Chosin Reservoir - Ray Vallowe Research


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

I have reviewed the recently published book, The Gentle Warrior: Oliver P. Smith, USMC, by Clifton La Bree. I wrote to him about my views on his subject, and we had an exchange of opinions. I enclosed a comment on the declassified Operational Order #25 that states that Mupyong-ni was reassigned to the 7th Division. He replied that it was "beyond the scope of his research."  Like other authors before him, he writes the one continual, redundant thread throughout all the books on Chosin:  that MG Smith "delayed" his orders.  Only one author, Clay Blair, ever stated that Smith "refused" to move forward on the east side of Chosin prior to 24 November.

This latest book by La Bree goes even further, including a quote that states that General Smith "disobeyed orders." I am amazed that this author would include that statement as a supportive defense of the career assessment of an elevated four-star general's career, calling Smith a "gentle warrior" rather than a controversial one.  On February 21, 2002, I received this comment from Clifton La Bree: "Your defense of Almond and criticism of General Smith defies logic and is contrary to opinions taken by most historians familiar with the subject."

Yet opinion is often contrary to reality. No historians as of this writing, including La Bree, have ever admitted any knowledge of Opn O 25 in their reports. [1] That information is a vital piece of the Chosin puzzle. Most historians do agree that Smith was dragging his feet, however no historian has ever stated that he was the only division commander in the Chosin Reservoir campaign to do that, or that it was an honorable thing for him to do. On page 219 of La Bree’s book, it states that " is not generally known that one reason that the division could be saved was that General Smith disobeyed orders." [2] If this was true, he could well have been charged with a court martial offense. Any defensive statement would have to be weighed within a trial for his dereliction of duty.  However, no such charges were ever filed. Therefore, no record exists of MG Smith disobeying any order. Instead, there is implied praise by most historians because he did so. To what end? It is difficult to understand whether this quote was intended to praise or degrade General Smith over that disobedience. Does that defy logic? So one should search for a reason and some supportive fact behind this statement.

I am not a noted author, nor do I pretend to be. However, I believe that there are some mistakes that need to be pointed out about LaBree’s book. Early in his book, he stated on pages 165-166 that:

"During the forty-five years since Smith wrote his Korean narrative, more information has become available regarding the performance and fate of the RCT 31...The loss of all records and most of the officers and noncoms had contributed to a lack of appreciation for the contribution that the unit made...certain facts should be pointed out, because they directly relate to O.P. Smith's performance as commanding general...."

"When Smith assembled what he called his 'aide-memoire,' he was not aware of the significant role played by the army units east of Chosin. As a matter of a fact, he was probably influenced by Colonel Beall, who had been responsible for the rescue of hundreds of survivors from RCT 31. Ironically, in 1953 Colonel Beall submitted a scathing report against the army in the Chosin campaign, which calls to question his powers of observation and his integrity.... It is now clear that RCT 31's actions spared the 1st Marine Division the heavy casualties that the Chinese would have inflicted if the army units had not delayed their attack. It is possible that RCT 31 saved the division from destruction."

How does the observation that it was "possible that RCT 31 saved the division from destruction," tie into the total destruction of the RCT 31 via the La Bree statement, "because they directly relate to O.P. Smith's performance as commanding general...."

The reality is that the reassignment of the original Marine mission to the 31 RCT and its ultimate destruction did "directly relate to O.P. Smith's performance as commanding general....," as did his utter failure to reinforce Hagaru-ri on 26 November with his 5th Marine Regiment--now freed of their mission and replaced by the 7th Division orders.  This reality, in fact, unraveled on 270800 November 50, which was the scheduled hour of the stated Marine advance towards Mupyong-ni. Did General Smith disobey an order to send his forces forward in defiance of any X Corps order on that date? Supportive evidence by Marine history and most historians is that he did not. In fact, their records indicate Smith over-reacted in a near state of panic to realign his 5th Marine Regiment as his lead forces at Yudam-ni to conform to that order.

"In planning the advance, Smith had assumed the full relief of the 5th Marines east of the reservoir by noon of the 26th. He apparently expected the entire 7th Division combat team to arrive by that hour, but General Barr had called for the relief of the Marines by a minimum of one infantry battalion, an order satisfied by the arrival of the 1st Battalion, 32d Infantry. In any event, the remainder of Colonel MacLean’s forces did not reach the new zone by noon on the 26th or by 0800 on the 27th, the scheduled hour of the Marine advance. The full 5th Marines consequently did not reach Yudam-ni on the 26th, and the plan had to be changed since Colonel Murray was with his forces east of the reservoir. Colonel Litzenberg, commanding the 7th Marines, took charge of the opening effort." (Mossman, Ebb & Flow, pages 89-90, per Marine history)

Smith is credited with an urgency in moving his forces toward Mupyong-ni westward at Yudam-ni, contradicting any claim that he disobeyed or delayed any order. MG Smith’s forces were where his command (not Almond's) had placed them when the enemy hit at Yudam-ni.  The effort to establish as fact that "Smith saved his command by disobeying orders," at Chosin falls short of reality.  That action cannot be proven. (Call to mind the General Billy Mitchell case supportive evidence: "conduct prejudicial of good order and military discipline."  He was charged and found guilty.)

Reality must therefore point to some earlier event at Chosin--Smith's delay in moving his forces on schedule.  It is common, publicized knowledge that earlier than 24 November, General Smith delayed, stalled, refused, or dragged his feet. The opinion that MG Smith used delaying tactics has been put forth by most historians of the Chosin Reservoir campaign. This can be proven via schedules. But, again they were refuted and invalidated by Almond’s reassigning those delayed missions to the 7th Infantry Division.  General Smith was never charged with any misconduct. Nor were any charges of "dereliction of duty" ever filed against him. Therefore, no official record of his disobedience exists. Instead there is only implied praise that he did so by most historians.  Again, to what end? One must search for reason and fact behind this statement as well.

