Part 1. 24 November–6 December: Defeat in the West
Part 2. 14 November–10 December: The Campaign at the Reservoir
Part 3. 30 November–13 December: Concentration in the East
Part 4. 11 December–24 December: The Evacuation of Hungnam
Part 5. 7 December 1950–25 January 1951: The Second Chinese Offensive
Part 1. 24 November–6 December: Defeat in the West
Imported, sustained, brought forward, and now at last supplied by sea, the multinational ground forces of the U.N. made ready for the final offensive. On 24 November, as Chinese Communist representatives were arriving at Lake Success to complain of American aggression in Formosa, Eighth Army attacked north from the Chongchon River. On the left the II Corps moved forward through the coastal plain; in the center the IX Corps, with the 2nd Infantry Division on its right, advanced northward up the valleys of the Kuryong and the Chongchon; at Tokchon in the central mountains the ROK II Corps, under General Walker’s command although not part of Eighth Army, was under orders to establish contact with X Corps to the northeast. The advance of the Army was supported by Fifth Air Force, while aircraft of Bomber Command and Task Force 77 patrolled a 15-mile strip below the Manchurian border. Progress on the 24th was satisfactory all along the line.
Across the peninsula to the northeast, supported by the fighter squadrons of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and by an Air Force fighter-bomber group, General Almond’s X Corps was again preparing to act as the right arm of the pincer. Up in the high country, 65 mountainous miles from Tokchon, the 7th Marines were moving west from Hagaru to Yudam-ni, where they arrived on the 25th after meeting only light opposition, and where next day they were joined by RCT 5. No more than their predecessors did the 5th Marines have trouble on the road, although interrogation of Chinese prisoners and information from local inhabitants indicated that three Chinese divisions had reached the area. In compliance with the revised plan for X Corps operations General Smith intended to pass the 5th Marines through RCT 7, and to attack westward from Yudam-ni on the morning of the 27th.
But while operations at the reservoir were of a routine nature, things were happening in the west. There on the 25th heavy pressure had developed on the right at Tokchon, and the 2nd Division had been engaged by Chinese Communist forces. By the next day the ROK II Corps had broken before the CCF assault, the right flank was exposed, and the Turkish Brigade and the 1st Cavalry Division were ordered up to bolster the threatened IX Corps. Before the westward thrust from Yudam-ni was scheduled to begin, Eighth Army’s offensive had been stopped.
On the morning of the 27th, following a night of zero temperature and high winds, the 5th Marines nevertheless led out to the west. But the advance was limited to less than a mile by strong Chinese forces entrenched in the hills overlooking the road. With darkness very heavy attacks were launched by two Chinese divisions against the 5th and 7th Marines, while east of the reservoir three Army battalions were assaulted by a third. At Yudam-ni, where violent fighting continued throughout the night and into the morning, the enemy was ultimately repelled. But casualties were heavy, and in the rear, between Yudam-ni and Hagaru, the Chinese controlled the road, and had cut off and surrounded two companies. Further advance was out of the question, and in the afternoon General Smith issued orders halting the movement to the west.
Across the peninsula in the western lowlands things were even worse. On 27 November, as enemy pressure increased, advanced forces on the coastal plain were ordered back across the Chongchon. By the next day Eighth Army was in full retreat and the 2nd Division was desperately trying to extricate itself from a position of the gravest peril. With evening of the 28th Generals Walker and Almond were summoned to Tokyo for a conference with CincFE who, after authorizing Eighth Army and X Corps to withdraw, reported to Washington that the U.N. Command had met "conditions beyond its control and its strength," that he had gone over to the defensive, and that "we face an entirely new war.
Subject only to the deletion of the adjective "entirely," the statement appears correct. Once again an intervention from outside had changed the scale of the Korean conflict, and had removed control of their destinies still further from the inhabitants of the peninsula. The original elder brother had returned, and his forces, it was now sufficiently clear, were not limited to a sprinkling of volunteers but included important components of two field armies. Shortly some 30 Chinese divisions would be identified in North Korea, totalling perhaps 250,000 men, and the imaginative expansion of the NKPA remnants to a strength of 180,000 which was quickly accomplished by GHQ intelligence was not necessary to the proposition that the enemy was once again formidable. In the air the situation had also changed, and fighter planes of very advanced design were operating from the Manchurian fields across the Yalu River. Unlike the situation in June the prospect of U.N. reinforcement was dim: the commitment of very considerable forces to the theater of action had left practically nothing in reserve; the greater part of the Pacific Fleet was in the forward area and Army strength in the continental United States was down to a single division.
Yet not everything was new and different; in some respects the pattern was familiar. The new enemy, like the old, was based on the Asiatic mainland; the forces of the United Nations were still sustained by sea. Again intelligence had been available, again there had been surprise. As had been the case five months before, rapid enemy successes brought rapid retirement by the ground forces of the U.N. At sea, where enemy strength was still conspicuous by its absence, Naval Forces Far East retained the responsibility for any necessary evacuation of friendly nationals, a responsibility now greatly enlarged. As before, enemy offensive efforts in the air were negligible; as before, the full employment of U.N. air strength was hindered by circumstance. In July the problem had been one of range, and the lack of advanced airfields had placed a premium on available carrier strength; in November a dearth of identifiable targets had limited the effectiveness of Air Force and naval aviation alike; in December the forced abandonment of forward bases would bring the range problem back to the fore. Once again a period of emergency would raise problems of Navy-Air Force coordination. New war, in many respects, was just old war writ large.
Even before General MacArthur had reported his shift to the defensive, the Navy had begun to react. At Admiral Joy’s headquarters, where the possibility of a general emergency had been kept steadily in mind, the first appearance of the Chinese had caused concern. Planning had been expedited, and Operation Plan 116-50, laying down procedures for an emergency evacuation of U.N. forces from Korea, had been issued on 13 November. Enunciating the concept that any such operation "should be based upon the principle of an ‘assault in reverse,’" this plan provided detailed hydrographic and loading information for Korean and Japanese ports, gave figures on troop capacity of both commercial and combatant shipping, and established a command structure in which CTF 90, supported by other theater naval forces, would control naval and air operations in evacuation areas. Rarely, it would seem, have the routine precautions of the planners proved of such immediate value. At 1534 on 28 November ComNavFE alerted Admiral Doyle for a possible general emergency which would require redeployment of the ground forces from Korea to Japan.
On receipt of this dispatch CTF 90 and his staff at once worked out preliminary plans for the deployment of half the Amphibious Force to west coast operations under Admiral Thackrey and half to the Wonsan-Hungnam area. Next day the operation order was promulgated, all ships were alerted to the possibility of air attack, Task Force 90 was placed on six-hour notice, amphibious shipping in Korean waters was held there, and all units at Yokosuka were ordered down to Sasebo.
As the first steps were being taken to prepare for the ultimate emergency other action was underway to prevent its development. On the 28th, in response to a Fifth Air Force request, Task Force 77 had expanded its area of armed reconnaissance southward, and throughout the day Philippine Sea and Leyte had kept eight Corsairs and six ADs over the newly enlarged border strip. But reports of the apparent crisis which confronted EUSAK led Admiral Ewen to feel that more could and should be done, and that circumstances called less for armed reconnaissance than for support of troops. On conclusion of operations on the 28th he proposed to Admiral Struble that the six flights scheduled for the next day be routed to check in with the Fifth Air Force Tactical Air Control Center and offer their services in close support before proceeding to the border zone, and that consideration on the highest level be given the assignment to EUSAK of Marine tactical air control parties for the handling of available naval aircraft. In the evening Commander Seventh Fleet passed the first of these suggestions to Fifth Air Force.
For the present this offer of assistance by the two Seventh Fleet fast carriers was all that could be done to provide increased support to the armies in the peninsula. For the future, despite the heavy deployment to Far Eastern waters, some further accretions of force could still be called for. To the British at Hong Kong went an urgent call to hurry back, and on 1 December Andrewes sailed for Sasebo in Theseus, to be shortly followed by Kenya. From Formosa Strait the cruiser Manchester was ordered up to Korean waters. Destroyer Division 31, en route to the west coast for overhaul, was ordered to reverse course. The sailing of the APA Bexar for the United States was cancelled. Sicily and her antisubmarine squadron had just reached Japan from Guam; once again she was directed to unload in order to embark Marine fighter planes. The light carrier Bataan, with her load of high-performance Air Force jets, was just arriving at Yokosuka, and the escort carrier Bairoko was on the way; shortly ComNavFE would request permission to retain these ships so as to have decks available for more Marines should the Wonsan and Yonpo airstrips be overrun. First of the carriers to see action in the summer war, Valley Forge was now halfway across the Pacific on her way home; she was instructed to expedite her movement to the United States, exchange her air group for that of Boxer, and return at once.
This evolution, however, would take time, and for the moment Task Force 77 contained only two carriers. That earlier reinforcement would prove possible was due to the existence of the mothball fleet, and to the reactivation program previously begun. On 25 July the Chief of Naval Operations had ordered the activation of the fast carrier Princeton, then in reserve at Bremerton. Recommissioned on 28 August, under command of Captain William 0. Gallery and with a crew largely composed of recalled reservists, Princeton had completed her period of shakedown training, had embarked Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie, Commander Carrier Division 5, and had sailed from the west coast in early November. On the 25th she departed Pearl Harbor for the Western Pacific; on the 27th, on orders from CincPacFleet to proceed at maximum safe speed, she went up to 30 knots; on the 30th ComNavFE instructed her to proceed directly to the operating area.
On 29 and 30 November Eighth Army continued its retreat across the Chongchon River. On the left disengagement proceeded without great difficulty, but there was trouble in the center, and on the right the situation was very bad. The Turkish Brigade, moved forward following the ROK collapse, was roughly handled, while the 2nd Division, after a difficult crossing of the Chongchon, became entangled in a five-mile roadblock north of Sunchon. Cut off and cut up, swept with fire from the hills along the road and blocked by its own vehicles, the division became disorganized, and in a two-day ordeal lost some 40 percent of its personnel and most of its guns and gear.
That these losses, great though they were, were not still greater, was due in considerable part to an all-out effort by Fifth Air Force against the attacking Chinese, an effort to some degree assisted by the air groups of the fast carriers. On the morning of the 29th, pursuant to his suggestion of the previous evening, Admiral Ewen sent seven Corsairs and five ADs across the peninsula to offer their services in close support. Passed from hand to hand for a time, they were finally instructed to circle Kunu-ri in the 2nd Division trouble zone; there, after a 25-minute wait, they were directed onto a troop concentration north of the town. This qualified success, together with Air Force acceptance of his offer of the 28th, led CTF 77 to route all armed reconnaissance flights for the 30th through a point in 39° 30' N 126° E, near the big bend in the Taedong and just east of the pass in which the 2nd Division was engaged in dubious combat, to offer their loads for close support to any controller they could reach. But by the time these instructions were issued new claims on the fast carriers had developed.
Up on the plateau, following the attacks of the 27th and 28th, comparative quiet reigned, but the enemy controlled the roads and Marine and Army units had been separated into a series of isolated perimeters. In this situation General Harris, the Marine air commander, had strongly recommended to ComNavFE a sustained effort by the fast carriers in the X Corps zone, and had stated that Fifth Air Force concurred in this proposal. But an evening dispatch from FAFIK on the 29th indicated that such concurrence applied only to that day’s operations, and asked, in view of the "critical condition" in the EUSAK area, a divided effort for the next few days. And a message from ComNavFE, confirming that close support had priority over all other commitments, prescribed such distribution of carrier air effort.
The sorties of the 30th were consequently so divided, and the schedule of operations stepped up by the addition of five jet flights of four planes each. Thirty-nine sorties were sent up to the reservoir while 74, including 23 jet sorties, were dispatched on armed reconnaissance with instructions to report en route to any available Air Force control agency. As always in emergencies there were difficulties. In X Corps zone, communications were overcrowded and radio discipline poor, but the coherence of Marine units had not been broken and most flights found control. In the west, by contrast, the state of affairs was chaotic: the Fifth Air Force had already been forced out of its forward staging fields at Sinanju on the Chongchon, some advanced control parties had been overrun, irreplaceable control equipment had been lost, and evacuation of the Mosquito control planes from the Pyongyang airfields was in progress.
The effects of this situation were apparent in difficulties of aircraft control. Of four jet flights to the EUSAK zone three made no contact. Of the heavily-armed strike groups of Corsairs and Skyraiders that were dispatched to the west, one was weathered out, one failed to find a controller, and one found good control. There were delays, and when one flight came across to the west, after failing to make contact in the X Corps area, the ADs were incomprehensibly detached from attack to road reconnaissance. But control once gained was fair to excellent: the two propeller strikes which did make contact put 14 Corsairs and 5 ADs with more than 14 tons of napalm and 5 of bombs onto troop concentrations in the crucial 2nd Division area; the jet flight, after being directed against entrenched troops south of Tokchon, ran the roads north to Manpojin.
