X Corps landed behind the North Korean lines at Inchon on September 15, 1950. Within two weeks, the North Korean army (NK) was largely made ineffective. The way to the Yalu, and total destruction of North Korea's military power, seemed virtually unopposed. But all was not as it seemed ...
China was preparing to strike.
The US had supported Chang Kai-sheck's Nationalists in the Chinese civil war, and did not have diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communist government. Neither did China have a seat at the UN. China sent warning that if UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, she would come into the war. But, the warning was necessarily indirect, coming through the Indian ambassador. Without a doubt this led to some confusion in the minds of our political and military leaders as to China's true intentions.
Certainly the euphoria of apparent total victory contributed to our overconfidence ... particularly victory over the barbaric North Koreans who had slaughtered tens of thousands of South Korean civilians and ROKs, and hundreds of UN forces who had been taken prisoner. Their hands had been tied behind their backs, and then they had been shot, or simply bludgeoned, to death.
Murder of prisoners was commonplace with the NK and never seemed to stop, even as final NK defeat seemed certain. For example, on October 23 just north of Pyongyang, they murdered about 100 more American prisoners, most of whom had been captured around the Pusan perimeter and force-marched up the peninsula. This time, the men were simply separated into groups of about 30, and then machine gunned. They were found with their rice bowls in their laps ...
Scores of other Americans were being ambushed, captured and murdered by NK guerrillas in places like Ich'on. Revenge against bestial murderers like these would be sweet.
But China was just emerging as a communist power, and wanted to test her strength on the world scale. She had also resolved to keep North Korea as a buffer between the West and the open expanse of the Manchurian plains. As UN forces became separated in pursuit of the retreating PLA, with Eighth army attacking in the north and west, and X Corps in the east, the Chinese marshalled their fighting forces, and moved weapons and supplies into the central mountains, behind the advancing UN troops. They moved tens of thousands of infantry into position, as well.
In spite of UN air surveillance of the Yalu, China made these moves unobserved.
The accomplishments of the CCF (Chinese Communist Forces) against an army which was far better armed, and which enjoyed total air supremacy, are truly remarkable. Although the NK had been well armed by Russia, and carefully prepared for their invasion of the South, the CCF were so ill-equipped to challenge a modern army that it is almost understandable why our Far East Command initially thought they were an ineffective rabble of "volunteers". Armed with a bewildering mixture of British, US, Japanese and other weapons, presenting an incomprehensible logistics problem, without heavy artillery or tanks, and no air power, it was difficult for high command to take them seriously. Plus, they gave no obvious sign of their entry, let alone their large numbers, until they first attacked.
Trained and battle hardened in guerilla warfare, the CCF carried none of the baggage of a modern army. Masters of concealment, they moved and fought best by night. Wearing thick, padded, green or white uniforms, caps with a red star, carrying a personal weapon, grenades, 80 rounds of ammunition, a few stick grenades, spare foot rags, sewing kit and a week's rations of fish, rice and tea, their working day began about 7 pm. They marched until about 3am, then prepared camouflaged positions for the day. Only scout units moved during daylight, to determine routes for the next night's march, and they were ordered, under penalty of death, to freeze motionless if they heard aircraft. Their only heavy weapons were mortars, but they came in increasingly vast numbers.
The CCF didn't begin seriously fighting until October 25, when it crushed the ROK 6th Division in an attack that increased and lasted for 10 days, further smashing back our 1st Cavalry Division with the ROK units. In the east, the 7th Marines had our only successes, in relief of battered ROK units at the Sudong Gorge, 30 miles below Chosin. The 7th killed around 1500 Chinese, destroying the fighting capability of the CCF 124th division in a brutal 3-day battle.
1stMarDiv commander General Smith had been determined that the Marines would be successful in their first battle with the CCF, which they were. But the 124th was only one division in the CCF 42nd Army. General Smith wondered where the other two divisions were.
This probing first CCF strike effectively ended the Eighth Army offensive, for the moment.
At this point, understanding High Command's actions becomes much more difficult. It might still be possible to deny that there was sufficient evidence to indicate China's entry into the war in force, but not to deny that they were entering it at all. Granted that combat reports were sometimes conflicting, and that the CCF tried to confuse their strength by giving false unit names to their divisions. Nevertheless, they had come in sufficient strength to hammer Eighth Army while they chose to fight them, and clearly could come in hundreds of thousands, if they wanted to. A basic military mandate is to prepare for what the enemy is capable of doing, not what you think he might do. That's the difference between sound tactics, and a gamble.
Growing daily more optimistic because of Chinese inactivity, Far East Command ordered Eighth Army and X Corps to stage for an assault to "End the war by Christmas."
But, the Chinese had only withdrawn to replenish their supplies, continue their build-up, and assess the lessons they had learned. Their successes in the west had been accomplished with only units of 3 Field Armies, and had given them great confidence based on detailed information of Eighth Army strengths and weaknesses. When Eighth Army began its "Home For Christmas" assault, The CCF was ready.
By November 24, from left to right on line, Eighth Army consisted of: I Corps, with the 24th Division, the British 27th Brigade, and the ROK 1st Division; IX Corps, with the 2nd and 25th Divisions and the Turkish Brigade; and ROK II Corps, with their 6th, 7th and 8th Divisions. 1st Cav was in reserve. In all, about 135,000 troops.
In the east, X Corps had about 100,000 men: the 1st Marine Division (22,000), and the Army's 7th Division, with the under-strength 3d Infantry Division in reserve at Wonsan; and the ROK I Corps, consisting of the 3rd and Capital Divisions, operating along the east coast.
Total UN strength was about 250,000 men, plus a huge advantage in tanks, artillery, aircraft and ships.
Facing Eighth Army was the CCF 13th Army Group, of about 180,000 men. In addition, effective NK strength had again grown to about 100,000. In the east, the CCF faced X Corps with Song Shilun's 9th Army Group, consisting of 4 armies, of 12 divisions and about 120,000 men. One of the lessons the Chinese had learned was from the only defeat their first probes had undergone, the destruction of the 124th division by the 7th Marines. The main objective of the entire 9th Army Group was the destruction of the 1st Marine Division.
On Friday, November 25, following a tremendous artillery barrage, Walker's Eighth Army jumped off from the Chongchon River. To reach the Yalu, and end the war. The Marine assault from Yudam-ni was delayed until November 27.
Eighth Army's advance seemed to go well, for a day. Opposition was so light, and the desire to reach the Yalu and end the war so great, that General Walker's divisions were speeding along without protecting their flanks, or maintaining artillery support capability for advanced units. On the night of November 25-26, the CCF struck.
Following their evaluations of the initial fighting, they struck the ROK II Corps. By morning, they had torn an 80-mile penetration of our lines, exposing the entire Eighth Army right flank, in particular the 2nd Division. The Turkish Brigade was virtually thrown in the gap, and destroyed. By evening, November 27, the reserves of the 1st Cav and the British Brigade were thrown in as well ... not to press on to the Yalu, but to assist in the withdrawal of all Eighth Army forces.
In the east, the 1st Marine Division and the 31st Regimental Combat Team were locked in vicious battle against enormous odds.
For Eighth Army, the results had been catastrophic. On November 29, Walker ordered a general withdrawal, starting the longest retreat in U.S. Army history. Within 6 weeks, Eighth Army fell back 275 miles, abandoning huge amounts of material and suffering almost 10,000 casualties. Retreating across the Chongchon River, then below the 38th parallel, pausing momentarily at the frozen Imjin, then abandoning Seoul. The Chinese advance finally ran out of logistical steam 45 miles south of Seoul at Pyontaek, and UN forces formed a fairly stable defense base.
In retrospect, China made the same mistake MacArthur had made earlier. She could have re-established North Korea on the Internationally accepted boundary of the 38th Parallel, by force of arms against the US and the UN. This would have been a near-incredible military and political victory for the emerging Communist nation, and one which would have been accepted by the entire rest of the world. China could easily have forced North Korea's leader Kim Il Sung to accept a return to peace, at very least under an Armistice agreement which would have been a victory for him as well.
Instead, flushed with their easy victories, seeing a possibility of throwing the West entirely out of Korea by force and uniting it under their North Korean satellite, China moved its own armies south of the 38th. What would have been an acceptable defense against threats to its Manchurian borders became simple aggression.
A great military and political victory, already accomplished, became an invasion of an already savaged peaceful country.
Ultimately, it led to China losing the victory it had already won, and causing millions of additional casualties for all sides in a bloody extended war. A war eventually ended on a battle line mostly in North Korea, and much more defensible than the politically determined line along the 38th parallel. And an armistice much more militarily secure for South Korea than China could have so easily forced on us, simply by stopping military action when she reached the old borders.
UN troops who fought for the UN in these campaigns generally fought with great bravery and determination. Notably the British, and Australians. And the Turkish Brigade, badly deployed, virtually without effective communications to adjacent units, almost totally wiped out in the initial Chinese attacks.
In all honesty, this can not be said of the Eighth Army as a whole. Inexperienced garrison troops to begin with, unprepared by training or psychology for the savagery of infantry combat, they in general performed very, very poorly.
All too often, they lacked the ingrained skills and combat discipline of effective infantry combat units. Specifically, they frequently failed to study the terrain about them, and use it to their advantage. They were largely road-bound, without guaranteeing the security of their flanks. They failed to routinely control the high ground menacing them and their supply routes. As small units, they too often lacked the mind-set and basic combat techniques, and the resolution, essential to effective ground combat.
Although individually often quite brave, as groups they frequently retreated without even fighting. In many cases, they abandoned all their heavy weapons in defensible positions. Eighth Army virtually fled from the Chinese army, veterans of their fierce Civil war, whose strengths were not fire-power but rather mobility, deception, surprise, and determination.
CCF weaknesses, in many cases, became strengths because of their unfamiliarity to our forces. Their guerrilla war against the Nationalists had tightly disciplined the CCF, and accustomed them to movement and attack at night. This protected them from our air supremacy and made us fight on our least familiar terms. Instead of radio communications, below the regiment level the CCF used bugles, whistles and colored rockets. This wild accompaniment to massed night assault behind a rain of eerie green tracers helped greatly to psychologically undermine the resistance of our forces. Our 24th Infantry Regiment (25id) had coined the term "bug-out" as a tactical objective when facing potential combat, and bug-out describes much of our Eighth Army actions until CCF logistics became too extended for them to keep chasing us.
In reality, when once accepting the need for combat, Americans have always been very dangerous fighting men. When lead by competent officers up with their platoons and companies, when toughened and guided by experienced NCOs, when integrated and fighting as common teams, American troops are equal to anyone. With our greater firepower, and its greater range, we were fully capable of breaking up and then destroying the CCF assaults. We later proved this when we counter attacked and once again drove past the 38th parallel, inflicting terrible casualties on the enemy.
When we did re-organize and strike back, our surge through and over the CCF was only halted for political reasons (hopefully wisely, but a question even today). This resulted in the formation of the MLR and a series of vicious small-unit battles during the prolonged stalemate of armistice discussions. We did have the Right Stuff, but we needed to re-learn how to develop and use it.
