CHANGJIN JOURNAL 09.25.05
IN THIS ISSUE of the Changjin Journal we continue with background material regarding the activities of the 1st Battalion 32d infantry. This is a report dated October 1953 by the battalion’s operations officer (S-3), Maj. Wesley J. Curtis, written at the USMA West Point between September 1951 and January 1953 based on notes Curtis made while hospitalized in Japan. Students of Chosin will note that historians have had a considerable amount of detailed information available from reports by Majors Curtis, Miller (CJ 06.25.05) and Jones about the activities of 1/32. Maps are inserted to assist the reader in understanding the battleground. Editorial comments are inserted in [brackets] or in End Notes. We pick up the report at the time the battalion began its move to the Chosin Reservoir.
MAJ. WESLEY J. CURTIS, FAITH’S OPERATIONS OFFICER (S-3)
SATURDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 1950
Lt. Col. Faith rejoined his battalion at approximately 0030 hours; he had driven all the way to Pukchong to learn of the change in plans and had then driven back. The troops slept restlessly because of the bitter cold and they moved about all night. Chinhung-ni was on the main supply route [MSR] of the 1st Marine Division, so there was considerable traffic on the road. A railhead was also in operation at the foot of the pass. Traffic on the pass up to the plateau was one-way and the plan to move the battalion at 0630 had to be coordinated with the traffic regulating point at the foot of the pass.
The battalion commander, the operations officer, the operations sergeant and the sergeant major left the assembly area at 0600 in two vehicles and started up the pass. The executive officer, Maj. Crosby Miller, was to follow with the battalion at 0630.
Up on the plateau the road was covered with ice and some snow. Road signs soon indicated various units of the 1st Marine Division. Upon reaching Hagaru-ri at the southern tip of the reservoir the party turned right up the east side of the reservoir into the area of the 5th Marine Regiment. The command post of the 5th Marines, the officers learned, was located in the area of its advance battalion some 12 miles north of Hagaru-ri. The other two battalions were located along the road at about four-mile intervals.
While driving north, Col. Faith and his party met the commanding officer of the 5th Marines at about 0930 who was driving south on an inspection of his area. He introduced himself as Col. Murray and stated that he had been expecting Faith. He assigned an area to Col. Faith for his battalion on a piece of high ground near  and arranged for communications with his headquarters and the issue of rations, ammunition and gasoline. He stated that he had no definite plans at that time for the movement of his regiment and that although Faith’s battalion was not attached to him, he would expect to assume control of it in the even of a general attack on the 5th Marines. He requested that Col. Faith report to his command post for a general orientation after his battalion closed in the assigned area.
Col. Faith’s battalion closed into its assigned assembly area by 1500 hours. The area was in the form of a partially closed perimeter. Local security was posted but artillery support was not available. Immediately thereafter Col. Faith his S-3, S-2 and his Heavy Weapons Company commander, Capt. Erwin Bigger, departed for the CP of the 5th Marines. There Col. Faith and his party were oriented by the CO, XO and S-3 of the 5th Marines. Little was known of the enemy situation or plans for future operations. Col. Murray stated that he was going to a meeting at 1st Marine Division HQ the following morning and would undoubtedly get additional information for Col. Faith. Faith and his party then went to the battalion HQ of the lead battalion of the 5th Marines. From there they made a partial reconnaissance of the area prior to dark and then returned to their CP shortly after dark.
The last Regimental Combat Team [RCT] of the 7th Infantry Division, the 32d, landed on the beach at Iwon on or about 3 November and went into an assembly area near the beach. The 17th RCT was already some 75 miles to the north and the 31st RCT was securing the long supply line behind the 17th. Seventh Division Headquarters had been established at Pukchong. The 1st Marine Division was working north from Hamhung; and the 3d Infantry Division was in the Wonsan area. Indeed it appeared that the 32d Infantry might finish up the war in reserve and not get in a fight again.
The first night on the beach at Iwon a group of officers and men stood around a campfire in the 32d RCT area speculating upon when the war would end and which division would be detailed for occupation duty. Maj. Spencer P. Edwards, the talented and well-trained regimental S-2, was inside the S-2/3 tent pouring over the latest Corps Intelligence Summary and plotting enemy dispositions on his map. Presently he joined the group around the campfire, and after gazing speculatively into the fire for a few minutes announced, “I predict that the U.S. Army is headed for the worst disaster in its history.”
The group around the fire smiled – these G-2s and S-2s and their crystal ball gazing! Then Maj. Edwards quoted some doctrine he had taught as an instructor at the Ground General School at Fort Riley: “A commander must base his estimate on the enemy’s capabilities – not what he believes the enemy’s intentions to be.” The group smiled again – those teachers and their manuals – they just don’t apply in this crazy war in Korea.
Exactly one month later TIME magazine reported to a startled nation: “The United States Army has suffered the worst disaster in its history.” That was essentially a correct report; schoolteacher Edwards had been right – but too many people had smiled.
