Artillery attachments included five artillery batteries; the 37th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm) as well as Battery B, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion (155mm)*, approximately 18x105mm howitzers, 6x155mm howitzers, and 600-700 redlegs.
*(NOTE: The bulk of the sources discussing this battle fail, or deliberately choose, not to mention that B/503rd FA, the non-divisional 155mm artillery battery attached to the 23rd Infantry for this action was manned by black ["negro", in the language of 1951] soldiers.
While Truman had ordered the services desegregated in 1948, all accounts agree that many of the services were slow to comply, and that in particular the Army went into Korea with segregated units, including the entire 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. While the combat performance of these units was much reviled at the time, combat losses among white troops more or less forced integration and by 1953 most units were integrated to some degree and were finding that black soldiers would fight well if not shoved into ghettoized units, poorly trained and led.)A single battery, Battery B, 82nd Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion is not true cannon artillery as the unit designation implies. These AAA units were basically used in Korea as infantry heavy weapons units; their six M16A1 4x50cal machinegun half-tracked carriers and four M19 2x40mm gun motor carriages (based on an M24 tank chassis) were used almost exclusively as direct fire weapons. About 100-150 antiaircraft gunners.Attachments also included Company B, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion (the 2nd Infantry Division divisional engineer unit) and a platoon from the division's Medical Battalion, probably some 150-200 troops.
One company of the 2nd Infantry Division's organic 72nd Tank Battalion was attached to the 23rd Infantry at Chipyong-ni. Several sources mention this, referring to it as the "Regimental Tank Company" but do not identify the company. My guess is that it was the battalion's A Company. Company C is identified in the 2nd ID's Korean War history as being engaged near Hoengsong in support of the 187th Regimental Combat Team on 12 FEB 51, and B Company as attached to the 38th U.S. Infantry near the same location on the following day, leaving Company A as the likely unit. This element would have consisted of 14xM4A3 Sherman tanks and roughly 60 tankers.
A total of about 4,500 all arms under COL Paul Freeman.
Chinese People's Volunteer Army -Update 2/24: A reader with access to Chinese sources - his Blogger name is Steve, and I will identify him as such in the sections that follow - has provided a tremendously valuable addition to this post in the form of information from the PRC and PLA archives. I want, first, to thank him for his scholarly commentary and, second, to update this post with his work. You will encounter his contributions in the sections below. His work includes this definitive order of battle for the CPVA at Chipyong-ni:
* 115th and 116th Division, 39th Army (Wu Xingquan, commanding)
* 119th Division, 40th Army (Wen Yuchen)
* 126th Division, 42nd Army (Wu Ruilin)
The commenter totals this as eight regiments plus three artillery companies, but assuming that the divisions were present in full the total should be twelve regiments. From Steve's research we may assume that the divisions had detached several regiments from the four divisions.
To give you an idea of what the U.S. Army believed they were facing, published histories state:
"Elements of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) 39th, 40th, and 42nd Divisions" were engaged and are shown on the battlemaps. The official account states that
"...perimeter troops...captured 79 Chinese who at interrogation identified five divisions from the 39th, 40th, and 42d Armies as having taken part in the attacks. The attack force itself, however, appeared to have been no more than six regiments, one each from the 115th, 116th, 119th, and 120th Divisions and two from the 126th Division. These six had not attacked in concert, nor had any of them thrown a full strength assault against the perimeter. Almost all attacks had been made by company-size forces, some followed by a succession of attacks of the same size in the same or nearby places."The units identified on the U.S. Army battle map for Chipyong-ni included the following PLA regiments:
359th Regiment, 120th Division, 40th Army (Wen Yucheng, commanding)
356th Regiment, 119th Division, 40th Army
344th Regiment, 115th Division, 39th Army (Wu Xinquan, commanding)
376th Regiment, 126th Division, 42nd Army (Wu Ruilin, commanding)
- a subsequent portion of the section of the official history cited above suggests that one of the other two regiments included either the 377th or the 378th, the other regiments in the 126th Division, and that the third regiment was engaged nearby against the relief column near Twin Tunnels. Note, however, that the "official" U.S. enemy order of battle is incorrect, based on the Chinese sources.
COL Ewards (we'll hear more from him later) states that soldiers from units from the 118th Division (40th Army), 127th Division (42nd Army), 116th Division (39th Army), 121st Division (41st Army), and the 207th Division were identified as prisoners or casualties. This is clearly wrong; there is no "207th Division" on the known CPVA order of battle.
So you get the idea: the U.S. Army at the time had at best a round estimate of the CPVA forces opposing them.
We discussed the strength and composition of PLA units in our post on the Battle of Unsan that took place two months earlier. At that time the nominal strength of a CPVA regiment was assumed to be about 2,000, a division about 8,000 to 10,000, an army about 20,000-24,000. But the terrible winter of 1950-1951 must have taken its toll and the troops of the 39th, 40th, and 42nd Armies had been fighting nearly constantly since December. So goven the estimate of eight regiments it would surprise me if the entire attack force exceeded 16,000 effectives and may have been closer to the 10,000 cited by Steve.The accounts of the engagement make mention of Chinese artillery and mortar fire, so it may be assumed that these elements were present, but effective strength is difficult to estimate. Steve says three companies (U.S. battery equivalents) but I assume that the commander on-scene would have rounded up as many cannon as he could scrounge, so perhaps possibly up to the equivalent of a battalion or two (roughly 40 or so tubes) of artillery and mortars, perhaps 500 to 1,000 gunners.
