Battle of the Imjin River
The Battle of the Imjin River, also known as the Battles of Kumgul-san, P'ap'yong-san and Solma-ri or the Battle of Xuemali (Chinese: 雪马里战斗; pinyin: Xuě Mǎ Lǐ Zhàn Dòu), took place 22–25 April 1951 during the Korean War. Forces from the People’s Republic of China attacked United Nations (UN) positions on the lower Imjin River in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough and recapture the South Korean capital Seoul. The attack was part of the Chinese Fifth Phase Campaign, also known as the Chinese Spring Offensive, the aim of which was to regain the initiative on the battlefield after a successful UN counter-offensive in March 1951 had allowed UN forces to establish themselves beyond the 38th parallel at Line Kansas.
The section of the UN line where the battle took place was defended primarily by British forces of the 29th Infantry Brigade, consisting of three British and one Belgian infantry battalions (Belgian United Nations Command) supported by tanks and artillery. Despite facing a greatly superior enemy numerically, the brigade held its general positions for three days. When the units of the 29th Infantry Brigade were ultimately forced to fall back, their actions in the Battle of the Imjin River together with those of other UN forces, for example in the Battle of Kapyong, had blunted the impetus of the Chinese offensive and allowed UN forces to retreat to prepared defensive positions north of Seoul, where the Chinese were halted.
"Though minor in scale, the battle's ferocity caught the imagination of the world", especially the fate of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, which was outnumbered and eventually surrounded by Chinese forces on Hill 235, a feature that became known as Gloster Hill. The stand of the Gloucestershire battalion, together with other actions of the 29th Brigade in the Battle of the Imjin River, have become an important part of British military history and tradition.
- 1 Background
- 2 Battle
- 3 Aftermath
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
The battle took place during the Chinese Spring Offensive, aimed at recapturing Seoul. The Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese and North Korean Communist Forces in the Field, General Peng Dehuai, issued an operational directive that summarizes the initial objectives of the offensive: "First of all, we will mass our forces to wipe out the 6th Division of the Puppet Army, the British 27th Brigade, the American 3rd Division, the Turkish Brigade, the British 29th Brigade and the 1st Division of the Puppet Army [...]."
In order to achieve the objective, Peng planned to converge on Seoul with the III, IX and XIX Army Groups, which had a combined strength of around 270,000 men. The XIX Army Group was positioned on the left flank of the UN line. Its 63rd and 64th Armies were to cross the Imjin on a 12-mile (19 km) front and then to attack southeast towards Seoul. Three divisions of the 63rd Army, the 187th, 188th and 189th Divisions, attacked the British 29th Infantry Brigade’s positions on the Imjin river from 22–25 April 1951. 25 miles (40 km) further to the east, other Chinese forces assaulted UN forces which included the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade. That battle became known as the Battle of Kapyong.
At the time of the Chinese attack, the 29th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Tom Brodie, consisted of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment (also called "The Glosters"), under Lieutenant-Colonel James P. Carne; the 1st Battalion, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers (RNF), under Lieutenant-Colonel Kingsley Foster; the 1st Battalion, The Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR), under the temporary command of Major Gerald Rickord; and the Belgian battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Crahay (700 men), to which Luxembourg's contribution to the UN forces was attached[clarification needed]. The British soldiers were a mixture of regular soldiers, reservists and conscripted National servicemen. Their supporting units included 45 Field Regiment Royal Artillery (RA), tanks from the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars and the 170th Independent Mortar Battery, Royal Artillery, which were attached to the brigade. The 29th Brigade was under the command of the US I Corps and was one of several UN formations responsible for holding the western flank on the lower Imjin river, the others being the 1st Republic of Korea (ROK) Division and the US 3rd Infantry Division (see map). The right flank of the ROK 12th Regiment, the nearest position of the ROK 1st Division, was a mile to the southwest of the Gloucestershire Regiment, while the US 3rd Infantry Division was east of the 29th Brigade.
