CHANGJIN JOURNAL 12.12.12 Chapter 76
The Changjin Journal is designed to disseminate and solicit information on the Chosin campaign. Comments and brief essays are invited. Subject matter will be limited to history of the Chosin campaign, as well as past or present interpretation of that history. See End Notes for distribution and other notices.
Colonel George A. Rasula, USA-Ret., Chosin Historian
Byron Sims, Contributing Editor
The foundation of this issue began some years ago after the publication of my e-book The Chosin Chronology: Battle of the Changjin Reservoir 1950 wherein the sacrifice of Task Force Faith was addressed in the summary. THIS ISSUE may also be referred to as a Choblog because it is intended to awaken present and future historians to the problems that did exist and the way they had been handled by the press and later publications, often based on hearsay and misunderstanding. Korea was our last black and white war.
CHOSIN: SACRIFICE OF TASK FORCE FAITH
Often heard by soldiers at Chosin reunions were voices … we were sacrificed, suggesting that Major General O.P. Smith had little interest in the Army units east of Chosin, other than protecting his flank.
Sacrifice is defined as forgoing something valued for the sake of something having a more pressing claim. How does this definition relate to the sacrifice of a regimental combat team east of the Chosin reservoir, a small cut-off force that in five nights and four days fought elements of two Chinese divisions which had as their objective Hagaru-ri at the base of the reservoir. To have sacrifice, one must identify intent. In this case, who permitted the sacrifice to reach its deadly conclusion on 1 December 1950? Has finger pointing been voided because the situation at the time was so confusing that higher commanders did not have the ability to cope? That very well could have been the case.
Those are strong statements, although they are probably true. We must remember that Major General O.P. Smith did not see things as we see them today, six decades later. He was absorbed with two regimental combat teams cut off at Yudam-ni, a rifle company isolated in the Toktong Pass, the fact that Hagaru-ri and his division CP were threatened, and that the MSR to his rear had been blocked. We know he had been concerned about his right flank when, just a few days earlier, he gave Lt. Colonel Don C. Faith’s newly arrived 1/32 Infantry the mission of protecting that flank. What happened?
Let us start far to the south at Sudong where the division engaged its first battle with an organized Chinese force. That brief action ended about 7 November after which it took three days to arrive at the top of the Funchilin Pass and secure the village of Koto-ri, during which they occasionally observed enemy patrols. Leaping ahead in time 17 days passed before the Chinese would again attack him at Yudam-ni, a distance of 24 miles from Koto-ri. What did they do during those seventeen days when the mission was to drive north in zone to find and destroy the enemy. To the east in the 7th Division zone, the 17th Infantry drove all the way to the Yalu River at Hyesanjin before General Barr’s left flank was threatened.
What did Smith do? He wrote a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps in which he complained about Almond being too aggressive. Then it took him four days to go from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri, a distance of 11 miles (a four-hour foot march) during which time he had no contact with the enemy other than sighting patrols that disappeared quickly when attacked by fire. All this time the enemy was crossing the Yalu River, marching south each night toward their assembly areas on both sides of the Chosin Reservoir. There they would lay a trap for one regiment of Marines on each side of the reservoir. A classic Chinese motti was being created while no one was listening to the quiet shuffle of feet marching south along the road that Smith said was to be his MSR north to the Yalu.
After the 1MarDiv had positioned one RCT on each side of the Chosin reservoir, MacArthur’s issued an urgent order for X Corps to launch the attack west in an effort to assist the Eighth Army that had encountered the Chinese in force on 25 November. All this time the Marines seemed to be discounting the small Chinese patrols and local observers, rather than reaching out deeper with patrols to seek essential elements of information (EEI) about the enemy. Every step of the way the Chinese learned more about his dispositions than he was learning about his enemy. We read little about prisoner interrogation, or that of Korean civilians. At this time the Division Recon Company and the attached British 41 Commando Royal Marines were far to the rear looking at an empty flank, about which Smith was overly concerned; it was 80 miles to the right flank of Eighth Army.
