CHANGJIN JOURNAL 03.31.06

  
The Gatehouse in the Funchilin Pass controlling the flow of Chosin Reservoir water arriving through an underground tunnel, sending it to the power plant far below in the valley at Pohujang. Note the snow on the far-off mountaintops. -- Photo by Lt. Joseph Rodgers, Medic with 2/31 Infantry.

 

CHANGJIN JOURNAL 03.31.06

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. Gen. 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 offer comments from various sources that relate to the topic at hand. In the last issue we covered the operations of RCT-5 in the Sinhung Valley. This issue covers the movement of RCT-7 from Chinhung-ni -- after completing its operation against the 124th CCF Division -- up the Funchilin Pass to Koto-ri on the Kaema Plateau.

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 Maj. Gen. Smith left Korea. His primary sources were unit reports and briefings by commanders and staff, 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 571-578

[p.571]

(219) ADVANCE OF RCT-7 FROM CHINHUNG-NI TO KOTO-RI

            By 7 November it was determined that the CCF had withdrawn from the front of RCT-7 to the north. At 1000, 8 November, the 3/7 moved out and occupied the high ground 1000 yards to the front by 1500. No enemy contact was made, but two CCF POWs were picked up. At 1200, 8 November, the 1/7 dispatched a volunteer 18-man patrol to reconnoiter the area to the north and northwest as far as Koto-ri. By 1825 that night the patrol had reached a point 4 miles northwest of Chinhung-ni. At 1400, 8 November, I flew by helicopter to the CP of RCT-7 at Chinhung-ni. At nightfall RCT-7 consolidated its positions around Chinhung-ni with the leading elements of 3/7 astride the road in the vicinity of Pohujang (2 miles north of Chinhung-ni).

[Pohujang with its power plant is located at the base of the valley below the road which snakes its way up the switchbacks to the Gatehouse, and beyond to Koto-ri. If the patrol had gone four miles northwest of Chinhung-ni, it would have been on top of a roadless mountain; the road and route to Koto-ri was on the right (east) side of the valley. See map below. The use of a volunteer patrol as the leading recon element questions the priorities of the commander.] 


This copy of a 1:50,000 map of 1950 vintage covers the area from Chinhung-ni to the south edge of Koto-ri. By using this map and Gen. Smith’s text one can follow the movement of RCT-7 units up the pass to Koto-ri. -- GAR

 

            In view of the fact that contact has been lost with the enemy, RCT-7 requested return of the Division Recon Company to its control to patrol to the north to gain contact. This request was denied by the Division in view of the Recon Company’s current mission of screening the area west of the MSR, which included many routes of approach to the rear of RCT-7. RCT-7 also requested, on 8 November, the attachment of one battery of 155mm howitzers. The request was approved and the 11th Marines attached K Battery to the 3/11 Marines that was providing direct support for RCT-7.

 

            During the daylight hours of 9 November, RCT-7 conducted extensive patrolling to the front, flanks and rear. The 3/7 advanced approximately 3,500 yards over extremely  rugged terrain to positions astride the MSR about 4 miles north of Chinhung-ni. The advance moved over hills 1081 and 1457, and by midafternoon the battalion had taken up positions with one company covering Funchilin Pass from the west from positions including Hill 1304, and one company covering the pass from the east from positions on the hill west of Hill 1457. The third company occupied positions on the slopes of the mountain north of the road extending generally from the vicinity of Hill 1081 to the power substation [Gatehouse] on the MSR. No opposition was encountered. With these positions in the hands of RCT-7, the wheeled transportation of the regiment could now move up the mountain. On this strip of road the grade was very steep, rising 2500 feet in 10,000 yards. (It must be remembered that the heights [elevation] of hills in these notes are given in meters, not in feet.) A helicopter attempting to land on the road near one of the companies of the 3/7, while hovering prior to landing, lost control and turned over. The pilot was uninjured but the helicopter was practically a total loss. The 1/7 and 2/7 remained in their previous positions in the vicinity of Chinhung-ni. Gen, Craig visited RCT-7 by helicopter this date but, due to helicopter trouble had to return to Hungnam by jeep. By 1400, 9 November, the volunteer patrol from the 1/7 had reached a checkpoint near Koryong (2 miles southwest of Koto-ri). Enroute to Koryong the patrol had exchanged fire with an estimated 35 enemy, but no enemy was observed in the vicinity of Koto-ri. [Koryong is a small group of huts at the top of the pass a half kilometer west of the road, about four kilometers from Koto-ri.]

 

Downed helicopter in the Funchilin Pass. -- Photo by Lt. Joseph Rodgers, Medic with 2/31 Infantry.

