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IN THIS ISSUE
One of the overpowering images of the Chosin campaign was the
What is it about the terrain that made it different? For background on
Within the terrain just described we have numbered hills (indicating
THE TAEBAEK SPLIT
PHYSIOGRAPHY AND MILITARY PERCEPTIONS
At the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir the horizons of the mind did not
SIGNAL DEFENDER OF HAGARU-RI
By former S/Sgt Eric J. Matzke, Signal Company, 1st
X CORPS SIGNAL REPORT
Extracted from: Hq X Corps "Special Study on Chosin
In addition to the above, orders were issued to the 4th Signal
The advance Signal party arrived at the new Corps CP site on 27
[On the night of 27-28 November the CCF launched attacks west
On 28 November, the enemy attack had developed to such a degree by
As the situation at Hagaru-ri worsened, communications along the
[The last combat units withdrew from the Hungnam perimeter on 24
The contrast between the personal memoir and the official report
The Changjin Journal is happy to announce a new member to its staff:
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CHANGJIN JOURNAL 09.25.00
IN THIS ISSUE We continue to present more detail surrounding the defense of Hagaru-ri. The units which were sent forward to establish the X Corps forward CP were Company D, 10th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, and a platoon of the 4th Signal Battalion. When the CCF attacked west and east of Chosin the night of 27 November 1950, and also closed the road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, it was obvious that all troops were needed for the defense of the Hagaru-ri perimeter, especially East Hill.
We have often wondered about the "one officer and 32 enlisted men" from the 4th Signal Battalion referred to in the official USMC history. They were on East Hill, not only on the night of the first CCF attacks, 28-29 November, but also with the 5th Marines during the breakout from Hagaru-ri on 6-7 December. Our search for new information continues to unearth documents written long ago. This sworn statement was written on 4 March 1951 by Cpl. Jack R. Wells who was a medic with the unit.
THE BATTLE OF EAST HILL
"I was sent ... on the advance team from Hamhung to Hagaru on 27 Nov. 1950. 1st Lt. John A. Colborn ... was the officer in charge of the X Corps Advance Message Center. On the morning of 28 Nov., Lt. Colborn asked for volunteers to go on a patrol. Since I was the only medic in the entire team, I felt I should go as there might be wounded.
"One of the men had a carbine which would not work, so the lieutenant gave him his, leaving him with only a .38 pistol and very little ammunition. After assembling the two squads ... Lt. Colborn led the patrol up the ridge that was our objective. Although our ascent was over open terrain, we were under the very noses of the enemy before we were spotted. As soon as the enemy sighted the squad on the left flank, they opened fire with small arms and machine guns and threw grenades. The lieutenant ordered that squad to lay down a line of fire so that the squad on the right, still unobserved, might proceed further to observe the enemy. From this time until our withdrawal the lieutenant was constantly in the open giving orders, firing at the enemy with his pistol. ... After the lieutenant had obtained the information he desired, he ordered our withdrawal ... .
"During the withdrawal one of the men fell into a ditch. The lieutenant ran to his aid. On falling he had lost his helmet so the lieutenant gave him his. One of the enemy machine guns was firing at the man who had fallen and continued to fire while Lt. Colborn exposed himself to the direct fire to make the rescue. I was astounded by the fact that there were no casualties which I attributed to Lt. Colborn's cool determination to return all men safely. He was the last to descend the ridge as he wished to keep the enemy gunners in check until we were at a safe, covered area. On return to our area a Marine major remarked that he thought we were Infantry. He commented on the way fire, maneuver and cover were used by the patrol leader. He had followed our complete withdrawal through field glasses.
"When the enemy attacked a few hours later [night 28-29 Nov.] they were driven back due to the information gained by that patrol. All men ... were confident of the final success in the operation. They expressed their confidence in Lt. Colborn by often making remarks as, 'I'd follow him anywhere, look at the results'. Morale was very high due to his excellent leadership. ... He was never found asleep. If he was not busy with communications, he was finding places for the wounded marines of the 5th and 7th Regiments to sleep. He gave his sleeping bag to one of those men and procured blankets for many others. He never complained. There were instead humorous words of encouragement on his part.
"On 7 December, Lt. Colborn was instructed by the CO of the 5th Marine Regiment to take a platoon to Communicator's Hill [East Hill] and join Fox Company of the 2d Battalion [F2/5]. When he asked for volunteers we all stepped forward.