But at the time, as the Chinese appraised us after their initial probing assault:
"The U.S.Army relies for its main power in combat on the shock effect of coordinated armor and artillery ... and their air-to-ground attack capability is exceptional. But their infantry is weak. Their men are afraid to die, and haven't courage to either press home a bold attack or defend to the death. They depend on their planes, tanks and artillery. At the same time, they are afraid of our firepower. They will cringe when, in an advance, they hear firing ... Their habit is to be active during the daylight hours. They are very weak in attacking or approaching an enemy at night ... They are afraid when their rear is cut off. When transportation comes to a standstill, their infantry loses the will to fight."
This seems to have been an accurate assessment of most of our Army, at that time and place. But it led to China making the terrible error of allowing the sweet scent of easy victory in the northwest to send her armies crashing over South Korea's legitimate borders, toward an apparently easy total victory.
But ... Americans who were properly trained and conditioned for combat were a different problem altogether. The fighting withdrawal of our 1st Marine Division from Chosin should have given the CCF much more to think about than it apparently did, in understanding the limitations of pitting massed troops against vastly superior fire-power, when that power was exercised by competent fighting men. Eighth Army's recovery and eventual crushing counter-attack back across the 38th might have been inferred from 1st Mar Div's actions because ... our Marines were superb.
Yudam-ni was a small town sitting in a long, narrow north-south valley bisected by the Main Supply Road (MSR). The valley of Yudam-ni gives off into 5 smaller valleys, each separated from the next by a high, hilly ridge complex. North-northeast lies the Reservoir, and to the south is Toktong pass, a bottleneck reached by a steep, narrow section of the one-lane MSR.
On November 27, there were nearly 4 Marine rifle battalions and the bulk of 3 artillery battalions positioned at Yudam-ni, about 7,000 men. While staging for their assault over the next 40 miles to reach Eighth Army, fate had brought most of the 5th and 7th Marine regiments together, instead of isolating them on different sides of the Reservoir. Moreover, strong elements of Divisional headquarters were in Hagaru-ri, 14 miles back. Through prudent and skeptical organization, all main fighting elements of the entire 1st Marine Division were in mutually supportive positions within 35 miles of each other along the lonely, single track MSR, instead of isolated beads on a string, as X Corps orders might well have made them.
Moreover OP Smith, 1st Marine Division Commanding General, had initiated the construction of an airfield at Hagaru-ri, and ammunition and supply dumps within supporting range of all Division units. General Smith was not cautious, he was careful. His foresight saved the Division, or rather made it possible for the Division to save itself. General Almond's over-confident aggression almost lost the division anyway, and did cost X Corps the 32nd Infantry.
Uninformed of the CCF attack which was smashing Eighth Army, the 5th and 7th Marines' orders were to secure the surrounding ridges of Yu Dam Ni, and attack NW toward Kanggye in the heart of north central Korea. Tactically, they were to move over the 40 miles of Taebaek mountains to secure Eighth Army's right flank, the ROK II Corps.
Also unknown to the two forward Marine Regiments, they were at that time almost surrounded by 3 CCF divisions, about 30,000 men, about the same number that earlier drove the whole Eighth Army back to the Chongchon River. Plus, 7 CCF divisions were moving behind them. The entire CCF 9th Army Group was moving to cut the MSR in sections, to divide and then crush our famed 1st Marine Division.
Carefully, methodically, knowing that whatever High Command said they had already met and defeated one CCF division and were certain there were more around, the Marines began their assault. By the next day, the entire 25 miles of MSR between Yudam-ni, Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri was enfiladed by the Chinese, and the Marines at those isolated towns were under vicious and unrelenting attack by almost overwhelming numbers of veteran CCF infantry.
On the Reservoir's east coast, a full Chinese division, expecting to find an isolated 5th Marine Regiment, found instead less than 3000 men of the 7th division's 31st RCT, and were crucifying them. With no reinforcement possible from the embattled Marine battalion at Hagaru-ri, Lt. Col Don Carlos Faith (Task Force Faith) and the 1053 officers and men of 1st Battalion 32 Infantry fought bravely against overwhelming odds, but died with the rest of 31RCT. Today, the remains of the unknown men who fell there still lie unmarked in that barren wasteland.
On November 30, X Corps ordered the Marines to withdraw. So began an incredible breakout and 13-day fighting retreat by about 20,000 troops, spread out loosely over a narrow, mountainous, one-lane supply road, covering about 78 miles to the Sea of Japan and Hungnam. For the first 35 miles, from Yudam-ni to the Army's 3rd Infantry Division positions at Chinhung-ni, the Marines were on their own, battling continuously with 10 CCF divisions.
The 1st Marine Division took full advantage of its artillery and air support ... but it also time and again fought the Chinese man-to-man, hand-to-hand, night and day, while cut off from the rear and with transportation at a dead stop. In the bitterly cold, sub-zero winds of Chosin, as in steaming jungles of an earlier war, the Marines never lost their will to fight, or their capability of fighting effectively.
Heavily outnumbered, the Marines successfully defended against every attack, and in turn successfully attacked the Chinese wherever they had cut off the MSR. The Marines not only fought their way out, they brought out their wounded, and most of their dead and equipment.
In the map below, key features of the tortuous, hill by hill struggle out of the entrapment are shown. It was a remarkable achievement, by any standards.
Chosin was a major defeat.We were driven from the field of battle. Of the 25,000 of our troops who faced the 120,000 Chinese at Chosin, 6,000 were killed, wounded or captured, and at least 6000 others suffered frostbite. During their 13 day walking battle back, 1st Mar Div suffered 718 dead, 192 missing and 3,508 wounded, plus their frostbitten casualties.
But the Chinese paid a terrible price for their victory. Marine records say they killed 25,000 Chinese and wounded 12,500 others. The Army estimated an additional 5,000 Chinese casualties. In addition, an estimated 30,000 Chinese were frostbitten. Thousands of Chinese studded the mountains of Chosin, squatting with rifles slung on their shoulders, packs slung on their backs, sheathed in snow, frozen to death. 72,500 casualties in total, 60% of their 120,000 man army, to defeat 25,000 of our troops.
These figures may show the true significance of the Chosin battle. Had the CCF, i.e. Mao, not attacked 1st Mar Div at all, but only placed a few divisions in blocking positions along the exit end of the one-lane road through the Taebaek mountains, they might have won all of Korea. Once Eighth Army broke and began their precipitous retreat the uncommitted 100,000 troops, instead of being killed or wasted in the frozen wilds of the Taebaeks, would have been free to continue the CCF assault when it later slowed down. The over-extended 1st Mar Div would have been withdrawn anyway, for obvious tactical reasons. With such a large, fresh supply of reserves, the CCF might well have again defeated Eighth Army when they finally made a stand, and continued on to take Pusan.
In 1951, 1st Mar Div went on to cripple another NK division around Pohang-Andong, spearhead Operation Killer, fight in Operation Ripper and also the Punchbowl, and were assigned in 1952 to the Jamestown Line defending the approaches to Seoul. (Incidentally protecting 606th AC&W Squadron at Kimpo, where I returned to Korea in '52 as Radar Field Engineer, supporting F-86 interceptions in MiG Alley). The 10 CCF divisions which directly engaged the 1st Marine Division in Chosin were completely used up. They never saw action again during the Korean War.
One stark confirmation of the terrible losses suffered by the 4 CCF armies was that they were unable to follow our retreating forces and threaten our retreat from Hamhung-Hungnam. Although we supported the withdrawal with massive air and sea power, with 3id positioned as rear guard, had the Chinese been strong enough to attack us effectively there, X Corps might still have been lost. As it was, the CCF was grateful to stay back, re-group, and observe.
When the division finally got to Hungnam, they found Our Navy waiting. The 1st Division will probably never forget Admiral Fletcher at Guadalcanal, but at Hungnam our Navy boarded them all, just part of our evacuation of 105,000 troops, and 91,000 civilians who would have been added to the list of murdered had they stayed behind.
Defeat or whatever, the fighting withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division was one of the proudest actions in the history of the entire Marine Corps. More, it shows what all Americans are capable of, when properly trained for combat, and properly led.
Personally, I have always thought that the two weeks the Marines spent circling off Wonsan in what they derisively call "Operation Yo-Yo", while we cleared the mines menacing their landing, saved the 1st Division, probably all of X Corps, and possibly all of Korea. Had 1st Mar Div been ashore earlier, General Almond would surely have sent them into the Taebaek mountains earlier, and into them further, to link up with Eighth Army's right flank. That would have been the ROK II Corps. When the Chinese smashed through the ROKs, exposing Eighth Army's right flank, the Marines would have been exposed, as well, and far more extended. More, the CCF foot infantry would have been far less extended into the murderous frozen wastes, in trying to encircle them.
The Marines barely made the 35 miles of their retreat from Yudam-ni to Chinhung-ni. Had they been stretched over another 35 miles of Taebaek mountains, it might well have been 35 miles too far. Had they even just had time to begin their attack from Yudam-ni on November 25 instead of the 27th, they might have penetrated inescapably into the Chinese ambush. The CCF might have been able to entrench their forces at the key MSR bottleneck of Toktong Pass (so valliantly won and defended by Fox company), and divide and attack the 7th and 5th Marines and their artillery separately and destroy them, and then the 1st Marines, piecemeal.
Had the 1st Marine Division been crushed without desperate loss to the CCF, Hungnam would have fallen, and the rest of X Corps would have been rolled up like a carpet. Had these 120,000 troops then been available in the south, the CCF might well have continued on to force Eighth Army all the way out of Korea.
Just my personal opinion.
The 3rd Infantry Division, supported by Naval gunfire including the nine 16" guns of the USS Missouri, were the last major UN forces evacuated from Hungnam, as shore installations were destroyed. My own ship Wantuck, APD 125, had led the way by landing troops from 3/5 at Inchon. Our squadron mate Begor, APD 127, helped X Corps safely withdraw at Hungnam. We were the first and the last.
Now, the job for all of us was to get back to the 38th, and stay there. On December 23, General Walker was killed in a vehicle accident. On January 15, new commander General Ridgeway sent our troops back through Osan and Suwan. On January 25, I and IX corps slaughtered Chinese in a 20-mile swath, and once again reached the Han River.
The tide had turned once again.
In May, 12 full-strength Chinese divisions, supported by 40,000 North Korean troops, attempted to destroy the US Second Infantry Division in an assault on the scale of Chosin. 2nd ID was well dug in, behind fields of mines and barbed wire, and held fast although the hard-hit ROKs fell back and exposed 2id's right flank. They were supported by the French and Dutch Battalions, their tank battalions, five battalions of massed artillery, B-26 bombers, their right flank was re-occupied by the the 3rd Division, and the 1st Marines protected their left flank, enabling full use of their 9th Infantry Regiment. The result is known as the May Massacre.
On May 19, in one eight minute period, more than 2,000 rounds of artillery were fired in front of one company alone, "K" Company, 38th Infantry. By June 5, during 20 days of continuous fighting, the Indianhead Division and its supporting UN battalions crushed the cream of the armies of Red China. Ten enemy divisions had been committed against the 2d Division with soldiers from an additional 2 communist divisions identified among the thousands of dead who littered the battle-field.
