CHANGJIN JOURNAL CHANGJIN JOURNAL 04.30.02
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.
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CHANGJIN JOURNAL 04.30.02
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
IN THIS ISSUE we continue our discussion of Hudong-ni, the location of the RCT 31 main command post when the Chinese attacked east of the reservoir. The attack in this sector may be seen as a masterful stroke by the commander of the Chinese Army Group where, on that night, he committed his 80th Division and one regiment of his 81st Division, then committing the remainder of the 81st Division on 29 November. At the time he developed his plan he was attacking the 5th Marine Regiment, but as it turned out RCT 5 had left that day and the Army RCT 31 was arriving and occupied some of the same positions. However, the third infantry battalion of RCT 31 had not yet arrived, so the area around Hill 1221 and the approaches to it from the northeast were not occupied. Its capture turned into a minor operation for the Chinese regimental commander, who didn't know he'd have to contend with a convoy of Americans which, to his surprise, provided him with unexpected medical supplies.
THE SCHOOLHOUSE Letter
Rasula to Witte: "As I remember, the first word about the attacks north of Hudong came via the command radio net, a lot of excitement, much of it garbled and reception got worse as time went on. I don't think it lasted longer than morning of the next day, 28 November. I remember a speaker in the operations room of the schoolhouse; that was where we heard the transmissions. GEN Hodes was awakened. I do remember being outside listening, at one time hearing firing far off and thinking it was coming from the Marines on the other side of the reservoir.... Anderson was in the operations room, so whatever was heard we heard together. Word about the activity to the north was almost simultaneous with the arrival of CAPT Hancock from the Medical Company ambush at Hill 1221."
BRIGADIER GENERAL HODES
When GEN Hodes learned of the Medical Company ambush on Hill 1221, he decided that the 31st Tank Company would attack north after daylight and break through to the forward battalions. Not yet understanding what was going on further north, he directed that a message be sent to Reilly's 3/31 to send a small force south to help relieve the situation.
We find the coverage of Tank Company's activities on 28 and 29 November most interesting, especially as reported in Roy Appleman's "Escaping the Trap," pp.103-6, 118-19 (recommended reading). His sources were limited to Drake's report of 1950, followed by letters 35 years later. Tank Company attempted on two days to break through and learned on both occasions that Hill 1221 was strongly defended by the Chinese. It would take a sizeable tank-infantry force to break through. In those two days they lost five tanks. Why? They lacked prior knowledge of terrain and enemy.
COL MacLean had left the schoolhouse after dark and was at his advance CP behind the 1/32 positions, accompanied by his adjutant MAJ Robbins, communications officer LT McNally, and about 40 enlisted men from various headquarters elements.
The officers at the schoolhouse CP who took part or observed this activity were: BGEN Hodes, assistant division commander (ADC), and MAJ Lynch from the Division G3 section. The main element at the schoolhouse was the Operations Center with LTC Berry Anderson, regimental S-3, with his assistant CPT Rasula and liaison officer 1LT Skilton. In the S-2 section was MAJ Carl Witte with his assistant CPT Dowell. CPT Hancock, MSC of Medical Company, arrived at the Hudong CP after the Medical Company ambush. Regimental Chaplain (CPT) Martin Hoehn. Troops at Hudong-ni came from 31st Regimental Headquarters Company (anti-tank and mine platoon, administrative personnel), a platoon of Company C, 13th Engineer (C) Battalion. On the morning of 28 November, Service Battery, 57th FA Battalion, arrived from its overnight position between Hudong-ni and Hagaru-ri.
A combat action has at its forefront a mission followed by a plan to implement that mission. At the schoolhouse CP the planners didn't have a basis for forming a plan to accomplish the mission assigned by GEN Hodes, that of clearing the road with tank company and reinforcing units at the Inlet. The problem was lack of intelligence about the enemy; the essential elements of information (EEI) to develop the plan were missing. How many Chinese were involved in the ambush? What size force was attacking the forward battalions?
As for the immediate situation, exactly where did the ambush take place? Planners asked the medics who had returned, but since it was the dark of night the men actually didn't know where they were at the time. It appeared to be a road clearing operation - go up the road and shoot anything that moves. Simple as that.
LOOKING BACK AT HISTORY
For CPT Rasula thoughts were a bit different because of past experience. His mind's eye took him back three winters to Exercise Yukon in Alaska where he accompanied a group of former Finnish army officers, one of whom had been chief of staff of the division that fought the battle of Suomusalmi where the Finns annihilated two Russian divisions during November-December 1939. Was this the making of a "motti" - a classic envelopment? During the previous day when the staff was preparing the RCT attack plan, Rasula looked at the map west of Yudam-ni to see where the Corps order was sending the Marines. He recalled mentioning to Anderson that the terrain west of Yudam-ni was ideal for a "motti" operation, cutting a column into sections in that mountainous terrain. Was the same thing happening east of Chosin? Unknown at Hudong-ni the Chinese had already driven between the two battalions and overrun one of the two artillery batteries, and now with the occupation of Hill 1221 the Chinese were between the Inlet and Hudong's Tank Company, an ideal situation in that they occupied positions vacated by the 5th Marines.
