CHANGJIN JOURNAL 08.30.07
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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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 07.15.07) we covered the assignment of 41 Commando RM to 1MarDiv followed by the movement of RCT-7 to and occupying positions at Yudam-ni. In this issue we find a discussion of Motor Transport Support and Tank Support during the move to the Chosin Reservoir area, and the movement of the Division CP to Hagaru-ri.
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.
(244) Engineer support during the advance to the Chosin Reservoir area
The capabilities of the 1st Engineer Battalion were strained to the maximum in the advance of the Division to the Chosin Reservoir area. The division operated with widely dispersed RCTs. For a considerable period of time the total separation between the infantry battalions of the RCTs amounted to more than 150 miles. It was not until 26 November, when RCT-1 had moved to the MSR between Chinhung-ni and Hagaru-ri, that the dispersion of the division was brought within acceptable limits. Under these circumstances the effort of the 1st Engineer Battalion was widely spread. The tasks of the battalion included the maintenance of long stretches of MSR, repair of bridges, repair of railroads, construction of airstrips, operation of sawmills, establishment of water points, repair of buildings, and a host of others. The following tabulation indicates the multiplicity and variety of the tasks performed by the battalion during the advance to the Chosin Reservoir area.
[The details of engineer projects for the 1st Engineer Battalion for the period 1-27 November 1950 are listed in pages 654-666 and not included in this journal.]
(245) Motor Transport Support by the 1st Motor Transport Battalion during the Advance to the Chosin Reservoir area
The decision of the X Corps to retain the bulk of the 7th Motor Transport Battalion under its operational control strained the motor transport capabilities of the 1st Marine Division to the limit, particularly in view of the wide dispersion of the Division. Early in the operations, after landing at Wonsan, it was necessary to attach the entire 1st Motor Transport Battalion to RCT-7 in order to support that RCT in its advance to the Chosin Reservoir. On 19 November, the battalion (less detachments) was attached to the 1st Supply Regulating Station at Hagaru-ri in order to assist in the buildup of supplies at that place. Not only did the battalion support RCT-7, it was also able to render support to the other units of the division and to assist materially in the buildup of supplies at our forward base. This was only possible by the display of a high degree of professional competence on the part of the personnel of the 1st Motor Transport Battalion.
The following tabulation indicates the degree of activity of the battalion during the period 1-27 November, when the Division was progressively moving elements of the Division to the Chosin Reservoir area. [Details on pages 667-672 regarding truck support not included in this journal.]
(Enemy roadblocks along the MSR between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri and between Hagaru-ri and Yudam-ni began to disrupt the normal flow of supplies. Sixteen trucks from A Co and 29 trucks from C Co were loaded with supplies at Chinhung-ni destined for the 1st Supply Regulating Point at Hagaru-ri. However, the trucks were unable to proceed beyond Koto-ri because of a roadblock. Therefore, contents of approximately half of the trucks were unloaded at Koto-ri and all trucks returned to Chinhung-ni. A total of 45 trucks, during the day of 27 November, transported supplies from Hagaru-ri to Yudam-ni. Twelve of the trucks, with drivers and two officers, were left at Yudam-ni and were later invaluable in the evacuation of wounded personnel and vital supplies during the movement of RCTs 5 and 7 from Yudam-ni back to Hagaru-ri.)
(246) Tank support during the advance to the Chosin Reservoir area
The first unit of the 1st Tank Battalion to displace to the Hamhung area was D Company, which arrived on the west bank of the river at Hamhung on 7 November, and, on 8 November, forded the river without difficulty and by 1000 was in an assembly area at Soyang-ni (8 miles northwest of Hamhung). Other tank units were progressively moved from the south to positions along the MSR north of Hamhung. . . .
On 18 November, a provisional Tank Platoon, consisting of one dozer tank from B Company, 3 dozer tanks from D Company, and the M4A3 communications tank from Hq Company, was formed and moved out for Chinhung-ni and thence to the Chosin Reservoir. Blades of the dozer tanks had been dropped and the platoon operated as a gun platoon. The condition of the roads beyond Chinhung-ni, at this time, permitted only the passage of M4A3 tanks (Sherman) and not the M-26 tanks (Pershing) with which the regular platoons of the battalion were equipped.
On 19 November, the Provisional Tank Platoon departed Chinhung-ni and arrived at Koto-ri without incident. “Down traffic” had been stopped by Division order from 0700 to 1300 to permit movement of the tank platoon up the mountain beyond Chinhung-ni. The platoon continued on to Hagaru-ri the same date, and, upon arrival, was attached to RCT-5. Until 24 November, the tank platoon remained at Hagaru-ri attached to RCT-5. On that date, the platoon moved its CP 8 miles north of Hagaru-ri on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, and one tank section patrolled with the 3/5 Marines to a distance of 18 miles north of Hagaru-ri. An estimated company of enemy was encountered and fired upon. The enemy withdrew. The patrol reached a point within sight of the Chosin Dam.
