The Navy Department Library
Chapter 6: Holding the Line
History of US Naval Operations: Korea
Part 1. The Perimeter Takes Form
Part 2. 26 July-13 August: Coastal Bomdardment, The Problem of Carrier Air and the Southern Spoiling Offensive
Part 3. 6-20 August: East Coast Interdiction, Pohang, and First Naktong
Part 4. 21-31 August: Coast Operations and Carrier Strikes
Part 5. 1-5 September: The Enemy's Big Blast
Part 1. The Perimeter Takes Form
August opened in an atmosphere of crisis. All early estimates of the Korean problem had been invalidated, anticipations of speedy victory were dead, and the U.N. Command faced the excruciating question of whether it would be able to hold on the Korean peninsula, or whether its forces would be thrown into the sea. Space had been previously traded off for time, but both commodities were now in short supply. One natural defensive line remained, the line of the Naktong River. When this was reached it would be time to turn and fight.
There were now available to General Walker five reconstituted ROK divisions, the better part of four U.S. Army divisions, and the Marine Brigade. Although contemporary estimates gave the North Koreans a heavy numerical superiority, it appears in fact that U.N. combat strength already slightly exceeded that of the enemy. But it was the estimates that formed the picture, and in any event there was a critical shortage in reserves: where the North Korean People’s Army, holding the initiative and with victory in sight, could afford to accept heavy losses in exchange for important gains, for EUSAK any loss was a matter of grave concern.
Only at sea and in the air did the U.N. have important advantages. If proper employment of Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircraft, and of the fire support ships could offset the enemy’s presumed superiority of numbers, it was possible that with skill and bravery the line could be held. To accomplish more was for the moment out of the question. Even the holding mission seemed problematical enough. Yet while to those in the line the problem of chasing the enemy home again was for the moment of no concern, on higher levels it was being given active consideration.
To General MacArthur it seemed that a landing at Inchon followed by seizure of the Seoul area, the hub of the Korean communications network, promised the best hope of a speedy decision. To carry out this landing, and to amputate the invaders from their sources of supply, amphibious shipping and a trained amphibious assault force were required. Repeated requests by CincFE for the early dispatch of the 1st Marine Division were finally answered in late July; the division would sail from the west coast in mid-August. But while this marked a considerable step toward the desired goal, other difficulties remained.
The objective on which General MacArthur had set his heart, however desirable strategically, presented serious tactical difficulties. The tidal range of the Yellow Sea and the hydrography of Inchon Harbor were limiting factors; to bring in and beach LSTs with supplies for the assault force required a tidal range of 29 feet, and spring tides of such a magnitude are limited to one three-day period a month. Thus strategy depended upon astronomy, and the future of the war upon the phases of the moon. One period of high tides would come in mid-September, and this date set the double problem for the United Nations Command. The Korean foothold had to be held for the intervening six weeks. The Marine Division had to arrive in time.
By early August the perimeter in which Eighth Army was to make its stand had assumed pretty much its final form. Through the latter part of July the North Korean invaders had continued their four-pronged advance, with one column in the east coast strip, two moving southeast along the main routes from Seoul, and a flanking force on the right skirting the central hill mass. Tardy discovery of this last movement, which was opposed only by small ROK detachments, had brought the misdirected call for carrier strikes in the region east of Kunsan, and the movement of a battalion of the 29th Regiment westward from Pusan to Hadong on the south coast.
The week from 29 July to 5 August saw the American and ROK forces retiring on all fronts. In the northwest the Communist armies advanced some 35 miles, streaming over the mountain wall and down into the Naktong Valley, to reach the river opposite Waegwan. In the northern hill sector the enemy pushed forward 15 to 20 miles, from Yongju to Andong on the upper Naktong. In the south, at Hadong, affairs went badly; the American battalion and associated ROK troops were overrun and, while about 100 survivors were evacuated by ROK small craft from the Chinhae Naval Base and others escaped overland, casualties exceeded 50 percent.
At the start of the week United Nations positions had run northward from Hadong to the divide between the Kum and Naktong basins, northeasterly to Yongju, and southeast to the coastal town of Yongdok. As the week ended U.N. forces held only about a seventh of the territory of the Republic of Korea, and had been compressed into an area measuring some 100 miles from north to south, and slightly more than half of that from east to west. From Chindong-ni on the south coast the line ran north along the Naktong River, and east through Andong to Yongdok, where ROK forces supported by naval gunfire still held fast.
Although the withdrawals of the previous week had diminished the area to be defended, they had complicated the problems of the defenders; paradoxically, the shrinkage of the perimeter had extended the fighting front. During the retreat phase the tactical problem had been to slow the North Korean advance along the principal communication routes. But now, with the enemy well inside the Naktong basin, his spearheads were no longer constricted by the hill masses and his freedom of maneuver was increased. In the north the advance to Andong, which brought him down into the lowlands and to an east-west highway leading to Yongdok, was followed by the eastward movement of the 12th Division to strengthen the attack on Pohang. In the northwest the descent from the saddle toward Waegwan opened lateral communications east of the central hill mass, and permitted a southward displacement of Communist strength which brought pressure along the whole Naktong River line. It also posed a serious threat to Taegu, where the South Korean government had established itself, where there was an important airstrip, and where the Fifth Air Force had set up its Joint Operations Center. With the enemy inside the landing circle the Air Force was obliged to remove its planes to Japan and the JOC to Pusan, with all the complications in communication and control that such movements entail. How agreeable a prospect this situation afforded when viewed from the north is evidenced by a North Korean I Corps operation order of 3 August, which called for the capture of Taegu and Pusan by the 6th.
In this the enemy was to be disappointed. But the more extensive road system now available permitted him to redeploy his strength and, as August wore on, to exert heavy pressure at four points around the perimeter. Two of the crucial areas were inland, at Waegwan on the main line of communications, and on the Naktong front west of Yongsan. Two were on the flanks, at Pohang on the eastern shore, and in the south between Masan and Chinju. It was in this southern area, where the enemy flanking movement seemed to pose the most immediate threat to Pusan, that General Walker planned his first counteroffensive. It was for this spoiling attack that the Marine Brigade had been ordered forward, and had been combined with two RCTs of the 25th Division into Task Force Kean.
Part 2. 26 July–13 August: Coastal Bombardment, the Problem of Carrier Air, and the Southern Spoiling Oflensive
While this southern counterattack was in preparation, U.N. naval and air forces pressed their efforts against the enemy’s lengthening lines of communication. Carried on by coastal patrol and blockade, by bombardment from the sea, and by air attack, this work would continue in increasing strength. Air Force as well as naval reinforcements were coming in, and FEAF’s daily sorties were rapidly increasing in number. In the last days of July General Stratemeyer persuaded CincFE to release some of his bombers from work below the parallel, and the B-29s were preparing to strike north against the enemy’s urban complexes and against his transportation net.
As July ended Task Force 77 retired to Okinawa for logistics, and naval responsibility for air support of the perimeter devolved upon the escort carriers. Of these Sicily was first in action. On 2 August she picked up her screening ships south of Kyushu, and on the next day the aircraft of VMF 214 arrived on board from Itami. That afternoon a first strike was flown off against North Korean troop concentrations near Chinju in the south and on the central Naktong front. On the 4th further strikes were flown against the enemy in the Chinju area, and with evening the Sicily group steamed into the Yellow Sea and headed northward.
There on the 5th an international three-dimensional evolution took place. Screened by Charity and Cossack, the cruisers Belfast and Kenya steamed up the hazardous approaches to Inchon, where with spot provided by a Neptune from VP 6 they bombarded oil storage, factories, warehouses, and gun positions. Fighter cover for the spotting plane was given by some of Sicily’s Corsairs, while others attacked transport and industrial facilities in the Inchon-Seoul region. The Marine Brigade was not yet in action and close support activity had not begun, but close reconnaissance was now put into practice. His suspicion aroused by the antiaircraft defenses of an Inchon factory, one pilot buzzed past at 50 feet, peered in the windows to observe a concentration of vehicles, and returned to deal with the situation by putting a napalm bomb into the building. On the 6th the Sicily group moved southward to strike targets at Kunsan and Mokpo and troops on the south coast, and to rendezvous with Badoeng Strait and her attendant destroyers.
On the east coast the last echelon of Pohang shipping was completing its unloading when Admiral Higgins arrived with Toledo on 26 July. There the arrival of the heavy cruiser proved a useful addition to the destroyers on duty offshore, and to the field artillery battalion and the F-51 fighter-bomber squadron which had already reinforced this isolated theater. For the aviators, as for the contending ground forces, these east coast operations constituted a private war; lacking communications with the JOC at Taegu the squadron operated from the Pohang airstrip on its own. Despite all difficulties coordination with the east coast naval forces was reasonably good, but there were still surprises; in August Helena’s helicopter and a destroyer would fish two downed F-51 pilots out of the Sea of Japan, neither of whom was aware that the ships off Yongdok were friendly.
On 27 July 8-inch guns were used for the first time against the invading army, as Toledo fired on troop concentrations, supplies, and revetments by day, and by night illuminated the battleline with star shell. By careful conservation of ammunition this support was continued for 11 days, and so effective was the shooting of the cruiser and the destroyers, assisted by a 24th Division fire control party and by air spot, that only here did the battleline remain stable. Cruising generally some 7,000 yards offshore, exchanging liaison personnel with the forces ashore by whaleboat, covering the seaborne arrival of supplies for frontline troops, and making arrangements for possible evacuation, the ships of Higgins’ element found their days full. On 4 August good work was done at a village near Yongdok in cooperation with rocket-firing Air Force fighters: troops were dispersed, large fires were started, and when clearing smoke revealed the fire-fighters at work the process was repeated. On the 5th, after shooting with air spot at enemy front line positions, gratifying compliments were received from both ground and airborne spotting personnel.
By this time, indeed, the situation seemed sufficiently stabilized so that Admiral Higgins, who felt 8-inch gunfire somewhat wasted in harassing troops, could request and receive permission to look for something better. The 7th of August was therefore spent 70 miles to the northward, in the neighborhood of Samchok, where the task element ranged along a 25-mile stretch of coast, firing on targets selected from aerial photographs. A bridge across a small river was destroyed, road junctions were plowed up, embankments were knocked down across the highway, and two tunnels sealed by bombardment and landslide.
