Chosin Reservoir - Ray Vallowe Research

Chapter 7 - Inter-service Rivalry (Part Two)

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


"The man in the front line is blessed with a sense of immediacy. He knows only of the danger directly in front of him. The general, however, knows far in advance what is to come and the picture is always there, spread before him. He goes into battle with the price of victory already calculated in human lives. This knowledge is a terrible burden, never to be shaken off, night or day. There is no escape." - General Holland M. Smith, USMC

Holland Smith and Almond

Each one of these two generals were of an aggressive nature. Each man reviewed the orders transferred to his command from a higher command, and then through his immediate planning (G-3) staff officers who outlined and defined the mission.  In both cases, they set a timetable at their own discretion. The mission was then assigned to the number of men to complete the mission. In both cases, parallel problems were found between events passed. Holland Smith assigned only one regiment--the 165th of the 27th Division (Army)--to take the island of Makin.  He stated, "I considered Makin a minor operation which one single regimental combat team from the 27th could handle easily." It took 2 days longer than he allotted.

It was said of Almond that he was courageous--at times to the point of recklessness, and expected everyone else to be as well. But his attitude was interpreted by many subordinate commanders as having a callus indifference to casualties and the welfare of his men. Regardless, they were subordinate to his command without choice, and he was in charge. A general's persona seems very complex. Their obsession over trivial matters dominates their military command-while men are dying all around them. It would seem that what bothers or irritates any general is any other general, whether above or below his rank. Each of these corps generals were faced with his own personal irritant over delays over scheduled missions. Those delays were by some division commanders' direct defiance of corps orders.  The delays were unexpected and unacceptable. The main problem facing each of these generals was in their having no direct authority or immediate disciplinary authority over certain division commanders--especially a problem commander from a different branch of the service.

As Ralph Smith (Army) at Makin and Saipan was accused of dragging his feet, Holland Smith demanded speed as did Ned Almond from Oliver Smith (Marine) at Seoul and Chosin. Each corps commander recorded his experience and reactions to the division commander’s delays. The Marines were quick to respond to the commands of the Marine Corps commander Holland Smith.  The Army was slow to react in his view.  The result was to change the Army commander. That action was supported and encouraged by the Navy. In Korea, the scenario was just the reverse. The Marines did not respond to the commands under General Almond, but his Army forces were quick to respond as ordered. [1] At Saipan, General Holland Smith sought consultation from the Navy to solve his problem. Solution - change that Army division commander. At Chosin, General Almond sought consultation directly from CINCUNC (MacArthur). Solution - place the Marine division in X Corps reserve, transfer the Marine objectives to the Army 7th Division. [2]

But the Marines used Frontal Assaults

Earlier at Makin Island--as later at Saipan, Holland Smith failed to realize that the training tactics of the Army were different than those of his Marines. His planners were primary G-3 staff planners of his choice, and his orders were issued through the Navy staff planners as well. Consequently, General Almond was against Marine frontal assault tactics, as was MacArthur. To return once again to the battle for Seoul and Almond’s allotment of 24 hours before committing the 32nd Infantry to the action, as he was not pleased with the time delay due to Smith's tactic of frontal attacks. "He repeated his strong disapproval of frontal attacks." He did not like Smith's concept of battering away at the same spot with more troops, and the fixation of charging straightway into the fray just ignored the wider range of options open. [3]

While the Marines sought credit for taking Seoul, the Capital of South Korea had no military value of its own. In other words, it was not worth a costly battle in lives to obtain it. Its only importance in September was to reestablish the South Korean government and signal an end to the North Korean invasion. MacArthur said to Ridgway (1951), "As far as Seoul is concerned, the reoccupation of Kimpo airfield and the harbor would unquestionably be of marked value, and if they present an easy prey, they should be taken. Their use to us would greatly relieve the supply difficulties and increase the power of your air support. The occupation of Seoul itself would, of course, present certain diplomatic and psychological advantages which would be valuable, but its military usefulness is practically negligible." [4]

Thus, in reality, any relationship to the action at Makin and Saipan to Seoul was limited and related only to the method of attack and not directly to any defiance to any delaying movement outside of any assault mission. O. P. Smith had little justification in North Korea in delaying orders to move his forces forward and complete his mission during the following recorded lull between any combat assault. "Thus it was that with virtually no enemy opposition, the Marines advanced at an average rate of only a mile a day between 10 and 23 November." [5]  That last date was one day prior to O. P. Smith’s (Draft Two) order to cross the boundary line into Eighth Army zone for a "combined" assault ordered by MacArthur.

There was the slow movement precedent set for Chosin yet to come. Almond's ultimatum at Seoul could very well re-echo at Chosin prior to the Chinese intervention there. If there was no advance or progress within twenty-four hours, the Marine sections would be narrowed to permit the 7th Division to attack through that zone previously assigned to the Marines. Three Marine sectors had been extremely narrowed by Almond. The 7th Division was expanded into the Marine zone east of the Fusen Reservoir previously assigned to the Marines. There, Almond compromised his command at the expense of the 7th Division. I have already listed O. P. Smith’s objection to the Fusen Reservoir being assigned to him in MG Smith’s listing of Compromise #1):

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....  I finally talked General Almond into letting us off the hook on that, so the 5th could follow up the 7th." [6]

Almond did not include this in his seven points of objections in his interview. [7] Nor did Almond list this connecting link by Smith concerning his (Almond’s) exchanging Smith’s rear left flank position to the 3rd Division at Sach’ang-ni below Koto-ri.

