hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

The British Regiment that Saved South Korea

“An outstanding feat of British arms and raw courage - the enduring requirement of success in battle - that allowed South Korea to remain free".

General Lord Richards of Hurstmonceux, former Chief of the British Defence Staff

The Battle of Imjin River

In April 1951, United Nations’ forces charged with expelling the North Korean Army from South Korea had established two defensive lines known as Kansas and Utah both of which were held by the US Army’s I Corps.  I Corps comprised elements of the US Army, South Korean Army (Republic of Korea), a Turkish brigade and the British 29th Infantry Brigade.  29th Brigade included the 1st Battalion the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the 1st Battalion the Royal Ulster Rifles, the Belgian Battalion, and 1st Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment (the Glosters) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Carne.  29th Brigade was also supported by twenty-five pounder guns of the 45 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, 4.2 inch mortars of 170 Independent Mortar Battery RA, 55 Squadron. Royal Engineers, as well as Centurion main battle tanks (MBT) of C Squadron, 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars.  29th Brigade’s mission was to defend a front some twelve miles (nineteen kilometres) in length.  Such was the length of the front it was impossible for the Brigade to form a continuous defensive line so the force was deployed to defend key positions. The Glosters were on the left flank of the Brigade to the east of South Korean forces and had taken up a position close to a ford that crossed the Imjin River.

Unbeknownst to the British Chinese and North Korean forces were massing to the north with the aim of capturing the South Korean capital, Seoul, as a May Day gift to Chinese Communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong.  Under the command of General Peng Dehuai the Chinese-led force comprised some 305,000 men poised to attack UN forces defending the Imjin River in three places.


On the night of 22nd-23rd April, 1951 Chinese forces first made contact with the Belgian Brigade on Hill 194 and threatened to take two bridges which, if successful, would have trapped the Belgians on the wrong side of the river.  The Royal Ulster Rifles tried to block the Chinese but were unable to secure the bridges, enabling Chinese forces that crossed the river to then press home an attack on the Fusiliers, which led to a British retreat covered by the tanks of the Hussars. 

Thankfully, a patrol of seventeen men from C Company, Glosters, to the left of 29th Brigade’s line ambushed Chinese forces and successfully prevented them from crossing the river on three separate occasion, significantly delaying their advance. However, with ammunition running low C Company was forced to conduct a tactical withdrawal across the river. Later that night both A and D Companies also came under attack.  Massively out-numbered by dawn the Glosters had been forced out of their positions on Castle Hill. Whilst an attempt was made to retake the positions, during which Lt. P. Curtis was killed destroying a Chinese machine-gun position, for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.  Several further attempts were made on 23rd April by British and American forces to retake the lost ground, all of which failed.  Meanwhile, the Belgians successfully withdrew and took up new positions behind (to the south) the Glosters and the Fusiliers and then withdrew further.

Hill 235

At 2030 hours, on 23rd April, after almost twenty-four hours of continuous, intense combat, A Company of the Glosters fell back to Hill 235 (still named Gloster Hill to this day).  At that stage of the battle A Company had lost half of its strength with all of its officers either killed or wounded.  Unfortunately, D Company's position also became dangerously exposed, and having lost a lot of its own men during the previous night, was also forced to withdraw along with B Company.

The worst was yet to come. Outnumbered some eighteen to one by Chinese forces B Company faced six determined assaults during the night all of which they resisted.  At one point the company commander even called in artillery strikes on their own positions in order to stop one assault. However, again running low on ammunition, and having suffered many casualties, at 0810 hours on the morning of 24th April the Chinese finally forced B Company to abandon their positions and only twenty men were subsequently able to join up with their comrades on Hill 235. Later that afternoon Colonel Carne sent a famous message to Brigadier T. Brodie, Officer Commanding 29th Brigade which read as follows: “What I must make clear to you is that my command is no longer an effective fighting force. If it is required that we shall stay here, in spite of this, we shall continue to hold”. By late afternoon, Chinese forces threatened to split 29th Brigade between the Glosters and the Fusiliers and in an attempt to prevent that an attempt was made by US, British and tanks of the Philippine’s Army to relief the Glosters now effectively cut off on Hill 235, but it failed.