Admiral Hartman’s Helena group had meanwhile been cruising Formosa Strait, where it was joined by Juneau on 30 July. Two cruisers and a destroyer division are a small force with which to prevent a large-scale invasion, especially one embarked in a fleet of almost unsinkable junks. But the issue did not arise, and in any case the Seventh Fleet Striking Force remained on call. On 1 August the task group was dissolved, Admiral Hartman headed his ships back northward, and after three days at Sasebo for logistics sailed once again for the northeastern coast of Korea, where air sightings had reported a thousand railroad cars in the region between 40° and 42° N. This time he got there.
The bombardment of the town of Tanchon in 40°28', carried out by Helena and Destroyer Division 111 on 7 August, marked the furthest north for U.N. surface forces since Juneau’s early raid. Located a couple of miles up an estuary at the point where two rivers join, Tanchon offered tempting rail and highway bridge targets, a marshalling yard, and some minor industrial facilities. With a VP 6 spotting plane overhead, the force shot up boxcars in the yard and the town power plants, and inflicted a satisfactory 75 percent damage on the railroad bridge. The only excitement of the day was provided by the late arrival of a four-plane combat air patrol from Fifth Air Force, which showed no IFF and was only identified visually after batteries had been released. Having applied this pressure to the northeastern artery, the Helena group came southward during the night, and on the next day dropped a highway and a rail bridge near Sokcho, just above the 38th parallel. This work completed, Admiral Hartman relieved Admiral Higgins of his fire support responsibilities off Yongdok, and the Toledo group headed for Sasebo to replenish.
On the west coast of Korea Admiral Andrewes’ element, now divided into three rotating sections of a cruiser and two or more destroyers each, was carrying out its duties of bombardment and blockade. Here the land war had swept past and no fire support was required, but the numerous islands and the shoal waters which fringe the coast made the interdiction of communications a sufficient task. On the 5th, on instructions from CoinNavFE, the British commander established three barrier stations off the western headlands, between 38° 08' and 36° 45', which were kept manned as availability of ships permitted. Inshore work steadily improved as cooperation with the reviving ROK Navy was developed, and the blockade became increasingly effective.
In the south, however, new problems were arising. There on 28 July CincFE had ordered a round-up of small craft to deny them to the invader, and on 1 August, in consequence of the enemy advance and the defeat at Hadong, ComNavFE had instructed Admiral Higgins’ task element and Commander Luosey’s ROKN units to harass and disrupt land and water movement in the neighborhood of Namhae Island. On the 8th the importance of this task was emphasized by high level estimates which indicated that the enemy had reached the end of his supply line, that he was especially short of gasoline for tanks and trucks, and that efforts at seaborne supply were to be anticipated.
The Korean Navy, however, was already fully occupied in the west. On 3 August the ROK YMS 502 sank seven sailboats which were loading off Kunsan; four days later and 30 miles to the northward she sank two motor-boats, while other Korean units destroyed four small junks in the Haeju Man approaches above Inchon. On the 9th an important step was taken in support of west coast operations as an LST was sailed for Ochong Do, an island 40 miles off Kunsan, to establish an advanced ROKN supply base which would eliminate the 300-mile round trip to Pusan.
Since the Koreans were busy elsewhere, U.S. and Commonwealth units were made available in the south. On 2 and 3 August the destroyer Higbee patrolled the Namhae area but encountered no enemy movement. On the night of 4-5 August underwater demolition personnel from the fast transport Diachenko attempted to blow bridges north of the railroad town of Yosu, a natural jumping-off place for enemy shore-to-shore movement. But the landing force was repelled by a North Korean patrol, which arrived inopportunely by handcar, and Diachenko had to content herself with a 40-minute bombardment of the railroad yards. Four days later an imaginative B-29 report of heavy junk concentrations near Yosu brought the Canadian destroyers Cayuga and Athabaskan on a flank speed sweep of the south coast, but with negative results. On the 12th the destroyer Collett, from Admiral Higgins’ task element, steamed into Yosu Gulf to bombard the town.
For the first few days of August, while these coastal activities were in progress, the Seventh Fleet Striking Force lay at anchor in Buckner Bay. During this interval Admiral Struble visited Formosa, in company with General MacArthur, to perfect planning and liaison against the chance of a Communist invasion; the carrier Philippine Sea arrived from the United States, and Rear Admiral Edward C. Ewen, Commander Carrier Division 1, flew in from Pearl and reported aboard. In Tokyo, in the meantime, further efforts were being made to accomplish a workable coordination of the Operations of the Air Force and of naval air.
The first step toward meshing naval and Air Force activities had been taken when FEAF requested strikes in northeastern Korea. A second shortly followed, with General Stratemeyer’s request for "operational control" of all aircraft in the theater and with CincFE’s letter delegating "coordination control" to the commanding general of FEAF; by early August further measures were in train. On the 3rd, while General MacArthur and Admiral Struble were in Formosa, a conference was held in Tokyo in which FEAF deployed four generals and a colonel to face one captain, two commanders, and two lieutenant commanders. The result was a memorandum providing that first priority for carrier operations would be in close support, second priority would go to interdiction south of the 38th parallel, and third priority to strikes on Bomber Command targets beyond that line. Coordination for attacks south of 38° was to lie with Fifth Air Force; attacks on Bomber Command targets required clearance from FEAF. Six plans, designated by letter, were devised for carrier employment, and the peninsula divided into six corresponding operating areas. Plans A through C called for the use of half the available aircraft in support of troops and half in interdiction in the designated area; plans E and F involved area attacks alone; plan D called for everything on close support.
This emphasis on the support of troops inevitably meant that the operations of carrier aircraft would fall in large degree under the control of FAFIK, Fifth Air Force in Korea, and of its Joint Operations Center. On the face of it there was nothing illogical about the arrangement, which would presumably have been successful had it only worked, and similar conditions were shortly laid upon the escort carriers by ComNavFE. But just as the problem of interdiction had raised command problems on the upper level, in the question of operational versus coordination control, so the commitment to close support was to bring almost insoluble difficulties in the tactical handling of aircraft over the lines, as doctrinal differences and the inadequacy of control mechanisms combined to frustrate the best efforts of the Striking Force. Close support turned out to work best when least needed, and when the Seventh Fleet could most profitably be employed against northern bridges and other communications targets; in times of crisis around the perimeter it worked poorly or not at all. Faced with so wasteful an employment of his very considerable strength, and not having been consulted regarding the agreement, Admiral Struble declined to accept its definition of roles and missions, and the Seventh Fleet was soon attempting to break away from the perimeter. By mid-month the primacy of close support had become a dead letter; the movements of the Seventh Fleet were being designated by periodic dispatches from CincFE; and the concepts of plan and area, set forth in the memorandum of 3 August, were tending to separate, with the letter designation indicating only the area to be attacked.
For the moment, however, the effort was to be in support of the front. On 4 August Admiral Struble issued an operation order which called for strikes on targets previously selected and coordinated with FEAF, instructed the carrier task group to establish direct communications with the JOC at Taegu and attack enemy troops and targets in the forward areas, and established a fueling rendezvous with the oiler Cacapon for the 7th. Late in the afternoon of the 4th the strengthened Seventh Fleet sortied from Buckner Bay and headed north once more "to conduct air operations in support of ground forces."
On the morning of the 5th the force launched from a position south of Korea. Pilots from Philippine Sea, entering action for the first time, were assigned specific targets in southwestern Korea, with the emphasis on the rail and highway bridges at Iri, east of Kunsan, where cuts would hamper movement of supplies to the enemy’s southern flank. Valley Forge planes were sent off on close support missions, and while the weight of effort was concentrated on troops, supplies, and bridges in the dangerous northern sector, two Corsairs attacked enemy personnel west of Taegu and five ADs inflicted heavy casualties on troops behind the central front. But these Skyraiders reported poor control, and an eight-plane jet sweep never did succeed in reaching its assigned controller.
Dissatisfied with the operation of control procedures, Admiral Hoskins now sent four Valley Forge pilots to Taegu, for liaison purposes and to help in the direction of support aircraft. In the hope of reducing congestion the front was divided into four sectors, each of which was provided with both an Air Force and a Navy airborne controller. Although the original intention of having Navy controllers handle Navy flights gave way under pressure, and all hands took whatever came along, the sharing of the burden and the increased number of radio frequencies which resulted from the use of Navy planes led to considerable improvement. But periods of saturation continued, as incoming flights arrived in large batches instead of scheduled driblets, and while this congestion was particularly difficult in the case of Air Force planes, operating at maximum range from their Japanese bases, it affected the work of the carrier aircraft as well.
The 6th of August saw the task force still south of Korea, attacking objectives assigned by air controllers and bridge and highway targets from Yosu north to Hwanggan. Once again Philippine Sea concentrated her efforts on transportation facilities, while Valley Forge flew 24 Corsair and 22 Skyraider sorties under JOC control. The emphasis, as on the previous day, was on the Chinju assembly area and on enemy lines of communication behind it; but attacks were also made on troop and transportation targets behind the central Naktong front, in the Waegwan area, and in the important neighboring junction town of Kumchon. Claims for the day included destruction of a large supply dump, five trucks, two jeeps, and a tank, damage to a number of bridges, and many troop casualties; the distribution of effort represented a useful attempt at close interdiction, if not at close support of troops in combat.
With the day’s work completed and with pilots’ reports at hand, the situation was discussed by Admiral Struble and his carrier division commanders. To Admiral Ewen the results of the effort in close air support appeared quite simply "negligible." Admiral Hoskins felt the work handicapped by the cumbersome centralization of JOC control, which required excessive expenditure of time in checking in and securing target assignments, and by the tendency of Eighth Army to call for maximum effort and so bring saturation of control facilities. The upshot of the discussion was a pair of dispatches from Commander Seventh Fleet to ComNavFE, in which he reported an urgent request from JOC for "close support" of ground operations on the next day, expressed his doubts as to the value of such an effort, proposed that the escort carriers be given the whole job on the 8th, and stated his desire to strike the important west bridge at Seoul.
During the night the force moved into the Yellow Sea, and on the 7th, from a position west of Mokpo, swept airfields and flew strikes against bridges, warehouses, rail yards, and vehicles in the region south of the 38th parallel. The realities of civil war were emphasized this day when the fleet, steaming some 70 miles offshore, passed through water containing many floating bodies, tied together in bundles and with their hands lashed behind their backs. At mid-day, in response to the JOC request, an effort at support of the perimeter was made by eight Corsairs and nine ADs flown in from Philippine Sea. These planes found a controller who had two tanks as a target, but who was unable to turn them over to the Navy flight as some F-8os from Japan required immediate handling. No controlled attacks, whether in close support or in interdiction, were therefore made.
