Chapter 9: Retreat to the South
Part 1. 24 November–6 December: Defeat in the West
Part 2. 14 November–10 December: The Campaign at the Reservoir
Part 3. 30 November–13 December: Concentration in the East
Part 4. 11 December–24 December: The Evacuation of Hungnam
Part 5. 7 December 1950–25 January 1951: The Second Chinese Offensive
Part 1. 24 November–6 December: Defeat in the West
Imported, sustained, brought forward, and now at last supplied by sea, the multinational ground forces of the U.N. made ready for the final offensive. On 24 November, as Chinese Communist representatives were arriving at Lake Success to complain of American aggression in Formosa, Eighth Army attacked north from the Chongchon River. On the left the II Corps moved forward through the coastal plain; in the center the IX Corps, with the 2nd Infantry Division on its right, advanced northward up the valleys of the Kuryong and the Chongchon; at Tokchon in the central mountains the ROK II Corps, under General Walker’s command although not part of Eighth Army, was under orders to establish contact with X Corps to the northeast. The advance of the Army was supported by Fifth Air Force, while aircraft of Bomber Command and Task Force 77 patrolled a 15-mile strip below the Manchurian border. Progress on the 24th was satisfactory all along the line.
Across the peninsula to the northeast, supported by the fighter squadrons of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and by an Air Force fighter-bomber group, General Almond’s X Corps was again preparing to act as the right arm of the pincer. Up in the high country, 65 mountainous miles from Tokchon, the 7th Marines were moving west from Hagaru to Yudam-ni, where they arrived on the 25th after meeting only light opposition, and where next day they were joined by RCT 5. No more than their predecessors did the 5th Marines have trouble on the road, although interrogation of Chinese prisoners and information from local inhabitants indicated that three Chinese divisions had reached the area. In compliance with the revised plan for X Corps operations General Smith intended to pass the 5th Marines through RCT 7, and to attack westward from Yudam-ni on the morning of the 27th.
But while operations at the reservoir were of a routine nature, things were happening in the west. There on the 25th heavy pressure had developed on the right at Tokchon, and the 2nd Division had been engaged by Chinese Communist forces. By the next day the ROK II Corps had broken before the CCF assault, the right flank was exposed, and the Turkish Brigade and the 1st Cavalry Division were ordered up to bolster the threatened IX Corps. Before the westward thrust from Yudam-ni was scheduled to begin, Eighth Army’s offensive had been stopped.
On the morning of the 27th, following a night of zero temperature and high winds, the 5th Marines nevertheless led out to the west. But the advance was limited to less than a mile by strong Chinese forces entrenched in the hills overlooking the road. With darkness very heavy attacks were launched by two Chinese divisions against the 5th and 7th Marines, while east of the reservoir three Army battalions were assaulted by a third. At Yudam-ni, where violent fighting continued throughout the night and into the morning, the enemy was ultimately repelled. But casualties were heavy, and in the rear, between Yudam-ni and Hagaru, the Chinese controlled the road, and had cut off and surrounded two companies. Further advance was out of the question, and in the afternoon General Smith issued orders halting the movement to the west.
Across the peninsula in the western lowlands things were even worse. On 27 November, as enemy pressure increased, advanced forces on the coastal plain were ordered back across the Chongchon. By the next day Eighth Army was in full retreat and the 2nd Division was desperately trying to extricate itself from a position of the gravest peril. With evening of the 28th Generals Walker and Almond were summoned to Tokyo for a conference with CincFE who, after authorizing Eighth Army and X Corps to withdraw, reported to Washington that the U.N. Command had met "conditions beyond its control and its strength," that he had gone over to the defensive, and that "we face an entirely new war.
Subject only to the deletion of the adjective "entirely," the statement appears correct. Once again an intervention from outside had changed the scale of the Korean conflict, and had removed control of their destinies still further from the inhabitants of the peninsula. The original elder brother had returned, and his forces, it was now sufficiently clear, were not limited to a sprinkling of volunteers but included important components of two field armies. Shortly some 30 Chinese divisions would be identified in North Korea, totalling perhaps 250,000 men, and the imaginative expansion of the NKPA remnants to a strength of 180,000 which was quickly accomplished by GHQ intelligence was not necessary to the proposition that the enemy was once again formidable. In the air the situation had also changed, and fighter planes of very advanced design were operating from the Manchurian fields across the Yalu River. Unlike the situation in June the prospect of U.N. reinforcement was dim: the commitment of very considerable forces to the theater of action had left practically nothing in reserve; the greater part of the Pacific Fleet was in the forward area and Army strength in the continental United States was down to a single division.
Yet not everything was new and different; in some respects the pattern was familiar. The new enemy, like the old, was based on the Asiatic mainland; the forces of the United Nations were still sustained by sea. Again intelligence had been available, again there had been surprise. As had been the case five months before, rapid enemy successes brought rapid retirement by the ground forces of the U.N. At sea, where enemy strength was still conspicuous by its absence, Naval Forces Far East retained the responsibility for any necessary evacuation of friendly nationals, a responsibility now greatly enlarged. As before, enemy offensive efforts in the air were negligible; as before, the full employment of U.N. air strength was hindered by circumstance. In July the problem had been one of range, and the lack of advanced airfields had placed a premium on available carrier strength; in November a dearth of identifiable targets had limited the effectiveness of Air Force and naval aviation alike; in December the forced abandonment of forward bases would bring the range problem back to the fore. Once again a period of emergency would raise problems of Navy-Air Force coordination. New war, in many respects, was just old war writ large.