Considering the conditions under which advanced Air Force units were working this was not too bad a performance, but to Admiral Ewen, lacking detailed information on the state of affairs in the west, it seemed that the situation of early September was repeating itself. At 2230 on the 30th he informed Commander Seventh Fleet that while all missions sent to X Corps had been successful, about two-thirds of the effort in the EUSAK zone had been wasted, and asked him to pass the word to Fifth Air Force. This Struble did in a midnight emergency dispatch in which he reiterated his desire to help, stated that in view of unsatisfactory control in the west he would adjust his distribution of effort, and asked to be advised when the situation improved.
By now the successes of the Chinese had ended all possibility of coordinated effort by Eighth Army and X Corps, and in the two theaters of action very different types of operations were developing. In the west, as December opened, the remnants of the 2nd Division had at last reached Sunchon, and Eighth Army was disengaging and moving south toward Pyongyang. But in the X Corps zone, where the Marine Division had been fragmented and cut off, the situation was one of beleaguered strong points. On the plateau maximum air support was needed; across the peninsula, movement requirements took precedence over those for firepower.
These conditions governed the distribution of Task Force 90. On the 3oth, with the ground situation steadily deteriorating, Admiral Doyle put all ships in port on two-hour notice and began to deploy his shipping to Korea. Transports were divided on a 5o-5o basis, with four APAs and two AKAs being ordered to Inchon and a like number to Wonsan. But the apparently more critical situation of Eighth Army, together with the problems of handling large ships in west coast ports, led to the assignment of two-thirds of other amphibious types to Admiral Thackrey’s Task Group 90.1. Thackrey himself had flown to Inchon with General Walker on the 29th to inspect and advise on port operations. On the next day two members of his staff went up to Chinnampo to look things over, and the APA Bexar, the LSD Catamount, and two LSTs were added to his command. On 1 December, as Thackrey reported aboard Mount McKinley at Hungnam to confer with Admiral Doyle and to plan for the future, his flagship Eldorado, two more LSDs, and the fast transport H. A. Bass were ordered west, along with ten Scajap LSTs.
In eastern North Korea, where the ground battle was still developing, X Corps on 1 December ordered a retirement upon Hungnam. Since only the forces on the plateau had been engaged, the concentration of the other units from such widely dispersed points as Wonsan, Hyesanjin, and Chongjin would be successfully accomplished by routine land and sea movement. But while no requirement for emergency evacuation as yet existed, the situation of the Marine Division and of the Army battalions at the reservoir was such as to cause the greatest concern. The division which had been moved forward to aid the advance of an army was now surrounded, and the army was in no position to return the favor. With the MSR cut, with supplies running short and casualties accumulating, air supply, air evacuation, and the maximum possible air support were urgently required.
Although retirement rather than advance was now the order of the day, the Chinese attack had put X Corps back in the kind of beachhead situation that had existed at Inchon and had been planned for at Wonsan. The collapse in the west had forced Fifth Air Force back to fields at Seoul and beyond, and local air support depended upon the two east coast air strips and upon embarked aviation. Recognizing this situation, FAFIK on 1 December cut existing red tape, gave General Harris autonomy in the conduct of air operations in support of X Corps, and instructed him to proceed without reference to Fifth Air Force except when reinforcements were needed. And the first days of December saw a steady shift of the fast carrier effort toward complete concentration in the X Corps zone.
Commander Seventh Fleet’s relay of Admiral Ewen’s complaint had elicited an emergency reply. On the morning of the 1st, Fifth Air Force reported that many of its TACPs appeared to have been lost to enemy action in the fluid situation then prevailing, that every effort was being made to provide replacements, and that instructions had been issued to give naval flights priority of employment. And as had been proposed by someone in one or another service in every crisis since early July, the Air Force now suggested that for better coordination CTF 77 should provide a representative at the JOG and should establish a direct radio link.
Map 18. Retreat in the West, Concentration in the East, 26 November–11 December 1950.
In part for technical reasons, in part because of the complex structure of the U.N. Command, communications between Fifth Air Force and the fast carriers had long presented a problem. But somewhere, in some corner of the JOC, there did in fact exist a direct CW radio circuit, activated on 6 November at the persistent urging of the task force communication officer, over which for two days drill messages had passed with gratifying speed. What was wanted by the Air Force, however, appears to have been a voice circuit rather than a manually-keyed one, and this was provided a few days later, by which time Commander Weymouth had once again been flown in to the JOC. And once again, under the lash of necessity, coordination began to improve.
On 1 December the weather over eastern Korea was very bad. Morning flights from the carriers met a solid overcast over the plateau and were diverted to the EUSAK area, where three missions totalling 23 aircraft found satisfactory control, successfully attacked large concentrations of enemy troops and abandoned friendly equipment, and blew an ammunition dump at Sinanju. But the weather which had altered their employment also prevented their return to base, for the task force had been obliged to cease flight operations late in the morning. Unable to get home, the aircraft landed at Wonsan, were kicked out again owing to rumors of a deteriorating ground situation in the neighborhood, and finally spent the night at Kimpo.
Next day the fast carriers again split their efforts, sending 28 sorties to EUSAK and half again as many to the Chosin area. In the west two flights with 10 aircraft had good success, while three totalling 18 found no controllers. But these were the last sorties sent to the western front, where EUSAK had by now disengaged, and where fears of being outflanked and forced back upon Chinnampo had ended all thoughts of holding a line at the waist along the Pyongyang-Wonsan road. On 3 December, as the Fifth Air Force was completing the first stage of its redeployment to South Korea and to Japan, General Walker’s command post displaced from Pyongyang to Seoul, and service units began packing up for the move south. Two days later the North Korean capital was abandoned to the enemy.
The rapid southward movement of Eighth Army, which threatened momently to leave Chinnampo uncovered, called urgently for the evacuation of that port. The urgency was nothing new, for in five months of war in Korea emergencies had become routine. Surprisingly, however, the sequence of planning and execution, although often greatly condensed, had not previously broken down; the organizational framework had remained intact, and operations had tested the technical competence of juniors in the execution of orders rather than their initiative in crisis when orders failed to come. Now for the first time the collapse in the west, and the short interval between defeat on the Chongchon and retirement from Pyongyang, put the job up to those on the spot.
In the course of the movement of amphibious shipping to Korea, Transport Squadron 1, Captain Kelly in Bayfield, had been assigned to Task Group 90.1 and ordered to Inchon. On 30 November and 1 December these ships—the APAs Bayfield, Bexar and Okanogan, and the AKAs Algol and Montague—had sailed independently from Japanese ports. On the afternoon of the 3rd, while heading northward into the Yellow Sea, Kelly intercepted a message from ComNavFE to CTG 90.1 which reported an urgent EUSAK request for the dispatch of these ships to Chinnampo, but which expressed doubts as to the possibility of loading and protecting so many large units there. But Admiral Thackrey was still on his Korean travels, his flagship was at sea, and his staff was slow to act. For five hours, as Bayfield steamed northward, Captain Kelly puzzled over the tone of ComNavFE’s message and the lack of implementing instructions. At 2200 he decided to wait no more but to sail to the sound of the guns, and ordered his dispersed units to join him off the Chinnampo swept channel in the morning.
Others were swinging into action too. At 0330 on the 4th Bayfield intercepted a message from Admiral Smith to Thackrey which reported that the six west coast destroyers of TE 95.12, Captain Jeffrey V. Brock, RCN, in Cayuga, were available to protect the transports, and that Ceylon was being started from Sasebo for the west coast. Unknown to Kelly, still more help was on the way, for Admiral Andrewes, after a hasty return from Hong Kong to Sasebo, was preparing to sail with Theseus and four destroyers for the Yellow Sea.
Naval units already at Chinnampo consisted of the DE Foss, Lieutenant Commander Henry J. Ereckson, which was providing the city with electric power, and a small Korean naval base command with three motor launches; off the mouth of the Taedong River the minesweeping group was still at work. These too were standing to their posts. Offshore the sweepers took station to guide incoming ships along the tortuous channel. At 0236 of the 4th Ereckson reported that the situation in Chinnampo was shaky, but that he would keep the power on as long as possible, evacuate Eighth Army personnel, and then at the last, if still senior officer, would form a convoy and get the shipping out. Shortly the Korean base commander advised his superiors that EUSAK had ordered him to redeploy at once, and that with 100 sailboats and 50,000 refugees on hand he would try to send 30,000 out by sea and the remainder overland.
Through the night the transport group steamed on. By 0425, when orders to proceed to Chinnampo were finally received, Kelly’s initiative had gained him more than six hours, and by 0930 all but Bexar had reached the outer end of the 84-mile swept channel and were standing in. Despite requests for information no word had been received on the size and shape of the units to be evacuated, the tactical situation ashore, the availability of ground or air support, or on who was to command the operation. But they had their orders, they believed that beleaguered army units were awaiting them, so on they went. At noon Kelly issued his operation order: man all guns, lower all boats, commence loading at once, keep steam up to the throttles. And then, at last, dispatches began to arrive: Brock’s destroyers were heading his way; Theseus would have air cover there next day; he was in charge.
The anchors went down, the boats were launched. The call for help had been answered. Having thrust their heads into the lion’s mouth it was discouraging to the transport crews to discover that the only EUSAK units in the Chinnampo area were the 1,700 men of the port logistics group, that these had their own shipping on hand, and that while perhaps 6,000 Koreans—-wounded soldiers, government workers, military and political prisoners, police and boy scouts—had some official claim on transportation, the number was hardly enough to fill the transport group. There was no need for Bexar, who had reached the entrance channel at 1830, but it was too late to stop her: her commanding officer had smelled powder too, so single screw, low power, and all, in she came through the dark and snow.
All transports were now in and loading was in progress. The remaining problem was to get out. Quite apart from the hazards of navigation, Chinnampo is a poor place to be caught in, for the reverse slopes of the hills that front the harbor are within mortar range of the anchorage. Word from the Army ashore indicated an 80-mile gap in the lines to the north, the enemy was reported in Pyongyang and heading for Chinnampo, no combat forces were available, and the service troops manning the ‘road blocks were to be withdrawn at midnight. In this situation a dispatch from Captain Brock, inquiring as to the state of affairs and offering to come in in the dark if needed, was very welcome, and the offer was accepted. Off the mouth of the Taedong the destroyers got the word at 2100 and started in at once, and this time the passage took its toll. Warramunga grounded but got off later with little damage; Sioux fouled a screw in a buoy cable and turned back; but by 0240 of the 5th Cayuga, Athabaskan, Bataan, and Forrest Royal were anchored with their guns trained on the Chinnampo waterfront.
With the destroyers on hand things looked better. Throughout the morning, as loading continued, sailboats packed with refugees slipped down the river. Foss kept the power on, the ROKN shore party guarded the docks while their small boats patrolled the harbor, and in the afternoon aircraft from Theseus appeared overhead. Beginning at 1230 the transports were sailed independently, and by 1430 the beach was being cleared. A late influx of refugees had left 3,000 at the docks, but their problem was providentially solved by the unexpected arrival of an MSTS vessel which had failed to receive notice of its diversion to a safer destination. Ceylon, now standing in the entrance channel, was ordered to stay outside, and at 1730 Bexar, last of the transports, headed downstream escorted by Foss. In the harbor the LSTs with the port logistics personnel anchored for the night, and the destroyers bombarded oil storage, harbor cranes, and railway equipment. One final emergency developed when Bexar, having made both inward and outward voyages in darkness, grounded north of Sokto. But she got herself off without damage, and with morning the destroyers and LSTs made an uneventful downstream passage to reach Cho Do at noon and anchor in a blinding snowstorm.
As in the first days of the summer war, a west coast port had been evacuated. As in July the armies were retiring and the situation was a gloomy one. General MacArthur had earlier planned to remove Eighth Army from Korea by Christmas, leaving X Corps as an occupation force, and in an unanticipated fashion it seemed that much of this plan was coming true. Eighth Army was almost clear of North Korea, and consideration was already being given to the abandonment of Seoul and the fortification of the Naktong River line; the X Corps area of occupation, however, was a diminishing one, and the Marines were still outnumbered, surrounded, and far from the sea. Again, as in the summer, visibility was poor, and none knew what would happen next. On 29 November CTF 95 had warned west coast units of the possibility of air attack from across the Yellow Sea; on the next day a special antisubmarine patrol had been instituted off Sasebo. At NavFE headquarters the intervention of the Chinese had expanded planning responsibilities from matters of postwar redeployment to problems of more pressing concern, and from Korean waters to the entire coast of Asia. Momentarily an invasion of Formosa seemed imminent as a Navy patrol plane reported a fleet of junks heading eastward from the mainland. An unconfirmed intelligence report indicated that the Soviets were preparing an all-out air attack against Japan. On 6 December, in view of possible contingencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent out a general alarm to American forces throughout the world.
