CHANGJIN JOURNAL   CHANGJIN JOURNAL 10.30.03

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 10.30.03



CHANGJIN JOURNAL 10.30.03

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 look at Koto-ri through the eyes of individual participants representing units and tasks that have not received coverage in the past, as well as never-before published graphics.

SKETCH MAP OF KOTO DEFENSES

KOTO_DEFENSE_SKETCH.gif (17516 bytes)

This sketch map [click on the map  for a larger image] of the defenses originated from the headquarters of the 1st Marine Regiment at Koto-ri. Date of the sketch is after 3 December, the day F2/31 took Hill 1328 extending the southwest perimeter. Two days later George Company (G2/31) relieved Fox Company on that hill. Although this is not to scale, it shows the disposition of units on and within the perimeter. The eleven tank symbols indicate priority for defense to the north and southwest. Note that Marine units cover the north half and Army units the south, with the 185th Engineer Battalion on the southeast and the 2/31 Infantry on the south and southwest. The position of E Company, 2/1 Marines, to the right of the airstrip is where the Chinese attacked the evening of 29 November, at a time when stragglers from the Drysdale operation were returning from the north along the road. This attack as well as the 2/31 action capturing Hill 1328 were the only two significant actions against the Koto perimeter. Others were minor forays for recon purposes. From a position of hindsight it is obvious that the Chinese capability for launching a major attack against Koto as well as creating a major block at the Funchilin Pass was no longer possible. From a logistics point of view, Koto-ri was a very long march from the Yalu River.

SIGNAL RELAY AT KOTO

There were many small detachments from the technical services providing backup support to the divisions. They ranged from Engineer, Medical, Military Police, Ordnance, Signal and Transportation as well as support for Corps artillery. These units were backing up the 1st Marine Division as well as the 31st RCT during their move north along the Chosin MSR. Once the Marine regiments were at Yudam and east of Chosin, engineers and signal support had arrived at Hagaru to begin setting up the X Corps Advance CP, with a signal detachment at Koto-ri to relay traffic back to the command post at Hamhung. When the Chinese attacked the night of 27 November, this signal support provided the only effective link to the rear. We begin our Koto coverage with a detachment of the 581st Signal Relay Company.

NORMAN DEPTULA

On the morning of 26 November my relay team of the Army 581st Signal Relay Company, a team of four at Hamhung to join another team of six men already at Koto-ri. We arrived at dusk after traveling over a narrow, winding mountain road covered with ice. The team that we joined had set up a squad tent for their equipment and had to hammer stakes into the rock-hard ground to anchor the tent. To hold down the sides of the tent, they attached heavy sand bags. It didn't work because the wind was so strong that it lifted the sides, sand bags and all. Later that night, the ridgepole snapped. The NCO in charge ordered us to take down the remainder of the tent, and as we did it collapsed on top of us. We remained there under the tent for the rest of the night. I remember lying under the tent with the wind howling, being incredibly cold and quite scared. The next morning the sleeping bag and my parka on top of it were covered with ice crystals. On the night of 27 November our entire group of ten men, except for radio operators, remained on guard. The following night we rotated guard duty because of the cold. Even when off guard, I couldn't sleep. When I took my boots off, I would find crystals of ice in them. One morning shortly after sunrise we looked down the road to the south and saw that the Chinese had thrown up a roadblock during the night. The following morning they had erected another. We were supplied by airdrops from the C-119 Flying Boxcars. The planes, four at a time I remember, would fly lower and just before they came too close to our hill, would swoop up and all the supplies would come sliding out. Soon the chutes would open –white, red, blue, and green– and occasionally some would fall on our hill. We cut them up and made scarves. One night while on guard on the north slope of our hill overlooking Koto-ri, my buddy and I saw the entire sky glowing red–it was an eerie sensation. The ground was covered with snow and the wind was howling in our faces, but we couldn't take our eyes off the glow as tears ran down our cheeks from the cold. We later found out it was caused by the burning of supplies and equipment from falling into the hands of the enemy. On 1 December a platoon of infantry from the 2/31 Infantry arrived on our hill. They set up a 60mm mortar and zeroed in on the hill to our west [Hill 1328]. Between air strikes some of the Chinese would get out of their foxholes and move around. Once they tried this and a sergeant manning the mortar began dropping rounds on them. We watched as he ran back and forth as he was being bracketed. Eventually, he turned to run again and a round exploded in front of him; he didn't move again. During the night flares would be fired by our units. We watched as the flares would fall, swinging to and fro from their parachutes, causing the shadows to move which in turn caused us to think someone was moving up our hill. Strange, eerie feelings. When the Marine and Army units came into Koto-ri from the north, we waited for them to come into our area because two of our radio teams had been at Hagaru-ri. I watched the many troops come in. Some seemed to be in shock even though they continued to walk. I saw one dead marine (or soldier) strapped to the bumper of a 2 1/2 ton truck, and as it passed my buddy told me to look in the back of the truck. I was sorry I did because it was filled with bodies covered with ponchos. I remember one in particular as his knees were drawn up as in a fetal position. The dead were buried in a mass grave, a ditch dug by a bulldozer.

