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The Strategic Studies Institute is located at the US Army War College, 122 Forbes Avenue, Carlisle, PA 17013-5244.  Scholars associated with the institute generate papers on a wide assortment of war-related topics, including the Korean War.

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  • Transformation Concepts for National Security in the 21st Century

Transformation Concepts for National Security in the 21st Century

Edited by Williamson Murray in September of 2002, this document has a chapter entitled, "The Army, Transformation, and Modernization, 1945-91: Implications for Today", written by Colonel Arthur W. Connor Jr.  Found on pages 25-72, Murray's article includes a segment called, "The Shock of the Korean War: 1950-53."  The segment is reprinted below.

Please note that Korean War veteran Alvin Clouse was a member of the 8064th Tank Platoon mentioned in the following article.  He told the KWE, "There are two things not correct in the information on the 8064th.  The crews were from the 77th Tank Battalion and only six where killed.  I was supposed to have been with them, but Lieutenant Fowler replaced me with Anderson because he was a mechanic. I have found four of the men that were sent with the three tanks."

The Shock of the Korean War: 1950-53

When North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, the U.S. Army numbered 591,000 soldiers out of an authorized strength of 630,201, organized in ten divisions.  Containment as a national policy was limping badly, and Truman himself sensed this many months prior to the invasion of the South by the North Koreans.  In response to the Soviet Union's explosion of a nuclear device, the victory in China by the communists led by Mao Tse-Tung, and the rising tide of anticommunist sentiment in the Congress, Truman directed the Secretaries of Defense and State to reexamine U.S. objectives and plans on January 30, 1950.  The resulting document, National Security Council (NSC)-68, was a watershed in how the United States would prosecute the Cold War. [22]  When NSC-68 arrived on Truman's desk in June 1950, it recommended large increases in defense spending to build up the American military and allies in order to balance the Soviet Union's growing world power and ambitions.  Characteristically, Truman refused to allow publication of the document and decided to wait until after the November elections before approaching Congress with any budget increase. [23]  Truman chose to equivocate; the North Koreans did not.

During the first few days of fighting, the United States struggled to respond.  In Washington, Matthew Ridgway observed that senior military and civilian officials hoped air and naval forces alone could contain the North Koreans.  The "bright delusion" of scaring the North Koreans with an air and naval display quickly collapsed as the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army crumbled under the hammer blows of the enemy's far more numerous tanks and better prepared infantry. [24]  In Korea, MacArthur cabled Washington in the early morning hours of June 30, asking to commit two divisions to the fighting.  Truman authorized the movement of a regiment combat team to Korea immediately, while acceding to MacArthur's full request later that morning. [25]  Task Force Smith led the U.S. Army's effort to stop the North Koreans in early July 1950--with disastrous results. [26]

The commitment of this under-strength task force was not the product of rational analysis of the capabilities of the Army in Japan to stop the North Koreans, or a testament to its readiness and ability to deploy quickly.  It was, in fact, born of the desperation of domestic politics.  American politics in the Spring of 1950 was "infected by [a] sense of betrayal" and by an ugly national mood of the fear of communist conspiracy.  Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was leading the charge to find communist collaborators at all levels of the government and bureaucracy.  Faced with charges that the Democrats had "lost" China to Mao, the explosion of an atomic bomb by the Soviets in August 1949 and their boldness in blockading Berlin, and the convictions of Alger Hiss on perjury and Klaus Fuchs on passing atomic secrets to the Soviets in early 1950, Truman had no choice but to commit America to the defense of Korea. [27]