Part 2. 14 November–10 December; The Campaign at the Reservoir
Fifty miles north of Hungnam, at an altitude of 3,400 feet, lies the Chosin Reservoir. For 13 miles from north to south and 8 from east to west its narrow arms extend into the mountain valleys. At Yudam-ni at the western extremity there are a few square yards of flat land; at Hagaru at the southern tip there is rather more; but in general the shores are steep, and the hills which rim the water’s edge are ringed at a distance of five or ten miles by mountains rising 3,000 feet above the reservoir. The country is barren and sparsely populated; the vegetation a none-too-plentiful mixture of fir, aspen, and brush. Between Hungnam at the sea and Hagaru, where the Marine Division had established its advanced base, a single road, narrow, twisting, inadequate to heavy traffic, and with bridges of only light construction, provided the MSR.
On their way up-hill the Marines had encountered two new enemies, the Chinese and the cold. Between 2 and 7 November vigorous resistance had been offered in the neighborhood of Sudong by CCF units with tank and artillery support; there was evidence that two more Chinese divisions were operating to the westward; a further build—up was suggested by pilots’ reports of troops approaching from the northwest and north. But with air support the Chinese roadblocks were broken, Koto-ri was entered on 11 November and Hagaru on the 14th, and aerial reconnaissance indicated that the enemy was straggling to the northwest. Yet if the Chinese had for the moment gone, winter had come. Intermittent snowfall, encountered during the advance up-hill, had by now blanketed the plateau. As early as mid-November canteens were freezing and bursting, while by December night temperatures would at times reach 250 below zero. Climatically, at least, the Marines did face a new war.
Through this extreme cold, which brought frostbite and respiratory disease to personnel, adversely affected the operation of weapons and equipment, and made foxhole digging in the frozen earth a six to eight-hour affair, the northward advance had continued. By late November the entire Marine Division was strung out along the 75 miles of road from Hungnam to Yudam-ni. Two regiments were in the Yudam-ni area, division headquarters and an infantry battalion were located at Hagaru, while on the MSR the villages of Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni were garrisoned by something more than two battalions. A total of about seven days’ supply had been dumped on the plateau. Against this force, divided and far from base and with a strength of slightly more than 25,000, there would be committed during the next two weeks eight divisions from three Chinese Communist armies whose strength totalled some 60,000 men.
Chinese movement into Korea had begun in mid-October, as the Eighth Army was approaching Pyongyang, with the passage of the Yalu by leading elements of the Fourth CCF Field Army, General Lin Piao. As he deployed to oppose General Walker’s advance, Lin had detached his 42nd Army to cover his left against the intrusions of X Corps; this unit had been the source of the opposition against which the Marines had run up at Sudong. Following the movement of the Fourth Field Army, the 9th Army Group of General Chen Yi’s Third Field Army had crossed over into Korea to oppose X Corps; Lin’s units had retired to the westward, and had been replaced at Yudam-ni by four divisions of the 20th Army. The intention of this force, according to prisoners, was to bypass the advancing Marines and cut the MSR to the east and south.
Other Chinese movements were also in progress. As the 20th Army approached from the northwest, two divisions of the 27th Army moved down on the reservoir from the north and there divided, with one moving onward against Yudam-ni and the other coming down the eastern shore. With completion of these movements in the last days of November the two Marine regiments at Yudam-ni found themselves engaged by two divisions, one from the 20th Army and one from the 27th; a second division from the 27th Army had attacked the three battalions of the 7th Infantry Division east of the reservoir; bypassing the American forces, the three remaining 20th Army divisions had moved onward to cut the road east of Yudam-ni, to attack the advanced base at Hagaru, and to operate against the Hamhung road in the neighborhood of Koto-ri.
On the plateau, as in the west, Chinese tactics were to permit, indeed to encourage, a maximum extension of U.N. forces, and then to cut the MSR, press against the column from all sides, fracture, fragment, and destroy it. Such procedures had been effective on the Chongchon River, but although the Marines were far deeper in enemy country, and had a far more precarious line of communications, the success was not to be repeated. Rather than extending itself along the road, the Marine Division formed the modern equivalent of the square and, with firepower maintained through air supply and multiplied by air support, accomplished the extrication of its units and the destruction of its enemies. By night the Marines, concentrated and dug in in tight perimeters, presented heavily-armed strong points on which the Chinese impaled themselves in the attack. By day, with close support aircraft on station and with flanking forces clearing the heights along the road, they formed moving fortresses which brushed the Communists aside, while over the hill, beyond artillery range, the extension of fire power by Marine and Navy aircraft kept the enemy down.
The coming of the Chinese onslaught had found the fast carriers still committed to armed reconnaissance. On 28 November the forces available to General Harris consisted of MAG 12 with two fighter and one night fighter squadrons at Wonsan, MAG 33 with one fighter and one night fighter squadron at Yonpo and a fighter squadron in Badoeng Strait, and the Air Force’s 35th Fighter-Bomber Group at Yonpo. There were plenty of calls on the services of these units. At Chinhung-ni, in the southern sector of the MSR, Chinese probing attacks had begun on the 26th; west of Koto-ri, next day, Marine patrols had encountered the new enemy; on the night of the 27th heavy fighting had broken out in Yudam-ni and east of the reservoir. On the 28th liaison pilots reported that the enemy controlled the road between Yudam-ni and Toktong Pass, between the pass and Hagaru, and between Hagaru and Koto-ri, and in addition to thus segmenting the Marine Division into four groups had surrounded the Army forces east of the reservoir. In all these areas enemy pressure continued, but the central problem, on which the future of all units on the plateau depended, was the defense of Hagaru.
At Hagaru there were located three irreplaceable commodities. There the Marine Division had set up its command post, there supplies had been laid down for the developing campaign, and there, on one of the few flat pieces of ground in North Korea, was an incipient airstrip, begun on the 18th with the intention of providing facilities for twin-engined transport aircraft, which by the 27th was about a quarter completed. But the defensive force available for the protection of this investment was very limited, and consisted merely of one rifle battalion, two batteries of artillery, and service and division troops. General Smith had ordered reinforcements up from Koto-ri, but the Chinese did not await their coming and on the night of 28-29 November committed two regiments against the perimeter. Violent fighting continued throughout the frozen darkness and the line was more than once broken, but the enemy proved unable to exploit his gains. Although pressure remained heavy on the 29th the first crisis had been surmounted.
With Hagaru still holding out, the second phase of the campaign began. Control of the Army forces at the reservoir was passed to General Smith, who was directed to concentrate all units at Hagaru in anticipation of a further move to the southward. Pursuant to these instructions the forces at Yudam-ni were ordered to fight their way back, and on the afternoon of 1 December, after a day of preparation, the 5th and 7th Marines disengaged and started south for Hagaru.
Orders from X Corps had contemplated the employment of one of these regiments to bring out the beleaguered 7th Division units from Sinhung-ni on the eastern shore of the reservior. But some time would elapse before this would be possible, and no other forces were available for this task. The reinforcements ordered up from Koto-ri had had a difficult time of it on the road, only a part had managed to get through, and the night of 30 November brought further heavy attacks at Hagaru and against the Army battalions. On the morning of 1 December, therefore, the Army troops were ordered to break out to the southward at the earliest possible time, and were advised that while no troop assistance could be given, owing to the situation at Hagaru, maximum air support would be provided.
The air strength available for the support of X Corps had by this time been considerably increased, as a result of the eastward shift of the fast carrier effort. On the 30th, following General Harris’ first request for carrier air, Task Force 77 had sent 39 sorties to the reservoir, of which 14 struck at Chinese troops surrounding the isolated Army units while 25 attacked the enemy in the hills about Hagaru. By bad luck, however, the next day brought bad weather both at the reservoir and in the Sea of Japan. Although aircraft from Badoeng Strait and Marine shore-based squadrons got through to napalm the Chinese enemy, the early flights from Task Force 77 were weathered out of the reservoir, and in late morning the force was obliged to cancel operations. At midday the Army troops began their southward movement with 20 fighters overhead, but in the course of the afternoon a combination of heavy attacks and enemy roadblocks fragmented the column, most officers and key NCOs became casualties, and as darkness fell the force dissolved. It had almost made it in: the disintegration took place only four and a half miles from Hagaru; but although a number of stragglers were brought in across the frozen reservoir, total casualties reached almost 75 percent.
Tragic though it was, this was to be the last such enemy success. It was not only in the eastward movement of carrier effort that the support situation was improving. A plan on the part of the patrol squadrons to provide air supply and evacuation by flying boat had been abandoned when the first flights disclosed that the reservoir was frozen solid. But air drops had been begun on the 28th by Marine and Air Force transport planes, and Combat Cargo Command, by notable efforts, had by 1 December increased deliveries from 70 to 250 tons a day. Despite the violent Chinese attacks, work on the Hagaru airstrip had been pressed around the clock; almost half-completed by the 1st, it was consequently declared operational, and four Air Force C-47s flew in with supplies. On the same day MAG 12’s three fighter squadrons moved north from Wonsan to Yonpo, thus concentrating nearer the area of action. On the 3rd the Fifth Air Force would offer its entire light bomber effort for the support of the campaign.
The 2nd of December was the last day on which the carriers split their effort between eastern and western theaters. As the 5th and 7th Marines continued their move toward Hagaru, Task Force 77 put two-thirds of its sorties into the reservoir area, attacking troop positions at Toktong Pass and to the southward, and providing fighter cover to transports flying supplies into Hagaru. Although hampered by excessive radio chatter, and by a difference in scale of grid charts held by controllers and controlled, the day’s work seemed generally successful. Following a Marine request for night hecklers over the Yudam-ni road, where many thousands of Chinese were reported active, the work was continued on into the darkness.
Chinese attacks on the moving column continued heavy throughout the night and into the next day, but without disorganizing the advance. The Marines, by contrast, had a considerable impact on their enemies, as did the very large amount of air support provided. Throughout the 3rd, observation planes circled over the column, warning of enemy positions ahead; a total of 117 sorties flown by the five Marine squadrons at Yonpo and the sixth in Badoeng Strait were devoted to support of the movement; Task Force 77 put an additional 80 sorties into the reservoir area. The 45 flights of 197 aircraft made available to the close support section of MTACS 2 at Hagaru were parcelled out as needed among the various control agencies, most of them at the battalion level. Of the carrier aircraft involved 32 attacked the enemy near Yudam-ni and in the rear of the column, 23 struck targets along the flanks from Toktong Pass to Hagaru, and 25 worked over Chinese forces east of the reservoir and south of Hagaru. Once again excessive radio chatter was reported, but despite this, and despite snowstorms in the objective area, the desired results were obtained, and by evening the lead elements of RCT 7 were inside the Hagaru perimeter. On the 4th the weight of air support increased still further as 68 flights of 238 aircraft came up to the reservoir. By afternoon the entire Yudam-ni movement was in.
Table 12.—AIRCRAFT EMPLOYMENT AND CONTROL IN X CORPS ZONE DURING THE PASSAGE OF TOKTONG PASS, 3 DECEMBER 1950
|Total effort handled by Air Defense Section, MTACS 2, Hamhung:
| Average number of aircraft per flight
|Portion assigned to Close Support Section, MTACS 2, Hagaru:
| Average number of aircraft per flight
|Source of aircraft assigned to Close Support Section, Hagaru:
| TF 77
|Assignment of flights by Close Support Section, Hagaru:
| To close-in search and attack in the Yudam-ni-Hagaru
| To close support of the movement from Yudam-ni
| Controlled by:
| 3d Bn RCT 5, leading the advance, then center column
| 2d Bn RCT 7, in forward part of column
| RCT 5, in Toktong Pass
| 3d Bn RCT 7, covering right flank, then rearguard
| 2d Bn RCT 5, rearguard until passed through 3/7
| To support at Hagaru, controlled by 3d Bn RCT 1
| To support at Koto-ri, controlled by 2d Bn RCT 1
The first step in the concentration had thus been successfully accompushed, but the campaign had hardly begun. Others beside the Marines were heading for Hagaru. On 4 December a morning flight from Leyte sighted and attacked an estimated thousand troops at the northern end of the reservoir; in the same area, later in the day, another Leyte flight reported troops moving south on all trails. But whatever these newcomers might intend, it was reasonably clear by now who was in charge. General Almond had earlier authorized General Smith to destroy any equipment which would delay his withdrawal, but the Marine commander had observed that he intended to bring out all that he could. On the 5th, Major General William H. Tunner, USAF, whose Combat Cargo Command had done such vital work in air supply and casualty evacuation, flew into Hagaru with an offer to lift the troops out, only to discover that the Marines held different views and had been flying in replacements. If movement was not impeded by anything more than Chinese forces, and if air support and air supply continued as before, the Marine Division could operate at will. Still, it was a long and slippery downhill road that stretched from Hagaru to Hungnam.
General Harris had flown up to Hagaru on the 4th and had watched the Yudam-ni Marines come in. That night, in a dispatch to Admiral Ewen, he observed that they could not have made it without air support, and asked for all possible help in covering the downhill march, front, flanks, and rear. Next day MAW 1 brought out its air support plan designed to accomplish these ends. From dawn to dark, 24 close support aircraft would be on station over the column, while the surplus worked the hills flanking the roads; through the hours of darkness, night hecklers from the carriers, from Marine F7F squadrons, and from Fifth Air Force, would harass the enemy.