185th ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION

CAPT. F. S. OBRADOVICH On 29 November C Company, 185th Engineers, motored north on the MSR, up the mountain [Funchilin Pass] to the cold plateau. We arrived in a large area containing tents, tanks, artillery and a rudimentary airstrip. This was Koto-ri. I checked into Colonel Puller's 1st Marines CP. He greeted me and when I told him I was going on to Hagaru, he told me about the action of Task Force Drysdale and that I should go no farther and remain at Koto-ri "until we get the enemy cleared out." I then departed and told my XO to get the troops quartered as close as possible to Puller's CP. While doing this, and since it was about noon, I decided to return to the base of the mountain to check on the delivery and location of two D-8 bulldozers. Meanwhile the 185th forward HQ and B Company had arrived and started to set up camp at Koto-ri. Sometime that morning Lt. Guth, the battalion assistant S-2, drove in the direction of the convoy. Lt. Kelley and I drove to the bottom of the valley and found no dozers, but did find an engineer staff-type who promised them in the morning. As Kelley and I were returning up the hill, about halfway we saw an approaching Marine convoy. A couple of drivers tried to shout something at us, but we could not understand them so we continued up the hill. As you know, night comes fast in that latitude in the winter and it was beginning to get dark. As we reached to the top of the plateau, I noted that a tank previously parked next to a squad tent containing a radio relay team and its equipment were both gone. This plus the shouts from the marines made me a little uneasy because in that general area, my Lt. Slama and his work detail had received small arms fire while we were headed south. (Slama's group had used a truck-mounted .50 caliber against some figures far up the draw. With this in mind, I drove fast into the Koto-ri area. Capt. Hinshaw was surprised to see us return, as he said, "We have been surrounded since about 1500 hours. “About this time some marines, soldiers and British commandos were straggling back from the Drysdale convoy. The airstrip extension continued as long as the enemy permitted. From a liaison strip early in the game it grew to accommodate Navy TBFs and Air Force C-47s. We also sawed trees for firewood and blasted holes in the ground for graves. As to who was to the right and left of my defensive position, I can only say they were marines. I was disenchanted with them due to their poor fire discipline within the perimeter where weapons were often discharged carelessly. There were a number of Marine casualties just because of this. My portion of the defense line was not probed, but a couple of Chinese did come across and surrender. The shooting seemed to be aimed at the northeastern portion of the encircled perimeter. Navy TBFs and Greek C-47s evacuated wounded. Some wounded went out with our battalion's small Aeronca, the L-5.

LT. C. W. "GUS" GUTH Wednesday, 29 November Breakfast at 0900 and very PO'd at cooks. Lazy day setting up camp. Air compressor [B Company truck and operator] out with C Company and fired on two miles south. Assigned perimeter defense across the valley above [east of] 105s about 1600. Recon with C.O. and platoon leaders. Chow and positions occupied by dark 1530. One squad area guard at my suggestion. Anderson was not concerned about area. Looks open to me. Drew fire in area about 1900, most of it from the Marines. Fine friends. One man from H&S Company wounded in the foot. All night watch on radio to platoons started. Made 2300 trip over to platoon [LT Lear, 2d Platoon; LT Gately, 3d Platoon] with juice and Canadian Club, warm reception. Ordered back to company. Returned to find three Commies in area had bypassed H&S outposts, entered area, thrown three grenades and withdrew. Sprayed area with small arms fire. No casualties, just holes in the tents. Very cold.