The usual opacity regarding commanders is also encountered. A force of roughly two-division size such as this should have been the responsibility of at least a 少将 (Shao Jiang), the equivalent of a U.S. major general, but we have no idea who the actual maneuver commander was at Chipyong-ni. Again, the overall commander for the CPVA was GEN Peng Dehuai. But Steve, our commenter, correctly notes that "(the)Chinese army at that time had no rank system, thus Peng (did not have formal command) authority, but rather by consensus among his senior (commanders)."The Sources: The Western sources for the Korean War are well covered in the entry for Unsan and are too numerous to be repeated here. Let me concentrate on the materials available for the researcher online.
The U.S. Army Center for Military History has the official history of the period of the Korean War covering Shipyong-ni, titled "Ebb and Flow" here. The section you want, "Defending the Wonju Line", is here. These materials cover the action from the U.S. perspective very thoroughly, although in my opinion are insufficiently critical of the decisions of several of the U.S. commanders, in particular LTG Almond, commander of X Corps. But an official history is typically not in a position to castigate, and this reticence is not unexpected.
The Second Infantry Division's Korean War website has a fairly good account of the engagement here, and clears up several unit location and identification issues as well.
One of the most useful and detailed examinations of the action is found here: the U.S. Eighth Army's Staff Ride "Read Ahead Packet" for Chipyong-ni. Of particular interest are the detailed tactical accounts of COL James Edwards, commander of the 23rd Infantry's 2nd Battalion (2/23rd) during the battle, and another by a Russell Gugeler largely focused on the 2/23rd's G (George) Company.
I will mention one printed source because of the excellent reviews I have read of it; "Leadership in the Crucible: The Korean War Battles of Twin Tunnels and Chipyong-ni", a 2003 publication by Kenneth E. Hamburger. Highly recommended.
Among the Chinese sources cited by Steven, the commenter noted above, are:
Chinese Military Science Academy (2000), History of War to Resist America and Aid Korea (抗美援朝战争史), Volume I, II, III, Beijing: Chinese Military Science Academy Publishing House, ISBN 7801373901
Xue, Yan (徐焰) (1990), First Confrontation: Reviews and Reflections on the History of War to Resist America and Aid Korea (第一次较量：抗美援朝战争的历史回顾与反思), Beijing: Chinese Radio and Television Publishing House, ISBN 7504305421
Unfortunately most of the Chinese materials are difficult to access in English on-line, either due to lack of translation or unavailability.
The Campaign: We talked about the first summer of the Korean War in our discussion of the Battle of Unsan in December. The North Korean attack, the retreat to Pusan, Inchon and the UN Counterattack, the advance to the Yalu, the gathering Chinese armies, the "First Phase Offensive" and the defeat at Unsan that warned no one. The continued UN drive north, spreading every wider, ever thinner, into the mountains of the north.
Second Verse, Worse Than The First
The Chinese "volunteers" attacked all across the UN front lines in late November in what is known as the "Second Phase Offensive". This attack - a surprise to the UN Command in the Dai Ichi if not to the soldiers along the FLOT, who had been capturing Chinese since late October - caught the UN forces widely dispersed across the mountains of North Korea and executed the same style of attacks that had been so successful at Unsan.Blocking forces would sneak along the ridges until they had positions behind the UN units. The widely separated UN maneuver units were utterly incapable of controlling the Chinese movement or even reconnoitering to find the the Chinese forces until they attacked. And they did attack, all across the north, making up in raw courage, aggressiveness, and human bodies the UN's advantage in equipment.
The road-bound UN forces managed to extricate themselves by the use of airstrikes and massive firepower but largely through brute force, fighting through ambush after ambush while losing hundreds of men in the process; the Turkish Brigade in particular was hammered while holding off Chinese units at Wawon on 28 November, Sinnim-ni on 28-29 November, Kunuri Gorge on 29-30 November, and Sunchon Gorge on 30 November 1950. By mid-December the Eighth Army had fled south past the 38th Parallel and X Corps was penned in the northeastern port of Hungnam, which in turn was evacuated before the turn of the year.
Several events occurred late in 1950 which affected the course of the war.
First, LTG Walker, commander of the Eighth Army, was killed in a prosaic traffic accident on the morning of 23 DEC. Walker, who by the time of his death had entirely lost his commander's confidence, was immediately replaced by LTG Matthew Ridgeway, who took command of Eighth Army Christmas Day 1950.Second, Ridgeway was a very different man from Walker, who was tactically sound but was a very methodical sort of officer, a man whose generalship was thorough rather than bold. Ridgeway was a member of the "Airborne Mafia", the group of first-generation U.S. paratroopers that had fought through Europe and had become an institutional power in the Army hierarchy, men like Maxwell Taylor and Jim Gavin. Befitting a paratrooper, Ridgeway believed that armies that fight aggressively, even in the defense, will win.
But the Army that Ridgeway took over in December 1950 had had a bellyful of fighting and was heartily sick of it. He was not impressed with what he encountered at Walker's headquarters:
"I could sense it the moment I came into a command post...I could read it in the faces of...leaders, from sergeants right on up to the top. They were unresponsive, reluctant to talk. I had to drag information out of them. There was a complete absence of that alertness, that aggressiveness, that you find in troops whose spirit is high."Perhaps just as important, Ridgeway had a U.S. Army rep as badass as MacArthur's. He was one of the few officers which that aristocratic commander could neither intimidate nor charm. In their first meeting on Christmas Day MacArthur gave Ridgeway no tactical instructions, and between December 1950 and his relief in April 1951 MacArthur never again attempted to control the tactical maneuvering in Korea, contenting himself with overall "management" of the war.
Ridgeway made some useful tactical moves and started going through his units looking to replace men who were beaten with men who would fight. He insisted on aggressive patrolling, and demanded his intel staff people get out and find the enemy.
