Description of Chosin
the right of Walker [Eighth Army], the lst Marine Division, under General
Oliver Smith, had been ordered to advance up on to the roof of Korea north and
northwest to Kanggye and Manpojin on the Yalu.
The only road over which the Marines could advance was a single-track
dirt-and-gravel path, narrow, winding, crawling through forbidding cliffs and
ridges and climbing up over terrain as wild and inhospitable as any in all of
Korea. One section, known as the
Funchilin Pass, was a ten-mile stretch that climbed 2500 feet along a narrow,
frightening shelf with an impassable cliff on one side and a chasm on the
other. This road ended at the
woebegone village of Yudam-ni on the southwest corner of the Changjin
Reservoir, that bleak and wind-blown stretch of ice that nearly marked a major
disaster to our forces. But
before it reached Yudam-ni, the road wound agonizingly up over 4000-foot
Toktong Pass, where temperatures resembled those in Alaska.
General Smith was as alive as Walker was to the dangers that lay before
him and he started this advance with the conviction that he had neither the
supplies nor the forces he needed to accomplish his mission.
So he moved ahead with constant concern for the safety of his forces,
regardless of the urging from the X Corps headquarters that he speed up his
forward movement. Before
jump-off, while not knowing the full measure of the disaster, Smith had
learned of the collapse of the ROK II Corps, on Walker's right wing, near
Tokchon, some seventy miles southwest of Smith's forward elements, which was
the 5th and 7th Regimental Combat Teams at Yudam-ni, itself some
fifty-five miles short of the division's first objective, the village of
Mupyong-ni. All the terrain in between, from Yudam-ni to Tokchon and from
Yudam-ni to Mupyong-ni, was wild, rugged, and nearly trackless.
Now Smith's wide open left flank was in a more perilous fix than
Smith dauntlessly set forth toward his objective,
despite all the misgivings occasioned by his judgment of the
enemy's capabilities and his knowledge of the distances to be
covered over almost impassable terrain.
With some bitterness, he reported
to the Commandant of his Corps that he had "concentrated his Division
into a reasonable sector"; that he had "taken every feasible measure to develop and guard the Main Supply
Road" (there was only one!); that he had prepared an airstrip
at the south end of the Changjin Reservoir for air supply of critical
items and for the evacuation of wounded; and that he had "ensured
that at all times he had possession of the high ground along
the route of his division's advance. " As it turned out these text-
book precautions were all that enabled this magnificent fighting
force to battle its way out of entrapment in one of the most
successful retrograde movements in American military history.
1st Marine Division and two battalions of the 7th Division
endured a far more bitter experience.
But again, thanks to courageous leadership and the extreme forethought
of General Smith, complete
disaster was averted. Smith, as I
have explained, despite the
pressure from the X Corps, took the time to keep his line
of retreat open and secure, as he moved his forces up into the
barren plateaus near the Changjin Reservoir.
He stockpiled ammunition, gasoline, and other supplies along the way,
held what high ground it could, prepared an airstrip for evacuation of
wounded and pushed ahead only when he felt reasonably certain
of what lay beyond. There
was intermittent hit-and-run resistance all
the way and it was all Chinese, to judge from the prisoners
taken. According to the
doctors at the sickbays, the sudden, intense cold, more than enemy fire, was
the shocker. Smith felt
certain now that a strong force of the enemy lay somewhere
in his path and he suspected he was being drawn into a trap.
The X Corps headquarters, however, under the whiplash of MacArthur's
known wishes, urged him on toward his objectives group of mud-thatched huts on the western edge of the
When he reached there, it was late November, the bitter
Korean winter had already moved in, and the Chinese Communists,
as their radio broadcasts had long been threatening, were ready to
strike their mightiest blow.
In the west, along the Yellow Sea, the Eighth Army had
advanced once more north of the Chongchon River, for the first
two days against moderate resistance.
GHQ's optimism seemed justified.
But Walker was still opposed to any reckless advance
to the border, and his fears were quickly realized.
On November 26 the Chinese
Communist Forces fell upon the Eighth Army again
with fire power and ferocity. Attacking
first on the right, against the
ROK II Corps, they practically destroyed Walker's flank,
sweeping aside the remnants of the ROK forces in a matter of
hours. Howling American
profanity, and blowing endlessly on their
bugles, the Chinese troops then struck the U.
