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Short Rounds

". . . There is Nothing on Earth So Stupid as a Gallant Officer."

In April of 1811, then-Viscount Wellington moved to capture Almeida, a city in eastern Portugal that had been in French hands for nearly a year. Lacking heavy artillery to conduct a proper siege, Wellington blockaded the place, hoping to starve the garrison out. The French holding Almeida, some 1,400 men under General de Brigade Antoine Brennier, resisted stoutly.

Learning that André Massena was concentrating a relief force, Wellington maintained the blockade with about 13,000 troops, while holding the bulk of his army in readiness to counter the French marshal. In the resulting Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (May 3-5, 1811), Wellington, with about 38,000 troops repeatedly beat off assaults by Massena’s 48,000

Despite his defeat, Massena maintained his army nearby, perhaps in the hope of renewing the fight.  

Then, very early one morning, as Wellington was shaving in his tent, Baron Aylmer, of his staff, told him that Massena had pulled out, and that even as he spoke “the last cavalry [was] mounting to be gone," and thus the fall of Almeida was certain.

Wellington reacted by taking the razor from his face for a moment, to say “Aye, I thought they meant to be off; very well," and then continued his shave, not mentioning the enemy again until he had completed dressing, yet again demonstrating his remarkable tranquility.

As for Almeida, realizing that all was lost, a few days later, on the night of May 10-11, Brennier managed to slip most of his men out of the town, right through the British lines, after having rigged the defenses with explosives, which went off in spectacular fashion, demolishing the fortress.

The incident led Wellington to come close to expressing anger, when he wrote of the officers commanding the blockade, "They had about 13,000 to watch 1,400. There they were all sleeping in their spurs even; but the French got off. I begin to be of the opinion that there is nothing on earth so stupid as a gallant officer."

 

Pak Tu San and Victory at Sea in Korea

When the “Korean People’s Republic” unleashed its war machine on the “Republic of Korea” early on the morning of June 25, 1950, the South Koreans had but slender resources. As greatly outnumbered and outclassed ROK troops battled desperately to hold off the onslaught, the minuscule South Korean Navy managed to win what was certainly the most important naval action of the war.

South Korea only had a couple of picket boats, an LST, 17 Japanese- and American-built minesweepers (there were lots of mines left over from World War II), and one submarine chaser, the Pak Tu San *, the largest combatant in the fleet.

Pak Tu San was a 284 ton, 173-foot submarine chaser. With a crew of 65, she could make 20-21 knots, and was armed with a 3”/50 cannon, plus one 40mm and five 20mm guns, and depth charges.

Pak Tu San was the former U.S. Navy PC-823, which had been built at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in 1944. During World War II she had served in the western Atlantic, primarily as an air-sea rescue vessel. Decommissioned in February of 1946, she was shortly transferred to the Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point for use as a training vessel, being renamed Ensign Whitehead. But in 1948 she was stricken from the Navy List and offered for sale.

The following year, in a remarkable display of patriotism and high morale, the officers and men of the new Korean Navy contributed their own funds toward the purchase of the laid up vessel. Given a new name, Pak Tu San (PC-701), the ship was refitted at Pearl Harbor in March of 1949, emerging with modernized equipment. After the refit, she proceeded to Korea, arriving in the Spring, and was based at Pusan. 

When the North Koreans began pouring south on the desperate morning of June 25, 1950, Pak Tu San and the other vessels of the ROK Navy were ordered to do what they could. Acting as flagship for a small flotilla of the more serviceable Korean craft, mostly lightly-armed minesweepers, Pak Tu San steamed up the east coast from Pusan looking for the enemy.

Now, as part of their “blitzkrieg,” the North Koreans had planned to land a shipload of troops at Pusan, to disrupt the ROK forces. Some 600 men were crammed into a 1,000 ton armed merchant vessel that was steaming south along the east coast of the Korean peninsula just as Pak Tu San and her consorts were steaming north. 

As darkness was falling, the little task force encountered the North Korean ship, only about 20 miles northeast of Pusan.

When the vessel refused to respond to a challenge, Pak Tu San’s skipper ordered a search light turned on, which revealed a small armed freighter with troops covering her decks. The freighter opened fire with heavy machine guns, killing one man on Pak Tu San and wounding another. Pak Tu San opened fire in return, and quickly put several 3-inch rounds into the freighter, which went down with all hands.

It was one of the most important fights in the opening hours of the Korean War, for by sinking the freighter Pak Tu San had almost certainly insured the safety of Pusan, which would become the principal base for ROK, American, and United Nations forces in the war.

Pak Tu San continued in service throughout the Korean War, conducting operations along both coasts, and remained an active element of the ROK Navy until 1960. Although she was scrapped soon afterwards, in 1988 a memorial to her memory was erected at Pusan, which notes that her little action on the night of June 25, 1950, was one of the most important in Korean naval history.

* Pak Tu San can also be rendered as Baek Du San, Pak Du San, and Bak Dusan


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