So the new commander looked like someone who would shake things up. But before he could, the CPVA launched the "Third Phase Offensive" on New Year's Eve and did some shaking for themselves. The official history describes it thus:
"In grand tactics, the Chinese New Year's offensive, or Third Phase Offensive as the Chinese called it, resembled their previous effort, strong forces pushing a main attack in the west while other forces threatened envelopment in the east."There was nothing "threatened" about it: the NKPA II Corps had smashed through the ROK 9th Division over the last week of December, forcing the UN Command to release reserves, including the 2ID, to contain the breakthrough. But the ROK corps in the eastern mountains were clearly in danger, as was the threat of being cut off above the Imjin River.And then the Chinese attacked, all along the I and X Corps lines north of Seoul. The ROK 1st and 6th Divisions were roughly handled, and many ROK soldiers and not a few U.S. units, simply dropped their weapons and ran south. Many observers believed that this would become another "Operation Bugout".
There is and was a difference of opinion on both the conduct and the motivation behind the retreat from the Yalu, but many U.S. troopers at the time felt that it was not a retreat but a panic. Entire units fell apart, destroyed their weapons and equipment or, worse, simply abandoned them, and fled south. The Chinese in particular had developed a sort of mythic ferocity that autumn that had many of the troops in the UNC panicked before they heard the first toot of a bugle. By January 1951 the UNC command was concerned that any movement rearward would become another "bugout" as their soldiers ran before they could be swarmed under the yellow Red Hordes.Ridgeway issued stern orders but ordering ferocity is easier that summoning it. The Han River was frozen at Seoul and the UN defenders know that this would make it both easier for the light Chinese infantry to cross anywhere and desperately dangerous for the motorized UNC defenders as moving ice in the tidal river threatened the five temporary bridges that represented their escape. By 4 JAN 51 Seoul changed hands for the third time in less than a year.
The retreat from the Seoul bridgehead seemed the same nightmarish story as the big bug-out from the Yalu in December; swarming attacks in the freezing dark, UN units overrun, or ambushed while attempting to withdraw along the roads, or just falling apart (especially the ROK units in the east, which were bypassed when they stood and mauled when they moved. The Chinese ascendency seemed complete.
Our commenter Steve provides some useful insight into the internal debate that occurred at the higher levels of the PLA:
"When the Chinese captured Seoul in January 1951, Mao believed the UN forces were completely crushed. Although Peng Dehuai did not share Mao optimism and believed that UN forces will counterattack since his army is completely exhausted, his also believed that the counterattack won't come until spring 1951."
A Brief Discursion, Or, How We Were Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb
One subject that returns during discussions of the Korean campaigns between November 1950 and February 1951 is - what about the nukes?The world of the Fifties worried about the Bomb a lot in general, and any sort of hot war raised everyone's blood pressure. But did the Korean War increase the chance that someone might have tossed a nuke?This comes up during our discussion of Chipyong-ni because the Wiki entry for "Korean War" says flat out that the success of the Third Phase Offensive so shook the UNC that
"(t)hese setbacks prompted General MacArthur to consider using nuclear weapons against the Chinese or North Korean interiors, with the intention that the resulting radioactive fallout zones would interrupt the Chinese supply chains."This seems surprising, given that the magnitude of the December disaster was so much greater. But what do we know about the pressure on Truman to draw the big iron on his hip?
Well, he talked openly of using "The Bomb" during Korea. Truman's presser on 30 NOV 50 generated a question about using nukes and the President answered “There has always been active consideration of its use.”Official correspondence reveals that MacArthur requested release of atomic weapons to his authority as theatre commander on 9 DEC and again on 24 DEC. This timing is consistent with the timing of the worst of the Second Phase Offensive defeats. (It is worth noting that the late December request included a plan to detonate as many as 25 weapons along the Yalu. The Great Man later recalled:
“I would have dropped 30 or so atomic bombs...strung across the neck of Manchuria. For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the North.” He was certain that the Russians would have not responded and the resulting nuclear devastation would have been a war-winner: “My plan was a cinch”MacArthurian dementia aside (his subsequent request in the spring of 1951 may have helped contribute to his relief) the Joint Chiefs at least considered using atomic weapons several other times during the Korean War; once earlier, in August, 1950 with the situation desperate at Pusan, and again in April, 1951, when the Spring Offensive prompted the Joint Chiefs get Truman to sign off on nuclear retaliation if China sent large troop reinforcements across the Yalu to turn the successful attack into a breakthrough.
Several harebrained schemes cooked up by the USAF in 1953 included B-29 simulated atomic bomb runs over Pyongyang.And that's it.
So I don't find any evidence that the Third Phase Offensive brought us closer to nuclear war than any other moment in Korea, although Korea might have had overall more close calls than any other historical event between 1945 and today other than the Berlin Blockade and the "missile crisis" of October 1962.
Back to our story.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
By mid-January the UN forces had retreated well south of Seoul; to Suwon in the west, to just southwest of Wonju in the center, and into the mountainous territory north of Samcheok in the east. Units were badly battered, and in particular the eastern mountain sectors looked shaky; the North Korean II and V Corps had bitchslapped the ROK units there, taking Wonju in the center of the peninsula and pushing down the eastern cordillera as far as Yongwol and Chongson; the NKPA 25th Division even got as far as Andong, only 70 miles from Pusan. The UNC needed a break somewhere.And it got one.
The PLA, never the most well-supplied of armies, outran its logistical chain.
Every ration, every bullet, shell, bandage, every fur cap had to be brought from the Chinese interior.
By train to the Yalu, but from there carried nightly, on foot and bicycle, from the border at the Yalu River to the CPVA troop units, all this under attack by USAF deep strike aircraft. It was a grueling haul, and what was reaching the troops south of the Han wasn't really enough to keep them going. GEN Dehuai must have ordered the offensive to slow down on or near 4 JAN 51 to allow the troops from the armies that had been attacking since late October, such as the 39th and 40th, to get some rest and, hopefully, for the trickle of replacements and supplies to rebuild the units.
