CHANGJIN JOURNAL 07.15.07
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.
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CHANGJIN JOURNAL 07.15.07
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 (CJ 05.30.07) we covered RCT-5 occupying east of Chosin while RCT-17 has reached the Yalu River in its sector. In this issue we find the long-awaited 41 Commando of the Royal Marines, followed by another change in orders which places the lead units of RCT-7 at Yudam-ni.
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.
(240) Assignment of the 41st Independent Commando, RM, to the Division
Early in November, ComNavFe inquired of the Division as to whether or not it could use the services of the 41st Independent Commando, RM [Royal Marines], which was then under the operational control of ComNavFe in Japan. The Commando unit was anxious to serve with the 1MarDiv, but it did not want to be attached to an Army unit. ComNavFe desired to assure himself that we would be glad to have the unit in order that he might make arrangements to assign it directly to us. We replied that we would be very glad to have the Commandos attached to us and could find useful employment for them. At this time, RCT-7 was advancing toward the Chosin Reservoir and the Division had a wide open left (west) flank about which it was considerably concerned. The investigation of this area to the west was beyond the capabilities of the combat patrols from the infantry units and the Division felt that the Royal Marine Commandos together with the Division Recon Company could be of material assistance in determining the presence or absence of the enemy on that flank.
The 41st Independent Commando was embarked on the USS Jackson and arrived at Hungnam the morning of 20 November. It was attached to the Division for operational control by ComNavFe. Its strength upon arrival was 14 officers and 221 enlisted. Initially, it was moved to an assembly area in the vicinity of the 1st Engineer Battalion. [Attachment for “operational control” means that the unit was logistically and administratively self-supporting. That was not the case at this time.]
1MarDiv OpO 23-50, issued at 0800, 23 November, directed the 41 Independent Commando, RM, reinforced, to conduct operations to locate and destroy enemy forces in the Hagaru-ri, Samdaepyong, Koto-ri area, coordinating its activities with RCT-1 and RCT-7. 1Mardiv OpO 24-50, issued at 0800, 26 November, modified 1MarDiv OpO 23-50 to the extend that the Commando unit was to move to Yudam-ni, prepared for operations in the direction of Sinpo-ri (8 miles southwest of Yudam-ni) to protect the Division left flank in coordination with RCT-7. This latter order was never carried out.…
[Why the 41 Commando did not arrive in the battle area until 28 November, having landed at Hungnam and attached to the Division on 20 November, will continue to baffle historians; the unit was committed in a combat role between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri on 29 November]
648 (243) Occupation of Blocking Positions at Yudam-ni by RCT-7
X Corps OpO 6 of 11 November directed the 1MarDiv, among other tasks, to occupy a blocking position at Yudam-ni. At the time of the issuance of this order, RCT-7 had just reached Koto-ri and was preparing to continue the advance toward Hagaru-ri. At 2130, 12 November, the Division issued fragmentary orders to RCT-7 to advance and seize the Hagaru-ri area. No mention was made of Yudam-ni. This fragmentary order was confirmed by 1MarDiv OpO 21-50, issued at 2000, 13 November, which directed RCT-7 to seize and secure Hagaru-ri, and, on order, seize Yudam-ni. On 14 November, RCT-7 occupied Hagaru-ri, and, by 15 November, the entire RCT was in the vicinity of that place. Active patrolling was conducted. At 0800, 17 November, 1MarDiv OpO 22-50 was issued, which directed RCT-7 to protect the Division’s left flank with a minimum of one battalion in a suitable position between Hagaru-ri and Yudam-ni. RCT-7 was also directed to relieve RCT-5 and to protect the Division MSR in zone from positions in the vicinity of Chinhung-ni, Koto-ri, and Hagaru-ri. RCT-1 was not yet available for assignment to the protection of the MSR and it was necessary to employ RCT-7 for that purpose, therefore the Division did not feel that the time had yet arrived to take the risk of pushing troops over Toktong Pass and into Yudam-ni. It was felt that this road could be blocked for the time being by occupying a position somewhere in the vicinity of Toktong Pass.
