Haas, Michael E. In the Devil's Shadow: UN Special Operations During the Korean War. (Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000): 130-171, 225-229. [The views expressed in this chapter are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy or the U.S. government.]
The Navy Department Library
U. S. Navy Special Operations in the Korean War
Royal Marine Commandos
The CIA's Special Missions Group
The Perch at War
The Dangerous Ride to Work
The advent of the Korean War found the Navy in the midst of a shaky recovery from the tumultuous months of debates on its roles and missions, the "Revolt of the Admirals," and the extensive downsizing of naval forces after World War II.
Dr. Richard P Hallion
It was a shaky recovery indeed. Beyond the organizational havoc caused by a five-year-long demobilization that stripped its fleet by 90 percent, the navy had lost a particularly acrimonious "roles and missions" battle with the air force only months earlier. In the fall of 1949 this bitter debate over the relative merits of and funding priorities for naval aviation versus land-based strategic air power, erupted into full public view in what the news media soon dubbed the "Revolt of the Admirals."1
Ultimately, the navy "revolt" failed, and amid considerable media and political criticism for the public manner in which the naval aviators had pursued their goals, the effort was judged by many at the time to have culminated in "a serious defeat for the navy."2 Eight short months later President Truman stunned virtually everyone, especially the Department of Defense, with his directive to commit America's enfeebled military forces to combat in Korea. Not surprisingly, the navy found itself, as did the air force and army, with few forces in Asia prepared to support this directive.
At the outset of war, the Naval Forces, Far East (NAVFE) staff–the naval component to MacArthur's U.S. Far East Command– numbered a minuscule twenty-nine officers, and ComNavFE (commander, NAVFE) himself, Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy, was actually in Washington, D.C., the day the North Koreans attacked. Mirroring the command's limited responsibilities at this time, NAVFE's fleet totaled only one cruiser, four destroyers, four amphibious ships, one submarine, ten minesweepers, and a frigate attached from the Australian navy.3 This situation changed dramatically within forty-eight hours, however, as the commander in chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, transferred operational control of the Seventh Fleet–essentially all of the navy's ships in the western Pacific–to ComNavFE. The following month all United Nations naval forces committed to resisting the North Korean aggression were also placed under the operational control of ComNavFE. This international mix was quickly organized into four separate task forces (TF): TF 77, the carrier strike force; TF 95, the blockade-and-escort force; TF 96, Naval Forces, Japan, and, of particular importance to the special operations forces that would soon raid the North Korean coastline, TF 90, the Far East Amphibious Force.4
The two most urgent challenges facing NAVFE in the summer of 1950 required that it both support the Eighth Army's battered forces on the Korean peninsula and neutralize the North Korean People's Navy. The first task was begun that July with a massive, if poorly coordinated, navy-air force campaign to support the Eighth Army's fighting retreat southward before the North Korean People's Army.5 The second was effectively accomplished early that same month after NAVFE ships sank three of four North Korean torpedo boats during a single battle. Following this loss, North Korea withdrew the remainder of its naval offensive power to the protection of Soviet and Chinese territorial waters for the remainder of the war.6
Unfortunately for the overall UN campaign in Korea, the navy's quick neutralization of the seaborne threat to its ships did little to help the rapidly deteriorating situation on the peninsula where, it appeared, the Eighth Army might be driven into the sea within a matter of weeks. So grim was the situation that many in FEC thought the Communists would likely overrun the three American and five South Korean army divisions–about ninety-two thousand troops7–making a final stand along the 145-mile-long Pusan perimeter, the last UN toehold in Korea. Only the U.S. Navy, it seemed, had the power to reverse the situation, if indeed it could be reversed, but what more could the navy do?
The navy's answer to that question was to begin an interdiction campaign against the vital lines of communication that carried the trains and truckloads of ammunition and fresh troops to the bulk of the North Korean army then attacking the Pusan perimeter. Facing the distinct possibility that the worst military defeat in American history was imminent, ComNavFE ordered TF 95 to bombard the important railway lines running the length of North Korea's eastern seaboard. As a wartime navy source noted, "Down this funnel, fed by the six rail lines from Manchuria and the connecting Trans-Siberian line, flowed all the war material for the Pohang-Taegu front [two major approaches to the Pusan perimeter]."8
To its dismay, however, the navy quickly found that its shipboard radar technology was not sufficiently developed to detect the nightly trains moving through mountainous terrain. Nor did daylight air strikes prove any more effective, as the alert train crews responded to the mere sight or sound of approaching aircraft by immediately hiding in the many tunnels cut by the railways through the granite mountains.9 These evasive tactics were made still more effective by the North Koreans' use of locomotives at both ends of each train, thus allowing movement of the all-important cargo cars even when on the odd occasion air or naval bombardment crippled the lead or trail locomotive. Even when rail lines were damaged, repair crews frequently returned them to use in an amazingly short time. As Rear Adm. J. I. Clark, CTF 77, observed at the time, "Destroying enemy communications was simple enough, but the Reds built up a fabulously successful technique of repairing bridges and railroads. With pre-bolted ties and rails they could repair normal bomb damage to a railroad in four hours or less. The Reds soon poured in about eighty thousand Chinese coolie laborers to keep the railroads operating and supplies moving, with the result that our interdiction campaign did not interdict. "10
In reviewing both the desperate situation on the peninsula and the failure of air-sea interdiction efforts to date, Admiral Joy faced three inescapable realities. First, Pusan's defenders were too weak to counterattack in the near term. The UN's best, if not only, hopes for reversing the tide of battle thus lay in action by its naval forces. Second, an air-sea interdiction campaign mounted by these naval forces was the strategy most likely to relieve the growing enemy pressure against the Pusan perimeter. Third, attempts to execute this strategy by air and naval bombardment had proven ineffective for the reasons already given. It was a discouraging dead end for the senior NAVFE officers, who realized how badly the soldiers and marines at Pusan were counting on the navy to get the NKPA off their backs.
Responding to these realities and the still-urgent need for an effective interdiction campaign, Joy called a meeting with the navy's acknowledged expert on amphibious warfare, Task Force 90 commander Rear Adm. James H. Doyle.11 By sheer chance, Doyle's Amphibious Group 1 ships had begun amphibious familiarization training in Japan with the U.S. Army's 35th Regimental Combat Team, only the month before the war started. At this meeting Joy assigned Doyle's TF 90 a role in the interdiction effort, personally suggesting in the process that Doyle form a raiding group from among the marine reconnaissance and navy underwater demolition team (UDT) personnel inbound shortly from California.12 To assist Doyle with implementing his suggestion, Joy made available to Doyle's staff a combat-experienced raider and reconnaissance specialist, Maj. Edward P. Dupras of the Marine Corps. Already in Japan teaching amphibious tactics to U.S. Army troops when the war broke out, Dupras would soon figure prominently in TF 90's raiding war.
Doyle's command was the obvious choice to execute this type of raiding strategy, though the money needed to organize and maintain such a specialized raider force had simply not been available in the lean prewar military budgets of the late 1940s. To conduct the proposed raids, Doyle would have at any one time beginning that August at least one and usually two high-speed transports designed to carry raiding teams. But as the admiral quickly learned, there were no raiding teams in-theater, and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade–not due to arrive in Korea before 3 August–was to be fully committed upon its arrival to the Pusan perimeter.
The oncoming marine brigade did have within its ranks one company of infantry with extensive prewar raider training aboard the U.S. Navy's only Pacific Fleet submarine dedicated to the special operations role. But while this submarine would arrive in Japan less than a week after the brigade, the infantrymen with whom it had trained so arduously would not be released from the brigade's total commitment to the defense of Pusan. NAVFE also had a ten-man detachment of UDT personnel in Japan at the time–working with Dupras to train army soldiers–but the navy had neither trained nor equipped its frogmen for onshore raiding missions.
Beyond what the navy-marine team could provide, MacArthur's headquarters was quickly assembling an ad hoc army team for the raiding role. But as this all-volunteer group did not come from those who had received prewar training from Dupras's team, its lack of amphibious proficiency was a critical defect in light of Doyle's need to produce immediate results.
The problems and worries hung over Doyle's planning group that July like some endless dark cloud. But help was on the way, literally, in the form of a handful of unique ships and crews that were already steaming toward that Japan that month.
The sailors became very protective, possessive even, of "their" raiders. To the ship's crew it became a matter of pride, if not outright honor, that the ship not let the raiders down when the going got tough on the North Korean coastline. This principle was irrevocable, whether the raiders be American, Korean, or British Royal Marine Commandos, all of whom entered the unique world of APD operations.
The navy called them "high-speed transports," or APDs, though there was certainly much more to both the ship and its mission than this simple title suggested. Operating singly or in pairs at different times during the war, four of these highly specialized ships provided the operational catalyst for the multinational raiding force that repeatedly struck North Korea's railway system.
Rotating from other Pacific Fleet bases into Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, the Horace A. Bass (APD-124), Begor (APD-127), Diachenko (APD-123), and Wantuck (APD-125) constituted Transport Division 111. Because their raiding missions were most effective when these ships operated singly or in pairs, commander, Transport Division 111 usually flew his flag aboard one of the ships then engaged in combat operations. In order to oversee as much of the combat action as possible, he shifted his flag after each operation in order to assume tactical command of the operating ships and raiding force committed to the following mission.13
Built during World War II, these high-speed transports combined the hull of a warship, a destroyer escort, with the superstructure of a troop transport designed to both carry and launch amphibious landing forces. To accomplish this dual role, a substantial length of the main deck was enclosed to house 160 troops, while a cargo hold fitted with a crane capable of handling light vehicles and equipment was added further aft. In addition, the three-tube centerline torpedo station found on the destroyer escort class was removed to make room for port and starboard boat stations capable of launching and recovering four thirty-six-foot landing boats.14
To make room for these structural modifications, each high-speed transport featured only one 5-inch gun for its main armament, rather than the two such weapons found on a destroyer escort. Both this 5-inch gun and the six 40-mm cannon (placed in three gun mounts) could be aimed either optically or through the ship's fire control radar system. The eight 20-mm cannon (placed in four gun-mounts) were aimed optically by their gunners. Thus modified, these high-speed transports were usually called APDs.15
During World War II the navy had found the versatile APD to be a flexible and potent weapon. Moreover, this wartime experience revealed that the key to its effectiveness lay in the teamwork developed between the ship's crew and the raiding forces it carried and launched into combat. Not surprisingly, this teamwork and sense of common purpose between the two groups led to a camaraderie that soon became recognized as a hallmark of the best APD operations.
It says a great deal about human nature that this teamwork and camaraderie remained a hallmark of APD operations in Korea, overcoming centuries-long cultural barriers and the mutual surprises that surfaced as tough Korean guerrillas boarded the APDs for their raids. And some of these surprises also brought their share of humor, as Lt. Hilary D. Mahin, gunnery and boat officer aboard the Bass, recalls from his ship's first mission with the Koreans:
The Bass was fitted with larger shower stalls to accommodate the troops that we carried on our missions. Nevertheless, our shipboard evaporators could produce only so much fresh water and all ships practiced strict fresh water rationing. No one thought however to mention this to the Koreans as we departed from their base on Yang-do Island for our first mission up north with them.
