CHANGJIN JOURNAL CHANGJIN JOURNAL 01.31.02
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
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|CHANGJIN JOURNAL 01.31.02
IN THIS ISSUE we take a brief look at the latest book related to the Chosin campaign, a book addressing the lower ranks of the North Korean and Chinese forces that fought the Korean War. We limit our attention to the author's coverage of the Chinese soldier as relates to the Chosin campaign.
FORMIDABLE ENEMIES: The North Korean and Chinese Soldier in the Korean War, Kevin Mahoney, Presidio Press, CA, 2001.
BOOK REVIEW by George Rasula
We continue to seek more information about the enemy, especially the individual soldier and what made him fight as he did. In the latest book on this subject, the author divides his work into sections-the North Korean and the Chinese soldier-providing good background on each. After that he addresses the soldier in ground combat, covering preliminaries, assault and defense. Our read took us immediately to the author's sources, looking for new Chinese sources, especially those related to the Chosin campaign. There did not appear to be citations we had not seen before. Yet the book is a good gathering and presentation of available information.
There has been a tendency for Korean War writers to claim victory by limiting stories to the friendly side, leaving the enemy story to imagination. We see this often in writings about the Chosin campaign, stories that are heavy on aggrandizement while telling little about the enemy. A leading example is the claim that they were "attacked by 12 Chinese divisions consisting of 120,000 troops," even though Marine general O.P. Smith's writings state they were attacked by "elements of six Chinese divisions." So be it; this often-used public relations ploy is a way of getting attention.
THE CHINESE ARMIES
In this book we find identification and location of armies and divisions in Appendix 1. Here are the Chinese forces that were committed to the Northeast Korea campaign. * 20th Army: 58th, 59th, 60th, and 89th Divisions. "The 20th Army reached Korea in mid-November 1950 and engaged UN forces during the second Communist offensive against X Corps in northeast Korea late that month. It failed in an attempt to cut off the U.S. 1st Marine Division at Yudam-ni near the Changjin Reservoir, taking many casualties during the battle. Withdrawn from combat, it...didn't return to combat until April 1951." The author provides no other detail. * 26th Army: 76th, 77th, 78th, and 88th Divisions. "The 26th crossed the Yalu River in early November 1950 and was part of the force attacking the U.S. 1st Marine Division at the Changjin Reservoir...it failed to destroy the Marines and was badly mauled in the process...refitted near Wonsan...returning to the line in March 1951." No further details are offered as to location and combat actions. * 27th Army; 79th, 80th, 81st, and 94th Divisions. "In Korea from early November 1950, the 27th Army fought its first action at the Changjin Reservoir at the end of the month. The 79th Division took part in the attack on U.S. Marines at Yudam-ni while the 80th Division destroyed Task Force Faith...on the east side of the reservoir. Elements of the army followed the Americans as they withdrew to Hamhung and made small attacks on the UN defensive perimeter around the port until it was evacuated. Suffering heavy casualties in this campaign, the army moved into the Hamhung area for rehabilitation, and its 94th Division was inactivated to provide replacements for the other divisions in the army. In mid-April it returned to combat...."
We continue to search for indicators from the Chinese point of view to explain why the breakout was successful when opposed by such a large force. The enemy drove X Corps out of North Korea. Both sides claim victory because such a conclusion is based on the eye of the beholder, he who tells the story.
"Using traditional tactics that included deception, infiltration, concentration of force to gain numerical advantage at points of attack, and encirclement of the enemy in night combat at close quarters, they expected to overcome their technological inferiority and eventually force the UN out of the Korean peninsula."
The author describes infantry combat as "one of the most confusing, emotional, and deadly of all human endeavors." The tactics used by the enemy, "when combined with the native characteristics of their citizenry and good leadership, created formidable opposition for the UN forces in Korea."
"Each Chinese regiment had a reconnaissance platoon whose members were specialists in penetrating UN lines. They were often used to draw the fire of the UN troops, who thereby revealed their positions, as well as to locate boundaries between enemy units...."
NO MAN'S LAND
The no man's land in reference to the space between opposing forces during 1951-53 "really belonged to no one." However, when describing the Chosin operation, it was different. During the move into the Chosin area recon platoons of the enemy were hard at work keeping an eye on the lead Marine units in all sectors, always avoiding direct contact. During this move no man's land was on the other side of the mountains on each flank, while at night it belonged to those who made use of it, that being the Chinese who positioned their forces for the initial attack. Confusion must have reigned during 26 and 27 November when Chinese scouts saw changes taking place among units east of the reservoir and at Yudam-ni, and observed slightly different uniforms on troops arriving from the south. The original plan for an attack to take place on the 26th would have resulted in one battalion of the 5th Marines at Yudam-ni and 1/32 Infantry east of Chosin with the balance of the 5th Marines, while the reminder of RCT 31 was still enroute far to the south. As it was, they struck the night of 27 November creating a no man's land belonging to the Chinese at night and to U.S. air recon during the daylight, weather permitting. What the Chinese commander knew at the time is still unknown, with no hints provided in this book.