MG Smith’s listing of Compromise #2):

"... I was given an order to move out to the Northwest, out another road from Hamhung and establish a blocking position out there. I went to Almond and said, 'After all, we can't make a main effort in two directions. We've got one main effort, which is going up this road by the Chosin Reservoir to the Yalu, and here you are telling us to be prepared for a major attack out to the Northwest.' By that time the 3rd Infantry Division had landed, and I said, 'Why can't they take over that job?' And they did eventually."

RED FLAG: There is an important point here.  The road leading to Sach’ang-ni had to come through the 1st Marine Division’s zone below Chinhung-ni to Sach’ang-ni. Thus, the 3rd Division had to travel through the 7th Division and below the previously assigned Marine zones to protect their own disputed far-most left flank between Eighth Army and the Marine forces.
(See  Note 1/7 Infantry lower left of map 8.

To quote from the general in charge of such assaults at Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, etc, "The mission of the Marine Corps is primarily offensive. Any other role deprives us of our effectiveness. For a small, well trained force, capable of great mobility, the best deployment is offensive, not defensive. This is sound military principle." [8]  However, General O. P. Smith apparently had his own tactical change of operations from the past. In my opinion, in his letter to General Cates he degraded his own corps history.  All around him were the effects of "task forces"--the splitting up of Army forces, yet he went on to record to the Marine commandant that the Marine Division "could not help but lose its effectiveness when dispersed." But amphibious operations required the splitting of units, each required to land on different sections--each end or side--of an island. The units could not always be united as one.  There were times when they had to be dispersed.

General Almond set a dangerous precedent for Smith and the Marine Corps under his command. There is no doubt that Almond would have relieved General Smith "yesterday" had Smith been an Army officer. But the reality was far, far more complicated than it may seem to be at a glance. Still under review, the dispute between Holland Smith and Ralph Smith in World War II had lingering effects into Korea. Plus, there was a review of the Billy Mitchell case with its serious charges.  If applied to O. P. Smith, the Department of the Army would have to file charges of insubordination on O. P. Smith’s inaction. That would require a like charge of "conduct prejudicial of good order and military discipline," as well as a court-martial requiring excessive time and effort and many facts to support the charge. That would have directly involved the Department of the Navy, as they would have had to conduct the trail. Therefore, it was far, far easier to invent some other avenue and sidestep the Marine Division all together.

President Lincoln replaced General George McClellan and President Truman replaced General MacArthur.  Holland Smith replaced General Ralph Smith, and General Ridgway replaced General Barr of the 7th Division.  The latter was because MG Barr was the scapegoat that had to be sacrificed. Had MG Barr objected or refused to move his forces in a hasty manner as ordered, thereby retaining the solidarity of those units but also offsetting his orders just 24 hours, history not only could have, but would have been recorded differently. The Chosin Reservoir Campaign would then have been true to Marine-recorded history.  It was a sole Marine campaign. This scenario would have been true only IF Almond had never required the 7th Division to be involved in the first place. In either case, MG Barr would have been replaced anyway, he being trapped in a no win situation.

General O. P. Smith survived his own test by failing to yield to Almond’s "suggestion" at Seoul. General Almond did not react by relieving him on the spot.  He did, however, react to reduce his zone of operations. That indicates that Almond could not, as opposed to would not take that controversial action. Almond had the equal rank of two stars to Smith. Holland Smith had that extra star over Ralph Smith. Still, it was Admiral Spruance in his role as commander over that force and the larger Department of the Navy who issued the order to remove Ralph Smith from his command. Yet Spruance did not have the authority to replace that division commander with a permanent replacement.  He could replace him with a temporary one, yes.  But a permanent one, no. General Ridgway was cautioned on this matter over placing O. P. Smith in charge of IX Corps in South Korea in 1951.  When the IX Corps commander had a heart attack, Ridgway replaced him with General Smith, placing him over Army forces. That could not stand in light of the past controversy of Holland Smith. Ridgway was ordered to explain that the appointment was only of a temporary nature, pending appointment of an Army IX Corps commander. General Smith even expressed surprise at the rapid speed used to replace him in that command position.

One of the underlying causes of the criticism of the Army role at Makin was the friction that existed between the Army and the Navy during that time frame.  In a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt held for staff strategy in the Pacific, the Navy sought to avoid the liberation of the Philippines. MacArthur pleaded his case to the President. "Admiral Nimitz put forth the Navy plan... I was in disagreement with the proposed plan, not only on strategic but psychological grounds." [9] He had promised to liberate the Philippines, but Admiral Nimitz wanted to avoid that at the time, and his remarks should be taken in that context. "I argued against the naval concept of frontal assaults against the strongly held island positions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. I stressed that our losses would be too heavy to justify...." Iwo Jima was, indeed, costly.  With a three-to-one attack ratio in our favor, the Marines suffered 40% casualties--over a one-for-one ratio in casualties. MacArthur wanted to take Luzon, resulting in this statement to the President: "My losses would not be heavy, any more than they have been in the past. The days of the frontal attack should be over. Modern infantry weapons are too deadly, and frontal assault is only for mediocre commanders. Good commanders do not turn in heavy losses." MacArthur did his own version of "island hopping" to avoid the heavier-defended ones, leaving the enemy forces, "to die on the vine."  Still, in Korea the Marines held to their frontal assaults.  That was their business and their tactics.  But those tactics did not please Almond's time schedule, which was a continual irritant to him.  It highlights why units should be separated.  Since tactics are different, the units should be different and separated to thus highlight teamwork of training units' specialties. 

