Korean War (11)

MacArthur watching the action

MacArthur watching the action

23 November was Thanksgiving Day in 1950 and the United Nation troops had special turkey dinners flown in, even for the New Zealand and Turkish troops who had never eaten turkey before. Some of the meals, including fruitcake and pumpkin pie, were delivered frozen. The cooks for the 7th Division worked to heat the dinners by the glare of truck headlights; but morale was high and the men up and down the peninsula talked of being home by Christmas. The festivities would be over quickly for the men as they began the Allied offensive once again the next day.

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The CCF also had their plans and hit the 8th Army on 25 November with massive “human wave” assaults; a frightening experience for any soldier. Units were overrun by the enemy and the front lines turned into chaos. The Friday after Thanksgiving, when MacArthur met up with Generals Walker, Melburn, Coulter and Church at an airstrip just south of Chongchon River, Church told the general that if the resistance remained status quo, his division would make it to the border. MacArthur answered, “Well, if they go fast enough, maybe some of them could be home for Christmas. Don’t make me a liar.” The UP news service picked up the statement, but misquoted it as, “…if they get to the Yula – they WILL go home for Christmas.” Hence – the misunderstanding by the troops and the home front.

USS Leyte

USS Leyte

To distract the enemy from MacArthur’s visit, the Far East Air Force beefed up its flight schedules and the aircraft carrier, Leyte bombed the Sinuiju bridges. Inadvertently, the Chinese People’s Volunteer HQ was hit and Mao’s eldest son was killed. (The chairman was not informed until a month later.)

 1950 Korea map

1950 Korea map


On Monday, 27 November, X Corps and General Almond were convinced that the CCF presence above the dam’s reservoir were equal to that of their own. Their orders were to draw the enemy away from Walker’s right flank. The temperatures bottomed out at 25 below zero, making the weather as much of an enemy as the Chinese. General O.P. Smith kept his men moving slowly north up the western slopes of the reservoir while Arnold became increasingly aggravated at their pace.

Army 31st RCT of Chosin Reservoir

Army 31st RCT of Chosin Reservoir

On the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, 3,200 soldiers of Task Force MacLean were cut off from making a retreat. The fighting continued for 4 days and Colonel Allan “Mac” MacLean, the commander, was wounded, captured and later died; as did his successor, Lt. Col. Don Faith. The surviving 350 men made their way across the frozen waters to the stronghold at Hagaru.

On the second day of the offensive, the Chinese seemingly exploded from everywhere in broad daylight; contrary to their usual tactics. The fighting lasted into the evening hours with the equivalent of 18 American divisions on the flanks and in the rear. Three divisions of ROK II Corps collapsed. The Turkish Brigade rushed in to assist and were ambushed; 770 of which would be buried on Korean soil.

28 November, MacArthur sent a message to Washington that was said to compare with that sent after Pearl Harbor. General Omar Bradley said it sounded “rather hysterical” and he doubted that it was much of a catastrophe as it sounded. Later that evening, MacArthur issued Communique No. 14, “Consequently we face an entirely new war…” He then called Almond and Walker to Tokyo for an emergency meeting. Admiral Joy and Generals Stratemeyer, Hickey, Willoughby, Whitney and Wright were also present. Quartermaster packers, C-119s, C-46s and C-47s were sent to Yonpo to prepare drops of supplies to the cut-off troops. Walker and Almond were back at their command posts (CPs) 29 November and ordered a discontinuing of offensive action and to withdraw. All over North Korea the reports were the same – the Chinese were everywhere and only visible when their guns flashed; the mountains looked like Christmas trees.

Chow time in a Korean winter.

Chow time in a Korean winter.

Casualties were heavy as they retreated on routes laden with ice and snow. Frostbite victims were added to the wounded lists. Lt. Col. Roy Davis had his head grazed by a sniper, but lived to win a Medal of Honor and later became Commandant of the Marine Corps. Bob Hammond remembered, “… the Chinese were coming out of everywhere, all lined up…” The Americans tried to hide in caves, but were flushed out by the enemy. Able Battery was overrun and the 2nd Division was trapped between Kunu-ri and Sunchon. MGeneral Keiser was sending out “HOW ABLE” (Haul Ass) messages over the radio, but there were no discernible front lines.

Yet, according to two former members of the Recon Company (the Chosin Few), the unit was receiving reports from pilots all along and knew of the “trap.” In one night alone, a report that 500 sets of headlights were headed for the Chosin Reservoir – “They sure as hell weren’t going to a ski resort,” one said. They also commented that Old “Blitzen Litzen,” (Colonel Homer Litzenburg of the 7th Marines) was not up to date on how to utilize a Reconnaissance Company.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes –

ambulance arrival at a MASH unit

ambulance arrival at a MASH unit

Lawrence Wigbels – Washington DC; U.S. Army Colonel, WWII ETO, 101st, 902nd Engineer HQ CO, 101st & 82nd Airborne Div.

John Levender, Sr. – Lindenhurst, NY; USMS Sgt., WWII

Paul Lozowsky – Massapequa, NY; U.S. Navy, WWII

Richard Lee Reed – Covington, KY; U.S. Army Air Corps, WWII

George Cavanaugh – Laurel, MD; U.S. Army Air Force, WWII

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Personal note – This coming Tuesday, 10 September, Judy will be posting my article on the Women of WWII. I will re-blog it here and sincerely hope you all enjoy reading.