Two other attempts to relieve the Glosters also failed after which Lieutenant-Colonel Carne was told he could decide whether to try and break-out of their positions or surrender. At 0800 hours on the 25th April, the commander of US I Corps had been forced to abandon the Glosters and withdraw all UN forces to a new defensive line to the south of the Imjin River. The situation of the Glosters now looked hopeless with B and C Companies so reduced they were merged to form one fighting unit, whilst efforts to re-supply them from the air also failed. In spite of that, and in an incredible feat of arms, the Glosters had stubbornly resisted preventing the Chinese for taking Hill 235 for some two days, and crucially slowing the Chinese advance.

However, by mid-morning 25th April, it became clear that 45 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery were no longer able to support the Glosters and what was left of the regiment were told to try and make British lines “as best they could”.  In the end, only some elements of D Company were able to escape, whilst Lt. Col. Carne and 459 men of the Glosters were taken prisoner. 29th Brigade suffered 1,091 casualties killed wounded or missing, of which 620 were from the Glosters, whilst Chinese and North Korean forces are believed to have lost over 10,000 men during the action. 

Lessons from Imjin

Lessons for today? There are five lessons that are perhaps most current given the recent British defence review.  First, mass has a quality all of its own, as the Chinese and North Koreans eventually proved. For a state like Britain striking a balance between mass (and thus strategic depth) and technology-enabled manoeuvre is an abiding and constant military-strategic challenge. It is also a challenge that must be met.  Second, expect the unexpected. ‘Korea’ started out as a so-called policing mission, but turned out to be a full-scale war.  Enemies do not always conform to expectations, and they certainly did not in Korea. Third, General Sir James Everard, until recently NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told me that soldiers will not fight this well unless they are well-led and well-trained. Imjin and the Glosters demonstrated the enduring importance of leadership, hard training and good discipline. He also made the point that a small number of brave soldiers can generate not only an operational, but also a strategic effect, as the Glosters most certainly did.  Fourth, there can be no compensation for what Everard calls ‘field or turret time’. As George Patton said, “If brevity is the soul of wit, then, for the soldier, repetition is the heart of instruction”.  Soldiers learn by being shown how to do their jobs, and then doing it over and over and as such the Glosters were the embodiment of tradition, training, discipline and willingness to self-sacrifice. Fifth, good soldiering can save bad strategy, but only to a point.  Indeed, as Sir James rather pointedly said to me, “We are… reminded that the perfect discipline and unconquerable spirit of the Glorious Glosters at the tactical level also saved an imperfect strategy”.

The British regiment that saved South Korea

One only has to see the difference in quality of life today between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to understand what was at stake during the Battle of Imjin River.  Moreover, the Glosters did not in and of themselves save South Korea.  That achievement belongs primarily to the 600,000 South Korean troops and the 326,000 American troops who fought in the Korean War between 25th June, 1950 and 27th, July, 1953.  The British force was only 14,000 strong.  The South Koreans also lost over 162,000 soldiers (1 soldier in 4), whilst Americans killed in action totalled 37,000 compared with British losses some 1,200.  Communist forces possibly lost over a million killed and missing. Tragically, between two to three million civilians are also believed to have been killed during a brutal war.

Equally, the Glosters’ feat of arms cannot be over-stated. For more than two critical days 29th Brigade, with the embattled Glosters at its core, delayed and utterly disrupted the Chinese battle plan forcing the offensive to stall.  They also enabled UN forces to withdraw in some order to the so-called No-Name Line, north of Seoul, where the Chinese and their North Korean allies were eventually blocked. If the Chinese had successfully broken the UN line early on the night of 22nd April it is quite likely the entire defensive line would have collapsed.  Seoul would have fallen soon thereafter and, quite possibly, the entire UN campaign would have unravelled as US allies began to question the cost of the mission. At the time, not all the European allies bought into Washington’s grand strategic idea of containing Communism and several were in Korea only out of a sense of Cold War obligation to the Americans and were far more concerned by the threat posed by Stalin’s Red Army in Europe. One paradox of the Korean War is that it also led to German rearmament.


The Glosters captured at Imjin endured a torrid time at the hands of their Chinese and North Korean captors and those that survived were not released until September 1953.  On October 14th, 1953 the troopship SS Empire Orwell docked in the Port of Southampton. Still under the inspiring command of Colonel Carne they came home to well-deserved welcome.  On November 21st, 1953 a Thanksgiving Service was given in Gloucester Cathedral at which Colonel Carne offered a small wooden cross that he had carved and which he said had sustained his faith.  The cross can still be seen at the Cathedral to this day.  On receiving the Freedom of the City of Gloucester Colonel Carne also said, “I doubt my own worthiness for such great honours, but of that part of it which is shared by the officers, warrant officers and men who served with me in Korea I have no such doubts”.