The apparent wastefulness of these efforts in support of the perimeter, together with the availability of the escort carriers, now led both ComNavFE and Commander Seventh Fleet to consider springing the force loose for strikes to the northward. An afternoon dispatch from Admiral Joy suggested that, subject to especially urgent need for close support, the carriers strike coastal targets in Area F, between Chongjin and Hungnam, where many trains and much rolling stock had been recently reported, and where Helena was currently shooting up Tanchon. This message crossed one from Admiral Struble in which he reported that after fuelling on the 8th he hoped to strike northward in Area E on the 9th, returning to Area B the next day; should however the Army require support at the perimeter, the force would fly missions in Area B on the 9th and in A on the 10th.
These hopes, however, were to be deferred by a dispatch from CoinNavFE, received on the afternoon of the 8th as the force was fuelling from Passumpsic and Cacapon to the south of Cheju Do. Concern for the safety of Eighth Army had led CincFE to order the entire carrier air effort placed on close support and close interdiction from 8 to 17 August. With this order the southward displacement of Seventh Fleet operations, developing ever since FEAF’s first request for attacks in the northeastern quadrant of Korea, reached its ultimate conclusion. For the next ten days, it appeared, the carriers were to be frozen in support of the perimeter. Close support, in this context, meant support of Army units under JOC control; the Marine Brigade, with its organic Tactical Air Control Squadron and with its own aircraft operating from the escort carriers, was well cared for. But the Army needed everything it could get; the North Koreans had forced the Naktong, and had a regiment across the river at the big bend west of Yongsan.
Admiral Struble’s plan to hit targets in Area E was now perforce abandoned. The 9th of August again found the carriers west of Mokpo, flying strikes against the Inchon-Seoul area. There, for the first time, antiaircraft fire of moderate intensity was encountered; there, at Air Force request, the three-span bridge over the Han at Seoul was attacked and hit with 1,000-pound bombs. West of Taegu a four-plane flight, sent in to the perimeter from Valley Forge, discovered adequate control and destroyed a tank. At sea the larger sphere of relations between east and west was illustrated when a screening destroyer recovered five friendly floating Koreans, one of whom claimed U.S. citizenship.
On the 10th, operations continued in the same pattern, with continued emphasis on interdiction of the Inchon-Seoul complex. This was Philippine Sea’s day in close support, and 4 six-plane flights were sent in at three-hour intervals. But all were forced to attack targets of opportunity, none was used in support of troops, and two failed entirely to contact a controller owing to overloaded radio channels.
Within the force the search went on for ways and means of improving the close support situation. On the 8th, on the basis of reports from liaison pilots returning from Taegu, Admiral Hoskins identified the principal problems as the "understandable" ignorance of carrier capabilities at Fifth Air Force headquarters, the inadequate communications set-up there, and the Seventh Fleet’s desire to maintain radio silence when possible. As remedies he proposed the immediate assignment of a captain aviator, experienced in carrier and close support operations, as liaison officer with Fifth Air Force in Korea, and the establishment of communications channels which would permit, and of policies which would ensure, a continuous two-way flow of information. On the next day Admiral Ewen listed as major deficiencies the absence of reliable communications, both between the carriers and JOC and at the scene of action, and the oversaturation of aircraft at the objective. Stating that less than 30 percent of the fleet’s potential was being used in close support, he suggested that Admiral Struble tell ComNavFE "the whole story," and urged the assignment to the air control function of aircraft with adequate endurance and reliable radio gear, and the employment of the Mount McKinley air support party to improve communications in the perimeter.
Commander Seventh Fleet told "the whole story," or at least a good deal of it, on the night of 9-10 August in a message to ComNavFE with information copies to CincFE, EUSAK, FEAF, and Fifth Air Force. This dispatch pointed out the "urgent and continuing need of air support for our ground forces," described the problems of control of aircraft at the objective, and reported "only partial employment" of aircraft sent in to Taegu. Recognizing that the air controllers were operating under great difficulties, and that the Navy ought to assist in any way it could with officer personnel and communications arrangements, Admiral Struble noted that the Seventh Fleet remained prepared to contribute control aircraft as it had previously done, and once again suggested that "possibly" Mount McKinley air control personnel could help out.
Although no specific mention was made of the problem of interforce communications, or of Hoskins’ proposed assignment of a qualified and senior liaison officer, there were possibilities here if only they were acted on. But none of the commanders to whom the dispatch was addressed seems to have followed it up, and ComNavFE’s response was not entirely helpful. Apparently as a result of semantic confusion, Admiral Struble’s report had been interpreted not as "partial employment" in close support, but as indicative of failure to expend ordnance, and the reply observed that this was "not understood" in view of the number of interdiction targets available in the south. Employment of the Mount McKinley Tacron was refused on the ground that it was engaged in training operations, and the other suggestions were passed back to the operating commanders. Commander Seventh Fleet was instructed to furnish airborne controllers as arranged with JOC; the Commanding General Fifth Air Force was invited to state any needs for personnel and communications assistance.
This exchange of generalities seems merely to have strengthened Admiral Struble’s desire to get away from the perimeter and strike northward. For although he at once requested information on interdiction targets from all hands, his revised intentions for the future called for strikes in Area B on the 12th, followed by a move north to attack the region between Sinanju and Pyongyang. This dispatch elicited a request from Fifth Air Force, received on the 12th as the carrier bombers struck marshalling yards near Seoul and as jet fighters swept airfields and communication lines, which indicated that all effort was still wanted in Area B. Although undertaking to comply if necessary, Commander Seventh Fleet observed in reply that he had been cleared by GHQ to strike northward the next morning, and would do so if his efforts could be spared. Apparently they could. The prospective ten-day freeze had actually lasted five, and on the 13th aircraft from both carriers ranged north of the parallel, attacking transportation targets at Pyongyang, Chinnampo, Haeju, and way stations with good results, especially in the destruction of locomotives. On conclusion of this day’s operations the force retired southward, passed Triumph and her escorts who were steering north to take over the Yellow Sea duty, and headed for Sasebo to replenish.
While the Seventh Fleet Striking Force was struggling with the problems of close support of the perimeter, the Marine Brigade had begun its first offensive. To contain the enemy’s south coast advance, General Walker had decided to attack westward from Masan, toward Chinju, some 30 miles beyond. Army forces were to move west along the main highway; the Marines were assigned the task of cleaning out the left flank along the coastal road through Kosong and Sachon. On the 5th, as aircraft from the fast carriers struck enemy forces near Chinju, orders were issued for an attack to begin on the 7th.
On that day, the eighth anniversary of the landing on Guadalcanal, the Marine Brigade attacked westward. In this peninsula, as on that island, the weather was hot, humid, and exhausting. Three days of heavy and confused fighting followed while the hills controlling the road junction at Chindong-ni were cleared. But coordinated employment of brigade artillery and of Marine aircraft commuting in from the escort carriers broke up the enemy formations and chased them back into the hills. Tanks, vehicles, and guns were destroyed by the aviators from Admiral Ruble’s task group, and napalm and strafing helped to clear the heights. By evening of the 9th the Marines were on the move, with orders to capture Paedun-ni, five miles down the coastal road, before daylight.
On the 10th General Craig pushed his brigade down the road to the southwest. Sicily had retired to Sasebo for two days, but Badoeng Strait did the work of two with 44 sorties. Paedun-ni was seized early in the morning, and indications of enemy confusion brought orders to press on with all speed. In early afternoon, a couple of miles beyond the town, the van entered an ambush at Taedabok Pass. Tanks were brought forward, the Corsairs reported in, and the pass was cleared; the force bivouacked for the night on the far side of the cut and two-thirds of the way to Kosong, the first major objective. Elsewhere, however, things were more ominous: on the 8th, during the fighting at Chindong-ni, the North Koreans built up their Naktong bridgehead to regimental strength, and by the 10th the enemy 4th Division was across the river.
At 0800 on the morning of the 11th the advance on Kosong was resumed. A few shells lobbed into the town flushed an estimated hundred vehicles which headed westward out of town at high speed. Overhead a division of Corsairs from Badoeng Strait observed trucks retreating so fast that some missed the turns and rolled down the embankments; making the most of this agreeable opportunity with rockets and 20-millimeter fire, the aviators piled up rolling stock in wholesale quantity. By 1000 the town had been taken, a hill to the southward was shortly secured, and the Marines headed onward toward Sachon with their observation planes and Corsairs overhead and their tanks out front.
By this time things were going well for the brigade. The enemy roadblocks had been broken, momentum had been gained, enemy casualties were estimated as approaching the 2,000 mark, and the North Koreans appeared increasingly disorganized. Marine air and ground forces were working in harmony, and the advance was being paralleled in the third element. A Scajap LST and some ROKN landing craft had been brought forward from Pusan to issue supplies and receive casualties, and General Craig had requested a destroyer to provide call fire in support of the coastal advance. But in other sectors the situation was degenerating. To the northward American counterattacks had failed to eliminate the Naktong bulge, while in the Marines’ rear the enemy had reemerged from the hills at Chindong-ni, and had cut the main supply route for Army troops advancing on Chinju. At noon on the 12th, as the Marines were nearing Changchon, the brigade was ordered to return one battalion and a battery of artillery to clean up this road block.
Afternoon of the 12th saw the Marines fighting on two fronts for the first, if not for the last time in this war. At Changchon the 1st and 2nd Battalions encountered another ambush, but the attempted envelopment brought heavy casualties to the enveloper. While this fight was going on the 3rd Battalion was being trucked back to Chindong-ni, where it arrived in late afternoon and where before dark it carried its first objective, a hill ridge commanding the main supply route.
This singular situation, in which two of the brigade’s battalions were fighting at Changchon while the third was engaging 25 road miles to the rear, was ended by orders to withdraw. On the 13th, as the 3rd Battalion continued its clean-up of hills around Chindong-ni, the others disengaged and headed back to rejoin. Although it was disappointing to be pulled back after an advance of 26 miles in four days, and after inflicting heavy damage on superior forces, there were serious reasons behind the decision. The situation in the Naktong bulge was very nearly out of control.