While the personnel decreases inherent in the penurious defense budgets of the years 1945-50 ended with Task Force Smith, there were many other problems that were not as visible.  The most serious problems facing the Army at the start of the Korean War were the twin issues of supply and training.  There had been no Army modernization or transformation in the 5 years after World War II; only an attempt to refine the divisional organizations developed during the war, while concentrating on demobilizing the Army during the occupation.  Army procurement stopped in 1945 with the exception of food, clothing, and medical supplies.  Units had to operate with equipment left over from the war despite increasing obsolescence.  Maintenance became problematic as the Army failed to procure repair parts, leaving equipment of all types in a deplorable state of disrepair.  Reductions in personnel and facilities allowed only for minimal maintenance on most equipment, while budgetary restrictions reduced the amount of spare parts and assemblies available.  Of the 3,202 medium "Sherman" tanks in the United States in 1950, 1,326 were unserviceable.  The vast majority of the Army's motor transport was 6 or more years old, with conditions even worse in Eighth Army in Japan. [28]  Since the end of the war, Far East Command had received no new equipment of any kind, including tanks and vehicles.  Authorized 221 recoilless rifles, Eighth Army fielded only 21.  While 13,780 two-and-a-half-ton trucks were on hand, only 4,441 were in running condition; of the 18,000 "jeeps" in the command, 10,000 were unserviceable. [29]  Equally distressing, however, was the state of other classes of supply in the theater.

Ammunition of all types was in short supply, and stocks were out of balance.  The vast quantities of ammunition remaining from World War II rapidly declined from training requirements, transfers to allies, and normal deterioration.  Since penurious budgets prevented new ammunition acquisitions, there were inadequate amounts of most types. [30]  Artillery ammunition, in particular, was always in short supply throughout the Korean War, especially in the last 2 years.  As Ridgway (and later General James Van Fleet) emphasized, American firepower was the major counter to the massed attacks of the Chinese Communist Forces.  It was not unusual to have numerous artillery battalions firing simultaneously in support of beleaguered U.S. and United Nations (U.N.) soldiers.  One battalion fired 11,600 rounds in a 12-hour period, a rate of one round per howitzer per minute.  Ammunition for heavy artillery battalions was always insufficient and had to be rationed; this forced commanders to build special ramps for tanks so that they could fire their main guns as artillery. [31]  While ammunition was a problem, the lack of training in the combat units fighting the war was an even bigger problem.  The sad tales of the 8064th Heavy Tank Platoon (Provisional) and the 8066th Mechanized Reconnaissance Platoon (Provisional) reflect both the training and equipment problems facing Eighth Army.

Desperate to get some armored force into the fight in Korea to counter the North Korean T-34 tanks, Eighth Army formed the 8064th and 8066th platoons on July 10, 1950. [32]  During the nearly 5 years of occupation duty, Eighth Army turned in all of its M-4 "Sherman" medium tanks and reduced the tank battalion of each division to a single company of 17 M-24 "Chaffee" light tanks.  When the M-24 tanks proved to be of dubious value in fighting the North Korean T-34s, Eighth Army scoured its depots and found three M-26 "Pershing" heavy tanks.  All three tanks suffered from a variety of mechanical problems after 5 years of neglect.  Desperate for anything that could stand up to the North Korean tanks, it was decided to rebuild the Pershings, form them into a provisional tank platoon (the 8064th), and crew them with men from the tank company of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Additionally, another provisional unit, the 8066th, was formed from men out of Kobe Base, Japan, who had previous armor experience.  The platoon consisted of five M-8 "Greyhound" armored cars used by the military police in Tokyo for crowd control.  The 8066th arrived in Pusan in the middle of July, with the 8064th following on July 16, 1950.

The 8064th Heavy Tank Platoon went into combat almost immediately, moving northward from Pusan by rail to Chinju in the southern sector of the now rapidly diminishing U.N. perimeter.  Arriving at the station in Chinju at 0300 on July 28, the tanks' engines overheated immediately, as their fan belts stretched out of shape after running only a few hours.  Since there were no M-26 fan belts in theater, attempts were made to fabricate new belts in Japan.  After 3 days, all efforts failed, and Eighth army ordered the tiny force out of Chinju and back to Pusan. Unfortunately, the North Korean 6th Division beat the evacuation train into town, forcing the 8064th to fight its way out.  After a brief fire fight, the tankers abandoned their overheated machines, leaving 13 men killed or captured.