As for the difference between United Nations forces in Korea: That instinctive British parsimony with ammunition, when the Americans believed in intensive bombardment if the rounds were there. Marine rifle company commander to Drysdale: "Suppose we were going up that hill over there.  We'd expect to put 200 rounds before we left the start line." The British officer replied dryly; "We wouldn't go up the hill at all. We'd go around it." Also as the Marines named many of their hills, the Army numbered them in height. [10] So the tactics of the various military branches were different.  Training was different as well.  Some tactics resulted in more casualties than others.  As a lesson in Korea, we found out that the Chinese had different tactics as well, and we had to adjust to them. Battle tactics--like a football game plan--are continually upgraded due to the situation in front. The difference for the Marine Corps was that they had to shift to defensive positions while the CCF dominated the Marines' favorite frontal assault strategy. That CCF tactic seemed to stun the Marines at Yudam-ni. Evidence seems to support this by the Marines' delay of three days to launch an offensive breakout from Yudam-ni.

General Oliver Smith's defense was that all things were not considered within the speed required.  His excuses for his many delays were many.  Most asinine of all was over map scales.  He said, "Planning is done on a 1:1,000,000 map. We execute on a 1:50,000 map." Though there was a scale difference in the maps, the distance between points remained the same. Or is one to believe that, if a map of one inch equal to three miles scale is used as opposed to a one inch of a six mile scale, one can get to his objective in one half the time by using the three scale map? I don't think so! One merely reduces the map scale, not the miles between the objective. If one should change the map scales, should it be the six Army divisions to match the one Marine division, or would it cause less confusion to change the latter? The Marine planners used nautical miles to the beach (note their maps, 17, 18, 19). These had to be calculated in the mix before hitting the beach: 1 nautical mile = 6076.1 feet. Ship speed in Knots (a different instrument to measure.) One just doesn't change the distance between points.  Only the measuring device and terminology changer.

One other confusing difference in terminology was that the Army land maps had all hills accurately measured and assigned numbers as to height. But the Marines, while using the same maps, renamed the local hills in their area to their liking. Examples of this were Fox Hill, Howe Hill, and North, South, East, West, and Turkey Hill, etc, while still alternating the numbers. That had to confuse the Air Force TACP units calling in close air to ground support as well as the Air Cargo command for supply drops. If only one is used, why alternate the standard terminology in the first place?

One must face reality here. The Army was not piloting battleships through the Korean northern mountain terrain, and neither was the Navy. As stated by World War II Rear Admiral Tarbuck in 1943 (reviewed earlier), "It is surprising how little the Army officers at GHQ knew about water." It was equally surprising how little the Navy knew about land combat operations. That the Marine Corps was devoted to dual purpose operations and elevated (by the press) to one historical event in a mountainous region of North Korea, fails to neutralize the expensive cost of Naval-Marine operations on land at Tarawa and Iwo Jima, in World War II.

Smith knew above all else that he would not be sacked by Almond, as no one had applied enough "pressure" to make him move his 7th Marine Regiment force (until November 23/24) into Yudam-ni. That is a mystery until this day. Also why he doubled up on this force on November 26/27 at Yudam-ni instead of having his newly-freed 5th Marine Regiment defend Hagaru-ri is also a mystery.  I cannot understand what the pressure was and who finally applied it. But the Navy had to influence it in some fashion. Apparently whatever force or support General Smith had received prior to 23 November date was overruled and withdrawn. The new reality was that this offensive--as did the Inchon invasion--was going forward with or without the 1st Marine Division. The Marine objectives under Plan 8, Draft 2, was transferred via Draft 3 to the 7th Division. The plan was to assist Eighth Army--just as the plan was at Inchon-to save lives by assisting General Walker’s forces in the southwestern section and zone. It was the very same logic used at Inchon.

Concerning the Inter-Service Rivalry at Chosin

As Smith wrote to his commandant on November 15 about his problems with the Army brass and the Army tactics, it is highly unlikely that the Marine commandant would take the side of the Army. While there is no report of what he told Smith or advice he may have given him, there is, however, some reference in Appleman’s report, of the Marine liaison officer on duty with X Corps, Colonel Edward H. Forney. [11] He was concerned that the Marine division would be cut off over the mountains at Yudam-ni. He argued that the Marine division was on loan from the Joint Chiefs, and if they were in any immediate danger of being used up, they should be notified first. But, one could well understand his anxiety in this matter and his position in it. A mission this far inland was not part of his expertise. He was the amphibious landing expert on Almond’s staff. Past experience with Marines under Holland M. Smith indicated that the estimates of Marine planning more often than not underestimated the number of casualties expected on an assault.

So the Army planners were under restrictions as to their use of the Marines, and it would seem that the best course and least line of resistance would be to pull them out of the action, and replace them with the 7th Division.  That was apparently the new plan. In other words, the Joint Chiefs were saying, "You can use the Marines, but don't abuse them. General Smith had to know how secure his position was with regards to Almond and his orders. I believe his command was saved by the Chinese attack taking place when it did. CCF Marshal Peng had set his offense date for the full moon 24 November.  When urged to start earlier, he had stated, "One has to be patient to catch a fish."

One of the dangers that still exists is interservice rivalry, and there is an ever present danger in that. It has to be solved. There is absolutely no reason to place a division of men at risk under a commander that can pick and choose the orders he intends to obey. As General Marshall decreed concerning the interservice rivalry between Holland Smith and Ralph Smith in World War II, never again would an Army general serve under the Marines. That decree should be a reciprocal one: that never again would a Marine general serve under an Army general. When one considers that for whatever reasons, the President, General Bradley, General Marshall, and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier opposed to use of the Marine Corps' use inland, this should be a red flag that something was wrong. Was it just "petty jealousy" or did it have a real basis in fact? Surely there was some reason for their positions. The Joint Chiefs even included the Navy brass, and they were not wild about the idea either. Yet when one considers the others, Truman and Bradley, as well as Marshall, had to be aware of the problems of rivalry between units. For any one of these men to make a public, derogatory remark about the Marines could be suspect.  But for all three of them to make such remarks must relate to some basis in fact. [12] To deny MacArthur this division of Marines by the addition of the Joint Chiefs further signals "red flags".

