Part 1. 27 September–15 October: Planning the Wonsan Landing
Part 2. 11 September–30 November: The Opening of Wonsan and Chinnampo
Part 3. 19 October–20 November: Operations in Eastern North Korea
Part 4. 15 October–24 November: New Plans and New Problems
Part 1. 27 September–15 October: Planning the Wonsan Landing
The triumphant events of September had changed the entire Korean picture. With the reconquest of Seoul, the northward sweep of Eighth Army, and the collapse of North Korean resistance, unification of the peninsula, long the aim of the United Nations and even longer the hope of the Koreans, seemed imminently possible. There were, it was true, certain legal questions to be answered and certain policy decisions to be made by the United Nations and the United States before the armies could go north, but so far as one government was concerned the decision was not in doubt. During the dark days of July President Rhee had announced his intention of unifying his country by military action, and four days after the landing at Inchon he affirmed that with or without the assistance of the United Nations his forces would continue the battle.
The objectives heretofore assigned CincFE had been more limited in scope. In August, when General Collins and Admiral Sherman had come out to talk about Inchon, General MacArthur’s goal had been the destruction of North Korean armed forces. But it had also been agreed that pursuit of this aim would not necessarily be limited by the 38th parallel. In mid-September permission was granted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to plan for operations in North Korea, and on the 27th CincFE was authorized to carry out such operations in order to complete the destruction of the armed forces of the aggressor.
This permission reflected the view of the government in Washington that the Security Council resolution of June provided a sufficient legal authority for crossing the parallel. Equally, however, the message from the Joint Chiefs demonstrated the government’s determination to keep the conflict localized, both to prevent a world-wide shooting war and to avoid, within the framework of the existing world-wide war of maneuver, an over-commitment of forces to the Far East. If Chinese Communist units were encountered south of the parallel, CincFE was instructed to continue action so long as success seemed probable. But the authorization to go north was qualified by the proviso that no major Soviet or Communist Chinese forces should have entered North Korea, or have announced their intention of entering North Korea, or have threatened military action. Under no circumstances were U.N. forces to violate the Manchurian or Russian borders; none but Korean ground forces were to be employed in the border region.
One day before this authorization was received, General MacArthur instructed his planners to come up with a concept for future operations, modeled on that of "Chromite," in which Eighth Army would make the main effort on one coast while X Corps carried out a second amphibious envelopment on the other. The request found the planners prepared. Dusting off some earlier staff studies, they produced on the 27th, the day of the U.N. link-up south of Suwon, a tentative operation plan. In mid-October, as soon as the necessary logistic build-up could be accomplished, Eighth Army would move northwestward from Seoul against Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. X Corps, in the meantime, would reembark and sail for Wonsan on Korea’s eastern shore, 115 miles north of Seoul and 95 miles east of Pyongyang. There, following an assault landing, General Almond’s units would attack westward across the narrow Korean waist, link up with Eighth Army, and encircle enemy forces retreating from the south. This operation was christened "Tailboard."
Although this plan involved the occupation of half of North Korea, and the better half at that, it also reflected the caution so evident in the Joint Chiefs’ message of the same date. Occupation of territory was incidental to the liquidation of the enemy’s remaining strength; the assumption that neither Communist Chinese nor Soviets would intervene, openly or covertly, was explicit; a restraining line was drawn below the 40th parallel, from Chongju in the west to Hungnam in the east, beyond which no non-Korean forces would advance. On the 28th a brief of the plan was sent the Joint Chiefs, accompanied by the comment that there were no present indications of the entry into North Korea of major Soviet or Chinese Communist forces.
On 29 September, the day of liberation ceremonies in Seoul, General MacArthur outlined the new plan to the commanders of Eighth Army, X Corps, NavFE, and FEAF. Shooting was still going on in the capital and Eighth Army had not arrived, but CincFE was still driving his people: the D-Day of 20 October which he set for the Wonsan landing was but three weeks away, and left even less time for preparation than had been available for Inchon.
Over and above the shortage of time, the idea of another two-coast operation raised some serious difficulties. The capacity of Pusan and Inchon, the only major ports available, remained critical, and the mounting out of "Tailboard" was to require remarkable feats of planning and preparation. Despite the obstacles of nature, X Corps had succeeded in getting in through Inchon, but the competition of incoming supplies for Eighth Army made it harder to get out. In this situation it was decided to transfer some of this competition ashore, and to send the 7th Infantry Division south by road and rail for embarkation at Pusan, while the Marines went aboard ship at Inchon. But even this division of effort required further modification, for the 7th Division’s tanks and heavy equipment could not be moved overland, and had to be loaded at Inchon and sent down by LST.
Even with the decision to send the 7th Division south by land, the preparations for the Wonsan landing put Eighth Army and the Fifth Air Force in a serious logistic bind. General Walker was scheduled to attack northward before the landing at Wonsan took place, and had to accumulate supplies for this new movement; in order to support these forward operations Fifth Air Force was struggling to bring up its squadrons and supporting organizations. But road and rail communications north from Pusan, attacked throughout the summer by U.N. aircraft, were not what they used to be, and were also carrying southbound 7th Division traffic; the embarkation schedule required that the Marines be given priority in the use of Inchon’s limited facilities. To top it all, the pressure of time was increased to an almost ludicrous degree as General Almond attempted to move the Wonsan D-Day forward to the 15th.
These complications raised the question of an overland approach to Wonsan. Some Army commanders preferred this route, although General Almond was firm in his belief in the superior economy of water lift. Admiral Joy and some of his senior officers opposed the amphibious operation, although this time on grounds of necessity rather than of feasibility. But the case, if debatable, does not appear clear-cut: the corridor from Seoul to Wonsan is narrow and mountainous, there were hostiles in the hills, and the idea of supporting a two-pronged advance on Pyongyang and Wonsan from the Inchon-Seoul area raised a whole new set of logistic problems. And in any event it appears that none ventured to dispute the matter with CincFE.
With acceptance of the new concept by the Joint Chiefs, things began to happen. As October opened the mimeographs were whirring and the plans were flowing forth. ComNavFE issued his operation plan on the 1st; the U.N. Command’s overall operation order appeared the next day; on the 5th Joint Task Force 7 was reactivated and Admiral Struble published his orders for preliminary operations. Elsewhere in the world other statements of intention were also beginning to multiply. General MacArthur had been authorized to call upon the enemy for surrender; on 1 October the message was broadcast, but answer came there none. One day earlier Chou En-lai, foreign minister of Communist China, had observed that his government would not tolerate the crossing of the 38th parallel, and "would not stand aside" if North Korea were invaded. On the 3rd Chou was reported by the Indian Ambassador at Peking as stating that if non-Korean forces crossed the parallel the Chinese would send in troops.
This thunder out of China was of no effect. In the U.N. General Asseinbly a debate on Korean policy ended with a vote that since "unification has not yet been achieved" all appropriate steps should "be taken to ensure conditions of stability throughout Korea." If the language was a little vague this resolution was of great importance, for it signalled a change in the mission of the U.N. forces from repelling aggression, and inferentially destroying enemy forces even if north of the parallel, to one of uniting Korea by force of arms and ensuring stability by territorial occupation. The point was emphasized by General MacArthur’s statement that if cooperation in establishing a unified Korea was not forthcoming from the north, military action would be taken "to enforce the decrees of the United Nations." And on the 9th the Joint Chiefs went some distance to qualify their earlier caution concerning threatened Soviet or Chinese intervention. The threat, it would appear, had now been made, but a message of the 9th merely rephrased previous instructions concerning possible contact with the Chinese: should such forces now be met with "anywhere in Korea," CincFE was to continue the action so long as success seemed probable.
For the amphibious half of the new encirclement, the responsibility again fell upon Admiral Struble, as Commander Joint Task Force 7. For the Wonsan landing the planned course of events was very similar to what it had been at Inchon. As in September the arrival of the Attack Force in the objective area would be preceded by the activities of the patrol planes, of carrier aviation, and of the gunfire and minesweeping units. Once again Joint Task Force 7 had its own organic air force, both afloat and ashore, and its private theater of air operations. Within a line run inland from Kosong at the southern end of the Korean Gulf, north along the mountain spine, and eastward to enclose Hungnam, the carriers of JTF 7 and the shore-based aircraft of X Corps Tactical Air Command would operate without disturbance from FEAF, except for air transport and specially requested missions.
But while the externals were similar, the internal organization of the joint task force was considerably modified. The upgrading of the mine menace, following events at Inchon, made it essential to extend the preparatory period of the operation, and to send the sweepers and their supporting ships in well ahead of the Attack Force. A jelling command structure and the diminution of enemy pressure made more commanders and staffs available for the planning phase. The consequence was the separation of the Advance Force and of the Escort Carrier Group from the Attack Force, in conformity with more usual practice, and a sharing of the planning load. While Doyle and his staff concentrated on the landing itself, the directives for the Covering and Support Group were written by Admiral Smith, and the minesweeping plan was worked up in Tokyo under the supervision of Admiral Struble.
Table 11.–Joint Task Force 7: Wonson
[Expanded version of this table is under construction]
|JOINT TASK FORCE 7.
||VICE ADMIRAL A. D. STRUBLE.
| TASK FORCE 90. ATTACK FORCE.
||REAR ADMIRAL J. H. DOYLE.
|2 AGC, 2 APD, 4 PF (1 RN, 2 RNZN, 1 French), 1 PCEC, 9 APA, 15 T-AP, 10 AKA, 5 LSD, 1 LSM, 3 LSMR, 48 LST (30 Scajap), 20 LSU, MSTS shipping as assigned.
| TASK FORCE 92, X CORPS.
||MAJOR GENERAL E. M. ALMOND, USA.
| TASK FORCE 95. ADVANCE FORCE.
||REAR ADMIRAL A. E. SMITH.
|Task Group 95.2. Covering and Support Group.
||Rear Admiral C. C. Hartman.
|3 CA, 1 RNCL, 6 DD (1 RN, 1 RAN, 1 RCN).
|Task Group 95.6. Minesweeping Group.
||Captain R. T. Spofford.
|1 DD, 1 APD, 2 DMS, 3 AM, 7 AMS, 1 ARG, 1 ARS, 8 JMS.
|Task Group 96.2. Patrol and Reconnaissance Group.
||Rear Admiral G. R. Henderson.
|1AV, 1 AVP; 3 USN, 1 RAF Patrol Squadrons.
|Task Group 96.8. Escort Carrier Group.
