Chosin Reservoir - Ray Vallowe Research

Chapter 5 - Let Us Begin Our Fateful Journey into North Korea

Author's Background | Prologue | Chapt 1 - Budget War | Chapt 2 - Inchon | Chapt 3 - Capture Seoul
Chapt 4 - Inchon to Pusan | Chapt 5 - Fateful Journey into N Korea | Chapt 6 - Inter-service Rivalry-1
Chapt 7 - Inter-service Rivalry-2 | Chapt 8 - Press Corps | Chapt 9 - Secret/Classified Mission
Chapt 10 - Circumstantial Evidence | Chapt 11 - Mission Change | Chapt 12 - The Tank Withdrawal
MIA/KIA East of Chosin | Postscript | Important Maps | Declassified Documents| Reader Comments


"In order to exploit to the maximum all forces under CINCUNC [Commander in Chief, United Nations Command] and to implement the full concept of operations..... X Corps, operating as an independent Corps of GHQ Reserve, will, effective at 1200 hours, 20 October 1950, and until further orders, assume operational control of all UN and ROK ground forces operating north of 39 degrees and 10 minutes north." - MacArthur

General Almond briefed all of his division commanders and staff members on the coming amphibious operations in North Korea. Again, General Smith was not pleased.  He "viewed the plan skeptically" however, "the matter was not for Smith to decide," and the division officers began planning for the new operations at once. MacArthur ordered the 65th Regiment of the 3rd Division, already in Korea, and its other two regiments on call in Japan, to ship north to Wonsan. General Almond increasingly urged that the landings take place by applying pressure (to no avail) on Admiral Struble. Almond also made daily flights up the east coast line searching for a suitable landing site for the 7th Division. He decided to land the 7th Division at the small port of Iwon, 105 miles northeast of Wonsan. The 7th Division plans were thus changed to land deeper in North Korea and thereby advance to the Yalu border under MacArthur's new directive. The 7th Division sailed north from Pusan on October 27 and began landing at Iwon two days later.[1]

Throughout October, the optimism over this "conflict" ending continued to grow as plans were made for the occupation of North Korea. The X Corps was selected to stay in Korea for North Korean occupation duty.  After that, the X Corps was to have only one American division, plus all other United Nations units, remaining in South Korea, including the ROK Army units and KMAC. The plan was for the United Nation's units to slowly be withdrawn, with the European units leaving first. If possible, no forces other than ROKs were to be stationed in North Korea. The Eighth Army with its original four divisions--the 1st Cavalry, 7th Division, and 24th and 25th Divisions, were to return to Japan, and the 5th RCT was to return to Hawaii.

This plan was interrupted on October 21 when the JCS told MacArthur that demand for troops in other parts of the world would force them to withdraw the 2nd and 3rd Divisions from the Far East Command as soon as possible after fighting ended in Korea. This meant that the forces to guard both Japan and Korea would have to be supplied from the four divisions originally based in Japan. But MacArthur protested.  He had left an earlier Wake Island meeting with President Truman under the impression that the 3rd Division would be kept in Korea as part of the occupational force. General Omar Bradley requested that one division--either the 2nd or the 3rd--be made available for Europe by January 1951.

Following this line, Washington proposed a cutback of personnel support to MacArthur. He was informed on October 25 that, "Reduction of the scale of operations in Korea compels immediate reconsideration of the number of service enlisted fillers and replacements previously scheduled for shipment to FECOM. To reduce the number to the minimum, Department of the Army proposes to cancel shipment of enlisted reserve corps personnel presently scheduled for October and November, except 17,000 NCO grades. "[2]  An end of the war mode of operation had taken hold. MacArthur was informed, "there would be no other replacements, except 17,000 NCO grades." The notice arrived just one day before the Chinese pushed the ROKs out of Chosan on a line parallel to the Chosin Reservoir. Shades of a disaster yet to come.

What Happened?

This might prove to be a most difficult question to analyze or answer. MacArthur stated that Inchon was only capable of receiving a maximum daily supply of 5,000 tons for all divisions in Eighth Army. Since little opposition was against those ROK Divisions in Eighth Army's advance into North Korea and its supply line was needed from Inchon, another harbor at Wonsan had to be cleared of enemy mines. Wonsan as an entry harbor would allow a second port to supply Eighth Army ROK forces moving rapidly into North Korea.

The mine-clearing operations involved some Japanese postwar mine sweepers to assist our Navy in that task. The Japanese lost one of their ships to a mine in this effort, and the United States suffered the loss of one of its sweepers as well, the USS Magpie. The Magpie became the first US Naval ship sunk in the Korean War when the 136-foot long, wooden-hulled ship hit a mine.  There were 21 US sailors lost in the explosion. As soon as the Wonsan area was cleared, X Corps activated its landings. In the meantime, the 7th Division was reassigned to land 100 miles up the coast at Iwon, and its new objective was to seize Hyesanjin on the banks of the Yalu River. On 29 September, the Defense Department listed 20,756 American casualties in Korea as of that date.

MacArthur was at Wake Island for a meeting with President Truman. It was a short meeting at best, actually more of a walk and talk session concerning Chinese intervention.  Few details from that meeting were recorded.  Apparently troop reinforcement provisions were not a top priority at that time, although the Chinese government had stated through their radio network, "In its real sense the Korean War has just begun.  This will be a drawn-out war of attrition perilous for foreign aggressors."

The previous plan was for the 1st Marine Division to land at Wonsan, followed by the 7th Division with their rear support.  There was to be a lateral move across the waist line of North Korea from Wonsan to capture the North Korean capital at Pyongyang. However, events once again outran the planning (an old redundant issue).  The Eighth Army swiftly captured the North Korean capital on the west side. The ROKs moved swiftly as well to capture the town of Chosan on 26 October 1950, on the downward slope of the Yalu River where the river flows into the Yellow Sea.  The farthest point reached by the Eighth Army was between Mupyong-ni and Kanggye. After that, the Eighth Army stalled in its forward drive to the upper regions of the Yalu River.