MacArthur was responsible for the outcome of North Korea.  All UN forces were his responsibility.  X Corps was the subordinate force.  Almond was the one responsible there, not Smith. The Marines being a single division were concerned for their own welfare.  The Army had others to worry about.  As reported in the case between Holland Smith again, the conflict between Holland Smith and his Navy friends was largely a matter of different views of the war, from different vantage points. Admiral Turner was responsible for the landing and protection of the troops and the safety of his ships, as well as the overall success of the invasion of an island, two islands or three as the case may be. Had the Marines been driven off Tarawa, Turner would have been responsible to Spruance. [13] But Holland Smith did not have to worry about the Japanese fleet or submarines or planes. (Those were Navy worries.)  His criticisms of naval operations had to be judged within the frame work of his responsibilities.

Likewise at Chosin.  But there O.P. Smith was under direct X Corps orders.  As at Inchon, the Navy turned over the finished operation to Smith, but Smith was then under Almond and his further orders.  No one seemed to dispute that the orders were from X Corps and that Smith and his Marines were under X Corps command.  One must also view his responsibilities at Chosin.  They were Army ones, as all UN troops were under Army command.

Responsibility-Far East Command

On 16 December 1946, the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff designated General MacArthur Commander in Chief, Far East Command, effective January 1947. Three general missions were assigned him:

1) Occupation of former enemy territories in which he discharged U.S. responsibilities in Japan, Korea, and former Japanese islands

2) Support U.S. Policies within the areas controlled by his forces

3) Be prepared to meet a general emergency at any time.

The top headquarters within the Far East Command--General Headquarters (GHQ) was located in Tokyo, Japan. It was essentially an Army Headquarters, staffed almost entirely by Army personnel, and it resembled the same structure of MacArthur's headquarters of World War II. It should be noted that the separate command in the Pacific during that latter war was split between MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz.  His staff, as was MacArthur's, was heavily-weighted with his own naval personnel.

But as of late 1947, the Air Force was no longer the Army Air Corps under the direction of the Department of the Army.  It was then a separate department of its own. The Navy and the Air Force felt that their activities within the Far East were being directed totally by Army staff under an Army commander. MacArthur, however, complained that he could not exercise sufficient control over the internal organization of these services in his area. This proved to be true and costly to lives at Chosin.  Neither could he directly control, direct the troops outside Army control of their units, or supervise fully their logistic operations. Thus, it would appear that the Marine Corps' responsibility remained more under the direction of the Department of the Navy--little dispute there. The Marine Corps commander surely would never oppose lawful orders if he believed those lawful orders had to be carried out in a timely matter. Thus, those "delays" that were so prevalent in Korea between the Marines and X Corps directives upset the entire corps offensive dates. Surely had each of those UN forces assigned did their own thing on their own time table, chaos would have been the order of the day. The only variable in the plan should have been the enemy location and strength.

One glowing example at Chosin was Task Force Drysdale. What if he disregarded his orders in defense of his own better judgment between Koto-ri and Hagaru? He believed that mission should have been aborted due to the enemy force, but he was 'ordered' by General Smith of the Marines under the Department of the Navy to continue forward at "all cost." He obeyed that order. Who should bear the responsibility of that cost? To those men of the 7th Division "attached" to this task force, who officially assigned them to the Marines? We know Drysdale was assigned as a UN unit to the Marines-the British yes, the 7th Division, assigned NO, not at that time. The date and time frame doesn’t fall within the official time frame that Almond assigned "all forces within the Chosin area" to be under General Smith’s command.  That was not authorized until the next day. How did Smith assume he was in command? What authority did he have as a division commander to grab forces (7th Infantry Division) moving through his area on an independent assignment and to reassign them to a task force with a United Nations unit attached as its lead commander? By all means, this should have been a small Army task force named after its 31st "B" commander, Peckham.

Since General Smith opposed Army time tables and he was yet to receive command from them, how did he assume or get command of this 7th Division group, s MG Smith denied any attached Army relationship to this force. [14] Was that a lawful order? If it was, than it had to be authorized by Almond at that time.  This is doubtful since he was in Tokyo at the time.  But if it was true, then the orders issued to Smith prior to that date would also be lawful ones and bound his division to execute those orders as well. One cannot depend on orders issued one day, delayed, and then rely on those orders as lawful from the same source later. As Almond "all over Smith," why did he leave Hagaru so weak? This indicated that Task Force Drysdale would never have been needed at that time had Smith reinforced Hagaru with his 5th Marine Regiment. Question: Why was Hagaru left weak in defense? That was not by order by Almond or his staff. General Almond was reported to be at GHQ in Tokyo at the time of the creation of Task Force Drysdale.