Even before General MacArthur had reported his shift to the defensive, the Navy had begun to react. At Admiral Joy’s headquarters, where the possibility of a general emergency had been kept steadily in mind, the first appearance of the Chinese had caused concern. Planning had been expedited, and Operation Plan 116-50, laying down procedures for an emergency evacuation of U.N. forces from Korea, had been issued on 13 November. Enunciating the concept that any such operation "should be based upon the principle of an ‘assault in reverse,’" this plan provided detailed hydrographic and loading information for Korean and Japanese ports, gave figures on troop capacity of both commercial and combatant shipping, and established a command structure in which CTF 90, supported by other theater naval forces, would control naval and air operations in evacuation areas. Rarely, it would seem, have the routine precautions of the planners proved of such immediate value. At 1534 on 28 November ComNavFE alerted Admiral Doyle for a possible general emergency which would require redeployment of the ground forces from Korea to Japan.
On receipt of this dispatch CTF 90 and his staff at once worked out preliminary plans for the deployment of half the Amphibious Force to west coast operations under Admiral Thackrey and half to the Wonsan-Hungnam area. Next day the operation order was promulgated, all ships were alerted to the possibility of air attack, Task Force 90 was placed on six-hour notice, amphibious shipping in Korean waters was held there, and all units at Yokosuka were ordered down to Sasebo.
As the first steps were being taken to prepare for the ultimate emergency other action was underway to prevent its development. On the 28th, in response to a Fifth Air Force request, Task Force 77 had expanded its area of armed reconnaissance southward, and throughout the day Philippine Sea and Leyte had kept eight Corsairs and six ADs over the newly enlarged border strip. But reports of the apparent crisis which confronted EUSAK led Admiral Ewen to feel that more could and should be done, and that circumstances called less for armed reconnaissance than for support of troops. On conclusion of operations on the 28th he proposed to Admiral Struble that the six flights scheduled for the next day be routed to check in with the Fifth Air Force Tactical Air Control Center and offer their services in close support before proceeding to the border zone, and that consideration on the highest level be given the assignment to EUSAK of Marine tactical air control parties for the handling of available naval aircraft. In the evening Commander Seventh Fleet passed the first of these suggestions to Fifth Air Force.
For the present this offer of assistance by the two Seventh Fleet fast carriers was all that could be done to provide increased support to the armies in the peninsula. For the future, despite the heavy deployment to Far Eastern waters, some further accretions of force could still be called for. To the British at Hong Kong went an urgent call to hurry back, and on 1 December Andrewes sailed for Sasebo in Theseus, to be shortly followed by Kenya. From Formosa Strait the cruiser Manchester was ordered up to Korean waters. Destroyer Division 31, en route to the west coast for overhaul, was ordered to reverse course. The sailing of the APA Bexar for the United States was cancelled. Sicily and her antisubmarine squadron had just reached Japan from Guam; once again she was directed to unload in order to embark Marine fighter planes. The light carrier Bataan, with her load of high-performance Air Force jets, was just arriving at Yokosuka, and the escort carrier Bairoko was on the way; shortly ComNavFE would request permission to retain these ships so as to have decks available for more Marines should the Wonsan and Yonpo airstrips be overrun. First of the carriers to see action in the summer war, Valley Forge was now halfway across the Pacific on her way home; she was instructed to expedite her movement to the United States, exchange her air group for that of Boxer, and return at once.
This evolution, however, would take time, and for the moment Task Force 77 contained only two carriers. That earlier reinforcement would prove possible was due to the existence of the mothball fleet, and to the reactivation program previously begun. On 25 July the Chief of Naval Operations had ordered the activation of the fast carrier Princeton, then in reserve at Bremerton. Recommissioned on 28 August, under command of Captain William 0. Gallery and with a crew largely composed of recalled reservists, Princeton had completed her period of shakedown training, had embarked Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie, Commander Carrier Division 5, and had sailed from the west coast in early November. On the 25th she departed Pearl Harbor for the Western Pacific; on the 27th, on orders from CincPacFleet to proceed at maximum safe speed, she went up to 30 knots; on the 30th ComNavFE instructed her to proceed directly to the operating area.
On 29 and 30 November Eighth Army continued its retreat across the Chongchon River. On the left disengagement proceeded without great difficulty, but there was trouble in the center, and on the right the situation was very bad. The Turkish Brigade, moved forward following the ROK collapse, was roughly handled, while the 2nd Division, after a difficult crossing of the Chongchon, became entangled in a five-mile roadblock north of Sunchon. Cut off and cut up, swept with fire from the hills along the road and blocked by its own vehicles, the division became disorganized, and in a two-day ordeal lost some 40 percent of its personnel and most of its guns and gear.
