The Battle of Wawon (Turkish language: Kunuri Muharebeleri), also known as the Battle of Wayuan (Chinese: 瓦院战斗; pinyin: Wǎ Yuàn Zhàn Dòu), was a series of delay actions of the Korean War that took place from November 27–29, 1950 near Wawon in present-day North Korea. After the collapse of the US Eighth Army's right flank during the Battle of the Ch'ongch'on River, the Chinese 38th Corps[nb 1] advanced rapidly towards the critical road junction at Kunu-ri in an effort to cut off United Nations forces' retreat route. In what was considered to be Turkey's first real combat action since the aftermath of World War I, the Turkish Brigade attempted to check the Chinese advances at Wawon. Although the Chinese forces destroyed the Turkish Brigade in subsequent battles, the Turkish Brigade's delay actions managed to defend Kunu-ri until it was secured the by the US 2nd Infantry Division.
After the destruction of the Korean People's Army by mid-1950, China entered the Korean War by sending the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) against the United Nations (UN) forces in Korea. In a series of surprise attacks, Chinese forces managed to cripple the US Eighth Army's right flank by decimating the Republic of Korea (ROK) II Corps, completely stalling the UN advances towards the Yalu River by November 4, 1950. Despite the seriousness of this setback, the undeterred General Douglas MacArthur ordered the Eighth Army to launch the Home-by-Christmas Offensive on November 24, 1950. As part of the offensive, the newly arrived Turkish Brigade was assigned as the reserve of the US IX Corps, and was placed directly behind the center of the Eighth Army's advances.
Despite MacArthur's optimism, a massive Chinese counterattack soon developed on the night of November 25. Hoping to repeat their earlier successes against the US Eighth Army, the Chinese again attacked the ROK II Corps, and the UN right flank was routed by November 26. Encouraged by this development, PVA commander Peng Dehuai instructed the PVA 38th Corps to advance westward from the UN right flank and cutoff the US IX Corps at the road junction of Kunu-ri. As a counter, the Turkish Brigade was ordered by IX Corps to advance east from Kunu-ri on the afternoon of November 26.
Because the Turkish soldiers understood neither English nor Korean, the deployment of the Turkish Brigade quickly ran into difficulties, and the lack of accurate intelligence on Chinese forces further added to the chaos. During their advance eastward, the Turks were forced to conduct long marches in the Korean countryside because of misunderstanding of the IX Corps' instructions. At the same time, fleeing Korean soldiers from the ROK II Corps were mistaken by the Turks as Chinese, and deadly friendly fire was exchanged as a result. The incident left 20 ROK soldiers killed and 4 wounded, while another 14 Turkish soldiers died and 6 other wounded. On the night of November 27, the exhausted Turkish Brigade entered the village of Wawon to the east of Kunu-ri, and Brigadier General[nb 2] Tahsin Yazıcı of the Turkish Brigade ordered a semicircular perimeter to be established towards the northeast.
On the night of November 27, the advancing PVA 114th Division of the 38th Corps—under the command of Zhai Zhongyu—ambushed and destroyed the Turkish Brigade's reconnaissance platoon, alerting the entire brigade in the process. Knowing that the Chinese attacks were imminent, the advance battalion of the brigade quickly took up defensive positions on the road leading into Wawon. They were soon met with the PVA 342nd Regiment of the 114th Division, and the Chinese concentrated their attacks in an effort to penetrate the Turkish defensive lines. Heavy fire from the Turks managed to drive back the Chinese advances, but the attacking Chinese regiment continued to spread towards the left flank of the defenders. By dusk on November 28, the entire advance battalion was engulfed by the Chinese; sword and bayonet fighting ensued, resulting in 400 Turkish casualties. Observing that Wawon was surrounded by hills occupied by the Chinese, Yazıcı ordered the Turkish Brigade to withdraw 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) westward to the village of Sinim-ri.
As the Turkish Brigade withdrew at night, the PVA 342nd Regiment followed closely behind. Upon arriving at Sinim-ri, the Chinese immediately cut off the brigade by launching surprise attacks on the rear artillery units and the 3rd Battalion. At the same time, communication was lost between the Turkish headquarters and its battalions, leaving the rest of the brigade isolated from the outside world. Undaunted by the difficulties, the trapped Turks fought back stubbornly and, once out of ammunition, the Turks continued to resist with fists, swords and rocks. The fierce fighting forced the Chinese to call in the 340th Regiment to reinforce the 342nd. Despite the hard fighting, the Turks were close to being overrun by the morning of November 29, and only a timely air strike allowed the Turks to escape encirclement. In the aftermath of the fighting, the Turkish Brigade was completely fragmented, with most of their equipment and vehicles lost, but Yazıcı still remarked: "Withdraw? Why withdraw? We are killing lots of them." With the US 2nd Infantry Division entering Kunu-ri on the night of November 28, the Turks had successfully covered the withdrawal of the US IX Corps. The remnants of the Turkish Brigade fell back towards Kunu-ri and joined up with the US 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division.
Although the US IX Corps managed to safely pull back into Kunu-ri, the Turkish Brigade's ordeal was not over. By the afternoon of November 29, the PVA 114th Division linked up with the 112th Division of the 38th Corps and renewed their attacks against the Turkish Brigade and the US 38th Regiment. At the same time, the PVA 113th Division of the 38th Corps had cutoff Kunu-ri from the south, completely surrounding the US 2nd Division and the Turkish Brigade at Kunu-ri. In the ensuing battles and withdrawals with the US 2nd Division, the Turkish Brigade was effectively destroyed as a fighting unit with 20 percent of its men becoming casualties.
Yet despite the heavy losses, the sacrifice of the Turkish Brigade was not forgotten by the US Eighth Army. On December 13, 1950, General Walton Walker of the Eighth Army presented 15 Silver Star and Bronze Star medals to the Turkish Brigade for their gallantry in action against the Chinese, and this occasion was proudly remembered by the Turkish soldiers in Korea.
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