"Our position was a saddle which connected two ridges where Fox Company ... and another company [D/5] were dug in. Our arrival was late in the afternoon and we feared we would not be able to dig in before it grew dark and an enemy attack started. The ground was frozen very hard and we were subjected to enemy sniper fire. The lieutenant dug in with Sgt. Sheets on a small knoll just above my position. He and the sergeant were taking turns digging and during the lieutenant's breaks he walked along our positions across the saddle under sniper fire, observing our progress and encouraging us. His words of encouragement drove me on as it did the other men.
"Later when the enemy attack began, I again realized the lieutenant had knowledge of tactics. He had dug his position where he was at a vantage point overlooking the terrain the enemy had to cross on our positions.... When the enemy massed for a breakthrough near his position, he would throw grenades and Chinese who were still alive would disperse. At one time I was pinned down and about to be overrun when the lieutenant threw a grenade into the group attacking us. The enemy who were not killed withdrew. This action saved my life.
"The lieutenant brought a Marine gunner with his machine gun from one of the ridges and set up in our position in the saddle. The gunner could not see the enemy due to ... visibility, but Lt. Colborn knew their exact position. The lieutenant took over the gun and after knocking our the enemy machine gun ... went to work on attacking troops. This action diverted the attack.
"He further exposed himself by repeatedly going across the saddle under heavy enemy fire to request mortar fire. On one occasion he carried a wounded marine across that saddle to safety after which he dressed his wounds ... . He often exposed himself to direct fire going to each foxhole, make inquiries as to wounds, and joking high spirits back into existence. Once when I remarked that I was low on battle dressings, he came to my rescue by bringing a large resupply out of his pockets. He had foreseen such a shortage ... . He was the last to withdraw under the final enemy assault.
"On the long march to Koto-ri which started the following day, a marine passing in a truck asked the lieutenant if he wanted to ride. He replied, 'Not as long as my men walk.' He led us into Koto-ri after not having eaten all that day and being awake for nearly 48 hours. ... It was at Koto-ri where I learned he had been hit in two places in the leg by fragments of a mortar shell which had severed the leg of the CO of Fox Company. He had dressed his own wounds himself."
OFFICIAL HISTORY REPORTS
From the official Marine history by Montross, p.290-91:
"The saddle between the two Marine companies was occupied by reinforcements consisting of an officer and 11 men from the regimental At Company and an officer and 32 men from the 4th Signal Battalion, USA. Shortly after dark the enemy launched a vigorous counterattack. Tanks and 81mm mortars firing in support of Marines who made good use of 2.36" while phosphorus rockets at close range.
"Although the Chinese endured frightful casualties, they returned again and again to attack until midnight. It was evident that they considered this a fight to a finish for East Hill, and at 0205 they renewed the assault against all three companies of the 2d Battalion as well as Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion. The struggle during the next three hours was considered the most spectacular if not the most fiercely contested battle of the entire Reservoir campaign, even by veterans of the Yudam-ni action ... ."
AWARD OF THE BRONZE STAR FOR VALOR
After uncovering the Cpl. Wells statement, we also learned from John A. "Jack" Colborn that he was awarded a Bronze Star with "V" for his action at Hagaru. He said that the commander of F/5, Captain Peters, was badly wounded by a Chinese mortar round seconds after discussing the emplacement of his platoon; and that Peters' radio operator was killed instantly by the same round. Although Lt. Colborn was leading a signal platoon at Chosin, he was thankful for having gone through Infantry OCS.
Extract from X Corps General Order 55, 23 March 51:
"... Lieutenant Colborn was officer in charge of an advance communications center team for the advance command post, Hq X Corps, Hagaru-ri, Korea, that distinguished itself throughout the evacuation of Hagaru-ri, Korea. During this entire period Lieutenant Colborn demonstrated courage, outstanding leadership and heroism in defense of strategic positions, and safeguarding the health and welfare of all personnel under his command;. He continually distinguished himself far above and beyond the call of duty by his inspiring leadership, his attentiveness to his personnel, his resourcefulness at a time when lives were at stake and his unswerving devotion to duty ... ."
The above citation and award hardly describes the accomplishments of Lt. Colborn during the Chosin campaign. It does demonstrate, however, that the awards system was already showing signs that the excitement of Chosin was wearing off.