It is a fact that since ancient times silence  has been viewed as approval over any event when ignored by others involved. Reality: [RED FLAG] CG Almond did respond to Smith's various delays at Seoul, the Fusen Reservoir, at the relocation of the 3rd Infantry Division to Sach’ang-ni, and at the Chosin Reservoir by removing MG Smith’s zone of responsibility and transferring those zones to the 7th Division.  That is the reason Lt. Col. Faith was at Fusen and was the closest unit to relocate to Chosin. [3] Smith's delays were never condoned by Almond's silence.  He was merely reassigned. While most historians have collectively established a legend for General Smith, it is a legend that has no supportive evidence. Again, to what end did they create the legend?  It was their way of giving credit where they felt that credit was due--that MG Smith saved his division by "disobeying orders" [4] and not having forces further into enemy territory.

But the reality was that all UN forces were already deep within enemy territory.  The 7th Division was already 45 miles north of Smith's forces. There was enemy ahead, behind, and right and left of us. We were no more venerable to attack than our pursuit of the North Korean enemy within their own territory. This offsets opinions that state that attacking the enemy earlier would have saved all commands by upsetting the enemy timetable to engage us. MacArthur’s stated opinion (similar to President Lincoln’s opinion in the Civil War) was, "By delay the enemy will gain on you." Different opinions on the same issue.  What was the most rational approach?

Similar charges have also been leveled by most historians against General Almond of X Corps in Korea.  They state that he had "total disregard for his forces," yet no charges of "conduct prejudicial of good order and military discipline" were ever officially filed against him.  Still, Almond's so-called cavalier attitude with regards to the safety of the troops is a common legend publicized by most historians of that day, as well as by some of the subordinate Army commanders who carried out his orders. In spite of his purported reputation for having disregard for troop safety, Almond continued in command (silent acceptance of his authority) under General Ridgway, even after Ridgway replaced General MacArthur in April 1951. CG Almond gave MG Smith a Distinguished Service Cross for his service at Chosin. Those historians who defend the validity of that medal, must surely, although perhaps unwittingly, defend the X Corps Commanding General's established right, authority, and integrity to issue that medal.  Whether outside of military regulations stating the criterion to qualify for it, is another matter. [5] They cannot support both views without contradiction.

I have my own opinion and version of what happened at Chosin concerning the forces I served with. My version may deeply offend others, as other versions offend me.  The right to have differing opinions is a protected freedom in this country. Silence over Smith’s alleged delays does not rule out the rationality of other military options left open to Almond. He, with MacArthur's permission, could remove the 1st Marine Division from its mission, place them in reserve status, and go around them. Implying that events and delays caused MG Smith to dominate the Chosin Reservoir Campaign over CG Almond is beyond the reality of the urgent situation of set timetables for that combined offensive to go forward on 0800 November 24th. The many excuses supplied in support of MG Smith's actions or inactions will not withstand extensive scrutiny. Having been relieved of the attack westward from Yudam-ni, why did he fail to fully relocate his 5th Marine Regiment into Hagaru-ri, instead ordering them an additional 14 miles beyond Hagaru into Yudam-ni (in front of, rather than behind) the 7th Marine Regiment already there?.

If we are ever to obtain closure for the Korean War, events must be placed in perceptive.  Legendary opinions must be replaced by the reality of that day. Established documents must come forward to place forces where they were and a reasonable explanation must be given to explain why those forces were there. Let the chips fall where they may, regardless of who may be offended by reality. If legendary figures must fall, so be it. Reality will never completely erase the shadow those legendary figures have cast over the years, but full light will allow history to flourish and spread, nourished by that light. Where is that "one historian" explaining the reason why the 7th Division was at Chosin in the first place? The statement, "because General Almond wanted them involved," is a little inadequate. Anyone who believes that Almond (who was known to have an aggressive nature) would fail to react, is missing the truth about the great drama that took place at Chosin.

The reality is that Almond inserted Task Force MacLean into the mix, and Lt. Colonel Faith was officially attached on 29 November to the 1st Marine Division.  Thus, any benefit Smith derived from these forces and Task Force Dog cannot be overlooked in Army forces involved in "the saving of his division." Almond had his own delayed plans for history about Chosin, via the 7th Infantry Division, 31st Infantry Regiment, OPN O 25, classified and secured in the National Archives. Regretfully, someone uncovered it in 1979, but placed no value on that information. I obtained a copy of it in 1991.  Its contents peaked a unique interest for me because, as an Army survivor of the drama that took place east of the Chosin Reservoir, I understood its value to Frozen Chosin history.  - Ray Vallowe


[1] This document was copied on 1-9-79, indicating that someone had it from the National Archives and in the public domain after that date. Why it was not commented on by "most historians" is unknown to me.

[2] Smith’s biography, The Gentle Warrior, page 219.

[3] Col. Faith some 45 air miles south of his parent regiment, located near Samsu, near the Yalu River.

[4] The Gentle Warrior, page 219.  Source: The New York Times editorial for Thursday, 1 September 1955.

[5] 3-7. Distinguished Service Cross: a. The Distinguished Service Cross, section 3742, title 10, United States Code (10 USC 3742), was established by Act of Congress 9 July 1918 (amended by act of 25 July 1963). The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades. Since Smith stated that he never got the citation that was required and that stated why he was awarded that medal, its legality is in doubt. Nevertheless, it is listed to his credit. That criterion required to receive it is lacking. When did he "involve risk of life so extraordinary" as to set him apart?


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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