So by the the end of January an odd sort of void had developed, between the UN forces along the line Suwon-east to near Wonju-then southeast to Andong and the CPVA forces still in their assembly areas near the south bank of the Han.
In late January the more aggressively patrolling Eighth Army found the empty space between the lines and LTG Ridgway ordered a "reconnaissance-in-force". This northward movement became an offensive, Operation Roundup, in early February. Beginning 5 FEB 51, X Corps advanced north to the Han and northeast to Wonju and Hongcheon by 11-12 FEB.Our Chinese commenter Steve provides a view from the "other side of the hill":
"(The) UN counterattack to the Han River in Operation Thunderbolt completely screwed up Peng's timetable. Most of his forces were in the middle of refit, and the only combat effective unit was the 50th Army. As a "politically unreliable" unit composed of former KMT soldiers, the 50th Army was also poorly armed. Peng at that moment knew the game was up, and plead with Mao on January 27 to accept the cease fire offered by UN. But Mao rebuked Peng on the next day. From his perspective, it was a political weakness to accept a cease fire without crushing the opponent; therefore a Fourth Phase Offensive must be carried out as a counterattack. Peng pleaded with Mao again on January 31 and February 5. Mao only replied that help will arrive "soon", but not soon enough help the Chinese soldiers that are actually dying on the battlefield."The official U.S. military history recounts that;
"General Ridgway late on the 11th instructed General Almond (commander of X Corps) to patrol but not to attempt further advances toward Route 24 in either the 2d Division or ROK 8th Division zones until the IX Corps had reduced the enemy's Han bridgehead below Yangp'yong. To move forward while the IX Corps was still held up could isolate and overextend Almond's leftmost units in the area where the 39th, 40th, 42d, and 66th Armies were obviously massing. In view of an imminent enemy attack, Ridgway also expressed concern over Almond's complex organization for battle in Operation ROUNDUP, referring to the intertwined command and control arrangements among corps headquarters, the ROK assault units, the American support forces, and the latter's parent units on the line of departure. Ridgway was not sure that these measures would provide the tight control needed to prevent a confused intermingling of units during an enemy attack."But what was going on? Were the Chinese planning to continue their attack, were they sandbagging, were they pausing to regroup, or actually considering consolidating and defending their gains? The official history continues:
"COL Robert G. Fergusson, the acting G-2 who prepared the estimate, told Ridgway that the long lull was purely the consequence of Chinese resupply, transportation, and reinforcement difficulties. The slogan repeatedly given in statements by Chinese government officials continued to be to drive UNC forces out of Korea. Fergusson predicted that once the logistical problems were sufficiently relieved-and that time appeared to be near-the campaign to push the United Nation Command off the peninsula would be resumed with full acceptance of any further heavy personnel losses and supply problems that might occur. The concentration of Chinese forces, Fergusson pointed out, was in the area bordered on the northwest by the Pukhan River and on the southeast by Route 24 between Yangp'yong and Hongch'on. From southwest to northeast, the concentration included the 42d, 39th, 40th, and 66th Armies, whose total strength was around 110,000."Fergusson guessed that the CPVA would attack again around 15 FEB in the central part of the sector. His dates were wrong - in everything else, he was dead on.
The Fourth Phase Offensive
On the night of 11/12 FEB the Chinese commander of the 13th Group Army sent three divisions ripping into the X Corps lines near Hoengsong. The attackers tore through the ROK 8th division, killing and capturing more than half its soldiers.
Steve notes that the Hoengsong attacks were the focus of strenuous internal debate among the PLA commanders:
"There was a disagreement between Deng Hua, commander of the 13th Army Group, and Han Xianchu, Peng's close deputy. Han proposed to attack Chipyong-ni first because it is a closer target for the Chinese forces, but Deng want to struck Hoengsong because the forces were composed of ROK troops which lacked the firepower of the Americans. Technically Han outranked Deng, but Deng controlled the army, so after days of argument Peng finally deferred the decision to Deng. Also within that few days the Chinese holding forces at Han River were destroyed."A UN "Support Unit 21" of U.S. artillery and armor from the 2nd Infantry Division was caught largely on the roads and decimated. Between nightfall on 11 FEB and daylight on 13 FEB around 11,800-9,800 ROK troopers, 1,900 U.S and 100 Dutch soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. The ROK units destroyed lost 14 105mm howitzers, 901 crew-served weapons, 390 radios, and 88 vehicles. American units and the Netherlands battalion lost 14 105mm howitzers, 6 155mm cannon, 277 crew-served weapons, 6 tanks, 195 radios, and 280 other vehicles.Ridgeway was furious, especially as he had warned Almond about this earlier. He ordered his inspector general to find out what happened. The U.S. Army, 2nd ID, and X Corps also "investigated" the disaster.
In what may be one of the most shocking findings since the discovery of gambling at Rick's Cafe' Americain, all these investigations cleared the U.S. officers up and down the chain. The Army investigation concluded that because of the unforseen disintegration of the poorly placed, widely spread ROK 8th and 3rd Divisions the heavy losses were a result of enemy action and not attributable to the "fault, neglect, incompetence, acts or omissions of the U.S. Commanding Officers concerned."
No one was relieved or even reprimanded because of the more than 10,000 smashed lives at Hoengsong.
The success of the Chinese attack left a nearly 12-mile wide gap between the remaining 2nd Division unit bear Wonju, the 1st Battalion of the 9th U.S. Infantry and COL Freeman's 23rd Infantry at Chipyong-ni. LTG Almond was on the verge of ordering the 23rd to retreat.At this point some High Strategy intervened. The issues are fairly complex, so I will leave it to the official history to discuss what happened;
"At noon on the 13th General MacArthur landed at Suwon airfield for his second visit to Korea since General Ridgway had assumed command of the Eighth Army. Ridgway took the opportunity to check once more with him the fundamental basis of his operations, namely that the acquisition of terrain meant nothing except as it facilitated the destruction of enemy forces and the conservation of his own. MacArthur agreed but added that Ridgway should hold strongly to the line of the Han River.