2CVE, 6 DD
|Rear Admiral R. W. Ruble.
| TASK FORCE 77. FAST CARRIER FORCE.
||REAR ADMIRAL E. C. EWEN.
|4 CV, 1BB, 1 CL, 16 DD.
| TASK FORCE 79. LOGISTIC SUPPORT FORCE.
||CAPTAIN B. L. AUSTIN.
Units assigned from Service Squadron 3 and Service Division 31.
The new objective of Joint Task Force 7, the city of Wonsan, occupies one of the most important strategic positions on the Sea of Japan. This location had long made it an object of international interest, a fact reflected in the more than oriental splendor of place-name confusion which afflicts the charts and sailing directions for the area. Of this problem in geographic nomenclature, a hazard both to military planner and to historian, the following may serve as example.
The approach to Wonsan leads through the Japan Sea and into the Korean Gulf, once Broughton Bay, then Chosen Kaiwan, and now known as Tongjoson Man. At the southwestern extremity of this body of water lies Yonghung Man, sometime Yunghing Bay or Eiko Wan, the northern entrance point of which is Taegang Got (ex-Nan Kaku, ex-Desfosses Point) at the end of the Nakhimova Peninsula (later known as Koto Hanto and now as Hodo Pando). South of this point two islands obstruct the mouth of Yonghung Man: of these Ung Do (or Ko To, or Kuprianova Island) should be left to starboard, and under no circumstances confused with Yo Do, formerly Rei To, which may be passed on either hand (or indeed with Song Do, or An Do, or Sa Do, or Worhyon Am [also Woreniru To, Getsuken Gan, and Orupyon Pao] which lie immediately beyond). Once past these obstacles to sanity and navigation, the mariner may head north to anchor in capacious but shallow Port Lazaref, subsequently Shoden Wan and now Songjon Man, or southward to Genzan Ko, now known as Wonsan Hang, the objective of the X Corps planners.
Seen from the sea, the Wonsan shore appears precipitous. But although the coastal plain is small, there does exist, in the delta of the Namdae River east of the city, a sufficient area for an amphibious lodgment. The port itself is perhaps the best on Korea’s eastern coast. Silting between a harbor island and the southern shore had led to the formation of Kalma Pando, a two and a half mile long peninsula with a rocky head and a flat body, which protects a harbor three miles wide at the mouth with the city at its southwestern corner. Despite the bombings of the summer the Wonsan docks remained to all intents undamaged, and these facilities, protected by Kalma Pando on the east and by a breakwater to the north, included a 900-foot concrete wharf with sheds, railroad sidings, and cranes, and with four fathoms or more alongside, as well as piers for smaller vessels. The town had rail and road connections with the east coast route, with the Seoul corridor, and with Pyongyang. And as a final bonus the base of Kalma Pando held an excellent airfield, originally developed as a Japanese naval air station. Taken together, the facilities of Wonsan constituted a prize that any military planner would value.
At Uijongbu, on the far side of the peninsula, the last units of the Marine Division were relieved on 7 October and moved to the Inchon assembly area. There they began loading on the next day, under the direction of Commander Amphibious Group 3, Rear Admiral Thackrey, and while embarkation progressed planning was expedited. A scheme of maneuver was worked out which called for a landing on the seaward side of Kalina Pando, where there was an excellent beach handicapped only by a shallow gradient which placed the two-fathom curve some 300 yards offshore. No help in beaching could be expected from the tides: in notable contrast to Inchon, the tidal range at Wonsan is about one foot.
For the Wonsan landing planning was both concurrent and dispersed. The troop commanders were in Korea, but Struble, Doyle, and Smith were working up the naval side of things in Japan. Once again much of the problein involved the rapid assembly of the necessary shipping: before Admiral Doyle could concern himself with routing and loading of ships these had to be procured from Scajap and MSTS by way of NavFE headquarters. On 30 September a first call was made upon MSTS for 20 APs and 25 AKs; by D-Day the requirement had been increased to a total of 66 vessels which, with the Amphibious Force units and the Scajap LSTs, proved sufficient to do the job. But no sooner was the X Corps lift provided for than a further transport problem arose: CincFE had originally designated the 3rd Infantry Division as theater reserve; now a decision to employ it in eastern North Korea brought instructions to CTF 90 to employ his shipping, once unloaded at Wonsan, to bring this reinforcing unit in from Japan.
Beginning on 4 October the lift for the Wonsan invasion was assembled at the two Korean ports of embarkation. At Inchon the Marines embarked in assault shipping, APA and AKA types, LSTs and LSDs, filled out with six time-charter vessels. At Pusan the 7th Division was loaded in transports and cargo ships while its heavy gear - tanks and the like - was brought down from Inchon by sea in Scajap LSTs. Although Admiral Doyle was still at work in Tokyo, he had sent his flagship Mount McKinley back to Inchon to embark the headquarters staff of the Marine Division. On the 11th he followed by air and relieved Admiral Thackrey of his Inchon responsibilities, whereupon the latter proceeded to Pusan to oversee the 7th Division movement.
By this time the question of D-Day had settled itself. General Almond had based his choice of the 15th on the assumption that X Corps would be relieved on the 3rd, but although the 7th Division had started south to Pusan by that time, the Marines had been held in the line until the 7th. Subsequent preparations were handicapped by shortages of maps and other intelligence material, by a shortage of motor transport ashore created by the requirements of the overland movement to Pusan, and by the complications of embarking the Marines while unloading high-priority incoming cargo in a port where activity was restricted to short bursts at periods of high tide. In the event, therefore, although pressure for speed continued, the best that could be done was to stick with the original date, and to schedule the assault for the 20th.
But just as the date was settled, the objective became uncertain and the entire concept of the operation became subject to review. Although three North Korean divisions had survived the debacle in more or less organized form, their respect for U.N. naval gunfire and air activity had led them to hole up in the mountains south of Wonsan and make no attempt to dispute the coastal road. ROK forces on the east coast consequently moved forward almost unhindered, crossed the parallel on 1 October, and by the 7th were within a few miles of Wonsan.
This development led CincFE to propose changing the objective of the Marine Division from Wonsan in the southwest corner of the Korean Gulf to Hungnam in the northwest. But while this scheme promised to catch more enemy troops, it also modified the original strategic concept by placing the division further from the intended junction with Eighth Army. This was, of course, a problem for the highest level, but there were other difficulties of immediate naval concern. Maps, intelligence material, and time were critically short for so considerable a change; there were insufficient ininesweepers to clear two harbors at once; the 7th Division was loading in large transports which could not be accommodated at the Wonsan docks, and its landing plans had been predicated on the availability of the amphibious craft which accompanied the Marines. Although these difficulties were expounded by Struble and Doyle to ComNavFE, and by ComNavFE to General MacArthur, they were at first of little effect. CincFE was always a hard man to argue with, but in this instance Joy persisted, and on the 10th the decision to land the entire X Corps at Wonsan was confirmed.
These revolutionary last minute propositions were still being put forward and evaded as the operation entered its preliminary stages. East coast activity had begun, even before the relief of the Marines, with two night raids on the northeastern coastal railway by the fast transports Bass and Wantuck with their Royal Marine Commando, supported by the destroyer De Haven. The first of these attacks, on the night of 6-7 October, was directed against a tunnel in Kyongsong Man, less than 20 miles south of Chongjin; the target of the second was a tunnel and bridge four miles below Songjin. Both were apparently successful, and the demolition charges were seen by the retiring raiders to explode.
While the raiding group was approaching its first objective the mine-sweepers of JTF 7, Task Group 95.6, departed Sasebo with a scheduled arrival off Wonsan on the 10th. On the 8th the PBM patrol planes which had been hunting mines in the Yellow Sea shifted their activities to the east coast. On the 9th the carriers Leyte, Captain Thomas U. Sisson, and Philippine Sea, the former a recent arrival from the Mediterranean by way of Norfolk and the Panama Canal, sortied from Sasebo in company with Manchester and 11 destroyers, and headed north to provide air support. On the 10th Admiral Hartman departed with Helena, Worcester, and Ceylon, and on the next day Admiral Struble sailed in Missouri, accompanied by Valley Forge and screening destroyers.
Early on the morning of the 10th the Minesweeping Group reached the objective area and began its work. From their operating area a hundred miles offshore, Leyte and Philippine Sea sent in a combat air patrol for the sweepers and aircraft for interdiction strikes and preparation of the objective. Possible military installations on the island of Yo Do in the harbor entrance were worked over repeatedly, and some useful support was provided the advancing ROK troops, who entered the city this day and who captured the airfield on the11th.
On the 12th Admiral Struble arrived off Wonsan in Missouri, joined up with Admiral Hartman’s cruisers, and headed north for a bombardment of Chongjin. With a screen composed of one Canadian, one British, and one Australian destroyer, and with combat air patrol and air spot provided by the fast carriers, Missouri and the cruisers conducted a deliberate and sustained bombardment of warehouses, rolling stock, and marshalling yards. Although the spotting provided by the carrier pilots was less than wholly satisfactory, owing to a lack of common grid charts, an absence of specialized training, and some serious communication difficulties, the bombarding ships reported the results as excellent.
The offensive naval strength deployed off Korea’s eastern coast, three carriers, a battleship, some cruisers, and numerous destroyers, had by now reached a very respectable level. Of the Far East Air Forces and of the Army in the peninsula, the same could be said. Taken together with the collapse of the North Korean People’s Army, this prosperity raised the question of how to end the war without redundant fighting. To this question, one of the most difficult of modern times, World War II had offered no apparent answer, and the war against the Axis had been fought out to its destructive conclusion. No ready answer was apparent in Korea either, and here the problem was still more difficult: where the Axis nations had been led by irresponsible dictators, the enemy in Korea was a dictator’s front man only doubtfully possessed of authority to treat.
FEAF, in its approach to this problem, had wished to give authority to CincFE’s call for surrender by burning down Pyongyang, the enemy capital, in an all-out early morning incendiary attack. But the proposal was rejected by higher authority, and this approach to the problem of surrender seems in any event to reflect a misunderstanding of the anatomy of Communist society. Even assuming they were masters in their house, the North Korean bosses could be presumed to be comparatively indifferent to burning citizens, yet it was on the bosses that pressure had to be exerted.
A more specifically military effort to bring pressure on the enemy was, however, carried out by CTF 95. Admiral Smith had recommended that the Chongjin shoot be followed by public announcement of the next day’s targets, and on Friday the 13th the list was attacked as scheduled. In the Yellow Sea Admiral Andrewes’ ships bombarded Haeju while Theseus flew strikes against the city of Chinnampo. On the east coast Admiral Hartman’s group, joined by Toledo and the destroyer H. J. Thomas, separated to shoot up five coastal targets along a 120-mile stretch south from Chongjin. Together with the work of the aviators of the U.N., this seemed a sufficient demonstration of the fact that while the Communists might still control some mountain real estate, their writ no longer ran along their coasts or in the air above. But the political impact, so far as could be told, was nil.