The City of Gloucester were not the only ones to recognise the bravery of the Glorious Glosters.  Both the Regiment and 170 Battery of the 45th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation by US President Harry S. Truman.  It read:

By direction of the President, under the provisions of Executive Order 9396 (Sec 1, WD Bul. 22.1943), superseding Executive Order 9075 (Sec.III, WD Bul.II, 1942) and pursuant in authority in AR 260-15, the following units are cited as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows: The 1ST BATTALION GLOUCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT, BRITISH ARMY and TROOP C, 170TH INDEPENDENT MORTAR BATTERY, ROYAL ARTILLERY, attached, are cited for exceptionally outstanding performance of duty and extraordinary heroism in action against the armed enemy near Solma-ri, Korea on 23, 24 and 25 April 1951.

Sadly, the Gloucestershire Regiment was disbanded in 1994 as part of the shift away from county regiments to functional formations.  As a teenager I worked behind the bar of The Ship Inn at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire.  Just up the road lies the village of Olveston from which Private William Lansdown left for the Korean War.  He was killed in action on January 10, 1952, aged nineteen. Later in life I also had the honour of acting as Head of the Commander’s Initiative Group for Lieutenant General Sir Richard Shirreff, Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.  In October 2010 they moved back to the UK from Germany to their present headquarters at Imjin Barracks on the outskirts of Gloucester.

Look at a map of Korea today. The fact that there is a 38th Parallel owes much to the men of a regiment that rightly became known as the Glorious Glosters. Therefore, perhaps the most fitting way to end this tribute is in the words of the Glosters themselves and their regimental motto:

“By our deeds we are known”.

 Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Deterrence IN Denial

Deterrence and denial

April 14, 2021. This past Tuesday I gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament following the submission of my new report Honest Broker? The EU, Strategic Autonomy and Security in the Future Arctic.  My own evidence was supported by several colleagues who also gave evidence, including a Danish colleague who made the assertion that Russia would not breach any agreements or seize any area because ‘ownership’ of most of the Arctic has already been settled.  As he spoke, Russia was threatening Ukraine with force specifically with the aim of reinforcing its flagrant breach of international law in Ukraine.  Deterrence in denial?

Deterrence BY Denial normally concerns a state or an alliance generating sufficient military power to convince an adversary that they will be denied any gains if they use force.  As such, deterrence BY denial has been at the heart of NATO strategy since its inception, and such deterrence continues to work for most Western European states. However, the steady erosion of relative European military power compared with Russia (and increasingly China), allied to the growing military overstretch of US forces as they seek to remain relatively strong the world over, is placing allies on the periphery of NATO and the European Union at ever greater risk.  This growing risk is increasingly evident from the Arctic to the Baltic Sea through the Black Sea and even into the Mediterranean. 

Complex strategic coercion

Strategic communications are a vital component of deterrence, which is essentially about messaging. The counterpart to Deterrence BY Denial is Deterrence BY Punishment by which an adversary is convinced through several channels of strategic communications that any ill-advised military action would inevitably lead to an unacceptably high price for its leadership and wider society. This is the ethos behind mutually assured destruction.  Moreover, with the emergence of complex strategic coercion that stretches across the information, cyber and battlespaces, allied to the 5Ds of applied deception, disruption, disinformation, destabilisation and implied destruction a new form of continuous warfare is already being applied against the democracies by China and Russia. Unfortunately, too many Europeans seem to have embraced a new concept called Deterrence IN Denial by which they communicate to adversaries, such as Russia, that there is really no problem at all.

Deterrence, be it by denial or punishment, only works when sufficient countervailing force exists to mount a credible defence or credibly mount a rescue whenever and wherever it is needed. European defence IN denial is to simply hope that a pious belief in the sanctity of international law will be enough to deter predatory powers. Indeed, some of my colleagues yesterday seemed to go out of their way to praise Russia for its constructive commitment to Arctic governance, ignoring the build-up of Russian forces in the region. As Ukraine attests, of course Russia will observe the rules, until it does not because for the strategic autocracies in Moscow and Beijing international law is tactical means to a Realpolitik end. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression Europeans are playing chess, whilst Russia and China are playing poker.  If that is indeed the case of course Europe can become strategically autonomous from the Americans because for deterrence IN denial to ‘work’ words will suffice. The German defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has even suggested that Russia is deliberately trying to provoke a reaction and because of that Germany will not get drawn into a response.  