The facts reveal, though quite late, that the Army could not directly control or direct all the troop movements accurately and on time in Korea under General Almond's X Corps command. That fact caused chaos at Chosin. Its aftermath and results of the operation listed as a "sole" Marine operation. Those Army forces of MacLean’s were removed from history as to their ever being at Chosin. Still, if the Army was the dominate force in Korea, why was a force from the Army the one to be removed from the Chosin action? Everything was in place but the cause for those troops being there in the first place. Yet, the Marine history records a disclaimer: "[T]he Marines at Hagaru had little to do with the higher levels of strategy.  It was evident that the continued retreat of the Eighth Army in west Korea must ultimately affect the destinies of X Corps" as Plan 8, Draft 3, affected Eighth Army destiny. [15]

This implies that the Marines were issued their orders due to that higher level of strategy. Those X Corps orders to all divisions--be they Army or Marine--were considered within that higher level of strategy. Any sudden division change could affect that strategy to a larger degree. The division commanders were not to alter those orders issued in relationship to those higher levels of strategy. They could react to emergency changes after the plans proceed, but not unilaterally stall in lead off time. Again, as Marine history states, "Almond was also much concerned about the attacks on the Marine MSR. He had been given a firsthand account that morning by the senior Marine officer on the X Corps staff, Colonel Edward H. Forney, who had just returned from Koto-ri." [16] This indicates that X Corps was a vital part of this "sole" Marine withdrawal. It was the staff planners of X Corps that had to coordinate the withdrawal, not MG Smith. The Department of the Air Force, plus the planes and ships of the Department of the Navy were needed. Time schedules had to be tightly followed to coordinate all forces and units. This was all outside the function of a division commander. All division commanders had to be included within this withdrawal to the sea mission. Each was assigned a part. This was no time for independent action of one division, especially since that division was already intermixed with two other divisions--the 3rd and 7th and the British Royal Commandos under Drysdale.

Here one should take time out to explain some difference between rank and position outside of combat unit commanders. As stated above, Colonel Forney (USMC) briefed General Almond on road attacks on the Main Supply Route (MSR). One may wonder why that was not General Smith's job, he being two ranks higher than Colonel Forney, yet both Marine officers (this one outside exception to an event not credited to Smith). The answer is in the position each held at the time. Colonel Forney was a Deputy Chief of Staff--one of three in X Corps under its Chief of Staff Major General Clark L. Ruffner. [17] General Ruffner, therefore, was of equal rank to Major General Smith, as were all other division commanders.  General Ruffner's position, while not in a direct command position, nevertheless made him privileged to advance planning orders to all X Corps division assignments before and until those plans were issued to the division commander. Colonel Forney also had that information available to him prior to General Smith being issued his final objective. Above the X Corps Chief of Staff was X Corps with the Commanding General (same rank as Smith), Major General Edward M. Almond, with three aide-de-camp.  Each of them (at the time of Chosin) held the rank of Captain. So the position held could be of more importance than a division general.  That is what stands out about the reports from Chosin--always "Smith"--his sole importance, his dislike for the mission, his dislike of Almond, his dislike of the planning, and his effects on the need to re-work the plans to his own liking for his division within X Corps or other sections all pertaining to each combat division in some respect.

Under X Corps and the Chief of Staff were:

  • X Corps
  • G1 Section, Administration/Personnel
  • G2 Section, Intelligence
  • G3 Section, Operations
  • G4 Section, Logistics/Supplies

All of these had their own jobs to do to support each division.  G-1 was the biggest section with Personnel, Adjutant General, Chaplain, Civil Affairs Officer, Inspector General, Judge Advocate, Occupation Court Officer, Postal Officer, Provost Marshal, Public Information Officer, and U.N. Public Heath Welfare Officer.  So everything from getting paid, to getting mail, to getting to the Inspector General to review conditions was under the umbrella of G-1. It didn't take the division commander to deliver the mail. The point is that, when a bridge span was needed--as at Koto-ri--we informed X Corps Engineering Section of that fact.  They swung into action to locate one or as many as we needed. If it had to be delivered by truck, that was related to the Transportation Section.  If by air, then it would have to be delivered through the Air Cargo section of the Corps support section. How did we get that ammo dropped to us at the Reservoir? How did the Marines get their ammo air dropped to them on the other side? Pure and simple: by Fifth Air Force cargo planes, coordinated by X Corps staff planners, not their division commander. We relied on our support systems, not our commanding general as such. He did not take that assigned objective.  The infantry did.

To return again to Colonel Forney, he was attached to the GHQ office in Tokyo prior to the full Marine division being given to MacArthur's command. With or without the Marine division, the Inchon invasion was in the works. All divisions within MacArthur's occupation force in Japan had made amphibious assaults in World War II. 

There had been an earlier aborted attempt [scheduled for late July] using the 1st Cavalry Division as the basic landing division. Its code operation was named "Bluehearts." It was to be used to link up with General Dean’s 24th Division at Osan, but the 24th Division had been pushed back and was unable to link up. As such, this plan was not activated.  Lack of manpower negated the use of the 1st Cavalry Division as it was needed on Walker's lines in the defensive against the North Koreans' push south toward Pusan. Colonel Forney was then tapped by GHQ to formulate plans. Second in line was the 2nd Infantry Division on its way from the United States, to be joined by the 1st Marine Brigade, also coming from the States. The main units in each case were Army. The main point:  Inchon didn’t totally depend on a Marine amphibious division.

The planning stages for Inchon began as early as July 4.  The port was designated by MacArthur as the invasion point--long before he had any approval of ever getting any Marine forces. On August 6, Colonel Forney, the previous commander of an elite Pacific Fleet troop training unit in Japan, was added to Force X as a Deputy Chief of Staff. (X Corps had not yet been created on that date.) MacArthur picked Almond as corps commander because of his loyalty.  The mission would be testy at best, and he needed someone "who would not shrink before the apparent impossibility of the task." Almond's reward was that third star required by corps status that came before MacArthur was relieved of his own command by President Truman in April of 1951.