This account covers the operations of the 1st Battalion 32d Infantry during the ensuing month. The 32d was a battle-tested and efficient combat team when it landed at Iwon; within one month it was a defeated and decimated unit. What happened to it on a small scale, and the mistakes it made on a small scale, are typical of the actions of all the UN forces in Korea during that period of the war.
My purpose in writing this account is to point out the lessons learned and to re-emphasize the old lessons that were not learned too well. No one wants to place blame or to criticize: every man involved did his duty as he saw it to the best of his ability, far beyond the point of normal physical endurance, and with remarkable moral courage. The mistakes made were natural and unavoidable errors in judgment.
From the beach at Iwon the 32d Infantry moved by motor and rail first to Pukchong, then southwest along the coast to secure the long route of communications to the Corps Headquarters at Hamhung. By 15 November the RCT (less the 3d Battalion) was assembled in a blocking position some 35 miles northeast of Hamhung in the vicinity of Kujung-ni (387459). The 31st RCT was farther still to the northeast, and the 17th RCT was way out to the northeast, approaching the Manchurian border against little or no opposition. The 3d Battalion 32d Infantry was assembled in the vicinity of the division command post north of Pukchong.
From the assigned blocking position the 32d Infantry did extensive patrolling by small foot patrols to the north, northeast and northwest. Motorized patrols were of little value because of the poor and limited road nets. Despite continued reports from Korean civilians of the presence of Chinese troops in the area, no contacts were made. Among our forces, elements of the 31st Infantry were contacted to the northeast, but no contact was established with friendly elements to the west or northwest.
During this period communication with Division HQ was through X Corps HQ in Hamhung. Supplies were drawn directly from corps dumps in Hamhung. Neither communications nor supply was satisfactory due to the unusual distances involved. The Combat Team Artillery, the 48th FA Battalion, constructed an airstrip for liaison planes.
The weather was rapidly becoming colder and there was snow on the high mountains to the north. The regiment was not prepared for winter in either clothing or equipment. Each company had only a kitchen fly for tentage. Vehicles lacked chains and tarpaulin covers. The troops had been issued shoepacs, long underwear, pile liners, and a parka shell. They were short of gloves and of correct sizes in many items.
Morale, however, was good; everyone expected the war to end in a few days. The strength of the battalion was at about 90% plus an average of about 50 ROK soldiers in each company. The organization of the battalion was essentially as it had been when the battalion left Japan in September. There were no shortages of major items of equipment.
The soldiers called the blocking position “Happy Valley” – and considerable time was devoted to training and recreation. On November 21 the 1st Battalion was left by itself in Happy Valley when the remainder of the RCT moved to join its 3d Battalion north of Pukchong.
On the following day, Wednesday the 22d, the 1st Battalion celebrated Thanksgiving Day with a football game and a special dinner – expecting that they might be moving the next day. That day – the 23d – the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3d Infantry Division, moved into Happy Valley to replace the 1st Battalion, who received orders to move to the vicinity of Pukchong on the 24th.
The morning of the 23d, the 1st Battalion dispatched a quartering party composed of the adjutant, company guides, the commo officer, and a wire team to the new assembly area. That evening a Quartermaster Truck Company arrived from division HQ to assist in moving the battalion.
The next morning – the 24th – the battalion moved before dawn on the 160-mile road march to Pukchong. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Faith, went ahead by himself to get his instructions at regiment HQ since he had been out of communication with the regimental commander for three days. Col. Faith left his executive officer, Maj. Crosby P. Miller, to move the battalion.
The battalion column reached the outskirts of Hamhung at about 0900 hours where it was met by a division liaison officer from corps HQ. He instructed Maj. Miller to halt the battalion, have it turned around, and report to corps HQ for further instructions. The LnO had missed Col. Faith, who was on his way to Pukchong and therefore out of communication with his battalion.
The Battalion S-3 started to assemble the column in a schoolyard and prepare it to march in a different direction. The executive officer proceeded to corps HQ to receive the new orders for the battalion commander. There he was told that the 1st Battalion would move to the area of the 5th Marine Regiment on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir and await the arrival of other 7th Division units. He was told that the battalion was not attached to the Marine Division, but that a change in boundaries had been effected which included the 5th Marine Regimental sector in the 7th Division area.
The battalion column was assembled in the schoolyard by 1100, where it proceeded to eat C rations. Over the jeep radio of the Marine Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) attached to the battalion, came a broadcast from Tokyo in which General HQ announced that Eighth Army had launched an offensive designed to quickly terminate the war. The word was that American divisions in Korea would be back in Japan by Christmas; this word spread quickly and drew cheers from the troops.
At 1130 hours the S-3 departed with guides to locate an assembly area for the night. The battalion was to follow after a half hour. The S-3 picked an area in the vicinity of Chinhung-ni (356460) at the foot of the long winding defile leading up to the plateau which contained the Chosin Reservoir. The battalion was enveloped in this early darkness – about 1645 – and its men attempted to protect themselves from the bitter cold of the night. Orders soon told them that the move would continue at 0630 the following morning.