The simple facts are these: some 83,000 Russian troops from the Western and Central Military Districts are now deployed to the north and south of the Donbas.  They include Special Forces and other elite units, with some enabling elements coming from as far away as Siberia.  Moscow claims the force is merely exercising, but the size of the force is far larger than is normally the case for the annual spring exercises in the region. Moreover, given the nature and type of the formations deployed they are clearly configured for offensive operations.  If such an operation began it would do so quickly, probably at night, with Spetsnaz and other specialist formations leading the way, accompanied by a host of measures that in the past I have described as ‘strategic maskirovka’, all of which would be designed to keep Western powers politically off-balance.  One reason for the scale and configuration of the force could well be that since 2014, Ukrainian forces are far better trained (thanks mainly to the US and UK) and could sustain a far more effective defence than they did when Moscow seized Crimea.

What does Russia want?

Why is Moscow doing this?  First, Moscow wants to send a clear signal to President Biden that when it comes to European security the Kremlin will only deal with Washington.  For all the efforts of Paris and Berlin in the Minsk process and the Normandy Format, the Russians are only ever interested in being seen as the equals of the Americans (which is why they are considering a summit.  Indeed, Moscow dreams of being one-leg of a new tripolar world with China and the US, even though Russia’s economic fundamentals warrant no such status. Second, Moscow wants to warn Ukrainian President Zelensky to back away from his calls for early NATO membership (highly unlikely) and to punish him after he blocked media channels run by the pro-Russian Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of Opposition Platform.  Third, Moscow is also keen to deflect attention from growing domestic criticism of the Kremlin in Russia and the imprisonment and hunger strike of Alexander Navalny. 

There could well be another reason which is the direct consequence of Deterrence IN Denial.  The Biden administration has been particularly critical of Berlin’s determination to complete the NORDSTREAM 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia. Some 94% of the 2460km pipeline now complete.  If finished NORDSTREAM 2 would double the amount of Russian gas being pumped to Germany and increase the dependency of Germans on the Russians for much of their energy security.  Unfortunately, Berlin is a strategy-free zone in which mercantilism and historic guilt continues to shape much of Germany’s foreign and security policy towards Russia, even at the expense of fellow Europeans.  Moscow knows that and the message from the Kremlin to Berlin is honour your commitment to NORDSTREAM 2 or else.  Moscow would also only be too happy to drive yet another wedge in the US-German Essential Relationship.

Or, there could be another reason. Moscow has simply decided there will be no better moment than now to finish the job it began back in 2014, seize the Donbas and completely block Ukrainian access to the Black Sea.  What if President Putin means it, AKK?  What then the future of Europe?

Speak softly...

Which brings me back to the Arctic.  How on earth can Europeans trust Russia to observe international law ad infinitum in the Arctic when Moscow believes the region is just as strategically vital to its interests as Ukraine and Crimea (just look at a map)?  At the heart of my new report on the EU and the Arctic is a scenario in which Russia, with the support of Chinese forces, seize Svalbard in 2030.  My reason for including the scenario is not to suggest that such an attack is GOING to happen, but rather to get the Arctic States and their European friends to stop being so pious about international law and begin again to consider the worst-case.  In other words, start backing their laudable commitment to multilateralism with some military attitude.  Only then could any such scenario be definitively ruled out because real deterrence, be it by denial or by punishment, would be clear to all involved, including Russia.  Rather, be it in the Arctic or in Europe much of ‘deterrence’ is built on denial, with Germany to the fore, about just what President Putin might do.  And that indeed is the point.  President Putin has a history of doing what he says and he might just decide to act precisely because he knows Western Europeans (and this is a complacent Western European problem) are in denial.

Denial is NOT deterrence.  Indeed, I sometimes think if Teddy Roosevelt had been a contemporary European his mantra would not have been speak softly but carry a big stick, but rather speak a lot, say a lot of words, but forget the stick.

Julian Lindley-French   

Tuesday, 6 April 2021


 To mark the publication of my third Oxford University book Future War and the Defence of Europe, below is a piece that I wrote and which appeared last week on the website of Oxford University Press. 

The future of war and defence in Europe


MARCH 23RD 2021

We face a critical challenge: unless Europeans do far more for their own defence, Americans will be unable to defend them; but there can be no credible future defence of Europe without America!