 

            On 9 November, a request was made by RCT-7 that an additional infantry battalion be moved to Chinhung-ni by the Division with the mission of providing security for the railhead located there, thus permitting RCT-7 to continue its advance to the north. 1MarDiv OpOrder 20-50, issued the same date, directed RCT-5 to furnish this protection, and the 3/5 moved to Chinhung-ni on 10 November.

[One may get the impression that Smith had very tight hold on RCT-7, to the point that movement to the next hill or road junction was controlled by Division. -- GAR]

 

            At 1030, 10 November, RCT-7 (less 2/7 which for the time being remained in the vicinity of Chinhung-ni) began a motor movement to Koto-ri (Objective 1). The 1/7 passed through the 3/7, proceeding to and securing Objective 1 (Koto-ri) by 1000. At 1023 an unidentified number of enemy were encountered just west of Koto-ri. Air strikes were called in and the enemy withdrew to the north. [Once again, no pursuit.] The Regimental CP was established at Koto-ri at 1255. During the day the 3/7 moved to Koto-ri, as well as RCT supplies. Directions were given to construct an OY strip at Koto-ri. Small groups of enemy were encountered throughout the afternoon and several rounds of mortar fire fell in the forward area of RCT-7. At 1830, RCT-7 reported that its zone was quiet. A defense perimeter was established on the high ground immediately surrounding Koto-ri. The 3/11 Marines was located outside the perimeter south of Koto-ri, because of minimum range requirements, and a rifle company was attached to it to provide security.


This map shows the immediate area of Koto-ri which wasn’t much more than a road junction, a service point for the narrow-gauge railroad around the east side of Hill 1457 connecting to an aerial tramway for negotiating the steep terrain of the pass. The west road that continued to be a concern to units occupying Koto-ri, went uphill through rugged country to the origin of the Changjin River where we find seven “scheelite” mines in the pass, then downhill to the west along another river to the valley between Sachang-ni and Yudam-ni (20 miles from Koto-ri). Although this route to Koto-ri was used by the Chinese, as will be noted later, it is not seen from a map study to be a favorable route for a wide envelopment.]

 

[575]

            The night of 10-11 November was quiet. At first light, 11 November, patrolling was instituted to the front and flanks. At 1030 the 2/7 closed Koto-ri from Chinhung-ni after relief at Chinhung-ni by the 3/5 Marines. B and C companies of 1/7 moved out at 0810 to reconnoiter Hills 1305, 1301 and 1404 west and northwest of Koto-ri. Contact with the enemy -- an estimated 100 CCF -- was regained by B 1/7 between Hills 1301 and 1404. During the attack the enemy employed mortars and automatic weapons while B 1/7 brought down artillery and air on the enemy positions. An estimated 40 enemy were killed and the remainder withdrew. B and C Companies returned to the perimeter at Koto-ri before dark. During the day our air struck the town of Hagaru-ri and the Chosin Reservoir area. One tank and two trucks were destroyed. Also west of Koto-ri enemy troops were bombed, strafed and napalmed by our air. A defense perimeter was established around Koto-ri for the night. With the arrival of the 2/7 from Chinhung-ni, the perimeter was tightened and the 3/11 Marine artillery was included within the perimeter.

[Once again, pursuit of the enemy and use of reconnaissance, especially at night, are questioned. Once the perimeters are closed, the remainder of the countryside is left to the enemy. It is also a time when artillery is not effective unless forward observers are with patrols to call fires on the enemy. Actually, because only small groups were encountered during daylight, this could be considered a guessing game. The enemy knew far more about his opponent than the Marines knew about the Chinese. -- GAR]

 

            On 12 November, RCT-7 reconnoitered and patrolled the area to the north and flanks of its positions to a distance from two to four miles without enemy contact. Tracks in the snow observed by recon planes indicated that small groups of the enemy were still in the area. [Tracks in the snow indicate what the enemy wants them to indicate. The Chinese were very well disciplined during their long march from the Yalu, making aerial observation of their movements nearly impossible. -- GAR] A recon in force by the 1/7 advanced to a point about four miles west of Koto-ri. Only a small enemy force was encountered which fled upon being fired upon. Air reported no activity in the Chosin Reservoir area, but hit one self-propelled gun northwest of the Reservoir. Gen. Craig visited RCT-7 on the 12th. It now took the greater part of the day to visit the 7th Marines. In view of the cold, the elevation and the wind, helicopters were not permitted to fly beyond Chinhung-ni. The trip from Chinhung-ni to Koto-ri was made by jeep and required one hour and fifteen minutes.