Evidently the Chinese high command had not learned the key lessons from Chosin: Marines or Army, when American fighting men are well trained and led, and personally committed, they are the equal of any in the world; and sending lightly armed foot soldiers against determined troops, entrenched, supported by the might of modern armor, artillery and air power, is little short of murder.
The UN established a defensible line, mostly north of the 38th parallel, and settled into a vicious but relatively stable Main Line of Resistance while truce talks slowly ground their way to agreement over the next two years.
The Turks' fought valiantly during the Korean War, and suffered many
casualties during the Chosin Reservoir battle. Here is an account of their
The Turkish Brigade
The Korean War, described by many, including then President Harry S. Truman, as a police action, marked the first time that the United States and the fledgling United Nations organization entered into a partnership to halt the advance of the Cold War into the Far East.
A total of 22 nations agreed to send either troops or medical units. Sixteen countries responded to the U.N. resolution by sending troops to halt the invasion of South Korea by the North Koreans. One of the first of the major participants to send a brigade was Turkey. The first Turkish contingent arrived on October 19, 1950, and in varying strengths remained until midsummer 1954.
Initially, Turkey sent the 1st Turkish Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Tahsin Yazici. The brigade consisted of three battalions commanded by Major Imadettin Kuranel, Major Mithat Ulunu, and Major Lutfu Bilgon. The Turkish Armed Forces Command (TAFC) was a regimental combat team with three infantry battalions, along with supporting artillery and engineers. It was the only brigade-sized UN unit attached permanently to a U.S. division throughout the Korean War.
More than 5,000 men of the 1st Turkish Brigade, including liaison and the advance party, arrived in Pusan, South Korea, on October 17 from the eastern Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, Turkey. The brigade unloaded from their ship and proceeded to the newly opened U.N. reception center located just outside of Taegu. The bulk of the enlisted men were from small towns and villages in the mountains of eastern Turkey. For these volunteer officers and volunteer enlisted men who were just completing their compulsory two year service, it was not only the first time that they had left their native country--it was the first time they had been out of the villages of their birth. It was, at least for the enlisted men, the first time that they had encountered non-Muslims. Vast cultural and religious differences existed between the Turks and the Americans.
Their commander, General Yazici, was an aging brigadier who had been a division commander fighting the British at Gallipoli in 1916. He was highly regarded in the Turkish military establishment and willingly stepped down a rank in order to command the first contingent of Turks in Korea. He had only one drawback--no real command of English--yet he was attached to an American division. Later, that lack of language proficiency would prove to be a major hindrance to his understanding of orders and troop deployments.
The U.S. Army command was unaware of the difficulties in coordination, logistics and, above all, basic communication in a common language that would complicate orders and troop movements, especially in the crucial early months of their joint exercises. Unfamiliar food, clothing requirements and transportation would come to create more problems than the American high command had counted on. The dietary requirements of the Turks forbade pork products, and the American rations definitely contained pork products forbidden to all Muslims. A Japanese food processor was hired to provide rations that met the Turkish requirements. Bread and coffee presented other problems. The Turks favored a heavy, substantial bread containing nonbleached flour along with thick, strong, heavily sweetened coffee. The U.S. Army found a way to satisfy these needs along with those of the other Allied forces.
Few American liaison officers were attached to the Turkish companies, thereby adding to the problems the Turks faced in their initial combat operations. Misinterpretation of orders resulted from the lack of communication between Allies. The problem, at first overlooked and judged to be only minor, only became exacerbated in the heat of battle.
The Turks' arrival in Korea garnered a considerable amount of publicity. The Turkish soldiers' fierce appearance, flowing mustaches and great knives were a war correspondent's dream come true. Although they had not fought in a major conflict since World War I, the Turkish soldiers had the reputation of being rough, hard fighters who preferred the offensive position and gave no quarter in battle. Most of the enlisted men were young and carried a sidearm sword that, to Americans and the other U.N. troops, appeared to be a long knife. No other U.N. troops were armed with that kind of knife, or indeed any other weapon out of the ordinary. The Turks had a dangerous proficiency in close combat with their long knives that made all other Allied forces want to stay clear of them.
Turkish Brigade's Baptism of Fire Part 2: Flawed Offensives
Most of the enlisted men were from the eastern steppe region of Turkey near the Russian border and had little more than three or four years of basic schooling. In the conscription process, they were given uniforms, plus some training by the Turkish military and their U.S. military advisers. Life in their native villages had been largely unchanged for hundreds of years. A central village well still provided water, and news of the outside world seldom penetrated village daily life.
It was to that patchwork U.N. army, composed mainly of Americans but having diverse units from 16 other countries, that the orders suddenly came to General Walton "Johnnie" Walker's Eighth Army headquarters to mount a massive offensive and push for an early end to the war. General Douglas MacArthur's promise to relieve two divisions and have "the boys home for Christmas" gave the impetus to an ill-conceived move to the Yalu River. There were some expressed misgivings, especially by the Eighth Army commander, General Walker. Those objections, however, were quickly pushed aside by the clique that surrounded MacArthur. Pressure to conclude the war in one massive offensive became too difficult to contain. The generals and commanders in the field who would actually commit their men to one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war were protesting voices that were either never acknowledged or ignored.
Intelligence reports given to MacArthur indicated the presence and capture of Chinese troops in late October and early November. Major General Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief, kept him abreast of all incoming reports of larger numbers of Chinese troop movements. Nonetheless, the die was cast for Walker's Eighth Army. Walker tried several times to delay the inevitable by protesting the lack of logistical support and supplies that were en route from Japan and the United States, but all he accomplished was to increase MacArthur's ire toward him and impatience at the delay.
Bitter winds from Manchuria churned over the steep, granitic mountains and treacherous valleys of North Korea. The coldest weather in at least 40 years gripped the land. Numbed and miserable soldiers tried to keep warm around makeshift fires made in empty 50-gallon drums. Medical units began treating their first cases of frostbite. More and more, Korea became the proverbial "Hell froze over." It was necessary to mix alcohol with the gasoline to prevent gas lines from freezing in the vehicles and equipment. Blood plasma had to be heated for 90 minutes before it could be used. Medicines that were water-soluble froze, and sweat that accumulated in the soldiers' boots froze during the night. The terrain of northern Korea, with its long v-shaped valleys, high craggy mountain ridges and the lack of any real discernible roads, along with the incredible numbing cold sweeping across the forward-moving army, contributed the elements of tragedy that shaped the battle to come.
The U.S. Army's 7th Division and other units were not prepared for arctic warfare. Few of the fighting units had arctic parkas. Yet they were ordered forward. On November 21, they were ordered to move across a riverbed containing what they had been told would be only ankle-deep water that would present no problem. The night before, however, upstream dams had been opened and the water released. The soldiers waded into frigid, waist-deep water with chunks of ice floating in it. After several unsuccessful attempts, the crossing was called off. Eighteen men suffered severe frostbite and had to have their frozen uniforms cut off.
During the dogged advance, Walker's army became more thinly stretched as the Korean Peninsula widened and forced the army to cover more territory as it moved steadily northward. His order of battle was comprised of the U.S. I Corps, consisting of the U.S. 24th Division, the British 27th Brigade, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Division; the U.S. IX Corps including the U.S. 2nd and 25th Divisions and the 1st Turkish Brigade; the ROK 6th, 7th, and 8th divisions; and the 1st Cavalry Division in Army reserve.
Walker was cautious about committing his troops. Intelligence tried to get some realistic estimates about the Chinese troop strength and their movements. Daily briefings in early November indicated a dramatic increase in Chinese and North Korean troop strength from 40,100 to 98,400 men. These estimates still were woefully inadequate.
Part 3: Under Pressure
Assembled in front of Walker's IX Corps in the west was the XIII Army Group of the Chinese Fourth Field Army, consisting of 18 infantry divisions totaling at least 180,000 men. Opposing the U.S. I Corps in the east was the IX Army Group of the Chinese Third Field Army with 12 infantry divisions of about 120,000 men. The total Chinese strength was about 300,000 men; 12 divisions of the North Korean Peoples Army added approximately 65,000 men to the enemy strength. The North Korean soldiers had recovered sufficiently from their earlier reverses at the hands of the Americans to be judged by their commanders to be battle worthy. Added to that array were about 40,000 guerrillas operating behind the U.N. lines. Enemy strength was more than slightly underestimated.
The Chinese army had managed to move a vast number of troops by the most primitive means. Using animals and their own backs to transport supplies, they were not restricted to the primitive roads. They moved overland without the benefit of trucks or other mechanized equipment and therefore had the advantage of greater mobility. The United Nations, on the other hand, stuck with basic roads and improving existing roads to move men and equipment. Engineering companies moved ahead, trying to make roads passable for tanks and trucks.
Another difference that was to count very highly against the United Nations and the United States was adherence to routine, World War II thinking and tactics. Chinese used soldiers were expected to carry on their backs all the food each soldier required for at least six days. The food was cooked rice and soybean curds in concentrated form as well as similar items that required no cooking or heating in order to be eaten. Recovered diaries of the Chinese soldiers recount their pangs of hunger from these severely restricted rations, but they achieved their objective in the same bitter cold and biting winds and over the same terrain that handicapped their U.N. opponents.
The Chinese generally marched at night and averaged at least 18 miles per day for approximately 18 days. In the daylight hours, they concealed themselves in the rough, mountainous terrain. The only daylight movement allowed was by scouting parties. Restrictions were so onerous that officers were authorized to shoot to kill any soldier who violated the order for concealment. Many of the Chinese movement tactics were similar to those used by Napoleon Bonaparte a century and a half earlier.
On November 19, the U.S. 25th Division left Kaesong at 6 a.m. and bedded down at the mining town of Kunu-ri around 2 o'clock that night. The next day, the Turkish Brigade, which was largely an infantry unit without trucks for troop transport, was detached and reassigned to the IX Corps reserve at Kunu-ri. Walker's Eighth Army command was split down the middle by the Chongchon River.
As part of the IX Corps' general northward advance, the Turks were ordered on November 21 to move north with the 25th Division. By November 22, 1950, the Turks had completed their assignment of neutralizing North Korean patrols in their assigned area. The steady movement to Kunu-ri had begun in earnest. Kunu-ri, much like all the other small villages in the northern sector, was mainly mud-and-stick houses. It was a totally unremarkable place, little different from any of the other villages perched on the mountainsides and in the deep valleys cut by swift-moving mountain rivers and streams.
Advancing along with their American counterparts, the Turks were ordered to establish contact with the U.S. 2nd Division on the right flank of the IX Corps and also to cover the right flank and rear of their division. The brigade had received information concerning a Chinese regiment known to be northwest of Tokchon. General Yazici described the situation that confronted him in these words:
"This was what the order was. Further intelligence was asked about the enemy and the ROK Corps, but none was available or more information was not supplied lest it lower the morale of the Turkish Brigade....The situation was serious, and demanded prompt action."
On November 26, the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) launched strong counterattacks against the U.S. I Corps and IX Corps. The main Chinese force moved down the central mountain ranges against the ROK II Corps at Tokchon. The South Koreans could not withstand the attack and their defenses collapsed.