Almond kept Colonel Forney on his Corps Chief of Staff. So in reality, General O.P. Smith's arrival at Inchon was at odds with Forney's amphibious plans. His arrival created opposition to the planned site. Inchon was MacArthur's set site--his choice on July 4--the date to execute two and one-half months later. It was, therefore, Colonel Forney's responsibility and his commitment to X Corps and its set mission.  His responsibility was not to continually hurl darts at a spinning board to locate the best site and position for another amphibious landing as an alternative to Inchon--the main one, with all its tides and timetable to fit an invasion between them. All of these drawbacks to Inchon were stated before hand. Colonel Forney had formulated that plan (plus those lesser one indicated earlier at Kunsan and even Wonsan).  When one considers Inchon to Tarawa, the latter charts listed as 100% in error, yet, the planners of that offensive used those charts. The ground forces had to compensate for those errors. and the landing went forward on the date planned.

The Navy errors at Tarawa were costly.  MacArthur’s hasty Inchon landing was not. MacArthur's keen sense of timing was on target. That sense of timing was continually delayed at Chosin and the delays continually changed the pattern and position of the enemy forces already uncertain to begin with. The results there, as at Tarawa, are recorded for history. Colonel Forney later had at best one week to rearrange the landing of the 7th Division from Wonsan to Iwon in North Korea. Still, during this time he had to arrange for a reverse amphibious transporting of two battalions of the 1st Marine Regiment out of Kojo back on LST to re-land at Wonsan.  While not stressed by the press, Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller ordered his 1st Battalion to move from Wonsan to Kojo and secure a ROK supply dump at that point. After being hit by North Korean soldiers and suffering several casualties, Puller sent his 2nd Battalion to Kojo to assist the 1st Battalion. After less than two weeks in Kojo, this force returned via those LSTs to Wonsan on 1 November. 

"He goes into battle with the price of victory already calculated in human lives." - Gen. Holland M. Smith

"Part of the job is to send men into places from which you know they are not likely to come out again." - Gen. William F. Dean

"I made strong efforts therefore to drive home to Corps and Division Commanders that no unit was left to be overwhelmed and destroyed; that units that were cut off were to be fought for and brought back unless a major commander, after personal appraisal, should decide that their relief would result in the loss of equal or greater number." - Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway

"I believe a winter campaign in the mountains of North Korea is too much to ask of the American soldier or marine." - Gen. Oliver P. Smith [to Marine Commandant Cates

Three of the above quotations cover battlefield anticipated losses. Only the last one concerns discomfort due to the elements of nature. The top three concern the mission regardless of hardships, of terrain, weather elements or forces available. Each of the top three accepted their command responsibility over the mission assigned, the high cost in lives attached to the mission assigned. The weather was never a completely disabling factor. American military history records an abundance of weather related difficulties: Valley Forge - the cold; New Guinea - the sweltering heat; South Korea - the monsoon rains; and the frozen reaches of North Korea. Surely morale was affected on both sides. We defeated the Japanese in World War II, yet the Japanese were in North Korea building the Chosin Reservoir power plants under severe seasonal conditions.

Once again, the words of MacArthur ring true. "Nature is neutral in war, but if you beat it and the enemy does not, it becomes a powerful ally." In other words, if it rains, both sides get wet.  If it continues, both sides must deal with the mud. The men of Task Force Smith fought without air support, as did the North Koreans, because the monsoon season was underway in South Korea. That was not to be a factor there. The commanders had to accept and fight under all weather conditions. The commanding officers who didn’t care for the inconvenience of the weather in combat could resign their commission at any time, for any reason, as MacArthur did in 1937 in the Philippines. He returned to the US Army in early 1941, one grade below his previous rank of a full general.

The common soldier, on the other hand, is not given the same option as the commanding officer. He is stuck in place in the battle line he is assigned. In the 1950s, his orders were not his to refuse. He could bitch about them, yes.  But refuse to obey them, no. When the order was given to move, one moved.  When given the order to attack, one attacked. When fate decided whether a soldier or Marine could be wounded or killed, that was part of the job. Surely each man would have loved to have been elsewhere. If the men in charge with the responsibility to order troops forward had refused at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Midway, Normandy, Inchon, etc., Chosin would never have taken place. The Marine Corps above all others espouses their tight discipline on line. White markers cry out around the world of men sent there because of plans of others. Enlisted men or draftees, it makes no difference on the field of battle. Each was a "hero" perhaps, remembering that it has been stated, "A hero is only a coward that got cornered and fought frantically to get out."

But the outcome of most battles is not the result of one hero named within one battle.  he is only an event within it. The hero doesn’t attribute to the outcome of the entire battle.  he is only one isolated incident within its historical record. There were heroes on both sides--winners and losers of the battle fought. As Holland Smith stated, the combat man "knows only the danger in front of him." He does not know the storms brewing behind the scenes, by interservice rivalry or the weather charts issued by the weather advisors. This is also in the over all mix of the factors when the commander orders his forces to attack. While the Air Force is included in the mix to provide much needed air cover, the changing pattern of the weather might prevent their vital and essential cover. Whether that changes the timetable or not is the call (and educated guess) of the top commander. Eisenhower had to be the one to order D-Day on the 6th of June 1944, in spite of the storm brewing at sea.  He had to decide whether to go or not go.  The invasion of Normandy was his decision alone, just as it was MacArthur's decision at Inchon, the weather reports already analyzed for the difficulties of the landings.

Such decision-making is an enormous responsibility of the commander. But to carry out the plan of attack as given, within the boundary of the educated guess of the losses calculated for that battle--that calculated loss in lives spent in achieving the assigned mission or objective--is part of his job.  No one had ever stated that Korea was the ideal place to fight a war.  To the contrary, it was said to be the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.  MacArthur stated on November 13, 1951, at Seattle that "We have been told of the war in Korea, that it was the wrong war, at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Does this mean that they intend and indeed plan what they call a right war, at a right time and in a right place? These are questions that disturb us, because there is no answer forthcoming."