Ridgway assured MacArthur that he fully intended to keep the I and IX Corps at the Han. Working against Ridgway's intention was an increased likelihood that the Chinese now in and west of Hoengsong would attempt to enter the Han valley and envelop his western forces. A 23d Regimental Combat Team withdrawal from Chip'yong-ni would remove a principal strongpoint blocking Chinese access to the valley. Ridgway therefore wanted Chip'yong-ni held, and so instructed General Almond."Ridgeway believed that all this bugging out and trying to maneuver around the mountain roads was the wrong way to fight a swarming lightly-armed, poorly supplied enemy. He wanted the PLA maneuver units to move in, he wanted them to find a well-dug in U.S. unit, resupplied and supported by air, and he wanted them to attack it. And he expected that they would do that, and that they would be destroyed.Chipyoung-ni would be his proving ground, and the men of the 23rd Infantry and their attachments his examiners.
Meanwhile, the PLA command felt that they, too, had a strategy that would result in victory if an attack went it at Chipyoung-ni. Steve's sources in the Chinese archives state that:
"Deng had his way and gained a victory at Hoengsong. Then he ordered his forces towards Chipyong-ni believing the Americans would just run away after their flank was gone. Here is another background: Deng Hua was also the commander who advised Peng that UN forces could not possibly conduct Operation Thunderbolt. He even argued that even if UN force did counterattack, it will not cause the Chinese too much casualties or losses. In this case Deng just order his units to advance onto Chipyong-ni and watch UN forces retreat. So confident was Deng that the Chinese forces at Chipyong-ni didn’t even bother to have one commander – they have three separate commanders that working independently from each other."Both sides were convinced that the valley of the Huk-chon River would be the Valley of Decision. Both, as it turned out were right, just not in the way they both predicted...
The Engagement: "Vont monsieur, galop, et n'oublient pas que le monde a été fait en six jours. Vous pouvez me demander n'importe quoi, exceptent pour le temps" (Napoleon)One thing that no soldier ever believes he has enough of in war is time. Time to gather intelligence, time to plan, time to rehearse, time to equip. As the Emperor told his galloper, a soldier can ask for anything in hopes of receiving it.
But not time.
The most precious gift that COL Freeman and his soldiers received at Chiypyong-ni was time. The unit occupied the position on 3 FEB and had nearly ten days to prepare a defense. Infantrymen dug in deep, with rifles and machineguns laid in so as to form a criss-cross ("interlocking") of bullets to ensure that all esposed ground would be subject to direct fire.The armies of WW1 had first discovered the reality that rapid-firing rifles and machineguns could place a volume of aimed fire into a target area such that no living human could cross it. The rifles and machineguns of 1951 were no more than a generation more sophisticated than the weapons of 1914, but they were capable of producing the same effect.
Mines and barbed wire provided the same obstacles to slow the enemy's assault, while mortars and artillery were registered so as to provide first-round effects in areas where irregularities and folds ("dead ground") provided cover and concealment from the flat-trajectory bullets. Coordination was made with the artillery units to pre-plot fires on avenues of approach and likely places for enemy units to form for attacks, and fires from the tanks and the antiaircraft vehicles (referred to as "flakwagons") tied in to the infantry units they were supporting. Air support was coordinated, and contingency plans made.
The location LTG Ridgeway had picked for the test of his new tactical plan was unimpressive. Chipyong-ni in February, 1951 was a small valley crossroads town along a single-track rail line. The town also lay on a small tributary to the Huk-chon River, and the streams had carved a typically rugged Korean terrain into the central highland.The town was located within a rough bowl of hills, most as much as 800 to 900 feet high. But these terrain features were widely spread; COL Edwards observes that "...it would have taken at least a division to properly garrison them." So COL Freeman chose a tighter perimeter of lower hills close to the town, organizing his command for an all-around defense. The 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry (1/23), less its B Company, occupied the northern portion of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), the 3/23 to the east, 2/23 to the south, and the French Battalion to the west. B/1/23 and the Ranger Company were held in Chipyong-ni as the regimental reserve.
(One of the truly entertaining things about researching this post was encountering the person of COL Edwards. I have no idea what the man looked or sounded like; I was unable to even find a picture of him online. But his personality comes out of the page like a clenched fist. Here's a sample, where he talks about the Ranger Company mentioned above and specifically a night raid planned for 10/11 FEB 51:
"The Rangers were not too well liked by the battle-hardened infantrymen of the 23d Infantry. Although they had never been in a real battle, they were very "cocky". The writer and the other officers of the 23d Infantry felt that it is a grave error to form these special units. The officers and men of the 23d Infantry felt that they could do anything the Rangers could do, only better."I picture the colonel as a curmudgeonly old bastard, cursing the damn Rangers and the damn Chinks with equal vigor.)
"To hear the Rangers talk the night raid would be very simple. It sounded so easy that a French newspaper correspondent...requested permission to accompany the Rangers. The Rangers left the perimeter about 2000 hour...(a)t about 2140 hour a great din of machinegun and small-arms reports broke the silence of the night; the battle lasted for about thirty minutes. Both platoons had run into strong enemy positions before they reached the town. The Rangers were forced to beat a hasty retreat abandoning their dead and many of their wounded. The Chinese were the only ones who captured any prisoners that night!"
A sergeant of George Company, 2/23 summed up the feeling of many of the soldiers in the colonel's unit, tired of the bugouts, the panic, and running from the "Chinese hordes". He announced that the unit was surrounded and in imminent danger of attack and concluded that the "...yellow bastards...don't realize it but they have just started to dig their own graves." The 23rd Infantry and its attachments were as ready as any units could be for the Chinese attack to come.And on the the night of 13 FEB, they came.