We had barely cleared the island harbor when the Koreans discovered the troop shower stalls, and they took to them like ducks to water! Before we caught on they had drained the ship's supply of fresh water to such an extent that we diverted into Pusan harbor to have a water tender refill our tanks. By then they had also discovered the food served in a U.S. Navy ship's galley!16
Korean bliss aboard the Bass took a momentary dive after the guerrillas discovered the way American cooks "ruined" rice, the Korean dietary mainstay. But the APD's skipper resolved the issue quickly with a nice combination of cultural sensitivity and common sense by allowing the guerrillas into the ship's galley to prepare their own rice. In return, the grateful Koreans kept their large crocks of kimchee, the fermented, pungent end product of vegetables and garlic used in virtually all Korean meals, on the ship's fantail, as far away from American noses as possible. Now it was the crew's turn to be grateful, as kimchee exudes a powerful odor that invariably stuns the American sense of smell.
Underlying these humorous moments was something much more fundamental at work, something that turned duty aboard an APD into something very special. As the sailor-raider camaraderie developed, the ship's crew became very protective, possessive even, of "their" raiders. To the sailors it became a matter of pride, if not outright honor, that their ship not let the raiders down when the going got tough on the North Korean coastline. This principle was irrevocable, whether the raiders be American frogmen, CIA-led Korean guerrillas, or British Royal Marine Commandos. And as the commandos in particular would discover, this American sense of protectiveness extended both on and below the ocean's surface.
The numerous drills and dives had convinced the crew that the Perch was not the left-handed, dangerous freak that she was once thought to be. Experience showed that the ship dives faster than a normal submarine (40 seconds) and can take and recover from large angles easily.
When the war started there were only two such submarines in the entire U.S. Navy. One conducted training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, after which its crew sailed in broad daylight to the friendly ports found throughout the Americas and Europe. The other prowled the Sea of Japan by night, surfacing from its cold depths only long enough to unleash black-faced British Commandos against the North Korean coastline. Well-skilled and still better-rewarded would be the North Korean gunners who could send these raiders to a watery grave in the freezing black waters offshore. Moreover, in October 1950, the crew of this submarine began giving NKPA gunners just the opportunity they needed to collect such a reward.
The USS Perch (SS-313) was one of two World War II-era fleet-type submarines to undergo extensive modifications in 1948 for adaptation to the amphibious raiding role.17 While at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, its two forward-most engines and generators (of four total) were removed to provide cargo and troop space amidships. Still additional room was created in the forward and aft compartments with the removal of all ten of the boat's torpedo tubes.18 Altogether these modifications created sufficient space for 110 raiders and their equipment, plus 35 to 50 crewmen. And with the adaptation of the wardroom into a standby surgical ward, space was also created for the emergency surgery that would likely be needed by wounded raiders. But these changes were only the beginning of the boat's makeover for its specialized role.
A special snorkel system was added to the superstructure to induct fresh air from the surface, thus allowing the Perch to run submerged on its diesel engines instead of its batteries, as required by other submerged submarines. Engine exhaust gases were expelled underwater, dispersed by a special plate designed to avoid leaving a telltale trail of bubbles that could be seen from the surface.19 This unique snorkel system allowed the submarine to approach the intended landing area submerged, in order to conduct a much longer than usual periscope reconnaissance of the target.
Behind the snorkel, a sixteen-foot-wide and thirty-six-foot-long cylindrical hangar was mounted to the boat's after deck. This airtight hangar carried an LVT (landing vehicle-tracked), an amphibious vehicle large enough to carry a jeep as well as a pack howitzer and its crew.20 Thus modified, the Perch was recommissioned on 20 May 1948. Nearly eighteen months of sea trials and evaluations of the sub-marine-raider concept followed, the latter with B Company, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.21 With the navy largely satisfied with the results of these evaluations, the Perch was redesignated yet again on 31 January 1950, as ASSP-313 (Submarine Transport-313).22
During its months of arduous amphibious training with the marine infantrymen, the Perch conducted intensive training drills along the California coastline adjacent to the large naval port at San Diego. These early drills went well, as both submariners and marines became proficient in the surface launching and retrieving of the inflatable rubber rafts used for the exercises. During this same period, the Perch also conducted joint training with frogmen assigned to UDT-3; the latter were anxious to test a submerged submarine's capability to launch them through its escape trunk for beach reconnaissance operations. In this aspect of training they were disappointed, however, for the Perch's intensive training program was dedicated exclusively to its surface raiding role.23
The wisdom of committing to this emphasis on surface warfare training would be revealed far sooner than any could know in the late spring months of 1950, for this was precisely the wartime role immediately assigned to the Perch when war in Korea broke out. Three weeks after the war started, the boat was en route to Japan, the marines from B Company sent ahead of them on surface transport. The submarine arrived at Yokosuka Naval Base on 8 August 1950, and as a subsequent ship's report notes, morale aboard the ship was high: "The numerous drills and dives had convinced the crew that the Perch was not the left-handed, dangerous freak that she was once thought to be. Experience showed that the ship dives faster than a normal submarine (40 seconds) and can take and recover from large angles easily. All the training and experimenting instilled a tremendous 'can do' attitude."24
The submariners were, however, dismayed to learn soon after their arrival in Japan that the B Company marines with whom they had trained so hard and developed such proficiency would not be available for combat operations with them. Desperate for every rifleman that could be mustered in Korea, marine commanders committed to the last-ditch defense of the Pusan perimeter had wasted no time in pulling B Company's "submarine-raiders" into the meat grinder of combat on the peninsula.
As former Perch crewman M. E. Kebodeaux recalls, "We later learned that B Company had been shot up so bad at Pusan that even the few survivors were in various hospitals. The unit existed on paper, but not the marines we had trained with for so long."25 Despite their disappointment, however, the enthusiastic crewmen produced some innovative improvements to their equipment during their first weeks in Japan.
The basic four-step attack maneuver developed by the Perch-marine team off the California coastline had the merit of simplicity. It required that the submarine approach the target beach while submerged, surface at night to launch the raiders in their inflatable boats, submerge again to minimize the likelihood of detection by coastal defense forces, then surface a final time to retrieve the returning raiders. Though fundamentally sound, the maneuver did not allow the submerged Perch to communicate with the raiding force ashore.
This lack of ship-to-shore communications represented a potentially serious flaw should the raiders encounter unexpected problems or enemy opposition. From four miles offshore–the range from which it normally launched the inflatable boats–the Perch's periscope would be virtually useless for viewing the action ashore, especially on the dark nights preferred by the raiders. This problem was corrected in Japan, however, after the crew installed a short whip antenna on the snorkel-head valve, which would remain just above the surface while the submerged Perch awaited return of its raiders. Another problem overcome during this period involved the four-mile open-ocean distance the raiders would have to cover twice during a raid.
While the large LVT carried in the after-deck hangar was capable of towing a number of inflatable boats to the beach, its noisy engine precluded any chance of the raiders maintaining the surprise on which a successful mission–indeed their survival–was dependent. Searching for a less-noisy alternative during their stay in Yokosuka, the crew obtained a twenty-four-foot plywood boat powered by a six-cylinder Chrysler-Crown engine that could push the boat along at fifteen knots with no rafts in tow.26 Christened Suzuki (the Japanese name for the perch fish), the boat-or "skimmer" as it was called-proved its worth in combat later that year, carrying the mission-necessary explosives while towing the raiders in seven inflatable rubber boats to within five hundred yards of the beach.27
To launch and retrieve the skimmer, the Perch flooded its aft ballast tanks, in the process partially submerging only the stern of the submarine to the minimum extent necessary to guide the skimmer on or off the special carriage on which it rode in the hangar. The crew soon became proficient in accomplishing this seemingly awkward maneuver in two to three minutes.28 Satisfied with its new arrangement, the Perch never carried the LVT into combat.
Far less satisfying to the crew, however, was the emotional yo-yo it was undergoing as it trained in Japan with first one, then another, group of potential raiders, none of which stuck around long enough to put their training to the test with a combat patrol aboard the submarine. A report of their training activities in Japan that August describes the problem:
We embarked Underwater Demolition Team One [for] . . . the roughest week of training they or the Perch had seen. The morale of the crew and UDT were terrific. It was a blow to have to deliver the UDTs to an airplane for some other mission. We proceeded to Camp McGill on 22 August to pick up Major J. H. Ware, U.S. Army, and sixty-seven men from a Special Activities Company. On 29 August we embarked Captain D. H. Olson and the remaining fifty-six men from Major Ware's company. By 30 August we had trained 125 army men. We found at this time that we were not to land these troops either.29
Despite the obvious heart-and-soul effort put into the training by both submariners and would-be raiders, it appears that the real problem–the obviously higher priority of simply maintaining a UN foothold in Korea–led to the repeated, frustrating events experienced by the Perch crew.
Though badly disappointed by this seemingly endless cycle of training then losing a potential raiding force, crew morale shot up again in mid-September with the arrival aboard their boat of yet another set of exuberant visitors, these from England's 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines. Training with these newcomers began immediately, and the youthful enthusiasm of each group, fueled by the prospect of immediate action, quickly created the same kind of camaraderie between crew and raiders as that aboard the APDs. And, just as with the earlier example, the humorous side of their meeting came together in the ship's galley as the submariners introduced the "Brits" to submarine food, reputedly the best to be found in the entire U.S. Navy.
The young stalwarts who manned the 41 Independent Commando carried vivid memories of the World War II-era food rationing system–meat and eggs in particular had been in short supply–that had so severely tested British morale. In the process of "familiarizing themselves with the submarine and American procedures" the marines attacked the Perch's food budget with the same enthusiasm they would soon show for raiding the North Korean railroad system. As the Perch's skipper noted, "One of our steaks is a week's meat ration in England, and they had been in US territory only two weeks. One morning they averaged six eggs per marine for breakfast."30 To the navy's credit, it somehow found the funds to feed its enthusiastic guests, in the process creating yet another colorful story in the history of the "Silent Service."
We were ready to do what nobody else could do, and what nobody else wanted to do.
Exhausted from their two-hundred-yard-long swim through the cold, swift current that sweeps around the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, the two men crawled out of the ocean onto a deserted beach deep behind enemy lines. Too tired for the moment to care or even notice the small beach stones cutting into their bodies, the U.S. Navy's Lt. (jg) George Atcheson and BM3C Warren Foley shivered and sucked the cold ocean air into their lungs. It was close to midnight as the two frogmen lay exposed under the glow of a nearly full moon, both distinctly possessed of that terrible apprehension so well known to intruders suddenly caught in the beam of an inescapable light.