General Walker was plagued with a logistical supply problem from Inchon. While on the east side, Walker's 1st Capital Division of the ROKs advanced toward Koto-ri and up the east coast toward the Russian border on the Tumen River. MacArthur was under strict JCS instructions at the time that only non-Korean forces were allowed near the Russian Border.[3] X Corps had easy supply access to three ports--Wonsan, Hungnam, and Iwon. However, Eighth Army had a bigger burden, with the bulk of their forces supplied from the South Korean port of Inchon. Material had to then be shipped by truck and rail into North Korea. But those rail lines were restrictive.  Some were only single track, and damaged bridges also prevented any rapid movement of this additional material and forces into North Korea. General Walker activated a tactic his forces had used in the European Theater of World War II--use of around-the-clock truck convoys of that era, "the Red Ball Express."

The reaction to Chinese forces in North Korea was evident with the capture of the first CCF soldiers in the Eighth Army area of operations. General Almond's forces captured CCF prisoners on the same day. This became of prime concern to the field commanders, but General Walker continued his plan of advancing to the border. As the ROK II Corps met strong resistance at Chosan, was mauled and then pushed back on the first of November, the US 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division was also attacked by a full division of Chinese near Unsan. General Walker halted his advance, and he withdrew back behind the Chong-chon river. This withdrawal did not please MacArthur, and he wanted justification for it. Walker replied that his advance was stalled and "was based upon a calculated logistical risk," adding that "Every effort is being made to retain an adequate bridgehead to facilitate the resumption of the attack as soon as conditions permit."

Plan 6, November 11
X Corps Placement of Divisions

In the X Corps area, General Almond at last completed his landing of American forces. The Marines landed at Wonsan, and the 7th Division landed with 'attached' ROKs at Iwon.  Almond then ordered the 7th Division to advance upward from Pukchong through Pungsan and Kapsan, then on to Hyesanjin on the Yalu River. On November 6, the 7th Marine Regiment relieved the ROK units at Sudong-ni below Chinhung-ni.  The latter area became the rear boundary area of the Marine zone of operations. Upon the arrival of the 3rd Division, the entire 1st Marine Division was reassigned their mission to push from Wonsan to the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir, then drive straight north to the Manchurian border. General Almond give his divisions their border objectives on 11 November. The 1st Marine Division was to occupy a forty-mile stretch of the lower Yalu River bank due north of the Changjin Reservoir.  The 7th Division was to hold the region between Hyesanjin and Hapsu.  The two divisions of the ROK I Corps were to clear the remaining ground from Hapsu to the east coast on the Sea Of Japan. However the 7th Division plans had to be altered once again--for a third time-- to pacify General Smith's continuous objections to his own mission. [4]

The Pujon (Fusen) Reservoir--The mission dispute over this reservoir zone.

The 7th Division's original zone of operations between Kapsan & Hapsu did not include the Pujon (Fusen) Reservoir (see Map 5, Both the Fusen and Chosin reservoirs were bodies of water which intelligently should have been assigned to a Marine unit because each was located well within the 1st Marine Division zone of operations. But how did this reservoir end up being the responsibility of the 7th Division? The date on the map is 26 November.  The location of the 17th Regiment (Task Force Cooper) was located at Hyesanjin with the 3rd Battalion of the 32nd Regiment (Task Force Kingston on the 28th) being on that line drawn on Map 5 from Hyesanjin to Samsu. Notice as well that the boundary line on this Army history map also defines the boundary line for the 1st Marine Division. Their line flows north from the Pujon Reservoir into the Pujon River.  Their line then follows the Pujon river, which merges into the Changjin River, then flows northward into the Yalu River. What this map fails to reveal is where Don Faith's 1/32 Battalion and MacLean's entire 31st RCT were located on that date, and where they are actively patrolling in the Pujon reservoir area.

Back to my original question: How does this reservoir end up being the responsibility of the 7th Division? For that answer, we should refer to Smith's own words as penned in an interview in 1969 by Benis Franks, the Marine Corps' official historian:

Question: Split your forces?

Smith: Yes. The Fusen Reservoir was about opposite the Chosin Reservoir, and we went out that way and had reconnaissance patrols go out, and there was no road from our side going to the Reservoir. The road came in from Gen. Barr's side, where the 7th Division was. I finally talked Gen. Almond into letting us off the hook on that, so the 5th could follow up the 7th.

In reality, the road did, indeed, come off at Oro-ri to the Pujon reservoir from the MSR running directly between the port of Hungnam to the Changjin reservoir. Map 5 shows this road leading northeast to P'ungsan. A small road lead from Sinhung northwest into the Pujon reservoir. There, if one continues the Marine boundary line downward from the Pujon reservoir, it intersects at Sinhung well within the Marine area assigned. However, it is a moot point, as Smith once again gained another compromise at the expense of Lt. Col. Don Faith's battalion.  Ordered to patrol the reservoir area, Faith used that very road southeast to Sinhung on new orders to join his parent regiment at Samsu.  However, that very same morning--24 November. he was stopped and re-routed to the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir, as that zone was also reassigned to the 7th Division. Newspaper headlines of the era verify that this event was a "diversion of the Pujon (Fusen) Reservoir" to the 7th Division:

"Chinese Reds Desert Big Power Reservoir:
Communist Swing Hard in West Korea, Force South Koreans to Retreat 4 miles."

Tokyo, Thursday (UP) -
U.S. Marines reached the shores of the Chosin power reservoir--one of the great prizes of the North Korean campaign--Wednesday to find its Chinese defenders had fled.  But the Chinese were striking back hard in the west, forcing the South Korean Eighth Division into a four miles retreat..... The Marines arrival at the Chosin placed American forces at the edges of both great reservoir systems in North Korea.  American Seventh Division units diverted from the division drive northward, were reported on Monday to have reached the shores of the Fusen reservoir, 20 miles northeast of the Chosin . Some 1,500 Chinese troops were reported in the vicinity of the Fusen

Source: (Volume 94-209, Source, Belleville News-Democrat.)

