First Battle of Hill 355 | The Canadian Encyclopedia


First Battle of Hill 355

Hill 355 (Kowang San, Korea) was a strategically important site during the Korean War. Canadian troops were involved in two battles for control of the mountain. The 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Regiment (Van Doos) fought in the first battle from 22 to 25 November 1951, holding off Chinese attackers while American forces struggled for control of the hill. See also Second Battle of Hill 355.

Lucien Dion


22–25 November 1951


Kowang San, South Korea


Canada, USA, other United Nations members

Canadian Casualties

16 killed, 44 wounded, 3 captured


The Korean War began on 25 June 1950, when the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the pro-West Republic of Korea (South Korea). The communist north was armed with Chinese- and Soviet-supplied weapons and equipment.The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack and committed to a military response under American leadership. It included the First Commonwealth Division comprising units from Australia, Britain, Canada, India and New Zealand.

Although UN forces had some early success, by October 1950 thousands of Chinese soldiers crossed the border and halted their advance. The opposing sides pushed up and down the Korean peninsula until the middle of 1951, when the lines became more static. Both sides dug in, establishing defensive positions around the 38th Parallel. They constructed trenches and bunkers protected by barbed wire and mines, much as soldiers had done on the Western Front during the First World War; between the enemy lines was a “no-man’s land” of about one to three kilometres. Little movement happened during the day, but at night, soldiers worked on their defences or went out on patrols to capture enemy soldiers or gain information about enemy positions.

Lucien Dion

Hill 355

Hill 355, located about 40 km north of Seoul, was coveted by both sides. At 355m above sea level, it dominated the local area and overlooked the front lines and supply routes. Known as Kowang San to the Koreans, American soldiers referred to Hill 355 as “Little Gibraltar” because of its size and defensive positions.

Given the importance of Hill 355, Canadian troops were often deployed in and around the site. Indeed, every Canadian battalion that served in the Korean War was stationed there at some point. Their time was spent guarding their sectors and defending the front lines; they also occasionally raided enemy positions, capturing prisoners and gathering intelligence.

First Battle of Hill 355 (22–25 November 1951)

In October 1951, UN soldiers captured Hill 355. As Stephen J. Harris described it in Canada and the Korean War (2002), the Canadians spent the first three weeks of November 1951 in “small-scale, short-range, ineffective patrolling.” On 22 November 1951, a general redeployment meant that soldiers from the 1st battalions of The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Royal 22e Regiment (Van Doos) were moved to a new stretch of front lines that bordered Hill 355.

Just as the Van Doos were getting settled in their positions near Hills 227 and 355, the Chinese began an intense bombardment that continued into the next day, lasting 24 hours in total. D Company occupied the most exposed position, with some fire positions built up with sandbags instead of dug down. The sandbags and tin-roofed bunkers were vulnerable to enemy fire, particularly shrapnel and high velocity artillery rounds. The shelling was followed by waves of Chinese soldiers that stormed the Van Doos.

Nearby, American and Chinese soldiers fought for control of Hill 355. When the US soldiers were pushed back, the Van Doos were exposed to heavy enemy fire. The fighting was desperate and conditions grim, as soldiers fought in the snow and mud. At one point, D company was surrounded. But supporting UN units directed heavy artillery and mortar fire against the Chinese attackers, and the Van Doos held their ground.

On 25 November, American forces retook Hill 355, taking some of the pressure off the Canadians. The Chinese withdrew on 26 November. The Van Doos had fought off seven attacks over three days, suffering 63 casualties during the action: 16 killed, 44 wounded, and 3 taken prisoner; half were from D Company alone.

Seven decorations were awarded to members of the Van Doos for their bravery during the battle. This included the commander of D Company, Major Réal Liboiron, who received a Distinguished Service Order, and Corporal (acting Sergeant) Léo Major, a veteran of the Second World War, who was awarded a bar to his Distinguished Conduct Medal.

André Therrien

Memory Project Testimonies from Korean War Veterans

The Memory Project Archive is the largest online database of oral history in Canada; its aim is to preserve veteran stories for future generations. Beginning in 2002, interviews with veterans were audio and video recorded. Memorabilia, including photographs, medals and other wartime artefacts, were also digitized and made available online. The archive is searchable through The Canadian Encyclopedia. It includes interviews with Korean War veterans, such as Adrien Brisson and William DiMaurizio of the Royal 22e Régiment (Van Doos), both of whom fought at the Battle of Hill 355.

Further Reading