            As RCT-7 closed into Koto-ri, winter also closed in. Prior to 10 November the weather had been cold but not bitter. On 10 November temperatures dropped as low as 10 to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The effect on men and equipment was marked. These effects and the measures taken to counter them are covered elsewhere.

[At this time east of the Fusen Reservoir at Untaek, Chaplain Martin Hoehn with RCT-31 recorded 14 below zero F., with one foot of snow.]

[p.577]

 

            The advance of RCT-7 was methodical, but it was so planned. The division and regiment were concerned over the vulnerability of the MSR to both the enemy and the weather. The advance was kept at a slow pace in order to build up supplies and give the division an opportunity to move additional troops behind RCT-7.

[Noted is emphasis on the “vulnerability of the MSR” to both enemy and weather, yet he does not mention of the enemy’s capability to take action against the MSR nor does he express in more detail his concern about the influence of the weather on the MSR. More significant is the lack of emphasis on his mission, that of seeking and destroying the enemy. A recon in force is not an effective means of finding the enemy. -- GAR]

 

(220) First Impact of Extreme Cold Weather on Personnel of the Division

            On the night of 10-11 November when RCT-7 was located in Koto-ri, the temperature dropped sharply from approximately 32 Fahrenheit to 8 below zero F [minus 22 Celsius] accompanied by 20- to 30-knot wind. The subzero temperature experienced by RCT-7 at Koto-ri produced an immediate shock reaction on many troops. More than 200 men in various degrees of collapse turned into aid stations for treatment. The medical officers reported these men to be dazed and stunned, with a number of cases having very low respiratory rates. Stimulants were required in addition to warming in order to restore the men to normal functioning. After the initial reaction the men became more accustomed to very low temperatures, for although even more severe weather was encountered later, the shock reaction did not reappear.

[This could have been a psychological as well as a physical reaction, normal for troops not trained for winter warfare. ‑- GAR]

 

(221) Effects of Elevation and Cold Weather on Helicopter Operations

            On 14 November, with the first impact of extreme cold weather at sea level, the controls of the helicopters froze. (The extreme cold had come to Koto-ri earlier.) As a remedy, lighter grease and oils were used, and when possible, the helicopters were hangered at night.

 

            On 16 November, limited operations were resumed by the helicopters, but they were not permitted to proceed beyond Chinhung-ni because of the elevation. At the time it was considered that helicopters operating on the plateau north of Chinhung-ni, where the elevation was approximately 3,700 feet, would be exceeding the capabilities of the aircraft. It was found, however, that aircraft equipped with metal blades operated satisfactorily, while marginal performance was experienced with those having fabric blades. After 16 November, normal flight operations were conducted in the Chosin Reservoir Area.

[Be it known that the drop in temperature experienced at Koto-ri was not by military definition “extreme cold,” nor is the elevation of 3,700 feet considered mountainous. It was the sudden change that got the attention of medics, pilots and commanders. The Chinese troops crossing the Yalu River were experiencing a similar change, and those entering the X Corps zone of operation would soon learn that tennis shoes were frowned upon by Father Winter. -- GAR]

[p.578]

 

END NOTES

Critics may be torn between the two courses of action available at the time: Maj. Gen. Smith’s decision to move slowly and methodically so as to gather his regiments into a tighter formation and build up his supply bases; against his mission to push forward to find and destroy the enemy. From a hindsight point of view, Smith is believed to have done the right thing. However, no one has wargamed other options to see how far north Smith could have been before the two opposing forces met. Since the Chinese attacked east and west of Chosin on 27 November, Maj. Gen. Smith had more than two weeks to secure the MSR all the way to the dam at the north end of the reservoir, a good choke-point for setting up a defense east of Chosin.  Keep in mind that the eventual attack west of Yudam-ni could not have taken place if RCT-7 and RCT-5 had been disposed east and north of the Chosin Reservoir. We believe the lead RCT would have been positioned on terrain southeast of the dam,  with recon pushed northward along the narrow Changjin river channel which was the only logical approach route for the Chinese. The main dam is located at Kalchon-ni, 15 road miles north of Hagaru-ri. At the rate of movement from Chinhung-ni to Koto-ri, a distance of eight miles, it would take no more than three more days to move the leading unit to the dam, especially since there were no major terrain obstacles -- such as the Funchilin Pass -- on this route. If division or corps became nervous about the road west of the reservoir, a battalion block at the Toktong Pass would have been sufficient.

This is known as wargaming with a sincere effort to think differently and to study courses of action that probably weren’t considered at the time and place, and under those circumstances.

 

END CJ 03.31.06

 

 

 

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