That these losses, great though they were, were not still greater, was due in considerable part to an all-out effort by Fifth Air Force against the attacking Chinese, an effort to some degree assisted by the air groups of the fast carriers. On the morning of the 29th, pursuant to his suggestion of the previous evening, Admiral Ewen sent seven Corsairs and five ADs across the peninsula to offer their services in close support. Passed from hand to hand for a time, they were finally instructed to circle Kunu-ri in the 2nd Division trouble zone; there, after a 25-minute wait, they were directed onto a troop concentration north of the town. This qualified success, together with Air Force acceptance of his offer of the 28th, led CTF 77 to route all armed reconnaissance flights for the 30th through a point in 39° 30' N 126° E, near the big bend in the Taedong and just east of the pass in which the 2nd Division was engaged in dubious combat, to offer their loads for close support to any controller they could reach. But by the time these instructions were issued new claims on the fast carriers had developed.
Up on the plateau, following the attacks of the 27th and 28th, comparative quiet reigned, but the enemy controlled the roads and Marine and Army units had been separated into a series of isolated perimeters. In this situation General Harris, the Marine air commander, had strongly recommended to ComNavFE a sustained effort by the fast carriers in the X Corps zone, and had stated that Fifth Air Force concurred in this proposal. But an evening dispatch from FAFIK on the 29th indicated that such concurrence applied only to that day’s operations, and asked, in view of the "critical condition" in the EUSAK area, a divided effort for the next few days. And a message from ComNavFE, confirming that close support had priority over all other commitments, prescribed such distribution of carrier air effort.
The sorties of the 30th were consequently so divided, and the schedule of operations stepped up by the addition of five jet flights of four planes each. Thirty-nine sorties were sent up to the reservoir while 74, including 23 jet sorties, were dispatched on armed reconnaissance with instructions to report en route to any available Air Force control agency. As always in emergencies there were difficulties. In X Corps zone, communications were overcrowded and radio discipline poor, but the coherence of Marine units had not been broken and most flights found control. In the west, by contrast, the state of affairs was chaotic: the Fifth Air Force had already been forced out of its forward staging fields at Sinanju on the Chongchon, some advanced control parties had been overrun, irreplaceable control equipment had been lost, and evacuation of the Mosquito control planes from the Pyongyang airfields was in progress.
The effects of this situation were apparent in difficulties of aircraft control. Of four jet flights to the EUSAK zone three made no contact. Of the heavily-armed strike groups of Corsairs and Skyraiders that were dispatched to the west, one was weathered out, one failed to find a controller, and one found good control. There were delays, and when one flight came across to the west, after failing to make contact in the X Corps area, the ADs were incomprehensibly detached from attack to road reconnaissance. But control once gained was fair to excellent: the two propeller strikes which did make contact put 14 Corsairs and 5 ADs with more than 14 tons of napalm and 5 of bombs onto troop concentrations in the crucial 2nd Division area; the jet flight, after being directed against entrenched troops south of Tokchon, ran the roads north to Manpojin.
Considering the conditions under which advanced Air Force units were working this was not too bad a performance, but to Admiral Ewen, lacking detailed information on the state of affairs in the west, it seemed that the situation of early September was repeating itself. At 2230 on the 30th he informed Commander Seventh Fleet that while all missions sent to X Corps had been successful, about two-thirds of the effort in the EUSAK zone had been wasted, and asked him to pass the word to Fifth Air Force. This Struble did in a midnight emergency dispatch in which he reiterated his desire to help, stated that in view of unsatisfactory control in the west he would adjust his distribution of effort, and asked to be advised when the situation improved.
By now the successes of the Chinese had ended all possibility of coordinated effort by Eighth Army and X Corps, and in the two theaters of action very different types of operations were developing. In the west, as December opened, the remnants of the 2nd Division had at last reached Sunchon, and Eighth Army was disengaging and moving south toward Pyongyang. But in the X Corps zone, where the Marine Division had been fragmented and cut off, the situation was one of beleaguered strong points. On the plateau maximum air support was needed; across the peninsula, movement requirements took precedence over those for firepower.
These conditions governed the distribution of Task Force 90. On the 3oth, with the ground situation steadily deteriorating, Admiral Doyle put all ships in port on two-hour notice and began to deploy his shipping to Korea. Transports were divided on a 5o-5o basis, with four APAs and two AKAs being ordered to Inchon and a like number to Wonsan. But the apparently more critical situation of Eighth Army, together with the problems of handling large ships in west coast ports, led to the assignment of two-thirds of other amphibious types to Admiral Thackrey’s Task Group 90.1. Thackrey himself had flown to Inchon with General Walker on the 29th to inspect and advise on port operations. On the next day two members of his staff went up to Chinnampo to look things over, and the APA Bexar, the LSD Catamount, and two LSTs were added to his command. On 1 December, as Thackrey reported aboard Mount McKinley at Hungnam to confer with Admiral Doyle and to plan for the future, his flagship Eldorado, two more LSDs, and the fast transport H. A. Bass were ordered west, along with ten Scajap LSTs.
In eastern North Korea, where the ground battle was still developing, X Corps on 1 December ordered a retirement upon Hungnam. Since only the forces on the plateau had been engaged, the concentration of the other units from such widely dispersed points as Wonsan, Hyesanjin, and Chongjin would be successfully accomplished by routine land and sea movement. But while no requirement for emergency evacuation as yet existed, the situation of the Marine Division and of the Army battalions at the reservoir was such as to cause the greatest concern. The division which had been moved forward to aid the advance of an army was now surrounded, and the army was in no position to return the favor. With the MSR cut, with supplies running short and casualties accumulating, air supply, air evacuation, and the maximum possible air support were urgently required.
