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Lt. Col. Guadalupe A. Martinez
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Lt. Col. Guadalupe A. Martinez (USA Ret.)

San Antonio, TX -
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"Each time we exchanged tanks we would see the enemy renew their operation and we would agonize until the first shell was again fired.  Each time an exchange took place, Lieutenant Flores would "sweat" out the first round because the window of opportunity was so small and our troops were so close to our line of fire."

- Guadalupe Martinez

 


[The following short memoir was submitted to the Korean War Educator by Lt. Colonel Martinez in January of 2010.]

Operation Showdown

Memoir Contents:


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Battle for Triangle Hill (Hill 598)
Korea, October 1952

Background Information

The Colombian Infantry Battalion (from Colombia, South America) was part of the United Nations' forces in Korea and attached to the US 31st Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division.  Artillery support for the 31st Infantry was provided by the 57th Artillery Battalion (105mm Howitzers).  To provide artillery support for the Colombian Battalion, the 57th's Headquarters was augmented with an extra liaison team and an extra forward observer team at each firing battery.  Since the Colombians only spoke Spanish, the officers of the U.S. Liaison and Forward Observer Teams were expected to be bilingual and each team had in its crew at least one of two enlisted men who spoke Spanish.

In October, the assignment of artillery officers to the Colombian Battalion were: 1st Lt. Guadalupe Martinez, Liaison Officer (LnO) to Colombian Infantry Headquarters, and 2nd Lt. Belisario Flores, 1st Lt. Guy Newland, and 2nd Lt. Arturo Eddlelstein as forward observers to Companies A, B, and C, respectively, of the Colombian Battalion.

On the 6th of October the 31st Infantry Regiment was brought up from Division Reserve and took up positions on the front lines.  The Colombian Battalion was positioned facing the left edge of Triangle Hill (Hill 598).  On or around October 17th, we heard that the 32nd Infantry Regiment had taken heavy casualties during the assault on Triangle Hill and needed relief.  The 31st Infantry Regiment was relieved from its sector and ordered to move through the 32nd's lines and continue the assault.  The Colombian Battalion was left in place, detached from the 31st and attached to the 17th Infantry Battalion on the 7th Infantry Division's left sector of the line.  The Colombian Battalion was not tasked to participate in the battle for Triangle Hill.

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Good View of the Action

From the start of the battle for Triangle Hill, the Colombian Battalion's forces had a good view of the action taking place on and around Hill 598.  Thus it was that one early morning during the battle for Hill 598, Lieutenant Flores called me on the phone to report heavy enemy activity on the crestline leading from Hill 598 to the next ridge called Jane Russell Hill.  Because his sector of fire did not include Jane Russell Hill, Lieutenant Flores asked me if I'd want to come up to see the enemy activity and do my own assessment.

I was at Flores OP in record time and sure enough verified what he was seeing from his vantage point.  We both agreed that the boundary line for artillery fire now ran between the left flank of the 31st Regiment attacking Triangle Hill and the Colombian Battalion Artillery Support Policy dictated that we on the left flank of that line could not fire into the area to the right of the attacking 31st Regiment without a request for artillery support from the 31st Regiment's attacking elements.

Through the OP's 50-power telescope (normally referred to as a BC Scope), we could see the enemy's trenches and bunkers that stretched from the left edge of Triangle Hill and over the ridgeline leading to the crest of Jane Russell Hill.  At the time, we'd been briefed that the enemy had retaken Triangle Hill and that we were launching a counter attack.  Take Jane Russell Hill and then Hill 598.  From our vantage point we could see the enemy running supplies and ammunition to their troops on Jane Russell.  Because we had lost Triangle Hill, the enemy was able to resupply it and Jane Russell Hill from Sandy Ridge, a hill further to the rear of Hill 598 which they also possessed.