Smith to General Cates

"Although the Chinese have withdrawn to the north, I have not pressed Litzenberg to make any rapid advance. Our orders still require us to advance to the Manchurian border. However, we are the left flank division of the Corps and our left flank is wide open. There is no unit of the Eighth Army nearer than eighty miles to the southwest of Litzenberg. When it is convenient, the Corps can say there is nothing on our left flank. If this were true, then there should be nothing to prevent Eighth Army from coming abreast of us. This they are not doing. I do not like the prospect of stringing out a Marine division along a single mountain road for 120 air miles from Hamhung to the border. (The road mileage is nearer 200.) I now have two RCTs on this road and when Puller is relieved by the Third Infantry Division I will close him up behind. What concerns me considerably, is my ability to supply two RCTs in the mountains in winter weather. Snow, followed by a thaw and a freeze, will put out my road. There is nothing but mountain road.

As I indicated to you when you were here I have little confidence in the tactical judgment of the Corps or the realism of their planning. My confidence has not been restored. Planning is done on a 1:1,000,000 map.  We execute on a 1:50,000 map. There is continual splitting up of units and assignments of missions to small units which puts them out on a limb. This method of operating appears general in Korea. 'I am convinced that many of their set backs here have been caused by this disregard for the integrity of units and of the time space factor.

Time and again I have tried to tell the Corps commander that in a Marine division he has a powerful instrument, but that it cannot help but lose its full effectiveness when dispersed. Probably I have had more luck than other division commanders in impressing my point. Someone in high authority will have to make up his mind as to our goal. My mission is still to advance to the border. The Eighth Army, eighty miles to the southwest, will not attack until the 20th. Manifestly, we should not push on without Eighth Army. We would simply get further out on a limb. If Eighth Army push does not go, then the decision will have to be made as to what to do next. I believe a winter campaign in the mountains of North Korea is too much to ask of the American soldier or Marine, and I doubt the feasibility of supplying troops in this area during the winter or providing for the evacuation of sick or wounded."

General Smith stated, "My mission is still to advance to the border." The letter to Cates was on November 15th, yet, he would not move his forces beyond Sinhu, east of Chosin (nor into Yudam-ni except "under pressure").  If his mission was to hold until changed, that would be different.  But that was not the case. The last order-this one-is in force until rescinded or changed.  That was not recorded until November 26, after Lieutenant Colonel Faith’s force was in place.

General Smith’s letter to Commandant General Cates said, "Time and again I have tried to tell the corps commander that in a Marine Division he has a powerful instrument, but that it cannot help but lose its full effectiveness when dispersed " But a powerful instrument left idle produces nothing. A bayonet in its scabbard is no threat to the enemy.  It must be thrust forward where it belongs at the end of a rifle. A pen in a shirt pocket produces nothing on paper until it connects with that paper. A plane on the ground covers no great distance until airborne.

The same day, he wrote the pessimistic letter to Cates, Smith was visited by Admiral Albert K. Morehouse, chief of staff to Admiral Turner Joy, the FEC naval commander. Smith stated, "I found in my deals with the Army, particularly with X Corps, that the mood was either one of extreme optimism or extreme pessimism. There did not seem to be any middle ground." Here Smith was also vocal to his parent department, the Navy, to cover all the bases.

With all this Marine history behind him, he seemed more pessimistic than optimistic. Why that was only he could have given the proper answers. Had that same pessimism manifested itself in the Pacific in World War II, the Marines would not have achieved the glory of defeating the enemy if they had not engaged them. But they did engage them--at tremendous cost and loss of life, as did the 7th Division.  Both the 1st Marines and the 7th Division were at the Ryukus in World War II.  There, the Marines paid a high price in casualties, as did the 7th Division.  The 7th Division's casualties were 10,893, and the total Marine casualties were 25,912.  Of the Marine casualties, the 1st Marine Division had 13,002, the 2nd Marines had 95, and the 6th Marines had 12,815.

I cannot understand the mindset of the Marine commander--his criticism of the Army in Korea.  Indeed, in his letter to General Cates, he stated about X-Corps, "There is a continual splitting up of units and assignment of missions to small units which puts them out on a limb." But those units were Army ones.  They were not his, and thus not his responsibility at the time.  Task Force MacLean/Faith later became his responsibility, and it is recorded within these pages how he respected them.

The point in all of this is that he refused to move his forces as regiments or regimental combat teams, and in the end, he had to create his own task force out of necessity because of that refusal. MacArthur had ordered all units forward, but the Marine commander would not move forward.  Instead, he said, "If Eighth Army push does not go, then the decision will have to be made as to what to do next."  He further stated, "Manifestly, we should not push on without Eighth Army."  But Eighth Army began moving forward on the 24th as planned. The Marine commander did not respond on that date. Perhaps there is the answer to the 'pressure' put on him to move the 7th Regiment to be in place "with regards to Eighth Army."  For their move had negated his excuse to be in position at Yudam-ni on the 24th of November. It appears there had to be a substitute excuse--the 5th Marines ultimatum and the 'dispersed' excuse. Eighth Army was on the move as of 240800 November.  His force was not.

In further search for middle ground (the possible instead of the negative view), one can only wonder whether or not, when the orders were given, if the pessimistic view was predominate.  If it was, failure was knowingly built into the plan. Or, were the plans issued with the overall view that the attack plan would be successful, an optimistic view regardless of the obstacle faced?