TANK COMPANY 28 November. Tank Company moved out in the attack. Years later the company commander recalled: "While the reports indicate that infantry lements accompanied our initial attack, the story is somewhat distorted and also dimmed by time. When we left Hudong-ni with Hodes [and others], there were no infantry troops of any sort. I thought it would be a road clearing operation for tanks. Once on the scene and after the lead tanks were hit, I realized we had more of a fight than I expected. At that time, I called for whatever infantry type support troops might be available at Hudong-ni to come forward along the west slope of the high ground to clear out the enemy on the north slopes near the hairpin turn on Hill 1221. This is how the infantry types came into the engagement. It was not well coordinated if, indeed, coordinated at all. The support arrived far too late in the day."
In response to questions about casualties he wrote: "The casualties might indeed have been higher than reported. The enemy strength in retrospect might have been more formidable - particularly because the CCF were using the Marine foxholes already prepared. Hill 1221 was surely the key position in our RCT area and it should have been occupied by an infantry battalion (an ideal location for Reidy's 2/31 if it had arrived on time). Had it been co-located with my company, the outcome would have been different. The fact is that the RCT was strung out too thinly; its piecemeal positioning was predicated on a pursuit action, hardly one of defensive posture. I consider the major cause of the disaster came at the very outset: the operation of moving the RCT to Chosin was too hastily conceived and too hastily executed.
"In retrospect, I hate to think what could have happened had I recognized that narrow gauge railroad bed. It was an easy access to the north - never saw it - never saw the aerial photos in Appleman's book until it was published. Of course, the major issue raised - and appropriately - was what would have happened if my company and 31st rear [Hudong-ni CP] would have remained at Hudong-ni at least one more night rather than move to Hagaru-ri on 30 Nov."
CAPTAIN HANCOCK During this action of the 28th CPT Hancock and Chaplain Hoehn accompanied by a few medics were involved aiding casualties. It was while maneuvering to return fire that the lead tank hit a mine. Hancock thought the location was about 200 feet behind the last vehicle of the convoy. "This was very rough terrain, the tanks were unable to leave the road...and it was difficult to turn a tank around. The terrain to the left [Hill 1221] was much higher; that's where the enemy was dug in, as well as lower to the right. "I got the feeling that ammunition was running low. Several attempts were made to send infantrymen to the left against the enemy's right flank because the Chinese had a commanding view of the entire area." Hancock and SGT Lee were kept busy giving aid and it was during this time when Lee was killed. They had run out of first aid material and were conserving morphine by using one syrette on two patients.
During the day the ambulance made several trips to the schoolhouse where an aid station was set up. By the time they were to return on the last run the ambulance gave up with a hole in the radiator. A tank carried the last of the patients. Some dead had been returned throughout the day, but Hancock had the feeling that many wounded had been left behind because they could not be reached. During these two days Hancock made at least one trip with a small convoy to Hagaru-ri to turn over wounded to the Navy Clearing Company, returning with ammo and supplies. He remembered one area above a curve between Hudong and Hagaru where the Chinese were digging in.
Chaplain Hoehn remembered "In the morning after the medical company ambush, an improvised force of infantry and tanks began to go forward. I had not started with them, but the S-3, Anderson, told me to try to bring back wounded from the ambush...I was with CAPT Drake and GEN Hodes at the time. There was no snow, thus no tracks to follow to find wounded. I remember GEN Hodes remarking that the enemy used smokeless powder. It disgusted me to see the enemy, some in civilian clothes, squirm around in open patches on the hills. No one could shoot as we were riding away as rapidly as possible."
Hodes arrived back at the schoolhouse CP at noon the 28th. There he instructed LT Henson, the Tank Company officer who had remained with his 4th Platoon, to recon to the northeast and find a route to bypass Hill 1221 and get to the forward battalions. This instruction had to have been based on his total lack of information at Hudong-ni as to what was going on further north. In fact, the operations center had no knowledge of the road being cut between Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri, nor of the action taking place by the Marines in the Toktong Pass or at Yudam-ni. Many assumptions were being made without the benefit of communications with higher (division and corps), lower (forward battalions) or adjacent (Marines at Hagaru-ri) units.
Hodes told Anderson, Witte and Lynch that he was going to Hagaru-ri to get help. Before he left, realizing the Chinese were already on the ridges to the east and heading south toward Hagaru-ri,and concerned also about the security at Hudong-ni, he told Witte to lay out a perimeter defense...then walked the ground with Witte. This perimeter would be manned by engineers and service troops, in addition to the Tank Company.
Hodes left Hudong-ni in a tank for two reasons - his security, as had been encouraged by the staff, and to provide communications at Hagaru-ri with the tank's radio.
In the afternoon LT Hensen took two tanks in his effort to find a bypass as instructed by GEN Hodes. Enemy fire hit and stopped the lead tank, killing the lieutenant. An attempt to retrieve his body failed. The Chinese had taken him and propped his body against a tree on the ridge above the schoolhouse, rifle across his lap. Another version of this brief action comes from Chaplain Hoehn: "The enemy was now on the ridges above us. LT Hensen of Tank Company had led a small unit against the enemy up the hill from the schoolhouse. We were sure he had been killed, as the enemy propped his body against a tree to induce us to come for a wounded comrade. In any case, we considered it a decoy and no one took the bait."
We conclude that on 28 November the enemy held Hill 1221 and the adjacent high ground in strength. The CCF commander, having known the 5th Marines had a battalion on that hill before the big switch, took it unopposed with one regiment.
The story of Hudong-ni will continue in the next issue with actions on 29 November, the second attack on Hill 1221, and 30 November, the withdrawal of the Hudong-ni elements to Hagaru-ri.