Their apprehension was well justified, for in fact these intruders were intent on committing an act that would sorely antagonize a North Korean army already credited with committing a number of atrocities against UN prisoners of war. Launched from the high-speed transport Diachenko earlier that night,31 the two men had just begun the reconnaissance phase of TF 90's first sabotage mission of the war.32 It was 5 August 1950, and other than their courage, the total weaponry carried by the two intruders included one .45-caliber pistol, one K-Bar combat knife, and a small number of grenades.33
The presence of the two men on the beach that night represented both the fortunes and misfortunes that had befallen the navy's elite underwater demolition teams since the end of World War II. The courage and determination displayed by their wartime predecessors had clearly survived the postwar years, as reflected by Atcheson's remarkable statement some years later that this particular mission had been undertaken "[because] some of the other targets would have been suicidal."34 But on a less salutary note, the desperate effort also underscored the results that invariably follow when suddenly hard-pressed commanders attempt to overcome years of command neglect with the raw courage of an elite few.
Salutary or not, Doyle's TF 90 had little operational choice in the matter of UDT employment that August, given the interdiction mission and its critical time constraints. For, regardless of the morality or tactical wisdom of thrusting these few into such extreme danger, the simple truth was that the navy simply had no one else-beyond a handful of reconnaissance marines and frogmen-capable of attempting such high-risk missions. As another Korean War frogman succinctly put it, "We were ready to do what nobody else could do, and nobody else wanted to do."35 The comment wasn't a complaint but rather a statement of professional pride that went well beyond Atcheson's inaugural 5 August mission into enemy territory. But if the pride was obviously still there, the same could not be said for the UDT's training and equipment, or even the manpower necessary to support a large-scale raiding campaign.
The numbers alone provide a sad commentary on just how much of the UDT capability had been lost during the demobilization programs of the late 1940s. With the onset of war in 1950, the four remaining teams present for roll call were a mere shadow of the thirty-two combat-experienced teams that supported the major amphibious landings throughout the Pacific during World War II.36 These bleak numbers were even worse than they looked on paper, however, for the overall reduction in force was exacerbated still further by additional postwar reductions that cut nearly in half the manpower authorized each of the remaining teams, The cumulative effect of these reductions over the five years from 1945 to 1950 cut navy-wide UDT strength by nearly 95 percent.37
Beyond the scarcity of combat veterans in the remaining UDTs, operational capabilities and morale were further impaired as overall personnel shortages throughout the navy led to the assignment of non-UDT officers to the proud teams. Of the four UDTs on active duty in 1947, for example, an experienced UDT officer commanded only UDT-2.38 And beyond the difficult organizational reductions that affected virtually every command at the time, the teams also suffered from the animosity felt toward them by many conventional officers of the period. In what was not likely an isolated incident, one non-UDT officer selected to command a UDT was told in no uncertain terms by his superiors to "get that bunch of rag-tags straightened out as quickly as possible."39
Although the UDTs conducted some valuable training during the interwar years–including that previously described aboard the submarines Perch and Sea Lion–the navy's lean postwar budgets severely restricted the development of new concepts, or for that matter, even new equipment. As a result the Korean War found the under-strength UDTs still woefully unprepared to conduct the two new missions–onshore raiding and the detection/destruction of moored anti shipping mines–that would take them far beyond the limits of their World War II-era training and equipment.
Very few senior officers serving on either the Pacific Fleet or Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet staffs during the war were enthused with the prospect of committing scarce UDT resources for these two new missions, and not without reason. Perhaps the best explanation for this point of view was that provided in a Pacific Fleet study prepared in early 1952, which concluded that "UDTs PACFLT are not adequately prepared by training or with equipment for operations more advanced or different from those of World War II."40 And it was the experience derived from those World War II-era operations that dictated the navy doctrine limiting UDT operations to obstacle demolition and beach reconnaissance between the three-fathom curve line and the high-water mark found on the target beach.
The major problem with the Pacific Fleet report was that, despite the soundness of its rationale, NAVFE had nonetheless committed the UDT to "more advanced or different" combat operations from the very beginning of the war. Moreover, the frogmen were still conducting these special operations missions when the Pacific Fleet report was published eighteen months later, certainly sufficient time for the navy to have delegated the mission elsewhere had it chosen to do so. Between this report and battlefield reality something was clearly amiss; oddly, the navy was slow to look further into the discrepancy.
Perhaps some on the Pacific Fleet staff attributed the small UDT casualties to date–two killed and less than half a dozen wounded–to the World War II-era training in "operations beyond the high-water mark" provided to selected frogmen at the UDT Advanced Training Base established on Maui, Hawaii. Even this training, however, did not envision the kind of combat undertaken in Korea in 1950, and much of the expertise gained on Maui was lost during the huge demobilization programs that followed the Japanese capitulation in 1945. Thus UDTs 1 and 3 went to war with training and weapons that made them virtually indistinguishable from their World War II-era predecessors.
For the UDTs, the operational pace in the combat zone frequently found two of their platoons–approximately thirty men-forward–deployed to a particular APD for periods of six to eight weeks. The platoons usually ran between ten and twenty demolition or beach reconnaissance missions while aboard the APDs, depending on weather and enemy activity.41 In addition, individual UDT personnel were often away on temporary duty with other military or CIA units, usually for advisory and training duties. This included the forward-basing of small teams on islands close to the North Korean coastline, where they stood alert duty with UN Escape and Evasion organizations assisting in the recovery of downed airmen.
The individual weaponry taken by the frogmen behind enemy lines was usually limited to the submachine guns, pistols, and knives found most useful for the close-quarters combat that characterized most raiding missions. Though presumably available, sound suppressors for the weapons are not known to have been used. UDT-1 veteran QM2C James Short recalls that on the few occasions when frogmen were required to eliminate North Korean sentries, the task was usually accomplished with a knife.42 But few frogmen had undergone training for this kind of closeup killing, and the dangerous business was usually accomplished with a combination of "on the job training" and the hope that a dozing sentry would make the bloody job easier.
The frogmen used a variety of demolitions in their work, but the standard UDT charge was the Mark-135 Demolition Pack, which contained twenty pounds of C-3 plastic explosive. Though aqua-lungs had been introduced to the UDT community by this period, they were never used in combat during the war.43
Three Pacific Fleet UDTs served in the Far East during the war, with elements of one and usually two of the teams always present in the combat zone. As described earlier, UDT-1 shipped out from the Coronado Amphibious Base aboard the Bass following Truman's decision to intervene in Korea. Arriving in early August, this UDT absorbed UDT-3's ten-man detachment, the latter having been sent to Japan prior to the war to provide amphibious training to U.S. Army units.
The majority of UDT-3 departed Coronado in mid-August for a nonstop sailing that brought it to Japan later that month,44 Neither of these UDTs arrived in the Far East at their authorized strength, but the buildup continued so that by late November 1950 both were reported at 140 percent of their wartime complement.45
As earlier noted, the Pacific Fleet responded quickly in getting both of its west coast UDTs to Japan, realizing in the process that fully half of the navy's entire UDT force had been committed to the war in less than six months. The navy didn't know what direction this new war might take or how long it might last, but it did know that any further requirements for UDT support in Korea would leave it with no option but to begin stripping the Atlantic Fleet UDTs of their personnel.
Faced with the obvious drawbacks of such a move, the navy recalled a number of UDT reservists to active duty, running them through an abbreviated refresher course before commissioning UDT-5 at Coronado in September 1951. UDT-5 arrived in Korea the following spring and, although employed primarily in beach survey operations, the enthusiastic reservists were evidently ready for any "special operation" that came their way, as a former officer aboard the Bass recalls: "In July 1952 we were working with UDT-5 on a beach survey near the island of Cheju-do southwest of Pusan. Here our froggies soon discovered that someone else was in the water with them, bare-breasted female Korean pearl divers! In a remarkable display of United Nations teamwork the UDT began diving with their newfound 'friends,' helping them recover pearls until we left the island a few short days later. UDT-5 always had high morale."46
UDT-5 was the third and final UDT to serve in Korea during the war. By the fall of 1952 all UDT raiding missions had ceased, and with the signing of the armistice in July 1953 all combat operations were terminated.
Both [Dupras's] close-quarters combat experience and the expertise found in his exceptionally well-trained reconnaissance platoons would soon be tested in Korea, where the marines were committed to their first raid scarcely a week after their arrival in Japan.
As with the other uniformed services, Marine Corps manpower dropped sharply during the postwar years, from a wartime high of 485,833 to 74,279 in June 1950.47 Despite this precipitous fall in numbers, however, the warrior spirit apparently remained high, for the marines responded to the onset of war with an enthusiasm unique to their traditions. Nor was this enthusiasm limited solely to the active duty force, for many individual reservists and former marines voluntarily reported to the Marine Corps staging base at Camp Pendleton, California, without bothering to wait for their official recall to active duty.48
Chaos reigned at Pendleton as active duty cadre worked around the clock, unpacking mothballed World War II equipment and organizing individuals and small units into a provisional brigade, the first elements of which sailed from San Diego, California, on 14 July 1950. The brigade's departure was an impressive response, considering that only twelve days had passed since the Pentagon first received a request for marine reinforcements from MacArthur.49 And sailing with the ships carrying the marine brigade westward across the Pacific Ocean was the high-speed transport Bass, aboard it a company of marines to be disembarked at Pusan, as well as UDT-1 frogmen destined for subsequent delivery to Japan.
Following their arrival in Yokosuka, Japan, Bass skipper Lt. Cdr. Alan Ray and his crew would soon meet Major Dupras, a battle hardened marine with a fighting history unusual even by Marine Corps standards. Dupras, a veteran of the 1st Raider Battalion's bloody fighting on Guadalcanal in 1942 and a survivor of the Corps' pyrrhic victory on Tarawa the following year, had later served in China, where he trained, then fought with, Chinese guerrillas.50 While waiting in Japan for the arrival of the Bass, Dupras had already achieved considerable progress in melding together the UDT and 1st Marine Division Reconnaissance Company elements that had been flown out to Japan as part of the proposed raiding campaign. The Bass arrived in Japan too late to play a role in TF 90's inaugural 5 August raiding attempt aboard the Diachenko. But immediately following the ship's arrival at Yokosuka the following day, Ray, along with Cdr. Selden C. Small, then commanding Transport Division 111, met Dupras and UDT-1 boss Lt. Cdr. David F. "Kelly" Welch aboard Doyle's flagship, the USS Mount McKinley.
