the conditions were terrible and the disparities in fighting material among the participants. Bjarnason explains that the Patricia’s used a bolt Lee-Enfield rifle which was slow to counter attacks from the Chinese fighters.
However, what brought about the difference in the end was the bearer of the weapon rather than the weapon itself. The book manages to capture the contribution made by the Canadians in the war and the sacrifices they made including losing their lives.