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Resources: “Hey Mac, Where Ya Been?” by Henry Berry; “Rakkasans” by E.M. Flanagan; “Korean War” by Stephen Badsey; Kiki’s place.com; Wikipedia; “MacArthur’s War” by Stanley Weintraub; Army Archives; National Archives

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 8, 2013, in Korean War and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. That human wave assault tactic was used very effectively by the Soviets against the Germans throughout the Soviet counteroffensives from 1942 to 1944. Stalin emptied all his prisons, lunatic asylums, and of course dumped political prisoners among them too.

    The reason Stalin’s worked better is because the Germans didn’t have the air power or heavy fire power on the infantry level that the US did. Hard to believe I know, but from 1942 on, German air power was tied up defending against the US 8th Air Force and RAF night raids and just didn’t have the number of planes needed to cover the very wide Russian Front.

    If you ever look at the German weapons inventory for infantry, you’ll also find that while they had very good light machine guns, they had no ’50 Cal’ equivalent and those bolt action rifles just didn’t cut it in that kind of warfare. They did have extremely good and accurate artillery, but just not enough. The Russian’s weren’t all that accurate, but they were bigger and Soviet generals would line them up wheel hub to wheel hub and carpet a whole sector, just before the human waves would go in.

    Iran employed the same human wave tactic in the 1980’s Iran-Iraq War, but they did it out of desperation due to lack of ammo and weapons. Saddam countered that, with chemical weapons and lots of it.

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  2. Another excellent and informative post. I really appreciate the effort you put into each of them.

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    • Thanks, Trapper. Sometimes it does get difficult trying to get the info. Even tho books have been written on the subject, it still doesn’t seem like anyone wants to give up the whole story.

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  3. Lie many others, I’m really getting a lot from your posts! I did visit the intimidating, no mans (or woman’s!) land, demilitarized zone between the North and South a few years back but I’m embarassed to say my main source of info on this brutal war came from the MASH series. Thank you.

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  4. So tragic the heavy loss of life…some “Christmas” that turned out to be…terrible. I will dare to say that those of us who never had a military enlistment, in peacetime or in wartime, could really never fully realize what onerous and tortuous suffering, sacrifice, or alienation our soldiers had to deal with, day after day. Gosh, it almost sounds cliche, but Americans past, present, and future owe an incredible, priceless lot of gratitude and admiration (pride in all who served for us)….it wrenches my very heart as I think of the families associated with the enlisted men of this story…how the end seemed to be very near…how a simple quote of the General could be misquoted… the eagerly awaiting family members pinning their hopes on a festive holiday reunion…no doubt, only resulted in heartbreak and grief for many…
    God Bless them all.

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    • So well put and heartfelt, CJ. Your emotions have always run deep and they are well expressed here. I certainly hope a lot of the readers take the time to see this comment.

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  5. So many brutal battles in the “Forgotten War” often fought in atrocious conditions. Thanks for writing about it. History should never be forgetten

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  6. I see I am not the only person to be struck by the chaos of it all. I don’t think modern technology will reduce this aspect of war – especially, as in Syria, with endlessly proliferating combatants.

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  7. Thank you so much for the “like” on my newest post on my new blog, “Echoes.” I’m new to this, and greatly appreciate the encouragement! I look forward to following your interesting accounts as well…and thank you so much for your service! Cheers!

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    • I’m glad that you are enjoying the site; but I must clarify one thing. The Gravitar image is my father who served in WWII with the 11th Airborne Div. and to whom this blog is dedicated. I am a member of the 11th A/B Association.

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  8. I don’t think Truman had an inferiority complex about MacArthur . Truman was a feisty guy . He eventually fired the general , after all . But he did recognize Mac Arthur’s larger than life reputation , which , of course , Truman , the WWI captain (?) didn’t have .
    Another great post . Thanks .
    Taking it back : I suppose Truman did have a kind of inferiority complex — realistic , though .

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  9. That is so scary and so sad. And we continue to go to war, only now our reasons don’t always seem as clear-cut as, say, WWII. This has been a great Korean war series. Thank you so much for your “reports”. Woof!

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  10. Holidays somehow add a poignancy to already solemn war stories. I imagine the raised and dashed hopes that year, as so many did not make it home for Christmas.

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  11. Indeed this war has had very little recognition in Europe. Only in recent years European veterans have been visible and getting a mention on special days.

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  12. thanks, gp, enjoyed!

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  13. Thank you for these well-researched pieces on the Korean War. I learn something new every time I read one. The nugget of history on Chairman Mao’s son being killed in a bomb raid typifies your excellent work. Please keep them coming!

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  14. Amazing series on Korea. Do you think Truman had it in for Mc Arthur ? Truman it seems was trying to fight a war from Washington and Mac Arthur knew better. Didn’t he ?

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      • You are brave to tackle the confusion 🙂 In fact, I am beginning to wonder if part of the reason that it became the Forgotten War was because it was too hard for people to remember what they did or why they did it. Just joking 😉 !

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        • You’re not too far off. It was a country that people knew very little about, it was far away, it was not called a war (at the time) and people tried to forget about it after the Depression and WWII. To top things off – it ends in a stalemate. What country wants to teach their children about that?

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          • Indeed! And, according to one research paper I read on the internet, the Korean War is very under-represented in children’s literature, for many of those reasons.

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            • I can not see one section of this war that could be easy explained in children’s literature or why it would want to be.

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              • I am not entirely sure either but I think it was something to do with providing Korean/American children with some understanding of the conflict. Thinking of ‘forgotten’ aspects of war, I was amazed to discover, only the other day, that the Japanese navy provided escort to the New Zealand and Australian troops going to the WW1. They played a vital role in protecting our people yet the scars of WW 2 were so great, that no one spoke of this ‘good’ role when I was young. At least not to my knowledge.

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