Within a matter of days, twenty-five frogmen from UDTs 1 and 3 and sixteen of Dupras's reconnaissance marines were merged on 6 August into the ad hoc Special Operations Group (SOG).51 Following just two nights of rehearsals, the SOG departed Japan aboard the Bass on 9 August. Three nights later the SOG struck the railway system running along Korea's eastern coastline north of the thirty-eighth parallel, some two hundred miles behind enemy lines. During the three demolition missions that took place between 12 and 15 August, Dupras's marines provided beach security while the UDT placed their standard Mark-135 satchel charges under railroad tracks and bridges. As Dupras later recalled, "The hardest part of my job was continually to impress the boys that our job was demolition, not fighting. If possible, we tried to avoid any firefights. If there was any interference, or if our party was detected, we withdrew and hit 'em someplace else."52
These three raids represented NAVFE's first successful amphibious interdiction missions of the war and were credited with severely damaging the targeted segments of the railway system.53 Later that month the SOG also conducted beach reconnaissance operations along Korea's western coastline.
The SOG's efforts that month provided an impressive display of navy-marine professionalism, the group having attained a level of performance far beyond that which could reasonably have been expected from its drastically abbreviated joint-training schedule. An appreciative Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, Far East Air Forces commander, was so impressed he sent a letter of congratulations to ComNavFE Joy, noting that "the damage reported resulting from the raids conducted is an excellent testimonial to the ability and the high state of training of the units involved."54
In further recognition of its achievements the SOG was later awarded a well-deserved Navy Unit Commendation for "outstanding heroism in support of military operations against enemy aggressor forces in the Korean Area from 12-25 August 1950. . . 200 miles behind enemy lines on the east coast . . . destroying bridges and tunnels, disrupting enemy lines of communications . . . hydrographic surveys of three enemy-held beaches, despite opposition encountered the last night which forced the recon party to withdraw under fire."55
The recognition was certainly well deserved, though the SOG was disbanded at the end of August as its marines rejoined the 1st Marine Division then preparing for Operation Chromite, the major amphibious assault at Inchon two weeks later. Less than thirty days after it began, the U.S. Marine Corps involvement in coastal raiding was effectively terminated for the duration of the Korean War. It was an odd ending for the military service whose very existence itself was so closely linked to the strategy of amphibious warfare, especially considering the small number of marines involved in the SOG.
Even as the marines moved out to join the Inchon landing force, however, their replacements were familiarizing themselves with American weapons and amphibious tactics. These, too, were high-spirited marines, and bearing the proud traditions wrought from countless battles since their establishment in 1664 as the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment, they carried the modern-day title of Royal Marine Commandos.
MacArthur openly questioned whether the results that could be expected from the proposed raids justified the risks inherent with such operations. When Admiral C. Turner Joy voiced his confidence, MacArthur pushed his point with terse questions: "Can you prove?" and "Why is the Navy so keen to use Brits, but not UDTs?"
Few combatants moved out to war in the summer of 1950 with more speed and élan than did Britain's Royal Marine Commandos. Following the government's short-notice decision that August to activate a special raider unit for duty in Korea, the Royal Marines quickly selected Lt. Col. Douglas B. Drysdale to raise and command the 41 Independent Commando, Royal Marines. A highly regarded officer who had served with 3 Commando Brigade in the Far East during World War II, Drysdale moved immediately to fill the ranks of his new command.
Blessed with a surplus of highly trained and eager volunteers looking for some action, the Commando leader soon gathered an elite group of combat swimmers, demolition experts, and heavy weapons specialists.56 Included in Drysdale's pick–and not atypical of the superb quality and spirit in those volunteering for the adventure–was Sergeant Major Trevor-Dodds, the European kayaking champion.57 As Drysdale well knew, such skills were more than mere sport for the marines, who would later use their two-place Klepper kayaks for combat reconnaissance missions along the North Korean coastline.
With some 150 officers and men thus assembled, the group, dressed in Admiralty-provided civilian suits, boarded commercial airliners for transport to the Far East under what British historian Max Hastings describes as "melodramatic and wholly ineffectual security restrictions."58 Once there, the Royal Marine Commandos were bolstered with the addition of a further 150 volunteers–diverted while en route to duty with 3 Commando Brigade in Malaya–to Camp McGill, Japan. At McGill they were completely resupplied with American equipment, weapons, and clothing, keeping only their distinctive green berets to denote their proud Commando lineage.
Immediately beginning an intensive, around-the-clock training program aboard Doyle's APDs and the recently arrived Perch, the Commandos quickly impressed the Americans with their enthusiasm and skill. As a report from the Perch observed, "These [Commandos] were experienced raiders with a 'can do' attitude comparable to that of the Perch's. They seemed to enjoy having more thrown at them than they could possibly assimilate in the short time available, and rose to the occasion by becoming a well-trained and coordinated submarine raiding team in a remarkably short time."59
It was indeed a remarkably short time–little more than two weeks–for the American sailors and British marines to develop the team cohesiveness necessary for survival in combat. Royal Marine Fred Heyhurst describes this period in the same excited tone felt by all at the time: "There was a tremendous spirit, to learn all we needed to know and get on with the job. We would get the hang of one [U.S.] weapon and go straight on to another, whatever the time was. . . It [41 Commando] was the best unit anyone could have joined."60
The mutual respect that developed overnight between the Brits and Yanks was an intangible, yet critical, element of the strike force. Like their SOG predecessors the raiders had precious little time to train together–less than a month–to develop the skills that would help ensure their mutual survival in the face of a disciplined, well-armed, and unforgiving enemy. Moreover, this enemy would be expecting their arrival, having been alerted to the UN raiding threat posed by the SOG missions. But just as the Commando training at McGill drew to a close with the men preparing for their first combat mission, the navy learned that its raiding plans had obviously raised some pointed questions in the mind of MacArthur himself.
In a series of messages to ComNavFE, General MacArthur openly questioned whether the results that could be expected from the proposed raids justified the risks inherent with such operations. When Admiral Joy voiced his confidence in the minimal risks to be taken and the destructive potential of the raids, MacArthur again pressed his doubts on the admiral with terse questions, "Can you prove?" and "Why is the navy so keen to use Brits, but not UDTs?"61 Sticking to his guns, Joy replied, "Request reconsideration. The 41 Royal Marine Commando was formed and trained especially to conduct commando raids. Plans are ready for destruction of several key points between latitudes 40 and 41 on east coast. Believe they can be executed without serious risk. Submarine crew and commandos are keen to fight and gain experience for evaluation of this type of operation."62
MacArthur did reconsider, finally relenting in a 20 September message to ComNavFE authorizing raids by the Perch and "a detachment not to exceed seventy individuals of the 41 Royal Marine Commando."63 Less than a week later, the Perch quietly crept out of Japan in the dead of night, its adrenaline-filled crew and sixty-seven Commandos eager for their first taste of combat in Korea.
The CIA's Special Missions Group
Most of the guerrillas inserted across North Korean beaches were sent ashore in small teams, at night, to conduct limited reconnaissance missions, establish Escape and Evasion networks, or collect local intelligence, particularly on the railway system. According to CIA records however–still partially classified nearly a half-century later–the Agency decided in 1951 to add a bigger punch to its amphibious operations.
Commander in chief MacArthur's strong antipathy to a CIA presence in his theater of operations inevitably influenced a number of early-war decisions taken by the Agency's senior officials in Japan. And among the most important of these decisions was their commitment to field their own intelligence networks and guerrilla forces in North Korea, independent of similar efforts undertaken by MacArthur's Far East Command. An effort of this magnitude still required military support, however, and this reality frequently led to acrimonious fights when Agency representatives approached MacArthur's army-dominated headquarters to ask for such support. Though in most cases the requested support was eventually provided, this continuing acrimony led in turn to the Agency's preference for working whenever possible with the two uniformed services with which it enjoyed much smoother relations, the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
Naval special operations–through Task Force 90–supported the Agency with both UDT and APD elements, the former training, then leading ashore, guerrillas launched from the APD providing the necessary transport and firepower. Unlike the U.S. Army, which used the term "partisan" when referring to the Koreans it employed behind enemy lines, the CIA and the navy used the more traditional title "guerrilla." As might be expected, these bureaucratic differences in terminology were of little interest to the frogmen and APD crews who risked their lives to deliver and retrieve the Koreans along the always-dangerous North Korean coastline. What did interest the sailors, however, were the rugged Korean raiders themselves, their temporary shipmates for the seven to ten days the two groups lived together during a typical mission north of the thirty-eighth parallel.
To the surprise of everyone and yet the surprise of no one, a tight camaraderie quickly sprang up aboard ship between American sailors and Korean guerrillas. This camaraderie often found form in the poker games that transcended substantial cultural and language barriers or, more notable yet, in the Koreans' noisy enthusiasm for the always popular "shoot 'em up" Hollywood westerns viewed nightly on the fantail of an APD at sea. Despite such light moments, however, the trips "up north" were anything but a light-hearted adventure, especially to the guerrillas, for whom the missions represented little more than a dangerous change of pace to their otherwise bleak existence.
For the most part, the guerrillas were North Korean civilians, screened and recruited by the Agency from among the large populations of pathetic, hungry refugees that filled the numerous camps around Pusan. As Hans Tofte, then the senior CIA officer in Japan, described them, "The refugees were down-in-the-mouth, bored with nothing to do. Joining the guerrillas would give them a chance to get out, to eat three meals a day, to have something to do. They would be buddies with a purpose, rather than shuffle around the camp."64
During the first six months of the war the Agency recruited several hundred refugees from such camps. Those selected were taken to the CIA's guerrilla training base, a tent city situated within a twenty-acre site on the small island of Yong-do, located some ninety miles south-southwest of Pusan.65 There the Koreans were put through an accelerated training program by a small number of American military personnel (commanded by a marine, not an army officer) "on loan" to the CIA from their respective services.
The courses taught included the use of various weapons, sabotage techniques, and small rubber-boat handling for night insertions of small teams. The UDT were initially tapped to run the small boat training, but as the frogmen soon learned, they were also expected to take their "guerrilla graduates" on the dangerous insertions into North Korea. As Tofte himself later recalled, "I wanted it known [by the Koreans] that the Americans [UDT] took the guerrillas in by hand. This gave the Koreans respect for us and the military services also."66
Most of the guerrillas inserted across North Korean beaches were sent ashore in small teams, at night, to conduct limited reconnaissance missions, establish Escape and Evasion networks, or to collect local intelligence, particularly on the railway system. According to CIA records however–still partially classified nearly a half-century later–the Agency decided in 1951 to add a bigger punch to its amphibious operations: "A . . raider team was recruited and trained by a Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) specialist during July and August 1951. Between August 1951 and October 1952 this team carried out amphibious reconnaissance and raider operations along the east coast of North Korea. [A number of] successful landings were made."67
This team would almost certainly be the forty-to-fifty-man Special Missions Group (SMG) formed at the direction of the CIA by Lt. Atcheson (the same UDT officer whose 5 August 1950 mission west of Pusan is described earlier in this chapter).68 If the numbers involved were admittedly modest, so too were the numbers advisable for the kinds of hit-and-run missions for which these raiders were organized. In any case, the SMG certainly fit in with TF 90's continued commitment to interdict the enemy's coastal railway system. These high-speed transport sailors and frogmen were going forward with whatever raiders–military or CIA–the UN would entrust into their care.