The First Day - 13-14 FEB 1951Patrols and small units of the CPVA had been observed and attacked around the UN perimeter for the preceding several days, But it was in the afternoon of 13 FEB that the Chinese main force began assembling.
The 376th PLA Division moved towards Chipyong-ni from the west and northwest, the 359th from the north along Route 24, the 356th down from Hill 506 to the east, and the 344th from the south, the direction of "Twin Tunnels" and the now-cut link to the UN FLOT. Afternoon movement was badly disrupted by fires from both the 503rd and 37th FA as well as air attacks. The entire perimeter was at 100% when the night fell.
At 2200 mortar fire of all calibers between 60mm and 120mm began ti impact on all parts of the perimeter, as well as low-angle artillery fire from Hill 345 to the northeast and some captured tank rounds from near the opening of the railroad tunnel. At 2220 the first of four to five assault waves hit E/2/23 and G/2/23 along the south perimeter as well as all along the north side, with the main effort in the C Company line. The French 1st Company's LP heard a Chinese attack forming and alerted the company, which left its foxholes and charged with the bayonet."With their red scarves tied around their heads the French hit the Chinese with a howling bayonet charge, killing or wounding most of them." recounts COL Edwards, "Fifteen of the Chinese were seized by the scruffs of their necks and brought back as prisoners. The remainder of the Chinese attacking force...fled into the darkness."
The attacks were not especially clever. The Chinese troops simply massed at the base of the small hills that marked the UN MLR and attacked in rushes, accompanied with the now-familiar flares, bugles, whistles, and bells. They were shot down in numbers; nowhere along the perimeter did the attackers get within arm's length of the primary fighting positions.By 2400 hours only 3/23, on the east side of the perimeter, was not engaged. This respite only lasted until about 0100, when the entire perimeter came under repeated attacks. The fighting in the early morning hours became more desperate. COL Edwards recounts how one of his G Company troops used his Browning Automatic Rifle (the BAR served as the 1950 infantry squad's heavy weapon - it has been replaced by the M249 SAW) to shoot down several attacks on his foxhole. His assistant was wounded, and two Chinese, having played dead as he cut down the rest of their squad, got up to the hole as the BAR man cut down a second Chinese squad, lept in and wrestled the BAR away from the U.S. soldier. The gunner grabbed up his #2 man's 30 caliber carbine and buttstroked the Chinese soldier trying to work his new BAR. The stock of the carbine broke.
So the American beat both Chinese to death with the steel barrel.
C/1/23 was hit so hard that the infantrymen were driven out of their primary positions but counterattacked and pushed the men of the 349th off the hill. The attacks against G/2/23 had become so fierce by 0400 that Regiment sent one of the tanks south to support it.By BMNT the attacks to the north and south began to slacken, but the 356th and 379th Divisions kept up the pressure from the east and west, respectively. As the daylight arrived the Chinese commander called his men back; the U.S. aircraft would soon be arriving, and to mass for attack was death. The bugles blew for retreat at 0730.
The night had not been costly for the UN defenders; about 100 soldiers had been killed or wounded. Estimates of Chinese casualties ran into the thousands; over 400 dead Chinese soldiers were counted in front of 2/23rd's guns; many more were wounded, or killed and recovered.
During the day the Chinese kept the perimeter under mortar, artillery and sniper fire while the defenders continued to improve their positions and were resupplied by air. Although the airdrops were accurate and the rations needed, ammunition was becoming a concern and very little was supplied by air. In particular the Regimental heavy (4.2in) mortars were affected; that day the battalion commanders were informed that 4.2 fire would only be available for "final protective fires" when a unit was in danger of being overrun.That day the perimeter was supplemented with gasoline mines or "fougasse", a recent version of a very old weapon and one that produced a frightful firestorm when ignited. If you're intrested in how this worked the fougasse shows up at about 3:38 in the following video: The weather continued very cold, close to freezing at night, and the French soldiers scrounged up the multicolored parachute silk and made tents out of it on the reverse slopes of the western hills. COL Edwards recalled that it looked "like a gypsy or circus camp ablaze with color."
And so night fell on the first day.
The Second Day - 14-15 FEB 1951
The early twilight of February brought the Chinese out with the stars. Attacks began at 1930 with a company-sized attack on G/2/23, followed by mortar and artillery fire all along the MLR and within the perimeter. This included captured 105mm and 155mm rounds in the worst shelling the 23rd Infantry had yet experienced, up to 15 rounds a minute. Even then things could have been worse; the heavy 155mm shells failed to explode; examination afterwards by U.S. redlegs revealed that the Chinese gunners - probably infantrymen hauled into the job - had failed to remove the shipping plugs and install the fuses.The Chinese assaults on the second night included "Special Assault" companies, the Korean War equivalent of the North Vietnamese sapper units, complete with bangalore torpedoes and pole-charges for ripping wire entanglements and smashing obstacles.