Part 4: Mixed Fortunes
The Chinese onslaught assumed alarming proportions, and the Turks were ordered to protect the U.N. right flank. Trucks were assigned to transport the Turks' 1st Battalion to Wawon, 15 miles east of Kunu-ri, about halfway to Takchon, unload and return for the 2nd Battalion. After insufficient trucks arrived, some of the brigade set out on foot. Orders, counterorders and garbled transmissions made the situation an unintelligible mess. The Turks were ordered to close the road and secure Unsong-ni. Trying later to explain the confusion of that time, General Yazici wrote:
"There was no time to move the brigade to Unsong-ni and deploy it there before dark. Besides, the enemy, which was supposed to be at Chongsong-ni, was in fact too close to the line which the Corps wanted us to hold. That the Brigade might be subjected to a surprise attack before reaching its position was highly probable. Even more important was the fact that the civilian population had not been moved out of the area. If the peasants and the guerrillas that might have been infiltrated among them attempted to block the mountain crossing or the Wawon Pass in the rear, the Brigade might suffer heavily. As a matter of fact, the 2nd Division, of which we were supposed to defend the right flank, was withdrawing. It was impossible to fulfill the task from Karil L'yong, where the Brigade was, because the terrain was very rugged and thickly wooded. In order to protect the Kunu-ri*Tokchon road and the other roads to the north and the south, a 12-mile-wide front had to be held. This was impossible against a numerically superior enemy who knew the region well. Further, the terrain restricted the effective use of artillery and heavy infantry weapons."
As Yazici clearly outlined, the Turks were in an unenviable situation. They had to withdraw to the southeast. That withdrawal compounded the exposure of the Turks' own east flank as well as the 2nd Division's east flank. Yazici ordered his men to move in the direction of Wawon northeast of Kunu-ri. The brigade had lost contact with corps. Therefore, Yazici assumed responsibility and ordered his men to position themselves at Wawon. When they reached Wawon, they attacked toward Tokchon, on foot and without tank support. The terrain was upstream along the Tongjukkyo River into the mountain divide that separated the Chongchon River from the Taedong drainage. Here, the headwaters of the Tongjukkyo River fan out into numerous small streams.
When he received intelligence that air observers had seen hundreds of Chinese moving toward Tokchon, Maj. Gen. Laurence Kaiser, commanding the U.S. 2nd Division, remarked, "That's where they are going to hit." The Chinese counteroffensive actually struck all along the front. Two platoons of the Turkish Brigade assigned reconnaissance duty were now given rear-guard duty. The Chinese followed the brigade closely. The reconnaissance unit engaged the oncoming Chinese at the Karil L'yong Pass, was unable to break contact. Only a few men survived.
The Turks had achieved one objective--they had tied down the enemy. The Chinese suffered heavy casualties trying repeatedly to take the Turkish position, and all their attacks were repelled. Finally, Yazici, understanding that the brigade was being encircled by the numerically superior Chinese, ordered withdrawal.
The Turks were isolated in the subzero temperatures, their orders not fully understood. And during the night, the Chinese kept up a steady barrage of sudden noises using drums, bugles, whistles, flutes, shepherds' pipes and cymbals, along with the shouting, laughing and chattering of human voices.
The offensive had changed and now became a rout of the U.N. forces. The engulfing enemy constantly changed tactics and directions.. Communications resumed with the Turkish Brigade. Some orders were understood, but most were not. The brigade was ordered to merge with the U.S. 38th Regiment, cover the 38th's flank and secure a retreat route westward. In the confusion of the retreat and the garbled, misdirected and delayed messages, that crucial directive was two hours late in delivery. The column got turned about in the mass confusion and congestion of the road.
Once again, as the Turks approached Wawon, they encountered heavy enemy fire. The CCF had arrived before the Turks were able to reassemble and assume defensive positions. The Chinese ripped into the ragged column and the soldiers were ordered to turn about once again. The Turkish 9th Company took the brunt of the attack as it covered for the retreating main body. The 10th Company of the brigade's 3rd Battalion received orders to form the brigade's general outpost line.
Major Lutfu Bilgin, commander of the 3rd Battalion, sent his 9th Company to defend the 10th and 11th companies' flank. The Chinese eased off on the 10th but continued to besiege the 9th and the 11th. Midmorning on November 28, the Chinese broke through and attacked the 9th's position in force. The company was overrun, and Major Bilgin and many of his men were killed.
Enemy reinforcements tried to encircle the entire brigade. General Yazici, however, assessed the situation and took steps to protect his flank and avoid encirclement. The CCF poured forward, and the Turks were caught in the trap that the Chinese were laying. Suddenly, the Chinese broke off after encountering strong resistance of the 3rd Battalion.
During the withdrawal, the Chinese had attacked the Turks with overwhelming force and the brigade took such high casualties that by November 30 it was destroyed as a battleworthy unit. The only support the Turks received from IX Corps was a tank platoon and truck transportation. That was added to the brigade's artillery and enabled some of the brigade to survive.
Part 5: Aftermath
The flow of messages and changed orders to the Turks on the road to Tokchon on November 27 reflected the lack of precise information and the high level of uncertainty that IX Corps and the Eighth Army experienced as they struggled to interpret the rapidly enfolding events. One certainty was that, during the day, the Chinese attacked the leading 1st Battalion at Wawon and this ambush inflicted the devastating blow to the Turks. The battalion was surrounded, and a hand-to-hand battle between Chinese bayonets and Turkish long knives took place. It was reported that the two companies of Turks were still fighting east of Wawaon and had about 400 men wounded. General Yazici was at his headquarters in Taechon, a larger village southeast of Kunu-ri. The Turks held out at Wawon until the afternoon and then withdrew to another position southwest of Wawon. Again, the Chinese outflanked those Turks, who then withdrew toward Kunu-ri. The Turkish battalion lost most of its vehicles. The survivors scrambled into the hills when all other means of escape was denied them. By that time, the Chinese held all the roads. The Turks continued to fight delaying actions to gain time for the rest of their troops to re-form and establish some semblance of an orderly defense, but they were not successful in any of those efforts.
At the 2nd Division Headquarters, information about the Turks and their actual movements was more and more difficult to obtain. The tanks sent toward the Turks' position were repeatedly turned back. Confusion led to startling events, such as American soldiers simply abandoning their positions and equipment, including their weapons. The Chinese appeared to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Confirmation of Chinese movements was sparse and often erroneous. The Chinese, reported to be just ahead, turned out to be advancing on the soldiers from behind. The Turks decided to evacuate the command post. A new and yet ancient style of warfare had begun.
The Chinese and North Koreans used a multiple of tactics in a mountainous terrain that left little, if any, mobility. The weather had become an enemy as cruel as the terrain. The Turks and Americans, unable to communicate and coordinate, fought valiantly, but without much direction and without knowing what their fellow soldiers and units were doing.
The U.N. response to the Chinese offensive in November 1950 has been described as a "bugout," a massive retreat that should not have happened. Very little has been written about the conditions that contributed to the failure of MacArthur's November offensive, an offensive that began with high expectations of bringing the soldiers home for Christmas. Afterward, the words "home for Christmas" rang hollow in the ears of both the military and the politicians. The terrain, the weather, the lack of adequate language skills by the Americans and the Turks, and the lack of options for that massive an operation preordained the bloody, tragic outcome.
In the course of the U.N. offensive and the Chinese counteroffensive, the 1st Turkish Brigade suffered 3,514 casualties, of which 741 were killed in action, 2,068 wounded, 163 missing and 244 taken prisoner, as well as 298 noncombatant casualties.
The Turks, armed and trained by American military advisers, did better than even they had hoped or expected in this, their first real combat since World War I. The American units to which they were attached respected their skills and tenacity in combat. Some comments by American officers give insight into the Turks and their abilities. "They really prefer to be on the offensive and handle it quite well," went one appraisal. "They are not as good at defensive positions, and certainly never retreat." Another report told of their patrol skills: "Certain Turkish patrols always reported high body counts when they returned from patrols. Headquarters always scoffed at the high numbers, much higher in fact than any other unit, until the Turks decided to bring the enemy bodies back and dump them at headquarters for the body count."
The Turks acquitted themselves in a brave and noble fashion in some of the worst conditions experienced in the Korean War. Very little else could have been required or expected of them. Their heavy casualties speak of their honor and commitment. Their bravery requires no embellishment. It stands on its own.
History of the 2nd Infantry Division during the
"Heartbreak Ridge" is a narrow, rocky, mountain mass running north and 3 south with HILLS 931, 894, and 851 dominating the MUNDUNG-NI and SATAE-RI Valleys. The south and east slopes were extremely steep. From these slopes the "Punchbowl" and HILL 1179 could be seen in the distance. Both prominent objectives had already fallen into our hands. Initially heavy vegetation covered the slopes of Heartbreak Ridge but air strikes and artillery destroyed all individual concealment. In each valley bordering the ridge were two important roads and stream beds. The roads were secondary class routes, but a road capable of moving military equipment was built in a short time. Also, a twisting, boulder-strewn stream bed in each valley furnished an approach for tanks. Narrow gorges and deep defiles presented difficult engineering problems which were overcome during the engagement. Enemy bunkers guarded the key ridges of approach. Due to a moderate slope to the west and north, the enemy supplies were moved up in positions with a minimum amount of labor.
The battle for "Heartbreak Ridge" started on 13 September with the 9th Infantry launching an attack on Hill 728, west of the main objective, and giving fire support to the First and Second Battalions of the 23rd who jumped off onto Hill 931, central peak of three heights on the ridge line. The 38th Infantry, meanwhile, had gone into reserve with its relief by the 23rd.
The first day's fighting for Hill 931 brought little success as the well-entrenched enemy called upon artillery and mortars to held repel the attackers. His stiff resistance was bolstered on the 14th as both the 9th and 23rd continued their assaults in the vicinity of Hill 894. "B" Company of the 72d Tank Battalion was able to support the 9th from positions on the MSR to the west and their high-velocity tank fire proved effective in knocking out the enemy bunkers exposed to the direct fire of the tank guns.
The Second Battalion of the 9th moved out against 728 and by noon was on the southeast slope of Hill 894. However, an order came down directing it to change its original objective and swing northward to assault Hill 894 from the south while the 23rd Infantry continued attempts to overcome it from the north. The pincers attack was pressed all afternoon and by 1700 hours the Second Battalion of the 9th was within 650 meters of the crest but there it was stopped. The 23rd, meanwhile, had succeeded in gaining the crest of the ridge which joined Hills 931 and 851 and at 1900 hours it set up defenses for the night.
The enemy reacted quickly to the 23rd's gains which succeeded in blocking the ridge line connecting his garrisons on 851 and 931. Strong probing attacks were flung out as the North Koreans attempted to reestablish their net-work of entrenchments but the 23rd succeeded in repulsing them all.
The 9th Infantry jumped off again to gain Hill 894 at 0700 hours on the 15th. Fighting fiercely against determined resistance, the Manchu regiment gained the crest by 1445 and immediately sent strong forces down the ridge line south and west from the peak and northeast toward Hill 931. The forces rushing south secured the entire ridge line, stopping on an unnumbered hill overlooking the village of Tutayon near the western MSR. A platoon from "L" Company of the 9th was unable to overcome strong resistance on Hill 485, western anchor of the ridge line running southwest of 894.