The 31st Regiment's leading elements could not see this movement because to them the enemy's resupply activities were taking place behind the hill they were attacking.  Lieutenant Flores explained to me that he had already established wire communication with an M4 Sherman tank that was dug in about 100 yards to the right and slightly to the rear of his OP.  The tank commander was eager to get into the fight and was willing to let Lieutenant Flores use his OP to adjust fire from his M4, but to do so, permission had to be secured from his superior and from the 31st Infantry Regiments Liaison Officer.  The distance to the target was about 2000 meters and the window of opportunity very small.

I called the 31st Regiments Liaison Office and explained the situation.  Would they allow Lieutenant Flores to adjust direct fire on the supply line with the 76mm gun of the M4 tank?  The 31st Liaison Officer was afraid the rounds would hit his troops.  I again explained that the tank would be firing some 30 yards or more to the right of his troops and behind the crest of the hill where the enemy was effectively resupplying their men.  Direct fire would be under the control of Lieutenant Flores.  Sure, there was risk.  The distance between Jane Russell Hill and our OP was about 2000 meters, but the men of the 31st were pinned down and were running out of options.  Permission was denied and we continued to observe the enemy's resupplying operation without interference from us.  We felt utterly frustrated.

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Permission to Fire

About 10 or 15 minutes later the phone rang.  Cpl. Joe McAfee, Lieutenant Flores' wireman, took the call.  He said, "Yes, Sir," and handed Lieutenant Flores the phone.  I saw Lieutenant Flores stand up almost at attention, all the while repeating, "Yes, Sir," "Yes, Sir," "Yes, Sir."  I asked Flores, "Who was that who made you stand at attention while answering the phone?"  And he answered, "That was the Regimental Commander.  He asked me if I was the Company "A" Colombian FO that had just called, and I said, 'Yes, Sir.'  He asked me if I could see the enemy supply lines behind Jane Russell Hill and I said, 'Yes, Sir.'  Then he asked me, 'Does the M4 crew have clear sight of the target?'  I said, 'Yes, Sir.'  He said, 'You have my permission to fire.'  I said, 'Yes, Sir.'"

Lieutenant Flores told me he had to go brief the tank crew and get them sighted in on the right target.  The 31st was pinned down within yards of the forward bunker of their objective on Jane Russell and from the angle of fire that the M4 crew had to work with, it was necessary that a precise line of sight be established in order to hit the enemy working behind the bunkers and not our men.  It was impossible for our men to see behind the bunkers where the enemy was working their supply line like an army of ants.  We had to consider that the angle between the line of fire from the tank to the target 30 yards to the right of our men but beyond our leading element on Jane Russell Hill was very small.  Lieutenant Flores turned the OP over to me and said, "I'll be right back."

Though we were under frequent mortar harassment, Lieutenant Flores made it back okay.  He informed me that he had personally sighted the tank on the target.  Now back at the OP, Lieutenant Flores gave the command to fire the first round.  It landed some 20 to 30 feet below the target--the supply line.  Lieutenant Flores gave the command to elevate the tube 5 mills, or "just a hair."  The next round hit just right.  The enemy took cover.  Now, Flores directed fire on the bunkers suspected of being used to supply the men fighting on top of Jane Russell.  Continuing to give slight elevation and traversing changes, Lieutenant Flores and I were able to slow down the supply line.  However, the shells were ineffective on the heavily constructed bunkers.  They had no penetrating power.

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The Power of an M41

About an hour of this operation, the phone rang again.  Again, Lieutenant Flores went through the bit of standing at attention saying, "Yes, Sir," "Yes, Sir," "Yes, Sir."  Lieutenant Flores informed me that the caller was again the Regimental Commander to state that he had been observing our operation and it was commendable but that the "pea shooter" 76mm cannon) was very ineffective against the well-constructed enemy fortifications.