Although retirement rather than advance was now the order of the day, the Chinese attack had put X Corps back in the kind of beachhead situation that had existed at Inchon and had been planned for at Wonsan. The collapse in the west had forced Fifth Air Force back to fields at Seoul and beyond, and local air support depended upon the two east coast air strips and upon embarked aviation. Recognizing this situation, FAFIK on 1 December cut existing red tape, gave General Harris autonomy in the conduct of air operations in support of X Corps, and instructed him to proceed without reference to Fifth Air Force except when reinforcements were needed. And the first days of December saw a steady shift of the fast carrier effort toward complete concentration in the X Corps zone.
Commander Seventh Fleet’s relay of Admiral Ewen’s complaint had elicited an emergency reply. On the morning of the 1st, Fifth Air Force reported that many of its TACPs appeared to have been lost to enemy action in the fluid situation then prevailing, that every effort was being made to provide replacements, and that instructions had been issued to give naval flights priority of employment. And as had been proposed by someone in one or another service in every crisis since early July, the Air Force now suggested that for better coordination CTF 77 should provide a representative at the JOG and should establish a direct radio link.
Map 18. Retreat in the West, Concentration in the East, 26 November–11 December 1950.
Click on map for higher resolution image (225KB).
In part for technical reasons, in part because of the complex structure of the U.N. Command, communications between Fifth Air Force and the fast carriers had long presented a problem. But somewhere, in some corner of the JOC, there did in fact exist a direct CW radio circuit, activated on 6 November at the persistent urging of the task force communication officer, over which for two days drill messages had passed with gratifying speed. What was wanted by the Air Force, however, appears to have been a voice circuit rather than a manually-keyed one, and this was provided a few days later, by which time Commander Weymouth had once again been flown in to the JOC. And once again, under the lash of necessity, coordination began to improve.
On 1 December the weather over eastern Korea was very bad. Morning flights from the carriers met a solid overcast over the plateau and were diverted to the EUSAK area, where three missions totalling 23 aircraft found satisfactory control, successfully attacked large concentrations of enemy troops and abandoned friendly equipment, and blew an ammunition dump at Sinanju. But the weather which had altered their employment also prevented their return to base, for the task force had been obliged to cease flight operations late in the morning. Unable to get home, the aircraft landed at Wonsan, were kicked out again owing to rumors of a deteriorating ground situation in the neighborhood, and finally spent the night at Kimpo.
Next day the fast carriers again split their efforts, sending 28 sorties to EUSAK and half again as many to the Chosin area. In the west two flights with 10 aircraft had good success, while three totalling 18 found no controllers. But these were the last sorties sent to the western front, where EUSAK had by now disengaged, and where fears of being outflanked and forced back upon Chinnampo had ended all thoughts of holding a line at the waist along the Pyongyang-Wonsan road. On 3 December, as the Fifth Air Force was completing the first stage of its redeployment to South Korea and to Japan, General Walker’s command post displaced from Pyongyang to Seoul, and service units began packing up for the move south. Two days later the North Korean capital was abandoned to the enemy.
The rapid southward movement of Eighth Army, which threatened momently to leave Chinnampo uncovered, called urgently for the evacuation of that port. The urgency was nothing new, for in five months of war in Korea emergencies had become routine. Surprisingly, however, the sequence of planning and execution, although often greatly condensed, had not previously broken down; the organizational framework had remained intact, and operations had tested the technical competence of juniors in the execution of orders rather than their initiative in crisis when orders failed to come. Now for the first time the collapse in the west, and the short interval between defeat on the Chongchon and retirement from Pyongyang, put the job up to those on the spot.
In the course of the movement of amphibious shipping to Korea, Transport Squadron 1, Captain Kelly in Bayfield, had been assigned to Task Group 90.1 and ordered to Inchon. On 30 November and 1 December these ships—the APAs Bayfield, Bexar and Okanogan, and the AKAs Algol and Montague—had sailed independently from Japanese ports. On the afternoon of the 3rd, while heading northward into the Yellow Sea, Kelly intercepted a message from ComNavFE to CTG 90.1 which reported an urgent EUSAK request for the dispatch of these ships to Chinnampo, but which expressed doubts as to the possibility of loading and protecting so many large units there. But Admiral Thackrey was still on his Korean travels, his flagship was at sea, and his staff was slow to act. For five hours, as Bayfield steamed northward, Captain Kelly puzzled over the tone of ComNavFE’s message and the lack of implementing instructions. At 2200 he decided to wait no more but to sail to the sound of the guns, and ordered his dispersed units to join him off the Chinnampo swept channel in the morning.
Others were swinging into action too. At 0330 on the 4th Bayfield intercepted a message from Admiral Smith to Thackrey which reported that the six west coast destroyers of TE 95.12, Captain Jeffrey V. Brock, RCN, in Cayuga, were available to protect the transports, and that Ceylon was being started from Sasebo for the west coast. Unknown to Kelly, still more help was on the way, for Admiral Andrewes, after a hasty return from Hong Kong to Sasebo, was preparing to sail with Theseus and four destroyers for the Yellow Sea.
