This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River, the Korean War battle perhaps most closely associated with the UK’s involvement in the conflict. Sadly, Korea remains a largely forgotten war and only one film has ever been made about the British Army’s experience 1956’s ‘A Hill In Korea‘. In this video we’ll discuss the battle, the super bazooka and the classic war film!
The film follows a fighting patrol which is cut off behind enemy lines and forced to fight a desperate last stand. The film borrows elements from the battle of Imjin River and the war as a whole. Today it is best known for its strong cast including Stanley Baker, Robert Shaw, Harry Andrews and George Baker and for being Michael Caine’s first film credit. Interestingly, Caine was a veteran of the war, having served with the Royal Fusiliers during his National Service.
We recently covered the film in an episode of our Fighting On Film podcast and a scene featuring a 3.5in Rocket Launcher stood out. The patrol uses the rocket launcher against a Chinese tank, which appears to be a captured British Cromwell. The film shows the bazooka being assembled and its team moving closer, stating that to be sure of a hit they want to be just 80 yards away. This is comparatively close for a 3.5in rocket launcher, which had an effective range of 300 yards.
The 3.5in was a brand new weapon in 1951. It had been developed in the US before the start of the war and facing communist T34/85s it was rolled out to most of the UN ground forces in the theatre (alongside recoilless rifles and smaller M9A1 rocket launchers). Better known as the M20 Super Bazooka in US service urgent operational requirements saw the 3.5in R.L. replace the PIAT as the British infantry’s platoon anti-tank weapon. In the TAB reference collection we are lucky enough to have an original copy of the provisional manual for the 3.5in R.L. which was compiled during the war in 1951.
The film shows the weapon being fired twice, successfully knocking out the tank. It’s perhaps the only depiction of British troops using the 3.5in rocket launcher and certainly one of the better depictions of it in film. We don’t get to see the rocket being loaded but we do see the No.2 attaching the contact wires at the rear of the tube. The first round hits the tank’s hull while the second strikes the track and the tank rolls backwards and explodes! Once the rocket launcher team get back to the main defensive position we even see the No.1 breaking the weapon down into its too parts.
During the battle of Imjin River itself, the bazooka was put to good use by a number of units including the Gloucestershire Regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles and the Belgian battalion. Using the weapons to knock out Chinese machine gun positions and break up the human wave assaults. During an attack on Gloster positions in the early hours of the 22nd April, Lance-Corporal Joe Farrell recalled how the Glosters blasted Chinese troops using some boulders as cover. After three days desperate fighting the 29th Infantry Brigade had lost almost a quarter of its strength, suffering over 1,000 casualties. The rest managed to fight their way out.
I felt it was important to discuss the battle on its 70th anniversary as it sadly continues to be largely forgotten. The Glosters and the men of 29th British Independent Infantry Brigade Group fought a very hard battle against massively overwhelming odds, I would definitely urge you to read more about the battle and the war itself. I would also recommend seeking out A Hill In Korea, it is a fascinating film.
( First published on The Armourers Bench )