SUNDAY, 26 NOVEMBER 1950
The morning of 26 November was cold but clear. No firing had been heard during the night and no communications had been received. The morning was spent in the care and cleaning of equipment; preparation of shelters; and replenishing rations, motor fuel, and some items of winter clothing from the 5th Marine Regiment supply point. At approximately 1130 hours the ADC of the 7th Division, Brig. Gen. Hodes, arrived at the battalion CP. He had flown to Hagaru-ri by light aircraft and driven north to the battalion area by jeep. He informed Col. Faith that the 3d Battalion 31st Infantry, Heavy Mortar Company of the 31st Infantry, and the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, less C Battery, were proceeding north to the 5th Marine Regimental area. He also stated that the regimental commander [MacLean] and his staff, plus his I&R Platoon, a detachment of medical personnel, and a detachment of communications personnel, would arrive shortly. Further, he said that Col. MacLean would assume command of the composite task force. [This was not a “composite task force” when, in fact, it was MacLean’s RCT 31 that was ordered to Chosin with the 1/32 attached and the 1/31 detached. –GAR] He added that the Tank Company of the 31st Infantry was on the way. Because of road conditions, weather, and distance, the company had an extremely uncertain time of arrival. Gen. Hodes, while eating with the battalion CO, stated that the overall situation in the X Corps area was vague and the mission of the 7th Division was uncertain pending news from the west. Col. Faith told Gen. Hodes that he was able, provided a tank platoon and artillery support from the Marine Division, to attack to the north before the arrival of other elements of the 7th Division. Gen. Hodes disapproved this plan and departed the Battalion area at approximately 1300 hours.
Shortly after 1300 Col. Faith, his S-2 and S-3, his company commanders and platoon leaders, went on a detailed reconnaissance of the area of the forward Marine battalion. They found that, by Army standards, this Marine battalion occupied a very small goose egg, and that most of its perimeter was on low ground. The perimeter was, however, outposted by small security forces on high ground outside the perimeter. Col. Faith found that extensive foot patrols to the north and east during the morning had made no enemy contact.
Col. Faith and his party returned to his CP at dark. At approximately 1800 hours Col. Faith received by jeep messenger a copy of a 5th Marine Regiment operations order of that day, 26 November 1950, which directed the movement of the 5th Marine Regiment from the east side to the west side of the Chosin Reservoir beginning early on the morning of 27 November. This in effect meant that Col. Faith’s battalion would be the only unit on the east side of the reservoir until the arrival of additional 7th Division units; and that during the changeover he had no assigned mission or orders. He therefore contacted Col. Murray, the Marine regimental commander, by telephone and asked for additional instructions. Col. Murray had no information or instructions for him but suggested that he proceed no farther north without orders from the 7th Division. [The Marine RCT-5 order moved only one battalion to Yudam-ni on 26 November; the remainder moved on the 27th, at which time 1/32 moved to the forward position followed by the remaining units of RCT-31 (except 2/31) as they arrived later in the day. – GAR]
Shortly after 1900 hours Col. Allan D. MacLean, commander, 31st Infantry, RCT-31, his executive [S-2, Maj. Carl Witte], his S-3 [Lt. Col. Berry K. Anderson], his S-1 [Maj. Hugh Robbins] and his communications officer [Lt. William McNally] arrived at Col. Faith’s CP. Col. MacLean immediately stated an intention to attack to the north as soon as his task force [RCT-31] was closed in the area. Col. Faith promptly asked permission to move his battalion early in the morning of November 27 then occupied by the leading battalion of the 5th Marines. This, as we know, is the area that had previously been reconnoitered by Col. Faith and his staff and commanders; it will be referred to hereafter as Area “A”. Col. MacLean approved this plan and steps were taken immediately to coordinate with the 5th Marines and to plan the move.
At approximately 2030 hours the CO of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion [Lt. Col. Embree] arrived at Col. Faith’s CP and stated that the remainder of the task force [RCT-31] was on the march and would arrive in the area before dark on the following day. Col. MacLean then decided to establish his command post in a schoolhouse approximately one mile to the south of Faith’s CP. Col. MacLean established telephone communications with the 1st Marine Division at Hagaru-ri and, through them, to X Corps HQ at Hamhung. He was unable, however, to establish communications with 7th Division HQ at Pukchong.
MONDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 1950
MARINES MOVE OUT – ARMY MOVES IN
Monday, 27 November, was another clear and cold day. Shortly after dawn, the 5th Marine Regiment began moving south by motor shuttle. Despite some snow the roads were dry and by mid-morning truck traffic on the road was raising dust. As the map shows, the road follows the shoreline of the reservoir and for the most part is on low ground. Since none of the high ground in the area was in friendly hands, we must assume from subsequent events that the entire movement was under enemy observation.