The deployment of UN forces meant that the 29th Brigade, with its four battalions, had to cover a front of 12 miles (19 km). Gaps between units had to be accepted because there was no possibility of forming a continuous line with the forces available. "Brigadier Brodie determined to deploy his men in separate unit positions, centred upon key hill features" On the left flank, the Glosters were guarding a ford over the Imjin, known as Gloster crossing; the RNF were deployed near the centre, around two miles northeast of the Glosters; the Belgians, occupying a feature called Hill 194 on the right, were the only element of the 29th Brigade north of the river. Their connection with the rest of the brigade depended on two pontoon bridges about half a mile apart. These bridges connected the Belgians with Route 11, the 29th Brigade’s main line of supply and communication, and thus made vehicular movement between the north and south banks of the river possible. The Royal Ulster Rifles served as the brigade’s reserve and were deployed along Route 11 (see map showing the situation at 9 a.m., 25 April, below for different routes in the area).
The scattered deployment was one aspect which complicated the defense of the 29th Brigade’s position. Another was the lack of heavy artillery. Fire support was provided by 45 Field Regiment, RA, equipped with 25 pounders, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel MT Young, and by 4.2 inch mortars of 170 Heavy Mortar Battery, RA. No heavier artillery support was available. Further support was provided by Centurion tanks of C Squadron, 8th Hussars, under the command of Major Henry Huth and by 55 Squadron, Royal Engineers. However, defensive preparations were not carried out very extensively because the British expected to hold the position for only a short time. Neither minefields, deeply dug shelters nor extensive wire obstacles had been constructed. The British position on the Imjin river "was deemed safe" but vulnerable in case of an attack.
The first night
The battle opened on the night of 22 April 1951. A Chinese patrol on the north bank of the river moved around the Belgians on Hill 194 and continued to advance east towards the two bridges on which the Belgians depended. Elements of the 29th Brigade’s reserve, the 1st RUR, were deployed forward at about 10 pm to secure the crossing, but were soon engaged by Chinese forces trying to cross the river. The Royal Ulster Rifles were unable to secure the bridges. This development meant that the Belgian battalion on the north bank of the river was in danger of being isolated from the rest of the 29th Brigade.
Chinese forces following the initial patrol either attacked the Belgian positions on Hill 194 or continued their advance towards the bridges. Those who were able to cross the Imjin attacked the Fusiliers' right rear company, Z Company, on Hill 257, a position close to the river and almost directly south of the crossings. Further downstream, Chinese forces managed to ford the Imjin and attacked the Fusiliers' left forward company, X Company, on Hill 152. The retreat of X Company from Hill 152 had serious consequences for Y Company, which occupied the right forward position of what can be described as a squarish fusilier position marked out by four widely spaced company perimeters at the corners. Although Y Company was not attacked directly, Chinese forces threatened its flanks by forcing Z and X Companies from their positions. After unsuccessful British attempts to regain those lost positions on Hill 257 and 194, Y Company’s position was abandoned, the retreat being covered by C Squadron, 8th Hussars.
On the left of the brigade's line, a forward deployed patrol of 16 men repelled four attempts by a battalion of the 559th Regiment, 187th Division to cross the river, but was eventually forced to fall back when their ammunition reserves ran low, after inflicting 70 casualties without suffering any loss. During the rest of the night, the Glosters' right and left forward companies, A and D Companies, engaged Chinese units trying to cross the Imjin. By morning the next day, A and D Companies had suffered severe casualties; only one officer in A Company remained in action. Casualties included A Company’s commander, Major Pat Angier, who was killed during the night.
The Glosters' withdrawal to Hill 235
On 23 April, attempts by the Fusiliers and American forces from the 3rd Infantry Division's reserve to regain control of areas lost during the night failed. A US attack by the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, on Communist forces near Hill 257 was ordered to support the Belgian withdrawal from the north bank of the Imjin River. Despite losing seven vehicles, the Belgian battalion successfully executed its withdrawal, which was coordinated with the beginning of the American attack on Hill 257. The Belgians escaped to the east and took up new positions south of the Glosters and the Fusiliers before moving to the vicinity of the 29th Brigade's command post.