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF
This expression existed on both sides. "It was every man for himself at this point, because all control had been lost in the confusion of the sudden, second attack. A hysterical, unidentified voice called for mortar fire...just before the radio went dead."
We have mentioned the problem of communicating in previous issues. We are reminded once again as we read "communication between units below regimental or battalion level was primitive by Western standards and often difficult in combat. The briefing before an attack was usually detailed, even for enlisted men." "During this process, large amount of reliable information were given to the lowest ranks, a circumstance that UN intelligence officers often did not believe at the early stages of the war."
The author describes the 27 November night attack at Yudam thusly: "The night of the attack was cold, hovering around zero degrees F., with six inches of snow on the ground." This is quite different from the extreme conditions we have seen in past writings. The initial probe at Hill 1282 was driven off, but did serve the purpose of determining the "strength and location of the marine defenders for the main attack that would follow shortly." Here again we see that collection of intelligence came first in the battle plan. This action at Yudam-ni is the only detail contained in this book about a Chinese unit in their attacks in the Chosin area, and in this case most of it has been seen in other publications.
"A Chinese study of battle experience in Korea said that although a force attacking an American position should have a superiority of three to five attackers to each defender, ROK positions did not require as great a numerical advantage to be captured."
"The behavior of the platoon leader and his men during this attack highlights how leadership could affect the performance of Chinese troops. There is a sharp contrast between the fortitude shown by his group in advancing up the hill, while taking heavy casualties, and their inaction upon reaching the American positions. In both instances they unquestionably followed their officer, even to the extent of surrendering, once again demonstrating the obedience of the Chinese soldier and the importance of his officers."
THE CHINESE PROBLEM
This leads to the most important problem, other than the inability to logistically support their large armies, that of primitive communications. "An important feature of all the ground combat action during the Korean War was the relatively poor communications found in both the Chinese and North Korean armies. Companies often received attack orders after such long delays that, given the late start to an assault, they found it impossible to consolidate the newly captured position before the onset of intense UN air and artillery bombardment at daylight. Once an attack was under way or an ambush set, there was rarely any opportunity for a change in plan....poor communication at the tactical level made it difficult to deviate from the attack plan because radios were generally available only down to regimental or battalion level for much of the war. The lack of radio equipment led to runners carrying messages as a major means of communication between units, supplemented by the usual variety of prearranged signals. Different bugle calls were used in this fashion by both battalions and companies. They also became useful psychological weapons. Bugles blown at night from different locations around the UN position could give the impression of a larger force than was actually present and draw the fire of UN troops who revealed their positions. Whistles and flutes were typically use by platoons and squads. Attacking groups were also known to use animal sounds on occasions. What may have appeared to UN defenders as nonsensical or incongruous noises that were intended to unnerve them were, in fact, an important means of battlefield communications."
In the Notes section for Chapter 5, we find "The Chinese troops of the 79th division were part of the Chinese 27th Army, one of the best units of the Third Field Army during the Chinese civil war. These troops were not, however, trained for fighting in mountainous terrain under arctic conditions, nor were they properly equipped for the subzero temperatures they encountered. One third of the troops became frostbitten in a single month during this campaign."
After reading this book we again conclude that the Chinese were not successful because of three reasons: 1. Inadequate logistical support for such a large force; 2. inability to communicate to take advantage of favorable situations; and 3. inability of the individual soldier to cope with the extreme weather conditions experienced at Chosin. This book is suggested reading for veterans of Chosin as well as historians interested in the Chinese soldier. It would be helpful to read it as a companion to The Dragon Strikes by Patrick C. Roe, a study that contains far more depth about the enemy at Chosin.
END NOTES Our study of Chosin enters the fifty-second anniversary year of the battle, and as such places the eighteen-year-olds who fought that battle in their early seventies. We continue to encourage survivors of Chosin to send their memoirs to the Changjin Journal at 500 Squire Circle, Clemson, SC 29631. Our interest today is disseminating historically significant information that has never before been published. Back issues of the Changjin Journal can be found on the web at http://nymas.org
END CJ 01.31.02