The lower end of the Pujon was parallel on a line above the Changjin reservoir, and also above the 5th Marines' advance east of the reservoir. There, consideration of Smith's objections as stated in the newspaper headline, suggests that the 7th Division had been diverted from its drive northward. As stated above, the 7th Division was diverted because of a new concession to Smith.  Why would his objection even be noted? [5] Why would a Marine division need a road leading to this reservoir in the first place? Map 5, shows the Marine zone still included the west side of the Pujon reservoir up to the shore of its western banks. My new question is: Why would the Marines need a road when they have a "water road", and over 6,000 Marines located with a "shore party" and an abundance of water navigating equipment back at the port of Hungnam. [6] The difference between the Naval view and the Army view of the war (ground) battlefield still prevailed as residuum of World War II. The Navy view of water was that it was their domain.  That was not fully understood by Army "mentality" as commented on by a GHQ staffer of MacArthur's naval advisor, Rear Admiral Raymond D. Tarbuck, in 1943. [6]

It is surprising how little the Army officers at GHQ knew about water. Here was the mentality involved: At Infantry School in Georgia, they taught that every stream and every body of water was a potential MLR [main line of resistance]. They treated even the smallest stream as an obstacle.  But naval minds thought of it as a highway. "We use rivers and oceans; to us they are roads. The things we are afraid of are land, coral reefs, and rocks. The Army's maps and their topography are very accurate... This hill and that hill are given in exact slope and height in feet, but when their map gets to a water's edge, it just stops. They think it is just blue... dead, deep water, with harmless bottom that goes on and on under the water... But that water is what we are interested in. The two mentalities are exactly the opposite, and some of the time Chamberlain didn't know what I was talking about. He didn't give it the proper weight, Maj. General Stephen J. Chamberlain being an Army GHQ planner.

That Army mentality related just to that old question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" The answer-"To get to the other side." Hence those Army Brockway bridge building trucks. The Army highway(s) were across, not up or down, any river. [8] The Navy was a fisherman of men.  The Army role was that of hunters of men. The Navy planners were deeply concerned over the mission of their own Marines at Chosin. However, there appeared to be no objection posed from the Navy opposing the Marine division's orders to maintain their position east of the reservoir between the eastern edge of Chosin and the western edge of the Fusen Reservoir. Both of these reservoir areas were to be turned over to the 7th Division [via OPN O 25].  Apparently here was a clue to Smith's objection over the Navy doctrine as stated above: "The things we are afraid of are land, coral reefs, and rocks." There the Marines were locked inland (deep within the Army domain).  On land were many, many, many rocks and mountains. That was where Smith penned his doubts over the survival of his own division. In a letter to his own Marine commandant on 15 November, he wrote, that he believed "a winter campaign in North Korea is too much to ask of the American.... Marine." [9]

Yet the Navy planners had their own conflict of interest in having their Marines that far inland and far away from shore. The two commands (Army and Navy ) had to clash at times over the mission assigned. Yet the reality was that this command inland remained a total MacArthur responsibility.  All losses are listed as X Corps losses, with the cost in lives in the X Corps area attributed to those men (KIAs) who were lost deep inland in an area assigned to Almond's X Corps. Rapid land locations and planning, and missions assigned exclusively and directly by the Marine general are recorded as separate missions.  Task Force Drysdale. was formed under the Marine command. General Smith's Marine mission disasters were not widely dissimilar too those of Task Force Faith. However, the survivors of Task Force Faith used the center of the reservoir ice as their own highway into Hagaru-ri, thus their own feat of walking on that reservoir water in question.

As Smith's forces were landing, another of his "objections" surfaced over his Marines ordered to unload their own equipment from naval ships. Here is number 5 of his "objections" noted in the last chapter. 5) "When the Japanese Stevedores struck at Wonsan about 25 October, General Smith objected to using any part of his combat troops to unload his own supplies, in spite of the fact that this was the only possible way to accomplish the operation.  He wanted a "written order" before he would comply and he got it." While others may state that General Smith never refused an order, that would not stand the test here. For any man to object with a condition attached implies that he will not comply, unless or until his conditions are met.  This is the equivalent of a refusal. (In this case, Smith's condition was met.)

The sudden open hostility by the CCF against the UN forces caused a swift reversal of the Pentagon's plans to reduce support to MacArthur's command. General Charles L. Bolte, the Army G-3 (Operations), met with MacArthur and (his-G-3) General Wright concerning the cancellation and reduction of forces to be sent to Korea. This, indeed, seemed unrealistic to the line troops, if they knew it. All they needed was a further reduction in replacements. The frostbite casualties alone were going to be massive, barring any combat action. The replacement change was negated by the Chinese attacks on General Walker's forces that same day (26 October).  But a reversal to reinstate those replacement forces a moot point--one entirely too late for any North Korean defense. Far East Commander G-1 (Personnel) General William A. Beiderlinden again demanded more troops.  On November 5, he stated, "Shortages of essential replacements is continuing and reaching critical stage." He pointed to the fact that battle casualties had risen from 40 per day in October to 326 per day in the first week of November, indicating that the periods of time which the individual soldier had to spend in combat would probably increase. On 7 November, MacArthur requested the JCS send more combat strength. What remained puzzling with the intervention of the Chinese forces was their designation of their forces as "volunteers" instead of organized regiments. By labeling these troops as such, it void the claim of intervention as a full-scale commitment.

That same day, MacArthur made his first reference to what he termed a "reconnaissance in force."  He told the JCS that, "Only through such an offensive effort can any accurate measure be taken of enemy strength." Surely no man in the history of warfare knew as much about a reconnaissance in force as he did. His use of these smaller size forces in World War II verified this many times over. Plus, MacArthur was not directly challenged on his intended use of this tactic, although he, in fact, suffered some (second guessing) criticism for failing to use such a force. [10] The evidence and facts point to his continuous use of these tactics in both North and South Korea, re-labeled as task forces.