Col. Faith’s battalion, 1/32d Infantry, moved by shuttling in organic vehicles, starting at approximately 1300 hours. The move, except for the rear supply dump, was completed by 1530 and the battalion had then closed into defensive perimeter A. During the afternoon the Heavy Mortar Company of the 31st Infantry also occupied its assigned position as indicated on the sketch. During the late afternoon the 57th Field Artillery Battalion and the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry moved into area B. Registration of artillery and mortar defensive fires was not completed prior to dark and continued up until about 2030 hours. During the afternoon, the I&R Platoon of the 31st Infantry was dispatched up the valley leading to the northeast from Area B. Significantly, no member of that patrol ever returned or sent back any communication. The task force HQ [RCT-31 Forward CP], with a Medical Detachment and a Communications Detachment, was established as shown on Sketch A approximately halfway between the two defensive perimeters.
Shortly after dark the battalion adjutant [Maj. Robert E. Jones] and his quartering party which had left the battalion on the morning of 23 November rejoined the battalion, having driven some 200 miles that day from division HQ at Pukchong. They were heartily welcomed since they had with them a two-week supply of mail including some early Christmas packages. At approximately 2030 hours the liaison officer [Lt. Rolin Skilton] from task force HQ [RCT-31] arrived with an operation order that directed the 1st Battalion to attack to the north at dawn. Paragraph 1a of the operation order gave no information of the enemy [as it normally does]. The company commanders were then called to the battalion CP with instructions to bring the mail orderlies with them, and Col. Faith, at about 2130 hours, issued his attack order to his company commanders. Then, after passing a few pleasantries and opening mail, the commanders returned to their companies with the attack order and the mail orderlies loaded down with mail.
Within 45 minutes, scattered rifle fire was heard in the Company A area on the northwest side of the perimeter. The commander of Company A, Capt. Scullion, stepped out of his CP to investigate the firing and was shot dead by a group of Chinese soldiers who had infiltrated his company area. Within a period of ten minutes the entire north portion of the battalion perimeter was under determined attack. The assistant S-3, Capt. Haynes, was sent to assume command of A Company but was mortally wounded on his way to join the company. Subsequently both the A Company mess sergeant and first sergeant were killed attempting to recover the body of Capt. Haynes. The crew of a 75mm recoilless fire in the C Company area fired one round, disclosed their position, and were immediately overrun. The rifle was dragged away by the enemy. Shortly after the attack started wire communication with task force HQ and the 57th FA Battalion went out. After some difficulty, radio communication came in and reported that both those positions were also under heavy attack. The 57th Field Artillery was unable to fire sustained fire support to the 1st Battalion because of the more immediate necessity of defending its own position and firing in support of the 3d Battalion 31st Infantry. The Heavy Mortar Company experienced difficulty in delivering sustained fire support because they had placed their base plates in marshy ground and the plates were shifting. By midnight no serious penetration of our perimeter had been made.
TUESDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 1950
The general attack on the battalion perimeter increased in intensity shortly after midnight and by 0300 hours the high ground on the right flank of C Company and the left flank of B Company had been occupied in strength by the enemy. The weather had turned colder during the night; further, it had started to snow again. Soldiers of all companies reported many malfunctions of weapons and a low supply of ammunition. At dawn the enemy attack reached its peak but no further penetrations of the perimeter were made and the attack soon subsided. During the first hour of daylight the wounded were evacuated from their positions and efforts were made to redistribute the limited supply of ammunition. Shortly thereafter, B and C companies attempted to regain the high ground that had been lost on the east side of the perimeter. These limited attacks were made without artillery or mortar support and did not succeed. The 81mm mortars of D Company were shifted and within an hour mortar fire was available from the east side of the perimeter. Efforts to obtain fire from the 57th were ineffective because of communication difficulties and enemy pressure on the gun positions.
At approximately 0900 hours the battalion supply officer arrived in the area with the battalion supply section and a resupply of ammunition. He had spent the night in the vicinity of the task force HQ [MacLean’s RCT-31 forward CP]. At approximately 0200 hours interrogation of a captured Chinese soldier disclosed to the battalion S-2 that the Chinese attack was to envelop both sides of the Chosin Reservoir. At approximately 1100 hours telephone communication was re-established with task force HQ which reported it was moving into the perimeter of the 3d Battalion 31st Infantry. B and C companies resumed their attacks with mortar support and continued to attack throughout the afternoon, but were unable to seize the high ground they had lost.
At approximately 1400 hours the CG of X Corps, Maj. Gen. Ned Almond, and Col. MacLean arrived in the battalion perimeter. Gen. Almond had landed in the vicinity of task force HQ in a helicopter and he and Col. MacLean proceeded to Col. Faith’s position in a jeep. Gen. Almond decorated Col. Faith and several other member of the battalion with the Silver Star. The general then announced that the enemy that confronted us, he was convinced, were remnants of retreating Chinese divisions, and he reiterated that our mission was to attack north to the Yalu River. Gen. Almond then departed and Col. MacLean remained in the battalion perimeter.