The troops from the Second Battalion, 9th Infantry who moved north from Hill 894 dug in on positions 400 meters north of their newly captured objective.
And while the 9th was successful in securing the southern and southwestern portion of the important ridge line, the 23rd sent its Second and Third Battalions in a coordinated attack to take Hills 931 and 851 while the French Battalion launched an attack on Hill 841, a peak east across the MSR from the regiment's foothold on "Heartbreak Ridge". All these efforts met with no success in spite of close air and artillery support. The enemy utilized every weapon in his arsenal, fighting with furious determination in his effort to keep control of the vital ridge.
All limits on artillery ammunition expenditure were lifted by Eighth Army on 15 September as it offered every support to the 2d Division in its attempts to take "Heartbreak Ridge."
The 23rd Infantry renewed its slamming attacks against 931 and 851 on 16 September but made little gain during the day. Nightfall saw the tired, chopped ranks of the 23rd again going into perimeter defenses to protect themselves from the inevitable enemy probes. The air was thick with the blue smoke of artillery, the peaks churned into pulverized dust. The ridge had the appearance of a forest following a devastating fire as only twisted gaunt remains of trees and shrubs gave evidence of the once heavy underbrush which had carpeted the sheer slopes before the battle.
The enemy threw light probing attacks against the elements of the First Battalion, 23rd Infantry shortly after midnight. The North Korean garrison on 931 was strong although the positions of the First Battalion, 23rd, astride the ridge running south from 931 made resupply and reinforcement impossible. The men of the 23rd readied for a new assault which the probes had signaled. The anticipated thrust came at 0300 hours. Two enemy companies struck at "C" Company from the north. Hardly had the attack begun than an entire North Korean battalion was screaming down from 931 and "C" Company's positions were penetrated. At 0730 hours, "A" Company was pushed through the dogged "C" Company and together the two units hit the wall of attackers, forcing them back and regaining the lost positions. The enemy hurled another battalion-sized attack against the First Battalion at 1300 hours. Immediately a devastating rain of 2d Division artillery was called in and the big guns thundered in the rear, their shells plowing gaping holes into the ridge-line. "A" Company counter-attacked again, pushing north onto the ridge-line At the same time, the Second and Third Battalions struck again toward Hill 851, clawing their way through a curtain of flying mortar to gain positions 1,000 meters from the crest. By this time, night had fallen and all three battalions dug-in to hold their gains.
The first faint streaks of dawn were hardly visible 18 September when the 23rd renewed its efforts on the ridge line. Two enemy regiments were now defending "Heartbreak" to the death. No amount of artillery fire could drive them from their bunkers on the rear slopes where they took refuge until the artillery lifted and the infantry assault began. It was a question of digging them out, one at a time. The 23rd attack was met with immediate resistance, fierce and determined. All day it raged with every foot forward paid for in human life. By nighttime, the First Battalion was within 500 meters of 931 when the enemy counterattacked again. Determined to hold, the 23rd called again on the superb artillery support and watched as the explosions shook the hill and turned the North Koreans back. The Second and Third Battalions, after dueling with the enemy all day, decided on a night attack against 851. Under cover of darkness they moved forward as the artillery rolled ahead of them. Assaulting the enemy in his foxholes, terrifying him with flame-throwers, the attackers crawled upward, not to be denied. Success was theirs at last. Shortly after midnight, the lead elements crawled to the top, exhausted but in weary high spirits for Hill 851 was theirs.
But the feeling of accomplishment was short lived. At 0100, an enemy company struck at "L" Company on the crest. By 0200, the enemy force had grown to battalion size and though the valiant troops clung to their hard-won positions for hours in face of violent attack, daylight found them being forced off their peak, pulling back under fire cover from the remainder of the Third Battalion. At 1230 hours, the Second Battalion, passing through the Third, counter attacked and attempted to retake Hill 851. Individual, hand-to-hand fights raged all over the crest as hand grenades exploded, throwing their dirt and steel like rain along the peak. And as the troops of the 23rd and the North Koreans grappled, a strong, reinforcing enemy descended and counterattacked in the early morning hours. "L" Company's ammunition became exhausted and the enemy surged forward, overrunning four machine guns. Still the company stood until the entire foot-hold was overrun. The company commander Lieutenant Pete Monfore stayed with the last of the defenders until he fell, mortally wounded among his men.
Meanwhile, in clearing weather that aided both air and artillery observation, both the First and Third Battalions of the 9th Infantry and the First Battalion of the 23rd slammed anew at their objectives. Thirty seven fighter bombers roared out of the sky and covered the Third Battalion of the 9th as it struck at the 485-728 hill mass north of Imokchong on the west MSR while the First Battalion of the 23rd again pushed up the unbelievably steep slopes of 931. Neither battalion was successful. Mine fields, covered by fire from both 485 and 728 stopped the Manchu Battalion. The First Battalion of the 23rd, clawing upward in an inspired attack, fought to within 300 meters of the crest of Hill 931 but again was stopped. Again they were forced to pull back, digging-in to await the dawn.
Westward, a patrol from the Third Battalion, 9th Infantry moved onto Hill 1024 to engage and determine enemy defenses, returning before nightfall.
The Indianhead Division was in contact with four North Korean Divisions on 20 September when Major General Robert N. Young arrived to replace Brigadier General Thomas E. DeShazo due for rotation to the states - as commanding general. The former assistant division commander of the 82d Airborne Infantry Division, General Young took over the helm of the 2d Infantry in the midst of one its most rugged offensive actions. General DeShazo, with a long and spectacular record of action in Korea as a super-artilleryman and strong advocate of extensive use of forward observers bid farewell to the Division which he had served so well.
The fierce struggle for "Heartbreak Ridge" continued unabated throughout the day and again the two enemy regiments resisting the efforts of the 23rd Infantry were successful in repelling all attacks. The 9th infantry west of the vital ridge reported all its patrols in contact with the enemy. "A" Company on 867 was engaged all day before returning to its base.
Action on the entire Division front was quieter on 21 September than it had been in weeks with the enemy putting up only a passive resistance to patrols sent out from the regiments. All units gathered themselves for new assaults.
Battles flared again on 22 September as the First and Second Battalions of the 23rd launched another coordinated attack on 931, center of "Heartbreak Ridge." Fiercest yet of all the assaults, both battalions were on the crest of the hotly contested height several times during the day only to be thrown off as the enemy attacked through his own mortar fire, hurling grenades and directing streams of machine gun fire forward of his advance. The First Battalion of the 9th became engaged in this same action and was unable to break contact although it was headed for an assault on Hill 728. Finally, plans to take the peak that day were abandoned and all three battalions took up blocking positions on the ridge lines extending from 931 in both directions.
The 15th North Korean Regiment crowded a strong counter-attack against the 23rd Infantry during the night supported by heavy mortar concentrations which churned the dirt on all sides of the defenders. Fighting fiercely, the 23rd repulsed the attackers and sent them scurrying back to the protection of their bunkers.
The 23rd and 24th of September developed into a tragic act which helped to give further backing to the label "Heartbreak Ridge." Desperate to end the continual fighting, the First Battalion of the 23rd again forced its way up the slopes of Hill 931. There it grappled with the enemy, cut into his ranks and inflicted severe casualties, all the time moving upward. At 1400, "A" Company found itself within 50 meters of the crest. It called upon every reserve of energy and courage it had and flung itself upward but was battered back. Again and again it tried to make the grade, in spite of mortar, grenade, and bullet it crept and crawled forward only to be shoved down again. A fourth assault met with failure and summoning unbelievable guts the dauntless men moved out again and by sheer dint of courage scaled the peak. 931 had been taken. It was ours. And the First Battalion of the 23rd found it hard to believe but the presence of the men of "A" Company on the peak confirmed the fact which they hardly dared to believe. Hastily setting up a defense, the hand full of men remaining in the First Battalion dug in on the crest, surrounded by the aftermath of battle. The anticipated enemy counter-attack came at 0220 hours on the 24th. Maddened screaming, animal-like the North Koreans charged the positions in mass, hurling grenades out of the night and directing their murderous fire into the bunkers which they had built and knew so well. It was too much for the thinned, battle weary men to resist and at 0330 hours the remaining few were forced from the crest. At 0445, with "A" Company again in the lead, the First Battalion counter-attacked. At 0610 hours, "B" and "C" Companies were engaged with 200 enemy pouring down from 931 and from the northwest, repulsing the enemy efforts to annihilate them. The fighting continued throughout the day until at nightfall the heroic men of the 23rd went into positions for the hours of darkness during which they turned-back countless enemy probes.
The heart-rending story of frustration was repeated in the sector of the 9th Infantry during the same two-day period. An attack by the First Battalion to take Hill 1024 met with failure with the attackers going into perimeter defense 300 meters northeast of the crest. An attempt on 24 September by the First Battalion of the 9th to take Hill 728, again bypassing Hill 931, also was repulsed.
For eleven days, now, the two regiments had given every ounce of energy and reserve they possessed to take their objectives. Time and time again they had met with failure at the hands of the North Koreans. Each day was like the last-fight, suffer, meet or escape death, sweat out the nights only to move out each new day to climb and battle up the endless hills. Victory almost in hand for a second only to see it swept away again. But like all war, there was no rest. The objective had to be taken.
And so it was that the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments again moved into battle on the 25th of September. While in the valleys below the trees turned autumn golden and red and leaves littered the ground much as they did back home, on the hills there was only the pock-marked hard and dusty earth littered with steel and blood and the remains of men who had given all they possessed.
One success will often keep men going long after the time they could be expected to drop. And so when the First Battalion of the 9th Infantry met with success that day on Hill 1024, the news was a stimulant to all. Lead by "A" Company attacking from 800 meters below the peak, the lead elements of the Battalion were on the crest at 1145 hours. And moving up amid resistance from a heavy enemy mortar barrage, the rest of the Battalion was on the hill by 1500 hours and four hours later was tied in with ROK units on the left.
The French Battalion relieved the Second Battalion of the 23rd over on the ridge line south of Hill 851. The Second Battalion then moved down into an assembly area at Imdong-ni, well south of Worrun-ni- and well out of contact with the enemy. There its tired remnants were to gather themselves together, be resupplied, reorganized and readied for new commitment.
The Ivanhoe Security Force took over surveillance of the Kansas Line on 25 September and the 38th Infantry prepared to move forward for future action. Poor visibility hindered all actions.
The next day, 26 September, the French tried their luck against Hill 931 and found it no better than had the rest of the regiment. The First and Third Battalions remained in position, kept close into their meager holes by continuous bar. rages of enemy artillery, mortar, automatic weapons and small arms fire.
The 9th Infantry consolidated its positions on Hill 1024, sending a patrol from "A" Company 300 meters north to flush and kill 45 enemy troops in bunkers on the ridge line. The 38th Infantry sent patrols to the vicinity of Hills 1052 and 851 without contact.
The enemy made up for the relatively quiet day as darkness enveloped the rocky hills for the night. On Hill 1024, the First Battalion of the 9th Infantry contained strong enemy counter attacks while the Second Battalion repulsed equally strong attacks against its positions on Hill 582.