But these assault units were cut up along with the regular Chinese infantrymen. The entire night was an endless nightmare of flares, the fire of fougasse and flamethrowers, the din of artillery, mortar, and recoilless rifle rounds. Fighting was constant all around the perimeter. Wounded men walked off their litters to return to the fight; the Chinese troopers attacked with desperate courage. Corps Artillery and B-29 arclights rained down on the Chinese assembly areas in the darkness. Men fought, and died, for inches of ground.Finally, at 0115 the Chinese attack broke the U.S. perimeter; it was in COL Edward's battalion and I will let him describe it:
"...special Chinese assault groups reached the foxholes on the western nose of MCGEE HILL. Placing their pole-charges, consisting of 6 blocks of TNT tied to a long pole, on top of the overhead cover of the foxholes and emplacements they blew them in, killing what few Company G men were left alive. They paid a terrible price as each foxhole had from 6 to 9 bodies in a circle around it. The MLR was breached at the limiting point between 1st and 3rd Platoons. Battalion was informed."At this point COL Edwards tells a little story that, in the midst of the desperate fight, tells us something rather sad about the Army and the United States of 1951.Recall that the all-black B/503 FA was emplaced immediately to the rear of 2/23. The officers of that unit attempted to assemble a force to counterattack and seal the breach from among the cannoneers in this unit; in this they were not successful
"Three times the Commanding Officer of Company G tried unsuccessfully to form a counterattacking force from the negro artillerymen of Battery B."says COL Edwards,
"(He) would round up a force of 15 or 20 negroes from their foxholes among the 503rd Field Artillery perimeter, and start up the hill towards the gap occupied by the Chinese. Each time his force would "melt away" in the darkness, and he would find himself accompanied by the two or three negroes nearest to him. After the third attempt he gave up in disgust. These negro artillerymen just didn't want to be combat infantrymen. However, the majority of the negroes of this Battery performed very well under fire."In fairness, the colonel records that another group of 503rd redlegs advanced to the hills, set up a 50 caliber machinegun to the west of the breach, fought fiercely and were overrun, dying to the last man.
At 0230 K Company in 3rd Battalion was also overrun, with hand-to-hand fighting going on in its foxholes. COL Freeman, deciding that the 2nd Battalion breach was the more dangerous, dispatched a Ranger platoon, two tanks and a M16 "quad 50" flakwagon. Battery B, 503rd FA leveled their 155mm cannon and executed direct fire missions at the top of McGee and Curtis Hills, where the Chinese assault had succeeded, scouring the hilltops with fire and silencing the Chinese fire that had been striking the rear and flank of the perimeter.The U.S. ad-hoc force assembled to counterattack; the Ranger lieutenant objected to serving under the 2/23 Assistant S-3, another lieutenant, so the 2/23 commander had to send the 2/23 S-2, a captain, to take command. The flakwagon ran off a narrow trail, bogged down, and was abandoned by all of its crew except the crew cherry, who told the Assistant S-3 that he would try and fire the quad 50 if the lieutenant wanted him to. The staff officer ordered him not to fire but to stay and guard the vehicle. The attack kicked off at 0450 preceded by another direct fire mission from B/503.At the same time that 2nd Battalion was attempting to seal the hole in their line 1st Battalion was hammered again. 3rd Battalion commander was informed, rescended his request for support and used his own Company L to throw the Chinese out of K/3/23 positions.
By this point the Regiment had only 140 rounds of 4.2 ammunition and no 81mm rounds; 2/23 was down to 200 rounds of 81mm. Chinese fires were still heavy, and the attacks all around the perimeter relentless. The 2/23 breach was sealed at vicious cost; only two squads remained of the "composite force" when they reached the top of the two hills, and the Chinese attackers continued to try and force the defense. The night was full of the sort of things that happen in night fighting; one of the three tanks sent south to assist 2/23 fired on the counterattacking force.The commander of G/2/23 ran to the hilltops to attempt to take charge of the defense and was shot because he had slung his radio over his rifle and could not get to it before his enemy got to his weapon. And at 0550 a full battalion assault pushed the U.S. troops off the hills and back down to the B/503 area.
The Chinese penetration forced B/503 and what was left of G/2/23 and H/2/23 to pull back to a rise termed Heath Ridge, some hundred yards north of the 503rd firing position. The cannons were uncrewed but still covered by fire from the remainder of 2nd Battalion, but of that unit's four companies G Company had 5 soldiers left alive and unwounded. Company H, the battalion's Weapons Company, was represented by 2 troopers, all that was left of the 57mm and 75mm recoilless rifle sections that had been attached to Company G.
But daylight was a friend to the UN force and a bane to the Chinese attackers. The increasingly accurate tank and small-arms fire drove the Chinese unit back down the reverse slope of the two hills. This allowed the redlegs of B/503 to recover their cannons and the unit was back in battery by 0930.
Tac air was now well up and hammering the Chinese attackers.
Airdrops increased, although COL Edwards groused "Some stupid individual in the Army G4 must have had a phobia on artillery ammunition. The 23rd Infantry now had more artillery ammunition than it could shoot up in a week, but still no mortar or small-arms ammunition." The attacks had subsided from the north and east; the danger was mainly to the south, and it was there that COL Freeman (who had been badly wounded that morning) dispatched B/1/23, the Ranger Company, a tank platoon, and two M16 flakwagons.
This attack jumped off at 1015 preceded by a ten-minute artillery and mortar prep of McGee and Curtis Hills. COL Edwards is scathing about the conduct of this attack, calling it "piecemeal tactics" as individual platoons were launched at the hills in succession and in succession killed or wounded by grenades and small-arms fire. The unsuccessful counterattacks were halted at 1145, and tac air strikes sent to destroy the Chinese interlopers with high explosive and napalm. At 1500 the B Company counterattack tried again, and was driven back within ten minutes.
Finally the defenders were able to assemble a force of infantry and tanks that pushed through to the outside of the perimeter west of the breach and were able to take the Chinese troops on the reverse slopes of the hills under fire at about 1630. At about the same time the 20-some M4 tanks of the relief force, Task Force Crombiez, hove into view, "shooting up a storm to either side...(with) about 250 Chinese...fleeing wildly before them."The story of Task Force Crombiez is a tale in itself; a composite armored unit from the 1st Cavalry had been augmented with a reinforced company of the 5th Cavalry (this unit, despite its designation, was a straight-leg infantry outfit like the 8th Cavalry at Unsan, remember?). COL Edwards comments derisively on the "tigers painted on the fronts of all the tanks (giving) them a very ferocious appearance" and then describes the frightful journey north, during which the tankers roared ahead as the sorry dogfaces were shot off the tanks they were told to ride, picked up in trucks - which were then captured by the Chinese.