Although the Attack Force had not set sail, and although minesweeping had barely begun, the capture of the Kalma Pando airfield by ROK troops had opened a door to Wonsan. On the 13th, therefore, Major General Field Harris, USMC, the X Corps Tactical Air Commander, flew in, and after looking things over ordered up two Marine fighter squadrons. These arrived the next day and at once began operations in support of the ROK I Corps, while being themselves supported by Marine transport aircraft, by the planes of FEAF’s Combat Cargo Command, and by a USO troop led by Bob Hope. At sea as well as on shore the air strength available for east coast operations was increasing: Valley Forge had arrived on the 12th, and two days later, after docking at Yokosuka to have her frozen propeller removed, Boxer also reported in. For the first time since 1945 four Essex-class carriers were operating in a single force, and on the 15th Admiral Ewen celebrated by sending forth 392 sorties to press the northern offensive and harry the enemy in the hills.
Map 15. The Advance into North Korea, 1–26 October 1950.
In the west, in the meantime, Eighth Army had begun its advance, and had crossed the parallel north of Kaesong. Enemy resistance in the hills beyond that town, together with continuing logistic difficulties, slowed progress for a few days, but by mid-month the jam was beginning to break. At Inchon, at the same time, the problems of outbound traffic had been surmounted, and the LSTs of the Wonsan Attack Force sailed on the 15th. By 0800 of the 17th the last transport was clear and Mount McKinley, with the big brass embarked, was getting underway. If the departure seemed anticlimactic, in view of the previous capture of the objective, it was still necessary. The need for an assault landing no longer existed, but the need for X Corps in eastern North Korea was undiminished.
Part 2. 11 September–30 November: The Opening of Wonsan and Chinnampo
The campaign of October, like that of the previous month, involved large-scale operations by both Eighth Army and X Corps. But unlike the period of the Inchon landing and the breakout from the perimeter, the obstacles to movement were now primarily those of space and time, geographic and logistic rather than military. The sporadic resistance of the remnants of the NKPA was never dangerous, but problems of resupply at times seemed well-nigh insurmountable. All supplies for Eighth Army and Fifth Air Force had to pass the bottlenecks at Pusan and Inchon, and the restrictions of port logistics were compounded by those of land transport. Korean roads, never good, had been made worse by war, and throughout the summer rail and highway bridges had been favored objects of air attack. North of Seoul important bridges were down, and everything sent forward by rail had to be trucked around these breaks in the line.
These difficulties of land transport reemphasized the need for seaborne supply, and the extent to which war in the peninsula depended on the use of the surrounding sea. For although the North Korean Army had penetrated far into South Korea without benefit of coastal traffic, such an advance was much more difficult for the forces of the United Nations. Over and above the problems of victualling and munitioning, the complex requirements of the highly mechanized American contingent imposed a heavy load, and the tremendous demands for movement of heavy equipment, petroleum products, electronic gear, spare parts, ice cream, and comic books were reinforced by the national disinclination to walk when riding was possible.
Theater naval forces were consequently faced with an urgent requirement for expansion of the available port facilities and for the opening, on both coasts, of new ports to the northward. But at the same time the events of September had signalled a new problem: the discovery of contact mines in the Inchon entrance channel had been followed by the discovery of magnetic mines ashore, and between 26 September and 2 October five ships had been mined. As both ComNavFE and Commander Seventh Fleet noted in their operation plans for Wonsan, it seemed highly probable that the Communists had worked to deny their ports to the U.N. by a vigorous mining campaign.
Historically it was wholly appropriate that the Korean conflict should have come to involve mine warfare, for it was in Far Eastern waters that the submarine mine, an American invention, was first used with significant success. In the Russo-Japanese War the navy of the Czar lost important vessels to sea mines; that of the Mikado lost two battleships, four cruisers, and three other ships. These successes, in effect their only successes in that war, were not lost upon the Russian Navy, which whatever its politics had in the following half century placed heavy emphasis on mine warfare.
But however apt historically, the circumstance was operationally awkward for the United Nations’ naval forces. Although in the First World War the United States Navy had conceived and largely executed the enormous project of the North Sea mine barrage, in the interwar period the problems of oceanic conflict with Japan had relegated mine warfare to a position of unimportance. During most of the Pacific War the mine was little used, although the seeding of Japanese home waters, with mines provided by the Navy and dropped by Army Air Force B-29s, had proven extraordinarily effective.
In the European theater it had been otherwise. There the belligerents were in close proximity, the British Isles depended wholly on overseas supply, and the Germans ran a considerable coastal traffic along the shores of occupied Europe. In this context, not dissimilar to the Korean situation, the mine had from the start proven a devastating weapon. German mining forced Great Britain to sustain a very large minesweeping effort; the British, for their part, employed mine warfare with conspicuous results. Of this success one example will suffice: in the first half of 1942 the RAF sank three times the enemy tonnage by mining as it did by direct attack on ships, and this with 40 percent of the sorties and at 40 percent of the cost in aircraft. Impressive as these statistics are, they by no means show the total impact of the mining campaign, for such an effort, even if it sinks no ships, dislocates maritime transport, overloads alternative routes, and imposes a requirement for costly and complex countermeasures.
Like all American military activities, and indeed more than most, the mine warfare branch of the Navy had suffered from the postwar stringencies. The type command, Mine Force Pacific Fleet, had remained in existence for a year and a half after V-J Day, with a flagship and a reduced force; among its commanders was Rear Admiral Struble. This situation was ended by the budget for Fiscal 1948, which forced dissolution of the type command and further decrease of active minecraft. The lack of a coordinating authority and the strategic dispersion of the remaining mine-sweepers had adverse effects on readiness, and materiel and training fell below par. In the fleet at large, paravanes had been abandoned; degaussing, the method of reducing to a minimum the magnetic field beneath a ship to guard against magnetic mines, had not been kept up to date; there was no degaussing range west of Pearl Harbor.
The minesweeping force available to ComNavFE on the outbreak of war in Korea consisted of the six wooden-hulled AMS of Mindiv 31 and of the four steel-hulled AMs, one in commission and three in reserve, of Mindiv 32. These ships were grouped in Minron 3, Lieutenant Commander D’Arcy Shouldice, a unit which enjoyed a high state of training and readiness as a consequence of the mine situation in Japanese waters. Other than these units the Pacific Fleet contained a dozen active minesweepers, of which the two AMS of Mindiv 52 were stationed at Guam and the remainder were divided between Pearl Harbor and the west coast.
Activation of the AMs in reserve in Japan had been approved early in the conflict. Nothing could be done about Mainstay, owing to unavailability of replacement parts, but by mid-August Pirate and Incredible were in operating condition. Ordered out from the west coast, the destroyer mine-sweepers Endicott and Doyle had reached Far Eastern waters in late July, but in the absence of enemy mining they had been diverted to other duties, in the first instance as screen for Cardiv 15 and subsequently in fire support. In August Admiral Joy had asked for a further increase in minesweepers, but the request was denied on the ground that other types had higher priority.
With the discovery of enemy mines all this was changed. On 11 September CincPac started the three AMS of Mindiv 51 west from Pearl Harbor. Four days later the Chief of Naval Operations revised the schedule for activation of mothballed ships to include nine AMS. From Guam, on the 16th, Magpie and Merganser of Mindiv 52 were sailed for Korean waters, where the former was promptly mined and sunk and the latter incorporated into Mindiv 31. On 2 October Thompson and Carmick, the two remaining DMS of the Pacific Fleet, were ordered west from the continental United States, and the remaining three AMS of Mindiv 53 were sailed from the west coast for Pearl Harbor. In late October these reinforcements would reach Sasebo, and in time the ships ordered for activation would become available. But the immediate need for assault sweeps and harbor clearance placed a heavy overload on theater forces, while the emergency reinforcement of the Far East had brought the transfer of every available active unit, and had denuded Guam, Pearl Harbor, and the west coast of all protection.
There were, it is true, an estimated 213 minesweepers in Asiatic waters belonging to other member nations of the U.N. But almost half of these, including 50 ex-U.S. motor minesweepers, belonged to the Soviet Navy, whose current role was as provider of mines rather than of sweepers; as for the others, no offer of their services was received. Still, there did exist one ray of sunshine from an outside source. The mining of Japanese home waters, so successful as to keep the Japanese sweeping ever since, now paid an unexpected dividend as ComNavFE obtained authority from General MacArthur, in his capacity of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, to employ 20 contract Japanese sweepers (JMS) for work in Korea, initially below the 38th parallel.
Faced with the need to open North Korean harbors, Admiral Joy now found his force increased by the two activated AMs, by one AMS from Guam, and by two DMS from the west coast. For the opening of Wonsan these units had been assigned to Joint Task Force 7 and organized into Task Group 95.6, the Minesweeping and Protective Group, with Diachenko, the repair ship Kermit Roosevelt, and eight contract Japanese sweepers. Command of the task group, to which four U.N. frigates and some ROKN YMS would in time be added, was assigned to Captain Richard T. Spofford, who had relieved Shouldice as ComMinron 3 in August, and who was embarked in the destroyer Collett.
In addition to the units of Spofford’s own task group, a considerable amount of supporting force was at hand. Admiral Higgins was offshore with Rochester and some destroyers to provide gunnery support, and Rochester had a helicopter available; the aircraft of the fast carriers were on call; the mine search efforts of the PBMs had been shifted to the east coast, and the seaplane tender Gardiner’s Bay was preparing to establish an advanced seadrome at Chinhae. But the coordination of these diverse forces had not been wholly solved by the time the sweep began, and a considerable amount of time was consequently to be expended in trial and error.
The nature of the situation at Wonsan remained unknown. Clearance of an approach from the 100-fathom curve to the beaches on Kalma Pando called for the sweeping of a 30-mile lane, and of an area of more than 50 square miles. ComNavFE’s operation plan had noted the "strong probability" that North Korean ports and landing beaches had been mined; on 1 October he had called for the sweep to begin on D minus 5. Struble’s estimate of the situation, which assumed the existence of fields of moored Russian mines, possibly supplemented by more modern types, envisaged the possibility of clearance within five days; alternatively, if bad weather were encountered, or if influence mines had in fact been laid, postponement of the scheduled D-Day might prove necessary. On the 6th he advanced the date for beginning the sweep to D minus 10.