Morning of 27 September brought welcome relief to the First Battalion of the 23rd when it was pulled out of line, relieved by the refitted Second. Gladly the men came down from the hills into Worrun-ni where they, too, were given the opportunity to rest, bathe, get fresh clothing and resupply.
And the 38th Infantry became engaged on the 27th for the first time since its return from reserve. The First Battalion encountered enemy on the slopes of 1052 and a platoon from "M" Company became the center of attention for the entire Division when it inadvertently made a "wrong turn."
Moving up to furnish fire support to the Second Battalion in its attack on 1052, the platoon was headed for Hill 868. The platoon had left its company area at 0500. Its instruction were to turn up a trail just beyond a certain tank which was blocking along the road. Unfortunately there was more than one tank in blocking position and it was at the wrong tank that the platoon made its turn. It walked into enemy infested territory until it reached a small footbridge 800 meters west of Satae-ri. At 0900, it became bitterly engaged with an enemy force deployed in bunkers on Hill 656, just north of Satae-ri. Word went back to Division and a rescue force was hastily assembled and sent forward. The units making up the force were mute evidence that everyone in the vicinity had been called upon for help. There was a platoon from "X" Company, French Battalion; two squads from "C" Company, 38th Infantry; a platoon from the Tank Company, 38th Infantry; and a platoon from the Tank Company, 23rd Infantry.
After several hours of hard fighting in the midst of the enemy infested area, the rescue force succeeded in extricating the embattled platoon and making its way back to friendly lines at 1300 hours. There was some question as to who was the most surprised at the maneuver, the North Koreans or the "M" Company platoon.
The enemy made a concerted effort to recapture Hill 1024 from the 9th Infantry on 28 September. Thirteen separate counter-attacks were pushed against the First Battalion but all were turned back with heavy losses. Immediately afterward, a narrowing of the Division front placed the peak in the zone of the 7th ROK Division and at 1300 hours, ROK elements relieved the First Battalion of its responsibility for holding the crest. The Battalion then withdrew to an assembly position 5,000 meters south of the lines.
Ground activity elsewhere in the Division sector on the 28th was relatively light compared to previous days but clearing weather permitted a record number of air sorties. Under control of Division FSCC, 128 fighter aircraft were employed in the Division sector with excellent results. The planes were particularly effective ranging beyond the limits of artillery fire, destroying enemy gun positions, supply and assembly points.
Activity on 29 September was confined mainly to the 9th Infantry as the First Battalion, supported by fire from "B" Company of the 72d Tank Battalion and Division Artillery, moved out to make another attempt on Hill 867.
Lady luck favored the North Koreans on this day. Fog, ground mist and rain throughout the day greatly reduced the effectiveness of artillery support. No air support was available at all.
Initial contact was light as the lead elements closed to within 150 meters of the objective. But upon reaching this point, a hail of exceptionally intense mortar and artillery fire pinned the troops down. The concentration continued until 1725 hours when it suddenly lifted and the enemy launched a fierce counter attack. By 1800 hours, the 9th wet ordered to break contact and return to its original positions.
The First Battalion, 23rd Infantry, relieved the Third Battalion on position during the day with the Third returning to Worrun-ni. The remainder of the regiment remained in place, organizing its positions as did the 38th.
All combat units of the Division were in contact with the enemy during the last day of September. In spite of every attempt by the Division to oust the entrenched North Koreans from their mountain strongholds, the fading September sun set on Heartbreak Ridge, Hill 1052, 867 and 728 and revealed them still in enemy hands. But the rock-like defenses for the North Koreans had been costly. Excluding air strike casualties, 7,256 enemy troops were killed during the month; 9,878 were wounded and more than 600 communists were herded into UN prison camps. With the air-inflicted casualties included, the enemy dead and wounded in September came to more than 20,000, a total the North Koreans could ill-afford to absorb.
Division casualties, though light by comparison, were the heaviest in months. In spite of the hopes for a truce, the war continued to rage at a heart-rending pace.
A plan for ending the seemingly endless struggles on the hills on and near "Heartbreak Ridge" was set forth at a staff briefing on 1 October by General Young.
Anxious to bring the operations in the mountains north of Yanggu to a successful conclusion, he directed the laying of plans for an all-out assault. Heretofore, the regiments had jumped-off on their own objectives one at a time. Consequently, the defending North Koreans were able to concentrate their fire support weapons, especially mortars, on the single attacking element of the 2d Division. Added to the determined defensive attitude of the communists and the ideal defensive terrain, this had been enough to repulse almost every effort of the 2d Division in the preceding weeks unless we were willing to pay more than a reasonable price in casualties.
The plan put forth by General Young envisioned all regiments attacking simultaneously on the Division front with a strong tank-infantry attack up the Mungdung-ni valley on the west coupled with an armored task force foray up the Saete-ri valley in the east. Purpose of these armored ventures was to break behind the enemy lines, disrupt his defenses and inflict the greatest number of casualties.
The advantages of the operation were three. fold. First, the enemy would be forced to disperse his mortar fire over a wider front thus reducing the volume of fire he could place on any one particular area. Second, a line established on the salient terrain features designated as objectives for the attack would require fewer troops to secure than the jagged front now maintained. Third, a considerable saving of manpower would be realized by withdrawing and placing into reserve the units holding the hills which were dominated by the objectives of the proposed operation.
Citing the idea behind the three-regiment attack, the General emphasized the importance of the tank-infantry spearheads up the Mungdung-ni and Saete-ri valleys. Such an operation would not only put the forces into positions from which they could disrupt the enemy de tenses from the rear and inflict heavy casualties but also would relieve a great deal of pressure on the Indianhead regiments making the assaults on the hills.
Target date for the attack was 5 October 1951; H-hour, 2100.
Plans to provide the immense logistical support required of such an operation were immediately drawn-up by G-4. Every available truck was pressed into service and by 1800 hours, 5 October, more than 45,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 10,000 rations, and 20,000 gallons of gas were stockpiled in supply dumps in the valley of the west MSR.
As the trucks hauled load after load of supplies, the regiments moved into positions from which they could advance on the offensive when the word was given. Operation Order 37 setting up the attack plan was published on 2 October. The 9th Infantry was given the mission of attacking and securing Hills 867 and 1005. dominating the ridge line north of Hill 1024 to the west. The 23rd Infantry was to secure Hill 931 on "Heartbreak" and the ridge line running west from that peak. It was also to be prepared to assist the 38th Infantry in taking Hill 728 and Objective "C", an unnumbered ridge line which jutted south from Hill 851. The 38th Infantry, in the center of the Division sector, was to assault Objective "C" and Hill 485, a small hill south of Tutayon on the west MSR. The 38th was also to provide infantry support to the 72d Tank Battalion which was to be prepared to make an armored thrust into Mungdung-ni. The 2d Engineer Battalion was to exert its maximum effort on the valley road below Mundung-ni, attaching "C" and "D" Companies to the 38th Infantry, "A" to the 9th and "B" to the 23rd. One platoon of "D" Company of the Engineers was to support the tank thrust up the valley.
The tank-infantry task force to operate in the east valley of the Division sector was commanded by Major Kenneth R. Sturman of the 23rd Infantry. This force subsequently bore his name. Raiding thrusts were initiated into the enemy lines on 3 October and were conducted daily for the remainder of the period during which the Division operated in the area north of Yanggu. Composed of the 23rd Infantry Tank Company, 2d Reconnaissance Company and the Combat Company of the Ivanhoe Security Force, the task force proved to be highly successful in knocking out enemy emplacements, inflicting casualties and diverting a portion of the enemy strength from the western half of the Division front. It complemented the stronger tank force operating in the Mundung-ni valley to the east.
By 1800 hours of 4 October, all units of the Division were in position for the attack scheduled for 2100 hours the following day. One fortunate break occurred during the early hours of the 4th when a patrol from "F" Company of the 38th Infantry reported Hill 485 unoccupied. The remaining elements of "F" Company immediately moved onto the hill, securing it and thus placing one of their objectives in their pocket before the main assault had begun.
The tempo of 2d Division air and artillery support picked-up during the daylight hours of 4 October as the enemy continued to throw in harassing mortar and artillery fire on friendly positions. Small enemy probing attacks were repulsed during the night.
The first indication of the reappearance of the Chinese Communist Forces into the X Corps zone came from prisoner of war reports on 5 September, the day the offensive of the Division was scheduled to get underway. One POW picked up by the Division reported a Chinese reconnaissance party on Hill 931. Later in the day, X Corps intelligence officers relayed a message from the 8th ROK Division that two civilians had been picked up in its sector who admitted being CCF agents. These reports were the first of CCF troops so far eastward since their disastrous May offensive.
At 2100 hours, 5 October, "Operation Touchdown" moved out with all regiments on line. In the 9th Infantry sector in the west, the First and Third Battalions moved toward Hill 867 as the Second Battalion remained in reserve. By nightfall, after a day without enemy contact, the two attacking battalions were secure on the high ground south and east of their objective and prepared to make their main assault the next day.
The Second Battalion of the 23rd Infantry moved from its positions on Hill 894 and under enemy mortar fire advanced toward the ridge line jutting west from Hill 931, the battered crest which had been wrestled momentarily from the enemy on the 23rd of September. By 0300 hours on 6 October, the Second Battalion turned into the southernmost knob of the 931 Hill mass and immediately became engaged with elements of an enemy battalion which stubbornly resisted the attack. After a brief but sharp fire-fight, the enemy withdrew from the hill and the Second Battalion moved onto the peak. By 0630 hours, it had tied in with the French Battalion and the hill was secure as a result of the outstandingly successful night attack.
Over in the sector of the 38th Infantry, the First Battalion, less "B" Company which remained on Hill 778, moved out toward Hill 728 overlooking the west MSR. Only light opposition was encountered and the objective was taken with little trouble. "A" Company then extended north and east and tied in with elements of the 23rd Infantry on the ridge line west from Hill 894.
Down in the valley which lead. out into the heart of the enemy defensive garrisons, the 2d Engineers began the tremendous task of making a passable route for the tanks to advance north to Mundung-ni. Apparently the enemy had anticipated such a maneuver and had mined and cratered the road more heavily than any the Division had previously encountered. Tremendous boulders blocked the mountain stream paralleling the road, making the use of that normally passable avenue out of the question. Enemy mortar and automatic weapons fire poured into the area, seriously hampering but failing to stop the engineer effort. "B" and "C" Companies of the tank battalion stood by, firing in support of the attack on the hills overlooking the road and awaiting the opportunity to break through the obstacles which the engineers were clearing.
The 38th Infantry was given three new objectives on the 7th of October. They were Hills 905, 974 and 841, all in the central sector of the Division zone, and they comprised the next ridge line north of that under attack by the 9th Infantry. A fourth hill, 605, was also assigned to the 38th Infantry. It was on the left of the MSR about 1,800 meters southwest of Mundung-ni.