Lieutenant Flores informed me that the Regimental Commander had advised him that he was sending a platoon of M41 tanks with mounted 90mm guns.  He wanted the M4 withdrawn from its position and have an M41 take its place.  Unfortunately, because of the terrain, only one tank could operate at any one time.  Lieutenant Flores was instructed that once the M41 was in place to keep it firing until the tube got too hot to fire and then have it replaced immediately by one of the tanks in reserve.

The tanks arrived about a half hour later.  The roads in and out of the tank's dug-in position on the side of the mountain was very narrow and it took some time for the M4 to back out of its barricade and then maneuver the M41 into place.  Once again, Flores went to brief the new crew on the situation to make sure that the M41 would fire at the right target.  Intense close and at times hand-to-hand combat was being experienced in the forward bunkers of Jane Russell and we couldn't take a chance of hitting one of those bunkers if our men were in any of them.  The 31st Liaison Officer kept me abreast of the situation on top of Jane Russell, and where before he had been reluctant to give us permission to fire so close to his men, he now kept yelling to us over the phone to keep the pressure of the tank's fire on the enemy's back bunkers and supply lines.

The enemy felt the pressure of our one tank and it was evident that they had us identified by the amount of incoming mortar fire we started receiving.  They were aware that it was taking us half an hour or longer to change tanks and took advantage of each exchange to renew their supply line activities.  Each time we exchanged tanks we would see the enemy renew their operation and we would agonize until the first shell was again fired.  Each time an exchange took place, Lieutenant Flores would "sweat" out the first round because the window of opportunity was so small and our troops were so close to our line of fire.

But the 90mm cannon made a big difference.  Once the second shell was adjusted on target, the enemy bunkers started to crumble and the supply trench was steadily destroyed.  About mid-afternoon I had to return to Battalion Headquarters and left Lieutenant Flores busy directing the tank's support fire to the men of the 31st Regiment on top of Jane Russell Hill.  The operation went on until it had to be called off because of darkness.

Early next morning, Lieutenant Flores reported to me that the enemy had apparently worked feverishly during the night because the bunkers we had destroyed were almost all repaired and the communication trench we had wiped out had reappeared--only this time, deeper.  Once again Lieutenant Flores started directing the M41's fire.  This continued for most of the day until the 31st took Jane Russell Hill and our operation was given the order to "cease fire."

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Land-line Communication Interrupted

I have only one other comment on this operation.  Radio communication between Lieutenant Flores' position and the 31st Regimental Liaison Officer was good.  This wasn't the case with the tank platoon with which we had to rely 100 percent on land-line communication.  On the second day of the operation, enemy shelling ripped our line twice, and twice it had to be repaired.  On the second occasion, Lieutenant Flores and a Colombian enlisted man had to go out and repair the line themselves because his own crew was fixing lines elsewhere.  While on their way back from this mission, they heard a round coming their way and instinctively hit the ground on the reverse slope of a burial mound that happened to be there just as a round from a 120mm mortar landed on the forward slope of the mound.

The impact and concussion threw Lieutenant Flores and the Colombian soldier back several feet.  They were able to pick themselves up and dash the rest of the way back to the safety of their observation post.  The Colombian was bleeding from several places on his body and was taken immediately to an aid station.  Lieutenant Flores was okay except for a temporary loss of hearing that, although bothersome, did not keep him from continuing to give firing adjustments to the M41 tank.

To my knowledge, this operation was the only support that the 31st Infantry Regiment received from the Colombian Battalion on the front lines during the battle for Triangle Hill during "Operation Showdown."

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Martinez and Flores


Belisario J. Flores
July 22, 1952... The day I turned 26.

Guadalupe Martinez retired from active duty in 1970 as a Lieutenant Colonel and went into education as his second career.  He retired from public education in 1988 after serving as an elementary school principal for the last 12 years.

Belisario Flores, after his tour in Korea, transferred from his Army active duty to the Texas Air National Guard.  In 1971 he was appointed to the position of Assistant Adjutant General for the Texas Air National Guard, promoted to Brigadier General in 1974, and served in that grade and position until his retirement in 1986.

 

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