But the fearsome tigers were just too much for the men of the 126th Division. Having taken all the bullets, shells, bombs, and fire the Americans could throw at them this was too much. Our man COL Edwards describes the scene: "Thousands of Chinese on all the close and distant hills could now be seen running in long files away from the perimeter. Every available rifleman and weapon on and inside the perimeter began firing...(t)wo Chinese Armies were in complete panic! The Chinese ran like terror-striken deer and stumbled over their own dead and wounded in their wild desire to get away from the perimeter." Thousands of Chinese, he says, were killed within an hour - a "mad hour" - of shooting.Although the defenders remain in place, 1700 hrs 14 FEB 1951 is the end of the engagement. The 23rd Infantry and attachments had suffered about 100 killed and 250 wounded. The attackers certainly lost thousands; the official record says 2,000 dead, while the ever fierce COL Edwards says 6,000. Certainly thousands more young men would not return across the Yalu sound. The CPVA withdrew to the north and later in the month was driven yet further north by "Operation Killer", and by "Operation Ripper" (LTG Ridgeway had a gift for codenames) which continued into March.The 23rd Infantry Regiment and the attached units earn the Presidential Unit Citation - the military unit equivalent of the nation's second-highest award for individual bravery - for their actions 13-15 FEB 1951.
The Outcome: Decisive UN tactical victory.
The Impact: The biggest impact of the victory at Chipyong-ni was on the U.S. forces of the Eighth Army. Prior to November the American soldiers had been contemptuous of the Chinese "laundrymen". The stunning defeats along the Yalu and the frightening bugouts that followed had made the former cartoon Chinamen into monsters; U.S. troops had begun to fear the "hordes" that in their nightmares threatened to swarm over them into the sea.
Chipyong-ni did just what Matt Ridgeway had hoped; it showed that a well-dug-in, active defense could stop any number of human bodies. U.S. soldiers lost much of their terror of their enemy; he turned out to be just a man, after all, and you can kill or frighten a man. The Chinese "hordes" became part of a gag. In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower traveled to Korea and asked a GI whether he had seen these hordes of Chinese. "I ran into a horde yesterday," replied the trooper, "I killed both of them."
In a sense, all Ridgeway was doing was reminding his soldiers of the Somme and Monte Cassino. But that lesson has to be relearned, perhaps, every generation; no man is faster, stronger, or more cunning than a bullet.
And Chipyong-ni sure reinforced the U.S. Army's love for that bullet. For the shell, the bomb, and the napalm canister...it reinforced the Army's fixation - never send a man where you can send a bullet. It was a lesson that the U.S. Army would find hard to unlearn.
The PLA learned lessons as well. Steve notes that the:
"...teaching material for PLA officers I gathered, the main lessons PLA learned from this battle are:This engagement was only the end of the beginning for the Korean War. The UNC and the CPVA traded attacks the following spring and early summer, to and fro, north and south, until finally the battle line stabilized near what is today the "Demilitarized Zone", an ironic term for one of the most dangerous borders in the world.Peace talks began in July 1951 and continued without issue for two years as young men died and women and children starved in the Korean mountains. Finally the existing armistice was derived, and the armies froze in place, to remain facing each other across the wire and mines of the DMZ.
1) Do not underestimate the enemy
2) Conduct through recon before attacking the enemy
3) Coordinate and concentrate your forces when assaulting enemy positions
However, the one important lesson that was not mentioned is the command process that led to this disaster. What if the PLA had a rank system that prevents infighting amongst its officers? What if PLA dropped its Maoist political dogma and that prevents the creation of ranking system? What if political goal does not interfere with military objectives? (H)ere Mao went against his general’s judgment and caused a disaster that could be avoided in the first place.
According to Professor Xu Yan of the PLA National Defense University, after Chipyong-ni all major weakness of the PLA were exposed to the UN forces, and an effective counter was soon developed against PLA based on the Chipyong-ni model. But at that time nobody on the Chinese side noticed it. Mao still believed the UN forces, which lacked “revolutionary spirits”, could still be crushed by the “righteous” soldiers under his command. So Mao planned a much bigger Fifth Phase Offensive, only to have his forces ground down by thousands of UN units fighting Chipyong-ni style. Out of 500,000 Chinese troops went into battle, only 200,000 got out in a complete rout. Although Chinese propaganda claims that they forced the UN forces to accept cease fire talks during the Fifth Phase Offensive, it is actually the Russians that begged the UN to stop the fighting in the face a crushing Chinese defeat."
The "Z" is perhaps one of the most bizarre and haunting places on Earth.Tigers and goral range in the untouched wildlands, flowers bloom through the rusting wire, birds, many found nowhere else in South Korea, nest and thrive in the deserted places between the two armies, still, even after all the time and lives between the winter of 1951 and the winter sixty years later, watch sleeplessly for the Enemy.Touchline Tattles: What else? One more story from the grumpy commander of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry:
"The Ranger Company Commander complained to some of the 2d Battalion officers that his unit had been misused, and that his unit was just for "hit and run" actions and was not capable of ordinary attack and defense like Infantry units. Unfortunately the 2d Battalion Commander did not hear of this until the next day, when the Ranger Company was no longer under his control, or he would have had a "heart to heart" talk with one Lieutenant Ranger Company Commander. That is the main trouble with prima-donna outfits like the Rangers. They don't want dirty fighting, they just want the glamour. The veteran Infantrymen of the 2d Battalion thought that their "hit and run" tactics consisted mostly of running.So.
The Army is much better off without these special units."
Tell us what you REALLY think, colonel!