At around 8.30 pm on 23 April, the forward companies of the Glosters were withdrawn from their positions after suffering heavy casualties. Apart from A and D Companies, C Company, under Major Paul Mitchell, retreated as well, but because of enemy pressure it was impossible for B Company, under Major Denis Harding, to disengage and join the battalion's remaining elements on and near Hill 235, a position between the Imjin and the Seolmacheon stream that became known as Gloster Hill. The men of B Company (including a young Lofty Large) were able to drive off seven Chinese assaults on their position before they too managed to withdraw to Hill 235 the next morning. Only 17 men of B Company remained in action after reaching the remainder of the battalion.
During the night, as the Glosters’ B Company faced numerous attacks, the Chinese 188th Division crossed the Imjin and attacked the Fusiliers and the Royal Ulster Rifles on the right of the brigade’s line. The 187th Division also engaged the brigade’s battalions on the right, while the 189th Division kept up the pressure on the left. Most dangerous for the unity of the 29th Brigade was the Chinese deep penetration of the line between the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Northumberland Fusiliers, cutting off the Glosters. To counter the Chinese attack and protect the Glosters from being completely surrounded, the Philippine 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) was temporarily attached to the 29th Brigade. A combined force of M-24 tanks of the 10th BCT and Centurions of the 8th Hussars supported by infantry reached a point 2,000 yards (1,800 m) from Hill 235 on 24 April. The column failed to make contact however, as the lead tank was hit by Chinese fire and knocked out, blocking the route and making any further advance against heavy resistance impossible. At this point, according to an official American narrative of operations, "the brigade commander considered it unwise to continue the effort to relieve the Gloucester Battalion and withdrew the relief force".
Retreat of the 29th Brigade
Continued Chinese pressure on the UN forces along the Imjin prevented a planned US attack by the Puerto Ricans of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 65th Infantry, to relieve the Glosters. When two further attempts by a tank troop to link up with the Glosters failed, Brigadier Brodie left the decision whether to attempt a break out or surrender to Lieutenant-Colonel Carne. No further attempts to relieve the Glosters were undertaken because, at 8 am on 25 April, I Corps issued the order to execute Plan Golden A, which called for a withdrawal of all forces to a new defensive position further south.
In accordance with orders issued by I Corps and supported by C Squadron, 8th Hussars, and 55 Squadron, Royal Engineers, the 1st Battalion, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the 1st Battalion, the Royal Ulster Rifles, and the Belgian battalion tried to reach the safety of the next UN position. The Belgians occupied blocking positions west and southwest of the 29th Brigade's command post in order to allow the other units of the brigade which were still further north along Route 11, the main line of retreat, to fall back through the battalion’s positions (see map). The withdrawal under intense enemy pressure was made even more difficult by the fact that Chinese forces dominated parts of the high ground along the line of retreat and were thus able not only to observe any movements by elements of the 29th Brigade, but also to inflict heavy casualties on the retreating units. Among those killed was the CO of the Fusiliers, Lieutenant-Colonel Foster, who died when his jeep was hit by Chinese mortar fire. In the words of Major Henry Huth of the 8th Hussars, the retreat was "one long bloody ambush". When B Company of the Ulsters, which had acted as rear guard during the retreat, reached the safety of the next UN line, all elements of the 29th Brigade except for the Glosters had completed the withdrawal.