[The tank platoon was attached to a unit of the 5th Marines during the move north where they participated in the patrol on 19 November. – GAR]
On 24 November, the second platoon, D Company moved to Chinhung-ni from Majon-dong and remained there waiting clearance from the engineers for the movement up the mountain.
On 26 November, the Provisional Tank Platoon was attached to RCT-7 and moved its CP back to Hagaru-ri. It then attempted to move to Yudam-ni, but heavy traffic held up the tanks. Plans were made to attempt to move again the following day. At 0600, 27 November, the Provisional Tank Platoon moved out from Hagaru-ri for Yudam-ni. The road, although appearing dusty, had an underlying layer of ice, which caused the M4A3 tanks to slide a great deal. By the time a point four (4) miles west of Hagaru-ri was reached, all tanks had slid off the road and one had thrown a track. Traffic was too heavy at the time to work on the tank with the thrown track. The other three tanks regained the road and returned to Hagaru-ri. During the night the CCF set up a roadblock around the disabled tank and it was lost to the platoon.
On 27 November, the 2d Platoon, D Company (M-26 tanks) finally received clearance to make the trip up the mountain from Chinhung-ni. It reached Funchilin Pass without incident, proceeded on to Hagaru-ri, and arrived there at 1230. It was attached to the Provisional Tank Platoon. One tank, D-23, was ordered to proceed to Yudam-ni in the hope that the heavier M-26 tanks would be able to negotiate the icy roads better than the M4A3 had. This “one tank” trek was a test run, and, because of the ice, narrow road, sudden and deep drops, and the danger in traveling a mountain road, the platoon leader dismounted all the crew except the driver The tank reached Yudam-ni successfully and the platoon leader and the tank driver returned to Hagaru-ri with the S-3 of the Battalion to lead the remaining tanks of the 2d Platoon to Yudam-ni and separated tank D-23 from its crew. On 28 November, one tank crew from C Company was alerted to fly by helicopter from Soyang-ni to Hagaru-ri and thence to Yudam-ni to tank D-23 which was without a crew. This was done, and D-23 tank, the only tank that ever reached the Yudam-ni area, was put in operation and was of material assistance to RCTs 5 and 7 in their later breakout from Yudam-ni. It eventually completed the trek to Hungnam.
[Tank coverage on pages 676-686 for 28 and 29 November is not included in this journal.]
(247) Displacement of the Division CP from Hungnam to Hagaru-ri
With the Division widely dispersed from south to north, an attempt as made to keep the Division CP located at approximately the center of gravity of the Division. On 4 November, the CP was displaced from Wonsan to Hungnam in view of the fact that by that date both RCT-7 and RCT-5 had moved to the Hamhung area or north thereof. RCT-1 was still in the Wonsan area. As RCT-7 advanced to the Chosin Reservoir area, following in trace by RCT-5, the difficulties of communication with the forward RCTs increased. It became apparent that the CP should be moved to the north, but it was retained at Hungnam for the time being for two reasons:
(a) It was difficult to find a suitable location for a CP short of the plateau north of Chinhung-ni. In the plateau region there were two possible locations, one at Koto-ri and the other at Hagaru-ri. In view of the orders of the Corps directing the Division to seize a blocking position at Yudam-ni, 14 miles northwest of Hagaru-ri, while at the same time it was to push north on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, it was considered that Hagaru-ri was the most suitable location. The terrain was suitable, Hagaru-ri was at the junction of roads leading to the northwest and north, there were a limited number of existing buildings at Hagaru-ri that could be used for hospital installations and storage, and it was possible to construct a C-47 strip there. Koto-ri, on the other hand, was merely a point on the map.
[Although Koto-ri was seen a point on the map at that time, it was at the top of the Kaema Plateau and close to the most important terrain of the MSR – the Funchilin Pass. For an unknown reason the pass and especially the bridge at the Gatehouse were not seen to be critical at that time. In fact, after the first attempt by the enemy to destroy that bridge, no action was taken to position a combat unit and secure that critical location.]
(b) The Division desired to remain in close contact with the Corps Headquarters at Hamhung until it could accomplish the release of RCT-1 from its commitments south of Hamhung. On 21 November, when this result was finally accomplished, there was no longer any reason for the Division CP to remain at Hungnam other than to permit RCT-5 and RCT-7 to uncover Hagaru-ri sufficiently to warrant the displacement of the Division CP thereto.