Colonel John "Jack" Colborn, USA (Ret), died on 14 October 1997.
END CJ 09.25.00
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IN THIS ISSUE we look at two books on the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). The first is a review I had written twelve years ago before Roy Appleman and Clay Blair entered the scene with books that included the Chosin campaign. When I founded the Historical Committee for the Chosin Few and subsequently wrote my first draft of The Chosin Chronology presented at the 1992 reunion, I made a serious effort to find the right person to assume the chair at the 1994 reunion. I found that person in Pat Roe because of his background in military intelligence at Chosin. He complements my background in military operations through his scholarly interest in uncovering the history of the enemy for presentation today. Because of my involvement in details of his research through these years, I preferred that the reviewer of The Dragon Strikes as a book be someone who was not directly involved, selecting one who served on the periphery of the Chosin campaign.-GAR
ENTER THE DRAGON: China's Undeclared War Against the U.S. in Korea, 1950-51, Russell Spurr, Newmarket Press, NY, 1988
BOOK REVIEW by George Rasula
This book is about the enemy with limited information on friendly forces. Since it was published in 1988 the author's sources were limited to the early books on Chosin, Appleman and Blair being published shortly thereafter.
Units east of Chosin are identified as "Task Force Faith, those three battalions from the U.S. 7th Division were meeting unexpected resistance on the eastern end of the Changjin Reservoir." Then, after mentioning Almond's statement about "Chinese laundrymen," he writes, "That night the Chinese overwhelmed Task Force Faith. Its commanding officer, Colonel Don Faith, was killed by a grenade. Less than half his troops escaped." After some brief words on the 5th and 7th Marines, we find that "the 7th Division units, briefly ensconced beside the Yalu were brushed smartly back toward the sea." As one can see, this is hardly a source of what happened to friendly units, however, it is most interesting in the way the author handles the enemy. Sources of his information are not specifically cited, and as one reads the text Spurr begins to take on a novelistic approach and not that of an historian.
When veterans of the Chosin campaign wonder why the friendly forces were not completely destroyed by the hordes of Chinese, they can find some of the reasons in a document circulated among the CCF Ninth Army Group Staff.
The summary listed the weather, insuperable supply problems, enemy air attacks, and a serious lack of firepower as the four main factors hampering the Chinese campaign. The soldier's clothing, especially the canvas boots issued originally for the Taiwan invasion, was totally inadequate for the weather encountered at the Changjin Reservoir. More men died of the cold, according to the summary, than from enemy bombs and bullets. A large proportion of the survivors suffered such severe frostbite that wholesale amputation was required of gangrenous hands and feet. The cold also killed off the coolies, sharply reducing supplies, until already-freezing soldiers starved and ran out of ammunition. Combat was constantly broken off at the last stages of the battle when attacking Chinese battalions ran out of rounds for their rifles and machine guns.
Enemy air attacks further reduced supplies and made it difficult to concentrate for an all-out assault. The high, wide valleys favored the marines with their open fields of fire. Artillery could have proved crucial at several points in the campaign, notable at Hagaru, if the horse-drawn limbers had been able to negotiate the mountainous terrain. A terse self-criticism by General Song Shilun, appended to the report, admitted that over-dispersal of his forces had robbed them of the opportunity to strike in force at key points along the marine retreat route. An attack was ordered on the marine base camp at Koto-ri, but for reasons given the Chinese troops were unable to mount it."
As American and British survivors of Chosin may remember, the Chinese began their campaign with masterful use of the principle of war of SURPRISE, but they did not make proper use of MASS, using the right amount of force at the right place at the right time. An in-depth analysis will reveal that the Funchilin Pass was the most important terrain feature in the area of the Chosin campaign. Logistics has played an important role in campaigns throughout the history of warfare. The fact that the Chinese wasted their limited ammunition on attacks that did not produce decisive results, did not have enough food for stomachs and did not have the ability to get artillery through the mountains, were all problems of logistics. The individual Chinese soldier was ready and, with the prod of the political officer, willing to go forward, but here as in other campaigns, the logistical tail, no matter how thin it was, was again wagging the dog.
One shocking description of the Chinese problem is found in the section on Northeast Korea, Late December 1950.