Naval units already at Chinnampo consisted of the DE Foss, Lieutenant Commander Henry J. Ereckson, which was providing the city with electric power, and a small Korean naval base command with three motor launches; off the mouth of the Taedong River the minesweeping group was still at work. These too were standing to their posts. Offshore the sweepers took station to guide incoming ships along the tortuous channel. At 0236 of the 4th Ereckson reported that the situation in Chinnampo was shaky, but that he would keep the power on as long as possible, evacuate Eighth Army personnel, and then at the last, if still senior officer, would form a convoy and get the shipping out. Shortly the Korean base commander advised his superiors that EUSAK had ordered him to redeploy at once, and that with 100 sailboats and 50,000 refugees on hand he would try to send 30,000 out by sea and the remainder overland.
Through the night the transport group steamed on. By 0425, when orders to proceed to Chinnampo were finally received, Kelly’s initiative had gained him more than six hours, and by 0930 all but Bexar had reached the outer end of the 84-mile swept channel and were standing in. Despite requests for information no word had been received on the size and shape of the units to be evacuated, the tactical situation ashore, the availability of ground or air support, or on who was to command the operation. But they had their orders, they believed that beleaguered army units were awaiting them, so on they went. At noon Kelly issued his operation order: man all guns, lower all boats, commence loading at once, keep steam up to the throttles. And then, at last, dispatches began to arrive: Brock’s destroyers were heading his way; Theseus would have air cover there next day; he was in charge.
The anchors went down, the boats were launched. The call for help had been answered. Having thrust their heads into the lion’s mouth it was discouraging to the transport crews to discover that the only EUSAK units in the Chinnampo area were the 1,700 men of the port logistics group, that these had their own shipping on hand, and that while perhaps 6,000 Koreans—-wounded soldiers, government workers, military and political prisoners, police and boy scouts—had some official claim on transportation, the number was hardly enough to fill the transport group. There was no need for Bexar, who had reached the entrance channel at 1830, but it was too late to stop her: her commanding officer had smelled powder too, so single screw, low power, and all, in she came through the dark and snow.
All transports were now in and loading was in progress. The remaining problem was to get out. Quite apart from the hazards of navigation, Chinnampo is a poor place to be caught in, for the reverse slopes of the hills that front the harbor are within mortar range of the anchorage. Word from the Army ashore indicated an 80-mile gap in the lines to the north, the enemy was reported in Pyongyang and heading for Chinnampo, no combat forces were available, and the service troops manning the ‘road blocks were to be withdrawn at midnight. In this situation a dispatch from Captain Brock, inquiring as to the state of affairs and offering to come in in the dark if needed, was very welcome, and the offer was accepted. Off the mouth of the Taedong the destroyers got the word at 2100 and started in at once, and this time the passage took its toll. Warramunga grounded but got off later with little damage; Sioux fouled a screw in a buoy cable and turned back; but by 0240 of the 5th Cayuga, Athabaskan, Bataan, and Forrest Royal were anchored with their guns trained on the Chinnampo waterfront.
With the destroyers on hand things looked better. Throughout the morning, as loading continued, sailboats packed with refugees slipped down the river. Foss kept the power on, the ROKN shore party guarded the docks while their small boats patrolled the harbor, and in the afternoon aircraft from Theseus appeared overhead. Beginning at 1230 the transports were sailed independently, and by 1430 the beach was being cleared. A late influx of refugees had left 3,000 at the docks, but their problem was providentially solved by the unexpected arrival of an MSTS vessel which had failed to receive notice of its diversion to a safer destination. Ceylon, now standing in the entrance channel, was ordered to stay outside, and at 1730 Bexar, last of the transports, headed downstream escorted by Foss. In the harbor the LSTs with the port logistics personnel anchored for the night, and the destroyers bombarded oil storage, harbor cranes, and railway equipment. One final emergency developed when Bexar, having made both inward and outward voyages in darkness, grounded north of Sokto. But she got herself off without damage, and with morning the destroyers and LSTs made an uneventful downstream passage to reach Cho Do at noon and anchor in a blinding snowstorm.
As in the first days of the summer war, a west coast port had been evacuated. As in July the armies were retiring and the situation was a gloomy one. General MacArthur had earlier planned to remove Eighth Army from Korea by Christmas, leaving X Corps as an occupation force, and in an unanticipated fashion it seemed that much of this plan was coming true. Eighth Army was almost clear of North Korea, and consideration was already being given to the abandonment of Seoul and the fortification of the Naktong River line; the X Corps area of occupation, however, was a diminishing one, and the Marines were still outnumbered, surrounded, and far from the sea. Again, as in the summer, visibility was poor, and none knew what would happen next. On 29 November CTF 95 had warned west coast units of the possibility of air attack from across the Yellow Sea; on the next day a special antisubmarine patrol had been instituted off Sasebo. At NavFE headquarters the intervention of the Chinese had expanded planning responsibilities from matters of postwar redeployment to problems of more pressing concern, and from Korean waters to the entire coast of Asia. Momentarily an invasion of Formosa seemed imminent as a Navy patrol plane reported a fleet of junks heading eastward from the mainland. An unconfirmed intelligence report indicated that the Soviets were preparing an all-out air attack against Japan. On 6 December, in view of possible contingencies, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent out a general alarm to American forces throughout the world.