The first problem which faced the minesweepers was to select the route. Six miles out from the landing beaches the sentinel island of Yo Do guards the harbor entrance. Although the Sailing Directions permit Yo Do to be left on either hand, it was known that Russian practice had been to use the northern entrance, and some thought was consequently given to conducting the sweep in that channel. But the final decision was to take the direct route south of the island, and on the morning of 10 October work was begun, with the three AMs in the lead, the AMS buoying the swept area astern, and Rochester’s helicopter searching ahead. By late afternoon good progress had been made, a ten-mile channel had been swept to the 30-fathom curve, and 18 mines had been destroyed. But the general feeling of satisfaction was suddenly dashed when the helicopter reported first one, then two, and finally five lines of mines directly ahead of the sweepers.
This discovery cancelled out the whole day’s work and raised again the possibility that the sweep could not be completed within the allotted time. in an effort to turn the flanks of the mine lines the direct route to the beaches was abandoned, and on the 11th work was begun in the Russian channel, with a new emphasis on the search function. Overhead a PBM from VP 47 circled, seeking out the mine locations, which were then plotted and cominunicated to the forces below. From Diachenko, UDT personnel were sent in to Yo Do and Ung Do to scout for evidence of controlled minefields. Personnel in Wonsan were urged to seek out charts of the minefield and individuals who had assisted in the lay. Arrangements were made with Task Force 77 for a countermining effort by bomb drop from carrier aircraft. Sweeping went well on the 11th, and a lane was cleared and buoyed to within about four miles of the entrance islands.
Map 16. The Clearance of Wonsan, 10 October–2 November 1950.
Early on the next morning the attempt at countermining took place, as 39 carrier planes, armed with 1,000-pound bombs fused to explode at a depth of 20 feet, flew in to bomb a five-mile lane past Yo Do. For the pilots the exercise was a novel one: proper spacing of the bombs proved difficult owing to lack of control procedures and malfunction of smoke floats, and the results, although spectacular in the amount of water thrown up, were only briefly encouraging. Following the drop, the sweepers headed on through the bombed area for the turn around Yo Do toward Kalma Pando. In the lead, echeloned to port in normal sweep formation, were Pirate, Pledge, and Incredible. No paravanes were streamed since there were none to stream, there had been no small boat exploration ahead of the sweep, and the searching helicopter could communicate with the sweepers only by relay through the DMS Endicott. At 1112 unswept waters were entered; as the sweepers came left around Yo Do many mines were cut and bobbed to the surface; at 1200 as the helicopter reported three lines ahead, underwater contacts were obtained on Pirate’s sound gear.
Then came the blow. At 1209 Pirate hit a mine, blew up, capsized, and sank in four minutes. Pledge, the second ship, slowed and stopped, cut loose her gear, and lowered a boat to pick up survivors. In this awkward situation fire was opened on the sweepers from previously undetected batteries on Sin Do, and was replied to by Pledge and Endicott. As rescue operations were pressed the gunnery duel continued, while overhead the circling PBM spotted the gunfire and called on Task Force 77 for an air strike. Ten minutes had gone by when at 1220, in an attempt to turn back into cleared waters, Pledge came left out of the swept lane, and in her turn hit a mine and began to sink. Two ships had been lost, 13 men were missing or dead, and 79 wounded. The rest of the day was spent in picking up the pieces and trying to decide what to do next.
When news of the sinkings reached the bombardment forces off Chongjin it brought impressive reinforcement, as Admirals Struble and Smith boarded the destroyer Rowan and steamed southward at best speed. But admirals cannot do the work of minesweepers, and with no replacements for the lost ships, safe sweeping had become essential. Further emphasis was laid on searching, by patrol plane and helicopter, to permit a route of approach that would turn the mine lines. Mine disposal was accomplished by strafing and by UDT personnel from Diachenko, assisted by the inhabitants of Ung Do, who were rewarded for their enthusiasm by the issue of rations and by medical assistance. In this wise, progress continued, the channel was cleared of contact mines, and on the 14th magnetic sweeping was begun. How long this would take was anybody’s guess.
By 18 October, D minus 2, the sweepers had reached the beaches of Kalma Pando. The only further incidents had been the loss of one JMS off the southern shore of Yo Do, and damage to a small ROK freighter which took an unauthorized shortcut through the minefields. Although four days of magnetic sweeping had brought only negative results, information from prisoners ashore on the 16th indicated that ground mines had been laid. Next day this report was contradicted, but on the 18th confirmation was gained both by land and sea. Ashore a sample coil was recovered from the railroad station master; off the beaches two detonations arose astern of the minesweepers, and then, in a great explosion, the ROK YMS 516 disappeared in a cloud of water and smoke. Faced with this proof of the presence of influence mines, and with further sweeping obviously necessary, Admiral Struble recommended postponement of D-Day, and his view was concurred in by higher authority. Although it proved possible, beginning on the 19th, to beach landing craft with urgently needed supplies for the Marine squadrons on Kalma Pando, it was another week before the channel could be declared clear for the Attack Force.
Wonsan: Off the beaches of Kalma Pando the ROKN YMS 516 is blown up by a magnetic mine. 18 October 1950. (Photo #80-G-423625).
One must credit the Russian naval personnel who had been assigned to mine Wonsan with the achievement of a considerable success. Prior to their departure in early October, these gentlemen had not only held mine school for the North Koreans but had assembled the magnetic mines, planned the minefields, and supervised their planting. The effort had been an extremely economical one. Barges towed by motor sampan had been employed as minelayers, and local labor used both to load the barges and to roll the mines off the stern. With this negligible investment in training, equipment, and personnel, more than 2,000 of a planned 4,000 mines had been planted in the harbor, four ships had been sunk, and a delay of six days imposed upon the Attack Force.
Arduous though it had been, the opening of Wonsan was but part of the job which faced the minesweepers. Other east coast ports demanded clearance, while in the west the need for seaborne supply was urgent. There the advance of Eighth Army, although only lightly opposed, had been carried out under circumstances of considerable logistic difficulty. Daily requirements were on the order of 1,500 tons; the rail and truck shuttle above Seoul could produce only half that figure; and as the best efforts of the airlift could not make up the deficit, every mile of northward movement increased the troubles of the overworked quartermasters.
So far as capabilities permitted, efforts to open west coast ports had already begun. Returning from Inchon in early October, one AM and six AMS had stopped by at Kunsan, and in the course of a sweep to the docks had destroyed four mines and located another two score. In mid-October, as Eighth Army was moving on Pyongyang, the Japanese contract sweepers were ordered to clear the entrance to Haeju, an operation which would make available a 2,000-foot quay with four fathoms alongside and with road and rail connections to the north. By 1 November the work was done, but by this time the front had reached the Chongchon River, and with the Army’s needs increasing, the effect was marginal. Autumn comes suddenly in North Korea: at Pyongyang the monthly mean temperature drops from 400 in October to 230 in November, and the nights are cold. Short of rations, short of fuel, and with both men and machinery urgently in need of winterizing, Eighth Army was under heavy pressure from CincFE to expedite its advance. In this situation, and in the absence in the north of suitable LST beaching sites, anguished cries arose from EUSAK for the opening of the port of Chinnampo.
Situated ten miles up the tidal Taedong River, Chinnampo is to Pyongyang as Inchon is to Seoul. Like Inchon it suffers from the disability of its location on the eastern shore of the Yellow Sea. For 30 miles or so islands and drying mud banks line the approach; inside the headlands the channel shrinks to a mere quarter of a mile in width in the narrows of Pido Sudo; tidal currents in the river reach three and a half knots on the flood and four a half on the ebb. The port itself had a dredged basin which could accommodate a few ships, along with railroad spurs and some unloading equipment; there were beaches which could take a few LSTs. But damage had been suffered from air strikes, there was an extreme shortage of lighterage, and the maximum capacity of the port was less than half that of Inchon. Still, with all its faults, Chinnampo was unique. No alternative existed. Its opening was mandatory.
Chinnampo: A bucking LCVP in the well of Catamount; in the background the destroyer Forrest Royal, flagship of the West Coast minesweeping group. (Photo #80-G-422837).
The appeals from Eighth Army for the opening of Chinnainpo were sympathetically received by Admiral Joy. But his slender force was fully committed at Wonsan, and although on 21 October he promised to cominence the clearance at the earliest possible date, his estimate of the time required for completion was a pessimistic three weeks. But, even if forces are unavailable, orders can always be issued, and CoinNavFE had already ordered Admiral Smith relieved of his duties at Wonsan in order to prepare plans for the earliest possible sweeping of Chinnampo. On the afternoon of the 22d, CTF 95 was so released.
Although the disposable force immediately available to Smith consisted of himself, it was soon to be augmented. Two visiting officers, Commanders Stephen M. Archer and Donald N. Clay, who had come out from CincLantFleet and CincPacFleet headquarters to look over the mine situation, were put to work. Clay was at once constituted an intelligence team, and sent off to Chinnampo to investigate the enemy lay; Archer was ordered to Sasebo, where CTF 95 was attempting to scrounge a sweeping force.
In point of fact prospects were not as bad as they seemed at first sight. On the 22d the two remaining Pacific Fleet DMS, Thompson and Carmick, reached Japan, to be followed on the next day by the three AMS of Mindiv 51 from Pearl Harbor. These were at once ordered forward to the Yellow Sea: Thompson and Carmick sailed on the 27th, to be shortly followed by the AMS and by the destroyer Forrest Royal, a new arrival from the Atlantic Fleet which Smith had obtained as Archer’s flagship. Together with various later acquisitions these units made up Task Element 95.69 which was to do the job.
With Wonsan open the PBMs were switched back to west coast mine hunting, assisted by the RAF Sunderlands. Efforts in the Yellow Sea were complicated by the many large jellyfish, four feet or more in diameter, gray in color, and floating a few feet below the surface, which gave rise to numerous false alarms. But despite this distraction good work was done. Three days of search brought 34 mine sightings, and 16 sinkings by strafing, and a subsequent attempt to blow magnetic mines by depth charging met with some slight success, although at a considerable cost in ordnance. On 29 October the air effort was strengthened by Worcester’s helicopter, temporarily based on the British carrier Theseus which also provided combat air patrol. And in due course the work of the patrol planes was simplified, and more time on station made possible, with the reestablishment of the Inchon seadrome by Gardiner’s Bay.