[Watching from the conning tower] wasn't exactly conducive to our peace of mind. We could see the gun flashes and moving lights. We could hear the crack of rifles and the stutter of machine guns and yet we were just sitting there, powerless to help. Finally we saw a blinding explosion followed by instant shock waves that reached far out to sea. We knew the mission was completed, but we didn't know at what cost.
On the night of 30 September 1950, the Perch rose silently out of the cold, dark depths of the Sea of Japan, its steel-gray conning tower cutting through the water like a dorsal fin. Some 150 miles behind enemy lines, the submarine broke the surface into the three-quarters moonlight that covered the sea. Scarcely a month had passed since the SOG's marines were pulled out to support MacArthur's dramatic invasion at Inchon, and only five days since the Perch's stealthy night departure from Japan.
As the submarine surfaced four miles off North Korea's eastern coastline this night, its crew and Royal Marine Commandos gratefully took in the fresh air pumped below deck. For the last fourteen hours the boat's atmosphere had become increasingly foul with the exhalations of crew and raiders–despite use of the snorkel–while the boat's skipper, Lt. Cdr. Robert D. Quinn, conducted a thorough periscope reconnaissance of the target area.69 In a scene that would he repeated many times in the future, this raid targeted a section of the north-south railroad track that came within a short distance of the shore.
As the Commandos spilled out onto the forward deck to inflate their black rubber rafts and Perch crewmen dragged the skimmer from the partially flooded after-deck hangar, lookouts stared intently through binoculars for signs of enemy activity ashore. Working rapidly in blacked-out conditions, seven rafts were quickly inflated and launched within the next thirty-two minutes.70 But to the submariners' dismay, the skimmer's engine refused to start, its ignition system grounded out by the excessive humidity built up in the hangar during the prolonged dive.
Without the skimmer to tow the Commando-laden rafts the mission was finished before it started, the distance to the beach precluding any chance of paddling to and from the shoreline. But even as the submariners worked frantically on the engine, sick with the thought that failure on their part could force the cancellation of the eagerly awaited first raid, the submarine's radar detected a patrol boat maneuvering in the target area. The already tense situation worsened shortly thereafter when lookouts spotted two sets of vehicle lights moving into the target area before being extinguished–an ominous sign. With little choice, Quinn prudently concluded that the enemy had most likely been alerted to the submarine's presence and was attempting to set a trap for the Commandos. Quickly ordering the return of the rafts and skimmer to their storage areas, Quinn turned the big submarine out to sea. Staying on the surface for the next several hours to recharge the submarine's batteries, the Perch returned to the safety of the depths with the arrival of dawn.
Surfacing later that same day, the Perch completed a rendezvous with the destroyers H. J. Thomas and Maddox, the latter carrying commander, Destroyer Division 92. In a hasty conference aboard the Maddox, Quinn, along with the Perch's embarkation officer (responsible for towing the rafts to/from the beach), and the Commando leader worked quickly to plan a raid that night against a secondary target in the area. As the enemy was obviously alerted to their presence, the plan entailed a diversionary attack by the Thomas on the previous night's target, while the Perch surfaced farther south to launch the Commandos against the secondary target. For its part, the Maddox would close protectively to within four thousand yards of the Perch after it surfaced, should the destroyer's firepower be needed.71
At 7:45 P.M. the Perch again broke the surface four miles off the coastline, having completed another submerged reconnaissance of the beach earlier in the day. This time the skimmer started without hesitation, towing seven rafts-six filled with Commandos and a seventh with explosives-to within five hundred yards of the shoreline. Releasing the tow ropes, the skimmer waited at the five-hundred-yard mark while the Commandos paddled the remaining distance to the beach and immediately fanned out to establish a defensive perimeter for the demolition teams.
But even as the covering force raced into position, the first of several firefights broke out when its lead elements encountered small groups of enemy soldiers. With the element of surprise obviously gone, the Commandos forming the defensive perimeter fought off the growing pressure on their position while the explosives were quickly planted in a culvert and railroad tunnel. Back on the Perch's bridge, Quinn watched the fireworks through binoculars with increasing anxiety: "It wasn't exactly conducive to our peace of mind. We could see the gun flashes and moving lights. We could hear the crack of rifles and the stutter of machine guns and yet we were just sitting there, powerless to help. Finally we saw a blinding explosion followed by instant shock waves that reached far out to sea. We knew the mission was completed, but we didn't know at what cost."72 The charges exploded at 1:15 on the morning of 2 October, much to the satisfaction of the Commandos. With the culvert and tunnel destroyed, they withdrew quickly to the landing beach to board their rafts for the tow back to the Perch.
The Commandos had not returned unblooded from their first successful combat mission of the war, however, as Royal Marine P. R. Jones had been killed during the fighting ashore. He was buried at sea with full honors aboard the Perch later that day, as the Thomas and Maddox trailed in formation behind the submarine with UN flags flown at half-mast.73 The two destroyers made a high-speed departure following the firing of a twenty-one-gun salute by the Maddox, leaving the Perch to return alone to Japan three days later.
Following the return of the Perch to Yokosuka, Quinn completed a short "lessons-learned" report that clearly reflected both the anticipation and apprehension he felt regarding additional raiding missions for his boat. Some of his comments suggested mechanical improvements to the Perch, such as an access door between the submarine hull and the after-deck hangar that would allow crewmen to enter the airtight hangar while the submarine was submerged. Such access might have, for example, allowed the crew to detect and repair the skimmer's faulty engine before the submarine surfaced on the night of the aborted 30 September mission. Other suggestions involved tactical improvements, particularly those regarding the submarine's vulnerability on the surface in the target area.
The Perch had remained on the surface under a bright moon for nearly two hours on the night of 30 September, as the Commandos were first launched, then retrieved after the faulty skimmer engine could not be made to start. Moreover, the Perch remained on the surface in the target area for nearly seven hours the following night while the Commandos fought off the North Koreans attempting to thwart their demolition mission against the railway. It was on the second night that Quinn discovered (as would the APD skippers in future raids) that the submarine crew needed a bright moon both to guide the Commandos to the exact landing site and effect assistance should the raiders ashore need help.
But to remain essentially motionless on the surface for so long, within range of the enemy's coastal artillery, obviously put the submarine and crew at considerable risk. Further complicating attempts to judge the risk factors was that the skipper could not discount seaborne threats as well. A surprise attack by one of North Korea's fast patrol boats, for example, would have left the skipper of the lightly armed Perch with the cruel choice of either risking his entire boat and crew, or abandoning the Commandos to a bloody fate ashore.
In fact, it was precisely this potential seaborne threat that drove the decision to bring the Maddox to within easy rescue distance of the surfaced submarine on the second night's raid. Unfortunately, the unusual presence of a warship so close to shore also tipped off alert coastal defenses that something, probably an amphibious operation, was likely in progress. A final obstacle was the winter weather itself, which often turned the Sea of Japan into a submariner's nightmare: "The water became so cold and the sea so unpredictable in December 1950 that submarine patrols were abandoned because the snorkels froze up and endangered those vessels. The patrols were not resumed until April 1951."74 For all of these man-made and weather-related reasons, NAVFE terminated submarine-raider operations following the Perch's safe return to Yokosuka on 5 October 1950.75
Like the SOG, the Perch-Commando team had come and gone in less than a month. So much had happened in so little time that for some it was hard to remember that the war was scarcely ninety days old. This latest turn of events with the Perch did, however, stabilize the raiding lineup that would essentially continue in place until such missions wound down sharply in the final year of the war.
No matter how many times we took a raiding party ashore, I could still feel the apprehension sweep through the boat as the Bass gradually disappeared into the darkness behind us. We couldn't even see the beach, only the dark vagueness of the coastal mountains a couple of miles ahead. I had to concentrate hard on the immediate task of keeping the boats in echelon formation and staying on course to the right beach.
From October 1950 forward, the UDT, British Commandos, and Korean guerrilla teams raiding North Korea's railway system were carried aboard the four APDs that formed the backbone of TF 90's fast-transport strike force. Moreover, it was from within this small group that the Bass had developed such a combat reputation that it came to be called "the Galloping Ghost of the Korean Coast. "76 The moniker may have sounded "Hollywood" to some, but as the ship's war records and interviews with its crewmen have since revealed, the raiding war was anything but glamorous.
It certainly hadn't been glamorous the previous August, for example, when the Bass took the SOG on its first forays into enemy-held territory. This first APD-UDT team had cut its teeth on those three missions, with all involved painfully aware that they were "winging it" in the face of an alert and well-armed enemy. Even at this early stage of the war, few of the raiders or commanders held any illusions that these raids could seriously interdict the enemy's overall campaign.
Nevertheless, such attacks could still be useful to the UN effort when they compelled the NKPA to divert even a few of its front-line combat units from the decisive fighting along the Pusan perimeter. With the outcome of the combat around Pusan seeming to hang in the balance with every daily attack and counterattack, the NKPA was desperate for every rifleman and artillery piece it could muster to finish a battle that many on both sides thought might well end the war.
The primary significance of the SOG's mid-August raids was twofold. First, they did in fact force the NKPA to divert scarce resources for the defense of the railway system that kept its army fueled, fed, and armed. Second, the amphibious assault methods tested during the SOG's brief tenure were further refined into the two beach landing tactics practiced by the APD-raider teams for the remainder of the war. Both tactics had advantages and disadvantages, and, after considering the relative merits of each, the two raiding groups–British Commandos and Korean guerrillas–chose a different tactic for their operations.
For the Commandos it was the familiar, World War II-era "dry ramp landing" approach, in which the forward half of the LCPR's (landing craft, personnel-ramped) hull was beached ashore, the bow ramp dropped, and the raiders disgorged at a dead run for the nearest cover. In contrast, the guerrillas cut loose their seven-man inflatable rafts from the LCPR, towing them up to the surf line, then paddled through the surf to the beach. While the Commando approach77 had the advantages of a quicker and safer passage through the surf line, the placing of one-third to one-half of the entire assault force in a single LCPR could lead to disaster if the boat overturned in the surf or was hit by enemy fire. In either event, the three-quarters-inch plywood hull of the LCPR provided precious little protection for its occupants.
As important as these beach-landing tactics were, they were still only one part in a very complex, choreographed play–a play in which even the slightest mistake in any of the other parts could reduce the entire show to shambles in a matter of minutes. And for both British and Korean raiders, the "show" began with an APD launching its LCPR's within two to four miles of the coastline. This considerable difference in distance was driven in turn by ComNavFE orders that kept the APDs outside the one-hundred-fathom curve, a line at variable distances from the shore that kept the ships in water at least six hundred feet deep. This order followed the loss of one ship and heavy damage to another four, all due to shallow water mines, during the last week of September 1950. It was the most costly week of the war for UN naval forces.78
For the Commando operations, the launched LCPR's immediately moved alongside the ship's fantail, where raiders waited to scramble down the big cargo nets hung minutes earlier from the main deck. In contrast, the guerrillas first lowered their rafts by rope into the sea below the cargo nets, moved down the nets into the rafts, then paddled off to hook up to the LCPR's waiting a short distance away.