Part 3. 6–20 August: East Coast Interdiction, Pohang, and First Naktong
For the moment, at least, the threat to the southern end of the perimeter had been ended by the advance of Task Force Kean. On the coast the Marines had repelled the enemy with heavy loss; inland the 35th Infantry had briefly regained the heights along the Nam River east of Chinju. In this region North Korean units now faced difficult problems of reorganization and reequipment, and their long supply line was suffering increasingly from the cumulative effects of interdiction strikes.
As the second week of August was ending, the critical sectors of the perimeter were on the Naktong front west of Yongsan, in the northwest beyond Taegu, and on the east coast in the vicinity of Pohang. The response to this altered situation was quickly evident in the redeployment of U.N. naval forces. Admiral Joy had been directed to carry out demolition raids on the Korean coast, and as the Marine Brigade moved northward to the Naktong bulge the weight of naval effort shifted to the northeast and to the enemy’s coastal line of communications with the Soviet Maritime Provinces.
North of the 40th parallel the Korean coastline is precipitous, with mountains rising steeply from the sea. Constricted by this geography, the railroad for more than 40 miles runs close to the shore, and is thus accessible to naval gunfire and to landing parties. Here in the first weeks of war Juneau had carried out her raid; this vulnerable area was now to be brought under all forms of naval attack.
Execution of this work was facilitated by the arrival from San Diego of the fast transport Horace A. Bass, Lieutenant Commander Alan Ray, a destroyer escort conversion carrying four LCVPs and with a capacity of 162 troops. On 6 August a group of underwater demolition and Marine reconnaissance personnel was assigned to Bass, and the resultant package designated the Special Operations Group. Two days later a new weapon became available for raids from the sea as the submarine transport Perch, a conversion capable of carrying 160 troops and with a cylindrical deck caisson providing stowage for landing equipment, reached Yokosuka from Pearl Harbor. A British offer of a squad of Royal Marines provided Perch’s raiding personnel, and brought immediate preparations for attacks on the east coast transportati
To this planned schedule of raiding activity Admiral Joy now added carrier strikes. On 7 August he had noted that reports of enemy rail traffic promised useful employment for Task Force 77 in Area F; a week later, as the task force was returning to Sasebo, the continued influx of such intelligence brought similar recommendations from Fifth Air Force Headquarters in Korea. Pressure on the northern front, naval and Air Force intelligence which emphasized the importance of the east coast route, and the suggestions of the naval liaison officer led on the 13th to a request from FAFIK for carrier interdiction of Area C on the 16th, to be followed by attacks on rail and other transport facilities in Area F, between Wonsan and Chongjin.
After obtaining the views of the naval commanders CincFE ordered the execution of this plan. Task Force 77 was to strike from the Sea of Japan on the 16th and 17th, refuel on the 18th, and strike again for two days. In order further to reduce the pressure on the northern front, FEAF was instructed to put its maximum bomber effort on the Waegwan area on the 16th, while the carrier planes were striking Area C. On the 17th, as proposed by Fifth Air Force, Task Force 77 would move northward to operate against Area F.
In the meantime Admiral Joy’s surface forces had begun to converge on North Korea’s eastern shore. On 7 August the Helena group, en route to relieve off Yongdok, had bombarded Tanchon. On the 13th, in response to reports of enemy shipping at Wonsan, Admiral Hartman established blockading stations in 39° 50' and 40° 50'. Enemy movement on shore was also receiving attention: between 13 and 16 August, while the ship employed the daylight hours in bombardment of rail targets, the raiders from Horace A. Bass carried out three night landings between 41° 28' and 38° 35' which resulted in the destruction of three tunnels and two bridges. In anticipation of future attacks by Perch, ComNavFE had by this time established a joint zone for surface and submarine operations, Area 7, between 40° and 41° on the Korean east coast. On the 14th, as Perch and her Royal Marines began their training program, the submarine Pickerel was sailed to procure periscope photographs of selected objectives.
But while these preparations and efforts to saw up the coastal supply line were being made, a crisis had developed at Pohang. There the ROK 3rd Division had done well. With its KMAG liaison group, with artillery and fire control personnel from the 24th Division, and with the support of naval gunfire and the Pohang-based F-51s, it had held the road longer than might have been expected, and long after the cavalry division had landed and moved inland. But by now the fire control party had been transferred to another sector, while to the westward the enemy advance had uncovered lateral communications between the North Korean 5th Division and units on the inland front.on line.
Such an eventuality had been foreseen, and preliminary planning for a water evacuation of Pohang was underway. Three LSTs were ordered up to take out Air Force ground personnel, and on the 8th the removal of heavy equipment from the Pohang airstrip was begun. By 10 August the ROK 3rd Division, outflanked on its landward side, had been forced to hole up at Chongha, ten miles north of Pohang, where it was surrounded. Having bypassed the South Koreans, the enemy advance now gained momentum, and on the 11th heavy demands were made upon the fire support ships south of Yongdok. Helena got four tanks this day, as her helicopter was flying KMAG personnel to Pohang to confer with General Walker, but naval gunfire was not enough. On the 12th, tank-led troops of the North Korean 5th Division fought their way into the town, where they were joined on the next day by elements of the 12th Division, switched eastward from the northern mountain front.
Little beyond naval gunfire and strikes by Air Force planes remained available for the defense of Pohang. Yet although the former was handicapped by the withdrawal of fire control personnel ashore, and although the latter were preparing to evacuate that very day, the intensity of these efforts forced the enemy to retire temporarily on the afternoon of the 13th. But so serious was the Communist threat that an emergency call was made for reinforcements. To defend the airfield American tanks and infantry and an ROK regiment were hurried north; to prevent a major breakthrough, much of EUSAK’s scant reserve was ordered up to Kyongju. But the advancing columns became entangled on the way with infiltrators disguised as refugees, and progress was slow.
Such, however, was the importance attached to the east coast railroad that, in the midst of the Pohang crisis, Helena and two destroyers were withdrawn to bombard the bridges and tunnels at Sinchang in the north. There on the 14th the expenditure of 170-odd rounds of 8-inch and 100 rounds of 5-inch by Helena and Chandler destroyed a train and damaged two bridges. But further word on conditions at Pohang, and rumors of an enemy landing at Kuryongpo, brought Admiral Hartman back at 25 knots.
On 15 August, following reports from KMAG of the critical condition of the ROK 3rd Division, General Walker ordered its evacuation by sea. To permit the ROKs to hold their little perimeter until shipping could be assembled, fire support was essential. This support was effectively given by the Helena task element, which also provided medical supplies by helicopter, and motor gasoline, brought up by destroyer from Pusan, by whaleboat. Further assistance to the besieged division came from Task Force 77, which got underway once more from Sasebo on the afternoon of the 15th, and during the night steamed north to the Sea of Japan for its scheduled operations against Areas C and F.
The first strikes on the morning of the 16th were sent off, as planned, against bridges and supply dumps in Area C. But increasing pressure on the big perimeter around Taegu and on the little one at Chongha led to a switch to close support. A morning strike of eight ADs and seven F4Us from Philippine Sea was diverted in the air, only to have communication problems frustrate all efforts to provide the desired services. At 1115, at the request of Fifth Air Force, all strikes were put on close support. At 1445 information on the scheduled Chongha evacuation was received on board, the major objective became the protection of the ROK division, and although two later Valley Forge flights destroyed trucks, supplies, and gasoline in the Taegu area, the weight of effort was at Pohang. A noon flight of 15 planes from Philippine Sea bombed and strafed North Korean troop concentrations, and between 1230 and 1730 Valley Forge flew 12 AD and 11 Corsair sorties into the Pohang area.
There remained some difficulties in control. In late afternoon an 18-plane strike from Philippine Sea aborted, owing to inability to reach an air controller, and Valley Forge pilots returning from the Pohang region reported that their controller seemed inexperienced. But if all was not perfect the results were good enough: the attacks against targets beyond the range of naval gunfire continued throughout the day, the ROK division maintained its perimeter, and by evening, when the Striking Force turned north, the evacuation had been organized.
On the chance that rescue shipping might not reach Chongha in time, Admiral Hartman had prepared an evacuation plan which contemplated removing the Korean troops on rafts towed by whaleboats and transferring them to naval vessels offshore; fortunately such heroic measures proved unnecessary. At Pusan Commander Luosey had managed to rustle up four more LSTs, one manned by Koreans and three by Japanese. These reached the evacuation area on the evening of the 16th, and were met and led in by the destroyer Wiltsie, to beach with the aid of jeep headlights ashore. Throughout the night, as embarkation proceeded, the support ships maintained a planned schedule of harassing fire, and beginning at 0415 the LSTs cleared the beach. By breakfast time all 5,800 ROKs, the members of the KMAG liaison group, and 1,200 civilian refugees had been evacuated, along with some 100 vehicles.
This first amphibious operation in reverse of the Korean War was thus a signal success. The ROK 3rd Division, following its ordeal, was treated to a relaxing 30-mile sea voyage to Kuryongpo, where Admiral Doyle’s LSTs had landed Cavalry Division gear a month before, and where in the afternoon the rescue ships beached to put the Koreans back in the fight. By this time relieving forces from the south had fought their way through the pseudo-refugees, ROK and American units went over to the offensive, and on 18 August the enemy was again chased out of Pohang.
While all this was in progress at Pohang, activity was being stepped up in the north. By the 17th, when the ROK division was taken out of Chongha, Bass had completed her three raids and had departed the area. But Pickerel now arrived to begin her photographic work; the Toledo group, on its way to relieve off Pohang, stopped by to bombard; for the first time in a month Task Force 77 had a chance to strike northeastern Korea.
With Mansfield, Collett, and Swenson as screen, with patrol plane spot, and with a combat air patrol from Task Force 77, Toledo cruised the 40-mile stretch of coast, from Songjin south to Iwon, where the railroad runs close to the sea. Targets were plentiful, and the 297 rounds of 8-inch HC expended against three railroad bridges and several hundred freight cars were considered to have been profitably invested. At the same time the two carriers of Task Force 77 were flying strikes against rail facilities and such minor coastal shipping as could be discovered between the 38th and 42d parallels; in the course of this work one jet sweep found an ammunition train, and exploded it so effectively as to bring back tangible proof in the form of fragments embedded in the fighters’ wings. On conclusion of the day’s operations both carrier and gunnery forces headed southward, Admiral Higgins to relieve the fire support group off Pohang, and the carriers to pass through Tsushima Strait en route to their fuelling rendezvous south of Korea.