The 8066th Mechanized Reconnaissance Platoon suffered a similar fate only 2 days later.  Attached to the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, the 8066th was ambushed while participating in a reconnaissance in force westward from the village of Chungam-ni back toward Chinju on August 2, 1950.  The North Koreans destroyed four of the five armored cards of the platoon and killed the platoon leader.

The two provisional platoons led an evanescent life in combat in Korea.  They were the product of a desperate command seeking a solution to the North Korean armored threat.  Hastily organized, operating equipment they had never trained on, and haphazardly committed to combat, the 8064th and 8066th failed to achieve even a modicum of success, despite the heroics of individuals.  A provisional tank battalion was formed in August, and the Army scoured the old Pacific battlefields in search of any Sherman tanks left over from the war.  The 70th Tank Battalion, formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, actually equipped its C Company with M-26 Pershing tanks sitting on concrete pedestals around the post.  All of these problems, and the wastage of men and materiel, were due to the hasty nature of the post-war demobilization.

Building a tank requires a long lead time.  Thousands of parts must be manufactured and assembled.  Specialized tools and dies are required, as are skilled engineers and workers.  Because of the extensive time required to retool and reenergize American tank production during the Korean War, more troops were using the World War II vintage Sherman tank than the newer M-46 "Patton" as late as October 1952.  The M-46 was not a new tank from the ground up.  It was simply a new turret mated to existing M-26 hulls.  Had the Army not been in the process of converting 800 M-26s into M-46s, it is likely that only World War II era tanks would have reached the battlefield prior to 1953.

Throughout the 5 years preceding the Korean War, the time and quality of basic training provided to the incoming Army private fluctuated wildly depending on funding levels.  At the end of World War II, a 17-week training cycle was standard.  Within a year, this had dropped to 8 weeks, followed by another temporary cut to a mere 4 weeks in November and December of 1946, as the Army struggled to fill overseas occupation units.  In May 1947 the cycle increased to 13 weeks, only to fall once again to 8 weeks less than a year later. [33]  The training cycle in the years prior to Korea caused considerable upheavals in the training and readiness of all Army units.  Adding to the training deficiencies was the lack of live-fire training.  Immediately following the end of World War II, General Jacob Devers, Chief of Army Field Forces, suspended all unit live-fire training, even though the Army had a well-developed, wartime tested series of live fire exercises for squads, platoons, and companies.  His rationale, and that of his successor, General Mark Clark, was simple: safety.  Safety was a greater concern to the Army's peacetime leaders than training readiness.  A mere 12 days before Task Force Smith's destruction, the Army reconstituted live fire training. [34]  With the safety of peacetime shattered and the Korean War seemingly validating the tenets of NSC-68, the fiscal restraint of the Truman administration became another casualty.  For the Army, innovation and desperation reigned as it struggled to get trained units and more equipment into the fight.

The first order of business was to fill the divisions fighting in Korea, while providing MacArthur the reinforcements needed.  The Army evolved a simple strategy: fill the divisions fighting as quickly as possible, while rebuilding the general reserve to meet threats that might arise elsewhere.  Eighth army came up with a similar solution.  It cannibalized the 7th Infantry Division both of people and equipment to fill out the three divisions fighting in Korea.  With the Army staff unable to send sufficient replacements to the Far East to replace the heavy losses in the initial fighting, the Army assigned South Koreans to each division.  As the fighting increased, MacArthur asked for more and more troops.  He received the 2e and 3d Infantry Divisions, the last two divisions in the General Reserve, from the United States.  The Army continued to expand piecemeal, and asked for and received permission from Truman to federalize four under-strength National Guard divisions in August 1950.  It was not until the Chinese intervention in November 1950 that the President declared a national emergency.  Within a year-and-a-half of the war's outbreak, the U.S. Army doubled in divisions from ten to twenty. [35]