The deliberately slow and carefully choreographed movement to shore that began with the embarkation of the raiding force–always conducted at night–was indeed a "dangerous ride to work." From the moment the boats began slowly moving forward at a snail's pace in total, blacked-out conditions, the APD's boat officer assumed tactical command of the raiding party from his position aboard the lead LCPR. Regardless of the beach-landing tactics employed, the boat officer halted the LCPR's just outside the dangerous surf line while he anxiously peered through the darkness attempting to judge whether the force had arrived at the right beach and whether the treacherous waves and tides would permit a landing.
Trying to watch, listen, and feel the sea conditions around him while ignoring the freezing cold cutting through his clothes, the boat officer was under enormous pressure to think quickly as his vulnerable force floated nearby, awaiting his decision. If his call was affirmative, a single UDT scout-swimmer clad in a rubber dry suit was dispatched into the icy black waters to swim ashore for a quick beach reconnaissance. Only after receiving an "all-clear" light signal from the beach, usually some thirty minutes later, would the boat officer commit to either taking the Commandos ashore in the LCPR's or cutting the guerrillas loose to paddle their rafts through the surf.
For nearly twenty of these nerve-wracking missions conducted by the Bass during its second combat tour in Korea, the heavy responsibility of making these quick life-or-death judgments fell on the shoulders of the previously introduced Lt. Hilary D. Mahin. Moreover, his vivid memories some forty-five years later reveal the intense concentration required of the boat officer on every one of these missions:
No matter how many times we took a raiding party ashore, I could still feel the apprehension sweep through the boat as the Bass gradually disappeared into the darkness behind us. We couldn't even see the beach, only the dark vagueness of the coastal mountains a couple of miles ahead. I had to concentrate hard on the immediate task of keeping the boats in echelon formation and staying on course to the right beach.
As the Boat Officer, I rode in the lead LCPR, taking navigation guidance over the radio from the ship, which had both the shoreline and our boats on its search radar. In addition to the boat crew of course the Commando leader and the UDT scout-swimmer were usually with me, as were the explosives we carried for the job. We had two .30-caliber machine guns in the bow, and if it were a Commando operation, twenty to twenty-five of them aboard as well. If we were taking guerrillas in, we usually towed three of their rafts behind each LCPR.
By using the boat's underwater exhaust system we kept the exhaust sound pretty low, which usually enabled us to get within two-three hundred yards of the beach where the surf roar would mask the sound of the engine from ashore. Here I had to decide whether the surf conditions would allow us to proceed in. If I did, the troop leader released the scout-swimmer into the sea for a cold swim to shore to perform a quick reconnaissance of the area. It was at this time that I released tactical control of the mission to the Commando leader.
For the next half-hour or so there was little we could do but hold position in the dark beyond the surf line, listening for the sound of a train or perhaps an enemy patrol craft. If the coast were clear we got a small green light signaling "come ashore." If the surf conditions were bad or the enemy was present in strength, our UDT would swim back out to us for the return to the ship.79
With British Commandos aboard, the light signal from the beach called in the waiting LCPR's to beach, drop the raiders off, and then back out quickly through the surf to await a "mission-accomplished" call from the raiding party. The boat officer responded immediately to this call by moving the LCPR's forward again as the Commando leader ashore fired a prearranged flare signal high into the night sky over the target–the signal for all raiders to return immediately to the beach. Given the unreliability of radios exposed to salt air and water, the confusion that inevitably accompanies night combat, plus the language problems when Korean guerrillas were employed, the simple flare signal was the key to ensuring that no raiders were left behind.
With the guerrillas, the "mission-accomplished" signal from shore also sent the LCPR's waiting beyond the surf line onto the beach for the pickup. While designated guerrillas helped strap the rafts outboard of the LCPR, the main party boarded the boat, which then backed out (as with the Commandos) through the surf. Regardless of the makeup of the raiding party, however, the passage back out through the pounding surf could prove more dangerous than the mission itself, and, as Mahin recalls, men sometimes died in the attempt:
Getting back out through the surf usually proved more difficult than getting in, as the boats backed out to avoid being capsized by breaking waves while attempting to turn around in shallow water. In April 1952 four of our Koreans, fully loaded with combat gear and weapons, were swept into the waves as they attempted to climb into our LCPR after securing their raft to its hull.
Without thinking, I jumped in to grab one of them, followed immediately by Bosun's Mate MacDonald. I grabbed one guerrilla, but was going under myself as I wore no life jacket. MacDonald, who did have a lifejacket, grabbed me and another guerrilla, keeping us all afloat just long enough for other hands to drag us back over the gunwale into the boat. Unfortunately, the two other guerrillas drowned. We returned the following day to retrieve their bodies.80
Given the inevitability of casualties among the raiders during these hazardous missions, either from enemy action or accidents, Mahin added an emergency medical team to the raider force. This team was placed in a third LCPR, a combination backup boat and seagoing ambulance. Trailing behind the assault force by some five hundred yards, this LCPR carried two corpsmen and their supplies, plasma, medical stretchers, and so on.
Medical help was bolstered aboard the APD as well, with the addition of a physician to the ship's crew for each combat mission. As Mahin recalls with a laugh, however, this otherwise-welcomed assistance took an unexpected turn with the arrival of the first doctor. Anticipating an emergency room specialist or at least a general surgeon, the crew was astonished to learn that the U.S. Navy, in its infinite wisdom, had sent them a gynecologist!
No doubt the raiders, even given the occasional odd choice of specialists sent to the APDs, appreciated this increased medical support. However, the LCPR crews endured another problem, one found in the psychological dimension but potentially more devastating than a physical wound. Unlike individual Commandos or guerrillas, few of whom would participate in every mission undertaken by their unit, the boat crews aboard an APD went on every raid conducted by every raiding party carried aboard their ship. Thus the individual boat crewman's exposure to death, crippling injury, or capture was–by this one statistic alone–higher than that faced by any single Commando or guerrilla. And it was a statistic rammed home by such heart-stopping close calls as that experienced by Mahin and Boatswain's Mate Ken Eckert on the night of 23 June 1952, when a stream of machine-gun slugs slammed into their LCPR, sending hot bits of shrapnel into their faces.
Unlike the Commandos or guerrillas, these sailors were not selected from an all-volunteer pool that had been physically and psychologically screened before being put through a punishing selection course designed to weed out all but the most aggressive. Beaching their LCPR's under enemy fire at night, deep behind enemy lines, was only a part-time job for these seamen, who held full-time duties aboard ship. Under such circumstances, the emotional stress on the LCPR crews in general, and the boat officer in particular, could only have a cumulative effect as the missions wore on throughout the war.
It is a well-known axiom within the profession of arms-borne out through centuries of warfare–that each individual has only a limited supply of courage. Moreover, each frightening experience endured by the individual dips into that supply of courage, much like someone drinking from a cup holding only a finite amount of liquid. And to those repeatedly subjected to the test of combat, few experiences in life are more frightening than the shock of realizing that the cup of courage is finally and suddenly empty. For Mahin this shock hit home on the final raid conducted by the Bass on its second combat tour in Korean waters:
The missions never got easier, although the competence of our boat crews increased with every raid, because no amount of raiding experience changed the critical conditions beyond my control, The surf and the enemy's reaction were always unpredictable in the dark, and there was always that fear that the wrong decision on my part could get people killed.
You just wondered bow long competence and especially luck could carry you. In the end my courage deserted me on a mission, somewhere near my twentieth raid, and I can never forget that indescribable apprehension that overwhelmed me. I seemed to be frozen physically and mentally; even calling out a command was a major effort that took all my willpower. In short, I'd run out of gas.81
As Mahin's candid account of his experience attests, the burden of combat rarely falls equally on all those involved. Almost by definition, the bravest are inevitably consumed in body and spirit by the near-inhuman demands placed on those who willingly position themselves again and again on that lethal edge of human performance found in combat behind enemy lines.
One of the most dangerous and successful special operations missions of the entire war had already taken place in the spring of 1951, when one of these navy-CIA raiding parties escorted a U.S. Army general, a doctor, into enemy held territory south of Wonsan.
The chronological progression of NAVFE's raiding activities during the war was fairly straightforward–dramatic to be sure, but still relatively simple from the headquarters viewpoint. Following the termination of the Special Operations Group and submarine-raider operations in September and October 1950, respectively, the U.S. Navy provided the transportation (APDs) and scout-swimmers (UDTs) for the British Commandos until the withdrawal of the Commandos from combat in December 1951.
During the following year the same APD-UDT combination carried CIA guerrillas ashore, with individual frogmen commanding the raids ashore in all but name. This U.S.-Korean teamwork tapered off sharply in mid-1952, no doubt reflecting the American realization that, at this late stage of the war, such raids were virtually meaningless in determining the final outcome. There was a time, however, in the fall of 1950, when the fires burned bright in the hearts of raiders intent on taking the war back to the North Koreans' homeland.
This time came right after the navy withdrew the Perch from combat, when C Troop, 41 Commando, boarded the Bass for a strike against the North Korean coastline on the night of 6-7 October 1950, their target a railway tunnel 150 miles north of Hungnam. This raid took place only some 80 miles south of the Soviet border and was the first British Commando raid launched from an APD. It and the raid the following night were the first in a series of attacks over the next several months against the railway system which ran along a 120-mile stretch of coastline located between forty and forty-two degrees north latitude.
This first raid was more complicated than most that would follow, as the surveillance radar on the Bass failed just before its boats were launched, forcing its raiding partner, the Wantuck, to assume control and guidance of the boats on the long, slow approach to the beach.82 A British journalist accompanied this mission all the way ashore, subsequently publishing his experiences in vivid detail:
The umbilical towrope [attaching the black rubber raft to the LCPR] has been unhitched. We are twelve men . . . gliding quickly by paddle towards . . . the hills which loom nearer (I never before felt the full menace of the verb "loom"). One officer-Lieutenant Peter R. Thomas-has swum ahead alone: a tiny winking red light tell us that he has got there, that it is at least possible to land.
The silence grows half-perceptibly into sound, the rhythmical swish of surf. ... For a second or two we are caught violently in a chaos of foam. We hit something solid: "Out, quick, get out Come on, for Christ's sake!" It is an urgent but not quick task to drag the boat up to [the beach]; no tug-o'war team ever heaved so desperately.... This patch of sand becomes Commando H.Q. A new, temporary bridgehead is established in North Korea... less than a 100 miles from the Soviet frontier.
Troop Commander Lieutenant Derek Pounds had told the troops: "Civilians are to be left alone if they stay indoors; if they interfere, they get rubbed out." A [Korean] man came out, and wandered about. Some were for shooting him; but it was less noisy to knock him on the head. ("I was sorry for him in a way," the marine who did it said afterwards, showing me the teeth-marks on his rifle-butt, "but he oughtn't to have been out there.").