South of the newly assigned ridge line objectives of the 38th Infantry, the Third Battalion of the 9th moved onto Hill 867 against little opposition and made immediate plans to continue its advance the next day to the unnumbered hill between 867 and 1005. The Second Battalion, sweeping through the 8th ROK Division zone on the west, succeeded in cutting the ridge line between Hills 867 and 1005. It then set out to the northwest toward Hill 1005. Initial resistance was light but it increased with every move upward. The advance continued throughout the 7th and 8th and the morning of the 9th found the Second Battalion near its goal
but held up by a death-stand resistance by the North Koreans. Fixing bayonets, the lead elements rushed forward and routed the enemy, digging the individual soldiers from their caves and by late afternoon the hill was secure.
The First Battalion of the 9th, during the actions of the Second and Third Battalions, had begun a move up the valley and on 8 October was occupying the high ground northeast of Hill 867 with a platoon on Hill 666. Plans were made to pass the First Battalion through the Second on Hill 1005 and then continue the attack to the northwest against the next peak, Hill 1040. Early on 10 October, the First Battalion made its move and against moderate resistance inched up the slopes. The enemy, unable to mount his usual last-stand defensive actions after his defeat on 1005, was overcome by 1610 hours and the 9th Infantry was then in full possession of the 867-1005-1040 ridge line, sometimes spoken of as the Kum Il Sung ridge.
With the important Kum Il Sung ridge held by the 9th, the situation was ripe to launch the 38th in its assault on the next northerly line of crests dominated by Hills 606, 905 and 974. The way was also clear to move onto Hill 605.
Hill 636, the gateway to the ridge objectives of the 38th, was stubbornly defended by the enemy and the initial attempt by the Second Battalion to wrest it from the enemy failed. Another attempt was made immediately and although the crest was occupied by nightfall on 9 October, the enemy clung to his foothold and battled the troops into the hours of darkness before relinquishing his positions. The following morning, moving out from 636, the Second Battalion headed for Hill 905 and the high ground to the north east. Again the going was extremely rugged and the enemy resisted every foot of the way. A strong North Korean counterattack forced the battalion to hold-up its advance on the afternoon of the 10th but as soon as it died down the attackers moved out again. Finally, the Second Battalion battled its way to the top of 905 on the 11th and there pulled into a perimeter for the night.
Back in the valley, the Third Battalion of the 38th was moving north to launch an attack on Hill 605 which, if successful, would place it closer to Mundung-ni than any major friendly element had yet been.
Further south, the engineers toiled day and night, blasting through the blockaded roadway which prevented the tanks from thrusting into Mundung-ni itself. Enemy mortar continued to fall into the hive of activity in an effort to prevent a breakthrough.
The Third Battalion of the 38th continued to slog forward up the valley in face of enemy mortar and artillery fire. After two days of dogged advance supported by fire from the 38th Regimental Tank Company, the Third was able to move onto Hill 605 and secure it against counterattack. The Netherlands Detachment tied in on the left and "L" Company tied in with the 72d Tank Battalion on the right. "L" was to remain attached to the tank battalion for the duration of the operation.
The situation in the western valley proceeded in heartening manner while in the east, the 23rd Infantry continued its bitter three week battle for Hill 851, the northernmost objective on "Heartbreak Ridge." With Task Force Sturman making repeated slashes into the enemy lines near Satae-ri, the remainder of the 23rd fought the North Koreans who seemed destined to remain in their deep, protective bunkers forever. On 7 October, the First Battalion prepared to attack the hill once more from the south while the Second Battalion moved northwest from newly won Hill 931 to tie-in with the 38th Infantry which was securing the left flank of the 23rd. The Third Battalion, in conjunction with the moves of the other two units, began an attempt to cut the ridge line jutting west from 851. The attempt proved successful as the infantrymen managed to fight their way to a point on the ridge line only 1,000 meters west of the crest. Determined to follow-up their advantage, both the First and Third Battalions inched their way nearer their long-sought objective on the 8th. The enemy fought back furiously, utilizing every weapon he possessed. But the attackers managed to make substantial progress in spite of the resistance and by nightfall they were in a position to dig-in to await morning and a renewal of the attack.
Task Force Sturman made its greatest effort to date on 9 October, ranging deep behind the enemy lines and pouring its high velocity fire into the bunkers on 851 and seriously hindering the enemy's efforts to make repairs.
The Second Battalion of the 23rd was diverted from its attentions to Hill 931 on 10 October when it was ordered to seize a new objective Hill 520, the end knob of a long ridge line running west from 931. The battalion moved swiftly down the crest of the spur, flinging aside the defenders, and by 1800 hours was secure on the objective, digging-in at the same time as the Third Battalion of the 38th secured Hill 605.
The Second Battalion of the 23rd tied-in on its left with the 72d Tank Battalion in the valley below, completing a defensive line across the high ground separating the two valleys in the Division zone. Thus, the high ground on both sides of the Mundung-ni valley was secure from the positions of the 23rd and 38th Regiments southward. The stage was set for the armored thrust into the town itself.
The chief obstacles to the armored penetration had been the natural and man-made barriers in the defiles north of Imokchong. Since the start of "Operation Touchdown," "D" Company of the 2d Engineers had been blasting for mines, filling craters, grading the rocky road carved from the hillside, building by-passes and diverting streams in an effort to clear the way for the tanks. Thirty three tons of high explosives had been used in the operation. Finally, after laboring day and night, the defile was clear enough for tank passage. The commanding general ordered the waiting armor to be prepared to move out at first light on 10 October.
The long planned tank-spearhead rolled north through the newly constructed gateway into enemy territory at 0630, 10 October. "B" Company of the 72d Tank Battalion led the raid with "L" Company, 38th Infantry aboard to give added weight to the punch. A platoon from "D" Company, 2d Engineers, accompanied the group to give its assistance in clearing obstacles along the route.
The armored fist burst through the enemy positions and deep into the valley which served as his supply route. Mundung-ni was entered and bypassed as the lead elements of the tank force advanced 1,200 meters north of the town to place fire on the hills. One section turned west into the valley fronting Hill 841 and was able to strike at the reverse slopes of the enemy hills.
Eastward in the Satae-ri valley, Task Force Sturman made another surge north and wrought similar havoc on the disorganized enemy. The two tank assault groups forging up the twin valleys found the enemy unprepared and hundreds of casualties were inflicted before the communist troops could find cover from the ranging fire.
Meanwhile, the commanding general ordered the 38th Infantry to hold up its advance once it reached Hill 905. Purpose of this was to avoid placing the 38th in a position exposed to possible enemy attack from three sides. Thus, the left flank of the Division was to be, for the moment, along a line connecting Hills 1040 on the south, 905 in the center of the flank, and 605 at the top side. From there the front extended east across the MSR along a line generally 1,000 meters south of Mundung-ni. Once the 8th ROK Division on the left flank of the 38th Infantry pulled onto line, then plans were to be made to be made to move out to take Hill 974 and 841.
Indications of an entrance of Chinese Communist Forces into the 2d Division zone had been increasing during the preceding few days operations. Finally, on 10 October, a patrol from "G" Company, 38th Infantry, captured a prisoner who was identified as being from the 204th CCF Division. Interrogation officers drew from him information that the CCF was planning a counter attack against the 2d Division within two days after the relief was complete.
The capture of the Chinese soldier formed the last piece necessary to complete the order of battle picture along the Division front. It was now evident that the 68th CCF Army had relieved the V North Korean Corps with the limiting point for the CCF and NK forces the northward projection of the Mundung-ni Road. Thus, the 2d Division faced CCF troops on its left front and North Korean on its right.
The relief of NK troops by those of China was conclusive and decisive evidence of the staggering casualties suffered by the North Koreans in the operations along "Bloody" and "Heartbreak" ridges.
The night of 10-11 October was quiet except for a heavy clash by a Division patrol which ran into an enemy battalion in the vicinity of Hill 851. During the hours of darkness, the First Battalion of the 38th moved up from reserve into an assembly area in the vicinity of Kongdong.
The 23rd Infantry had spent all day of the 10th in another attempt to take Hill 851. This enemy stronghold continued to be defended with every weapon and man the North Koreans could muster and the determined assaults by the 23rd were again repulsed.
Fighting flared anew on 11 October as the Second Battalion of the 38th struck out toward Hill 905 from its positions on Hill 636. The First Battalion, moving up from Kongdong, was following behind prepared to exploit whatever success the Second Battalion achieved. Forging upward against moderate resistance, the Second Battalion secured Hill 905 and the First Battalion passed through and took the high ground between the newly won objective and Hill 974 to the north.
That night, "B" of the 38th secured the high ground between the two hills and "A" and "C" pulled back onto 905.
Plans for extending the holdings of the 38th Infantry were inaugurated on 12 October with a boundary shift to the west which placed Hill ]220 in the Division sector. The Division commander directed the 38th to prepare to take to take Hill 1220 after the 9th Infantry moved up to secure the terrain adjacent to the west MSR, freeing the 38th for the operation. The 23rd Infantry was directed to make a new assault to wrest Hill 851 from the North Koreans. The 72d Tank Battalion reverted from the 38th to the 9th Infantry and was to continue its daily thrusts into Mundung-ni.
At 1300 hours on the 12th, the First Battalion of the 38th moved out against light enemy resistance and in two hours had secured Hill 974, thus placing it in a position for its later attack on 1220. The 9th Infantry organized on its newly occupied positions and the 23rd made preparations for hitting 851 the following day.
Both Task Force Sturman and the 72d Tank Battalion made new forays into the enemy lines on the 12th and again inflicted heavy casualties and wrought extensive damage to the enemy rear areas. One platoon moved up the deep westward draw to a point almost directly north of Hill 841 and slammed its effective, high velocity fire into the Chinese bunkers on the reverse slopes of that enemy-held height.
The tanks of Task Force Sturman again concentrated on Hill 851 where the enemy had resisted every effort of the 23rd Infantry to reach the crest.
As nightfall descended on the rugged peaks, the 23rd Infantry launched a night attack on Hill 851. The North Koreans threw arcs of fire down the slopes, adding hand grenades as the attackers pressed upward. The battle raged throughout the night and at 0530, the First and French Battalions summoned their last reserves of strength and launched a final assault on the crest. Digging upward in face of murderous enemy fire, they managed to throw the defenders from their peak and by 0630 they were in possession of the long-sought crest. For more than a month, the 23rd Infantry had battered against the enemy on this northernmost height of "Heartbreak Ridge." Once it had been in their hands for a few hours until a powerful counterattack forced them back. Now it was again in their possession and this time it was theirs to keep.
Reconnaissance of 'Heartbreak Ridge" after its capture revealed why it had been so hard to take. Hill 931 itself was the center peak of three that were within small arms range of each other. While continuing to hold it the enemy could put down well aimed and observed fire on the neighboring two peaks. But what added even more to its strength for the North Korean defenders was the fact that its slope on the eastern side facing the 2d Division troops was rocky and almost perpendicular for the last 250 to 300 yards. Ascent by foot troops was necessarily slow. On the reverse or western side, the slope was less steep and was of dirt. Into this slope, the enemy had dug his many bunkers of such strength as to resist even a direct hit from our 105 mm howitzers. These bunkers, only twenty five to thirty five yards from the topographical crest of the hill, were numerous enough to provide complete protection to some 400 to 500 men. During artillery or air bombardments, the enemy troops would leave their entrenchments and communications trenches on the crest for the protection of their strong bunkers. Yet, when the artillery or air attacks were lifted, they had ample time to return to their positions before our troops could scale the last very steep and rocky 200 to 300 yards on the attacking side.