Indeed, when given command in South Korea, General Ridgway depended on the reconnaissance in force tactic to seek out the Chinese forces there--forces he could not locate by regular reconnaissance units or by constant air surveillance. Still, Ridgway's own stated opinion about the North Korean "Home by Christmas" offensive was that the combined offensive of Eighth Army and X Corps on 240800 November '50 was merely an "advance to contact" enemy forces. The dispute was over the wording of MacArthur's use of the word "attack." That is, it was not possible to attack an enemy whose position was not known or whose very existence had not been confirmed as such. But the "attack" ordered by MacArthur on that date had an unexpected result that could well refute General Ridgway's contention. On 24 November our Air Force conducted a massive bombing raid which scored a direct hit on Marshal Peng's CPVF Headquarters, just missing commander Marshal Peng Dezhi who had reluctantly moved into a cave only moments before those bombs hit his headquarters. The exploding bombs, however, killed Mao Anying, the oldest son of Chairman Mao Zedong.[11]

Delayed Marine landing at Wonsan

The delayed amphibious landing at Wonsan proved an embarrassment to the Marine Corps in more ways than one. They landed in an area secured by ROKs. A Bob Hope road show was already set up before they arrived.  It was an administration landing (one unopposed), not a combat assault. General Smith again "objected" to his forces unloading their own equipment from the Navy ships. The 1st Regiment was required to back track below Wonsan to Kojo and relieve the ROKs guarding a supply dump there. At Kojo, a surprise attack caught many in this Marine force off guard.  "Some would be killed while in their sleeping bags." [12] Their first battalion commander, Lt. Colonel. Jack Hawkins, was immediately replaced in his position once he returned to Wonsan, and was ordered back to the States. [13]

It was a prerequisite for any area in enemy territory to be fully reconnoitered before advancing. Reconnaissance required time, but time was not available to MacLean at Chosin.  His first casualties there were his own reconnaissance patrol. This may be due to the many erroneous reports that Smith had kept his line of retreat open and secure at all times--a pure myth.  From this first Marine/enemy engagement at Kojo, reconnaissance efforts were a requirement not to be overlooked. But it was still not the best test for the Marines in North Korea, as they were at the bottom of an X Corps staircase in North Korea. The ROKs advanced rapidly to the east coast where the Marines felt they should be.  But some ROKs were detached to hold the Chosin Reservoir road south of Koto-ri. The Marines were to relieve them there on 2 November. Once relieved, the ROKs joined forces and continued their push to the Russian border on the eastern coastline.

The 7th Division unloads at the port of Iwon-100 miles above Wonsan.

Within this same time span (26-31 October), elements of the 7th Division were afloat at Pusan.  We were to hit the beach behind the Marines at Wonsan. In his haste, Almond scouted out another area further north. It was not totally secured, therefore a combat setting of an amphibious assault was required. However, we were already administratively loaded on ship.  A combat setting change required our transferring from various transports to LSTs (Landing Ships Tank). The 17th Regiment was to lead the assault at Iwon. This, too, was a seemingly routine unopposed landing.  But Colonel MacLean's 31st RCT was bogged down by weather which eroded beachheads and required bulldozing sand-filled ramps to the LSTs. So MacLean's force was also delayed in debarkation at Iwon. (It was the reason Faith's battalion was required to fill in at the Fusen reservoir.)

The areas assigned, reading right [east] to left [west] were: the ROKs on the east coast, the 7th Division holding the middle position, and the Marines as the rear force behind the 7th Division (although they stated that they were to be the "Spearhead" of X Corps). The 7th Division's western flank was open at all times above of the Chosin reservoir and westward into the Yellow Sea. Each force was separated by their own time of arrival from South Korea. The ROK forces started to cross the 38th Parallel first on 3 October.  The Marines landed at Wonsan on October 26. And lastly, the 7th Division landed at Iwon on 29 October 1950. We operated within that boundary line set by MacArthur, and were assigned under an increased authority of General Almond's X Corps command.

This separated Almond entirely from Walker's Eighth Army Jurisdiction.  On November 17, Almond got the 3rd Division to add to X Corps. On 20 October 1950, the authority of General Almond was again restated and reestablished as the X Corps commanding officer. That authority came directly from MacArthur [CINCUNC]. No one disputed his authority in establishing this command. His command was totally inclusive of the 1st Marine Division at 1200 hours.  X Corps was to, "until further orders, assume control of all UN and ROK ground forces operating north of 39 degrees and 10 minutes north." To state once again, Nowhere within this directive was it implied or directed that the 1st Marine Division Commander was equal in command to or above the X Corps commander. They were OPCON to Almond's command.

MacArthur outlined his plan for the future of Korea.  Once his forces had secured the North Korean area and were aligned along the Yalu River, he would then replace American forces with ROK forces. That was stated to the Chinese people. American forces were to return to Japan.  All prisoners of war would later be paroled to their homes, and civil procedures of a government would be restored under the auspices of the UN authorities. In mid-November, evidence of Chinese "Volunteers" disappearing from the battle front seemed evident in both Eighth Army and X-Corps areas.  They suddenly just seemed to vanish. On 20 November, UN command reported to Washington that the enemy was apparently withdrawing further north in Eighth Army area.

On 21 November, General Walker notified MacArthur that his logistical problems were solved, and that he was now ready to resume the northern offensive.  He reset his new "attack date" for 24 November.  There was much dispute over the hydroelectric plants.  Should they be exempted as a military target or not? The ROK unit that had reached the Yalu at Chosan in the Eighth Army area on 26 October found that the hydroelectric plant there had been shut down a month before and much of the machinery had been removed. It was noted as well that neither Chinese nor Russian sources had made any real issue about that loss of electrical power. MacArthur's UN force were therefore committed to seize the entire border area. In General Almond's sector, he was already occupying a portion of the Yalu River, and there had been no notable military reaction by the Chinese or the Russians.

