CHANGJIN JOURNAL 02.28.06

 
When one leaves the coastal plains of Northeast Korea, he first enters broad valleys that soon narrow into one like this, very similar to the Sinhung Valley covered below. Then as one moves farther north he enters the narrow gorges, such as the sector from Majon-dong through Sudong to Chinhung-ni. Similar terrain exists if one follows the Sinhung Valley toward the Fusen Reservoir where one suddenly finds a rugged climb upward to the Kaema Plateau, similar to the terrain in the Funchilin Pass to the west. These were the major terrain obstacles encountered by any military force, either to the 124th and 126th CCF Divisions in their delaying action, or the X Corps divisions in their attack to the north.

CHANGJIN JOURNAL 02.28.06

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 the 2006 series of the Changjin Journal addressing the Chosin Campaign from the viewpoint of Maj. General O.P. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division. We use his Aide-Memoire as a basis, providing the reader with copies of his memoire within which we will provide comments from various sources that relate to the topic at hand. In the last issue we covered the engagement by Marine RCT-7 with the 124th CCF Division at Sudong. As RCT-7 moved northward the lead units of RCT-5 were in trace. This issue covers the movement of RCT-5 into the Sinhung Valley, a sector northeast of the primary MSR to the Chosin, a road that was believed may extend to the Fusen Reservoir. Sections (…) and page numbers […] will be included for reference purposes. Bold typeface will be used for emphasis, with editor’s comments in [brackets]. Readers are reminded that these documents were not written at the time of the action, but finalized after MG Smith left Korea. His primary sources were unit reports and briefings by commanders, and his own personal diary. However, they do reflect his view of what happened, as well as how he wished them to be remembered.

 

OPS 539-553

(213) Reconnaissance and Occupation of the Sinhung Valley by RCT-5

                 X Corps [Operations Instruction] OI-13 of 25 October directed the 1MarDiv to provide security for Wonsan area with one RCT, move another RCT without delay to the Hamhung-Hungnam area, and advance rapidly in zone to the Manchurian border. At the latitude of Hamhung the zone of action assigned the 1MarDiv was 60 miles wide from east to west extending due north to the Manchurian border, narrowing to some 15 miles as it approached the border. North of Hamhung, in the zone of the division, were two large reservoirs, the Chosin Reservoir in the west and the Fusen Reservoir in the east. The Chosin Reservoir was about 40 air miles northwest of Hamhung and the Fusen Reservoir was about 45 air miles north of the same point. The one axial road in the division zone proceeded north from Hamhung, passed along the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, and thence to the Manchurian border. According to the map, a narrow-gauge railroad ran from Oro-ri (8 miles northwest of Hamhung) generally east of north to the southern end of the Fusen Reservoir. It was not certain that this reservoir could be reached by road from the south. There was, of course, the axial road as far as Oro-ri. Then an improved road led off to the northeast up the valley of the Songch’on-gang (called in these notes the Sinhung Valley for the largest town in the valley). It was assumed that an unimproved road, generally paralleling the narrow-gauge railroad led from the Sinhung Valley to the Fusen Reservoir. This was later found to be incorrect. The Sinhung Valley is much broader than the valley in which Majon-dong, Sudong, and Chinhung-ni are located and in which RCT-7 was operating. This latter valley is winding and hemmed in by mountains.


This map by Mel Coolbaugh, a section of Map 5 used in The Chosin Chronology, shows the approaches to the Chosin (Changjin) and Fusen (Pujon) Reservoirs faced by Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith as described in his Aide-Memoire. The road distance from Hamhung to Hagaru-ri at the south end of the Chosin Reservoir is fifty (50) miles. The main MSR being used by RCT-7 goes north to the east side of the Chosin Reservoir and continues north toward the Yalu River. The right fork at Oro-ri goes northeast through the Sinhung Valley toward the approaches to the Fusen Reservoir, an area of operations for RCT-5 in search of a route to the Fusen Reservoir. Further in this essay is a map of the Pujon Pass which reveals the reason why this was not a favorable military route to the Fusen Reservoir.

 

 

                I ROK Corps, which had reached the Hamhung-Hungnam area prior to the issuance of X Corps OI-13, was directed in these instructions to secure the Chosin and Fusen Reservoirs. This was a rather large order and one that I ROK Corps was not able to carry out. It did, however, push troops up the Sinhung Valley and up the valley to the west in the direction of Sudong. Manifestly, the orders issued to the 1MarDiv and the 7th Infantry Division [7InfDiv] would require the relief of I ROK Corps elements in order to permit that Corps to carry out its mission of proceeding up the northeast coast of Korea. The 7InfDiv was assigned a zone of action between the 1MarDiv and the new zone assigned I ROK Corps.