The Glosters on Hill 235
The Glosters' situation on Hill 235 made it impossible for them to join the rest of the 29th Brigade after it had received the order to retreat. Even before the failed attempts to relieve the battalion on 24 April, B and C Companies had already suffered such heavy casualties that they were merged to form one company. Attempts to supply the battalion by air drop were unsuccessful. Despite their difficult situation, the Glosters held their positions on Hill 235 throughout 24 April and the night of 24/25 April. In the morning of 25 April, 45 Field Regiment could no longer provide artillery support. Since Brigadier Brodie had left the final decision to Lieutenant-Colonel Carne, the Glosters' CO "gave the order to his company commanders to make for the British lines as best as they could" on the morning of 25 April. Only the remains of D Company under the command of Major Mike Harvey escaped successfully from Gloster Hill and reached the safety of friendly lines after several days. The rest of the battalion was taken prisoner, including Lieutenant-Colonel Carne.
Importance of the battle
Had the Chinese achieved a breakthrough in the initial stages of their assault, they would have been able to outflank the 1st ROK Division to the west and the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division to the east of the 29th Brigade. Such a development would have threatened the stability of the UN line and increased the likelihood of success for a Chinese advance on Seoul. Although the Chinese benefited from the brigade's scattered deployment and lack of defensive preparations, they were nevertheless unable to take the positions before UN forces could check further advances. In three days of fighting, the determined resistance of the 29th Brigade severely disrupted the Chinese offensive, causing it to lose momentum, and allowed UN forces in the area to withdraw to the No-Name Line, a defensible position north of Seoul, where the Chinese were halted.[page needed][page needed][page needed]
Casualties and memorial
According to a memorandum presented to the British cabinet on 26 June 1951, 29th Brigade suffered 1,091 casualties, including 34 officers and 808 other ranks missing. These casualties represented 20 to 25 per cent of the brigade’s strength on the eve of battle. Of the 1,091 soldiers killed, wounded or missing, 620 were from the Gloucestershire Regiment, which could muster 217 men on 27 April.[b] 522 soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment became prisoners of war.[c] Of those taken prisoner, 180 were wounded and a further 34 died while in captivity. 59 soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment were killed in action. Based on estimates, Chinese casualties in the Battle of the Imjin River can be put at around 10,000. As a result of the casualties suffered during the battle, the Chinese 63rd Army, which had begun the offensive with three divisions and approximately 27,000 men, had lost over a third of its strength and was pulled out of the front line.
The British Embassy in Seoul organises a service, officially called the Gloster Valley Memorial Service, for veterans on every anniversary of the battle. In 2008, it took place on 19 April as part of formal commemoration ceremonies that were held during 14–20 April. The outline of the commemorations in 2008 encompassed a service of commemoration, including the laying of wreaths and the presentations of Gloster Valley Scholarships – financial assistance to deserving children in the area where the battle took place – as well as a picnic lunch that offered visitors the opportunity to mingle with veterans. About 70 British veterans and the British ambassador to South Korea took part in the event.
Awards and citations
- Lieutenant-Colonel Carne, who commanded the battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was also awarded the US Army's Distinguished Service Cross.
- Lieutenant Curtis, who had recently learnt of his wife's death and who died in a lone counter-attack on enemy machine-guns, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
- Lieutenant Waters, who died in captivity, was awarded a posthumous George Cross for his conduct shortly after capture.
In addition, several soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Service Order:
- Captain Anthony Farrar-Hockley, 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment
- Major Edgar Denis Harding 1st Battalion, Gloucestshire Regiment OC B Coy
- Major Henry Huth, Officer Commanding, C Squadron, 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
- Major John Winn, Officer Commanding, Z Company, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
The Military Cross was awarded to:
- Captain Mike Harvey, 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment, for his leadership of a group of 5 officers and 41 men of D Company who escaped and evaded the Chinese encirclement.
- Captain Peter Ormrod, 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
- Lieutenant Guy Temple, for his actions when a platoon from C Company, 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment stopped four attempts by Chinese Communist Forces to cross the river on 22 April, only withdrawing when the platoon ran short of ammunition.