Part 2. 14 November–10 December; The Campaign at the Reservoir
Fifty miles north of Hungnam, at an altitude of 3,400 feet, lies the Chosin Reservoir. For 13 miles from north to south and 8 from east to west its narrow arms extend into the mountain valleys. At Yudam-ni at the western extremity there are a few square yards of flat land; at Hagaru at the southern tip there is rather more; but in general the shores are steep, and the hills which rim the water’s edge are ringed at a distance of five or ten miles by mountains rising 3,000 feet above the reservoir. The country is barren and sparsely populated; the vegetation a none-too-plentiful mixture of fir, aspen, and brush. Between Hungnam at the sea and Hagaru, where the Marine Division had established its advanced base, a single road, narrow, twisting, inadequate to heavy traffic, and with bridges of only light construction, provided the MSR.
On their way up-hill the Marines had encountered two new enemies, the Chinese and the cold. Between 2 and 7 November vigorous resistance had been offered in the neighborhood of Sudong by CCF units with tank and artillery support; there was evidence that two more Chinese divisions were operating to the westward; a further build—up was suggested by pilots’ reports of troops approaching from the northwest and north. But with air support the Chinese roadblocks were broken, Koto-ri was entered on 11 November and Hagaru on the 14th, and aerial reconnaissance indicated that the enemy was straggling to the northwest. Yet if the Chinese had for the moment gone, winter had come. Intermittent snowfall, encountered during the advance up-hill, had by now blanketed the plateau. As early as mid-November canteens were freezing and bursting, while by December night temperatures would at times reach 250 below zero. Climatically, at least, the Marines did face a new war.
Through this extreme cold, which brought frostbite and respiratory disease to personnel, adversely affected the operation of weapons and equipment, and made foxhole digging in the frozen earth a six to eight-hour affair, the northward advance had continued. By late November the entire Marine Division was strung out along the 75 miles of road from Hungnam to Yudam-ni. Two regiments were in the Yudam-ni area, division headquarters and an infantry battalion were located at Hagaru, while on the MSR the villages of Koto-ri and Chinhung-ni were garrisoned by something more than two battalions. A total of about seven days’ supply had been dumped on the plateau. Against this force, divided and far from base and with a strength of slightly more than 25,000, there would be committed during the next two weeks eight divisions from three Chinese Communist armies whose strength totalled some 60,000 men.
Chinese movement into Korea had begun in mid-October, as the Eighth Army was approaching Pyongyang, with the passage of the Yalu by leading elements of the Fourth CCF Field Army, General Lin Piao. As he deployed to oppose General Walker’s advance, Lin had detached his 42nd Army to cover his left against the intrusions of X Corps; this unit had been the source of the opposition against which the Marines had run up at Sudong. Following the movement of the Fourth Field Army, the 9th Army Group of General Chen Yi’s Third Field Army had crossed over into Korea to oppose X Corps; Lin’s units had retired to the westward, and had been replaced at Yudam-ni by four divisions of the 20th Army. The intention of this force, according to prisoners, was to bypass the advancing Marines and cut the MSR to the east and south.
Other Chinese movements were also in progress. As the 20th Army approached from the northwest, two divisions of the 27th Army moved down on the reservoir from the north and there divided, with one moving onward against Yudam-ni and the other coming down the eastern shore. With completion of these movements in the last days of November the two Marine regiments at Yudam-ni found themselves engaged by two divisions, one from the 20th Army and one from the 27th; a second division from the 27th Army had attacked the three battalions of the 7th Infantry Division east of the reservoir; bypassing the American forces, the three remaining 20th Army divisions had moved onward to cut the road east of Yudam-ni, to attack the advanced base at Hagaru, and to operate against the Hamhung road in the neighborhood of Koto-ri.
On the plateau, as in the west, Chinese tactics were to permit, indeed to encourage, a maximum extension of U.N. forces, and then to cut the MSR, press against the column from all sides, fracture, fragment, and destroy it. Such procedures had been effective on the Chongchon River, but although the Marines were far deeper in enemy country, and had a far more precarious line of communications, the success was not to be repeated. Rather than extending itself along the road, the Marine Division formed the modern equivalent of the square and, with firepower maintained through air supply and multiplied by air support, accomplished the extrication of its units and the destruction of its enemies. By night the Marines, concentrated and dug in in tight perimeters, presented heavily-armed strong points on which the Chinese impaled themselves in the attack. By day, with close support aircraft on station and with flanking forces clearing the heights along the road, they formed moving fortresses which brushed the Communists aside, while over the hill, beyond artillery range, the extension of fire power by Marine and Navy aircraft kept the enemy down.
The coming of the Chinese onslaught had found the fast carriers still committed to armed reconnaissance. On 28 November the forces available to General Harris consisted of MAG 12 with two fighter and one night fighter squadrons at Wonsan, MAG 33 with one fighter and one night fighter squadron at Yonpo and a fighter squadron in Badoeng Strait, and the Air Force’s 35th Fighter-Bomber Group at Yonpo. There were plenty of calls on the services of these units. At Chinhung-ni, in the southern sector of the MSR, Chinese probing attacks had begun on the 26th; west of Koto-ri, next day, Marine patrols had encountered the new enemy; on the night of the 27th heavy fighting had broken out in Yudam-ni and east of the reservoir. On the 28th liaison pilots reported that the enemy controlled the road between Yudam-ni and Toktong Pass, between the pass and Hagaru, and between Hagaru and Koto-ri, and in addition to thus segmenting the Marine Division into four groups had surrounded the Army forces east of the reservoir. In all these areas enemy pressure continued, but the central problem, on which the future of all units on the plateau depended, was the defense of Hagaru.