Some semblance of order had by now been reestablished at Pohang, but elsewhere the perimeter was under heavy pressure. Although the close support efforts of Task Force 77 on the 16th had been concentrated in the east, a fair number of sorties had been sent to the Waegwan front northwest of Taegu. This area had also benefited from the attentions of the FEAF Bomber Command, which on orders from GHQ had put 850 tons of explosives into enemy assembly areas in a carpet-bombing operation reminiscent of Saint Lô. But despite all efforts heavy enemy attacks on the 17th penetrated the ROK lines north of Taegu, and only the quickest of countermeasures succeeded in restoring the situation.
The Marine Brigade in the meantime had been moving north, first to Miryang and then westward to Yongsan, to confront the crisis in the Naktong bulge. Seven miles west of Yongsan the river curves to the westward, then south, then east again toward Pusan, to enclose an area some three miles in each dimension, commanded by a central hill mass, and protected on the eastward by ridges running north and south across its entrance. Having crossed the river on 6 August, the enemy in the space of four days had expanded his lodgment to include the larger part of the 4th Division, the unit which Task Force Smith had run up against on 5 July. Counterattacks on the 11th and on the 14th and 15th had failed to dislodge the three North Korean infantry regiments which, with artillery and tank support, now held the eastern ridges and were debouching onto the Yongsan road.
The danger was great. If the penetration could not be contained the lowland river valley route to Pusan would lie open to the enemy. The three Army regiments in the bulge, less than half-strength at the time the enemy crossed the river, had been heavily engaged for ten days. Nor were the Marines in much better case. To confront the crisis and restore the balance, three under-strength battalions were to be committed against perhaps twice their number; no replacements had reached the brigade since its arrival in Korea; the losses suffered in the Kosong offensive had not been made good; the battalions still lacked their third companies. But one British observer, watching the Marines as they moved up through Miryang, was emboldened to hope, though with "no valid reason," that the tragedy which threatened the entire Korean foothold might yet be averted.
Army units already in the area included a battalion in blocking position on the left, two battalions north of the Yongsan road, and two regiments under orders to attack from the northeast. The Marines, on their arrival, were ordered to attack westward along the road at 0800 on the 17th, with Obong-ni Ridge, running northwest-southeast across the entrance to the bulge, as their first objective. Shortage of transport had delayed the arrival of the brigade and had adversely affected the artillery preparation; a misunderstanding with the Army unit on the right led to a lack of flank support; the air strike from the escort carriers was 15 minutes late, so that the 18 Corsairs had only half their intended time to work over enemy positions. The advance uphill, against a numerically superior and entrenched enemy, was carried out with great bravery but at heavy cost; of the 240 men of the 2nd Battalion which led the attack, 142 had become casualties by mid-day. But the enemy, too, was suffering, and with the commitment of the 1st Battalion at 1300 the forward movement continued. By evening the northern end of the ridge had been taken and a counterattacking tank force destroyed; north of the road Army troops had moved up to parallel the brigade’s advanced position; in the northern hills troops of the 24th Division had reached their objectives.
Strong enemy counterattacks during the night brought bitter fighting along Obong-ni Ridge, but the North Koreans proved unable to exploit their gains, and with morning the advance was resumed. Held up by a heavy machine gun nest less than 100 yards ahead, the Marines called for help from the air. Under ground control a dummy run, a target marking run, and a strike were completed within nine minutes, and a 500-pound bomb, deposited squarely upon the nest, eliminated this obstacle and panicked enemy troops. By 0830 the ridge had been cleared.
Already the crisis had been passed. Even before the ridge line had been taken the failure of his night counterattack had led the enemy commander to order withdrawal across the river. This movement was expedited by the Marines’ seizure of their second objective, a commanding elevation half a mile to the westward, which was taken shortly after midday. With the North Koreans in disorganized retreat, artillery fire was directed at the river crossings, fighters from the escort carriers strafed troops on the banks and in the water, and the muddy Naktong ran red with blood.
While this notable slaughter was in progress the 3rd Battalion pressed forward toward the final objective, the dominating height within the bulge. Well advanced when operations were halted for the night, this attack was resumed at dawn. At 0645 on the 19th the hill was taken and the bulge secured, while west of the Naktong spreading waves of confusion, radiating outward from this setback, were expanded by attacks of strike groups from Philippine Sea against troop concentrations and supply dumps between Hyopchon and the river. Its task completed, the Marine Brigade was detached on the next day, assigned to Eighth Army reserve, and moved back to the Masan area. There the infantry bivouacked in a bean patch, and undertook a training program for Korean Marines, while the artillery was sent back to work at Chindong-ni, where enemy pressure had again begun to be apparent.
In the three days fighting in the bulge the Marines had captured 22 pieces of artillery and large amounts of other materiel; estimates of enemy personnel losses varied between 2,500 and 4,500. Marine casualties, in contrast, totaled 345, of whom 66 were killed and one missing, an extraordinary disproportion which testifies to what professionalism can do, and to what command of the air can accomplish when exploited by a unitary air-ground force. For the invaders the elimination of the Naktong bulge and the destruction inflicted on the 4th Division constituted the greatest defeat thus far. For the U.N. the time gained by the action was beyond all price: ten days were to go by before the enemy succeeded in reestablishing this bridgehead across the Naktong.
While the forces of the United Nations were grappling with the crises at Pohang and on the Naktong, the southern end of the perimeter remained quiescent. The Kosong spoiling attack had been a success, and the enemy was licking his wounds. But while land action had diminished, activity in coastal waters was on the rise: the increasing unpleasantness of highway travel had stimulated diligent efforts by the Communists to improve their seaborne logistics, and between 13 and 20 August the Korean Navy fought five engagements in the arc between Kunsan and the peninsula’s southwestern tip. The most considerable of these took place on the15th, a day of widespread action on western and southern coasts, when YMS 503 encountered 45 small craft in the gut between the end of the peninsula and the offshore islands, captured 30, and sank 15.
Much of this overwater movement seemed to originate at the port of Kunsan, attacks against which had been earlier prohibited by CincFE with a view to the preservation of harbor facilities. But these restrictions had by now been lifted, and on 15 August the cruiser Jamaica, returning from patrol, bombarded factories and docks with satisfactory results. On the same day a third blow was struck against enemy south coast capabilities when Yosu, previously attacked by Diachenko and Collett, was bombarded so thoroughly by HMS Mounts Bay and HMCS Cayuga that no worthwhile targets were deemed to remain.
By this time the activities of ROK naval forces were no longer limited to inshore blockade. Evacuation of refugees from the south coast, and by raft and barge from the Naktong Valley, was calling forth a major effort, and on the 17th, 600 Korean Marines were landed on the Tongyong peninsula south of Kosong. There, by seizing and holding the isthmus north of Tongyong city, the ROK Marines effectively bottled enemy troops in on the landward side, and prevented their movement across the narrow water to the island of Koje, below Chinhae. And concurrently, at ROKN headquarters, plans were being made to carry the war back north.
At sea, meanwhile, the Seventh Fleet remained busy. After helping out at Chongha the carriers had moved north on the 17th to strike Area F. On the next day, prior to giving similar treatment to the west coast, Task Force 77 fuelled from Passumpsic and Cacapon, and rearmed from Mount Katmai, the first ammunition ship to reach the Far East. The 19th saw Admiral Struble’s force again in the Yellow Sea, giving support to the perimeter and striking targets in Areas A and B, while Triumph, operating independently, sent her aircraft against objectives to the southward. Philippine Sea’s interdiction strikes this day were concentrated on the vital railroad bridge at Seoul, which had survived repeated attacks by FEAF and carrier aircraft. Nine ADs with two1,000-pound bombs each and nine F4Us with 500-pounders were sent against this target; the job was done, and photographs showed a span resting in the water, but at the cost of the loss of Commander Vogel, the air group commander.
Close support duty on the 19th also fell upon Philippine Sea, and the morning launch of 18 planes brought satisfactory results. Although radio channels continued crowded, tactical air controllers were contacted as planned, and effective attacks ensued. In five separate areas between Hyopchon and the front lines large fires were started with gratifying effect, as numerous personnel ran out into the open where they could be strafed. This exploitation of the success in the Naktong bulge also accomplished the destruction of six troop-laden trucks, and of two command cars which were chased into a warehouse and there burned.
On the next day the force had another chance at the type of operation favored by Admirals Joy and Struble. From a launching point west of the Tokchok Islands strikes were flown against transport facilities and warehouses along the line Sinanju-Pyongyang-Kaesong in Area E. On the evening of the 20th the carriers turned southward and headed for Sasebo, where they arrived at 1400 on the 21st.
However satisfactory to the naval commanders, this northward diversion of carrier effort was only reluctantly accepted by EUSAK. So frequent and urgent, indeed, had been the calls from Eighth Army and the JOC that Admiral Joy had asked CincFE to remind all interested commands of the complex chain through which the services of the Seventh Fleet were properly to be requested. On the 20th, in denying an Eighth Army request for permanent assignment of one of the fast carriers to the defense of the perimeter, CincFE spelled out the intended employment of naval force. Triumph and the gunnery strength of Task Group 96.5, and the escort carriers of Task Group 96.8, were at EUSAK’s disposition. But except in great emergency the large carriers were not to operate singly; future plans made necessary a replenishment period for Task Force 77; its subsequent employment would be communicated when known.
Part 4. 21–31 August: Coastal Operations and Carrier Strikes
In the last ten days of August a lull descended upon the Korean perimeter. Repulse in the south and defeat in the Naktong bulge had forced important North Korean units to break off and reorganize, and enemy losses had also been heavy in the fighting around Waegwan and Pohang. But by now Communist preparations to renew the attack were faced with circumstances of increasing difficulty. A campaign planned for ten days was approaching the end of its second month, the informal logistic procedures of the invaders were becoming increasingly inadequate, and attempts to live off the country were producing a half-starved soldiery. Supply of more specifically military items, unavailable through confiscation, had broken down as a result of naval and Air Force attacks on lines of communication. Despite resort to hand carriage, horse and ox transportation, and movement by night, the enemy’s best efforts were insufficient to permit the maintenance of the offensive. Not only was he checked in his advance but his morale was suffering, and the growing effectiveness of U.N. operations was evidenced by the increasing number of prisoners taken.