By this time the concentration of fast carrier effort in the X Corps zone had been made official. FEAF, on 2 December, had asked a resumption of attacks against the Yalu bridges, but the request had been turned down by Admiral Struble in view of the pressing need for air support on the plateau. In effect, if not in form, this marked the end of fast carrier support to Eighth Army’s withdrawal, for although two flights were instructed to proceed to the EUSAK area if not urgently required at the reservoir, all were in fact employed in the north. On the 3rd, as ComNavFE confirmed that close support remained the primary responsibility of Task Force 77, General Harris made another try, and "urgently" recommended the assignment of the main carrier effort to the support of the Marine Division. On the 4th FEAF concurred in this recommendation.
In other ways supporting strength continued on the rise. Although the Air Force fighter-bomber group had redeployed south from Yonpo by air and by LST, General Almond had put in a bid for B-29 strikes against command posts and troop concentrations in towns outside the immediate zone of action. Sicily was expected momentarily, and on the morning of 5 December an important reinforcement took place as Princeton, escorted by four destroyers, joined Task Force 77 and began launching aircraft. The result was a record 248 sorties controlled by the close support section of MTACS 2 at Hagaru.
Map 19. A Day at the Reservoir. Task Force 77 Air Strikes of 3 December 1950.
As quantity was important, so was quality. The presence of the fast carriers provided types of force not otherwise available. Only the carrier air groups operated the heavily-armed AD whose load, greater than that of the World War II Flying Fortress, made it the outstanding attack plane in Korea. Defensively, too, the Seventh Fleet’s contribution was unique: with no Marine jets yet in Korea, and with the nearest Air Force squadrons 200 miles away at Kimpo, only the fast carriers could attempt to provide a jet combat air patrol over the area of operations. This CAP, a precautionary measure of some importance in view of the MIG concentration across the Yalu, had been earlier discontinued in the interest of fuel economy and sustained flight operations, but with the arrival of Princeton it was reinstituted.
On 6 December the Marines started south over the winding road. Disengagement at Hagaru required hard fighting, for the troops previously sighted to the northward had now arrived, and two divisions of the Chinese 26th Army had taken up position on the eastern side of the MSR. Morning air operations were prevented by a ground fog, but this in time lifted, and the hundred offensive sorties sent up by Princeton, Leyte, and the Marine squadrons provided strikes against troops in ridges along the road as well as a jet CAP. All day and throughout the night the march continued; in mid-morning of the 7th, as the rearguard was preparing to move out from Hagaru, the lead elements entered Koto-ri. For a brief period the convoy extended over the entire11-mile distance between the towns, but air support kept the Chinese under control until the movement was completed.
By now the exigencies of the situation had led to innovation in the form of an airborne close support control center. At the suggestion of the MTACS personnel with the Marine Division, whose work would be made difficult with radios packed for march and shielded by the surrounding hills, a Marine R5D had been hastily modified for this task. An extra radio, a chart board, and a situation map were installed; extra oxygen and cabin fuel tanks gave both personnel and plane the required endurance; three controllers were flown out from Hagaru to man the aircraft. From dawn to dusk from 6 to 10 December this very large Mosquito orbited over the moving column to provide, in addition to the basic necessity of reliable VHF communications, the bonus of sustained visual observation of the entire area of action.
On the 7th the three fast carriers continued operations, and Badoeng Strait was joined by Sicily. In the course of the day, and despite bad weather in the afternoon, Philippine Sea, Princeton, and Leyte put 125 offensive sorties into the Koto-ri area, more than half the day’s total of 216. Of the 49 flights handled by the airborne control center, one was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division and eight to the control parties of the 5th Marines, notably to the 2nd Battalion, rearguard during the disengagement at Hagaru. The remaining 40 were employed on search and attack missions against troops in the hills along the road, troops and horses east of the reservoir, and villages in the hills near Koto-rl.
These villages had by now become prime targets. The discrepancy between infrequent air sightings of the enemy and persistent reports from local inhabitants of vast quantities of Chinese had been resolved by the discovery that the CCF soldiers had been crowding by day into all available housing for shelter both from air attack and cold. Reports from the dispossessed Koreans of this invasion of their homes had been followed by requests for the destruction of their villages, and thus of the invader. Once begun, these attacks produced eruptions of surprising numbers of Chinese soldiery, and bombing and frostbite multiplied enemy casualties.
The Marines had reached Koto-ri on the 7th. But the roughest stretch was still to come, in the march across the divide and down to Chinhung-ni. On this route, described by General Shepherd as "a defile through which no military force should ever have to fight," cliff sides are steep, with drops of more than a hundred feet frrom the road’s edge; the road itself abounds in hairpin turns; opportunities for road blocks are unsurpassed. Midway through the gorge there was a bridge, three times blown by the enemy and twice restored by Army engineers, on whose further replacement depended the division’s ability to bring out its vehicles. On the 6th a request for airdropped treadway bridge material had been made to Combat Cargo Command, and the next day this unprecedented operation was successfully accomplished.
The move south from Koto-ri began on 8 December, while a battalion of the 1st Marines attacked up-hill from Chinhung-ni to gain control of the lower half of the road. The bad weather which had limited carrier operations on the afternoon before had now really arrived: the attacks were begun in a swirling snowstorm, throughout the day zero visibility prevailed, the carriers were unable to operate, and of 5 flights of 15 aircraft which got off the ground at Yonpo only one reached the zone of march. But on the 9th, with the fast carriers back at work, X Corps sorties mounted to a record 479, half of which were assigned to the airborne control center. This abundance of riches permitted large diversions to search and attack; a wide area east and north of the reservoir was covered, and in addition to numerous troop concentrations the bag of targets included such unlikely items as switch engines and a horse corral. On the ground the chasm was successfully bridged: by great good fortune the enemy had blown only the bridge and not the road, and by afternoon of the 9th the division trains were leaving Koto-ri.
On 10 December, two weeks to the day after the Chinese onfall at Yudam-ni, the leading elements of the Marines reached Chinhung-ni and the command post was flown down to Hungnam. At a cost to the enemy immeasurably greater than that to itself, the Marine Division, under its canopy of Marine and naval air, had been extricated from an impossible situation. The Chinese were still hovering on the flanks, and there were minor reverses in the rear that night; but from Chinhung-ni it was all downhill, and on the 11th all units reached the staging area at Hungnam. After reaching the sea, according to a later chronicler, the Marines set up a trophy and sacrificed to Hermes. Doubtless some of them did, if only metaphorically, but they might better have devoted their offerings to Poseidon. The division had received harsh treatment from the god of roads, but once again in touch with the friendly sea all things were possible.
Part 3. 30 November—13 December: Concentration in the East
The 2nd Division was still in the gantlet, the Marines were still up on the hill, and the deployment of Task Force 90 to Korea was just beginning, when on 30 November General Almond’s headquarters issued orders for a retirement upon Hamhung. For the next ten days, while Eighth Army retired southward and the Marines fought their way down from the reservoir, the concentration of X Corps in the Hamhung-Hungnam area continued by land and by sea.
The instructions of 30 November found Almond’s command widely dispersed. Three battalions of the 7th Infantry Division were with the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, while the rest of the division was stretched out along the road to Hyesanjin. From its base at Wonsan the 3rd Division was expanding its holdings westward across the narrow part of Korea. On the eastern flank the ROK I Corps had a division at Hapsu and another on the coast, near the outskirts of Chongjin, where its advance was being supported by Commander Cruiser Division 1, Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, in Saint Paul, with the destroyer Zellars.
Implementing orders went out the following day. At the same time that the Marines were instructed to concentrate at Hagaru, the 3rd Division was ordered to reassemble at Wonsan, and the 7th Division to withdraw southward from the Manchurian border to Hainhung. Up the coast to the northeast the ROK I Corps was ordered to retire on Songjin, and to prepare for further movement by land or sea. On 2 December, after firing night harassing missions north of Chongjin, Saint Paul and Zellars moved south to Kyongsong Man to support the withdrawal of the ROK Capital Division.
No serious pressure was to be exerted against the ROK corps. Except for the battalions at the reservoir the retirement of the 7th Division was unhindered by the enemy. But at Wonsan apprehensions of enemy attack had prevented the aircraft from Task Force 77 from staying the night of 1 December, and X Corps reported that road and rail communications with Hungnam had been cut. Since here, if anywhere, it seemed that an emergency evacuation might be necessary, Admiral Doyle requested Commander Seventh Fleet to order Saint Paul and Zellars down for fire support. The message got a rapid response, and although the destroyer was held in the north until a relief could be provided, Admiral Hillenkoetter at once headed southward. By mid-day of 3 December Saint Paul had anchored in the harbor of Wonsan.
There she was shortly joined by a transport group of four APAs, two AKAs, and an APD, Captain Albert E. Jarrell in Henrico, which had previously been ordered forward from Japan. On the afternoon of the 3rd, Doyle instructed Jarrell to commence loading the 3rd Infantry Division on arrival, advised Admiral Joy’s headquarters of his estimate of shipping requirements for the lift, and himself sailed for Wonsan to supervise the out-loading. But the emergency had been somewhat exaggerated: loading had begun by the time CTF 90 arrived on the 4th, but no enemy pressure was in fact being exerted; most of the division was already moving north to Hamhung by road and rail, and only an estimated 4,000 men and 12,000 tons of gear remained to be removed.
This situation permitted a downward revision of the Wonsan requirements and freed some shipping for use elsewhere. On the 5th Captain Michael F. D. Flaherty in Noble was detached from the Wonsan group with a couple of merchantmen and ordered to Songjin to outload elements of the retiring ROK I Corps. Unlike the harbor at Iwon, Task Force 90’s previous farthest north, the mineral and lumber export center of Songjin had reasonable loading facilities: behind a sheltering peninsula an 1,800-foot quay with depths of more than 27 feet permitted large ships to lie alongside. At Songjin the transports were joined by one Scajap and one Korean LST, everything went according to the book, and on the 9th, as the destroyers Moore and Maddox arrived to cover his departure, Flaherty finished loading up his task element and sailed his ships for Pusan.
At Wonsan, in the meantime, embarkation of the 3rd Division remnants continued, assisted by a Marine shore party battalion. On the 5th one Army battalion and two of Korean Marines formed a defensive perimeter, and Saint Paul, Zellars, Hank, and Sperry fired a short mission against a reported enemy troop concentration. But although the ships continued throughout the operation to provide night harassing and interdiction fires, little opposition developed. While loading was in progress Captain Jarrell carried out a search for enemy installations on the principal harbor islands; on Yo Do an observation post was destroyed, while Sin Do produced four 76-millimeter guns and a couple of ammunition dumps.
Except for one ROK Marine battalion, assigned to cover the removal of MAG 12 equipment from Kalma Pando, all friendly forces were clear by the 7th. There remained one empty Victory ship, and into this, during the day, Korean refugees were jammed to a total far in excess of normal capacity. With covering fire from Saint Paul and the destroyers, the final withdrawal took place on the evening of the 9th, and by 2215 the beach was clear. Everything had been taken out, no destruction of supplies or gear had been necessary, and the total Wonsan lift—3,800 troops, 7,000 refugees, 1,146 vehicles, and 10,000 tons of cargo—exceeded that removed from Chinnampo. On the morning of the 10th, as the last transport cleared the harbor, Admiral Hillenkoetter headed Saint Paul and Hank back to the northward, to provide fire support at Hungnam. All that remained at Wonsan was a salvage group in the outer harbor working over the hulks of Pirate and Pledge.
For ten days divers from the rescue ship Conserver had been attempting to remove classified gear from the sunken minesweepers. But the work had been hampered by heavy swells, by the bottom mud which partially covered the hulks, and by water temperatures in the cool low 50’s. On 5 December Diachenko was placed in charge of the operations, and next day the decision was taken to demolish what remained of the minesweepers. Covered by Zellars and Sperry the work continued, depth and demolition charges were used to dismantle the wrecks, and on the 13th the job was done.
Two east coast evacuations had by now been completed, and a third was shaping up. General MacArthur’s first reports of the emergency created by the Chinese intervention had limited themselves to a description of the "new war" and to a request for Chinese Nationalist reinforcement, but on 30 November he had forwarded to Washington his strategic concept for dealing with the altered situation. As was perhaps natural for a commander whose devotion to a maritime strategy had forced through the Inchon and Wonsan landings, this called for the retirement of Eighth Army on Pyongyang and Seoul, and for the concentration of X Corps in the Hamhung-Wonsan region, where it would present a flanking threat to a Chinese southward movement.