Thursday, 30 November No sleep all night. Up all day as the C.O. sacked in for several hours. Men beat but tents and rest pretty good (referring to our bivouac and positions). First platoon squad dug in fairly well. H&S really digging holes after last night. Organized a second relief from HQ personnel for three-hour shifts in our area. Took early shift. Air strikes and artillery and mortar fire off and on all day and night. Heard Category [2/31] patrol trying to contact Marines. Tried to get them to give us the channel. Fire in area from enemy patrol about 2400 hours. Returned fire and they withdrew. Hit the sack about 0200.

HILL 1328

There has been some confusion in the past as to the location of Hill 1328 that was taken by units of 2/31 on 3 December, and the prominent ridge further south which was the objective of the 7th Marines during the breakout on 8 December. On some of the older maps the Marine objective was Hill 1329, just one meter higher than that occupied by 2/31 and one thousand meters further south. After 2/31’s arrival at Koto they were assigned the southest sector, exclusive of Hill 1328. Lt. Col. Reidy became frustrated at the sniping received from that direction, Fox Company 2/31 was ordered to take the hill on 3 December where they did suffer casualties. The Fox commander talked Reidy into replacing his company because they were suffering many cold casualties. George Company took over on 5 December and remained there until the final withdrawal from Koto.

G COMPANY 2/31 ON HILL 1328

LT. ERNEST RAJALA It has been written that the ridge line south of Hill 1328 had been aggressively patrolled, while I recall only limited short-range forays, at least on my platoon's part. The hill fronting my platoon dropped off at about 60 degrees. I do remember on 7 December witnessing a column of [enemy] troops three to four abreast snaking its way down the hills toward the Changjin River and village of Hamadae-ri. This was probably around mid-day. The obscuring weather, possible low clouds, lifted for a time. The head of the column was three to four kilometers from Hill 1328 at an azimuth of 300 degrees. The tail of the column was beyond the horizon. Upon reporting this we were told no fire units were available. By the way, my platoon was on the northwest side of Hill 1328 overlooking the Changjin River, the area mentioned.

A good source of detail continues to come from the medics who supported the action on Hill 1328.


MEDICS SUPPORT 2/31

JOHN ZITZELBERGER Cpl. John Zitzelberger's litter team supported the attack by F2/31 on Hill 1328.

I found out one thing when carrying a litter over the hill. I was on the forward slope when the Chinese were on the other. I had the litter out and they didn't shoot for some reason or other. Maybe they didn't shoot medics. I picked these people up and we were highly exposed. They could have blown us away in a heartbeat. I made two trips down there picking up those men. One guy was a recoilless rifle operator, another a rifleman. However, when I got back over the hill and was sitting next to someone, the side of his head fell off. He was killed instantly. We called down to the battalion aid station and they sent up more litter bearers; we had with us the whole regimental litter team element. They came up and we evacuated everybody off the hill who was killed or wounded.

John Z. with George Company

After George 2/31 relieved Fox on Hill 1329, Zitzelberger's team continued to support the action on that hill.

My litter team spent the rest of the time with George Company, and most of the men we carried from the hill were frozen or frostbitten, cold injury cases. There were few other casualties. I had the opportunity to go below the hill and pick up many Chinese who came in to surrender, soldiers who were frozen stiff. Their feet were black. Some of them crawled up to the hill and when I'd take them to the Marine aid station, the corpsman bitched me out for bringing in Chinese. In fact, one man asked me why I didn't kill them. I gave him my carbine and said, "If you can, go ahead and shoot him." They took the Chinese casualties, although I don't know what they did with them, but they did take them.