By now, too, the question of who was encircling whom had become meaningful. In Korea there had developed the extraordinary spectacle of two contending armies, each nearly surrounded by hostile forces and each nourished from afar. For while the enemy controlled by far the greater part of the Korean peninsula, the sea around him and the air above remained the uncontested domains of the U.N. While he pressed against the Pusan perimeter, his own flanks and communications were under continuous attack.
Night and bad weather were the happiest times for the NKPA, but U.N. soldiers could walk upright by day; the supply lines to the north were suffering, but Pusan was a booming port.
In this situation both sides were racing against time. To the invaders the arrival of U.N. reinforcements, with more in prospect, meant that they must win quickly or they would not win at all. For the U.N. the problem was to hold its own perimeter until the counterstroke could be prepared, and then to draw the noose and explode the Pusan beachhead. The last ten days of August, which saw the North Koreans feverishly attempting to solve their logistic problems, were marked in Tokyo by important high level decisions, followed by all-out efforts to mount an amphibious attack at Inchon by the time of the September tides. General MacArthur had taken the advice of the psalmist, to strike the enemy in his hinder parts and put him to perpetual reproach. But delivery of the blow depended upon the timely arrival of the 1st Marine Division, and upon the speed with which it could be committed.
Throughout this period of lull the work of the blockading forces continued unabated. Neither the lessened tempo of action around the perimeter nor the problems of preparing the counterstroke affected the operations of east and west coast groups and of the ROK Navy. Off the front line at Pohang fire support continued, with a heavy cruiser and a destroyer division always on duty, and with the nightly northward dispatch of a destroyer to shoot up enemy supply dumps in the rear. Yet while this work went on the coastal supply line was not forgotten, two destroyers were maintained on northern blockading stations, and the attack from the sea against enemy communication centers was again extended northward by a bombardment of the iron and steel center of Chongjin.
This city of 200,000, fifty miles beyond the northern limit of the blockade and an equal distance south of the Soviet frontier, is one of the key strategic positions on the western shore of the Japan Sea. Located on a bay which opens to the southward, Chongjin had inner harbors protected by breakwaters and equipped with railroad sidings, cranes, and warehouses. In 1945 it had been captured by Russian marines in the only amphibious assault of the Soviet’s short war against Japan; current information indicated that it was frequently visited by Russian ships, that Soviet naval units were stationed there, and that the port was a Soviet restricted area. Now, however, its prior exemption was cancelled out and Russian security regulations were breached. On the 19th Chongjin was bombed by FEAF B-29s, and on the 20th the destroyer Lyman K. Swenson, from the northern barrier patrol post, arrived offshore and put 102 rounds into iron works, harbor installations, railroad yards, and radio stations, starting flames that were visible for 18 miles to seaward.
Two days later the destroyer Mansfield shot up Songjin, just south of 41°, and in a night bombardment inflicted apparently severe damage on the docks, railroad facilities, and bridges of this mineral and lumber export center. The 23rd saw Mansfield off Chongjin, compounding with 180 rounds of 5-inch the damage previously inflicted by Lyman K. Swenson. On the 24th Admiral Hartman, with Helena and four destroyers, arrived off Tanchon, undisturbed since the Toledo group’s bombardment of the 7th. Railroad cars and warehouses were worked over with the aid of helicopter spotting, after which the group proceeded northward to Songjin, where on the next day heavy damage was inflicted on marshalling yards and railroad cars.
Back on the line at Pohang a period of comparative quiet was followed, on the 22nd, by increased enemy pressure. On the next day a conference with Army representatives on board Toledo led to improved procedures in air spotting. These paid off on the 24th, as the cruisers’ gunners had the gratifying experience of putting an 8-inch shell in one end of a tunnel reported to contain a supply dump, and of observing smoke come out of the other. The 25th was a day of variety as enemy tanks and guns were taken under fire, and as the North Koreans in their turn attempted an amphibious movement against the town by the use of motorboats and sailboats. But this effort was beaten off by small units of the ROKN, and when Admiral Hartman and the Helena group arrived to relieve next day Pohang was still in U.N. hands. Aircraft from Task Force 77 took off some pressure on the 26th, reinforcements were again moved in by EUSAK, and from the 28th to the 31st close support was provided by the Marine airmen from Sicily. The last day of August saw friendly forces making sizable gains.
In the Yellow Sea, throughout this period, Admiral Andrewes’ units continued to man the west coast barrier stations and to interdict enemy traffic around the headlands. Here the principal excitement was the appearance of two enemy aircraft, the first in more than a month, one of which surprised and damaged the British destroyer Comus on the 22nd and the other an ROK vessel the next day. The attack on Comus produced a call for air cover from the escort carriers, which otherwise spent most of their effort during the latter part of the month in close support of Army forces on the perimeter. Despite the difficult hydrographic conditions in the west, the blockade here, as in the east, appears to have been effective: no traffic was moving south around the headlands patrolled by British units, and on 28 August Admiral Andrewes conducted a photographic reconnaissance of the entire coastline with satisfactorily negative results.
But while the enemy had abandoned his endeavors to bring supplies down from the north by sea, in the south and southwest he was vigorously attempting the forward movement of materiel and troops by small boat. This effort to improve the logistics of his southern flank led to a crescendo in the inshore operations of the ROK Navy.
Off Chindo, the island prolongation of Korea’s southwestern tip, the ROK YMS 503 found considerable activity on 20 and 21 August. Three enemy motorboats of between 30 and 100 tons were engaged, and one captured, one sunk, and the third damaged. For a few days there were only minor contacts, but the 25th brought seven engagements with enemy coastal shipping. At Pohang the North Korean attempt at a landing was repelled. Twenty miles off Inchon PC 701 sank a large sailboat. In a small estauary east of Chindo YMS 512 sank one 100-ton motorboat and another of 70 tons, and drowned full loads of enemy troops on both. Off Namhae Island on the south coast YMS 504 damaged 14 of 15 small sailboats encountered. But the big work of the day was done by YMS 514, which in three separate engagements in less than three hours sank three enemy vessels and damaged eight. Once again excitement diminished for a time, but on the 31st PC 702 sank two large motorboats and damaged another near Chindo.
Together with increasing enemy activity on the southern front, and with ComNavFE’s previously expressed concern about inshore traffic near Namhae Island, these south coast actions led to the inauguration of a new fire support station in Chinhae Man, a bay which, reaching in to Chindong-ni and Masan, gave water access to the southern end of the perimeter. On 26 August the destroyer Wiltsie was assigned to duty there in support of the 25th Infantry Division, and this service was continued by various ships in rotation until late September. Since the 25th Division had trained fire control parties, in contrast to the somewhat catch-as-catch-can arrangements at Pohang, this Chinhae effort paid off handsomely.
From 21 to 25 August, while the perimeter continued generally quiet and the coasts busy, Task Force 77 was replenishing at Sasebo. On the 22nd Admiral Sherman, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Radford, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, arrived by air, following a brief trip to Pusan, to visit the force and to apprise Commander Seventh Fleet of his appointment to command the Inchon operation. On the 25th, as Admiral Struble left the fleet, command of the Fast Carrier Task Force devolved on Rear Admiral Ewen, Commander Carrier Division 1.
Inevitably, this period in port involved further consideration of fast carrier employment. ComNavFE had by now switched over completely to the semi-strategic party and on the 22nd, in a dispatch to CincFE, argued that best results would come from strikes north of 38°, where many extremely lucrative and profitable targets" existed, even though the effect at the front would be felt with "some delay." This recommendation was accepted by General MacArthur, and a new schedule was promulgated which called for a sequence similar to that of the previous sortie: two days on the east coast commencing on the 26th, a day in fuelling and in transit, and two days of attacks in the west. On each coast the effort of the first day would be divided between close support and interdiction; throughout the operation first priority in interdiction would be given to railroad and other transportation targets. This dispatch was followed by another in which CincFE, in view of current planning," expressed concern about a possible enemy air buildup, as evidenced by the attack on Comus; FEAF and Task Force 77 were adjured to emphasize interdiction of air facilities, and while avoiding damage to runways, to refuse the enemy the use of airfields south of 39°. Finally, a request from FEAF for cooperation in the destruction of specified North Korean bridges was approved by ComNavFE, insofar as not inconsistent with previous arrangements.
Some consolation was provided EUSAK by the assignment of a quarter of the total effort to the support of the perimeter. But the autonomy of the carrier force was emphasized in a ComNavFE dispatch of the 24th, which reported CincFE’s decision to give freedom of action in the northern areas, both as to date of attacks and as to targets, to the task force commander. Thus by the end of August the frustrations of the perimeter and the attractions of interdiction had had their combined effect. Except in situations of real emergency, close support had been abandoned by the fast carriers, and within the context of the Korean conflict Task Force 77 had become an independent striking force.
Shortly after noon on 25 August Admiral Ewen sortied his ships from Sasebo for operations in the Japan Sea. As another consequence of the Comus episode, antiaircraft practice was conducted during sortie, but a submarine contact, later evaluated as false, brought an abrupt termination of the exercise. On the 26th enemy lines of communications were swept, attacks on targets of opportunity were carried out, and another attempt was made to provide support for the ground forces.
Three Valley Forge flights of F4Us and ADs attacked troops, tanks, and trucks with good results, and two reported that despite crowded radio channels the work of the controllers was satisfactory. For Air Group11 in Philippine Sea the day started with a jet sweep which attacked troops in a tunnel north of Pohang, which was followed up by a strike of Corsairs and Skyraiders on a vehicle concentration west of the Naktong. It ended with another jet sweep led by Commander Ralph Weymouth, the air group’s new commander, which reported good results: in the hills northwest of Pohang an attack in battalion strength had been broken up by strafing; west of the town a competent airborne controller had directed rocket and strafing runs within a hundred yards of friendly forces. Air operations were thus successfully routine, but as the force cruised the neighborhood of Ullung Do the sonarmen on the destroyers were kept jumping by numerous contacts attributed to the whales which frequent the neighborhood of that island.
During the night the carriers steamed northward, and on the 27th launched against transportation and other targets in the Wonsan-Chongjin coastal strip and shipping in Wonsan harbor. These strikes were described by the task force commander as more profitable than the previous day’s work in support of troops. Quite possibly they were, but the comments on the support effort appear to have stemmed largely from memories of earlier chaos: although pilot reports indicated improved results in routine support missions, the effort was characterized as ineffective, owing to inadequate communications, poor radio discipline, and poor control.