"Heartbreak Ridge" had fallen but westward, the First Battalion of the 38th was unable to take Hill 1220 despite the slugging fire support from the regimental tanks in the valley to the north. The attackers dug-in for the night while the Netherlands Detachment, relieved by the 9th Infantry, moved up behind to make the assault the next morning.
The Dutch troops moved out at first light against Hill 841, the peak flanking 974 to the north, and against moderate resistance they were an the crest by 1430 hours. Simultaneously, the First Battalion made another lunge up to Hill 1220 with fire from all the supporting weapons in the regiment. By 1430 hours, the assault elements were within 250 meters of the crest but further efforts to advance upward were repulsed and the battalion dug-in for the night. The Third Battalion had moved up during the attack and at dusk tied in with the First Battalion on the ridge line leading to 1220.
The first light of dawn was just appearing in the skies on 15 October when the Third Battalion of the 38th Infantry passed through the blocking positions of the First Battalion and moved out to take Hill 1220. Moderate resistance was encountered but by pressing their attack under cover of heavy artillery fire support the attackers were on their objective by mid afternoon and soon afterward the newly won hill was secure.
The fall of Hill 1220 brought the Indianhead Division abreast of a new line of defense. Stretching from that peak in the west, it arched eastward across the now quiet peaks of "Heartbreak Ridge", Hill 1243, and thence into the northern rim of the "Punchbowl".
The struggle to secure this new line had been one of the most vicious offensive actions the 2d Division had ever undertaken. The deeds which brought it to a close constituted a shining chapter in the history of the United States Army.
The days following the end of "Operation Touchdown" were relatively quiet. Task Force Sherman continued its end runs into enemy territory as did the 72d Tank Battalion but the main purpose of these strikes was to divert the enemy from the relief of the Division which was begun on 20 October. Elements of the 7th U.S. Division were already in the 2d Division area even as "Heartbreak" was falling. By 22 October they were entrenched in the old positions of the 2d Division and the men wearing the Indianhead patch were headed southward in trucks for a well-earned and much-needed period of reserve after 103 days of continuous combat.
The period just completed was truly one of heartaches as well as of Heartbreaks, but even more for the communists than us. The V North Korean Corps had been destroyed and replaced by the 24th CCF Army. The II North Korean Corps had also been decimated. On "Heartbreak Ridge" the 23rd Infantry had captured prisoners from six communist regiments. And all of this was taking place during the period when the truce talks had been suspended. Soon after these successes by the 2d Division, the communists agreed to resume the truce talks.
The sacrifices could not have been in vain if they were the moving factor in convincing the communists that their military defeat in battle was inevitable.
The autumn leaves were falling from the trees in the valleys north of Chunchon and Kapyong when the convoys bearing the 2d Division rolled to a stop. Tents were pitched, stoves were lit against the new cold, and plans were made for rugged training to bring the Division once again to its peak of combat efficiency.
South in Pusan and southwest at Enchain, heavily loaded ships arrived daily bringing new men to fill the ranks of the 2d Division. Waiting to occupy the berths on these now outbound vessels were the men who had earned ten times over the right to return to their homelands.
No one could say what the future had in store. The winds from North Korea brought the first bite of winter and also the sounds of continued battle. The frost which covered the ground in the early morning failed to hide the scars of war. Only the men around the conference tables and those who guided them could make the final decisions. But the men who trained from dawn to dusk and on into the night were preparing to give pointed evidence to the negotiators that whatever the future held, the 2d United States Infantry Division was ready.
THE KOREAN WAR
The outbreak of hostilities in Korea, June of 1950, again signaled the need for Rangers. On August 25, 1950, at Camp Drake, Japan, the 8213th Army Unit was organized from volunteers in the Far East. The 8213th was referred to more informally as the Eighth Army Ranger Company and was attached to the 25th Infantry Division. It participated in the drive to the Yalu and was deactivated in March 1951. 13 Airborne-Ranger Companies were founded during the Korean War.
Then Captain Charles Pete Spragins of the 10th Airborne Ranger Company and Captain Rudy Jones of the 11th Airborne Ranger Company put their men in Black Berets, others followed. The black stemmed from the intensive night training the men underwent. This is the first use of the color black other then individual usage of the beret. The Ranger Training Center (eventually the modern Ranger Training Brigade) liked the idea and ran test cases. Troops loved it, the brass did not. They were told to take them off. Airborne-Ranger companies were deactivated during the war.
Colonel John Gibson Van Houten was selected by the Army Chief of Staff to head the Ranger program at Fort Benning, Georgia. On September 15, 1950, Colonel Van Houten reported to the Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was informed that training of Ranger-type units was to begin at Fort Benning, at the earliest possible date. The target date was set for October 1, 1950, with a tentative training period of six weeks. The implementing orders called for formation of a headquarters detachment and four Ranger infantry companies (airborne). Requests went out for volunteers who were willing to accept extremely hazardous duty in the combat zone in the Far East.
In the 82nd Airborne Division, the result of the call for volunteers was astounding. Some estimates were as high as 5,000 men (experienced Regular Army paratroopers). The ruthless sorting out process began. Where possible, selection of the men was accomplished by the officers who would command the companies, similar to colonial days when Robert Rogers was recruiting.
Orders were issued and those selected shipped to Fort Benning. The first group arrived on September 20, 1950. Training began Monday, October 9th, with three companies of airborne qualified personnel. On this day, another company began training. These were former members of the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, and the 80th Anti-Aircraft Battalion redesignated the 4th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), the only Department of the Army authorized, all-Negro Ranger unit in the history of the United States. They were again redesignated the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) prior to deployment to Korea.
All volunteers were professional soldiers with many skills who often taught each other. Some of the men had fought with the original Ranger Battalions, the First Special Service Force, or the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Many of the instructors were drawn from the same group. The faces of this select group may have appeared youthful, but these were men highly trained and experienced in Ranger operations during World War II.
The training was extremely rigorous. Training consisted of amphibious and airborne operations (including low-level night jumps), demolitions, sabotage, close combat, and the use of foreign maps. Every American small-arm, as well as those used by the enemy, was mastered. Communications, as well as the control of artillery, naval, and aerial fires, were stressed. Much of the training was at night.
Physical conditioning and foot marching were constant. Colonel Van Houten stated that the goal was, to prepare a company to move from 40-50 miles, cross-country, in 12-18 hours, depending on the terrain. Men learned it was possible to doze while marching. They also learned to swim in ice-ringed water.
No man was forced to remain a Ranger candidate. After a ruthless process of elimination, each company was still 30 percent over strength. During training, there was in the background a jeep with a white flag. Anyone who decided he did not want to, or could not, continue had only to go sit in the jeep. No one would harass or mock him. He would be driven away and his personal gear removed from the barracks before the other men returned.
The first cycle completed their training on November 13, 1950. The 1st, 2nd, and 4th Ranger Companies prepared for overseas shipment. The 3rd Ranger Company prepared to assist in training the second cycle, which would consist of the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Ranger Companies. These were also Regular Army volunteers, almost all of whom were from the 82nd Airborne Division. The 3rd Ranger Company moved overseas at the end of the second training cycle.
The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) departed from Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 15, 1950, and arrived in Korea on December 17, 1950, where it was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. The 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies, who arrived on December 29th, soon followed it. The 2nd Ranger Company was attached to the 7th Infantry Division. The 4th Ranger Company served both Headquarters, Eighth United States Army and the 1st Cavalry Division. Throughout the Winter of 1950 and the Spring of 1951, the Rangers went into battle. They were nomadic warriors, attached first to one regiment and then to another. They performed out front work in scouting, patrolling, raids, ambushes, spearheading assaults, and as counterattack forces to regain lost positions.
Attached on the basis of one 112-man company per 18,000-man infantry division, the Rangers compiled an incredible record. Nowhere in American military history is the volunteer spirit better expressed. They were volunteers for the Army, for Airborne training, for the Rangers, and for combat. They were America's volunteer forces for the Korean War. At a time when United Nations forces numbered over 500,000 men, there were fewer than 700 Airborne Rangers fighting in front of all American divisions engaged in combat.
The Rangers went into battle by air, land, and water. The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (airborne) opened with an extraordinary example of land navigation, then executed a daring raid nine miles behind enemy lines, and destroyed an enemy complex. The enemy installation was later identified by a prisoner as the Headquarters of the 12th North Korean Division. Caught by surprise and unaware of the size of the American force, two North Korean Regiments hastily withdrew from the area. The 1st Company was in the middle of the major battle of Chipyong-Ni and the May Massacre. It was awarded two distinguished Unit Citations.
The 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies made a combat jump at Munsan-Ni where LIFE Magazine reported patrols operating North of the 38th Parallel. The 2nd Ranger Company plugged a critical gap left by a retreating allied force. The 4th Ranger Company executed a daring over-water raid at the Hwachon Dam. The 3rd Ranger Company (attached to the 3rd Infantry Division) had the motto, "Die, Bastard, Die." The 5th Ranger Company, fighting as an attachment to the 25th Infantry Division, performed brilliantly during the Chinese "5th Phase Offensive." Gathering up every soldier he could find, the Ranger company commander held the line with Ranger sergeants commanding line infantry units. In the Eastern Sector, the Rangers were the first unit to cross the 38th Parallel and drive north.
The 8th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) was attached to the 24th Infantry Division. They were known as the "Devils." A 22-man platoon from the 8th Ranger Company fought a between-the-lines battle with two Chinese reconnaissance companies. Seventy Chinese were killed. The Rangers suffered two dead and three wounded, all of whom were brought back to friendly lines. Officers at Fort Benning had long studied the employment of Ranger units. They recognized that the organization of Ranger infantry battalions offered many advantages, including better tactical employment. They believed that a lieutenant colonel battalion commander could operate more effectively with the senior officers of a division or high level staff, than could a captain who commanded a ranger company. A ranger battalion staff should be able to look out for the welfare of the men. Ranger operations could still be conducted on an organizational level.
Despite their recommendations, the organization remained the same and one Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) per infantry division. One change was adopted; however, the companies would be assigned at Army level and attached down to the infantry division.
Spent most of last month in Korea and China and had the chance to watch a new Korean Movie on the war. It's called "Taegukgi" and tells the story of two brothers torn apart by the fortunes of war and then brought together in a heart-breaking finale. For a Korean movie, it's a big-budget production and includes spectacular combat scenes from the Pusan perimeter to the Yalu river and back to Seoul. There is some criticism of American and ROK troops brutality towards civilians during the war ( justified I think! ) but as a whole the movie is very balanced.
As for the combat scenes, they are of the "Saving Private Ryan" kind. Long takes, stunning special effects ( USAF ground attack planes sweeping over North Korean lines...), the Chinese "volunteers" rushing over the Yalu river, hand-to-hand combat at Pyongyang, B-29:s flying over the Pusan perimeter...
Edit: Hist2004, would you have any information on ground attack aircraft used by the USAF during the Korean War? Jet-engine planes?