By approximately 1500 hours weather conditions had cleared considerably and tactical aircraft arrived overhead. The Marine tactical air control party with the battalion established radio communication with the aircraft and successfully conducted an air strike on the high ground east of the perimeter. By the time the air strike was completed, however, dusk was settling and Col. Faith decided to consolidate his positions for the night and to discontinue the attacks of B and C companies. All available personnel, including clerks, cooks, drivers, etc., strengthened the perimeter.
Gun positions of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion at the Inlet
Col. MacLean attempted to return to his CP but found the road south of the perimeter had been cut by the enemy. He then prepared to spend the night at Col. Faith’s CP. As a result of the day’s operations, ammunition supply was again running low and several wounded who were in the aid station could not be evacuated. The attack on the position resumed shortly after dark. Col. MacLean decided to relieve the 57th FA Battalion of the mission of supporting Col. Faith’s battalion. Col.. Faith then had only his organic mortars and the heavy mortars of the 31st Infantry to support his perimeter. Several heavy mortars went out of action when their standards cracked or broke as a result of firing high rates at maximum charges in the extreme cold. By midnight the entire battalion was in a tough spot as enemy mortar and small arms fire increased and the supply of ammunition in the battalion decreased.
[The comment that MacLean could not return to “his CP” differs from the description provided by Robbins; see CJ 02.28.04. MacLean’s forward CP was near the heavy mortars behind 1/32; the road to his main CP at Hudong-ni was cut in many places.]
WEDNESDAY, 29 NOVEMBER 1950
Shortly after midnight the task force [RCT-31] commander, Col. MacLean, directed Col. Faith to make his own decision as to whether or not he would continue to defend his present position or fall back and join the remainder of the task force in Area B. [This also differs with the Robbins report. Col. MacLean was not the type of commander who would leave such a decision to a battalion commander. – GAR]
A penetration of the left platoon of A Company that threatened the mortar positions influenced Col. Faith at about 0130 to decide to fall back. The battalion staff immediately started plans and instructions for the move. All kitchen trucks were to be emptied and loaded with the wounded. A Company was to secure the left flank by moving over the high ground to the east of the road. Artillery support as an aid in breaking contact was not possible because the perimeter in Area B was also under heavy attack. In Area B, one penetration had overrun the 3d Battalion CP and the battalion CO [Lt. Col. William Reilly] had been severely wounded. The move was planned to start at 0400 hours.
Preparations for the move did not proceed in an orderly fashion because of lack of control due to missing key personnel who had been wounded in squads and platoons. By 0400, however, the move was in progress as planned and the enemy did not react to it. Contact was broken and the battalion moved slowly down the road, harassed only by intermittent small arms fire.
No enemy roadblock was encountered until advance elements reached the bridge over the neck of the reservoir just outside of Area B perimeter. However, Company C maneuvered to attack it from the ground above the road and members of Company B attacked directly across the ice to knock it out. The entire battalion was inside the perimeter in Area B by 0900 hours. Col. MacLean had been killed or seriously wounded while crossing the ice. Later efforts to recover him were unsuccessful.
Within the new perimeter conditions were extremely desperate. Company L of the 31st Infantry had been overrun during the night. The 3d Battalion CP had been overrun. Cannoneers of the 57th FA Battalion had been killed by small arms fire while serving their howitzers. The perimeter was very small and was entirely on low ground while the enemy occupied high ground beyond the perimeter. Ammunition, rations and medical equipment were in short supply.
Col. Faith immediately assumed command of the entire area and the task force hereafter will be called Task Force Faith [in this report]. The task force perimeter was reorganized as shown in Sketch B. Col. Faith decided to defend a relatively small perimeter on low ground rather than attempt to seize high ground and defend an over-extended perimeter. Tactical aircraft appeared in the area about 1100 hours and bombed and strafed the high ground outside the perimeter. This allowed badly needed time to readjust the perimeter and to prepare positions. The tactical aircraft also carried back with them an urgent request for aerial resupply.
Shortly before noon, the CG of the 7th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. David Barr, arrived in the perimeter by helicopter and talked in private with Col. Faith for about 20 minutes. Col. Faith never disclosed the contents of this conversation to any other officer in the perimeter. He did state, however, that the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Hodes, was forming a task force in Hagaru-ri composed of a platoon of tanks and a composite platoon of riflemen to attempt to relieve the task force.
Shortly before dark a flight of six cargo planes (C-82) arrived over the perimeter and proceeded to drop supplies by parachute. A good portion of the supplies fell outside of the perimeter and could not be recovered. It is estimated that approximately 75% recovery was affected. Ammunition was redistributed and medical supplies were turned over to the aid stations. Efforts to systematically distribute rations by supply personnel were ineffective because of the limited supply of rations that was dropped. From dark until midnight the area was ominously quiet. Artillery firing could be heard to the west on the other side of the reservoir and occasional bugle calls could be heard to the north.
THURSDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 1950
Shortly after midnight the enemy resumed probing attacks around the entire perimeter, concentrating on the two points where the road entered the perimeter. In the Company A area the roadblock built around a heavy machine gun and 75mm recoilless rifle, was overrun and some members of the crew were dragged away as prisoners. Throughout the balance of the night the enemy used flares, whistles, bugles and apparently undirected automatic weapons fire to harass the perimeter. By dawn, however, the enemy had not made a determined attack against the perimeter at any one point.
Shortly after dawn the men inside the perimeter built fires to warm themselves and those fires drew no reaction from the enemy. The morning was cold and clear, and it was generally felt from the comparatively easy night that the worst part of the enemy attack had been withstood and that surely a relief column would reach the area that day. During the morning a litter-bearing helicopter made two trips into the area and carried out four badly wounded men. One of them was the commander [Lt. Col. Reilly] of the 3d Battalion 31st Infantry.
An effective air strike hit the high ground outside the perimeter about noon and shortly after noon came another aerial resupply drop. Again some of the supplies were dropped outside the perimeter and could not be recovered. As the afternoon wore on it became apparent a relief column was not going to reach the perimeter that day and that at least one more night would be spent in the area.
During the late afternoon, Col. Faith and his S-3 worked out a detailed plan to counterattack a penetration of any part of the perimeter. These counter-attacking forces were composed of men from the field artillery HQ, the infantry battalion HQ, and Heavy Weapons Company. Wire communications within the perimeter were improved and ammunition was redistributed. One feature of the aerial resupply was that an ample supply of 4.2-inch mortar ammunition had been dropped. As darkness settled the word was passed: “Hold out one more night and we’ve got it made.”
Shortly after dark enemy activity was heard to the north. It followed the usual pattern of bugle calls, whistles and flares. The most logical avenue of approach to the perimeter from the north was across the ice of the narrow neck of the reservoir adjacent to the north side of the perimeter. Efforts were made to break the ice with 4.2 mortar fire but failed as the ice was too solidly frozen.
The enemy attack on the perimeter started early that night and with more determination than during the past two nights. To complicate the situation further, heavy snow started falling. The attack built up in intensity to midnight with no penetration of the area but with mounting American casualties. The enemy was using mortar fire more effectively than he had on the previous two nights. But the enemy may have been somewhat confused in his plans and in his system of communications. Capt. Bigger of the Heavy Weapons Company hit upon the idea of firing a different colored flare every time the enemy fired a flare and also blowing a whistle whenever the enemy blew a whistle. In any event, the enemy attack, though determined, did not appear to be too well coordinated or concentrated.
FRIDAY, 1 DECEMBER 1950
From midnight until dawn on Friday, as the enemy attack reached its height, the enemy appeared determined to overrun the perimeter at all cost. In the roadblock area of A Company a body of enemy troops charged down the open road in such a manner that our men at first identified them as other friendly troops. This attack, however, was repulsed with heavy casualties to the enemy. Fighting became very close, in some instances hand-to-hand in other parts of the perimeter. Occasionally a Chinese soldier would infiltrate the perimeter and run about like a madman spraying with his burp gun until he was killed.
At about 0300 hours the portion of the [north] perimeter near the bridge where the two battalions were joined was overrun. A preplanned counterattack led by the executive officer [Lt. Wilson] of D Company managed to plug the gap but was unable to restore the original perimeter. Lt. Wilson was killed while leading this counterattack. Enemy mortar fire became increasingly accurate and forced our own mortars to move. Between 0400 and 0600 every man in the perimeter was in a defensive position operating a weapon. The question as whether the perimeter could hold out until dawn. After dawn the enemy attack subsided.
An attempt to describe accurately the scene inside the perimeter of Task Force Faith on the morning of 1 December runs the risk of appearing macabre. It is safe to say, however, that even Hollywood will not be able to accurately duplicate it in stark tragedy and horror. A few facts will set the props of the scene – and from there on only the reader who has experienced similar events can imagine the actual picture.
The original task force [RCT-31] was composed of approximately 2,500 men. By dawn on 1 December members of the task force had been under attack for 80 hours in subzero weather. None had slept much. None had washed or shaved, none had eaten more than a bare minimum. Due to the season of the year, darkness covered about 16 hours of each 24-hour period – and during the hours of darkness the enemy exploited his psychological weapons such as bugles, whistles, flares, burp guns and infiltration tactics. The ground was frozen so solidly that rifle and weapons crews occupied very shallow trenches.
The dead, concentrated at central collecting points, had to be used as a source of supply for clothing, weapons and ammunition. Everyone seemed to be wounded in one fashion or another and to varying degrees of severity. Frozen feet and hands were common. The wounded who were unable to move about froze to death. Trucks and jeeps and trailers were ransacked for ammunitions and any kind of fabric that would serve for bandages or a means to keep a man warm.
