Following WWII and the Japanese surrender, Korea was divided at the 38th Parallel
and by 1947 had effectively become two countries, Communist North Korea and the
pro-Western South. When the United Nations (UN) called for elections to be held
throughout the peninsula by 31 March 1948, North Korea first refused to co-operate
and then in June 1950, invaded South Korea.
North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950 led to a decision by the UN
Security Council to drive the North Korean People’s Army back over the 38th Parallel
by force if they did not withdraw voluntarily. They did not withdraw.
New Zealand responded quickly to the United Nation’s appeal to support South Korea,
first sending two Navy frigates and then an artillery unit as the basis for a 1100 strong
contribution known as ‘Kayforce’ (K Force) to serve as part of a multinational force. As
well as the artillery regiment (16 Field Regiment), a transport company, a light aid
detachment and a signals troop were sent. Kayforce departed New Zealand on 10
December and reached Pusan, in southern Korea, on 31 December 1950. The
contingent was attached to the 27 British Commonwealth Brigade which included two
British and one Australian battalion.
In April 1951, the gunners played a vital role in the Battle of Kapyong when the
Chinese mounted a major attack aimed at Seoul. The Kiwis, stripped to the waist,
sweated over their smoking, paint-blistered guns, firing over 10,000 rounds virtually
continuously, supporting both the Australian and Canadian infantry as they
successfully fought off repeated assaults. For their brave efforts the regiment received
a South Korean Presidential Unit Citation.
In October 1951, Kayforce was expanded to 1500 men and as the war progressed a
stalemate emerged and the Kiwi forces settled into static warfare similar to the bloody
trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I, especially when the freezing,
harsh winter set in.
By the end of the war, the gunners had fired 796,906 rounds, the drivers had clocked
up 9.6 million kilometres, and Kayforce had enhanced the already fine reputation of
New Zealand soldiers. Twenty-one New Zealanders were killed in action and a further
24 died accidentally, or from illness. After the armistice in 1953, Kayforce was
gradually reduced with the last men departing in 1957.