S. 2nd Division and
in subsequent action this gallant division lost over 4,000
men and much of its artillery, signal, and engineer equipment.
Only Colonel Paul Freeman's 23rd Regimental Combat Team,
withdrawing with his division commander's permission westward
toward the sea, escaped intact. There
were, Walker reported to Tokyo,
an estimated 200,000 Chinese attacking, and the situation
was close to desperate. This
was not a counterattack, Walker warned,
but a major offensive, and he knew it would be necessary for UN forces to pull in their necks.
Across the granite cliffs and dismal gorges to the east, the
lst Marine Division, stretched
out along the twisting road from Yudam-ni,
through Hagaru and Koto-ri, forty miles to Chinhung-ni on the south, heard the
news of the collapse of the Eighth
right wing. Lieutenant Colonel
Raymond Murray's 5th Marines,
followed by Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Homer B. Litzenberg's 7th
Marines, which had led the advance from Koto-ri, were ordered to attack
to the west in a futile attempt to take
pressure off Walker. Smith
ordered them to proceed with caution
and to watch out for ambush. As
these two regiments moved out,
they were rapped hard by the long-concealed Chinese.
It was then that Murray and Litzenberg decided on their own,
without consulting Smith, to call off the attack and go on the
defensive, disregarding Almond's orders, as they figured the show
Marines had been looking for such a blow and despite it
they managed to hold on to the high ground near the village.
An attack by two assault
battalions from the CCF 79th and 89th Divisions,
supported by mortar fire, developed in the night into an
all-out drive by three Chinese divisions attempting to overwhelm
the two Marine regiments, Raymond Murray's 5th and Litzenberg's 7th.
By advancing in the dark, the Chinese avoided our air
power, and were able to send overwhelming numbers against the
Marines. They attacked
along a narrow front, in column formation, then deployed widely once they were
within hand-grenade range.
Resourcefulness, fighting spirit and superior fire power of
the Marines helped balance the scales, but the fighting was bitter
in the extreme. The 18-below-zero cold made many of the carbines and BARs
unusable, although most of the M-1s and Browning machine guns resisted the freeze-up and stayed in
action. At half-past
two in the morning, one Marine platoon set fire to a
native hut and lighted all the nearby ground, so they were able to
wreak terrible slaughter upon the attacking Chinese.
But with one formation cut
to pieces, there would be a fresh one to clamber on
up over the corpses and continue the assault.
and the subsequent attacks upon Marine units stretched
out through the villages to the south, were among the bloodiest
battles of the war. They
cost the Division dearly. But
there was no rout and no disaster. At
Hagaru, at the foot of the reservoir, their
commander had arranged to stockpile six days' supplies and these
were supplemented by air-drops of small-arms ammunition, weapons,
medical supplies, food and even drinking water.
But the embattled Marines
were most grateful of all for the doughty men
of Company D of the lst Engineer Battalion, who labored all
night under floodlights to hack an airstrip out of the frozen earth
from which the wounded could be evacuated. They completed the
job in twelve hours, stopping sometimes to take up rifles in support of the ground troops out in front of them.
The fighting grew more intense, but the bulldozers roared and banged along
until the job was done.
So desperate was the situation, with nine Chinese divisions
available for an assault upon the Marines, that General Almond
urged General Smith to speed his withdrawal, just as he had a
few days earlier been pressing him to hasten his advance.
Almond authorized Smith to
abandon any equipment that might slow him
down. But Smith was not
going to abandon anything he might need.
The speed of his withdrawal, he said, would be governed
entirely by the dispatch with which he was able to take out his
wounded. As he intended to
fight his way free, he would need all his
equipment and he intended to bring most of it back.
He did too, and carried
out in trucks all the men who were wounded
along the way. He left
behind only those who had been killed in
the fighting at Yudam-ni. For
the eighty-five officers and men who lost
their lives there, a field burial service was conducted before
the withdrawal began.
Marines pulled back in order, followed by a number of
refugees. An apron across
a hydroelectric plant spillway, hanging on
a cliffside above a chasm, had been destroyed by the Chinese,
but General Smith had foreseen this danger and had a Treadway
bridge air-dropped in sections in time to get his forces across,
bulldozers and all. Two companies
of the 1st Marines coming from Chinhung-ni seized and held the high ground
commanding the crossing and
fought off all attempts to cut the column off.
It was a long and tortuous retreat, seeming to move inch by
inch with fighting all the way. When
the advance elements were entering
Chinhung-ni, the southernmost village on the route,
the last units were still in Koto-ri, ten miles to the north.