A Change in X Corps Plans

By 23 November the X Corps' assault divisions had advanced against spotty resistance to separated positions spread over a space of 150 air miles. The 1st Marine Division held the town of Hagaru-ri at the lower end of the Changjin Reservoir. Seventy miles to the northeast, the 7th Division occupied Hyesanjin on the Yalu. Thirty miles east and slightly south of Hyesanjin, the ROK 3rd Division had moved inland to the town of Hapsu, and some forty miles northeast of Hapsu, the ROK Capital Division was at the outskirts of Ch'ongjin on the coast.

General MacArthur, however, chose to revive his concept formulated, but not used, in October of sending X Corps forces westward toward the Eighth Army. Since the UNC front slanted across the peninsula with the Eighth Army holding the more southerly portion of the tilted line, a westward attack by Almond's forces placed them deep in the enemy's rear, giving them an excellent opportunity to ease the Eighth Army's progress. [14]

But that other enemy--the weather--was beginning to invade the area.  Swift and icy winds rapidly moved in around the troops.  The temperature plummeted to readings from 10 above zero in the west to minus 20 degrees in the higher mountains of northeastern Korea. General Walker ordered his field commanders to use extreme caution and to use phase lines in order to have control at all times. The days of reckless pursuit had apparently ended. On 24 November General Willoughby's intelligence staff predicted that UN forces were opposed by some 82,799 North Koreans and a Chinese force of between 40,000 and 70,000.

As General Walker opened his forward thrust on the 24th, he met little resistance and gained twelve miles in just thirty-six hours. But after dark on the 25th, Walker's forces were struck hard in the central and eastern sections. For all intent and purpose, the forward offensive of the UN had stalled. There was no more forward movement beyond the 27th of November.  That was it--the end of the line in North Korea.  It was as far as we went toward the Yalu (with the only exception being Task Force Kingston of the 32nd Regiment of the 7th Division reaching the Yalu on the 28th of November). That same day, MacArthur reported to the JCS, "No pretext of minor support under the guise of volunteerism or other subterfuge now has the slightest validity. We face an entirely new war." 

MacArthur then shifted the responsibility back to Washington, as Washington restricted movements before.  He then awaited the JCS's next directive. MacArthur got the troops that far north, then he ordered a defensive line position, "making local adjustments as the ground situation required." Regardless of how his forces got to this point, who was responsible to get them out? The inadequate and inconclusive intelligence reports concerning the number of Chinese being in front of our forces were 100% in error.  That aside, the enemy was there.

At the later MacArthur hearings (in mid 1951), MacArthur stated, "that the intelligence that a nation is going to launch war, is not an intelligence that is available to a commander, limited to a small area of combat." As he informed the JCS, "It is quite evident that our present strength of force is not sufficient to meet this undeclared war by the Chinese with the inherent advantages which accrue thereby to them. The resulting presents an entire new picture which broadens the potentialities to world-embracing consideration beyond the sphere of decision by the Theater Commander." He was restating as a private citizen what he had stated from the beginning since the first shots were fired by Task Force Smith. "Our present strength of force is not sufficient." It always was from day one.  How many times and ways could he state it?

Then, the political and high ranking military officers began jockeying for damage control to defend their own position and stating who was really and truly responsible for the disaster in North Korea. On the national level, the authorities declared the Chinese intentions was not known or clear enough to make an educated guess, nor to pursue a definitive judgment. Yet that judgment continuously denied replacements of line troops.  It denied the need during those five months of "conflict" to declare a State of Emergency until December 16, 1950. That old vulgar adage, "The shit had hit the fan" had come true, and it stained all those involved. Truman had authorized the troops; Congress had authorized the funds; the Senate had approved the action.  But there was no declaration of a war, nor would there ever be one. It took the Chinese to force a Proclamation of a National Emergency. But on that date, before that time--December 16, the men of Task Force MacLean/Faith were gone in all reality. The formality of their removal from the official record was a political ploy to save face and bury a tragedy at Chosin.

Two nations faced each other on a field of battle--the United States and China, neither with a declaration of war.  A massive force of Chinese faced our "police" force.  As MacArthur ended a communiqué to the JCS, it was "beyond the sphere of decision by the Theater Commander."  [SOURCE OF QUOTE?]  In other words, Washington's timidity and reluctance to commit the nation had boomeranged on the national leaders. Their lack of resolve and support had permitted a weak force of America's sons to face a new enemy. These forces had already done the job that was required of them.  They had totally defeated the North Korean army. It was then entirely too late in history to blame anyone. The loss in North Korea for the three weeks between the last one in November and the first two of December stood at 13,000 plus.

Korean fate unfolded with whatever world events affected Korea and our interest or political needs at the time. Whether South Korea would have been invaded by Russian Forces instead of North Korean ones was a moot point.  The United States' strength in the region of the Far East was in decline. Regardless of the power or ancestry of the invading force, the situation on June 25, 1950 had to be played out with whatever cards we held militarily at that time. From Day One, just as South Korea could not support a war effort on their own, so too North Korea could not sustain any prolonged effort without outside material and ammunition to achieve a complete victory outside of a purely divided country's civil war.

The great powers supplied each on their side with much needed war material.  Russia, however, limited its commitment to supplies and equipment only, with minute filler troops. China on the other hand, always considered Korea as a little brother to protect if need be. The threat of any conflict escalating into an all out war had to be understood in light of the world events of the time frame in which they occurred. While history records rumble of war in Vietnam with those of Korea, it, too, was given "back burner" status in the late 1950's. So the Korean War---regardless of any known or unknown government policy--shifted into North Korea. Whether this would have made any difference whatsoever in the Chinese entry, only the political analysts' could insure. But between October 7-16 and December of 1950, it was an irrelevant point. We were there, and so were the Chinese.