On 18, 19 and 20 November, RCT-7 patrolled in the Hagaru-ri area without enemy contact. On 19 November the 3/7 moved by motor shuttle to Koto-ri to relieve the 2/5 Marines.
On 21 November, the 1/7 was directed to move a reinforced company at 0900 west along the road from Hagaru-ri to Sinhung-ni (about 7 miles west of Hagaru-ri and just beyond Toktong Pass). B Company 1/7 , reinforce by D Company and a section of 81mm mortars, was designated and moved out as scheduled to occupy a screening position at Sinhung-ni. About 500 yards from the objective the Company came under enemy small arms and machine gun fire from an estimated 150 to 200 enemy. Air strikes and artillery missions were called on the enemy positions and B Company occupied the high ground at the objective for the night. The 1/7 was directed to send a reinforced company at 0830 the following day, 22 November, to patrol from Sinhung-ni to Yudam-ni and to begin movement of the remainder of the battalion on that date from its present position to establish defensive positions at Sinhung-ni. The battalion was also ordered to conduct aggressive patrolling on 23 November from the Sinhung-ni area to the north and west within the regimental zone, paying particular attention to the approaches to Yudam-ni from the west.
On the morning of 23 November, 1MarDiv OpO 23-50 was issued, which directed RCT-7 to seize Yudam-ni and maintain one battalion in that position. On this same date, the 1/7 continued its advance to the west at 0800 with the mission of seizing Yudam-ni. Patrols operating in advance and to the flanks of the battalion made no contacts early in the advance, but later in the morning one flank patrol received small arms fire from an estimated CCF platoon. Air and artillery were used on these troops, driving them from the area. The advance of the Battalion was slowed by heavy snow drifts and road blocks which were defended by small groups of Chinese. One group of 20 Chinese was observed at 1000 approximately 2500 yards west of Sinhung-ni moving east toward the rear of the 1/7 with approximately 200 to 250 Chinese moving in rear of this advance guard. Artillery fire as called on the enemy and they withdrew along a trail to the west. The Battalion consolidated positions for the night about 2500 yards to the northwest of Sinhung-ni. D 1/7 as detached from 1/7 and directed to establish defensive positions just north of Sinhung-ni where there was a route of approach leading into the MSR from the north. On 23 November, Thanksgiving dinner was served to all units of RCT-7, except the 1/7, which received its special ration the following day.
At 1231 on 24 November, the Division issued orders to CO 7th Marines, which confirmed earlier telephonic instructions, to seize Yudam-ni without delay. Fragmentary orders were issued by CO RCT-7 directing 1/7 to seize Yudam-ni, maintain blocking positions between Yudam-ni and Hagaru-ri, and protect the Division’s left (west) flank. [A spread of 14 miles.] The 1/7 patrolled to the front and flanks during the day and made three enemy contacts, encountering scattered groups of the enemy approximately 5000 yards south of Yudam-ni. The enemy placed long range small arms fire on the patrol, and, upon return of the fire by friendly elements, the Chinese withdrew over the ridges. Aircraft under control of RCT-7 strafed and bombed the village of Yudam-ni. Enemy positions were reported on the high ground west of the town.
[These enemy positions seen west of the town apparently weren’t checked out by ground recon patrols, for they were later discovered to be the location that stopped the 5th Marines attack the morning of 27 November. Of further interest is that Gen. Smith does not provide his critique of the enemy situation as he saw it at the time, even though this document was finalized after the Chosin campaign. Since the attack west on 27 November by RCT-5 was bluntly stopped, followed by massive Chinese attacks that night, hindsight continues to question ground reconnaissance. These encounters with small groups of Chinese were delaying actions; the enemy was also buying time.]
