COUNT de BROCHOUVEN de BERGEYCK
Capitane | Infantry
In late April, the Belgian Battalion received special orders in preparation for the coming summer heat that would come swiftly – anti-malaria tablets were to be taken daily; latrines were to be dug deeper and filled every two days; food was to be covered, protected from flies, and any remnants burned each evening. It was a prelude to the vicious Korean summer months that necessitated extra precautions in the overwhelming heat. These tasks were adopted into the daily routine just a day before taking over positions from the Royal Ulster Rifles, a battalion of 880 men, nearly twice the numbers of the Belgian’s three rifle companies of only 466. In the Flemish speaking C Company, it was reluctantly decided that one spur must remain vacant from defense, and the bare position left many uneasy. Fortunately, the Ulsters left their emplacements strung with thin barbed wire entanglements, the only battalion in the Division authorized to do so given the strange circumstances in the spring of 1951.
Upper echelon was undecided on whether to pursue the retreating Chinese or settle into defensive positions – to chase them further was not necessary as they had been eradicated far enough north and out of the capitol city, but to stop now would sacrifice the energy and momentum of the troops. It was also becoming clearer that there would be a massive counter-offensive from the Chinese and one captured officer even divulged the date of April 22. Placing the small Belgian contingent in such a vital location to face an imminent and massive offensive would become one of the great mysteries of the war.
The Belgians did not question the decisions, though even Brigadier Crahay found it bizarre. They were professional soldiers, all proud to bear the title of volunteers with their distinctive brown berets, and were willing to fight without hesitation. Second in command of C Company was the Count de Brouchoven de Bergeyck, a thirty-eight-year-old Lieutenant bearing several names of his kin over a long lineage of Belgian nobility beginning in the early 17th Century. He had just returned to the company after recovering from wounds sustained in the Belgians’ first fighting along the Han River on March 23, during which the company commander Lieutenant Beauprez was killed by land mine. After Lieutenant Janssens succeeded him, the Count then assumed the role of second in command.
The status of count did nothing to discourage de Brouchoven from volunteering to fight, not just for the current conflict, but twice prior during the Second World War – first with the French resistance, which he was still struggling to achieve recognition from the Belgian government, and secondly with the reformed Belgian Army near the close of the war. He gladly volunteered a third time to join the war in Korea. Though far from home, it was with great enthusiasm that the Belgians defended the South Korean people from invasion and oppression they had also experienced so recently.
Throughout the day of April 22, small patrols and Korean refugees reported a growing presence of enemy in the area which had been quiet for days. No one had forgotten that this was the proposed day of the beginning of an offensive and in the late afternoon, C Company dispatched a patrol into no-man’s land. For hours they waited until after sunset when the patrol radioed that they spotted groups of Chinese passing through the area toward the Belgian line. The Count waited anxiously for a few more hours, anticipating a ruthless attack at any moment, yet despite his mental preparations was startled when the trip flares along the wire soared skyward and illuminated the battlefield. A ten-minute firefight erupted under a dull red sky until the flares finished their descent to the earth which seemed to signal an end to the gunfire leaving the night quiet for a couple hours. At two in the morning, the Chinese struck again beginning a series of sporadic attacks that continued through the twilight hours. The company prayed for daylight and reprieve from the fight that spread from the south and west to the north. If they were not surrounded, the Count wondered, would they be able to retreat across the bridges behind them? Who held the bridges?
They fought through dawn, which brought a fierce attack that pushed back Lieutenant Verhaegen’s platoon, leaving him gravely wounded. A patrol found that the bridges were held by the Chinese, limiting their route of escape. The company commander, Lieutenant Janssens, had been wounded during the several counter attacks and had not yet been relieved. If nothing else, C Company was causing great difficulty for the Chinese and the Count felt that if he did not make it off that hill it would at least be worthy fight of just a few fierce Belgians against hordes of Chinese. The fight dragged into the afternoon when they were finally able to vacate their positions to allow for bombardment and napalm strikes. The Volunteers walked away, wading across the shallow Imjin smaller in number and at a loss of much of their equipment. The Brigadier, though knowing his battalion was tired and shrinking, confidently committed his men to the line for the next day – for if he does not, who will? The Count and the others felt the same staunch attitude and without hesitation turned back prepared to face the inferno once again.
After a rather quiet night, the Chinese resumed their attack late in the morning of April 25, forcing the Ulsters and the Northumberland Fusiliers to consider retreating. The Belgians moved to the village of Hansansang-Ni to cover their English allies and for the next hour faced the onslaught from the surrounding hills. On the right flank of the Belgian battalion, the enemy began to bombard C Company with mortars and phosphorus grenades that quickly set fire to the village they occupied. Raw smoke billowing from the huts obscured the front and stung the eyes of the soldiers caught its breeze. Around two in the afternoon, when ammunition began to run dangerously low, Brigadier Crahay finally gave his order to withdraw and instructed A and C Companies to move back through the rice fields toward the rally point. As they neared Tokchong near five in the afternoon, the Count refused to leave his own position until he was sure the rest of his company was able to retreat, ensuring that not just the men in his company, but the entire battalion had made it out safely. Through a fog of adrenaline, he realized he had been alone for some time and bolted back to the rally point, turning his back on the Chinese looming down all along the front.
After relief by the 15th Infantry, the Belgians were transported to Yongdong-po for a serious rest. In no time, men crumpled in the street and slept without interruption for the first time in days. The incoming Chinese offensive was relentless and with an unwavering mass of soldiers they pressed on toward Seoul which was at serious risk of falling again. The Belgian volunteers were the least tested of the 29th Brigade but potentially the last hope after the Glosters were decimated and the Ulsters and Northumberlands teetering on defeat. The next day, after a brief reprieve and little time to collect lost equipment and mental bearings, the Belgians committed to the line once again to defend the capitol city. Slinging his Sten gun, the Count observed his haggard company – filthy, sweaty, stinking and exhausted, short of supplies and absent dear friends, the Volunteers had set a high expectation of what the Belgian contingent could deliver over the coming months of combat.
Crahay, Albert. Les Belges En Corée, 1951-1955. La Renaissance Du Livre, 1966.
Peerlinck, Hugo. Chronique Du Bataillon Belge Corée 1950 -1955. Agora / Flying Pencil, 2009.