At Hagaru there were located three irreplaceable commodities. There the Marine Division had set up its command post, there supplies had been laid down for the developing campaign, and there, on one of the few flat pieces of ground in North Korea, was an incipient airstrip, begun on the 18th with the intention of providing facilities for twin-engined transport aircraft, which by the 27th was about a quarter completed. But the defensive force available for the protection of this investment was very limited, and consisted merely of one rifle battalion, two batteries of artillery, and service and division troops. General Smith had ordered reinforcements up from Koto-ri, but the Chinese did not await their coming and on the night of 28-29 November committed two regiments against the perimeter. Violent fighting continued throughout the frozen darkness and the line was more than once broken, but the enemy proved unable to exploit his gains. Although pressure remained heavy on the 29th the first crisis had been surmounted.
With Hagaru still holding out, the second phase of the campaign began. Control of the Army forces at the reservoir was passed to General Smith, who was directed to concentrate all units at Hagaru in anticipation of a further move to the southward. Pursuant to these instructions the forces at Yudam-ni were ordered to fight their way back, and on the afternoon of 1 December, after a day of preparation, the 5th and 7th Marines disengaged and started south for Hagaru.
Orders from X Corps had contemplated the employment of one of these regiments to bring out the beleaguered 7th Division units from Sinhung-ni on the eastern shore of the reservior. But some time would elapse before this would be possible, and no other forces were available for this task. The reinforcements ordered up from Koto-ri had had a difficult time of it on the road, only a part had managed to get through, and the night of 30 November brought further heavy attacks at Hagaru and against the Army battalions. On the morning of 1 December, therefore, the Army troops were ordered to break out to the southward at the earliest possible time, and were advised that while no troop assistance could be given, owing to the situation at Hagaru, maximum air support would be provided.
The air strength available for the support of X Corps had by this time been considerably increased, as a result of the eastward shift of the fast carrier effort. On the 30th, following General Harris’ first request for carrier air, Task Force 77 had sent 39 sorties to the reservoir, of which 14 struck at Chinese troops surrounding the isolated Army units while 25 attacked the enemy in the hills about Hagaru. By bad luck, however, the next day brought bad weather both at the reservoir and in the Sea of Japan. Although aircraft from Badoeng Strait and Marine shore-based squadrons got through to napalm the Chinese enemy, the early flights from Task Force 77 were weathered out of the reservoir, and in late morning the force was obliged to cancel operations. At midday the Army troops began their southward movement with 20 fighters overhead, but in the course of the afternoon a combination of heavy attacks and enemy roadblocks fragmented the column, most officers and key NCOs became casualties, and as darkness fell the force dissolved. It had almost made it in: the disintegration took place only four and a half miles from Hagaru; but although a number of stragglers were brought in across the frozen reservoir, total casualties reached almost 75 percent.
Tragic though it was, this was to be the last such enemy success. It was not only in the eastward movement of carrier effort that the support situation was improving. A plan on the part of the patrol squadrons to provide air supply and evacuation by flying boat had been abandoned when the first flights disclosed that the reservoir was frozen solid. But air drops had been begun on the 28th by Marine and Air Force transport planes, and Combat Cargo Command, by notable efforts, had by 1 December increased deliveries from 70 to 250 tons a day. Despite the violent Chinese attacks, work on the Hagaru airstrip had been pressed around the clock; almost half-completed by the 1st, it was consequently declared operational, and four Air Force C-47s flew in with supplies. On the same day MAG 12’s three fighter squadrons moved north from Wonsan to Yonpo, thus concentrating nearer the area of action. On the 3rd the Fifth Air Force would offer its entire light bomber effort for the support of the campaign.
The 2nd of December was the last day on which the carriers split their effort between eastern and western theaters. As the 5th and 7th Marines continued their move toward Hagaru, Task Force 77 put two-thirds of its sorties into the reservoir area, attacking troop positions at Toktong Pass and to the southward, and providing fighter cover to transports flying supplies into Hagaru. Although hampered by excessive radio chatter, and by a difference in scale of grid charts held by controllers and controlled, the day’s work seemed generally successful. Following a Marine request for night hecklers over the Yudam-ni road, where many thousands of Chinese were reported active, the work was continued on into the darkness.
Chinese attacks on the moving column continued heavy throughout the night and into the next day, but without disorganizing the advance. The Marines, by contrast, had a considerable impact on their enemies, as did the very large amount of air support provided. Throughout the 3rd, observation planes circled over the column, warning of enemy positions ahead; a total of 117 sorties flown by the five Marine squadrons at Yonpo and the sixth in Badoeng Strait were devoted to support of the movement; Task Force 77 put an additional 80 sorties into the reservoir area. The 45 flights of 197 aircraft made available to the close support section of MTACS 2 at Hagaru were parcelled out as needed among the various control agencies, most of them at the battalion level. Of the carrier aircraft involved 32 attacked the enemy near Yudam-ni and in the rear of the column, 23 struck targets along the flanks from Toktong Pass to Hagaru, and 25 worked over Chinese forces east of the reservoir and south of Hagaru. Once again excessive radio chatter was reported, but despite this, and despite snowstorms in the objective area, the desired results were obtained, and by evening the lead elements of RCT 7 were inside the Hagaru perimeter. On the 4th the weight of air support increased still further as 68 flights of 238 aircraft came up to the reservoir. By afternoon the entire Yudam-ni movement was in.