JOSEPH C. RODGERS, 1LT MSC, Med/31

Lt. Rodgers was with the 2d Battalion aid station at Koto-ri. He was helping load casualties on a C-47 while there. At no time did he see any evacuation by helicopter from Koto or during any other engagement. The roster of the medical detachment had 17 EM, including John Zitzelberger, and also a detachment of 18 ROK litter bearers. He provided us a photo of Koto-ri taken on November 30, 1950, from a position on the narrow gauge railroad track. Another photo is of the Marine helicopter that had crashed next to the road in the Funchilin Pass. The men close to the chopper appear to be marines; those further back are army. There appears to be an emplacement, a bunker, just above the men on the extreme left. Although photos of this helicopter have been seen in Chosin Few publications, we have never seen the exact location on a map. Also provided was a general order awarding the Purple Heart, 9 January 1951. Officers on this list are: 1LT James Lovell, Hq, 2/31, 30 Nov; 1LT Joseph Rodgers, Med/31, 1 Dec; 1LT Grady Cole, K/3/31, 1 Dec; 1LT John Buss, Hq,2/31, 1 Dec; 1LT Lex Byers, Hq 2/31, 3 Dec. Noted in this list are 1LT Byers and four EM of 2/31 wounded on 3 Dec 50. Since the three EM from Fox Company were wounded on 3 December, this confirms that the F2/31 attack on Hill 1328 took place on 3 December. We have no information on why Byers was wounded except that he was sent up the hill by the S-3 to see that the attack of F2/31 went off as planned.

KOTO AIRSTRIP

PAUL FITZ LANDS C-47 AT KOTO At midafternoon word came that they were moving into Koto-ri. They needed certain medical supplies badly, and I took them up there and paradropped the bundle. It gave me a chance to see the new strip we would be using during the next few days. The trusty road grader was there, hard at work again. This strip was 2,000 feet at best. To make it more interesting, there was a huge slag pile just off the south end. Landings and takeoffs would be to the north, based on the prevailing wind coming down the valley. Next morning we got to try our new challenge. It was interesting. We would almost roll our wheels on the slag pile, chop the power and dive for the strip, then recover just in time to touch down. It worked. Others tried coming around the side of the pile, making a low turn, straightening out quickly, and landing. I like the over-the-top better. The surface was compacted snow and ice, so braking was tricky. My second landing, I was midway down the strip when a swoosh of crosswind, funneled through a saddleback on the ridge to my left, struck broadside. The bird weather-vaned, and the brakes were useless. Left engine throttle with its delayed reaction helped, but only after the left wheel rode up onto the snowbank at the side. After I parked and got out, a man came running up to say that I had just missed a large hole beside the strip. I looked and sure enough there was an old well-hole about three feet from the tire track. I was that close to losing bird number three. The Marines [and Army] were progressing from firefight to firefight, and the fighter cover hovered overhead, assisting as needed. We had little difficulty, fortunately, keeping up with their evacuation needs. After three days, we could no longer be of help when the end of their column passed by and Koto-ri was abandoned.

END NOTES

These many bits of hindsight cause one to question the effectiveness of recon by ground units located at Koto, as well as aerial surveillance. Seeing and reporting thousands of enemy soldiers marching in formation without unleashing the firepower of Koto cause one to question priorities. Our witnesses report hearing artillery and mortars during during the night, indicating they were firing H & I (Harassing and Interdiction) at suspected enemy targets. What we lack is background on the specific use of artillery in support of the various perimeters, as well as tactical air strikes beyond the "bomb line" (not under control of forward air controllers) that was close enough to have impacted on the capabilities of enemy units operating in the area.

The knowledge we have today about the impact of cold on the Chinese soldier tells us that it played a far more important role in supporting the breakout than previously reported. Once again, the Funchilin Pass just a few kilometers south of Koto was the key to the success of the breakout. The Chinese could not accomplish their mission because their own supply route had stretched to the breaking point; no food, no ammunition, while Father Winter assumed command by introducing the Chinese soldiers to white death.

Eleven photos from color slides made between the Iwon landing and arrival at Koto-ri by the late Lt. Col. Joseph C. Rodgers can be found in the Table of Contents. Additional photos taken at Koto will be posted in the near future as a separate photo essay.


END CJ 10.30.03