                As early as 30 October, the Corps Commander was pressing to move the 5th Marines [RCT-5] north to the Hamhung area in the trace of the 7th Marines [RCT-7], which was already making preparations to move. The RCT-5 was at the time disposed along the MSR between Wonsan and Hamhung, providing protection for that vital stretch of road. However, the Corps Commander was willing to assume the risk of leaving that part of the MSR inadequately protected in order to push additional troops to the north. As a result, the division, at 1410, on 31 October, issued orders to RCT-5 to initiate movement to the Hamhung area on 1 November. RCT-5 (less 1/5 on security duty northwest of Chigyong) closed the Hamhung area on 2 November. Plans were made for a reconnaissance of the route northward toward the Fusen Reservoir via the Sinhung Valley.

                At 1605, 3 November, orders were issued to RCT-5 to relieve elements of the I ROK Corps in the eastern part of the division zone (Sinhung Valley) and to patrol the roads leading to the northwest. Additional orders directed RCT-5 to secure at the earliest practicable date the explosives dump reported by ROK elements to be located west of Sinhung. At 0100, 4 November, the division received a X Corps message dated 2315, 3 November, directing the division to relieve the 18th ROK Regiment at 1700, 4 November. This confirmed orders previously issued to RCT-5.

                On 4 November, the 2/5 moved by marching and motor to the vicinity of Hungbong-ni (TA 8357, six miles northeast of Sinhung), relieving the 1st Battalion, 18th ROK Regiment (1/18) at 1145 and establishing its CP at the same place. Defensive positions were established to prevent movement of the enemy to the southwest. Patrols were ordered to search out the enemy in that area and to determine the condition of roads leading northward into the Fusen Reservoir area.

                The 3/5 remained in its assembly area at Hamhung on 4 November, except for G Company (reinforced) 3/5 which was ordered, verbally, at 1400, to move to the vicinity of TA 7245 (Sosang-ni, about nine miles east of north of Oro-ri) and to relieve two companies of ROKs which were along the road leading to the northwest. (The relief was effected at 1600, 5 November.) Its further mission was to patrol and provide security for several caves in the vicinity of TA 6251 (7 ½ miles northwest of Sosang-ni) reported to contain a considerable quantity of enemy explosives. These moves were the result of telephonic orders from the Corps.

                On 5 November, the 2/5 in position near Pokhung-ni (TA 5682, five miles northeast of Sinhung), conducted patrolling to the north, seeking out the enemy and reconnoitering roads and avenues of approach throughout the area to protect the division’s right flank. No organized enemy was encountered although several North Korean deserters (19) and Communist sympathizers were apprehended. Possible roads leading north by which the Fusen or Chosin Reservoirs could be reached were reconnoitered. These roads were found to end at TA 7766-I (Songhung-ni, 7 ½ miles northwest of Pokhung-ni) and TA 8367 (Pujon-ni, seven miles north of Pokhung-ni), respectively. At both these points the roads became trails and were unsuitable for an advance by combat units.

 


This terrain – the Pujon Pass – is what RCT-5 would have had to surmount to get to the Fusen (Pujon) Reservoir. On the left you see “Pujon Son,” a narrow-gauge railroad which, within the pass, is an aerial tramway used during the construction phase of the dam and power plants. On the right of the plant one sees a road which snakes up the mountain, noting that the contour lines represent a 100 meter change in elevation, reminding WW II veterans of the Burma road to China. A quick map study would have convinced planners that this was not acceptable as an MSR to the Fusen Reservoir; as indicated by Gen. Smith, such a road was further east in the zone of the 7ID.

 

                In accordance with the X Corps directive delivered at 1200, 5 November, arrangements were made with the 7InfDiv, which had landed at Iwon (60 miles northeast of Hungnam), for patrols of the 2/5, and of the 7Inf Div to establish contact on the 1MarDiv’s right flank in the vicinity of Hungpyong-ni (five miles northeast of Pokhung-ni).

                The 3/5 (less G Company which had already departed) moved out from its assembly area in Hamhung the morning of 5 November and closed its assigned area at TA 7444 (Namp’yong-ni, four miles southwest of Sinhung) at 1155 the same date. The Regimental CP began its displacement from Hamhung at 1230 and opened at Hamp’yong-ni at 1500, 5 November. The Regimental Administrative Rear Echelon remained at a schoolhouse located in the northern outskirts of Hamhung. This Rear Echelon totaled 15 officers and 152 men, including the Regimental and Battalion Administrative Rear Echelons, the Regimental Supply Section, Motor Transport Maintenance Section, Regimental Disbursing Section, and Regimental and Battalion Naval Gun Fire Liaison Teams. I visited the rear echelon of RCT-5 on 5 November.