My Opinion of Smith's Letter to Cates

I have reviewed this letter throughout these pages, but let me make another small review of the letter at this time.  Smith was concerned about a thaw and a freeze putting out his road, but the weather chart and a simple calendar can shed some light on this. It was going into December in a Siberian setting, so a thaw was out of the question. The 7th Division's weather chart for Hyesanjin on the Yalu--a position 45 miles higher on the border than Changjin--list the Mean Daily Temperature (the minimum) as November = 9, December = -11, January = -19, February = -12, and March = 7.  The years recorded were 16. So it would seem unlikely that anyone would have a worry about a thaw as he got nearer to the border.

Major General Oliver P. Smith

Smith joined the First Marine Division in New Britain in January 1944. He had been called to active duty as a Marine Corps second lieutenant on May 14, 1917.  He spent World War I on Guam. During the inter-war years, Smith commanded the Marine detachment on the USS Texas, and served on the Marine Corps staff in Washington.  When the United States entered World War II, he was commanding a battalion of the Sixth Marines in Iceland.

In 1944, he commanded the Fifth Marine Regiment at Talasea and in the Peleliu operation. He served as deputy chief of staff for the 10th US Army for the invasion of Okinawa. (Here, it would seem, was the position he could not cut loose--that of planning, as Colonel Forney then had that position with the Army. Apparently, he felt he could still do both jobs.) Named commanding officer of the First Marine Division in June 1950, he led his men ashore at Inchon in September 1950. During the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir in November to December 1950, he won the Army's second highest award for bravery, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his heroism in breaking the enemy's stranglehold and leading his division in a fighting 70-mile march to the seaport of Hungnam. [19] However, the medal was given before the completion of the force return to Hungnam.  He advanced to a four-star general.  He retired from active duty on September 1, 1955. General Smith died on December 25, 1977.

A Lone Marine?

"But the pressure was being put on me to get going. Finally, I had to tell Litzenberg to go on over and occupy Yudam- ni." [19]

His legacy is one of detachment from the Marine Corps history itself. Its hymn, "First to Fight"  was elevated under his command to honorable "delay". For it is written in history, "Smith deliberately stalled on the advance because he didn’t like the prospect of stringing out his division...." P&D (261) Fact: His division was concentrated as no other in North Korea.  He had placed his forces of three regiments (5th, 7th, and 11th Marines) at Yudam-ni, leaving only one battalion to defend the vital hub at Hagaru-ri, the supply point for these three regiments. Specifically, an airstrip was carved out for this supply point. It was the vital point to be protected. Still, Smith downplayed its importance until the CCF attack cut his ties to all forces north, west, and east of Hagaru, and south to Koto-ri.

Smith is praised as a "gentle" leader or warrior.  But the facts, promulgated by earlier authors and reports, point to his being more of a timid leader. The recorded facts that his regimental commanders ignored his orders without disciplinary action on his part seems to bear out his timidity of command. The fact that he sought advice from his commandant by asking his opinion about what he should do before doing what he felt he should do, is the overwhelming evidence. The responsibility was his alone as division commander. Plus, there is also the fact that after he sent his letter--not before--pressure was applied to him and he moved the 7th Marines into Yudam-ni. There, he lost his anticipated support--a criticism of him as well as of Holland Smith.  He endangered his own command.

This latter he should have done without that "pressure" applied. After all, the move to Yudam-ni was reported by him as one of a "blocking position"--a necessity to prevent enemy forces from attacking Hagaru-ri, the center hub of a >Y< with Yudam-ni as the western (left) blocking limb, and Sinhu, east of Chosin blocked by the 5th Marines on the other (right) limb. The downward leg was guarded by the 1st Marines at Koto-ri. He then transferred his 5th Marines westward rather than relocating them at Hagaru-ri.  This was a fatal mistake as they passed that point. The 31st & 32nd Infantry took over the eastern bank of the Chosin reservoir arena.


[1] Nor would they respond to their own General O.P. Smith’s timely command to clear the road from Yudam-ni to Hagaru-ri on the date he issued that order.  It took three additional days. The order to withdraw was issued 28 November and reinforced by Almond’s order 29th November. However, no Marines returned to Hagaru-ri until 4 December. Recall that he issued orders for Drysdale to advance to Hagaru from Koto-ri (same time frame "at all costs").

[2] As H. Smith placed the 27th Division in reserve after Saipan, and transfer the mission to his marines. (See fn 9 chapter 6.)

[3] The Marine Corps had long insisted that a frontal assault proves more effective over time.  While costly at the beginning, it saved lives over all. That is highly questionable on the battle numbers given under H. Smith’s operations. One only has to do the math to determine the cost. ( Author has examples.)

[4] Whitney, p.461, on MacArthur

[5] South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, p.773

[6] O. Smith interview, Benis Frank, 1969

[7] General H. C. Pattison, Chief of Military History, U. S. Army dated March 7, 1969

[8] (H. Smith, Coral & Brass, p.57)

[9] MacArthur, Reminisces, p. 214

[10] Max Hastings, book Korea

[11] East of Chosin

[12] Notwithstanding the fact that all three men had been Army officers

[13] Nimitz and his Admirals

[14] Denied a PUC award on the grounds that "they attached themselves" to Drysdale’s column

[15] USMC, Volume 3, page 238

[16] USMC, Volume 3, page 239

[17] Staff officers had no direct troop command responsibilities. They were assigned to Almond.

[18] Clay Blair's book, The Forgotten War, refers to this award as being given without a 'written citation' (page 536).  Smith stated, "I never did get a citation for that cross. I suppose I would have to write my own."

[19] O. Smith interview, Benis Frank, 1969.


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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