Since the entire Yellow Sea is of mineable depth, the point of origin of the sweep was arbitrarily located some 30 miles off the channel entrance and 69 miles from the docks. The approach sweep was begun on the 29th, as Thompson and Carmick headed in from the west and turned south inside the outer mine line to reach the channel entrance near the island of Cho Do. On the 31st Commander Archer arrived in Forrest Royal; on 1 November the three AMS turned up, along with Bass and her UDT detachment, two ROK YMS, and a Scajap LST which would relieve Theseus as helicopter base. By 2 November Commander Clay and Lieutenant (j.g.) Hong, ROKN, had discovered the pattern of the minefield: 217 moored and 25 magnetic mines were reported to have been laid, with five lines across the main channel north of Sok To and one across the passage south of that island. Although this southern channel, Sok To Myoji, is a shallow draft affair with a least depth of two and a quarter fathoms at low water, its lighter protection made it for the moment the channel of choice. Here the effort was pressed.
The predominant lesson of the Wonsan experience had been to search before you sweep. At Chinnampo, where this lesson was faithfully followed, the hunt was simplified by the tidal characteristics of the Yellow Sea, which tended to expose mines at low water. Searching at low tide by patrol plane, helicopter, small boat, and swimmers was emphasized; sweeping was done at high tide with the aim of clearing a not too devious route around rather than through the fields; on 3 November a Korean YMS made a safe passage into Chinnampo. Two helpful arrivals took place on the 4th and 5th in the form of high winds, which shook loose some of the moored mines, and of the LSD Catamount, which after unloading Marines at Wonsan had been loaded at Sasebo with small boats and extra gear and sent west to act as mother ship. On the 6th an ROK YMS took a convoy of tugs and barges in the Sok To channel, five small Marus were put through the next day, and with the arrival on the 10th of a Scajap LST the western approach and southern entrance could be considered clear.
With Sok To Myoji opened, Commander Archer’s force shifted its effort to the deep water entrance and to Cho Do Sudo, the coastal route of approach from the southward. A dozen Japanese sweepers had by now arrived, accompanied by two mother ships, and were checksweeping the already opened channels. By 17 November 14 ships had reached Chinnampo; three days later 40,000 tons had been unloaded and the opening of the deep channel celebrated by the arrival of the hospital ship Repose. Already the Army’s logistic situation had been greatly improved, and General Walker was looking forward to a resumption of the northward advance. By month’s end unloading had reached a rate of 4,800 tons a day, and the sweepers were working north along the coast to clear a channel for possible use by fire support ships or by LSTs supplying the northern front.
Like so many things in human life the opening of a mined harbor is easier the second time. At Chinnampo, in contrast to the events at Wonsan, no lives had been lost and no ships damaged. Of the 80 moored mines swept or destroyed, 36 were credited to patrol planes and 27 to the underwater demolition personnel; 12 had been broken loose by storms; only 5 had been cut by sweepers. Better and earlier intelligence, different tidal conditions, and experience had all been helpful.
Yet if the sweep had been successful, so once again had been the mining; as at Wonsan, considerable delay had been imposed. Shallow draft shipping had been put in to Chinnampo within ten days, but for larger vessels ComNavFE’s estimate of three weeks had proven accurate. The result of these experiences, and of the promise of more trouble in the future, was to give mine warfare, for the first time in years, a high priority in U.S. naval thinking.
The continuing shortage of sweepers now brought a speed-up in their activation: on 16 October the Chief of Naval Operations gave overriding priority to the nine AMS previously scheduled for recommissioning, and added four AMs to the list. The history of the Wonsan sweep, begun in one channel and completed in another, and carried out first by large sweepers, then by small boats and swimmers, and finally by the minesweepers again, showed the need both for improved tactical organization and for better procedures in mine location and mine clearance. In the United States a research and development program was begun. In Japan steps were taken to provide a suitable mother ship by conversion of an LST to carry supplies, accommodate small boats, and serve as helicopter platform. In the administrative sphere ComNavFE in late October had recommended the reestablishment of the Mine Force type command, and had urged that pending this step a flag officer be assigned to administer mine warfare in the Far East. These recommendations were approved, and on 11 November the Minesweeping Force Western Pacific was activated under the command of Admiral Higgins.
Part 3. 19 October–20 November: Operations in Eastern North Korea
"The neighborhood of Wonsan," says the old guide book to North China and Korea, "heavily forested and with mountains rising from the sea, is extremely picturesque. To the southwest lie the Diamond Mountains, whose watercourses, forests, and famous monasteries have earned them the appellation of the Jewel of Korea. Here tiger, leopard, bear, wolves, and wild boar may still be found, as well as various species of deer, pheasant, and bustard. The natives, hardy in the chase, employ falcons in their pursuit of small game.
Having prepared for their assault into this tourist wonderland, the Marines, embarked in the ships of Task Force 90, had left Inchon in time to make the 20 October D-Day. But the capture of Wonsan by ROK forces made the assault landing unnecessary, and eased the problem of introducing X Corps into northeastern Korea. Although the forests hid more dangerous game than tiger or bear, in the form of sizable North Korean units moving along the inland mountain tracks, no really serious opposition was anticipated, while the Kalma Pando air strip and the decks of the carriers at sea held larger and more lethal birds than falcons.
While the dangerous and tedious work of minesweeping went forward, the ships of the Attack Force were moving south through the Yellow Sea and east through the Korean Strait. At Pusan the 7th Division and corps contingents were preparing to sail. But on the 18th the discovery of influence mines off the Wonsan beaches brought the decision to delay entrance until a thorough magnetic sweeping could be accomplished. Admiral Thackrey was instructed to hold the later echelons in port, and the projected movement of the 3rd Division from Japan to Korea was postponed.
On the afternoon of 19 October the Transport and Tractor Groups arrived in the Korean Gulf. The flagship Mount McKinley, with the Attack Force and Marine Division staffs embarked, moved in and anchored in the swept channel, but the rest of the force was ordered to reverse course and so maneuver as to return at daylight of the 21st. Further delay brought repetition of these instructions, and until morning of the 25th the Attack Force steamed back and forth, first south and then north again, through the Sea of Japan. This evolution, designated Operation Yo-Yo by the crowded and disgruntled Marines, had some serious implications: food threatened to run short; ideal conditions were presented for the spread of epidemic disease. Only a few days earlier, dysentery had hit the crews of two cruisers of the Formosa Patrol; during "Yo-Yo" it broke out in epidemic form on the MSTS transport Marine Phoenix, afflicting 700 of the 2,000 embarked troops and a like proportion of the crew. But terms in purgatory are by definition limited, and "Yo-Yo" in due time came to an end. Beginning at 1500 on the 25th the ships of the Attack Force moved in column through the swept channel to drop anchor in southern Yonghung Man.
Looking southeast at the invasion fleet: Sin Do in the foreground; in the left distance Umi Do, the southern entrance point of Yonghung Man. 26 October 1950. (Photo #80-G-422091).
Five LSTs were beached at once with engineer and shore party materiel, and at daylight on the 26th general unloading began. In accordance with the original assault plan the 1st Marines went in across Yellow Beach and the 7th Marines across Blue Beach, with RCT 5 following on the next day. As a result of the shallow gradient, landing craft grounded some distance offshore, personnel had to wade the last few yards, and the rapid handling of inanimate objects waited on the construction of ramps and causeways. But work was pushed: of the more than 25,000 men in the division and attached units, well over half were ashore by evening of the 26th, along with more than 2,000 vehicles and 2,000 tons of cargo, and five days later the operation was completed. While the Marines were coming ashore over the Kalma Pando beaches and deploying outward, the minesweepers had moved on into the inner harbor. Although local information indicated that this had not been mined, nobody wanted to take chances. But the informants proved correct, and by 2 November the port was pronounced clear.
Wonsan Landings, October 1950. Six U.S. and Korean LSTs unloading at Wonsan, North Korea, during the landing of the First Marine Division. (Photo #80-G-421388).
The landing had been delayed six days. First on to so many beaches, the Marine Division had this time been preceded by its Aircraft Wing and by a USO troop. But except by the mining effort and the Sin Do batteries, the operation had been unopposed, and so economical. A major port had been seized and opened, an important force was ashore in eastern North Korea, and more was on the way. For the Marines the only casualties were those 84 dysentery victims who had to be hospitalized, and even when the losses of the minesweeping force were reckoned in, the bill in military terms was small.
Throughout the period of Operation Yo-Yo Eighth Army had been advancing in the west. In the central mountains the Korean II Corps had continued northward. Moving onward from Wonsan, ROK troops had entered Hamhung and Hungnam on 17 October; by the time the Marine Division came ashore the front was more than 50 miles to the northward, and was still moving. On the 17th Helena and Worcester had bombarded transportation targets at Songjin, but from that time on the work of the gunfire ships was largely limited to standing by. Since its preinvasion strikes in the Wonsan region Task Force 77 had been sending its flights northward, in support of the South Koreans and in attacks against a diminishing number of targets beyond the bombline; soon the fast carriers would be withdrawn to port. On the entire coast the only really busy units were the minesweepers and the ships of the Amphibious Force, on whom devolved responsibility for opening new ports, bringing in more forces, and providing logistic support for X Corps as it sprawled out over eastern North Korea.
In these circumstances General Almond’s force found its mission changed. The speed of advance into North Korea had obviated the need for a westward thrust by the units of X Corps; the U.N. resolution of early October had shifted the emphasis of the campaign from the destruction of the enemy army to the pacification of North Korea. A new scheme of maneuver had consequently been developed by GHQ, and five days before the Wonsan landing X Corps received orders to advance to the north.
On 25 October, with Wonsan at last open to the invasion fleet, Struble, Almond, and Doyle met to consider the implications of this change for the operations of the Joint Task Force. To speed the northward movement it was decided to land one or more of the regiments of the 7th Division at Iwon, 90 miles to the northeast, on the coastal strip which had been the summer target of NavFE surface forces. North and south of this small administrative center the bombardment ships had carried out their work, and landing parties from Juneau, Bass, and Perch had gone ashore to raid the railroad. But Iwon, and its port town of Kunson, had remained undisturbed, and between 25 and 27 October Endicott, Doyle, and one AMS swept an 18-mile channel and an anchorage area without discovering any mines.
The landing of the 7th Division at Iwon was entrusted to Admiral Thackrey. Having supervised the operation of the port of Inchon and the early stages of the reembarkation of the Marines, ComPhibGroup 3 had since 11 October been administering the loading of 7th Division and corps troops at Pusan. On the 26th he arrived at Wonsan in Eldorado, and next day sailed for Iwon, where debarkation began on the 29th. The lack of amphibious craft in the 7th Division convoys, the absence of local lighterage, and the need to improvise a beach party made the operation a slow one; everything in the transports and cargo ships had to be offloaded into LSTs and smaller craft, a process which resulted in considerable superficial topside damage owing to swell in the unprotected anchorage. But by the 30th one regiment had landed all its personnel and vehicles and much of its gear. By 8 November the entire lift of 29,000 men had been put ashore, and the division was backtracking down the coast in preparation for its move to the north.