                At 2200, 5 November, the Division issued 1MarDiv OpO 19-50. This OpO confirmed instructions already issued providing that RCT-5 (less 1/5) secure the explosive storage area (TA 6251), conduct railroad and road reconnaissance to the southern end of the Fusen Reservoir, maintain a blocking position in the vicinity of Hungbong-ni, and destroy enemy forces encountered. The 1/5, under division control, as directed to maintain blocking position in the vicinity of Hill 709 (13 miles northwest of Chigyong), patrol the area aggressively in force to Huksu-ri (32 miles northwest of Chigyong) with a minimum of two rifle companies.

                On 6 November, 2/5 and 3/5 patrolled their areas without enemy contact, although nine prisoners were picked up during the day. The division directed RCT-5 to dispatch a patrol to make contact with the 7InfDiv between 1200 and 1400, 7 November, at Tangpung-ni (17 miles northeast of Sinhung). This contact point had been previously agreed upon with the liaison officer of the 7InfDiv as there was considerable confusion in the X Corps directive regarding the point at which contact would be established. The CO of RCT-5 assigned this mission to the 2/5.

                A complete investigation of the explosives cached in the temple area near Sinsong-ni (six miles west of Sinhung, previously given as TA 6251) was made by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. The recommendation was that no attempt be made to move the 350 tons of bulk explosives and 750,000 blasting caps because of the unstable character of the explosives. Plans were made for their destruction.

                At 1100, on 6 November, I flew by helicopter to the CP of RCT-5 at Namp’yong-ni. Lt. Colonel Murray was absent from the CP, but Lt. Colonel Stewart, his executive officer, was present. Since RCT-5 was not heavily engaged, the regimental commander had taken the opportunity to exercise his Hq personnel in the proper method of camouflaging a CP. They had done an excellent job with straw and other available materials.

                On 7 November, the 2/5 continued patrolling north of Sinpung-ni and Sinpong-ni with the mission of gathering information on the trafficability of roads and trails leading northward to the Fusen Reservoir and their suitability for use by the enemy in attacking southward. One two-day patrol was ordered by CO, RCT-5 to patrol to the north and return on 9 November. At 1433, 7 November, a patrol from the 2/5 made contact with a 7InfDiv patrol at Tanpung-ni. The patrol reported friendly units near the town of Susang-ni. The patrol also reported that the road leading into the 7InfDiv was satisfactory for all vehicular traffic and with minimum engineer effort could be made trafficable for tanks. The 3/5 patrolled throughout the day without enemy contact. 19 POWs were picked up during the day. [Since General Smith mentions 19 POWs being picked up without enemy contact, we assume they were North Koreans.]

                On 8 November, the 2/5 and 3/5 patrolled without establishing contact with the enemy although native reports and enemy caches of materials and ammunition indicated the presence of the enemy. During the day, in accordance with a X Corps directive, orders were issued to the CO, RCT-5 to provide one company for the relief of a battery of the 96th AFA Bn which was defending Yonpo airfield (southwest of Hungnam). This was occasioned by concern of the Corps over guerrilla activity in the south. I3/5 was designated for this task. One platoon of D/1Tank Bn was ordered to move to the Airfield on 10 November and to be attached to the company. I3/5 arrived at the airfield at 2020, 8 November, but, since the battery of the 96th AFA Bn had not been notified by X Corps that it would be relieved, no further steps were taken by I company to assume the responsibility that night and plans were made for the relief on 9 November. During the day, 40 POWs were picked up by RCT-5.

                On 9 November, 2/5 and 3/5 patrolled in their assigned areas without establishing enemy contact. I3/5, during the morning assumed responsibility, under division control, for the security of Yonpo airfield and patrolled the area surrounding the airfield without enemy contact.

                During the morning of 9 November, Engineers and an EOD Team had been guarding in the temple area near Sinsong-ni (six miles west of Sinhung). The explosives were detonated, and, at 1205, G Company moved back to TA 7144 (near Pungsang-ni, west of the 3/5 positions). Accounts differed as to the quantity of explosives detonated. The Division reported 350 tons of bulk explosives and 750,000 blasting caps. The Engineers reported 350 tons of bulk explosives and 2400 cases of picric acid.

                During the day of 9 November, RCT-5 picked up 11 POWs.