On 25 November, RCT-7 reported that during the day patrols from the 1/7, which was advancing from Sinhung-ni [Toktong Pass] toward Yudam-ni, were receiving long range enemy fire as they approached the objective. Three hastily constructed road blocks were encountered, although the road was passable. The 1/7, by 1230, had seized the high ground to the southeast and southwest of Yudam-ni. An air strike was delivered on approximately 60 enemy on the high ground to the west of the MSR at a point midway between Sinhung-ni and Yudam-ni. The 3/7 had passed through 1/7 to seize Hill 1293, approximately 1200 yards west of Yudam-ni. By 1545, the 3/7 had seized the Division objective, Yudam-ni, against negligible resistance. It patrolled through the town and out the valley to the northwest. Many emplacements and defensive works were located and four enemy were sighted who fled when fired upon. E 2/7, during the day, patrolled to the high ground 2000 yards west of the MSR at a point midway between Yudam-ni and Sinhung-ni. Sixteen enemy were observed in prepared positions on the high ground. Upon receiving fire from the patrol the enemy dispersed and retreated over the ridge line. RCT-7 consolidated positions for the night on the high ground about 1000 yards south of Yudam-ni. During the day of 25 November, the regimental CP was displaced from Hagaru-ri to TA4175F, about 1 and 1/2 miles northwest of Sinhung-ni.
With the seizure of Yudam-ni on 25 November, RCT-7 had completed the mission assigned, however, on this same date, the X Corps issued its OpO 7 which provided for an attack to the west from Yudam-ni on 27 November. In this attack RCT-7 was to play a backing-up role to RCT-5.
This had been a period of frustration for staff officers working on changes in plans and orders before the previous order could be implemented. The main effort had been an attack north by RCT-5 on the east side of the reservoir from Hagaru-ri, with units of RCT-7 occupying a blocking position at the Toktong Pass. Then suddenly came the change originating in Tokyo—an attack west from Yudam-ni [see map] to relieve pressure on the Eighth Army. Those who passed their basic course in map reading must have shuttered at the thought of an attack through the mountains west of Yudam-ni. On 26 November Colonel MacLean and his staff had arrived at the new command post in a schoolhouse at Hudong-ni, east of the reservoir —preparing plans for the relief of RCT-5 and subsequent attack by RCT-31 to the north. After learning of the planned attack by 1MarDiv west from Yudam-ni, captains Rasula and Dowell studied a 1:50,000 map of the area the Marines were about to encounter, Rasula saying it was ideal terrain for a Chinese “motti” similar to what the Finns used against the Russians in Nov-Dec 1939; cut up the Marine column once it got strung out in the switchbacks of that mountain range. Not allowing RCT-5 to get strung out may have been the first of many errors in Chinese strategy and tactics in opposing American forces in the Chosin area.
Another reaction to this plan and subsequent orders can be found as a footnote in the Army official history, Ebb and Flow by Billy Mossman, p.47n.
X Corps Opn O 6, 11 Nov 50; … General Mathew B. Ridgeway commented: “I find it amazing that highly trained professionals with extensive combat experience could have approved and tried to execute the tactical plan of operations for the X Corps in northeast Korea in November 1950. It appears like a pure map exercise put on by amateurs, appealing in theory, but utterly ignoring the reality of a huge mountainous terrain, largely devoid of terrestrial communications, and ordered for execution in the face of a fast approaching sub-arctic winter.”
To mystify and mislead the enemy has always been one of the cardinal principles of war. Consequently, ruses de guerre of one kind or an other have played a part in almost every campaign ever since the episode of the Trojan horse, or perhaps even earlier. The game has been played for so long that it is not easy to think out new methods of disguising one’s strengths or one’s intentions. Moreover, meticulous care must be exercised in planning the execution of the schemes. Otherwise, far from deceiving the enemy, they merely give the show away. – Lord Ismay, foreword to The Man Who Never Was, 1953.
End CJ 07.15.07