Although it too was shortly to move northward, the Marine Division, following its landing at Wonsan, found, itself for the moment involved in blocking and protective missions. One battalion was moved in over the mountains to cut off enemy troops retiring up the Imjin valley road, while a second was ordered to Kojo, some 30 miles back down the coast to the southeast. The assignment to the Kojo area, where the situation map showed a patchwork of North Korean and ROK units, was not wholly unexpected. On the 21st, while the Marines were still cruising the Sea of Japan, General Almond had asked for the immediate landing of a battalion there to ensure the protection of an ROK supply dump. The request had been denied by Admiral Struble, owing to the possibility of unswept mines, but on the 24th the task was reassigned to the Marine Division. Since a Marine air strike in this region had discovered and attacked an estimated 800 enemy troops, the idea seemed a reasonable one.
On the 24th, in preparation for this move and to ensure the possibility of support from the sea in the event of an enemy descent upon the coastal road, the fast minesweepers Endicott and Doyle swept and buoyed a channel into Kojo, and two days later a battalion was sent down from Wonsan by train. At Kojo all seemed peaceful on arrival: the sea was blue, the town undamaged. But on the night of the 27th the battalion was surprised and hit hard by troops of the North Korean 5th Division, and a call for helicopter evacuation of casualties, for air and gunfire support, and for tanks quickly brought forth a miniature example of standard amphibious support procedures.
Sicily and Badoeng Strait had arrived off Wonsan on 18 October and had been covering the minesweeping operations. Now, in concert with the squadrons on Kalma Pando, they stepped up their sorties against enemy troops, and heavily attacked the town of Tongchon, reported to contain the enemy headquarters. Helicopters were provided to fly out the more seriously wounded, and the fast transport Wantuck was ordered down from Wonsan with a surgical team. The destroyers Hank and English took the enemy troops under fire, LST 883 got underway from Wonsan with a load of tanks, a reinforcing battalion was sent down to Kojo by rail, and the situation was soon under control. The whole affair was a somewhat confused one, for the supply dump which provided the rationale of the operation turned out to have been removed before the first contingent of Marines arrived. But in any event the Kojo effort was shortly terminated: on the 31st a battalion of Korean Marines arrived from Samchok by LST to take over the job of policing the area.
As the Koreans were relieving at Kojo a second minor amphibious operation was getting underway. Sixty miles below Wonsan, at the southern end of the Korean Gulf, sizable and aggressive guerilla forces were reported operating in the hills behind Kosong. Under the supervision of Captain Robert C. Peden, Commander Tractor Group, Korean troops were loaded into two LSTs, and sailed on 1 November for this area. The two destroyer minesweepers made a sweep which discovered no mines, and on the morning of the 3rd an unopposed landing was successfully executed. A few days bushwhacking brought the situation under control; on 8 November two LSTs were sent down to bring the Koreans back again, and by the 10th they had been returned to Wonsan.
There more strength was now arriving to take over the responsibility for local defense and to relieve the Marine Division for its move to the north. With the Wonsan landing completed, and with the 7th Division going ashore at Iwon, Admiral Doyle had sent six ships to Pusan to bring back one of the regiments of the 3rd Infantry Division. Units of this group began returning to Wonsan on 5 November, and by the 8th the movement was completed and the regiment was ashore. In the meantime a larger task element, composed of nine transport and cargo types, some MSTS shipping, and some LSTs, was formed and ordered to Moji, on Shimonoseki Strait, to lift the balance of the 3rd Division.
All troop movements were now provided for, but there was still work for the Navy, for the northward reorientation of the campaign required both a reshuffling of forces already ashore and the opening of another port. General Almond had selected the city of Hamhung as the site of X Corps Headquarters, the Marines were moving north from Wonsan, and the new problem for the minesweepers, who had opened Wonsan to the southward and Iwon to the north, was to clear the neighboring harbor of Hungnam in anticipation of a consolidation of east coast logistic activities there.
The city of Hungnam, manufacturing center as well as seaport, lies in the northwestern corner of the Korean Gulf near the delta of the Songchon River. Although Hamhung, its inland satellite, is an important road and railway center, Hungnam is the larger of the two, with a population in 1950 a third again that of Wonsan. The bay on which the city lies is open to the south, but the inner harbor is protected by a 2,200-foot wharf with four fathoms of water and by a breakwater. Other smaller wharves existed, as did heavy loading equipment, developed to handle the products of the city’s chemical industry As at Wonsan, the 100-fathom curve runs 30 miles offshore, and the approaches are easily mined.
Since intelligence reports indicated that over a hundred moored mines had been planted at Hungnam, a serious sweeping effort was required. A destroyer minesweeper, seven AMS, and supporting units were made available, and on 7 November clearance was begun. Small boat and helicopter search was employed to the utmost; an approach was chosen which would detour the minefields by passing close under the eastern point; so successful was the reconnaissance that the only mines swept were well clear of the entrance lane. A sweep was made for magnetic mines, but none was discovered, and the port was declared open on the 11th. On the 14th Admiral Doyle turned affairs at Wonsan over to Commander Transport Group, Captain Samuel G. Kelly in the attack transport Bayfield, and sailed for Hungnam in Mount McKinley.
One more harbor clearance was necessary to provide the desired accessibility to eastern North Korea. To simplify the logistic support of ROK troops advancing up the coast, General Almond on 3 November had requested the opening of Songjin, 35 miles beyond Iwon. On completion of the job at Hungnam the sweepers were ordered onward, and between 16 and 19 November the seven AMS swept a channel and an anchorage area at Songjin without discovering any mines. This, for the moment, completed the minesweeping task. In time, it is true, the continuing northward progress of Korean troops would bring a call for the opening of Chongjin. But for reasons beyond the sweepers’ control this request would not be implemented.
For the ships of Task Force 90 and for Captain Spofford’s sweepers the weeks following the Wonsan landing had been busy ones. Three divisions had been put into North Korea through two ports; support had been provided for two small operations against remnants of the North Korean Army; five harbors had been swept for mines. By mid-November pressure was decreasing, but there remained some chores to be performed. Although the personnel of the Army’s 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, which was to operate the port of Hungnam, had been moved down from Iwon by rail, some of the heavy equipment could not pass the tunnels and had to be reloaded and brought down by sea. A considerable amount of X Corps cargo, initially landed at Wonsan but now needed at Hungnam, also required water transport, and this movement was accomplished by LST shuttle service in the closing days of the month. So far as the movement of forces into eastern North Korea went, however, a terminal date could be assigned, for on 20 November the final elements of the 3rd Infantry Division reached Wonsan from Moji. This day was also made memorable by the landing on the Wonsan airstrip of the Secretary of the Navy and an inspection party. Apprised of this prospect, Admiral Doyle had sailed down from Hungnam the day before to meet the distinguished visitors and to welcome them aboard his flagship. There, in the course of a short speech delivered to the ship’s company, the Secretary observed that this was the first visit he had ever paid to any ship of the U.S. Navy.
Much game has been made by later writers of the incumbent of this office during the Grant administration, who was said to have been surprised by the discovery that ships were hollow. The events of the 20th on Mount McKinley should perhaps also be recorded as a footnote to history, and as memorializing a Secretary who, in office for more than a year and a half, had never bothered to find out.
Part 4. 15 October–24 November; New Plans and New Problems
For all but the minesweeping crews afloat and those with logistic responsibilities ashore, October had been a happy month. On land, at sea, and in the air it was a harvest time, a period of exploitation of a great victory, in which the steady advance of U.N. forces brought visions of a speedy end to hostilities. On the 15th, having found time to fly to Wake Island for a conference with the President of the United States, CincFE opined that organized resistance would end by Thanksgiving. The likelihood of Russian or Chinese intervention, a matter of concern at Washington and Lake Success, was very small; if the Chinese did attempt to enter Korea it could only be with comparatively small forces which would be "slaughtered" by U.N. air strength. With the war over by Thanksgiving, Eighth Army could be withdrawn to Japan by Christmas, while X Corps remained as an occupation force for the month or two necessary to prepare and hold elections throughout Korea.
The military situation, as of the moment, went far to bear out CincFE’s optimistic picture. Resistance on the ground, steadily decreasing, had by mid-month practically ended. On 19 October, as the Marine Division was rounding the Korean peninsula, Eighth Army entered Pyongyang, to the pleasure of the acquisitive American soldiery who liberated quantities of red flags, portraits and busts of Stalin, and other desirable impedimenta. Entrance into the capital was followed by a parachute drop in regimental strength 30 miles to the northward, and the drop by a CincFE statement to the press that the war was coming to an end. Shortly the forces of the U.N. pushed on across the Chongchon River, and on 26 October ROK troops reached the banks of the Yalu.
While the armies advanced almost at will, the navies of the United Nations cruised undisturbed along the Korean coasts. Across the vast Pacific transports and cargo ships steamed without let or hindrance, bringing the necessities and luxuries of war. Step by step, as sweeping progressed and ports were opened, the ends of the seaborne supply line closed up on the advancing front, to lighten the burdens of the logisticians.
In the air, too, the war was uncontested, and U.N. air strength was moving forward. At Wonsan, 70 miles above the parallel, Marine squadrons were ashore; at Yonpo, near Hungnam, a second modern airfield was available; in the west Fifth Air Force had advanced its JOC to Seoul and was preparing to activate northern airfields; in the Yellow Sea and in the Sea of Japan the carriers still sent forth their planes. But increasingly the airmen of all services found themselves hard up for targets, and as the month wore on the sortie rate diminished.
Already the cheerful prospect of an imminent end to the fighting had been reflected in the activities of Naval Forces Far East. This change was first apparent in the activities of the planners, whose working day embraces future time, and even before the Wonsan Attack Force sailed, Admiral Joy’s staff had turned its attention to post-war redeployment. Estimates were made of desirable post-hostility force levels in the Far East, and of the size of the shore establishment in Japan; planning was undertaken for future assistance to the ROK Navy and Marine Corps. So far indeed had things progressed that Operation Plan 114-50, which listed naval missions in support of the pacification of North Korea and contained an annex on the homeward movement of forces, was issued on 19 October, the day of entry into Pyongyang, and plans for the redeployment of the Marine Division reached General Smith while he was still en route to Wonsan.