At Tobruk, in the North African campaign of 1941, the British had for eight months held a lodginent against heavier metal than the Chinese could be expected to bring forward. During his withdrawal from the reservoir General Smith had expected that a perimeter would be formed and maintained in the Hamhung region; General Almond felt that a position on the coast could be defended throughout the winter; Admiral Doyle and others held similar views. But this possibility seems to have fallen victim to the larger scene. The usefulness of such an advanced position depends largely on the moves in prospect for supporting forces, and these were for the moment retrograde. Impressed by CincFE’s description of the emergency, oppressed by their world-wide responsibilities, the Joint Chiefs on 1 December had pointed out the dangers of the central mountain gap, and had instructed General MacArthur to withdraw X Corps and coordinate it with Eighth Army. And a second dispatch from CincFE, in which he declared himself unable to hold the line at the waist of Korea, brought orders to consolidate his forces into beachheads.
The crisis in Korea had by this time produced another trans-Pacific migration of the high command. General Shepherd had come out from Pearl, and on his arrival on the 6th had found CincFE’s demeanor "not optimistic ;" General Collins had been flown out from Washington. On the 7th discussions were held in Tokyo between Generals MacArthur, Collins, and Stratemeyer, Admirals Joy and Struble, General Shepherd, and others, concerning the proposed new U.N. plan, which called for holding Seoul as long as possible prior to retirement upon Pusan, and for ferrying X Corps back south and integrating it into Eighth Army.
Since General Walker’s command had already reached the area of Seoul, action was for the moment required only of X Corps. Following the Tokyo discussions the responsible conferees adjourned to Mount McKinley at Hungnam, where Joy, Shepherd, Struble, Doyle, and Higgins considered both the problem of defending a perimeter and the more probable alternative of withdrawal. But the uncertainty was ended on the 9th by JCS approval of General MacArthur’s revised plan, and by announcement of the decision to redeploy to the southward. On his arrival from Koto-ri next day, General Smith learned that the Marines would go out first, and embarkation was begun.
For the previous week CTF 90 and his staff had been preparing for contingencies. To enlarge usable harbor space and to provide lanes for fire support ships a second minesweeping operation had been undertaken at Hungnam. Plans had been sketched out both for the defense of a perimeter and for the evacuation, not only of X Corps, but of west and south coast ports as well. Now, with the decision to withdraw, Admiral Doyle had to halt all operations in support of X Corps, put his organization into reverse and accelerate again. A shift to seaborne logistics was at once commenced: floating dumps of POL and ammunition were established, along with a floating evacuation center and a floating prisoner of war camp. A large order was put in for life jackets, cargo and floater nets, debarkation ladders, and the like, and once again a redeployment of Amphibious Force shipping was begun. Admiral Thackrey was directed to send all available APAs and AKAs together with one LSD from Inchon to Hungnam; Admiral Joy was requested to provide ten empty cargo ships daily at Hungnam until further notice; the instructions of the Wonsan and Songjin evacuation groups were altered.
At Wonsan Captain Jarrell had originally been ordered to sail his ships to Pusan for unloading. On the 9th, however, this directive was modified by orders to transport Marine shore party and MSTS shipping control personnel to Hungnam for service in another evacuation. Some reloading was required to consolidate these units in a single LST, but this was accomplished in routine fashion. At Songjin the situation was more complicated.
Captain Flaherty had also been directed to send his ships to Pusan, and had done so on the afternoon of the 9th. But as midnight approached, nine hours after his two LSTs had departed for the south and six hours after the transports had got underway, a message was received changing the destination to Hungnam. Ordering his merchant ships to proceed there independently, Flaherty began to search the ocean darkness for the vanished LSTs, and in time managed to find one by radar and to raise the other on 500 kcs. On arrival at Hungnam one ROK RCT and the Capital Division’s artillery were offloaded to strengthen the defenses of the perimeter, and the task element then continued to Pusan.
The events of 9 December marked the beginning of what later became known, following the concept of ComNavFE’s operation plan, as an amphibious operation in reverse. The image is a useful one, and one can envisage the proceedings in terms of a film run backward. On shore, supplies are packed up, moved down to the beach, and lifted out to the anchored cargo ships; from the steadily shrinking perimeter the troops retire on the embarkation points; the landing craft return to the transports; the transports put to sea. But in two ways, at least, one of which complicated and one of which facilitated the operation, things were different.
On the debit side this backwards operation involved great problems in the compression of space and time. Troops and supplies that had reached the theater through three ports and troops that had arrived overland now had to be funneled out a single harbor; personnel and gear that had come in over a period of two months were to be removed in the space of two weeks. With a winter campaign in prospect, General Almond had been authorized a 30-day supply level for his forces, and while this had not yet been achieved, X Corps was considerably oversupplied for an evacuation. The extension of operations from Wonsan to the Manchurian border had led to a dispersal of supply dumps; some tergiversation regarding the employment of the 3rd Infantry Division had complicated administrative procedures; air operations at Wonsan and Yonpo had brought the accumulation of large stocks of gasoline and aviation ordnance. Initial estimates of the task at hand called for the removal of between 110,000 and 120,000 men, some 15,000 vehicles, and about 400,000 measurement tons of cargo. No such lift had been required since Okinawa, and although here the distances were fortunately shorter, the limited amount of available shipping necessarily called for multiple turnarounds.
On the credit side, however, there are advantages to the amphibious departure. In contrast to an arrival from the sea, control organizations can be established before work is begun, and without the complications of enemy action. At Hungnam the problem of matching outgoing troops and supplies with incoming ships was accomplished by two such organisms, one ashore under Colonel Edward H. Forney, USMC, Deputy Chief of Staff of X Corps, and a special organization set up in Task Force 90 by Admiral Doyle.
Map 20. The Evacuation of Hungnam, 10–24 December 1950.
As control officer, Colonel Forney, with his staff, selected the units to be loaded on the basis of available tactical and administrative information, and assigned shipping in consultation with the operations section of Task Force 90. Port operating units were then advised of dockside requirements, the loading section ground out its plans, the movement section got the traffic down to the water, and the rations people laid down these useful items alongside.
While the outbound units were moving to the docks, shipping from over the horizon was being put in to meet them by the Task Force 90 control group. Two frigates in the offing guided vessels through the swept channel to the control ship near the harbor entrance. There they were boarded and their characteristics ascertained for relay to the operations section, and there they were instructed, as conditions warranted, either to anchor in the outer harbor or to continue in. Here too shipping was separated by category: APA and AKA types from the Amphibious Force were anchored close in for loading by small craft from the beach, while merchant ships and LSTs were sent on into the inner harbor.
Inside the main pier and breakwater there were beaching slots for 14 LSTs, while four concrete wharves provided seven workable alongside berths. Bad winter weather, which restricted lighterage outside the sheltered area, brought the expedient of double-banking cargo vessels and loading the inboard one from the wharf and the outboard one by lighter. The result was that twice as many ships could be worked, whatever the state of the sea, the run from the loading beaches was greatly reduced, and men could be marched from the wharves across the inboard vessels to those on the outside.
At the docks and on the beaches outgoing soldiers and incoming shipping met. The port was operated by the Army’s 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, reinforced by elements of the Marine shore party battalion which had been brought up from Wonsan. Winch operators were provided by the ESB and stevedoring by 1,200 Japanese, who had arrived in late November and who were housed in the mother ship Shinano Maru. It would be hard to imagine a more joint or combined operation: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Merchant Marine, Americans, Koreans, and Japanese worked expeditiously together and to excellent purpose. During the Second World War there had been some unedifying exhibitions on the part of merchant mariners in forward areas, but none developed here, and the performance of the crews of the time-charter vessels was uniformly excellent.
Administrative arrangements had been pretty well completed by 10 December, when the Marines began to arrive, and although no corps operation order was as yet available, the Marine Division began to load at once. In planning for the evacuation General Almond had been faced with the problem of whether to conduct a simultaneous withdrawal of elements of all units from their pie-shaped sectors of the perimeter, or a retirement by divi-sions which would require side-slipping the remaining units to fill the emptied gaps. But the choice turned out to be largely illusory; the decision was forced upon the corps commander, both by his instructions, which called for the earliest possible outloading of the ROK Corps, and by the battleworn condition of the Marines. As promulgated, therefore, the plan called for the immediate evacuation of the Marines, followed in order by the Koreans, and by the 7th and 3rd Divisions. And step by step, as troops were taken out and the perimeter diminished, responsibility for the foothold would be transferred to the Navy.
With embarkation planning under control, it remained to erect defenses against possible enemy attack. Unlike the amphibious entrances into Korea which had preceded it, this amphibious exodus was conducted without the organization of a Joint Task Force, and indeed the command arrangements, derived from the NavFE Op Plan of 13 November, were rather odd. The possibility that Soviet intervention would follow upon that of the Chinese, which had already led Admiral Joy to reinstitute the submarine patrol of La Pe'rouse Strait and to intensify his air search, made him feel that the Seventh Fleet should be kept free to move upon an instant’s notice. The result was to place Commander Seventh Fleet in a supporting role: Admiral Struble was to provide air and gunfire support as feasible, while continuing carrier operations against the enemy in coordination with Fifth Air Force. Admiral Doyle’s instructions, by contrast, were very far-reaching, and charged him not only with the responsibility for Korean redeployment, but for control of air and naval gunfire in embarkation areas, gunfire support of friendly units, protection of shipping, and maintenance of the blockade. And a final complication was provided by the presence of General Shepherd, Commanding General Fleet Marine Force Pacific, as ComNavFE representative "on matters relating to the Marine Corps and for consultation and advice," and, as he later described the situation, with oral instructions from both CincPacFleet and ComNavFE to take command of the naval phase of the evacuation should he consider it desirable. But if the possibilities for confusion here were infinite, the individuals involved were fortunately able to make things work.
At sea the enemy remained quiescent. No submarine threat developed, and shipping was sailed independently in steady procession from Hungnam to Pusan and back again. But on land, as from the beginning, and now also in the air, the enemy had capabilities which deserved consideration. The attentions of the supporting naval units were consequently focused on the perimeter, on the mountainous hinterland behind Hungnam, and on the airstrips beyond the Yalu.
Large numbers of high-performance jets were now operating from these Manchurian fields; quite possibly advanced types of attack planes had also been made available to the Chinese. The large quantities of troops and shipping concentrated at the Hungnam beachhead offered an inviting target, and it was at least conceivable that the enemy’s success on land might tempt him to offensive action in the air. Against this threat X Corps and its supporting naval forces were on their own; no help could be expected from Fifth Air Force, whose nearest fighter group at Kimpo was as far away as were the Antung MIGs. So long as Yonpo airfield remained operational the Marines would provide combat air patrol, and on the 10th this defensive effort was strengthened as the first Marine jets to reach the Orient flew in from Japan. But shrinkage of the perimeter would uncover the airstrip and force their departure three days later, from which time Admiral Ewen’s F9Fs would form the mainstay of the defense against air attack.
Table 13.—HUNGNAM TASK ORGANIZATION
[Expanded version of this table is under construction]
|Task Force 90
||REAR ADMIRAL J. H. DOYLE.
| Task Element 90.00. Flagship Element
||Captain C. A. Printup.
| 1 ACG
| Task Element 90.01 Tactical Air Control Element
||Comdr. R. W. Arndt.
| Tacron 1.
| Task Element 90.02. Repair and Salvage Element.
||Comdr. L.C. Conwell.
| 1 ARG, 1 ARL, 2 ARS, 1 ATF.
| Task Element 90.03. Control Element.
||Lt. Comdr. C.E. Allmon.
| 2 APD,1 1 PCEC1.
| Task Group 90.2. Transport Group.
||Capt. S.G. Kelly.
| Task Element 90.21. Transport Element.
||Captain A.E. Jarrell.
|3 APA, 3 AKA, 2 APD,1 1 PCEC,1 3 LSD (9 LSU embarked), 11 LST, 27 Scajap LST, plus MSTS shipping assigned.
| Task Group 90.8. Gunfire Support Group.
||Rear Admiral R. H. Hillenkoetter.
| 1 CA, 4 DD, 3 LSMR, plus 1 CA and DD from TG 95.2.
| Task Group 95.2. Blockade, Escort, and Minesweeping Group.
||Rear Admiral J. M. Higgins.
| 1 CA, 4 DD, 6 PF, plus DMS, AM, AMS from TG 95.6.
||VICE ADMIRAL A. D. STRUBLE.
| TASK FORGE 77. FAST CARRIER FORCE.
||REAR ADMIRAL E. C. EWEN.
| Task Group 77.1. Support Group.
||Captain I. T. Duke.
| 1 BB, 1 CL, 1 CLAA.
| Task Group 77.2. Screening Group.
||Captain J. R. Clark.
| 17—22 DD.
| Task Group 77.3. Carrier Group.
||Rear Admiral E. C. Ewen.
| 3-4 CV.
| Task Group 96.8. Escort Carrier Group.
||Rear Admiral R. W. Ruble.
| 1-2 CVE, 0-1 CVL, 3-8 DD.
| Task Group 79.2. Logistic Support Group.
||Captain B. L. Austin.
| Units assigned from Service Squadron 3 and Service Division 31.