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift of power from West to East, revealing a host of vulnerabilities in Europe’s defences and making major war in Europe again a possibility. The lessons of history? From D-Day to the creation and development of NATO, the importance of sufficient and legitimate military power has been at the heart of credible defence and deterrence, whilst shared innovation and technology have been critical to maintaining the unity of effort and purpose vital to upholding Europe’s freedoms.

However, Europeans now face a digital Dreadnought moment when strategy, capability, and technology could combine to create a decisive breakthrough in the technology and character of warfare—and not in Europe’s favour. The future of peace in Europe could well depend on the ability of Europeans and Americans to mount a credible defence and deterrence across a mosaic of hybrid war, cyber war, and hyper war. To remain credible, deterrence must thus reach across the conventional, digital, and nuclear spectrums. If not, Europe will remain vulnerable to digital decapitation and the imposed use of disruptive technologies.

The threat

Critically, if the defence of Europe is to remain sound, both Europeans and their North American allies must squarely and honestly face the twin threat of hostile geopolitics and disruptive technologies, and they must do so together and with shared purpose:

·         Russia: Russian economic weakness and political instability allied to the overbearing cost of the Russian security state and its development of new weapons poses the greatest danger to European defence.

·         Middle East and North Africa: state versus anti-state Salafist Jihadism and the impact of COVID-19 are exacerbating deep social and political instability across the region. The Syrian war has also enabled Russia to further weaken Europe’s already limited influence therein, with transatlantic cohesion further undermined by conflict over what to do with Iran and its nuclear programme.

·         China: the rise of China is the biggest single geopolitical change factor; Europe’s nightmare is China and Russia working in tandem to weaken the US ability to assure Europe’s defence. US forces are stretched thin the world over and could render European defence incapable at a time and place of Beijing and Moscow’s choosing. The Belt and Road Initiative and the indebtedness of many European states to China is exacerbating both European weakness and transatlantic divisions.

The dilemma

“Could Europe alone defend Europe? No, and not for a long time to come.”

Can NATO defend Europe? Only if the Alliance is transformed; for if it fails, any ensuing war could rapidly descend into a war unlike any other. Europe must understand that if America is to provide the reinsurance for European defence, it is Europe who must provide the insurance. NATO is thus in the insurance business. It is also an essentially European institution that can only fulfil its defensive mission if Europe gives the Alliance the means and tools to maintain a minimum but credible deterrent.

Could Europe alone defend Europe? No, and not for a long time to come. Given post-COVID-19 economic pressures, the only way a truly European defence could be realized would be via an integrated EU-led European defence and a radical European strategic public–private sector partnership formed to properly harness the civ-tech revolution across Artificial Intelligence (AI), super-computing, hypersonic, and other technologies entering the battlespace. Can Europeans defence-innovate? They will need to.

The future

Europe must quit the comforting analogue of past US dependency and help create a digital and AI-enabled defence built on a new, more equitable, and more flexible transatlantic super-partnership. A super-partnership that is fashioned on the anvil of an information-led digital future defence against the stuff of future warfare: disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception, and destruction. A partnership which at its defence-strategic core has a new European future force able to operate to effect across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information, and knowledge.

The future of European defence is not just a military endeavour. COVID-19 has changed profoundly the challenge of defending Europe. It has also changed the assumptions upon which the transatlantic relationship has rested since 1945 and changed the relationship between the civil and military sectors—and even between peace and war. Therefore, Europe’s future defence will depend on a new dual-track strategy: the constant pursuit of dialogue between allies and adversaries together with a minimum but critical level of advanced military capability and capacity. Only a radical strategic public-private sector partnership that leverages emerging and disruptive technologies across the mega-trends of defence-strategic change will the democracies be able to defend themselves.

If not, then as Plato once reportedly said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”


John R. Allen, President, Brookings Institution, Frederick Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), and Julian Lindley-French, Senior Fellow, Institute for Statecraft.

John R. Allen is President of the Brookings Institution. He was previously Commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, and is the recipient of numerous US and foreign awards.

Frederick Ben Hodges holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis. He was previously Commander of the United States Army Europe from 2014 to 2017.

Julian Lindley-French is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Statecraft. He is also founder and chair of The Alphen Group, a high-level strategic 'do-tank'. His publications and high-level reports combine policy experience and academic expertise, and include A Chronology of European Security and Defence (OUP, 2008) and The Oxford Handbook of War (edited with Y Boyer, OUP, 2014).