Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Speirs

an “officer with a reputation”

In a military career spanning 22 years, Speirs has been lauded as a hero, embroiled in controversy and celebrated in both print and TV. This website looks at the real man behind the reputation.

Lieutenant Colonel RONALD C. SPEIRS

The Korean War

Korean Peninsula

Deployment date: 15th September, 1950.

At the end of the Second World War, the Allies decided to divide Korea into two, in terms of political leadership. The boundary between the two countries was marked by the 38th parallel, with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) supported by the UN and occupied by US military forces and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) supported by the People’s Republic of China and occupied by the Soviets.

On the 25th June, 1950, soldiers of the Northern Korean Peoples’ Army, supported by China and equipped by the Soviets, crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea. As a result of this action, the United Nations intervened on behalf of South Korea and invited member states to send forces to restore the situation. Consequently, the United States entered the war in July 1950 - joined later joined by with other key American allies such as Britain, Canada and Australia.

Since victory in World War II, Ronald Speirs had been working back in the USA, completing various postings across the States, many in training roles and by the time he was deployed to Korea, he had become a Major and was assigned as a Company Commander of 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.

First activated on 25th February, 1943 at Camp Mackall, North Carolina as the 187th Infantry Regiment and organized as a glider infantry unit during World War II.  At the outbreak of the Korean War, the 187th was now a parachute unit forming part of the airborne regimental combat team.1

Major Ron Speirs

© 2013 Lt Col Ronald Speirs 

Speirs’ first combat jump in Korea took place on 20th October, 1950 as part of an airborne assault on the North Korean towns of Sukchon and Sunchon which laid 48km north of Pyongyang. The mission objective was to cut off an estimated 30,000 retreating North Korean soldiers and rescue US Prisoners of War believed to be with those forces.2

Departing from Kimpo Airfield near Seoul, this was the first operation in the history of the airborne that paratroopers would be dropped from C-119 flying box cars, and the first time heavy equipment would be dropped into enemy territory.3 During this operation 4,000 men, 600 tons of equipment and supplies were dropped. These included twelve 105 mm howitzers, 39 jeeps, 38 1/4-ton trailers, four 90 mm antiaircraft guns, four 3/4-ton trucks, as well as ammunition, fuel, water, rations, and other supplies.4

Once airborne, the planes fell into formation over the Han River and began their journey towards the drop zones, supported by US fighter aircraft which rocketed and strafed the ground in preparation for the landings.5 Speirs and the rest of the 3rd Battalion were parachuted into Drop Zone William – which laid southeast of Sukchon. Once on the ground the paratroopers moved south and took up defensive positions on the low hills south of Sukchon where they established roadblocks across the highway and railway.6

Though the airborne drop itself was a success and the town of Sukchon seized, roads and railroads blocked, no prisoners were rescued.7 Many prisoners – carried in a train concealed in a tunnel as the 187th RCT jumped into the area, were shot by the North Korean soldiers guarding them.8 The American paratroopers were subsequently ordered to return to Pyongyang.9

By January of 1951, Speirs’ military records show him working as the liaison officer at Headquarters 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, but by the 23rd March of the same year, his military records show him as 3rd Battalion’s S-3 Operations Officer.

 

Map of Operation Courageous

Map of Operation Courageous

Operation Tomahawk

On 23rd March 1951, Major Ronald Speirs participated in Operation Tomahawk – the airborne phase of Operation Courageous. This mission was the second largest airborne operation of the Korean War and its objective was to trap Chinese and North Korean Troops at Munsan-ni between the Han and Imjin Rivers and hold the area until ground forces moved up to consolidate the position.

Once more, Speirs and the paratroopers of the 187th Airborne Regiment Combat Team  jumped from C-119 Flying Boxcars in sticks of 42 men from an altitude of 800 feet and dropped 30km northwest of Seoul – well behind enemy lines.10 Preceding the parachutists, fighters and bombers attacked the target area to soften enemy resistance.  Again, heavy equipment including artillery, armored vehicles and supplies were dropped to support the infantry battalions. Once on the ground, the paratroopers assembled and organised into their respective units.

 


187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team Operation Tomahawk

 

Munsan, Korea, March 1951

Paratroopers from the 187th Regimental Combat Team float down from C-119 aircraft in an attempt to cut off the escape path of retreating enemy units south of Munsan, Korea, March 1951.

An insight into the situation they faced at the drop zone, was given during an interview with Major Speirs, on 12th April, 1951, in which he says: “The Northern DZ was initially saturated with personnel due to the 1st Battalion’s accidental drop. This hampered the assembly of the 3rd Battalion, as there were too many men at the assembly point, which was the northwest sector of the DZ. The initial mission of the 3rd Battalion was to secure the DZ, and this was accomplished. Forty to fifty enemy were killed and wounded by the battalion.”11

Though faced with some unanticipated Chinese resistance, the link up between the paratroopers and ground forces occurred generally as planned,12 and though most of the Chinese troops fell back to their former positions – the American forces gain territory from the enemy.

Following these two airborne operations, Ronald Speirs was awarded his 3rd and 4th combat jump stars, and his second Combat Infantryman Badge – bestowed on individuals for each war in which they participate.13 He also added a second Presidential Unit Citation and two Korean Presidential Citations which were awarded to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.14 These would add to his accolades for work on D Day and in Operation Market Garden, during World War II.

 

Major Ron Speirs

© 2013 Lt Col Ronald Speirs

Salineville Soldier shares in gifts

Salineville Soldier shares in gifts

Major Ron Speirs

© 2013 Lt Col Ronald Speirs

 

  1. https://armyhistory.org/09/187th-infantry-regiment/
  2. https://armyhistory.org/09/187th-infantry-regiment/
  3. https://armyhistory.org/09/187th-infantry-regiment/
  4. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu: United States Army in the Korean War by Roy E Appleman
  5. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu: United States Army in the Korean War by Roy E Appleman
  6. South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu: United States Army in the Korean War by Roy E Appleman
  7. This Savage War: MacArthur’s Korea by F. Dorie, Maj AF Dorie
  8. The Rakkasans: The Combat History of the 187th Airborne Infantry by  E.M. Flanagan
  9. The Last Call of the Bugle: The Long Road to Kapyong  by Jack Gallaway
  10. Combat Operations of the Korean War: Ground, Air Sea, Special and Covert by Paul M Edwards
  11. Striking Back: Combat in Korea by William T Bowers
  12. Combat Operations of the Korean War: Ground, Air Sea, Special and Covert by Paul M Edwards
  13. http://www.army.mil/symbols/CombatBadges/infantry.html
  14. http://www.rakkasan.net/history.html