The fact that elements of five CCF divisions would be in assembly areas making ready for the last night-march to attack positions without Smith’s knowledge, is one of the most grievous errors of the Chosin campaign. Someone misread the cards. He would have learned that the enemy was far closer if he had pushed his recon beyond the next mountain and deeper into every valley. He didn’t. As a result he would face the consequences.
What did Roy Appleman say about sacrifice? We find in his East of Chosin, p.323, Withdrawing these forces from Hudong-ni had the effect of signing the death warrant for Task Force Faith and its wounded. What commander in his right mind would order such a move in the circumstances without deliberately running the risk sacrificing the task force, and how could he be willing to take that risk?
In his examination Appleman does not isolate the blame as to who ordered the withdrawal, why it was ordered, nor how was the order transmitted, and when and by whom it was received. For this author of Changjin Journal and the Chosin Chronology who served on the RCT staff at Hudong-ni, it appears to be the result of an ad hoc committee making a decision based on ignorance. However, Appleman’s final conclusion cannot be faulted, that “Smith cannot escape his degree of responsibility.” One has but to read Smith’s Aide-Memoire to witness slight of the pen in explaining the actions that took place east of Chosin, for most of what he writes he had no knowledge of at the time, but later made use of reports and hearsay that favored his conclusions.
Smith knew that the Army units east of Chosin were attached to his command, yet he did nothing to exercise military protocol by accepting them as attached units. In fact, he seems to have ignored them.
In the last chapter of East of Chosin — “Could Task Force Faith Have Been Saved?” — Appleman’s discussion of the Hudong-ni withdrawal to Hagaru-ri takes four pages (pp.322-325) to come to the conclusion that The withdrawal of the forces at Hudong-ni on the afternoon of November 30 was a disastrous command decision. In the end it doomed Task Force Faith.
The day before the attempted breakout was doomsday for the units at the Inlet. They were left alone to solve their own problems that, by then, were insurmountable. To tell Faith that he was essentially on his own, which is what General Barr obviously told him during his visit, was signing not only his death warrant, but also that of the entire force that no longer had the capability of executing a successful breakout. Smith’s words improve your position and do nothing to jeopardize the safety of the wounded came from a commander who had no knowledge of the situation that existed at the Inlet, nor did he take action to find out so he could contribute something other than a death sentence.
Back to the word sacrifice. We must open the door to reasons why this was the case. We can begin by describing differences between one command and the other, the two Marine RCTs west of Chosin and one Army RCT east of Chosin. Smith always had radio communications with RCT 5 and 7; he never had and never did establish communications with RCT-31 from the time they were attached to him on 29 November, until the end. When contact is out with a subordinate command, it is the responsibility of the higher commander to establish or re-establish communication. Some may believe the radio link from Stamford through the pilots to the air support center at Hagaru-ri would have been Smith’s link with the RCT-31 commander, Lt. Colonel Don C. Faith. That was hardly possible, and if it had been, it was never used by Smith.
Other examples relating to communications can be found in the support of Fox Company 2/7 in the Toktong Pass, a Marine rifle company that had continuous radio contact with it’s regimental HQ and, more important, radio with the division CP and H/11 Artillery at Hagaru-ri. Because of this, higher command always knew the status of the company and its needs for radio batteries (provided by helicopter) and other supplies, especially ammunition (provided by airdrop). Fox Company survived because of the attention provided by Smith’s resources at Hagaru-ri, especially artillery.
East of Chosin the airdrops—some of which landed in enemy territory— apparently contained supplies that an unknown higher command believed were needed, for the logistics radio link had been cut long before. The headquarters element at Hudong-ni had sporadic communication with radios at the Inlet that allowed the staff to get a feel for the supply situation and send messages back to 7ID through Brig. General Hodes and Major Lynch at Hagaru-ri. However, this system was unreliable, one example being a drop of 40mm ammo at Hudong-ni which was needed by the AAA guns at the Inlet, and a drop of tank ammo at the Inlet that was intended for Tank Company at Hudong-ni. We do know that three helicopters (one carrying General Barr to visit Faith) were sent to the Inlet on 30 November to evacuated wounded. Although the exact number evacuated is not known, three key officers were evacuated (two battalion commanders and the regimental surgeon).