The long tow back to the ship was an agreeable anti-climax; the marines' wet clothing clung icily about them, yet there was sense of fulfillment and of intense relief. . . . On board there was a miniature bottle of brandy for each man (strictly medicinal, for U.S. Navy ships are dry). The Bass is a fast armed troop carrier. . . . Her youthful, smilingly taciturn captain, Lieutenant Commander Alan Ray, presides over her with unruffled equanimity.83
This raid and the one that followed appear to be the first and last missions in which the Commandos went ashore in rubber rafts towed behind LCPR's, the tactic used exclusively by the Korean guerrillas in 1952. Following these two missions, the Commandos reverted to the dry ramp landing tactics with which they were more familiar.
The raiders had the satisfaction of watching their demolitions explode against the targets on both missions, the second night's explosion setting off a large fire that was still burning as the APDs prudently left the area. The North Korean reaction to these early raids was surprisingly light (though one Commando was killed during the first mission), and the APDs returned to Sasebo, Japan, on 9 October to replenish and stand by for further duty as directed by Task Force 90. This standby period proved shorter than expected, as the APDs were dispatched almost immediately for the kind of special operations duty that made their crews claim-half in tears, half in laughter-that what "APD" really stood for was "any purpose designated"!
The last three months of 1950 became the "mine season" for APDs Begor, Diachenko, and Bass, as well as the frogmen of UDTs 1 and 3. Always sensitive to the UN naval dominance of the waters surrounding North Korea, the Communists fought back with virtually the only weapon at their disposal: extensive mining of the major harbors within their control. In particular, this included the east coast ports of Wonsan and Hungnam as well as Chinnampo, the west coast port of entry for the North Korean capitol city of Pyongyang. Sweeping for 250-pound mines moored just below the surface was a dangerous business, even for minesweepers built for this sole purpose. So dangerous, in fact, that in Wonsan Harbor the minesweepers Pledge and Pirate were sunk on 12 October by the very mines they were attempting to sweep.
The frogmen found Wonsan particularly difficult, as one veteran of the UDT mine-sweeping effort notes:
UDT was rushed into the destruction of loose surface mines. . . . UDT men were placed in whale boats, given M1 rifles with armor-piercing shells, and the go-ahead to sink or detonate the mines, What a zoo! In rolling, pitching seas, here were the gunners on a bobbing cork, taking aim on another bobbing cork. Another mission for UDT? What the hell, we're flexible!
It wasn't over yet. Wonsan, always the mines. What a nightmare-cruising around with our four-foot draft LCPR's was no picnic, even with the mine watch on the bow. On 17 October another minesweeper sank, and another on 18 October, both of which had Korean crews to be rescued.84
That December a ten-man UDT detachment boarded the Begor for a demolition mission that would later be described as the single largest nonnuclear explosion to date. Having earlier evacuated the port of Hungnam just ahead of the advancing Chinese army, the UN moved to deny use of the harbor facilities to the Communists for the duration of the war if possible. That goal was accomplished quite handily the day before Christmas, 1950, when Hungnam harbor rocked with an explosion generated by a substantial combination of UDT explosives as well as "400 tons of frozen dynamite, five hundred 1000-pound aerial bombs, and about two hundred drums of gasoline."85
The Hungnam fireworks display was a fitting, as well as impressive, culmination of the overall UDT performance during the first six months of the war. For the UDTs to have taken and survived such extraordinary risks in raids, minefields, and other dangerous tasks so far beyond the scope of their World War II-era training and equipment–without a single death–seemed to many at the time to be too good to be true. As events were soon to prove, it was.
Typical of these hair-raising experiences was that experienced by a UDT-3 element on the night of 23-24 September 1950, as an LCPR from the Bass towed five inflatable rafts full of frogmen toward the beach approach to Taechon, just north of the west coast port city of Kunsan. What was supposed to be a "routine combat recon on an enemy beach" revealed virtually all the weaknesses of the still-infant APD-UDT program. With tongue-in-cheek humor, one participant describes the operation:
In the briefing prior to launch, all crews and swimmers were given the latest intelligence . . . including the fact that a tourist who had been on the beach in 1949 had seen no soldiers or guns there, What more could we ask? A piece of cake! Right on schedule, Bass steamed into the area and sounded General Quarters, which could be heard for miles, and with a nearly full moon we didn't have any vision problems finding the beach–a stroke of luck!
Within minutes the [enemy] guns started blazing, tracers everywhere! Boat #1 hit, eight men in the water[,] . . . four men in the water from the other boats. For what seemed like hours, the LCPR fished around for swimmers.86
In his official after-action report for this mission, the UDT-3 commander on the scene describes, with considerably less humor, the subsequent recovery of the men in the water, most of which took place under enemy fire: "Small arms fire from hill on left flank of beach....Men missing: 10. . . recovered one swimmer off center of beach . . . recovered two swimmers off right flank of beach. . . . Small arms fire from the right flank of beach. . . . Recovered another swimmer off center of beach . . . recovered one swimmer off right flank of beach . . . recovered one swimmer 1000 yards off beach . . . recovered one swimmer 1200 yards off beach . . . recovered one swimmer 3000 yards off beach . . . recovered two swimmers 4000 yards off beach. All men accounted for."87
But the good luck that always seemed to favor the UDT in such close calls came to an end on 19 January 1951, when a similar beach reconnaissance farther south resulted in the deaths of two UDT-1 swimmers, the only such combat casualties of the war. In addition to the two killed, two other UDT were wounded, as were two LCPR crewmen from the Bass.88
The details of the terse after-action report reveal the chilling drama played out in the cold dark waters that night, when the North Koreans got a rare opportunity to catch the frogmen in their gunsights:
About ten men came over the dune line, assumed prone firing positions and commenced firing at the beach party. Immediately all of the [beach party] took to the water and commenced swimming with the rubber boat. . . . Lt (j.g.) E. I. Frey was swimming to [a tow line] when he was hit twice in the head. ... Lt (j.g.) Pope and QM2 Boswell attempted to keep the body afloat but, due to the strong current, they were dragged under the LCPR and were forced to let go. The body of Lt (j.g.) Frey was never again seen [Frey's body was, in fact, subsequently recovered].
Due to the extreme cold, the swimmers were unable to help [pull other swimmers aboard]. . . . Lt (j.g.) Satterfield was boosted to the gunwale where he was shot in the back and died immediately. During this action, the coxswain [BM3 Sidney A. "Swede" Petersen], was shot in the left knee but continued to man his station. He finally collapsed and his job was assumed by a UDT 1-man. The boat's radioman [SM Frank D. Prosser] was shot through the left elbow as he helped to pull Satterfield aboard.89
Two dead and four wounded were not large numbers by the standards of combat in Korea, but the losses cut especially deep into the small APD-UDT community. This one mission incurred the single largest casualty rate among the UDT throughout the entire war, a deadly reminder of the danger inherent in these operations.
Despite their losses, there was little time for mourning as the entry of the Chinese army into the war the previous November had an immediate impact on the raider community. In response to an urgent request that same month from the hard-pressed 1st Marine Division, the 41 Independent Commando was dispatched to join the Americans fighting near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. With the Commandos' departure, coastal raiding virtually ceased until the spring of 1951, when the British returned to Japan to reequip and absorb the new replacements that returned its strength to near that of the original three hundred with which it had started the war.
The Commandos resumed coastal attacks in April 1951, when the British teamed up with the UDT in a raid that ripped up large sections of railway track north of Hungnam. That July and August, B and C Troops of the Commando set up forward bases on two small islands in Wonsan harbor. From these islands further raids were conducted, as were a number of small reconnaissance missions, the latter often undertaken in two-man kayaks. Raiding casualties during 1951 were relatively light–one officer and sergeant killed and twenty other ranks wounded–due in no small part to the commonsense approach to the raiding role as expressed by their senior officer on the scene, Lt. Col. F. N. "Chips" Grant: "On each [raid] I pulled my men out when the opposition got serious. I did not consider a ten-foot bridge worth serious casualties. Our main aim–that of keeping up the threat to the coast–was achieved. We could have maintained ourselves [against heavy opposition], but only at a cost not commensurate with the value of the target."90 This pattern of coastal raiding continued until the Commandos were permanently withdrawn from Korea on 22 December 1951.91
While the departure of the Commandos from Korea broke up an effective UN raiding team, it also demonstrated the adaptability of the APD-UDT concept to function just as effectively with other UN raiders. This critical point was reaffirmed that winter by the relative speed and effectiveness with which the Korean guerrillas of the Special Missions Group replaced the Commandos.
Also assisting in this mid war transition was the earlier APD-UDT experience with other CIA-sponsored guerrillas, many of whom had already proven their effectiveness on a number of special operations missions. In fact, one of the most dangerous and successful special operations missions of the entire war had already taken place in March 1951, when one of these CIA raiding parties escorted a U.S. Army general, a doctor, into enemy-held territory south of Wonsan.
The U.S. Army rarely sends its generals behind enemy lines, especially if indigenous guerrillas recruited for the most part from the roster of the opposing team are providing this senior officer with his only protection in such dangerous territory. It's a scenario not unlike that of throwing a forward pass in a football game in which two of the three subsequent possibilities are bad news for the offense. Had the Communists succeeded in killing Brig. Gen. Crawford F. Sams during his clandestine intrusion into North Korea on the night of 13-14 March, they would have achieved a victory of significant proportions. However, capturing FEC's surgeon general would have been a propaganda coup of immense proportions. Even more important than his general officer status was the fact that his mission had as its goal nothing less than puncturing a hole in one of the Communists' most treasured propaganda programs:
In February 1951 both Peking Radio and the People's Daily reported that Koreans had witnessed American aircraft drop insects that resulted in cases of cholera. In March, the Communists alleged that American artillery had been used to shoot typhus germs across the Imjin River, and that the U.S. Army had sent infected animals and [infected material to four locations.
The North Koreans stated that the U.S. was responsible for 3,500 cases of smallpox in civilians and demanded that UN commanders Mathew B. Ridgway and Douglas MacArthur be tried for these "crimes." [North Korean leader) Kim Il Sung Issued an emergency decree, calling for the National Extraordinary Anti-Epidemic Committee [and other bureaucracies) to destroy insects.92
However fallacious the charges sounded to American ears, they were not claims that could go unanswered, especially because in at least one area highlighted by the Communists there did indeed appear to be an epidemic of some kind.
The problem for the UN was that the territories allegedly affected were all under Communist control, and the Communists refused to allow health inspectors from the International Red Cross or the UN World Health Organization into the areas. What Communist leaders would not admit was that in the face of widespread epidemics stemming from displaced refugee populations, contaminated water, and a variety of other factors, its rudimentary medical system had collapsed.