Nor were the operating forces unaffected. Although the minesweepers were working overtime, and although Task Force 90 still had plenty to do in getting X Corps ashore, elsewhere the tempo of the campaign diminished. With less and less to shoot at, some of the fire support ships were returned to port, while the functions of the remainder were reduced to patrolling and covering operations. From the west coast the British carrier Theseus, with no more targets in hand, was sailed for Sasebo for onward routing to Hong Kong. Off Korea’s eastern shore a major redeployment of naval strength was begun.
More carrier strength was now available than could be profitably employed. With elimination of the Joint Task Force’s Wonsan objective area by advancing ROK troops, there again arose the question of the assumption by FEAF of operational or coordination control of carrier air. The always present possibility of a new intervention from the north posed questions as to the readiness of antisubmarine forces. To meet or minimize these problems a reduction and modification of theater naval strength seemed desirable: on 22 October Philippine Sea and Boxer left the operating area for Yokosuka; one week later Valley Forge and Leyte retired to Sasebo. On her arrival in Japan Boxer was routed onward to the continental United States for navy yard overhaul; Valley Force was scheduled to return to the west coast in late November; plans were made to withdraw the escort carriers from Korean waters, and to send Sicily to Guam to reembark her antisubmarine squadron. On 28 October Admiral Struble forwarded his appreciation to ComNavFE: recent experience showed that the Seventh Fleet should not revert to the status of a one-carrier force, but should remain a balanced fleet with amphibious and minesweeping capabilities; to emphasize the mobility of naval forces, and to strengthen the impact on the doubtful of the United Nations’ success in Korea, he proposed at the earliest moment to take his command to southeast Asian waters to show the flag and to conduct training exercises. Three days later Joint Task Force 7 was dissolved, and the flagship group retired to Sasebo.
Only Admiral Higgins’ minesweeping groups and the Military Sea Transportation Service continued to grow in strength. Reinforcements for the former were still arriving as November came, while the latter had not yet reached its peak. Having entered business on 1 July as the proprietor of 25 small ships, Captain Junker’s command had undergone an explosive expansion, until by the time of the Wonsan landing it controlled 243 vessels. The requirements of the advance to the north brought a further slight increase, and the week of 8 November saw 263 ships under MSTS WestPac control. But then, with X Corps well established ashore, the decline began, and by mid-month the total would be down some ten percent. Similar considerations affected the Amphibious Force, but by mid-November Admiral Doyle could contemplate a redeployment of his hard-worked shipping for respite and training in Japan.
The diminishing activity of Naval Forces Far East was quickly reflected in reduced expenditure of important commodities. Naval consumption of aviation gasoline, which had reached a peak of 187,000 barrels in August, was down in October to 130,000. Ammunition expenditure, more than 2,100 short tons in the week of 19 September, had declined by October's end to less than a sixth of that amount. Navy cargo lifted from the west coast, POL excepted, had fallen radically from the 107,000 measurement tons of the week of 21 August; in October it dropped steadily from 29,000 tons per week to a mere 11,000. What the naval effort had amounted to in terms of transfer of force may be seen from the extraordinary expansion of NavFE-supported personnel, U.S. and U.N., which from a mere 11,000 in June had reached 40,000 by early August, 69,000 in late September, and 79,000 by mid-October. But there it stopped, homeward deployment was begun, and the coming of November saw the total naval population down to 75,000.
Not only had intensity of effort diminished, following the defeat of the North Koreans, but the entire concept of operations had been changed. The late September plans for the encirclement of retiring enemy remnants had called for a landing at Wonsan, followed by a westward thrust of X Corps to a junction with Eighth Army in the neighborhood of Pyongyang. Completion of this movement would have resulted in control of the Korean waist south of the restraining line, and of the Pyongyang-Sinanju-Hungnam-Wonsan quadrilateral. Here the axial range is lowest, the mountains rarely rise above 3,000 feet, and here are found the best transverse communications in the entire peninsula. Harbors on both coasts are useful to a force sustained by sea, and the area’s industrial towns are linked by a road net of considerable density in Korean terms, and one at least marginally adequate for western forces.
But the successes that had crowned his arms, and the U.N. mandate for Korean unification, had caused General MacArthur to lift up his eyes unto the hills. On 17 October, following his return from Wake, CincFE had issued orders that if Pyongyang fell before the Wonsan landing was completed, X Corps should no longer strike westward across the peninsula, but instead continue on to the north. The restraining line, beyond which non-Korean forces were not to pass, would be swung to the northwest, and parallel zones established, separated by the central mountain range, through which Eighth Army and X Corps would advance. With the capture of Pyongyang, entered by Eighth Army on the 19th and declared secure two days later, these new orders became effective.
With this change the forces of the United Nations faced the task of occupying a very different geographical province. The new restraining line, moved forward in the east some 6o miles, now lay in the watershed of the Yalu, beyond the northern divide, and in its course from east to west crossed mountains towering above 8,000 feet. In this sparsely populated high and craggy country planners could draw lines on maps, but implementers could not man the lines. Indigenous forces, lightly armed and durable, might perhaps maneuver here with some facility, but for motorized armies it was another matter. Only a handful of north-south routes existed; except in the western lowlands only narrow columns could push forward through the twisting defiles. Mutual support under such conditions was hardly a possibility, and even radio communication would be made difficult by the intervening mountains.
For a scant week this concept stayed on the books, and then on 24 October, with the bulk of Eighth Army stalled above Pyongyang by shortage of supplies and with X Corps still awaiting the clearance of Wonsan, the restraining line was abolished altogether and more trackless wastes and frozen peaks were marked for conquest. Since the September authorization of operations above the parallel had stipulated that "no non-Korean ground forces will be used in the northeast provinces . . . or . . . along the Manchurian border," this action caused some stir in Washington. But General MacArthur’s reply to a query from the Joint Chiefs described the decision as based on "military necessity," and stated that "tactical hazards might even result from other action." And once again CincFE had his way.
Whatever the nature of the "military necessity" that General MacArthur had in mind, the proposal to push through to the border with the forces available seems explicable only on the assumption that no serious resistance was anticipated, a view reflected in the diaspora now imposed on X Corps. In its entire zone only three routes led to the northern border, the coastal route by which Korean forces were advancing, and two roads through the inland mountains. Of these the eastern route, from Sinchang north through Kapsan to Hyesanjin, was assigned the 7th Division; the other, 50 miles to the westward, from Hungnam over the mountains and down the Changjin Valley to the Yalu, was given to the Marines. As if this were an insufficient dispersion, the Marine Division came ashore with orders to prepare for a move to the Manchurian border, to make ready a battalion for a possible landing at Chongjin, and at the same time to provide local security in the Wonsan region and at Kojo.
Map 17. On to the Border, 27 October–25 November 1950.
Such was the situation when, in the last week of October, there came sudden signs of increased enemy activity. Large concentrations of fighter planes were reported on the airfield at Antung, on the Manchurian side of the lower Yalu, and Air Force pilots flying down the valley reported antiaircraft fire from the far shore. ROK troops which had reached the Yalu in the Eighth Army zone were roughly handled and driven back. At Unsan the 8th Cavalry Regiment was hit hard by a force which ominously included Chinese. Thirty miles above Hamhung, in the X Corps sector, ROK troops suffered a check in an action in which they captured Chinese prisoners. From Marine night fighters flying out of Kimpo came reports of extensive enemy vehicular traffic across the Yalu bridge at Sinuiju. Soon the available Chinese prisoners were talking freely, affably describing the units to which they belonged and the story of their movement into Korea. On 1 November Fifth Air Force had a tentative report of Russian MIG-I5 jet fighters, a report which would soon prove only too true. Two days later a Nationalist Chinese source reported that the level of military activity in North China and Manchuria indicated an imminent all-out effort, and expressed fears that the forces of the U.N. were in grave danger. On the 5th a PBM patrol plane disappeared in Formosa Strait. Suddenly it seemed as if the party might be getting bigger.
In the X Corps zone the Chinese captured by the ROK forces were seen on 31 October by a Marine patrol, whose report constituted the first information on the new intervention to reach Washington. Queried at the request of the President as to his assessment of the situation, CincFE observed on 4 November that it was as yet impossible to appraise the "actualities of Chinese Communist intervention," put forward a variety of possible explanations, discounted the probability of a full-scale effort, and suggested the avoidance of hasty conclusions. But the reassuring tenor of this message was in contrast to the action undertaken in Korea.
In the west, where Eighth Army’s logistic deficiencies still waited on the opening of Chinnampo, the discovery of Chinese soldiers was taken seriously. General Walker at once recalled his probing columns and formed his army up along the south bank of the Chongchon River, there to remain until the general offensive became possible. On the east coast, on 7 November, Admiral Doyle issued orders to expedite the movement of the 3rd Division from Moji to Korea by sailing ships independently as soon as they were loaded.
While these precautions were being taken on the ground, General MacArthur called upon FEAF and NavFE for their best efforts in the air. On the afternoon of 4 November CincFE’s headquarters instructed Admiral Joy to apply the "immediate maximum air effort of your forces . . . in close support of ground units and interdiction of enemy communications, assembly areas and troop columns." Although the escort carriers were still at sea, supporting the 7th Division’s northward advance, this unexpected order found the fast carriers in port in Japan. Action was immediate: Cardiv 15 was transferred from Admiral Doyle’s control to that of Admiral Struble; the prospective return of Valley Forge to the United States was cancelled; task force personnel were rounded up from the pleasure spots of Japan, and on the morning of the 5th, with Commander Seventh Fleet in Missouri in company, Admiral Hoskins sortied Valley Forge and Leyte from Sasebo. Although winds to 50 knots were met en route, the next day found them back at work in the Sea of Japan, where they were joined on the 9th by Admiral Ewen in Philippine Sea from Yokosuka. They were to be there a long while.
A similar maximum effort was called for from FEAF, which on 5 November was instructed to fly its crews "to exhaustion if necessary" in a two-week effort "to destroy every means of communication and every installation, factory, city and village" below the Yalu River, the hydroelectric complex only excepted. So important was this effort deemed to be that the prohibition of incendiary attacks on inhabited areas, effective since the beginning of the conflict, was now rescinded.
Faced with the requirements of this offensive, and with the increasing probability of jet opposition, General Stratemeyer on 7 November urgently requested reinforcement of his fighter strength by something with higher performance than the F-8o. On the next day he was promised a wing of F-84s and one of F-86As; on the 14th these began loading at San Diego on the escort carrier Bairoko and the light carrier Bataan. By 6 December some of these high-performance fighters were flying Korean missions, and once again the availability of carrier decks had made possible a demonstration of the "inherent mobility" of air power.