We also know that on 30 November Smith attempted to convey his instructions to Faith through a radio message that he asked Hodes to draw up in his name, embodying Smith’s ideas, that Faith should make every effort to secure necessary exits and move south … at the earliest … and that he should do nothing which would jeopardize the safety of the wounded. Not only will historians have a problem understanding the meaning of these instructions, they will continue their struggle to find out when and how the message was sent, who received the message, and whether or not the intended recipient, Don Faith, ever received it. The words secure necessary exits will continue to be a problem, as will do nothing to jeopardize the safety of the wounded. After these many years we can only conclude that those at Hagaru-ri — however honorable their intentions — had little knowledge of the status of RCT-31 units east of Chosin.
We then look at the preparations for the breakout. At Yudam-ni the Joint Command was required to prepare a plan and send it to Smith at Hagaru-ri for his approval. No such requirement was imposed on RCT-31, nor was contact established to determine Faith’s needs for his breakout. Close air support was planned for both areas. At Yudam-ni there were two forward air controllers with each battalion, making more than 12 controllers for RCT-5 and 7. East of Chosin there was but one air controller from 28 November to the end. Although Smith said he would give air priority to Faith, the fact remains that one controller cannot be compared with the eyes of 12. Captain Stamford, the Marine FAC who maintained a position with Faith near the front of the column, was not in a position to see and call in strikes for a column of trucks scattered over four miles. In the end, radio contact was no longer available as pilots in the semi-darkness strafed the flanks at a time when many wounded soldiers were attempting to escape to the ice of the reservoir. As one pilot acknowledged as he flew above Hill1221 in the fading daylight, it was over.
What about “sacrifice”?
This author, one who served as an Army rifle platoon leader attached to the 1MarDiv on Peleliu during World War II, and as an Army rifle company commander attached to the 1MarDiv during the Chosin breakout, and years later as Inspector General of XXIV Corps in Vietnam, concludes with thoughts on command responsibility.
Public relations of the day cast a veil over discussing sacrifice by spreading effective hype over successful accomplishments, while at the same time leaving the east of Chosin debacle to the imagination of readers. The press of the day had General Smith attacking in another direction followed by the success of the breakout, never mentioning that success was made possible because of the rapid decline in the enemy’s capability to do anything about it. The veil thickens with statements such as “we were attacked by twelve CCF Divisions when, in fact, contact was with elements of six enemy divisions, two of which attacked and destroyed RCT-31 units under command of Don Faith. The veil never does address the limitations of radio communication within the Chinese forces that made it impossible to launch coordinated attacks by large units, nor the inadequate logistics system to sustain their operations at the Chosin.
This in no way degrades Marines and Soldiers who valiantly fought their way to the safety of the Hungnam perimeter. As individuals serving in platoons and companies, their accomplishments have been properly recognized by history. Being examined here is the story of Chosin, facts relating to how it had been told and the interpretation of command and unit accomplishments. Our conclusion is that the units of RCT-31 east of Chosin accomplished their mission by preventing more than two CCF divisions from driving south and taking Hagaru-ri and, in doing so without help from the outside, were themselves destroyed as a fighting force. If the Chinese had been more successful against the soldiers east of Chosin by achieving their objective of Hagaru-ri, the story about the Chosin campaign would have been entirely different. We close with a question seldom asked, should a commander reinforce failure?
Be it known that the remains of the Task Force commander, Lt. Colonel Don C. Faith, have been identified this past year and will be interred at the Arlington National Cemetery on 17 April 2013.
Photo copyright © 1950, 2013 George Rasula.
With the rapid advancement in technology, especially in he past two decades, we have seen television entering the battlefield history of the Korean war, and just recently under the title CHOSIN produced by two young Hollywood educated former Marines from Middle East battleground experience; seen by this critic as a very good film by marines about marines for marines. We invite comments on this journal as well as what you may have seen recently on television; send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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