A new battle began in North Korea.  The decision to enter North Korea was a foggy one. Neither North Korea nor South Korea had been a member of the United Nations. MacArthur was in charge of all UN forces, but that did not include South Korea--the "host" country of the war. Syngman Rhee's decision to cross the parallel a week before Walker's Eighth Army was authorized to cross it as well would create a murky situation if Rhee's forces were defeated. On September 25th, Rhee and his government were reinstalled in South Korea, and the forces he had assigned to MacArthur's command reverted back to him. His ROK divisions operated independently of either Eighth Army or X Corps until reassigned to X Corps on 20 October. However, those ROKs attached to American divisions remained with them, to be released as Army replacements arrived. Still, Rhee's independent action to commit his forces prior to the backing of the UN meant that the repercussions of his action were not entirely the fault of MacArthur.  He did not independently authorize UN forces in North Korea.

But to return to Dairen... Since it did not seem to concern the state department as such, it "could" pose a threat to MacArthur moving forces north of the 38th Parallel into the 39th and 40th Parallel. Moving our forces into North Korea also involved moving our naval fleet above the 38th Parallel, thereby adjacent to Dairen. As Stalin informed Truman earlier, that zone was within the Soviet military zone. A dangerous situation faced the Soviet Union's military zone. UN forces of Eighth Army were operating in waters directly across the Korean Bay at Pyongyang. The US Navy ships were in and out of Korea Bay. This posed a direct threat in Russian shipping lanes into that port.  Since other military zones faced NATO forces in Germany, this was of prime importance to the powers that be in Washington.

In Europe, we were at our weakest point in manpower. The immediate solution was to cut divisions from Korea and relocate them to Germany. But in Korea, we were caught between two communist powers--Russia & China--in an ever expanding "conflict". The American solution was to cut troop strength in North Korea at the same time the Chinese committed massive amounts of men to that battlefront.

That major snafu required some massive damage control.  The United States needed to let the world know that our losses were not as bad as reported.  Our losses were light.  Many "heroes" and Medal of Honor (MOH) winners were created, especially around the Chosin Reservoir.  But those awards excluded all Army forces that were there at that same time. If one was only smart enough to just manipulate all the facts to fool those in power and save face, then what possible harm could be found in that? Yet, while yielding ground gained weeks before, we gave up that real estate while engaging in excessive creation of "eroes." Public relations efforts were created to minimize the action to smaller isolated events hiding within other larger events.  Those hidden events were far more tragic and highly more heroic that any reported. Common truck drivers were much more deserving than battalion commanders who were given praise and MOH's for merely leading their own battalions.  One would think that was their common assignment, not "above and beyond it."

In all reality, Russia's threat did not really concern MacArthur.  He had called China's bluff, but lost. He had also outright challenged Russia--and won. He had left Hokkaido Island weak and undefended as of August. Japan was then wide open in that region closest to Russia. As Russia had wanted to move forces into Hokkaido before, here was their opportunity to move. Yet they failed to move, nor did they even threaten to move in either area. Still, Europe--their front yard--was the main concern in Washington. That section of the globe did not directly concern MacArthur's command, yet he was continually denied forces even to the point of being told that he would have to sacrifice one of his divisions to relocate to Germany because the threat posed was there instead of in Korea. Apparently MacArthur could not understand any rationale within this logic. One could believe that the Russian interest was in the threat posed directly along their own border line in North Korea. It could expand the fighting. In short, erroneously or otherwise, concerning Russia we were pulling the tiger's tail and he did not respond. Yet others in the State Department were afraid the tiger would be unconcerned with his tail, and stick his head into a noose at the European end. This highlights the frustration MacArthur had in trying to wage a winning war. In the Senate hearings on MacArthur's dismissal, Major General Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell, Commander of FEAF, Bomber Command, testified over the boundary line violations as well as the difficulties of destroying the Yalu bridges in November 1950:

"We were not, however, allowed to violate Manchurian territory. I mean we were not allowed to fly over an inch of it. For instance, the Yalu has several bends like most rivers before getting to the town of Antung, and the main bridge at Antung we had to attack in only one manner. There was one manner you could attack the bridge and not violate Manchurian territory, and that was a course tangential to the southernmost bend of the river.. So you draw a line from the southernmost bend of the river to the bridge and that is your course, and these people on the other side knew that, and they put up their batteries right along the line and they peppered us right down the line all the way... In addition to that, they had fighters come up along side... join the formation about 2 miles to the lee and fly along at the same speed on the other side of the river while we were making our approach, and just before we got to Bombs-away position, they would veer off to the north and climb about 30,000 feet and make a frontal quarter attack on the bombers... So they would be coming from Manchuria in a turn swoop down, fire their cannon at the formation and continue the turn back into sanctuary-and the boys didn't like it." [15]

And this testimony from MacArthur:

"By some means, the enemy commander must have known of the decision to protect his lines of communications into North Korea or he never would have crossed those bridges in force." MacArthur; [16]

All these restrictions were in place while we had two task forces of the 7th Division of Americans and ROKs located at Hyesanjin-Singalpajin on the very banks of the Yalu River bordering Manchuria at the very foot of one of those bridge crossings in November (21-28). And the rules were set down in stone: Don't irritate your enemy more than necessary. It was truly an odd and curious way to conduct a war.

Again at the MacArthur hearings, in regards to waging a war and his earlier choices in facing the Chinese in North Korea, he stated, "The situation, at times, may require the taking of calculated risks." He explained later about his northward advance as a "reconnaissance in force."  He said that he had three choices:

  • Go forward -  "to ascertain the truth of the strength of what he [the enemy] had."
  • Remain immobile - "to set where we were."
  • Withdraw - "go in precipitate retreat."

In an earlier emergency council of war at Tokyo attended by Generals, Almond, Walker, MacArthur, Hickey, Wright, Willoughby and Whitney, the concern was focused above all else on saving the forces in North Korea.  Walker's new orders were: "Withdrawal as necessary to keep the Chinese from outflanking him, Almond was to maintain contact, but, to withdraw the X Corps into the Hamhung-Hungnam area." It was agreed that "Eighth Army seemed in greater danger then Almond's corps." The conference centered on what X Corps could do to help Eighth Army. The same question, posed one week earlier, had no conclusive solution. Remember, this was the evening of the 29th and Almond was not at Chosin but in Tokyo.  He had issued orders to withdraw one regiment from Yudam-ni back into Hagaru-ri . He also OPCONed the task force east of Chosin to General Smith as well. That was a fatal error.