On the 28th, as Task Force 77 was fuelling south of Korea and recovering replacement aircraft flown out from Japan, another list of bridges was received from FEAF and a schedule for future operations from ComNavFE. The planned activities on the west coast would now be but the start of a second sequence: fuelling on the 31st would be followed by two more days of strikes, a day in replenishment, and strikes on 4–5 September.
The trend away from the perimeter was continuing. Where CincFE’s dispatch of the 23rd had called for such close support on the 29th as was desired by JOC, ComNavFE’s new message called merely for strikes on that day. In fact, no support missions were flown, and the attacks of the 29th were directed against railroad bridges, airfields, and highways in the Seoul-Inchon region and to the southward. FAFJK had hoped for more than this, and had requested four-plane sorties at 20-minute intervals throughout the day, but its dispatch, delayed by communication failure, was received too late to permit compliance. On the 30th, still enjoying their new-found freedom, the fast carriers attacked bridges, docks, shipping, and the water-works at Chinnampo and Pyongyang, and road and rail targets to the northward, and on conclusion of these operations steamed south to refuel and rearm off southwestern Korea.
Along the perimeter the operations of the 31st were on a diminished scale, as both sides continued to prepare for the future. Increased strength and diminishing pressure had permitted General Walker to relieve the 24th Division for a well-earned rest. In the bean patch at Masan the Marine Brigade was enjoying its tenth day of respite from combat, and was busying itself with the training of South Korean marines and with preparations for the next operation. At sea, activity was of a routine nature: the fire support ships at Pohang and Chinhae remained busy, the ROK Navy was fully engaged, but bombardment of the northeastern supply line had temporarily ceased. Air strength available for the support of the perimeter had also declined, as a result both of decreased enemy pressure and of the requirements of the planned invasion of Inchon. The Fifth Air Force was still operating from Japanese bases, and its daily total of support sorties had dropped well below that of early August; Sicily, after four days in support at Pohang, was en route to Sasebo, whither Badoeng Strait had preceded her and where both were scheduled to remain until 5 September; Admiral Ewen’s plans for Task Force 77 contemplated spending the next four days on railroad targets in the northwest in order to isolate the future battlefield.
But all the plans were changed and all the schedules scrapped by the development of the biggest crisis so far.
Part 5. 1–5 September: The Enemy’s Big Blast
Late on the night of 31 August the enemy launched his greatest effort. Around the entire perimeter from Pohang to Haman heavy attacks began, very great forces were committed to the Naktong River front, and almost at once it was obvious that a major emergency was at hand. All troops were ordered out of reserve, all air support was urgently called for. At 0810 in the morning of 1 September the Marine Brigade was alerted, and shortly after ten o’clock the Joint Operations Center got off an emergency message to Task Force 77;
MAJOR ENEMY ATTACK LAUNCHED ACROSS RIVER FROM TUKSONGDONG SOUTH TO COAST x ALL AVAILABLE EFFORT FOR CLOSE SUPPORT REQUIRED SOUTHERN SECTOR IMMEDIATELY x SITUATION CRITICAL x REQUEST ARMED RECCO FROM BEACH NORTH TO TUKSONGDONG TO DEPTH OF TEN MILES WEST OF BOMB LINE x REQUEST IMMEDIATE ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
Two hundred and seventy-five miles to the northwest, in the center of the Yellow Sea, the carriers had launched that morning at 0800 against transportation facilities in the Seoul complex and to the northward. Valley Forge aircraft had dropped a span of the rail bridge below Sariwon and had attacked transportation targets near Hwangju and on the Ongjin peninsula; Philippine Sea’s bombers had struck the Pyongyang railroad bridge and marshalling yards, and cars and equipment along the tracks to the northward; the sighting in the course of this activity of flatcars loaded with steel girders gave evidence of the effectiveness of previous bridge attacks. At 0935 jet sweeps from both carriers had been sent against airfields in the Seoul-Suwon region and against the harbor of Chinnampo. The fighters returned aboard at 1120, just after a second propeller strike group was flown off against North Korean bridges and marshalling yards.
Fifteen minutes after the fighters had been landed aboard, the JOC’s scream for help was received. The response was immediate. Admiral Ewen at once turned his force to the southeast and built up speed to 27 knots. Strike missions in the air north of Seoul were recalled at 1155, and the combat air patrol was vectored out to help them find the fleet in its new position. At 1233 Commander Task Force 77 advised the JOC by flash message that his first strike would be on station at 1430, and at 1315 the planes began to lumber off the decks: 12 ADs carrying three 1,000-pound bombs apiece, and 16 Corsairs, each with one 1,000-pounder and four rockets. Ten minutes later the aircraft that had been recalled from the north were landed on. At 1344 a second flash message to JOC described the composition of the first strike group, and advised that it would be followed an hour later by a second of identical composition and armament.
As the task force drove southeastward, and as the strike group flew toward the perimeter, the Marine Brigade was moving north to Miryang and to the Naktong bulge. Higher levels were also bestirring themselves: at 1231 CincFE had ordered all-out support for Eighth Army, and as the carriers were completing their preparations for the second launch a dispatch relaying this information was received from ComNavFE. In Tokyo, in the course of the afternoon, FEAF informed Admiral Joy’s headquarters that as of 1245 the critical situation was in the 2nd Division sector at the Naktong bulge, asked emergency action to put both the aircraft of Task Force 77 and Badoeng Strait’s squadron, then shore-based at Ashiya, on close support, and suggested sending any required liaison officers to the JOC at Pusan and the operation of Navy control aircraft from Taegu.
At 1630 ComNavFE passed these suggestions on to Admiral Ewen; ten minutes later the Marines were ordered to deploy Sicily’s squadron to Ashiya next day to reinforce the effort in Korea. At1800 FEAF was advised by courier that the fast carrier aircraft were already in action and that all else had been provided for. In the meantime another emergency call from JOC had requested all available effort on the 2nd against continuing enemy pressure on the Naktong front, and shortly after 1900 Admiral Joy instructed Admiral Ewen to comply.
Within the perimeter, in the meantime, the old troubles in control had again arisen to plague the close support effort. On its arrival over the lines the 14-plane strike group from Philippine Sea was instructed to attack a tank concentration east of the bombline; the flight leader made a preliminary low pass, observed white stars on the vehicles and no attempt to take shelter by the personnel, and called off the attack; the group then foraged for targets on its own and attacked troop concentrations and a bridge on the Naktong River. Valley Forge’s aircraft, instructed to orbit because the controller had no targets, spent 45 minutes circling while the Mosquito called in a flight of F-51s on an enemy troop concentration. Deprived of this target, so suitable to their 1,000-pound instantaneous and VT-fused bombs, the group was finally directed to attack villages along the Naktong front.
Both carriers had launched again at 1430. This time the planes from Valley Forge did useful work on the 25th Division front, destroying much of the town of Haman, burning trucks on the road nearby, and flattening an enemy-occupied ridge west of the town. But Philippine Sea’s group again failed to find a controller and was obliged to seek its own targets along the river. Both ships launched jet sweeps at 1615 and again at 1745 with similar results; Valley Forge fighters, failing to find controllers, attacked small boats in the river and trucks along the roads; those from Philippine Sea, equally uncontrolled, returned without firing a shot.
The response to the all-out emergency was thus in large part wasted, and conditions over the perimeter were back to what they had formerly been. Not a single plane from Philippine Sea had been used in controlled attacks, and of a task force total of 85 sorties, 43 had attacked without positive control. J OC’s emergency call had received an emergency response, but the total of about 280 Air Force and Navy sorties flown on the 1st in support of the emergency along the Naktong was more than could be handled, and by afternoon, when the carrier planes reported in, the system had been overwhelmed and had collapsed. Intentions had been good, and the effort commendable, and at i8oo ComNavFE sent the force a "well done" for its prompt response and for its support of the 25th Division. Equally, however, the situation was susceptible of improvement, and the suggested dispatch of liaison officers worth acting upon. The last event of the day within the force was the launch of a night aircraft, with Commander Weymouth, Philippine Sea’s air group commander, embarked as passenger for Pusan.
The difficulties over the perimeter had greatly exasperated Admiral Ewen, with the result that he ordered his pilots to spend no more than five minutes in attempting to gain contact with JOC or with control aircraft before proceeding to pre-briefed targets outside the bombline. Fortunately, however, the need for this procedure was considerably diminished by the efforts of Weymouth and the JOC personnel to improve communications and control; the Navy would supply the controllers for the 2nd Division front, and so get a clear radio channel; the Air Force would waive the requirement of checking all planes in through JOC. On the next day, despite deteriorating weather, the carriers sent in 127 close support sorties, to which Fifth Air Force and the Ashiya-based Marines added 201. Ninety-nine of the carrier sorties received positive direction, and the troubles of most of the other 28 were attributable to a morning ground fog over the target area.
Once the fog lifted things went well. Valley Forge aircraft destroyed 3 tanks, 12 trucks, and 3 barges, and successfully attacked 7 troop concentrations; Philippine Sea strike groups claimed 2 trucks and a tank, and many casualties in attacks on11 troop concentrations. Communications with control planes were good, the controllers were complimentary about the attacks, the commanding officer of Philippine Sea reported that "the operation was a success," and the pilots were cheered by the thought that they were getting into the war. The last strike of the day was directed against enemy troops retreating across the Nam River south of the bulge, and in this sector at least things seemed to be looking up.
The Marine Brigade, in the meantime, had been on the move, northward to Miryang on the 1st, and westward to Yongsan on the 2nd, prior to attacking once more into the Naktong bulge. There the situation was even worse than a month before: the better part of two Communist divisions was now across the river, and the enemy had broken out of the bulge and advanced about four miles eastward along the Yongsan road. Local Army commanders wanted the Marines to attack at once, but General Craig, not wishing to commit his force until all troops had reached their assembly points or until his air control personnel had arrived, resisted an afternoon advance.
Not only were the controllers unavailable on the afternoon of the 2nd but the whole air situation was somewhat problematical. Fifth Air Force had asked ComNavFE to continue all available effort between Tuksongdong and the coast, but Sunday the 3rd was fuelling day for the task force, which was scheduled to meet the replenishment group west of Mokpo, and both of the escort carriers were now at Sasebo. At 2205 a dispatch from FAFIK informed Admiral Ruble that the Marines desired his air effort on the 3rd and inquired as to his availability; the message was forwarded with emergency precedence to Ashiya Air Base where both VMF 214 and VMF 323 were now located. But Typhoon Jane was nearing Japan, and at Ashiya the weather was very bad.