                It was apparent to the Division that the efforts of RCT-5 were being wasted in the Sinhung Valley. The regiment had been moved into the valley with the idea of advancing to the Fusen Reserovir from the south. Careful reconnaissance determined that the roads shown on the map as leading to the reservoir did not exist and that the narrow gauge railroad had apparently been abandoned shortly after construction of the power installation was completed. It was reported that a road did lead to the reservoir from the east. The Division urged the Corps to include the Fusen Reservoir in the 7InfDiv zone and give to that Division the mission of reconnoitering the Fusen Reservoir. There was another very valid reason for being relieved of this mission. RCT-7 was now advancing north of Chinhung-ni in the direction of the Chosin Reservoir with a very lengthening and vulnerable MSR behind it. It was our desire to back up RCT-7 with RCT-5. RCT-1 was still involved in the security of the Wonsan area and would not be available for some time. The Corps agreed to the inclusion of the Fusen Reservoir in the zone of action of the 7InfDiv, but still desired that RCT-5 maintain a blocking position in the Sinhung Valley. On the basis of this decision, the Division, on 9 November, issued fragmentary orders to RCT-5 providing for a general shift of the regiment astride the MSR behind RCT-7. In accordance with these fragmentary orders, RCT-5, at 2020, 9 November, issued movement orders to implement the shift. At 2300, the same date, the Division issued 1MarDiv OpO 20-50, which confirmed the fragmentary instructions. This order directed RCT-5 to protect the railhead in the vicinity of Chinhung-ni, establish blocking positions in the vicinity of Sinhung and Majon-dong, patrol zone to locate and destroy enemy forces, and protect the MSR. The order also provided for the reversion of the 1/5 to Regimental control upon relief from its security mission northwest of Chigyong. The operations of this battalion northwest of Chigyong have been described elsewhere. (See Note 201.) The battalion finally rejoined RCT-5 at Majon-dong on 12 November. By OpO 20-50, I3/5, under Division control, was still assigned the mission of providing security for Yonpo Airfield.

                On 10 November, in accordance with the new instructions, the 2/5 moved to positions at TA 7951 just northeast of Sinhung) with the mission of preventing enemy movement to the south along the road and railroad and of protecting the Division’s right flank. All units were in position by 1500.

                The CP of 3/5 at Namp’ong-ni (four miles southwest of Sinhung) closed at 0720, 10 November, and the Battalion moved by motor to the vicinity of Chinhung-ni to protect RCT-7’s supply point and railhead at that place. The movement was completed by 1500 and the Battalion CP was set up at Chinhung-ni.

                At 1145, 10 November, the Regimental CP closed at the old location (Namp’yong-ni, four miles southeast of Sinhung) and opened at TA 7127-L (Soyand-ni, 2 ½ miles southeast of Oro-ri on the MSR).

                These movements virtually completed the operations of RCT-5 in the Sinhung Valley. The operations of RCT-5 in protecting the MSR behind RCT-7 will be covered later. (See Noted 218.)

 

 

[552]

(215) Sobering Effects of 8th Army Reverses on the X Corps Commander

                At 1530 on 7 November, I had a conference with General Almond. I had been pressing for some time to lessen the dispersion of the Division, pointing out to the Corps Commander that in the 1MarDiv he had a powerful instrument, but that it could not help being weakened by the dispersion to which it had been subjected. At this time the total separation of the infantry battalions of the division amounted to some 170 miles. (RCT-1 was in the Wonsan area, RCT-5 was in the Sinhung Valley, and RCT-7 had moved north toward the Chosin Reservoir as far as Chinhung-ni.) At the conference I again urged that the situation be reviewed; that in view of the approach of winter, consideration be given to stopping the advance to the north in view of the difficulty of supplying units in the mountains during the winter months. My recommendation was that during the winter we commit ourselves only to holding enough terrain to provide for the security of Wonsan, Hamhung, and Hungnam, but that this not involve an attempt to hold positions on the plateau north of Chinhung-ni. General Almond had been somewhat sobered by the reverses of the 8th Army. He was not agreeable to concentrating the 1MarDiv, but he felt he should hold Hagaru-ri at the foot of the Chosin Reservoir. He was considering giving a smaller zone of action to the 7th Infantry Division and of stopping the advance of I ROK Corps to the north. He also talked in terms of using Hungnam as a possible port of evacuation. This conservative attitude did not last very long. By 10 November, the 8th Army had recovered its balance, and, on 11 November, the X Corps reiterated its directive to proceed to the Yalu River.

 [End 553]

 

END NOTES

 

We must not lose sight of the fact that the Corps was operating under the plans and directives of General MacArthur, and that any actions directed by General Almond were directly related to FECOM plans and instructions. In the foregoing essay on this subject, General Smith does not comment on this relationship, presenting only his position for the reader. We are also reminded that this was written long after the meeting and we know not why General Smith decided to address it here in his memoire.

 

Since there are always two sides to every story, we will include Maj. General Almond’s views on Smith’s position on building his bases rather than aggressively pushing north to seek out the enemy.

 

END CJ 02.28.06

 

 

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