Some later press agents' reports of General Almond's sudden panic seemed fabricated, as were many other reported events at Chosin. This was evident from what is mentioned in the previous paragraph of this narrative.  Walker's forces were the ones at greater risk.  They always were the most battle weary, and were the most ill-equipped in all logistical material. As I have stated, the proof of this was the losses Walker's Eighth Army suffered in his withdrawal overland back into South Korea while the X Corps withdrew by sea.  The naval bombardment kept the Chinese at bay in the X Corps area of withdrawal. Unlike Dunkirk, no ships were lost. The only real disaster in X Corps was to Task Force MacLean/Faith, and that could have been greatly reduced--but it was not.

Interservice rivalry had enacted a heavy toll. The confluence of all road networks within Eighth Army area was turned into road blocks. While more press coverage was given X Corps, notable the 1st Marine Division sole withdrawal from Chosin, that road could have been protected by the full force of the air power of the 1st Marine Air Wing and the planes from the Navy Fleet assigned to them. Remember also that this was one single road out of Chosin.  All enemy might was also highlighted there, yet the return trip was not that costly. The casualties had already been created 12 miles north of Koto-ri. Likewise, as in Eighth Army area, the Chinese forces had no long-range weapons to continually stop that force. A road gap was created when a 16/24 foot span of a road bridge was destroyed by the enemy.  It was repaired from afar after bridge spans were flown into the area.  This feat of accomplishment highlights the team work and time span that X Corps had compared to Eighth Army, which was continually under heavy fire.

I do not wish to downgrade what either Eighth Army or X Corps did in their withdrawals.  But the reader of this research should be aware of the difference in the situations. That difference can be no better highlighted than by the casualties that ensued: Eighth Army - 7,337; X Corps - 5,638--a difference of 1,699 more American casualties for Eighth Army, with the 2nd Division (Indianhead) responsible for 4,131 of that figure.

What was so amazing here is the JCS trying to direct this rapidly changing battlefront from the States, some 7,000 miles distant. In the council meeting on the 28th, MacArthur--the man above all others who knew the lay of the land, believed that, while X Corps might have seemed over extended at the time, the terrain conditions made it extremely difficult for the Chinese Army to take any real advantage of that fact. MacArthur's plan to pull the X Corps back into Hungnam sector was of concern to the JCS. Their suggestion was to extricate the Marines and the 7th Division troops from the Changjin Reservoir, then establish a line to "sufficiently coordinate to prevent large enemy forces from passing between them or outflanking either of them." MacArthur was against their proposal, as he neither had the forces (of which the JCS should have been well aware) nor the freedom of movement.  There was no timeline since the Chinese attacks. With no reserves, winter weather, and the irrefutable fact of the full Chinese intervention, his previous announcement that, "We face an entirely new war and enemy" failed to impress anyone, particularly those who were so blind as not to see that within the last five months of fighting in Korea, the term "war" was still avoided. However, at long last a serious consideration was finally given at the national level. A State of National Emergency was at long last declared by President Truman. It makes one wonder how we won the Second World War, considering that most of these same top officers were still in a position to make strategic decisions.

MacArthur had doubts about the JCS because of their lack of understanding of the many difficulties he faced in Korea. His intelligence reports stated that twenty-six Chinese divisions had been identified so far, and had on line an additional force of 200,000 men in reserve.  There was also word that the North Korean Army was being reorganized in the enemy's rear area. It was also difficult to hit supply lines away from the main roads by air strikes and sea bombardment because the Chinese stayed out of direct range of the 16 inch guns of the USS Missouri battleship--the "Big MO." Their backpack method of moving supplies was primitive, but effective. They took advantage of a lesson we had failed to learn and grasp in pursuing the North Korean Army into North Korea.  Their use of heavy weapons was a burden to them, easily knocked out by our air power.  The need to stick to the main road (MSR) and rail lines, were reciprocal problems for us as well, but the Chinese avoided that same trap.  While it deprived them of long range weapons, they had the manpower to overcome that burden.

Meanwhile, others were critical of MacArthur's direction from Japan, a shorter distance of some 700 miles. MacArthur had more input than was necessary.  Every other unit and military branch outside the Army had different views of the objectives, yet in the end, all of them truly had to share some degree of blame. Each hour brought a new change to the situation.  Field commanders had to continually review and issue rapid changes in operation orders to address new conditions. The lower echelon commanders also had to react to the rapid changes, as they found the Chinese were suddenly around them. This change of events also required those battalion and company commanders to make rapid decisions in haste. MacArthur replied to the JCS and their suggestion of a line across the waist line of North Korea with the following words:

"If the entire United States force of seven divisions at my disposal were placed along this defensive line it would mean that a division would be forced to protect a front of approximately twenty miles against greatly superior numbers of an enemy whose greater strength is potential for night infiltration through rugged terrain. Such a line with no depth, would have little strength, and as a defensive concept would invite penetration with resultant envelopment and piecemeal destruction." [SOURCE OF QUOTE?]

Besides, this had already been done.  And far reaching deployment of forces caused them to be too scattered and too few to hold the line. MacArthur had stated this over and over again.  Why it didn't resonate in Washington is unclear.

MacArthur, as commanders before him, never gave--nor were they required to give, a full and complete reason behind his final decisions. He had stated his three choices, and it was his decision alone to go forward. Those seeking to blame MacArthur dispute his use of a smaller force to locate the enemy, but in reality, he had no massive forces to begin with. We had to probe every corner to seek information that was not readily available.  Furthermore, the information that was available concerning the Chinese forces in front of us was unreliable. "Have they withdrawn for good?" and "Would they show up again and where?" were questions that hung in the balance. We knew we were superior in numbers to the North Korean Army forces, but what about the Chinese ?