1 Units assigned to two task elements.
In the absence of an overall commander, the air plans were drawn up in consultation by representatives of Task Force 90 and Task Force 77, and Commander Seventh Fleet was advised of what was required of his carriers. Air support duties imposed upon the escort carriers called for four fighters on station throughout the day for close support, and for the provision of tactical air observers and airborne controllers. The fast carriers were assigned responsibilities in air defense, deep support, and interdiction, and for night heckler missions and night combat air patrol. This last requirement amounted to something of an overload, but as congestion in the harbor area and the all-night air traffic at Yonpo made defense by antiaircraft gunfire undesirable, the task force undertook to do what it could. Since air control was complicated by the hills north of Hungnam, which blanketed the radars of ships in harbor, the destroyer Duncan was assigned as radar picket ship and stationed 50 miles to seaward. All arrangements were completed by the 11th, at which time Admiral Doyle assumed responsibility for air defense of the Hungnam embarkation area.
Estimates of enemy capabilities indicated that the Chinese could throw between six and eight divisions against the perimeter, all of which, however, were thought to have been seriously weakened in their encounters with the Marines. Against this threat Task Force 77 would fly offensive strikes upcountry, and in emergency would augment the escort carrier effort in close-in work. The embarkation plan was designed to leave as much artillery on shore as long as possible. Fire support ships were assigned to reinforce the corps and regimental guns, and their efforts, with those of the close support aircraft, were tied in through the Corps Fire Support Coordination Center, a dominantly Marine-staffed outfit with a naval member as gunfire officer.
Fire support planning was also tidied up on the 11th, in a conference between General Almond, Admiral Hillenkoetter, and a representative of Task Force 77. Stations for the fire support ships were established in the swept channel, which by now extended ten miles on either side of the port; the defensive positions ashore were laid out to permit naval gunfire to bear upon an attacking force; control of gunfire was assigned to Anglico and Marine personnel attached to the 3rd and 7th Divisions. In addition to his flagship Saint Paul, and the destroyers and LSMRs of Task Group 90.8, Admiral Hillenkoetter had the services of Rochester, Admiral Higgins’ flagship, and of two destroyers from Higgins’ group. On the 16th the planned total of two cruisers, six destroyers, and three rocket ships was met, as Zellars and Sperry reported in from Wonsan.
Although the ship in which he hung his hat was doing duty in the fire support group, Admiral Higgins’ responsibilities lay elsewhere. Upon him and upon the remaining units of Task Groups 95.2 and 95.6 lay the multitudinous responsibilities of blockade, control, escort, and minesweeping, which among other tasks involved maintaining two destroyers on coastal blockade to the northward, a frigate patrolling off the Wonsan swept channel, and three more handling traffic in and out of Hungnam.
The directives for these supporting operations, originally issued separately, were consolidated on the 13th in Admiral Doyle’s Operation Order 20-50. The arrangements had been made, the forces deployed, the evacuation was already underway. That these defensive preparations were in the end hardly required would seem to prove their wisdom. No serious effort was made against the perimeter by the Communist enemy, whose casualties had been very great, and at Hungnam, as on other occasions in history, the availability of arms made their employment largely unnecessary.
Part 4. 11 December–24 December: The Evacuation of Hungnam
By 11 December, when the Marines reached Hungnam, amphibious and MSTS shipping had begun to arrive. Having off-loaded at Pusan following his evacuation of Chinnampo, Captain Kelly had been ordered back to Inchon; no sooner had he reached that port than new orders flowing from new decisions directed him to Hungnam, where he arrived on the 11th to take charge of the movement of the Marine Division. By the 14th the Marines had loaded in one APA, one AKA, 3 APs, 13 LSTs, 3 LSDs, and 7 time-chartered merchant ships, and next morning Kelly sailed his convoy for Pusan. As soon as the Marines were clear the loading of the 7th Division was begun, to continue through the following week.
While these evolutions were in progress Admiral Doyle and his staff found themselves faced with a requirement for a small amphibious landing. In order to block the east coast route General Almond had requested that the ROK I Corps be put ashore in the area of Samchok, 40 miles below the parallel, where Juneau had carried out the first bombardment of the war. The undertaking was accepted, and on the basis of corps’ estimates shipping was assigned to lift 12,000 men and a few trucks, an allocation which in the end had to be more than doubled as 25,000 ROKs and 700 vehicles turned up. Preparation for the operation involved intelligence studies and photo reconnaissance; the port of Mukho, just north of Samchok, where breakwaters enclose a small harbor area, was selected as the landing site. Between 15 and 18 December Captain Spofford’s ships swept and buoyed a channel in from the 100-fathom curve, and on the 16th the operation was turned over to Captain Jarrell, who had by now returned from Pusan. In addition to Henrico, one APA, one AKA, three chartered merchantmen, and two LSTs were included in the movement group, while reports of Chinese penetrations south of the parallel brought the assignment of the DMS Endicott and the destroyer Forrest Royal for fire support. At noon of the 17th Captain Jarrell sailed for Mukho, the landing was uneventful, and this important position was quickly secured. By the 20th the destroyers were back on station at Hungnam.
There loading had continued day and night, hindered only by the vagaries of nature. Bad weather inland on the 16th, which limited fast carrier offensive sorties to a mere 41, reached Hungnam on the following day; the temperature dropped below freezing and the sea worked up. As westerly winds reached 40 knots, four LCMs went adrift and were blown out into the minefields, and from 1700 until after midnight small boat traffic had to be halted. This was the worst day, but throughout the operation the continuing cold created probems for materiel and personnel alike: working around the clock and exposed to cold, spray, and wind, many of the coxswains had to be carried aboard their ships after returning from long trips.
It was the hope both of those ashore and of those afloat to get everything out; not just personnel and loaded vehicles, but everything, and they very nearly did. To deprive the enemy of salvage possibilities even broken-down vehicles were outloaded, a lift of inoperative machinery which in the end filled four Liberty ships. In the bulk categories of POL and ammunition Colonel Forney found his responsibilities steadily increasing: an original count of 5,000 drums of POL ended up in the outloading of 29,500 drums, with 200 left behind; almost 9,000 tons of ammunition was taken out, and of the1,000 tons remaining, half was frozen dynamite too dangerous to handle. Ultimately, in any event, these left-over commodities were put to use in the final demolition of the port.
On water as on land, salvage problems presented themselves. Considering the amount of traffic at this small port, at all hours and in all weathers, mishaps were extraordinarily few, but three which did occur well illustrate the importance of the salvage organization. Standing out of harbor late on the night of 10 December the Enid Victory, a chartered MSTS vessel, cut the eastern point too close and ran aground. Here the one-foot tide of the Sea of Japan, otherwise so agreeable, proved disadvantageous, but by next afternoon the ARL Askari, the fleet tug Tawakoni, and two harbor tugs managed to get her off, and she continued to Pusan. A more intractable proposition had been presented a few days earlier when Senzan Maru, a Japanese time-charter laden with 50,000 bags of flour, missed the entrance channel in the morning darkness and hit a mine. Damage was serious, but although flooded forward, eight feet down by the head, and with only two feet of freeboard remaining, she made it in, whereupon divers from Askari investigated the damage and the ship doctors prescribed. The flour paste was jettisoned from the forward hold and the rest of the cargo shifted, bulkheads were shored up and flotation provided by filling the hold with empty oil drums, and after ten days work Senzan Maru was sailed in company for Moji where she arrived safely.
Last and most difficult of these problems was that presented by a Korean LST, which fouled a shaft with manila line and was unable to retract from the beach. The snarl was cleared and repairs to the main engines were provided by personnel from the rescue ship Conserver, after which the LST docked again and on her second attempt to get underway fouled both shafts. By this time her troubles were snowballing: more engine repairs were needed and the gyrocompass had broken down; there were eight turns of 1 1/8-inch wire around the port shaft and many of 8-inch manila around the starboard one; a food and water shortage had developed, which was the more serious in view of a reported 7,400 refugees on board. Despite difficulties from the cold, the port shaft was freed by divers from Conserver; Askari contributed 26,000 gallons of water; 1,500 loaves of bread and a quantity of cooked rice were procured from other ships in harbor, and eight tons of food from Army sources ashore. There was no time to do more, and on 19 December the invalid was sailed for Samchok, accompanied by Diachenko and another Korean LST, both rigged for towing. She got there.
As in all overseas operations, but more visibly than in most, the key problem at Hungnam was the availability of shipping. Here the time of turnaround was crucial. At Pusan, where scant notice had been received of the impending arrivals, unloading capacity proved for a time unable to match the rate of outloading in the north, and the resulting congestion brought diversions to Japan, where progress was even more leisurely. In this situation, and as reports from Eighth Army indicated that evacuation of Inchon might become necessary before Hungnam was cleared, Admiral Joy twice found himself obliged to call upon CincFE to prevent ships being sent east of Moji for unloading, to order port authorities to work ships 24 hours a day, and to have idle shipping in Japan emptied to provide reserve.
There was also, as in any amphibious operation, the special problem of the availability of LSTs. These for a time were scarce. Counting Scajap and Korean vessels, a total of about 40 ultimately became available, but some were slow in arriving, 13 had sailed with the Marine Division, and 2 more had been committed to the ROK lift to Mukho. Bad weather and congestion at Pusan had delayed the return of those which had lifted the Marines, and the resultant shortage had slowed the outloading of engineer troops and gear. But by the 18th they were beginning to arrive again, within two days a score had been loaded and sailed, and again the problem of availability arose. With an estimated 22 needed to lift the last elements from the beachhead, and on the basis of an assumed five-day turnaround between Hungnam and Pusan, Forney began stockpiling LSTs on the evening of the 20th. By this time the port of Pusan was operating in high gear, unloading was also in progress at Masan and Ulsan, and Liberty and Victory ships as well as LSTs were being emptied in time for a second run. In the end enough LSTs became available, and indeed there were a couple to spare.
LST with oil drums. Looking northeast from Blue Beach across the inner harbor; harbor entrance control frigate in the right distance, 14 December 1950 (Photo #80-G-423913).
In the air the defenses of Hungnam grew steadily stronger. Through the period of concentration and outloading, the Marine squadrons were conducting a complicated series of redeployments and more carriers were mustering offshore, with the remarkable result that air strength in the Hungnam area, far from diminishing as the evacuation progressed, actually increased. On 1 December the three fighter squadrons at Wonsan had moved up to Yonpo. On the 3rd the Air Force fighter-bombers left for the south, and next day one of the Corsair squadrons was flown out to Itami for embarkation on the light carrier Bataan, but these deficits were more than made up by the arrival of Princeton on the 5th. On the 6th Sicily reached Hungnam, loaded the personnel and gear of VMF 214 in an all-night evolution, and took the planes aboard in the course of the next day’s operations. On 10 December the Yonpo air garrison was reinforced by a squadron of Marine Panther jets, which had come out along with Air Force fighters in the escort carrier Bairoko, and which operated from the shore strip until the 13th, when they were flown south to Pusan. After unloading her cargo of Air Force fighters at Yokosuka, Bataan proceeded to Kobe, embarked VMF 212, and sailed for the Sea of Japan where she joined Task Force 77 on the 16th.
On the 14th the three Marine squadrons still at Yonpo were flown to Itami. Following this departure CTF 90 relieved the Marine Aircraft Wing of air control within a 35-mile radius of Hungnam, and General Harris's headquarters moved aboard an LST, to assume on the 17th the duties of standby Tactical Air Direction Center. On 22 December Valley Forge arrived from the United States and the evolution was complete.
Table 14.—HUNGNAM AIR DEPLOYMENT
U.N. SQUADRONS ON HAND
1 Plus 35th Fighter-Bomber Group (2 USAF, 1 RAAF F-51 squadrons).
The virtues of the movable floating air base and of carrier training for Marine pilots had again been demonstrated. Where embarked aviation had at first been limited to two fast carriers and one escort carrier, much more was now on hand, and the total of Navy and Marine squadrons operating in the X Corps area had risen from 15 on 1 December to 22 as the evacuation was ending. For a brief moment Task Force 77 reached a peak strength of 4 attack carriers, one battleship, 2 cruisers, and 22 destroyers, and except for snow on deck and ice on the forecastle it began to look like old times.
Throughout the period of embarkation carrier air operations continued. Over Hungnam the jet combat air patrol was maintained, but with gaps: owing to the limited endurance of the F9F and the spacing of task force launching times it proved impossible to relieve patrols on station. For the rest, the focus of air operations narrowed steadily from the northern hills to the embarkation area. In mid-December, as outloading was begun, attacks were being flown against troops and horses along the reservoir road, abandoned equipment in the Songjin area, and targets near the Fusen Reservoir. A tunnel on the narrow gauge railroad leading up to Hagaru was hit with 11-inch Tiny Tim rockets; to the westward armed reconnaissance flights struck at enemy troops moving south across the Wonsan-Pyongyang road. Ten days later, as the date of final departure approached and with a perimeter which covered only the city of Hungnam, the situation was very different. Although lacking in armor and artillery, enemy troops had reached the suburbs in sizable numbers; and while perhaps a third of the sorties were still employed upcountry, the greater part was used within the 35-mile circle. Troop movements on the roads approaching the town were hit; fuel drums and a rocket dump, overlooked in the sweeping-up process, were attacked and destroyed; an enemy command post in Hamhung and buildings on the western edge of Hungnam were bombed. And by this time the guns of the fire support ships had come into play.