"The snowmen puzzled Wong Lichan. The Chinese colonel first spotted them on the road from Kanggye to Chinhung-ni: humped-up mounds, human-shaped, first alone or in pairs, then in growing groups. ... The truck stopped among a cluster of the figures, after a Korean came out of the trees signaling an air alert, and Wong realized with sickening shock that he was ringed by frozen, snow-coated Chinese corpses.
" 'There's hundreds like this, maybe thousands,' his Korean driver said laconically. 'Some of them coolies, most of them soldiers.' ... Colonel Wong hunched deeper inside his padded clothing, feeling distinctly sick and trying to silence his ever-chattering teeth.
" 'What do you expect with this weather?' the driver grumbled. 'There'll be a dreadful stink around here next spring.'"
2000: THE CHINESE CALENDAR'S YEAR OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON
THE DRAGON STRIKES: China and the Korean War: June-December 1950, Patrick C. Roe, Presidio Press, CA, 2000
BOOK REVIEW by George Pakkala, 8211AU/X Corps*
Today the nominees of the two major political parties are trading salvos over the readiness of our military. In the post WW II era, prior to the Korean war, similar debates took place. Defense budgets had been slashed and it took the developments in Europe to reverse the thinking of the Administration and the Congress.
Patrick Roe devotes the first chapter of his book to a discussion of the U.S. scene prior to 6/25/50, followed by a chapter of how the world looked to the Chinese. He provides the reader with a foundation for understanding decision making of the two sides that got them involved in the Korean war. In the Preface the author notes that, "Military histories are of limited value as learning tools if they do not include the intelligence available to the commanders when decisions are made". In the ensuing chapters Mr. Roe follows this dictum as he analyzes the actions taken during latter half of 1950.
In the last 4-5 years a number of books have appeared written by Korean vets who had served with Intelligence during the war. (Other than Willoughby) They have dealt primarily with "covert" operations. One of them by Ed Evanhoe does have a chapter on the pre-Korean War intelligence.
Mr. Evanhoe writes about MacArthur's paranoid fear of the CIA (OSS), the effect of interagency rivalry; however, he also points out that between 1945-1950, military "positive intelligence operations" - clandestine operations inside the borders of a country hostile to the U.S. - were the responsibility of the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) under the Army G-2. As the name implies, CIC's primary mission was counter-intelligence and was neither set up to run positive intelligence operations nor had much interest in doing so.
Mr. Evanhoe also argues that most senior commanders felt that the Army had no business gathering information other than tactical intelligence needed for the Army's primary mission; that the senior commanders were products of military schools where fair play, rigid standards of conduct, and high moral values were emphasized. Which meant these men were uncomfortable with the more distasteful means of collecting intelligence.
Both the author as well as Mr. Evanhoe emphasize the role "culture" played in shaping decisions on both sides. Interestingly, he quotes George F. Kennan in his discussion of American global strategy. He could well have quoted Kennan also when describing the attitude of many in the State Department towards intelligence gathering. In his book "Around the Cragged Hill," Kennan elaborates on an article that appeared in "Foreign Affairs" (Winter 1985-86). "Were I writing such an article today, I would go even further and add that the involvement of our government in the acquisition of secret intelligence by espionage or other unavowed processes, while perhaps occasionally unavoidable, has had ascribed to it a degree of importance far greater than it deserves ...".
Whatever the merits of those arguments, the fact remains that both sides struggled with imperfect intelligence, political pressures and their own fears.
The author is a smooth writer with an eye for detail. He has structured the book episodically with notes following each section which makes reference to source material immediate. This well researched book, with access to Chinese archives, provides many fresh insights into not only how the two sides got involved in the war but also how the Chinese campaign of deception and misdirection allowed them to enter Korea "en masse" unnoticed.
*The 8221st Army Unit was a Field Artillery Topographic & Meteorological Detachment of X Corps during the campaign in Northeast Korea. Because of the cold weather and mountainous terrain, artillerymen throughout the corps were extremely conscious of the accuracy of the old Japanese maps being used as well as the impact of cold temperatures on each round fired.
Our last issue (CJ 09.25.00) contained an error in the designation of the engineer unit on East Hill. The correct unit is Company D, 10th Engineer Bn, 3d Infantry Division.
END CJ 10.15.00
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For past issues of the Changjin Journal go click here.
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