At 0830, 24 November, a reconnaissance party consisting of the Assistant Division Commander (General Craig), the G-1, and the Assistant Headquarters Commandant, departed the Division Command Post at Hungnam to locate a site at Hagaru-ri for a new Division Command Post. General Craig proceeded by helicopter and the G-1 and Assistant Headquarters Commandant by Road. At about 0930, a convoy with personnel of the Headquarters Commandant Section, Headquarters Company, and a machine gun squad from the Division Band left the CP at Hungnam for Hagaru-ri. The G-1 and Assistant Headquarters Commandant arrived at Hagaru-ri at 1230 and the convoy at 1630.
On 25 November, a truck convoy of five (5) 2 1/2 ton trucks, under the command of CWO Varnum, and loaded with tents, stoves, rice, building supplies, and galley equipment, departed the Division CP at Hungnam and arrived at Hagaru-ri at 1330.
At 0730, 26 November, a convoy consisting of five (5) 2 1/2 ton trucks, with one- ton trailers, one (1) 300 gallon water trailer, one (1) 37.5 KVA generator (trailer mounted) and one (1) 1/4 ton truck, with trailer, departed from the Division CP at Hungnam and arrived at Hagaru-ri at 1400. The convoy included personnel of the Division Headquarters (Division Adjutants Section, Secret and Confidential Files Section, Civil Affairs Section, Division Supply Section) and of the Headquarters Company.
The site selected for the Division Command Post was in the northern edge of the town of Hagaru-ri on the south slope of a low pine-covered hill. Work on this site, which had begun on 25 November, was continued on 26 November and included bulldozing, construction of two heads, and of 15 tent decks. The construction was slowed due to the extreme cold which made the operation of equipment difficult. A temporary perimeter was set up around the CP area consisting of elements of the 7th Marines at Hagaru-ri, the Tacron, the 1st Motor Transport Battalion and Band personnel. There were two roving patrols within the CP area.
At 0810, 27 November, a convoy consisting of five (5) 2 1/2 ton trucks with trailers, three (3) 1/4 ton trucks with trailers, and four (4) Command Post vans (2 map and 2 living) departed the Division CP at Hungnam and arrived at Hagaru-ri at 1430. In this convoy were elements of the Division Headquarters (Assistant Division Commander Group, and elements of the Chief of Staff Section, G-1 Section, G-2 Section, G-3 Section, and Post Office Section), of the Battalion Medical Section, of the Headquarters Company, and of the Band (one machine gun squad and one rifle fire team). At the CP site at Hagaru-ri, during the day, 18 tent decks in the Signal Company area and 27 in the Headquarters area were completed. When the convoy arrived from Hungnam at 1430 tents were not completed for the personnel of the convoy so five tents were erected immediately and the two map vans were parked near them.
[The narrative covering the movement of the remaining CP elements to Hagaru-ri takes place on 27-28 November when their convoys could only get to Koto-ri, after which they participated in Task Force Drysdale on 29 November. The Headquarters Battalion element suffered 6 KIA, 19 WIA, 25 MIA (eight returned from prison camps after the war).]
Returning to the displacement of the CP, normally the Assistant Division Commander would have remained at the Advance CP at Hagaru-ri with the elements of the Division Headquarters which were progressively arriving there. However, General Craig received a dispatch from his home on 26 November, indicating that this father had suffered a cerebral thrombosis and the prognosis in his case was unfavorable. General Craig as very close to his father and desired to be with him in his last hours. I sent a message to the CG, FMAPac, information of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to the effect that if I did not receive word to the contrary I would grant emergency leave to General Craig. I waited twelve hours for a reply and, receiving none, granted the leave. Thus, I was without an assistant Division Commander during the Chosin Reservoir Operation.
[Readers may rightfully understand Gen. Smith’s reasoning for permitting Gen. Craig to return to the States on emergency leave. However, with the situation suddenly becoming critical it is difficult to understand in the hindsight of today why a replacement had not been designated and flown to Korea immediately. We do not know if he discussed this decision with his X Corps commander, Gen. Almond. The dispersion of Smith’s command compounded by an attached Army RCT demanded effective leadership at the highest levels. – GAR]
[INSERT PHOTO North Korean father and son in the rugged mountains northeast of the Fusen Reservoir, terrain that limited movement of military units to ox-drawn sled and rucksacks. Lt. Col. Bill Reidy’s 2/31 Infantry was operating in terrain such as this when he received word to turn around the rejoin RCT-31 units moving to the Chosin Reservoir. – Photo by Lt. Joseph C. Rodgers, Medical Service Officer with 2/31.
We close this journal that followed the movement of Gen. Smith’s units northward into the area of the Chosin Reservoir, backed by efforts of his 1st Engineer Battalion and forward movement of some armor. Now that his command post has moved to Hagaru-ri, we look forward to learning the status of his potential enemy, the Chinese Communist Forces that have been doing serious harm to units of the Eighth Army, unknown to the soldiers of X Corps.
END CJ 08.30.07