But the factors that discouraged and disheartened most were these: Everyone could see that the weather was growing worse, which meant the loss of air support and aerial resupply; it was obvious that the relief column from Hagaru-ri in any force less than regimental size could never reach us; that another night of determined attacks would surely overrun the position.
Defeat and desperation were written in the glazed expressions of the men as vividly as the blood on the snow. As in all ages, hardened men knelt unashamed in the snow with their prayer books, rosaries, or Bibles clasped to their hearts and prayed – another case history that cannot be discounted by skeptics.
As men became indifferent to the instinct of self-preservation they started exposing themselves unnecessarily. The enemy apparently sensed the state of demoralization within the perimeter, because their fire – particularly mortar fire – became more intense and more accurate. The battalion aid station and nearby 81mm mortar position suffered direct hits. The enemy located the battalion CP and it suffered two direct hits. The assistant S-2 and D Company commander [Capt. Bigger] were wounded by mortar fire in the battalion CP.
C Company commander, Capt. Dale Seevers, and I sat on the edge of a hole discussing the situation. An enemy mortar shell landed some ten feet from us without injuring either of us. Seevers looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Major, I feel like I’m a thousand years old.” His feeling summed up the feeling of most of us. Only two weeks before he had learned that his wife had given birth to his first son – by three o’clock that afternoon he was dead.
The battalion chaplain had pneumonia. The battalion surgeon sat with his hands folded in his aid station. He was physically exhausted and had no medical supplies whatsoever. No one spoke of rations because there were no rations to issue. Ammunition was again in very short supply. Efforts to reach any friendly radio stations were unsuccessful. At about 1000 hours a single low-flying Marine fighter-bomber, despite unbelievable weather, flew over and was contacted by the TACP. The pilot stated that he would guide in more aircraft to the area shortly after noon if the weather improved as was forecast. The pilot stated that there were no friendly forces on the road between the perimeter and Hagaru-ri.
Col. Faith, [after] consultation with his staff, decided to try to break out of the perimeter and reach Hagaru-ri in a single dash rather than risk another night in the perimeter. He emphasized that no wounded men would be abandoned and that the tactical formation would be designed to protect the column of trucks that would be loaded with wounded. [This decision by Faith was obviously influenced by his meeting with Gen. Barr the afternoon of 29 November, soon after Barr had attended a conference with generals Almond and Smith. These many years later one can assume that Faith was told “You’re on your own.” The official message from Smith arrives later this afternoon.]
This aerial photo is believed to have been taken by a reconnaissance aircraft the morning of 1 December, showing the southwest section of the Inlet perimeter at a time when the trucks were being lined up along the road to load wounded soldiers. This multiple generation photo courtesy MSgt.Edward Smith, USMC (Ret) who at the time was assigned to the Air Section of the X Corps Fire Support Coordination Center, when recon was being made to determine the thickness of the reservoir ice.
Planning commenced immediately. The artillery batteries and the Heavy Mortar Company were instructed to expend all their ammunition by 1300 hours and then destroy their weapons. All vehicles were unloaded and any serviceable equipment was destroyed or burned. All available ammunition was redistributed with the understanding that each ROK soldier would be allowed only one clip for his own self-protection. Machine guns were mounted on pedestal mounts on vehicles and the wounded were loaded on trucks and given all blankets and bed rolls for comfort and warmth.
The breakout was planned to be coordinated with the air strike. The formation decided upon was a column on the road protected on the flank away from the reservoir in the order: 1st Battalion; Heavy Mortar Company; 57th FA Battalion; and 3d Battalion. Within the 1st Battalion, C Company was selected to make the initial breakout of the perimeter and A Company was to secure the left flank. It is estimated that some twenty-five 2-1/2 ton trucks were loaded with wounded men who could not walk. The truck column was interspersed with many jeeps mounting radios and machine guns.
A flight of some half-dozen tactical aircraft appeared over the area shortly after noon. The weather, as predicted, had cleared somewhat. Capt. Stamford [Forward Air Controller] controlled the air strikes for the remainder of the afternoon with a VHF portable radio strapped to his back. C Company’s initial attack out of the perimeter down the road was strongly resisted by the enemy. A Company immediately joined in the attack as the two companies became intermingled. Aircraft were then called upon to bomb and strafe down the road in front of the attacking friendly troops. One aircraft dropped a napalm bomb short in the middle of A Company with horrible and demoralizing results. However, the enemy gave way and the breakout started down the road.
The truck column started to move very slowly. At the initial success of the breakout a sort of hysterical enthusiasm seized the troops. They flooded down the road like a great mob and tactical control broke down almost immediately. Officers and NCOs tried frantically to re-establish control and to order men up on the high ground where they could protect the truck column. But every man seemed to want to reach the head of the column and thereby increase his chances of reaching safety. Enemy small arms fire was encountered all the way, but men attacked and overran enemy positions frontally with seeming disregard for basic tactical principles and their own safety.