Actually the retirement was more of an attack then a retreat, for it was necessary for each unit to battle its way back against
superior force to join the Marines in the village to the rear.
This meant attacking often
to take commanding heights, so that enemy
artillery could not zero in on the retreating columns along the
road. The force at Yudam-ni
slugged its way back to Hagaru at the
lower end of the Changjin Reservoir. Here
the Marines had to fight out on
the ice of the reservoir to rescue the remnants of
Task Force MacLean from the 7th Division, a force that had been split in two and nearly demolished by a sudden Chinese
attack. Here, Lieutenant
Colonel Don C. Faith, Jr., 32nd Infantry Regiment, won the Congressional Medal
of Honor while gallantly trying
to extricate his truck convoy filled with more than
five hundred wounded, but losing his life in the attempt.
Back through Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni the Marines, with some
infantrymen and a few British Commandos, crept, clawed and
fought their way, smashing roadblocks, beating off attacks from
either side of the road, attacking and seizing hills along the
route. Marine Aviation and
the Fifth Air Force gave them constant close
support and dropped needed supplies. The
airstrip at Hagaru saw more than
4000 wounded or severely frostbitten men flown out to safety.
By December 11, the ordeal was over and General Smith bad
brought his tough, battle-tried, and half-frozen troops, still in
possession of most of their equipment and all of their fighting
spirit, clear of the final defile into the beachhead area near
Hungnam, and into a defense perimeter they could have held, with
help from the Navy and Air Force, for as long as they had been ordered to stay.
Navy, at Hungnam, performed with spectacular skill, although they received no
banner headlines for their evacuation by sea of the entire X Corps and itsí
equipment. But to take out from
unfriendly territory, 105,000 troops, 91,000 Korean refugees more than 17,000
vehicles and several hundred thousand tons of cargo was in itself a military
triumph of no small dimensions. Equipment and supplies that could not be
outloaded were destroyed on the beach, so nothing was left for the enemy.
1st Marine Division, which received severe punishment from a force of at least
six Chinese divisions as it fought its way down off the Korean roof, was back
in action in less than thirty days.
Ridgway wrote that thirty-three years ago.
History has discovered information since then that make the breakout
even more remarkable. The
opposing Chinese force totaled 150,000 men in twelve divisions.
The fighting at Chosin put all twelve Chinese divisions out of action
until early April of the following year.
To replace his losses the Chinese commander was forced to ask for more
men 45,000 men, nearly one third of his strength.
of the twelve Chinese divisions were put out of action by the 1st
Marine Division. Two of them were
put out of action when task force MacLean (later Task Force Faith) fought to
near total destruction. Two more were put out of action primarily by Navy and
Marine Corps air, but perhaps finished off by the weather and the first Marine
Division. The fate of the last
CCF division is unknown. In all of the fighting the Marines and the army
forces, owe, and recognize, a huge debt to their Navy comrades flying from the
fast carriers of Task Force 77, as well as their own Marine aviators.
were heavy. The 1st
Marine Division suffered 548 killed in action, 179 missing in action and 2,834
wounded. But casualties from the
cold were also terrible, a total of 3,561 evacuated with frozen hands and
limbs and exposure, total losses costing the 1st Marine Division
nearly one third of its own strength. At
Chosin the Army task force of 3,200 men had 1,500 evacuated with wounds or
frostbite. Nearly 1,300 were
killed or captured. Only 385
survived to fight their way out with the Marines.
results of the fight at Chosin were spectacular.
Not, until recently have historians recognized the decisive role that
Chosin played in the Korean War. While
the battles at Chosin raged the Eighth Army, in the west, was withdrawing
southward in the face of what was believed to be overwhelming numbers of
Chinese. In Washington, and in
Tokyo, plans were being made to withdraw entirely from Korea in the face of this
unknown to the higher level planners, the Chinese, at that time, had only thirty
divisions immediately available for commitment in Korea.
The successful fight at Chosin cut the Chinese strength by forty
percent.. At the same time, the 1st
Marine Divisionís success enabled the other two US and two Korean divisions to
withdraw intact. With the Chinese
losing forty percent of their strength and the Eighth Army reinforced by the
three US and two Korean divisions of X Corps, the line in south Korea held.
Korea did not have to be evacuated.
are decisive results which changed the course of the Korean War.