At Yongsan the enemy struck first on the morning of the 3rd, and a heavy attack launched at first light penetrated the Marines’ intended line of departure, a ridge occupied by the 9th Infantry about a half mile west of the town. As the brigade detrucked and moved forward the North Koreans were coming through the American lines, snipers were encountered as the troops marched through Yongsan, and as they emerged west of the town the Marines came under moderate enemy fire.
As the Army troops pulled back, heavy fire by Marine artillery, tanks, and automatic weapons halted the North Korean advance. The brigade then began to press westward from Yongsan, to clear the hills controlling the road junction and the road leading onward to Obong-ni Ridge and to the bulge. The terrain was difficult and fighting was hard, but by noon the initial objectives were in hand.
But there was no Marine air overhead for close support: Jane was centered over southern Honshu, and the fighter squadrons at Ashiya were weathered in. At 1231 General Craig sent an urgent message to ComNavFE:
NO REPEAT NO CAS A/C FROM 0900 TO 1200 x REQUEST NAVAL A/C 5UPPORT THIS COMMAND x NEED EIGHT ON STATION VICINITY YONGSAN.
Eighth Army, too, was in trouble, and at 0935 had called directly upon CincFE for the earliest possible return of the fast carriers. At 1342, in response to this plea, ComNavFE instructed Task Force 77, then refuelling and rearming southwest of Mokpo, to give all practicable support to the Army since the Marine planes had been grounded by weather; at 1404 General Craig’s message was relayed to the force. Once again all hands on the carriers doubled to flight stations, and at 1547 Admiral Ewen reported that his first strike would be off in an hour, with arrival over the lines at about 1745.
Although their arrival had not been anticipated by Fifth Air Force, these flights, like those of the 2nd, found comparatively good communications and control. Twenty-two planes from Philippine Sea worked over troops in the Masan area in close proximity to American positions. Valley Forge sent in 24 aircraft in four flights, some of which attacked Kwangju and Samchonpo, and some of which, despite bad weather, had considerable success under Marine control near Masan, where six Corsairs destroyed 2 tanks and 15 fieldpieces, damaged 2 other tanks, and strafed troops.
At Yongsan, despite the absence of air support, the Marines had continued their advance westward on the afternoon of the 3rd. By nightfall the originally scheduled line of departure had been gained or surpassed and the enemy, disorganized by the shock of this unexpected engagement, was retiring. But the front was a long one, recurving into a deep salient north of the road, and the night was made miserable by cold, driving rain.
At sea, despite the improved results in close support, the task force was again trying to shake itself loose. In preparation for the proposed landing at Inchon Admiral Struble had established and ComNavFE had promulgated a new series of carrier aircraft operating areas, M through Q, along the west coast of Korea, and had called for operations in Areas P and Q, north of 38°, on the 4th, and in 0 and P, between 37° and 39° on the 5th. Pursuant to these instructions Admiral Ewen’s dispatch reporting his launch on the afternoon of the 3rd had stated that unless otherwise directed he intended to operate north of the parallel next day.
Within the perimeter, however, life was still hard, and all possible support was desired. At 2201 on the 3rd General Craig evinced his concern in another emergency dispatch in which he reported the ‘‘situation intense," and in view of the state of affairs at Ashiya requested eight carrier planes on station throughout the 4th. But ComNavFE had already confirmed the proposed operations in Areas P and Q, and although he instructed the task force to be ready to provide support on order, his answer to General Craig reported a favorable weather forecast for Japan and stated that the fast carriers were committed to other areas.
Fortunately, the fighting on the 3rd appears to have turned the tide west of Yongsan. Although fresh from garrison duty, the North Korean 9th Division, which led the advance, was deficient in training in comparison with the enemy’s original front line units and was unable to stand up to the Marine Brigade. Early morning attacks along the road to the bulge moved rapidly forward, resistance was slight, and groups of fleeing Communists were cut down by artillery and Marine air. By mid-day the advance had covered a mile and a half, much destroyed and abandoned equipment had been overrun, and much U.S. gear recaptured. Further advance was authorized, afternoon brought the gain of another mile, and by evening the Marines were dug in on the hill from which, 18 days before, they had launched their first attack in the first battle of the Naktong.
Action on the 5th started with an enemy counterattack against Army troops north of the road, which was dissolved by automatic weapons fire. Preparations were then made to continue the move westward, and during the morning, despite heavy rain and fog which hampered air operations, the Marines moved out into position for an attack on Obong-ni Ridge. But at mid-day the attack was cancelled. Although the bulge had not been cleared the situation was vastly improved; D-Day at Inchon was approaching and the brigade was needed there. On receipt of this order the Marines formed up defensively along ridges south of the road, and during the evening were relieved by elements of the 2nd Infantry Division. Shortly after midnight the brigade marched back through the rain to load into trucks and move to the Pusan staging area.
While the Marines were pressing westward from Yongsan, Task Force 77 had moved north again into the Yellow Sea. This body of water, from the viewpoint of a carrier force commander, is a somewhat restricted one. As a result of the commanding position of the Shantung Peninsula, no part of the Yellow Sea is more than 200 miles from a Communist shore; above the latitude of Seoul the operating area, less than 100 miles from Shantung, comes within progressively easier bomber range of the Soviet-occupied Port Arthur Naval Base Area. And for a carrier force dependent on the lee gauge, geography is compounded by meteorology: the prevailing light summer winds, of a mean velocity of six knots and from the northerly semicircle, do nothing to help the commander fight his way out if brought to action.
The approach to this area, therefore, had necessarily been somewhat tentative. Early strikes on North Korea had been launched from south of 37°, and operations against southern targets had been conducted from the waters west of Mokpo. But the tendency had been northward: on 20 August aircraft had been flown off in about 37°, and now on the night of 3 September Admiral Ewen took his force into the pocket, through the narrows between the Shantung Peninsula and Korea’s western tip, to launch on the morning of the 4th from a position on the 38th parallel against targets in the Pyongyang-Chinnampo region.
Morning operations were routine, but the day was to offer its full share of excitement. At 1329 the destroyer Herbert J. Thomas, on picket duty some 60 miles north of the force, made radar contact on unidentified aircraft closing from the direction of the Russian base, and reported this to Valley Forge planes passing overhead. Shortly the carrier herself made contact at a range of 60 miles, controllers on Fletcher were ordered to intercept, and a division of Corsairs which was orbiting northeast of the force was vectored out. The raid was by now estimated on course 160°, speed 180 knots, altitude 12-13,000 feet; as the fighters turned to meet it, it separated into two parts, with one retiring in the direction whence it came. Six minutes later and 30 miles north of the force the Corsairs intercepted the closing bogey and split into sections to box it in.
Here the intruder made a mistake. On sighting the fighters he nosed down, increased speed, and began evasive action, but in turning away turned eastward toward Korea rather than westward toward China. As the division leader, Lieutenant (j.g.) Richard E. Downs, flew over him in an attempt to identify, and reported a twin-engined bomber with red star markings, the intruder made a second mistake and opened fire. This was reported to base; permission to return the fire was granted. From his awkward position over the bogey the division leader made his run and missed; turning in from the starboard, his wing man made his and hit; as the port section in its turn began to roll inward a wing came off the bomber and it went down burning in a flat spin.
By now the force had gone to general quarters and was launching more fighters. On Herbert J. Thomas, where the bogey had been tracked southward and the merged plot then followed east and north, topside observers sighted an explosion and column of smoke in the sky followed shortly by a second explosion on the surface. Proceeding to the spot, the destroyer recovered the body of a Russian aviator, but artificial respiration continued for a full hour brought no sign of life.
Before the implications of this startling event could be digested, another emergency supervened. Herbert J. Thomas was still picking up debris from the downed aircraft and tension within the force was still high when another urgent call for help was received from the Joint Operations Center, asking 100 sorties a day and offering decentralized control and two VHF radio channels. Once again all strike groups were recalled, the force was turned to the southeast, speed was increased, and preparations were rushed to launch missions in support of the perimeter. But this time the emergency was cancelled out by higher authority, as ComNavFE informed the JOC that CincFE had committed the fast carriers to other business, and that the Navy was unable to provide more support than that given by the Marine squadrons at Ashiya. Late in the afternoon a second flash from Fifth Air Force requested, with the concurrence of EUSAK, 100 sorties on the 5th and 50 percent of naval air effort until further notice, and asked for a representative from the task force to assist in the coordination and planning of close support. But the reply from ComNavFE to this second appeal merely referred the originator to his earlier answer to the JOC.
On the 5th, as an early morning weather flight disclosed unfavorable conditions over North Korea, Admiral Ewen turned his force southward and headed for Japan. Sicily was still in the yard at Sasebo, but Badoeng Strait was getting underway for the Yellow Sea. On the east coast a new crisis was developing with heavy enemy pressure against Pohang. At 1120 the KMAG detachment ashore asked the fire support unit to call for Navy air support to check an attack which had reached within half a mile of the town; an emergency dispatch to this effect reached ComNavFE shortly after noon and was at once relayed to Task Force 77, to Admiral Ruble, and to FEAF, with the request that all practicable help be given. But the fast carriers were 300 miles away, and bad weather left behind by Jane prevented flight operations by Badoeng Strait.
The immediate threat was checked by the fire support ships. Five-inch rapid fire from Toledo and De Haven broke up a tank attack and destroyed enemy artillery, while the destroyer provided further help by vectoring Fifth Air Force aircraft onto useful targets. But heavy enemy attacks continued, Pohang was lost again the next day, and by the 7th North Korean forces had gained the Hyongsan River south of the town, although still failing to reach the airfield. Further inland, things were still more threatening, and a North Korean thrust which reached almost to Kyongju forced the commitment of 24th Division units from EUSAK’s strained reserve.
But while fighting was still heavy as the first week of September ended, the forces of the Far Eastern theater had done the job. Only in the north, in the region farthest from Pusan, had the enemy’s all-out offensive made important gains; although there were still North Korean units east of the Naktong and south of Pohang, pressure was again diminishing. By the second week of September it was clear that CincFE’s first essential had been accomplished. Despite all difficulties Eighth Army had succeeded in holding the perimeter. All now rested upon the landing at Inchon.
[End of Chapter 6]