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Woson Forward Operating Base

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Unit/ Formation: 41 Cdo RM

Location: Korea

Period/ Conflict: Korean War

Year: 1951

Date/s: 1st July 1951

Following the success of raids against the railway lines 41 set up a Forward Operations Base on the islands within Wonsan Harbor, some 60 miles behind the North Korean lines.

The purpose was to carry out harassing raids on the northeast coastal defenses with the aim of drawing enemy troops away from those opposing the U.N.

41 Independent Commando R.M. Korea 1950-1952


A period of relative inactivity ensued whilst future operations and a possible return to 1 Mar Div were discussed. (Peace talks started during this time). Finally it was decided to establish a forward operating base on Yo Do Island within Wonsan Harbor, some 60 miles behind the lines, and a Rear HQ in an old Japanese sea plane base near Sasebo, the HQ of Flag Officer Second in Command British Far East Fleet. Accordingly "Charlie Force" (Capt FRD Pearce) comprising C Tp, an HW Section, 16 tents, two LCVPs, to be manned by LC Marines, two canoes, 14 days rations and two units of fire (ie two outfits of ammunition) left as an advance party on 1 July 1951).

Wonsan Harbor is a large bay quarded by two peninsulas some 5 miles apart; Hodo Pando to the North and Kalmagak to the South. This bay is about 10 miles deep. Inside and across the entrance of the bay are a number of islands, the largest had been swept clear of mines and here usually three destroyers circled to bombard opportunity targets. Occasionally communist batteries opened up whereupon the destroyers and any other ships present would increase speed and return fire (called "Operation WAR DANCE"). When 41 Independent Commando arrived some of the islands were garrisoned by ROK Marines and a number of separate intelligence organizations were based on Yo Do.

Through late Summer and Autumn, 41 Commando extended its operations by taking over various islands as patrol bases. B Tp (Capt E T G Shuldham) occupied Modo on 9 August. Later, D Tp (Capt A Stoddart) took over Taedo, some 1200 yards from Kalmagak, when the Leper colony there had been evacuated in November. After its ROK Marine garrison had been overwhelmed by a Communist raid, Hwangto Do was reoccupied by a force from D Tp led by Lt J R H Walter and the garrison reinforced in December by Heavy Weapons whose 81mm mortars and 75mm recoilless rifles had already used this island for shoots against targets on the mainland. Defensive positions were dug on all islands to withstand return shell and mortar fire, and the beach exits were mined. SFCP and HW fire controllers frequently directed Naval gunfire from OPs on occupied and unoccupied islands including Umi Do 300 yards from a battery of 76mm anti tank guns used against UN ships.

B and C Tp canoe patrols made six landings on Hodo Pando. During one of these Lt Harwood and Sgt Barnes of B Tp were killed in a patrol clash on 30 August. Also at this time B Tp's LCPR broke down off Modo and was driven ashore on Kalmagak. TSM Day and the four ranks with him were taken prisoner.

The U.S. Navy high-speed transport USS Wantuck (APD-125) in port, in 1952-1953

Lt Col Drysdale embarked in the USS WANTUCK for a raid in the Songjin area (Sŏngjin now Kimch'aek in North Hamgyong Province) the following night. The plan was for one party to secure a tunnel entrance to attract enemy reaction whilst a second party made a clandestine landing by canoes to ambush enemy reinforcements moving from Songjin. In the event the tunnel party was fired on and withdrew after one marine was wounded. The ambush party laid mines on the road and as it was withdrawing heard the sound of trucks moving followed by an explosion. Both parties re-embarked by 0400 and returned to Modo on 29 September.

Raid on Songjim

On 3 October D Tp, reinforced by the Assault Engineers, UDT swimmers and a rocket launcher team from B Tp, all under command of the 2TC, embarked in USS WANTUCK for operations South of Chongjin. After a night rehearsal on 4 October two parties totalling 34 attempted the following night to repeat the plan of the previous raid. However, the UDT reconnaissance indicated that the railway was more heavily guarded than before and both parties withdrew.

On 6 October, 10 men, preceded by two canoes led by Lt J R H Walter attempted a landing 1.4 mile North of Sorye Dong but the first canoe came under fire as it beached and the force retired.

Lt Col F N Grant relieved Lt Col Drysdale on 15 October 1951 and moved up to the Islands soon afterwards. On 30 November B Tp, accompanied by the CO, embarked in the USS BASS. After a preliminary destroyer bombardment the Troop landed at 2300 on 2 December mid way between Songjin and Hungnam. Opposition was met on beaching and a corporal and two marines were wounded. The raiding party withdrew.