In Washington the news of the maximum air effort and of a proiected B-29 attack against the Yalu bridges had caused another flurry. An order from the Joint Chiefs to suspend attacks within five miles of the border was coupled with a request for the reasons behind the air offensives. The reply elicited by this dispatch was couched in very different terms from CincFE’s message of the 4th, which had discounted the likelihood of full-scale Chinese intervention. Now on the 6th General MacArthur reported "men and material in large force" pouring across the Yalu bridges and threatening "the ultimate destruction of the forces" under his command. Cancellation of the bridge strike might "well result in a calamity of major proportions"; the sole means of preventing enemy reinforcement was destruction of these bridges and of "all installations in the north area supporting the enemy advance."
Next day, however, the alarm was muted. In response to a request for an estimate of the situation, CincFE on 7 November struck an average of his previous messages. While emphasizing the importance of Communist air operations from beyond the Yalu, and requesting instructions which would permit him to deal with this development, General MacArthur observed that his early belief that the Chinese were not intervening on a maior scale had been confirmed. In reply to these dispatches the Joint Chiefs authorized attacks against the Korean ends of the Yalu bridges, and against other targets up to the river’s bank, while reemphasizing the necessity of avoiding violation of Manchurian territory or airspace.
Winter had now reached the Sea of Japan. There, back on location, Task Force 77 was maneuvering to avoid snow storms, sweeping and drying the carrier decks with the blast of iet engines, and putting forth its best efforts in interdiction of the area east of 126° 40'E and south of a line five miles below the Manchurian border. At mid-day on the 8th a new priority target was added, as a flash message from ComNavFE informed Admiral Struble that CincFE had determined to destroy the first overwater span on the Korean side of all bridges leading to Manchuria. Since FEAF’s Bomber Command was fully committed to attacks on the downstream bridges at Sinuiju, those at Chongsongjin at the lower end of the Suiho Reservoir, where Air Force pilots had reported heavy vehicular traffic, had been assigned the Navy. Consistent with instructions from Washington, these strikes were to be carried out under restrictive ground rules: the target was the first over-water span, and that only; Manchurian air space was not to be violated; the hydroelectric plants and associated facilities were to remain untouched. Two days later the assignment was generalized by instructions to Task Force 77 to destroy the seven major bridges from Sinuiju eastward, through Chongsongjin, Namsan-ni, and Manpojin, to Hyesanjin at the headwaters of the Yalu.
These were extremely difficult targets. Since the approach had to be made either up or down stream, all attacks had to be carried out through predetermined airspace and subject to unimpeded antiaircraft and fighter opposition from the Manchurian side. To hit a single span, while crossing the narrow dimension of the bridge, was difficult for horizontal bombers owing to the intervals within their sticks of bombs; since crossing the bends in the river was forbidden, it was difficult for the B-29s to get a satisfactory aiming run. For the dive bombers this approach meant that any error in range, normally greater than that in deflection, would ensure a miss, while the attacks involved flights of over 220 miles, across high mountains and through winter weather, which called for the most accurate navigation.
Nine B-29s attacked the Sinuiju bridges on 8 November, while 70 more destroyed 60 percent of the town; next day the carriers flew strikes against the bridges there and at Chongsongjin. Three more days of carrier plane attacks were followed by a day of rest; on the 13th and 14th both B-29s and Task Force 77 returned to the fray. The week of the 15th brought four more carrier strikes, and in the last ten days of the month seven B-29 raids were mounted against the bridges.
The bridge attacks by carrier planes were made by groups of upwards of eight ADs, armed with one 2,000-pound bomb or two 1,ooo-pound bombs apiece, accompanied by Corsairs with VT-fused bombs and rockets to discourage antiaircraft fire from at least the Korean side of the river. For top cover, necessitated by the newly invigorated Communist air opposition, eight or more Panthers accompanied the attack planes. From their launching point in the Korean Gulf the piston-engined aircraft crossed the mountains at 10,000 feet with the Corsairs on top, climbed to 13,000 feet for a high-speed approach, and then, overhauled and joined by the jets some 60 miles short of the target, started their run in. At the objective the Corsairs went down first, to strike the defending gun emplacements, and were followed by the heavyweight ADs, while the F9Fs stepped down to protect against attacks from the rear.
This protection was needed. The enemy iets were real. On the 8th, in the first all-jet air battle of history, an Air Force F-80 fighter pilot had destroyed a MIG; on the 9th, during the attack at Sinuiju, a Navy pilot duplicated the feat, as Lieutenant Commander W. T. Amen of Philippine Sea chased one from 4,000 to 15,000 feet and down again before the enemy spun in. No more than the Air Force F-80s could the Navy fighters match the agile MIG in speed, maneuverability, or rate of climb, but training and gunnery worked to outweigh these adverse factors.
Faced with the double problem of aerial opposition and of antiaircraft gunfire from the sanctuary across the river, Admiral Ewen recommended that members of the U.N. Korean Commission, together with representatives of the Soviets and of the Communist Chinese, be sent up in a transport plane to orbit over and observe the border, and that permission be obtained for hot pursuit of unfriendly aircraft and for attacks on Manchurian batteries which opened fire. Nothing was to come of these suggestions, but the problems which gave rise to them remained, and on the 18th two more MIGs were shot down by pilots from Valley Forge and Leyte.
So far as it went the result of these engagements was encouraging, but the purpose of the strikes was to destroy the bridges, and here the bombing was spotty and the results disappointing. The carrier pilots succeeded in dropping the highway bridge at Sinuiju and in taking out spans at Hyesanjin; the B-29s broke one or two more. But the Communists demonstrated great vigor and ingenuity in improvising repairs, and as November wore on the Yalu ice was thickening to the point where even heavy equipment could be moved across it.
The bridges at Sinuiju: Photograph of Leyte strike shows three spans out on the highway bridge, but the railroad bridge still stands. Across the Yalu, the Manchurian town of Antung. 14 November 1950 (Photo # 80-G-423495).
As the airmen in Korea were flying against the bridges, and as the capitals of the world were considering the implications of Chinese intervention, headquarters estimates of Chinese forces in Korea were on the rise. On 2 November the estimated total was 16,500; by mid-month, when 12 divisions had been identified, it was of the order of 100,000. Total enemy strength, including North Koreans, was estimated at about 145,000 as of the 15th, a figure which was adhered to with little change until the 23rd when it developed a considerable spread, postulating either a minimum of 142,000 or a maximum of 167,000. Whether one accepted the minimum or the maximum or struck an average, this still implied a lot of Chinamen, and their presumed presence in the mountains of central North Korea brought further modification to the mission assigned to General Almond’s forces.
These, since early November, had been pressing forward toward the Manchurian border. After concentrating in the neighborhood of Hamhung, the Marine Division had moved out to the north along the narrow road which leads to the Chosin Reservoir. One brisk fight with Chinese forces took place at Sudong, following which, as in the west, the opposition had disappeared. By the 10th the Marines were over the pass and had reached the headwaters of the Changjin River at Koto-ri; five days later they had gained the reservoir at Hagaru. To the eastward the advance had been still more rapid. ROK forces moving up the coast were approaching Chongjin. The 7th Division had captured Kapsan on the 12th and was moving toward Hyesanjin on the Yalu; although narrow mountain roads and subzero temperatures made progress arduous, no Chinese had been encountered.
Here in the northern mountains, 90 miles above the Wonsan-Pyongyang corridor, the concept of X Corps assistance to Eighth Army was revived by a directive of 15 November, which instructed General Almond to reorient his attack to the westward so as to facilitate the advance of General Walker’s force. Instead of continuing north to the Manchurian border, the Marines were to strike west for 40 miles against the enemy’s supply line. In the works for ten days, the orders for this flattering operation, in which one division was to clear the way for an army, were issued on the 25th, and required the Marine Division to move west from the reservoir to Mupyong-ni, and thence north through Kanggye to the Yalu.
By this time Admiral Doyle had finished off his east coast job. The harbors were open, the logistic situation was satisfactory, and the X Corps rear, firmly based upon the sea, was secure. Rather less, however, could be said for the advanced units, for the Yalu River towns of Manpojin and Hyesanjin, the ultimate objectives of the Marines and of the 7th Division, are 120 miles by air, and perhaps half as much again by mountain road, from the Hungnam base. The concept of the operation is a puzzling one, for while the reorientation of the Marines’ thrust was predicated on the need to help Eighth Army, its extent implied an expectation of non-resistance, and seemed based less on assumptions regarding Chinese capabilities than on assumptions of intent which, if correct, would make the effort hardly necessary.
In the west, since first contact with the Chinese, Eighth Army headquarters had entertained serious doubts about the future. Early in November Admiral Joy had begun to fear that the war would last out the winter; by mid-month he had come to feel that the Chinese had the manpower to expel the U.N. from Korea, and was keeping his fingers crossed against a third World War. Dubious of this winter campaign, General Smith had earlier suggested holding merely the territory covering Hamhung and Wonsan, and even the ever-sanguine Almond had been concerned. But at GHQ, where the strategic art was cultivated in its pure form, optimism appeared to have returned, and lack of contact with the Chinese to have brought the belief that they would fade away. On 18 November General MacArthur concluded that the all-out air effort had isolated the battlefield and restricted enemy supply; this and the logistic improvement which had followed the opening of Chinnampo led him to fix the 24th as the date for Eighth Army’s offensive.
At sea, as on land, this was a period of contradictions. Following the strikes against the Yalu bridges the airmen had again found targets short: on the 18th the escort carriers were withdrawn; on the 19th Valley Forge and two destroyers were detached and ordered to the United States for overhaul. On the 22nd, as the day for the advance approached, Commander Weymouth flew to Seoul to confer with Fifth Air Force on the desired employment of the air groups of the remaining two fast carriers. This was not much. No close support was wanted, whether for Eighth Army or for X Corps. Seventh Fleet aircraft, with those of FEAF’s Bomber Command, were to concentrate their efforts on bridges and communications within a 15-mile strip along the Yalu.
To Commander Task Force 77 the proposal for interdiction flights in western Korea from carriers in the Sea of Japan seemed uneconomical. As a better employment of available force, he suggested that he assume responsibility for supplemental close support of X Corps. But the proposal was turned down.
On 19 November, Moscow broadcast promises of a great offensive which would destroy the U.N. armies. On the 20th CincFE issued orders regarding the etiquette for U.N. forces at the border. Its sanctity was to be meticulously preserved; only small elements would be advanced to its immediate neighborhood; the hydroelectric plants, which served both North Korea and Manchuria, would be kept in uninterrupted operation. On the 24th the opening of the offensive was announced in confident terms. Again it appeared to some that the war was about to end, if not by Thanksgiving at least by Christmas.