Three Commonwealth Regiments were awarded the United States Distinguished Unit Citation for their part in the Battle of the Imjin River and the Battle of Kapyong:
- The 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, together with C Troop, 170 Heavy Mortar Battery, Royal Artillery
- The 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, Battle of Kapyong 22–25 April 1951.
- The 2nd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment, Battle of Kapyong 22–25 April 1951.
On 8 May 1951, by the command of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, General James Van Fleet presented the President's Distinguished Unit Citation to the Glosters, together with C Troop, 170 Heavy Mortar Battery, which had given invaluable support throughout the battle. The citation says:
- EIGHTH UNITED STATES ARMY KOREA (EUSAK)
- Office of the Commanding General
- KPO 301
- GENERAL ORDERS
- NUMBER 286
- 8 May 1951
- BATTLE HONOURS – CITATION OF UNITS
- BATTLE HONOURS – 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. The 1st BATTALION and TROOP C were defending a very critical sector of the battle front during a determined attack by the enemy. The defending units were overwhelmingly outnumbered. The 83rd Chinese Communist Army drove the full force of its savage assault at the positions held by the 1st BATTALION, GLOUCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT and attached unit. The route of supply ran Southeast from the battalion between two hills. The hills dominated the surrounding terrain northwest to the Imjin River. Enemy pressure built up on the battalion front during the day 23 April. On 24 April the weight of the attack had driven the right flank of the battalion back. The pressure grew heavier and heavier and the battalion and attached unit were forced into a perimeter defence on Hill 235. During the night, heavy enemy forces had by-passed the staunch defenders and closed all avenues of escape. The courageous soldiers of the battalion and attached unit were holding the critical route selected by the enemy for one column of the general offensive designed to encircle and destroy 1st Corps . These gallant soldiers would not retreat. As they were compressed tighter and tighter in their perimeter defence, they called for close-in air strikes to assist in holding firm. Completely surrounded by tremendous numbers, these indomitable, resolute, and tenacious soldiers fought back with unsurpassed fortitude and courage. As ammunition ran low and the advancing hordes moved closer and closer, these splendid soldiers fought back viciously to prevent the enemy from overrunning the position and moving rapidly to the south. Their heroic stand provided the critically needed time to regroup other 1st Corps units and block the southern advance of the enemy. Time and again efforts were made to reach the battalion, but the enemy strength blocked each effort. Without thought of defeat or surrender, this heroic force demonstrated superb battlefield courage and discipline. Every yard of ground they surrendered was covered with enemy dead until the last gallant soldier of the fighting battalion was over-powered by the final surge of the enemy masses. The 1st BATTALION, GLOUCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT and TROOP C, 170th INDEPENDENT MORTAR BATTERY displayed such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing their mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set them apart and above other units participating in the same battle. Their sustained brilliance in battle, their resoluteness, and extraordinary heroism are in keeping with the finest traditions of the renowned military forces of the British Commonwealth, and reflect unsurpassed credit on these courageous soldiers and their homeland.
- BY COMMAND OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL VAN FLEET.
- LEVEN C ALLEN
- Major General US Army.
- Chief of Staff.
- L. W. STANLEY.
- Colonel AGC.
- Adjutant General.
The Belgian United Nations Command, which was attached to the British 29th Brigade and replaced the 900 men of the Royal Ulster Rifles on 20 April 1951, initially held the brigade's right flank on the north bank of the river. It also included a Luxembourg platoon. It fought the Chinese there and then conducted a fighting withdrawal, supported by U.S. forces, before taking position in the center of the brigade's line, ahead of brigade headquarters, for the attempts to relieve the Glosters. The Belgian battalion was awarded the United States Distinguished Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for their conduct during the battle.