The following night B Tp made another landing 1/2 mile North of the privious night's target. (During the run in a train was seen moving along the line). Opposition was again encountered and the force again withdrew after a sergeant, corporal and two marines had been wounded by grenade fragments. The CO, TSM Dodds and the UDT under Lt Roman USN tried to plant some explosive to the North of the landing but a charge was dropped under the landing craft ramp. The craft got stuck and the party got clear just before the charge blew.

The force re-embarked and by 2100 on 4 December was back at Yo Do.

Meanwhile operations continued in Wonsan harbor: Desultory shelling, a typhoon, rescue of survivors from crashed aircraft. Rifle troops and HQ personnel were rotated through Sasebo. Tents were winterized and cold weather clothing issued in preparation for another winter in North Korea. Heavy seas made re-supply difficult.

At this stage the policy behind 41 Commando's raids was questioned. It was suggested the unit was wasting its time in Wonsan Harbor on defensive operations for which a Commando was inappropriate and that raids would become impracticable in winter.

In fact raids were carried out in the winter and more were planned in conjunction with some 800 ROK Marines who had been placed under Col Grant's command. These were not raids for raiding's sake but an effective means of tying down a quite disproportionate number of enemy forces who were forever conscious that a raid might be a prelude to a landing in strength by 1 Mar Div.

Col Grant had made some headway with the idea of "keeping the coast alive" using rocky landing techniques on headlands instead of the heavily guarded beaches, when the totally unexpected order came in late December 1951 for 41 Independent Commando to withdraw. One final canoe raid called "Operation Swansong" was carried out by Lt Walter and Sgt Dodds of D Tp who destroyed enemy craft at Changguok Hank two miles up the West coast of Hodo Pando.

On 22/23 December 41 Independent Commando handed over to the ROK Marine Corps and embarked for Sasebo.


Apart from the Sorye Dong raid on 7 April 1951, all 41 Independent Commando's raids were clandestine operations conducted at night and were in two troop strength or less. The close approach was made in rubber boats, later augmented by SBS type two man canoes. The US LCR(L) (Landing Craft Rubber (Large)) carried 10 men (Coxwain, bowman and eight paddlers) and up to 400lbs of explosives in 10lb packs.

Parent ships (usually Assault Personnel Destroyers - APDs) were under orders not to cross the 100 fathom Line because of the moored mine threat, and although they frequently closed to 70 fathoms to support the commandos this still meant about an eight mile run in.

As the APDs closed the coast dim red lights would be switched on in the troop spaces to aid night acclimatization. On 'Action Stations' being sounded troops would fall in at their boat stations. The four LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicles and Personnel) would be lowered, troops would inflate their LCR(L)s, Landing Craft and the explosives would be handed down and stowed. As each LCR(L) was loaded it would hook on to the tow rope and stream astern of its landing craft in the one knot way maintained by the APD. When all was complete, with five or six rubber boats to each craft, the long tow in to the beach would begin. The LCVPs, moving at 3 or 4 knots, would be vectored in by the APD following their progress on radar, and passing course corrections over the radio.

About 1000 yards off the beach the rubber boats would slip their tows and stand off while the reconnaissance boat, or canoe, closed the beach, sending swimmers in if necessary to check the surf and beach defences. Then the covering force would land, clear the beach area and deploy to form a defensive perimeter around the objective.

Next to land would be the demolition and humping parties organized by the Beachmaster. The Assault Engineers would lay the charges which would take up to four hours. Each 10lb pack had to be carefully laid and connected in a ring-main with Cordtex so all detonated simultaneously. There had to be at least two methods of initiation and customarily several time clocks were used with a 20-40 minute setting.

When the AEs were ready, fuses were pulled and orders given to withdraw. The force would thin out, return to the beach and re-embark under the directions of the Beachmaster. Rubber boats would be launched and paddled out (lighter now) through the surf to pick up their tows. The waiting LCVP (which could have beached in emergency to recover casualties or prisoners) would then begin the long haul back to the waiting APDs. As they cleared the area the charges would detonate giving a feeling of intense satisfaction at a job well done. Alongside, the rubber boats would be recovered, deflated, weapons inspected and troops would go below. Even though officially dry the USN would generously break out the medical brandy to help celebrate a successful operation.

41 Independent Commando R.M. Korea 1950-1952

Special Pub No. 8: Royal Marines Historical Society

Lt Peter Thomas RM, Author

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