Admiral Hillenkoetter began shooting on the night of the 15th, as Saint Paul commenced 8-inch call fire for deep support and for interdiction of enemy movements. On the 17th Rochester took the 8-inch duty, and nightly thereafter cruisers and destroyers delivered prearranged harassing and illumination fire, while responding to requests from ashore by day. To supplement the flat-trajectory fire of the cruisers and destroyers, and to put plunging fire on reverse slopes, the three rocket ships had been maintained on station; on the 21st they let go their first barrage against a reported troop concentration in the hills along the eastern flank.
Gunfire support more than met all tests, although these, it should be said, were not severe. There was some difficulty with control arrangements resulting from an unfortunate choice of radio channels, and from intervention by X Corps in the assignment of missions to specific ships. The success of the departing artillery battalions in using up the local ammunition oversupply had imbued commanders ashore with large ideas; the resultant pressures led to an extravagant volume of fire, and this in turn, given the limited capacity of ships’ magazines, to a replenishment problem. But the needs were met by the Logistic Support Group, which kept an AKA and an LST loaded with ammunition on station in Hungnam harbor, with delivery to the firing ships accomplished by off-loading into the AKL Ryer, one of the small cargo vessels which MSTS had inherited from the Army. By these expedients the impressive total of 18,637 rounds of 5-inch and 2,932 of 8-inch was fired during the evacuation phase, an increase respectively of about 70 and 27 percent over expenditures in the Inchon landing. The investment was perhaps excessive, in view of the paucity of targets, but it was written off as a contribution to troop morale.
By now the perimeter had diminished to a radius of about 5,000 yards from the center of town, outposted for another thousand yards, and the evacuation was entering its final stage. On 18 December Captain Kelly returned from the south, and was placed in charge of the shore-to-ship movement of the remaining corps and 3rd Division troops. Early on the afternoon of the 19th Major General Robert H. Soule, USA, commander of the 3rd Division, took charge of the ground defenses; General Almond and his staff moved aboard Mount McKinley; and responsibility for the defense of Hungnam passed to Admiral Doyle. Next day the 7th Division completed embarkation, and at first light on the 21st was sailed to the southward. On shore there remained three RCTs with their tanks, six battalions of artillery, and three antiaircraft battalions. Loading of corps and division troops was being pressed; the tempo of naval gunfire was going up as artillery began to be withdrawn; and D-Day had been tentatively set for the 24th.
One aspect of the operation which had by now developed wholly unanticipated proportions was the problem of the Korean refugees. In a sense this problem was not new. In July, as the North Korean armies pressed southward, the countless civilians fleeing before them had created grave difficulties for the U.N. forces. In late October the combination of ROK and Marine forces at Kojo, and of Communist units in the hills, had produced a similar if smaller phenomenon, as thousands of Koreans had descended from the hinterland upon the port. With the intervention of the Chinese and the reverses of the U.N. the spectacle of displaced masses of humanity again developed.
In the first week of December thousands of North Koreans, fleeing the Chinese armies, had sailed from Chinnampo. At Wonsan, where Captain Jarrell had arranged a screening of civilians so that those whose lives would be endangered by the Communists could be removed, an anticipated thousand refugees had multiplied beyond belief. With 7,000 aboard, and with the ships filled to capacity, the transport crews had been confronted with the tragic sight of another 20,000 trying to break through the barbed wire barriers, and had concluded that about twice the population of Wonsan had gathered there in the hope of escape. At Hungnam it was still worse.
Refugees on Green Beach: The bullock cart stops at tidewater and the LST takes over. In the background a merchant shop alongside Dock 4, 19 December 1950 (Photo #80-G-424096).
For the inhabitants of North Korea the miseries of war had been compounded by the arrival of an alien army from across the Yalu. Villagers on the Chosin plateau, their houses taken over by the Chinese, had requested the Marines to call down air strikes upon the invader; their wishes had been granted them, and their villages had been burned from the air. Thus twice dispossessed, and preferring the invader from overseas to the invader from the north, the tide of humanity flowed southward toward Hungnam. As the Marines moved down from Hagaru the thousands of civilians followed, huddling outside the perimeter by night and moving onward when the march resumed, presenting both tragic spectacle and military menace.
At Hungnam an original estimate of 25,000 refugees requiring evacuation had quickly to be abandoned. Early in the operation Colonel Forney found himself with 50,000 in hastily constructed camps and more pouring in; at Hamhung more than 50,000 had attempted to board the last refugee train for Hungnam. In the light of these numbers the few vessels furnished by the Republic of Korea were wholly inadequate, and other shipping had to be committed at an early date. The exodus involved an incredible packing of humanity: LST loads were never less than 5,000, and in one case reached 10,500; a total of about 14,000 was taken out in the chartered Meredith Victory. On the 23rd, as preparations to close down were being completed, a temporary surplus of shipping developed, and Forney brought in three Victory ships and two LSTs on which he loaded 50,000 Koreans. In the end the record showed 91,000 taken out, not counting children in arms, in knapsacks, or in utero. If this was a remarkable accomplishment no one congratulated himself overmuch, for, as the report concludes, "at least that number had to be left behind for lack of shipping space, and riot among these was only prevented by subterfuge."
Heavy Chinese pressure had been expected from about the 20th, but although from time to time night probing attacks were reported, the perimeter remained generally quiet to the last. With loading ahead of schedule, and with sufficient shipping on hand, 4,000 tons of ammunition and 13 boxcars were added to the scheduled lift. On the 22nd the 3rd Division began loading everything but the infantry and artillery, while excess transport from these units was put on board during that day and the next. As zero hour approached, air support was increased, and the offensive sorties from Task Force 77 went up from 105 on the 21st to 161 on the 23rd. General Almond had repeatedly suggested bringing in Missouri from Task Force 77, and Struble had planned to do so for the final phase. So in she came on the 23rd, as the last battalion of corps artillery was being taken off. That night naval gunfire increased by a factor of three.
The 24th of December dawned clear, and by 0800 all was in readiness. To lift the remaining 9,720 personnel, LVTs had been put up on the flanking beaches, and seven LSTs along the Hungnam waterfront. During the morning the gunfire ships maintained a zone barrage covering a mile-wide area outside the 3,000-yard perimeter. At 1100, as the troops began to pull back, embarkation was begun. Everything went as planned. The enemy made no appearance. The only difficulties were caused by an accidental explosion of an ammunition dump, which destroyed some landing craft and resulted in a number of casualties. By 1405 all beaches were secured. At 1410 Admiral Doyle ordered the UDT personnel to blow the place, demolition charges were set off, and the piers, cranes, and walls of the inner harbor disappeared in an eruption of smoke and flame.
By 1436 all hands were off and Captain Kelly was preparing to sortie the amphibious shipping. Overhead in the cold sky there orbited the last combat air patrol from the fast carrier task force. Along the docks the explosions had stopped, but fire was licking at the ruins, and from the harbor of Hungnam, briefly one of the world’s busiest ports, a column of smoke rose high into the air. Three miles inland, as the gunfire ships were getting underway, some Chinese troops were observed coming over a hill, and a few Parthian salvos were let go at these individuals, who by their temerity thus achieved the distinction of receiving the last rounds of the campaign.
The statistics of the evacuation are worth noting: 105,000 U.S. and Korean military personnel, 91,000 refugees, 350,000 measurement tons of cargo, 17,500 vehicles. The available shipping had proved sufficient, although most vessels had to make two trips, some made more, and the loads involved totalled 6 APAs, 6 AKAs, 13 T—APs, 76 MSTS time-charters, 81 LSTs, and 11 LSDs. As for comparisons with other operations, none seems very fruitful. Dunkirk comes first to mind, but circumstances there were very different: 338,000 troops were taken out, but many remained behind, hardly any equipment was saved, and the ships involved suffered grievously from air attack. But such questions concerning the degree of enemy opposition and the size of the lift tend to obscure the central point, that freedom to come and go depends upon control of the sea. The Athenians at Syracuse, Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Axis forces in North Africa lacked this control. In those armies no one escaped captivity.
Part 5. 7 December 1950–25 January 1951: The Second Chinese Offensive
Evacuations, doubtless, can hardly be counted victories, but the conduct of the December campaign in northeastern Korea was nevertheless impressive. Despite the suddenness of the Chinese onslaught, the extraordinarily exposed position of the Marine Division, and an enemy numerical superiority of more than two to one, the situation never quite escaped from control, and from the time the Yudam-ni Marines reached Hagaru there was little question as to who held the initiative. Under the severest possible conditions the march to the sea was successfully accomplished; only the barest minimum of equipment and supplies had to be destroyed; the evacuation, with no air or submarine opposition and with little pressure on the ground, was a deliberate, orderly, and controlled process.
This is not to say that the campaign was cheap. With a strength slightly exceeding 25,000, the Marine Division between 27 November and 11 December suffered 556 killed, 182 missing, 2,872 wounded, and 3,648 non-battle casualties, the last largely from frostbite. But for the Chinese Third Field Army the campaign was a disaster. The 60,000 men of the eight divisions committed by the 9th Army Group were later estimated by the Marine Corps to have suffered 37,500 combat casualties, a little over half inflicted by the ground forces and the rest by air attack. Of estimates such as these everyone must be his own judge, but the order of magnitude appears not far from the mark. Total casualties, indeed, would seem to have been still greater, for the Chinese had been engaged not only with the Marine Division and with naval and Marine aviation but had also had to fight the cold, and for them General Winter proved a more redoubtable enemy than for the Americans. Poorly clad, poorly fed, without hospitalization or air evacuation, the Chinese froze to death in quantities: the CCF 27th Army, which had put in two divisions at the opening of the campaign, alone complained of 10,000 non-combat casualties.
Whatever the precise figure of their losses, doubtless also unknown to them, it seems fair to say that in forcing the Marine Division down off the plateau the 9th Army Group committed military suicide. Much concern, following the evacuation, was evinced in U.N. command circles over the possibility that Chen Yi’s divisions might move south to reinforce the Fourth Field Army, and on 2 January Commander Seventh Fleet and CTF 95 were urgently instructed to report all information on the location and movements of this force. But not until mid-March, three full months later, was the 9th Army Group again identified in action.
In the west, in contrast to the campaign at the reservoir, action had been brief. Contact with the Chinese was broken in the first days of December, as Eighth Army retired rapidly on Seoul; for more than three weeks the ground forces were out of touch; and the only war in progress was that carried on by Fifth Air Force, whose attacks inflicted heavy casualties and soon forced the enemy to confine his movement to the hours of darkness. But the fact that Communist success against Eighth Army was limited to the first days of combat, and that the march to the sea and the evacuation of X Corps were handled in masterly fashion, should not operate to conceal the effects of the Chinese onslaught. Strategically and psychologically the enemy’s success was great. In the long run Chinese intervention would entail abandonment of the objective of Korean unification, and a return to the original U.N. aim of repelling aggression; for the moment, however, it seemed that it might force the evacuation of Korea. Since a concern for the integrity of China had been a major plank in American foreign policy for more than half a century, and a fundamental reason for the embroilment of the United States and Japan, this accomplishment of the new Chinese regime ranks high among the ironies of history.
Throughout December the planning of the U.N. Command was retrograde to a degree; having suffered one reverse it prepared rapidly for more. The plan of 7 December had envisaged resistance in the area of Seoul, with subsequent retirement upon Pusan, and the results of this concept were manifest in efforts to fortify the Naktong line and in the assignment of Navy underwater demolition teams to a survey of beaches in South Korea, Tsushima Island, and western Japan in preparation for an emergency withdrawal. At Inchon Admiral Thackrey was scouting the Tokchok Islands as a possible refuge in an emergency redeployment; on 6 December, with the evacuation of Kimpo in prospect, he had asked Admiral Struble for carrier air support; on the 7th, two days before X Corps was ordered to redeploy south from Hungnam, he was instructed to start the removal of Army supplies from Inchon. Soon Eighth Army would pose a requirement for naval gunfire support along the entire western coast of South Korea.
On 8 December there came an astonishing report from EUSAK of a 20-ship Chinese convoy en route from Shanghai for a landing in Korea; by the 12th this had grown to a fleet of 100 ships headed for Ongjin; on the 14th Theseus was held back from replenishment by a report of 20 AKs approaching Sinanju. But these shortly shrank to fishing boats, and the convoy never appeared. By midmonth air raid alarms were a daily occurrence in the Seoul area; on the 14th a Navy helicopter was attacked by MIGs which had ventured south to within a few miles of Haeju. Four days later FEAF closed down its electronic navigational installation on Tokchok To, and men and gear were taken out by LSU. As yet there were no positive indications that the Chinese would cross the 38th parallel; equally, there was little evidence of a firm intention to defend the capital. President Rhee and his government had refused to leave for the southward, but by the 20th Eighth Army headquarters had been withdrawn to Taegu, where it was joined by Fifth Air Force on the 22nd.