|“||The Belgian battalion with the Luxembourg detachment of the UN Forces in Korea is mentioned for exceptional execution of its missions and for its remarkable heroism in its actions against the enemy on the Imjin, near Hantangang, Korea during the period from 20 till 26 April 1951. The Belgian battalion with the Luxembourg detachment, one of the smallest units of the UNO in Korea, has inflicted thirty-fold losses on the enemy compared to its own, due to its aggressive and courageous actions against the Communist Chinese. During this period considerable enemy forces, supported by fire by machine guns, mortars and artillery, repeatedly and heavily attacked the positions held by the battalion but, Belgians and Luxembourgers have continuously and bravely repulsed these fanatic attacks by inflicting heavy losses to the enemy forces... The extraordinary courage shown by the members of this units during this period has bestowed extraordinary honor on their country and on themselves||”|
- The scope and the outcome of the Imjin River engagement have been subjected to several interpretations according to different historiography traditions. According to official Chinese history, the elimination of the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment by the Chinese 63rd Army is considered to be an important victory, although the failure of the 64th and the 65th Army to eliminate the entire British 29th Independent Infantry Brigade and capture Seoul due to the defense of ROK 1st Infantry Division was a serious setback. On the other hand, the South Korean contributions to the Imjin River battle are only recorded in sparse detail by the official South Korean history, but historian Allan R. Millet have argued that ROK 1st Infantry Division's performances in battle demonstrated the potential of South Korean armed forces in the wake of serious failures during the period of 1950–51. In British Commonwealth countries, the engagement has been interpreted as the 29th Brigade's sacrifice against the impossible odds from the Chinese 63rd Army, which ultimately prevented the Chinese from capturing Seoul. Regardless of the interpretations, independent researches from historian Zhang Shu Guang and Andrew Salmon have concluded that the actions carried out by the 29th Brigade had disrupted the Chinese advance significantly to affect the outcome of the First Chinese Spring Offensive.
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- Barclay, Cyril Nelson (1954), The First Commonwealth Division: The Story of British Commonwealth Land Forces in Korea, 1950–1953, Aldershot, UK: Gale & Polden.
- Cunningham-Boothe, Ashley; Farrar, Peter, eds. (1988), British Forces in the Korean War, London: The British Korean Veterans Association.
- Farrar-Hockley, Anthony (2007), The Edge of the Sword, London: Frederick Muller.
- Fehrenbach, TR (2001), This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History (50 ann ed.), US: Brassey's, ISBN 1-57488-334-8.
- Green, David (2003), Captured at the Imjin River: The Korean War Memoirs of a Gloster, Pen & Sword Books.
- Holles, Robert Owen (1972), Now Thrive The Armourers, White Lion.
- Kahn, Ely Jacques (1951), The Gloucesters: An Account of the Epic Stand of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Korea, London: Central Office of Information.
- Large, Lofty (1999), Soldier Against the Odds: From Korean War to SAS, Mainstream, ISBN 978-1-84018-346-7.
- Rottman, Gordon (2002), Korean War Order of Battle. United States, United Nations and Communist Ground, Naval and Air Forces, 1950–1953, Praeger/Greenwood.
- Salmon, Andrew (2009), To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951, London: Aurum, ISBN 978-1-84513-408-2.
- "The Imjin battle", The Korean War (documents, maps and images), UK: The National Archives.
- "The British involvement", The Korean War, The British Embassy.
- The Battle of the Imjin River, The British Embassy, including a map showing the deployment of 29th Brigade’s units.
- The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum which holds the archives of the Gloucestershire Regiment including documents and artefacts related to the battle.
- "Korean War", Royal Engineers and the Cold War, Royal Engineers Museum.
- Royal Engineers Museum: Royal Engineer pictures of the Korean War.
- Bernard Leroy Martin (one of three Bermudian Glosters at Imjin), The Royal Gazette (obituary), 1997-03-01.
- 10th BATTALION COMBAT TEAM (MOTORIZED), The Philippine contingent during the Korean War (Yahoo!), including their efforts to relieve the Gloucestershire Regiment.
- Hendrik, The story of the Belgian United Nations Command, At space with reports of the battles they participated in, unit awards and personal decorations.