Ultimately, the Army mobilized nearly three million men, stopped the combined North Korean and Chinese armies, restored the status quo ante bellum, and continued to defend against other threats, most notably in Europe.  There was, however, little in the way of transformation or change in the Army.  Instead, it adapted the weapons and tactics of World War II to the enemy and terrain of Korea.  The division itself changed little, and the tactical innovation of the first year of the war gave way to the enervating tactics of firepower dominance in the positional warfare of the last 2 years of combat.  The only real change occurred in a personnel rotation policy that moved individuals rather than units out of Korea.  The program, designed by the Army to share the combat burden, did keep experienced staffs in Korea, but left platoons, companies, and battalions bereft of cohesion or esprit de corps as soldiers rotated in and out.  The average tanker and infantryman rotated back to the States after 9 and 10 months respectively, while service support troops could stay as long as 18 months. [36]

As the war ended in 1953, so too did the Truman administration.  For 5 years following the surrender of Japan, Truman tried to wage a Cold War by starving the Army and relying on atomic supremacy.  The shock of the North Korean invasion of the South itself was not enough to loosen Truman's grip on the economy--only the intervention of the Chinese in the war could do that.  The end result was a gigantic rearmament program--the building of the hydrogen bomb, many different types of lesser atomic weapons, new supercarriers, the B-52 bomber, and missiles of all types. [37]  The Army spent the years 1945-53 in demobilizing initially, occupying Germany and Japan, expanding during the Korean War, reinforcing Europe, and, finally, fighting a limited war.  At no time, however, did the Army seriously contemplate more than minor changes to its organization or approach to war.  The official position was that there was no need for doctrinal changes. [38]  Bereft of ideas and the desire to change, the Army entered the mid-1950s facing the same issues that were extant in the mid 1940s.


[21] James F. Schnabel, Policy and Direction: The First Year, Washington, DC, 1972, pp. 43-45.

[22] Doris M. Condit, The Test of War, 1950-1953.  History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Volume II, Washington, DC, 1988, pp. 5-6.

[23] Ambrose, "The Armed Forces and American Strategy, 1945-1953," p. 310.

[24] Ridgway, Soldier, p. 192.

[25] For an outstanding account of the events surrounding the commitment of the U.S. Army to the Korean peninsula, see Joseph C. Goulden, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, New York, 1982, pp. 101-105.

[26] For an outstanding description of the fighting of Task Force Smith, see Roy K. Flint, "Task Force Smith and the 24th Infantry Division: Delay and Withdrawal, 5-19 July 1950," in Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft, eds., America's First Battles, 1776-1965, Lawrence, KS, 1986, p. 266.

[27] Burton I. Kaufman, The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command, New York, 1986, p. 36.

[28] Schnabel, Policy and Direction, pp. 45-46.

[29] Ibid., p. 59.

[30] Ibid., p. 46.

[31] Robert A. Doughty, The Evolution of US Army Tactical Doctrine, 1946-76.  Leavenworth Paper Number 1, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 1979, p. 11.

[32] The story of these two provisional platoons is adapted from my article, Arthur W. Connor, Jr., "The Armor Debacle in Korea 1950: Implications for Today," Parameters, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 66-76.

[33] Epley, America's First Cold War Army, pp. 12-13.

[34] Ibid., pp. 12-13.

[35] See Wilson, Maneuver and Firepower: The Evolution of Divisions and Separate Brigades, Chapter 9.

[36] T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness, New York, 1963, p. 505; Weigley, History of the United States Army, p. 510.

[37] Ambrose, "The Armed Forces and American Strategy, 1945-1953," p. 317.

[38] Doughty, The Evolution of US Army Tactical Doctrine, 1946-76, p. 12.


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