In these gloomy circumstances General Walker was killed in a road accident, like General Patton before him, and Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, USA, was ordered out from Washington to take over Eighth Army. Both in the capital from which he departed, and in the peninsula which was his destination, it might have seemed that Ridgway was being appointed receiver in bankruptcy: CincFE’s early dispatches had produced an atmosphere of depression in Washington; the Truman-Attlee talks of early December concerned themselves, among other things, with the question of seeking a cease-fire; and U.N. efforts in this same direction ended only with Chinese rejection of the terms proposed. Efforts to increase the nation’s armed strength were redoubled, and on 15 December the President declared a state of national emergency. But results would take time, and the available reserve within the continental United States remained at one Army and one Marine division.
Unable, in the circumstances, to honor General MacArthur’s request for reinforcements for the defense of Japan, the Joint Chiefs began to consider withdrawal from Korea to the Japanese islands. These deliberations resulted in a new directive of 29 December, which may be taken as a measure of the Chinese Communist success. The safety of the U.N. Command and of Japan were given precedence over support of the Republic of Korea, the enemy was conceded the capability of forcing a U.N. evacuation, and instructions now called for defense in successive positions and for the infliction of maximum damage on the Communists.
Of this estimate of Chinese capabilities, as seen through the dark glass of CincFE’s dispatches, time would be the test. But if General Ridgway had indeed been nominated as receiver in bankruptcy, he acquired upon his arrival in Korea certain welcome assets. The Fourth Chinese Field Army, victor in the battle of the Chongchon, was suffering in its southward progress from logistic inadequacy and from the efforts of the Fifth Air Force. Completion of the Hungnam evacuation had provided a considerable Christmas bonus, and the land and naval forces which had demobilized the Chinese 9th Army Group were now available for the defense of South Korea.
On Christmas Day the command of Task Force 77 changed as Admiral Ewen, after four months of strenuous operations, was relieved by Admiral Ofstie, and sailed with Philippine Sea and Leyte for Japan. Fifty days had passed since CincFE’s alarm had summoned the Seventh Fleet from port, and throughout that time, in bitter winter weather, an intense air effort had been maintained, without return to port, and with all needs cared for by the mobile replenishment groups. Two fast carriers now remained on the line, voice and CW communications with the JOC were at last functioning effectively, and on the same day Admiral Struble advised Fifth Air Force that his ships would resume air operations on the 28th, and would provide from 75 to 100 Corsair and Skyraider sorties daily. On the 27th, in a conference between FEAF and NavFE, it was agreed to use the carrier aircraft in support of the eastern front, with pilots pre-briefed for armed reconnaissance should no CAS targets be available. On the next day operations began as scheduled, directed principally against troops and troop shelters in the central mountains along the 38th parallel.
On 26 December, as General Ridgway arrived in Korea, X Corps was integrated into Eighth Army. At Pusan the last of the Hungnam forces were going ashore. On the east coast the sweepers were hard at work clearing an inshore lane for the destroyers, now back at their summer’s task of supporting ROK units on the coastal road. At the western end of the line, where an enemy drive on Seoul was momently awaited, reinforcements from Hungnam were also arriving. In response to earlier requests from Admiral Thackrey, Sicily and Badoeng Strait had started west on Christmas Day; on the 27th they relieved Theseus in the Yellow Sea operating area and began to fly missions in support of Eighth Army. On the 29th Admiral Hillenkoetter arrived at Inchon with Rochester, to join Ceylon and the Australian destroyers Warramunga and Bataan in the support of forces on the Kumpo peninsula.
Map 21. Withdrawal from Hungnam and Inchon, 12 December 1950–15 January 1951.
As yet, however, the Chinese had not resumed the attack, a situation which raises some interesting problems in relative motion. The Fourth Field Army had entered Pyongyang on 5 December while the Marine Division was still up on the hill at Hagaru. By the time the Chinese had covered the ninety miles from Pyongyang to the parallel, X Corps had been concentrated, evacuated, and relanded in South Korea, and ships which had covered the evacuation had rounded the peninsula to help confront the expected western offensive. These facts say something about floating weapons systems, most notably perhaps in the case of embarked aviation, for while the Air Force was shortly to be forced out of Kimpo and Suwon, and by 5 January would have no operating base forward of Taegu, the carriers were now working off both ends of the battle line. They say something also about the rudimentary nature of Chinese logistics, the effectiveness of Fifth Air Force’s December effort against the advancing enemy, and the validity of the estimates which conceded to the Chinese the ability to throw the U.N. armies into the sea.
With orders to defend important positions, inflict maximum damage, and preserve its major units, Eighth Army awaited the enemy on a line running from the Han Delta up the Imjin, and eastward through the razor-backed mountains of central Korea, to Yangyang on the Sea of Japan. Here, in the northern basin of the Han, strategic virtue lies not in the western coastal plain but in the valley routes of the interior. With the water barriers of the Yesong and the Imjin, the road from Pyongyang is easy to defend, but to the invader from the north all streams flow onward to the Han and all roads lead to Seoul. Once at the headwaters of the northern tributaries, movement is all downhill: south from Chorwon to the capital, southwest from Chunchon to the Pukhan Valley, through Hongchon to the Han Valley road, west from Wonju to take the capital in the rear. In the presence of so many flanking routes, the defense of Seoul depends less on holding the west coast road than on plugging the valleys to the northeast; failing in this the position becomes untenable.
The enemy arrived with the New Year. On the left three Chinese armies pushed down the northern approaches to the capital; in the center another heavy thrust was delivered north of Wonju. Further retirement seemed necessary, and on 4 January Seoul was abandoned, the Han bridges were blown, and the army started south again. At Inchon all ships were put on one-hour notice, and on orders from ComNavFE the destruction of the port was begun.
There, as the enemy offensive broke, Admiral Thackrey had at his disposal his flagship Eldorado, one AKA, two APAs, two LSDs, one APD, two U.S. Navy and nine Scajap LSTs; in Japan MSTS was holding 15 empty Victory ships and transports as a reserve. Although Eighth Army intended to retire by land rather than redeploy by sea, the staff of Task Group 90.1 had worked up plans for all contingencies, including an emergency outloading of up to 135,000 troops by shuttle service to the off-shore islands. But these precautions proved unnecessary, and the principal withdrawal from the Seoul area was carried out, as planned, by road.
The sea lift from Inchon was nevertheless a sizable one. The original estimates from EUSAK, which had called for the sailing of between 3,000 and 5,000 personnel, had been surpassed by 18 December, and the total lifted out during the month amounted to 32,000 troops, more than 1,000 vehicles, and 55,000 tons of cargo. Completion of the Hungnam evacuation brought six more Scajap LSTs together with some MSTS vessels, and the advent of the Chinese speeded the work. On 5 January port facilities were blown, somewhat purposelessly, it would seem, in view of U.N. control of Korean waters, and as the Chinese entered the town Thackrey sortied his shipping. In these last five days a few hundred more vehicles, a few thousand more tons of supplies, and another 37,000 military personnel had been taken out. In vehicles and cargo the Inchon evacuation was far smaller than that at Hungnam; in personnel, however, the addition of 64,200 Korean nationals to the 69,000 military yields a not unimpressive figure. But the accomplishment had to be its own reward: of the large number of press correspondents currently accredited to the U.N. naval forces, all but one had elected to cover Hungnam.
As in the previous summer, major ports were now in short supply. With Inchon gone only overloaded Pusan remained, and there the larger ships were sailed. But there was still the problem of supporting the western flank without overwhelming the Pusan port organization and the rail and road systems, and this time it was met by the opening of a seaport where none had existed before. Twenty-five miles north of Kunsan, at the mouth of Chonsu Man, the town of Taechon lies at the head of a drying bay; from Taechon a road and single-tracked railroad run northeast, joining the main line at Chonan, behind the new-formed front. Here in September CincFE’s momentary apprehensions about Inchon had brought the UDTs from Bass to seek a second landing place; here in December, as a precautionary measure, Thackrey had swept a major anchorage area; here in January, following a check-sweep by Carmick and Swallow, the Inchon LSTs were beached and their men and stores unloaded. On the 8th, a convoy came up from Ulsan with artillery and tanks of the 3rd Division, and between the 9th and 12th this support was continued by 13 Scajap LSTs, which brought POL and other urgently needed cargo from Pusan to Taechon and Kunsan.
Throughout the period of retirement the naval forces of the U.N. did what they could to help stem the Chinese tide. On the east coast the destroyers worked to help the ROK defenders, while Admiral Ofstie’s carriers flew strikes against enemy concentrations in the central mountains and westward to the area of Seoul. At Inchon Rochester, Kenya, and Ceylon supported the withdrawal across the Han and the evacuation of the port, and bombarded Kimpo airfield. From the Yellow Sea the Marine fighter pilots embarked in Sicily and Badoeng Strait flew in to provide protective patrols, strike the advancing enemy, and burn quantities of abandoned supplies at Kimpo. On1 January EUSAK’s wish for more support brought a request for increased carrier strength, and two days later Bataan arrived to join the west coast group. For a brief period, from 30 December to 3 January, the possibility of a diversionary landing at Haeju was under active consideration.
In the Sea of Japan on 7 January Philippine Sea and Leyte returned to action; but while Princeton retired to Sasebo for upkeep, such was the magnitude of the Communist offensive that Valley Forge was held on station. For the next two weeks three carriers were kept on the line, working in the triangular pattern which permitted daily operations by two while the third replenished. But their effectiveness, as indeed that of all supporting forces, was severely limited by the January foul weather, which on 12 days brought winds exceeding 30 knots. On the 7th, in a snowstorm, the Thai frigate Prasae went aground on the east coast, behind the enemy lines, and despite prolonged attempts at salvage had ultimately to be destroyed. From 6 to 10 January low clouds and heavy snow prevented carrier operations; on the 10th things were so bad that all land-based aircraft were grounded; and from the 11th to the 13th Task Force 77 was forced to operate south of the peninsula where the visibility was somewhat better.
The coming of the bad weather coincided with a shift of enemy pressure to the central front. In the west on 7 January U.N. patrols had moved north without opposition to the neighborhood of Inchon, but in the center very heavy fighting continued, infiltrating Chinese forces reached south to the 37th parallel, and reviving North Korean guerrillas raided supply lines inside the Naktong Basin. On 9 January the Marine Division was ordered out of Army reserve and moved up to prevent enemy penetrations south of the Andong-Yongdok road. On the 11th, with clearing weather, aircraft from Task Force 77 attacked large troop concentrations southeast of Wonju, at Kangnung on the east coast, and as far south as the headwaters of the Naktong.
Weather at sea: Water over the flight deck of Valley Forge. (Photo #80-G-440889).
As snowstorms swirled through the mountains of central Korea, where the battle for Wonju was in progress, the weather was bad in other high places as well. To a CincFE message of 29 December, which had posed the alternatives of expanding the war or evacuating Korea, the Joint Chiefs on 9 January replied with a repetition of earlier instructions to defend, inflict maximum damage, and withdraw if the safety of the command and of Japan so required. On the next day CincFE reiterated that lacking either reinforcement or an expansion of the war the position in Korea was untenable, and urged, in the absence of overriding political considerations, as rapid a withdrawal as possible. This view, together with his observations that his troops were embittered and that the defense of a beachhead would be costly, led to more gloom in Washington and to a new directive. On the 12th, while emphasizing their desire for time to permit military and diplomatic consultations, the Joint Chiefs accepted the view that holding for a protracted period was infeasible. At Lake Success a second effort at a cease-fire was begun on the basis of a plan which, in exchange for a U.N. approved administration of a unified Korea, would include the government of Communist China in an agency designed to settle the issues of Formosa and of Chinese membership in the United Nations. But in turn the Chinese now overreached themselves, and insisted that admission to the United Nations and the commencement of Korean negotiations precede any cease-fire.
By the time this diplomatic fumble took place the Korean balance was beginning to tilt the other way. On the west coast, behind enemy lines, carrier aircraft had reported ROK flags flying in the coastal villages, and the governor of Hwanghae Province had asked for ammunition; on 13 January CTF 95 recommended to ComNavFE the arming of the estimated 10,000 patriotic volunteers in this area. At EUSAK, far from looking over his shoulder toward Pusan, General Ridgway was directing his gaze northward. On the 16th a reconnaissance in force had penetrated as far as Suwon; soon diminished contact in the center would bring more ambitious efforts. By the 20th General MacArthur was demonstrating a qualified optimism. By the 23rd ground fighting was limited to bushwhacking in the south, where the Marines were rounding up guerrillas. On 25 January the northward movement of Eighth Army began against only slight resistance. Ten days later the Chinese commander had decided to retire beyond the 38th parallel.