The UN Command suspected as much, but in the face of Communist propaganda charges of germ warfare, Headquarters, Far East Command developed an audacious plan to put proof behind its suspicions. Evidently (and no doubt reluctantly) concluding that its public rebuttal to the Communist allegations would require the firsthand report of the most senior medical authority possible, FEC authorized the insertion into North Korea of General Sams. Perhaps considering the political fall-out should Sams be killed or captured, the wily MacArthur allowed the navy and CIA–the latter still his least-favorite intelligence organization–to conduct the high-risk mission. Two separate postwar CIA reports are combined here to describe the mission:
This mission was more dangerous than usual because the Wonsan area was on the alert, having detected lights at sea. The [CIA-guerrilla team] operating from a U.S. destroyer took Brigadier General Crawford F. Sams . . . by whaleboat and raft. .. into an enemy fishing village at night, outposted the area, made contact with the village chiefs, and returned the Surgeon General to the destroyer. The mission was successful and the disease was identified as hemorrhagic smallpox. Both Sams and the commander in chief, Far East Command, were impressed by the speed and efficiency of the CIA operations.93
Returning to Tokyo immediately, Sams subsequently presented his medical findings before the UN and various other public forums, effectively dispelling for the moment the credibility, if not the zeal, of the Communist propaganda.94 An appreciative General MacArthur later awarded Sams the Distinguished Service Cross for his unique and dangerous mission.95
On the night of 25 January 1952 the SMG continued the creditable performance of its predecessors with one of the more successful hit-and-run raids of the war, an assault on the railway line some nine miles south of Songjin. Departing from the Wantuck, the guerrillas struck a train sitting between two tunnels. In addition to derailing the locomotive and tender, one small railroad trestle was destroyed, and eleven North Korean soldiers were killed and one captured. The attacking force suffered no casualties.
U.S. records of these raids, found primarily in the war diaries and memoirs of the APDs and their crews, suggest that such forays dropped off sharply in the summer of 1952. In a scenario eerily prescient of one that would follow nearly two decades later in Southeast Asia, the U.S. strategy at this stage of the war concentrated almost wholly on minimizing its casualties and withdrawing most if its forces from the region with some form of "honorable peace." And just as they would again some twenty years later, the negotiations with the Communists were moving forward at an agonizingly slow pace.
Perhaps to help nudge the Communists along, the navy sent its APD-UDT team north for one final series of operations, this time against the enemy's food supply. From July to September 1952, elements of UDT-5 and UDT-3 from the Diachenko and Weiss [APD-135), respectively, began destroying fishing nets and sampans in the Sea of Japan north of Wonsan. Though the results from these net-destruction missions were "below expectations," the navy planned further such operations in the spring of 1953 before finally being ordered to cease its planning in light of the belated progress then being made at the negotiation table. From this period until the signing of the armistice on 27 July 1953, the APD-UDT teams were committed to beach survey and harbor cleanup duties requiring their demolition skills.
After the war the APDs were steadily retired, without fanfare, to Fleet Reserve moorings at various locations around the U.S. The UDTs, on the other hand, had begun a philosophical and operational evolution from its World War II beginnings from which they would not turn back. Its onshore raiding experiences in Korea would underpin a slow but steady growth in such capabilities until the early 1960s, at which time President John F. Kennedy set the UDT on the irreversible path that led to the present-day SEAL (sea-air-land) teams.
1. To many of the navy's flag-rank aviators it appeared that Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson was giving priority to the air force's B-36 strategic bomber program at the expense of the navy's commitment to develop a number of "supercarriers." The admirals were right, though the subsequent growth of Cold War-era military budgets eventually allowed the navy to resume its aircraft carrier modernization plans.
2. Barlow, "Navy's View of the Revolt of the Admirals," 25.
5. In August 1950 nearly 30 percent of the close air support strikes attempted by NAVFE were canceled due to the lack of common radio systems between ground controllers and aircrews. And with tensions between the two services still raw from the navy "revolt" the previous fall, yet another nasty debate broke out between the naval aviators and their air force counterparts (Sandler, Korean War, 231-32).
6. Walter Karig, Malcom W. Cagle, and Frank A. Mason, Battle Report: The War in Korea (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1952), 59. See also Sandier, Korean War, 188-89, which claims all four torpedo boats were sunk.
9. Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 13.
10. Clark, Carrier Admiral, 275-76.
11. Doyle was dual-hatted as both the operational commander of TF 90 (NAVFE's amphibious force) and administrative commander of Amphibious Group One. While conducting raids, the high-speed transports and their raiders operated as a component or task element of TF 90.
12. Karig, Cagle, and Mason, Battle Report, 152.
13. Capt. Alan Ray, USN (Ret.) (former commander of the Horace A. Bass), to author, 15 October 1998.
14. The boats were LCPR (landing craft, personnel-ramped) or LCVP (landmg craft, vehicle-personnel).
15. The letters "AP" are used to identify transports, with the letter "D" added to denote transports built on destroyer-type hulls. The term "APD" is used informally to denote high-speed transports.
16. Lt. Hilary D. Mahin, former boat and gunnery officer aboard the Horace A. Bass, telephone interview with author, 15 August 1998.
17. The USS Sea Lion (SS-315) was destined for the Atlantic Fleet after its conversion to ASSP standard.
18. The removal of the torpedo tubes and main deck gun left the Perch with only two 40-mm cannon on the superstructure with which to defend itself.
19. Former Perch crewman M. E. Kebodeaux, interview with author, 11 August 1998.
20. War Patrol Report: Commanding Officer to CNO, series 0015, subject: "USS Perch (ASSP 313); Report of First War Patrol," September–October 1950, prologue, 3. Post-January 1946 Submarine War Patrol Reports File, Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center (hereafter cited as War Patrol Rep–Perch).
21. Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 110.
22. Hoyt, Submarines at War, endnotes, n.p.
23. Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, ill.
27. Hoyt, Submarines at War, 300.
31. War Diary, USS Diachenko, 1-31 August 1950.
32. The explosives necessary to destroy the target, a small railroad bridge, waited just offshore in an inflatable boat manned by sailors from the Diachenko. The mission was aborted, however, after a railway handcar carrying North Korean soldiers burst upon the scene, apparently by sheer accident. After Foley was wounded in the ensuing exchange of gunfire, Atcheson helped him back to the beach for the subsequent return to the Diachenko (Dockery, SEALs in Action, 72-74).
33. Dockery, SEALs in Action, 73.
34. George Atcheson to Dwyer, July 1985, in Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 237.
35. Capt. Ted Fielding, USN (Ret), to Dwyer, July 1985, in Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 239.
36. Pacific Fleet UDTs 1 and 3 were based at the Coronado Amphibious Base near San Diego, California, while Atlantic Fleet UDTs 2 and 4 were based at the Little Creek Amphibious base near Norfolk, Virginia.
37. Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 1-2.
39. Hundevadt, "Spindrift: Recollections of a Naval Career," unpublished memoir, 153, in Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 6.
40. "Korean War, U.S. Pacific Fleet Operations, Interim Third Evaluation Report, I May 1951-31 December 1951," in Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 11.
41. Korean War-era UDT member Dr. James Short, interview with author, 13 April 1997.
44. Russ Eoff, ed., "UDT in Korea ...1950," undated paper, 3. Author's collection.
45. "Korean War, U.S. Pacific Fleet Operations, Interim Second Evaluation Report, 16 November 1950-30 April 1951," in Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 232-33.
46. Mahin interview, 25 September 1998.
50. Karig, Cagle, and Mason, Battle Report, 152.
51. Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 17. See also Karig, Cagle, and Mason, Battle Report, 152.
52. Karig, Cagle, and Mason, Battle Report, 153.
53. Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 244.
54. Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer, Commander, Far East Air Forces, to COMNAVFE, 12-16 August 1950, subject: "Operations of USS Horace A. Bass." Alan Ray Collection.
55. Citation to accompany award of the Navy Unit Commendation to Special Operations Group, Amphibious Group One (USS Horace A. Bass, Under-water Demolition Team One, and Reconnaissance Company [Minus], First Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force), from the secretary of the navy (date not on citation). Author's copy from former Bass skipper, Alan Ray.
57. Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 246.
60. Neillands, In the Combat Zone, 88-89.
61. Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 25-26.
62. COMNAVFE to CINCUNC, message, 19 September 1950, in Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 26.
63. CINCUNC to COMNAVFE, untitled message. 20 September 1950, in Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare," 25-26.
65. Central Intelligence Agency, Infiltration and Resupply of Agents in North Korea, 1952-1953, vol. 1, December 1972, 37-38 (secret) (hereafter cited as Infiltration, followed by volume and page number). December 1972. Washington, D.C.: CIA. Information extracted is unclassified.
68. Dwyer, Commandos from the Sea, 251.
69. Hoyt, Submarines at War, 301.
72. Karig, Cagle, and Mason, Battle Report, 286.
74. Hoyt, Submarines at War, 303.
75. Withdrawn from combat, the Perch participated in numerous amphibious training exercises throughout the Pacific during the following years. Returning to Mare Island for decommissioning in 1960, the boat emerged the following year absent its hallmark aft-deck storage hangar. For the following decade the Perch continued training U.S. and foreign special operations units in the Far East.
76. The Bass earned six battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation for its Korean War Service.
77. By necessity the commandos had used the rubber raft technique aboard the Perch. Perhaps as a result of that experience, they did so again during their first combat raids from an APD in October 1950. This, however, appears to be their last such use of inflatable rafts before switching to "dry ramp landings."
78. Field, History of United States Naval Operations in Korea, 217.
79. Mahin interview, 25 September 1998.
81. Mahin interview, 14 October 1998.
82. War Diary, USS Horace A. Bass, October 1950, 2-3.
83. Tom Driberg, Tom Driberg's Personal Diary: The Best of Both Worlds (London: Phoenix House, 1953), 16-22.
85. Blair, Forgotten War, 545.
87. Action Report, UDT-3, 1 October 1950, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C., 7.
89. After Action Report, UDT-1, 5 February 1951, Naval Historical Center. Washington, D.C., 3~.
90. Lt. Col. F. N. Grant to Rear Adm. George C. Dyer, December 1951. Author's collection.
91. Report: Commander UN Blockading and Escort Force to Commander, Seventh Fleet, series 0031, subject: "Review of Operations and Comments on the United Nations Blockading Escort Force (TF 95) from 28 March 1951 to 9 January 1952," 30 January 1952, 6, Post-January 1946 Action Rep Files, in Andrade, "History of Naval Special Warfare."
93. CIA in Korea 1:99-100. See also Secret War in Korea, 23.
94. At the war's end the UN General Assembly named a five-power commission to investigate the Communists' wartime claims of germ warfare, "but the communists were no longer interested in the question" (Sandler, Korean War, 47).
95. FEC General Order 94/51, for actions by Brig. Gen. Crawford F. Sams on night of 13-14 March 1951. See also Secret War in Korea, 23.
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