Each unit had its Intelligence & Reconnaissance (I&R) platoons as part of a regiment. Someone had to probe forward for information to determine what lie ahead, what had really changed between what the corps intelligence group G-2 had obtained, and the reality that faced the advancing force of infantry units. As recorded at the island of Tarawa in World War II, the charts were 100% in error for the landing there, and that force of Marines went in with that incorrect information at a high cost. It is inconceivable that the Marine commander knew the amount of enemy in front of him at Chosin without his reconnaissance company being forward at Chosin on 24 November to determine the enemy forces immediate in front of him. It is stated: "He felt there were enemy ahead."  [SOURCE OF QUOTE?]  That was a purely asinine statement. Of course there was enemy ahead. Who else were we pursuing in North Korea, and isn't that the mission of an armed force in a hostile country?  Had they not been there, we would not have been that far into their territory. Their force had been effectively destroyed, but not entirely captured. The President of North Korea was still not accounted for, and the powers that be had not declared an end to hostilities--neither the United States nor the United Nations.

The battle went on, however, one of its biggest mysteries was over. At that point in time, we faced a new war and a new enemy.  His strength was great in manpower, and we had to respond to that new enemy. Unfortunately, we were unaware that the press corps had dramatically changed from friend to foe. There had been little for them to report and cover as we were moving forward towards the Yalu, and before the Chinese forces appeared.  They had yet to pen their reports of the 2nd Division hoarding all of that "bug-out gas," or that the Army troops were just waiting for any excuse to break for the rear lines.  The war correspondents just seemed to be holding back all those 'juicy stories' from the American public.

The reports wrote that from the Inchon Landing, out of Pusan, and on to the Yalu, it seemed unreal how ineffective the Army forces had been between September 15 and November 24th.  They reported the ease that these forces had in getting to various locations in North Korea--the lack of difficulty in the X Corps high mountains regions and the low ground levels in Eighth Army area. If the reporters were to be believed, it was just a walk in the park for these forces. There was no hardship at all--that is, for the Army forces.  Somehow the Marines always seemed to draw the short straw.  If it had not been for them, there would have been no interesting action to report.

But what was so amazing was the location of the press corps when the battle for Chosin started.  Where were they? They were not flown into the area until the 5th or 6th of December, and just as they had missed the very first casualty of the war, they had also missed the opening of the events at Chosin prior to 24 November. Because they weren't there when the action took place, they relied on the reports and printed whatever hearsay was given to them. Since late 29 November, all forces within the Chosin area were transferred to Marine (OPCON) command. So also were the press corps reports that were issued from there. The reporters had to play "catch-up" because they were some three to four days behind in coverage and their reports were subject to Marine-approved dispatches released about Chosin action.  Certainly nothing constructive was said about Task Force MacLean/Faith--of how or why they were there in the first place. The Stars & Stripes newspaper reported that the Army survivors of a force east of the reservoir, "Had been in the open for five days." Surely curiosity should have overwhelmed them to ask, "What were they doing those five days?"  Let us begin to research and travel that route to Chosin and to unravel the next great mystery of why the 7th Division forces were reassigned to the Chosin Reservoir in the first place, and what those Army forces were doing there those five days.


[1] While the Marines stated that they were the "spearhead" force of X Corps, the reality was that one could not be the "tip of the spear" by being behind the leading force of X Corps. Rather then being the spear they were bringing up the rear.

[2] See Policy & Direction the First Year.

[3] General Smith objected to being overlooked for this mission as well, as the coastline was his Marine domain and he could have that naval gun fire available for support from sea to the shoreline.

[4] First at Inchon, second at Seoul, and then at the Fusen Reservoir.

[5] Here is apparently where the paper trail on this question of why the division and who was responsible starts to build.

[6] Recall Smith resisted Almond's use of this equipment at the Han River crossing at Seoul, insisting these units were Marine equipment. Question: Why didn't he use them there?

[7] As stated in Clayton James' book, The Years of MacArthur, 1941-1945, page 359.

[8] The Brockway trucks were used to bridge the gap at the gatehouse south of Koto-ri.  They were used in setting bridging spans in place to link the roadway over that destroyed gap into the MLR back to the port of Hungnam. Thus the Marines benefited directly from the Army "mentality" to have equipment readily available to bridge rivers and gorges and gaps. Question: Why would Smith miss the Navy "mentality" which should imitate the Marine Corps' tactics to cross a reservoir over its water bed

[9] Smith included the "soldier" as well, however, his concern over them was a moot point. He had no control over placement of Army forces at the time he wrote his letter to Commandant Cates on 15 November.

[10] Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea, p.175. "His critics do not disagree... Instead of an "end the war" offensive they believe there should have been a reconnaissance in force."

[11] Mao's Generals Remember Korea, p.121.  (CPVF=Chinese Peoples Volunteer Force) Chairman Mao was the Chinese government official who was equivalent to President Truman.

[12] A Marine-promulgated point about the 1st Cavalry at Unsan on the west side was downplayed with the Marines.  RED FLAG - This diverted attention directly from the Marines to the Army forces.

[13] For more information regarding this event, see Marine! The life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis.

[14] Ebb & Flow, footnote 39, X Corps Opn 0 6, 11 Nov 50; Ltr, Gen Wright to Gen Almond, 10 Nov 50.

[15] Policy & Direction, p. 246.

[16] Policy & Direction, p. 420.


Author's Background | Prologue | Chapt 1 - Budget War | Chapt 2 - Inchon | Chapt 3 - Capture Seoul
Chapt 4 - Inchon to Pusan | Chapt 5 - Fateful Journey into N Korea | Chapt 6 - Inter-service Rivalry-1
Chapt 7 - Inter-service Rivalry-2 | Chapt 8 - Press Corps | Chapt 9 - Secret/Classified Mission
Chapt 10 - Circumstantial Evidence | Chapt 11 - Mission Change | Chapt 12 - The Tank Withdrawal
MIA/KIA East of Chosin | Postscript | Important Maps | Declassified Documents| Reader Comments

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