The aircraft were having a heyday strafing and bombing in front of the troops and it appeared that the attack would carry successfully all the way to Hagaru-ri. However, after the attack had progressed about one mile the column reached a blown-out bridge and it was necessary at this point to very tortuously move the vehicles off the roadbed, down a steep embankment, across a rice paddy, and up another steep embankment onto the roadbed. Many trucks could not negotiate this route and had to be assisted by other trucks. This delay lasted about two hours and gave the enemy time to react to the breakout.
During this period, at approximately 1500 hours, a jeep-mounted radio picked up the following message in the clear: “To Col. Faith: Secure your own exit to Hagaru-ri. Unable to assist you. Signed Smith, CG 1st Marine Div.” This was the first instruction that Col. Faith had received from higher HQ in 48 hours and in effect directed him to do what he had decided to do three hours previously. [Magill reports in CJ 12.15.02 that he personally heard the message come through the TACP radio at about 1300 hours.]
It was not possible to get the column going again until about 1530 and then a determined roadblock was encountered at the sharp bend in the road on the high ground [Hill 1221] as point D on Sketch Number 1. In addition, the road winding up to this point was very steep and covered with ice and none of the trucks had chains. As a result some trucks slipped over the side of the road and down the mountainside. One such truck was loaded with wounded men. By this time enemy small arms fire had grown very intense and very accurate. The enemy could be observed in large numbers on all the high ground along the road. Small arms ammunition was running extremely low among our troops. Additional people were being wounded so fast that it was rapidly becoming impossible to put any more wounded men in the trucks. By 1700 hours darkness was settling rapidly on the column and the use of tactical air cover was no longer possible. The dash to Hagaru-ri had failed and the task force was being cut to ribbons on the road.
At this point Col. Faith assumed personal command of the troops at the head of the column who were attempting to break the roadblock at Point D. The roadblock was successfully reduced. However, Col. Faith was mortally wounded and died shortly thereafter. For this action he was awarded the Medal of Honor. As the column passed through the roadblock at Point D it could see that this was the farthest point north reached by Gen. Hodes’ relief force since two friendly tanks were knocked out in the road.
The column moved down the road from Point D to Point E where it discovered another bridge out. After some reconnaissance it was found necessary to take the trucks off the road, across a rice paddy, up an embankment to the railroad track, then across a narrow railroad trestle, down the embankment again, across another rice paddy, and back on to the road. This operation took what seemed to be an endless time.
Enemy mortar fire was brought to bear on the column. Wounded men inside the trucks screamed as the trucks bounced over the rough rice paddies and trestle. Walking wounded clung to the sides of the trucks as their only hope of ever reaching safety. By 2200 hours the column was again slowly moving down the road. At Point F the column was again stopped by a strong roadblock and taken under heavy attack by the enemy. The enemy closed in on the column throwing grenades into trucks, setting fire to trucks and killing the wounded indiscriminately. There were not enough men left who could walk and fire a rifle to effectively deal with the enemy. Control and the will to fight was no longer present in the column. Men resisted individually and in small groups. Gradually, those who were able crawled out on the ice of the reservoir and headed south to Hagaru-ri. Only remnants of the task force reached the safety of friendly lines. No one escaped who had not been wounded at least once.
The 1st Battalion 32d Infantry had been completely defeated and disintegrated. Let it be said, however, that the battalion was not defeated while under the direct control of the regiment commander of the 32d Infantry – or of the CG of the 7th Division for that matter. During the rapid shifting of units in North Korea in mid-November 1950, the battalion had become separated temporarily by distance from its parent units and at a crucial time had become in effect a separate rifle battalion – a pawn on a large chess board – which was at the disposal of the Corps commander to plug a gap. This is a sad fate for any rifle battalion, a mission for which the rifle battalion was not designed nor intended. [Edited by Appleman to read: “... but the only unit in the Corps disposed to plug a vital gap. This was a mission that a rifle battalion could execute only by fighting to annihilation!”]
In retrospect it is obvious that TF Faith had been sacrificed to protect the right flank of the 1st Marine Division and to save time for the Marine division to pull back into Hagaru-ri and to start the withdrawal south to the beach at Hamhung [Hungnam]. The bridges that were blown out behind TF Faith were blown out by friendly force. This is an acceptable tactical principle and completely in accordance with our doctrine. The point raised here is that it would have been more practical and realistic to have told the members of TF Faith that they were being sacrificed – to have ordered them to hold at all cost – rather than hold out false hope of relief. It is believed that if American troops are told the exact situation – no matter how grim and realistic – they will fight more intelligently and effectively.
In any event, it may be claimed rightfully for TF Faith that they held the right flank of American forces in the Chosin Reservoir area for a period of five days against overwhelming odds under the most adverse of weather conditions – and thereby traded time for space and allowed the escape of other friendly forces from North Korea.
Of the small number of the task force who made their way individually and in small groups back to Hagaru-ri, those who were unable to walk further were evacuated by air to Japan. The remainder made the long march back to Hamhung with the Marine division.
CHANGJIN JOURNAL END NOTES