Table 12.—AIRCRAFT EMPLOYMENT AND CONTROL IN X CORPS ZONE DURING THE PASSAGE OF TOKTONG PASS, 3 DECEMBER 1950
Total effort handled by Air Defense Section, MTACS 2, Hamhung:
Average number of aircraft per flight 2.6
Portion assigned to Close Support Section, MTACS 2, Hagaru:
Average number of aircraft per flight 4. 4
Source of aircraft assigned to Close Support Section, Hagaru:
VMF 117 (59%)
TF 77 80 (41%)
Assignment of flights by Close Support Section, Hagaru:
To close-in search and attack in the Yudam-ni-Hagaru 17
To close support of the movement from Yudam-ni 18
3d Bn RCT 5, leading the advance, then center column
2d Bn RCT 7, in forward part of column
RCT 5, in Toktong Pass
3d Bn RCT 7, covering right flank, then rearguard
2d Bn RCT 5, rearguard until passed through 3/7
To support at Hagaru, controlled by 3d Bn RCT 1 2
To support at Koto-ri, controlled by 2d Bn RCT 1 8
The first step in the concentration had thus been successfully accompushed, but the campaign had hardly begun. Others beside the Marines were heading for Hagaru. On 4 December a morning flight from Leyte sighted and attacked an estimated thousand troops at the northern end of the reservoir; in the same area, later in the day, another Leyte flight reported troops moving south on all trails. But whatever these newcomers might intend, it was reasonably clear by now who was in charge. General Almond had earlier authorized General Smith to destroy any equipment which would delay his withdrawal, but the Marine commander had observed that he intended to bring out all that he could. On the 5th, Major General William H. Tunner, USAF, whose Combat Cargo Command had done such vital work in air supply and casualty evacuation, flew into Hagaru with an offer to lift the troops out, only to discover that the Marines held different views and had been flying in replacements. If movement was not impeded by anything more than Chinese forces, and if air support and air supply continued as before, the Marine Division could operate at will. Still, it was a long and slippery downhill road that stretched from Hagaru to Hungnam.
General Harris had flown up to Hagaru on the 4th and had watched the Yudam-ni Marines come in. That night, in a dispatch to Admiral Ewen, he observed that they could not have made it without air support, and asked for all possible help in covering the downhill march, front, flanks, and rear. Next day MAW 1 brought out its air support plan designed to accomplish these ends. From dawn to dark, 24 close support aircraft would be on station over the column, while the surplus worked the hills flanking the roads; through the hours of darkness, night hecklers from the carriers, from Marine F7F squadrons, and from Fifth Air Force, would harass the enemy.
By this time the concentration of fast carrier effort in the X Corps zone had been made official. FEAF, on 2 December, had asked a resumption of attacks against the Yalu bridges, but the request had been turned down by Admiral Struble in view of the pressing need for air support on the plateau. In effect, if not in form, this marked the end of fast carrier support to Eighth Army’s withdrawal, for although two flights were instructed to proceed to the EUSAK area if not urgently required at the reservoir, all were in fact employed in the north. On the 3rd, as ComNavFE confirmed that close support remained the primary responsibility of Task Force 77, General Harris made another try, and "urgently" recommended the assignment of the main carrier effort to the support of the Marine Division. On the 4th FEAF concurred in this recommendation.
In other ways supporting strength continued on the rise. Although the Air Force fighter-bomber group had redeployed south from Yonpo by air and by LST, General Almond had put in a bid for B-29 strikes against command posts and troop concentrations in towns outside the immediate zone of action. Sicily was expected momentarily, and on the morning of 5 December an important reinforcement took place as Princeton, escorted by four destroyers, joined Task Force 77 and began launching aircraft. The result was a record 248 sorties controlled by the close support section of MTACS 2 at Hagaru.
Map 19. A Day at the Reservoir. Task Force 77 Air Strikes of 3 December 1950
Click on map for higher resolution image (241KB).
As quantity was important, so was quality. The presence of the fast carriers provided types of force not otherwise available. Only the carrier air groups operated the heavily-armed AD whose load, greater than that of the World War II Flying Fortress, made it the outstanding attack plane in Korea. Defensively, too, the Seventh Fleet’s contribution was unique: with no Marine jets yet in Korea, and with the nearest Air Force squadrons 200 miles away at Kimpo, only the fast carriers could attempt to provide a jet combat air patrol over the area of operations. This CAP, a precautionary measure of some importance in view of the MIG concentration across the Yalu, had been earlier discontinued in the interest of fuel economy and sustained flight operations, but with the arrival of Princeton it was reinstituted.
On 6 December the Marines started south over the winding road. Disengagement at Hagaru required hard fighting, for the troops previously sighted to the northward had now arrived, and two divisions of the Chinese 26th Army had taken up position on the eastern side of the MSR. Morning air operations were prevented by a ground fog, but this in time lifted, and the hundred offensive sorties sent up by Princeton, Leyte, and the Marine squadrons provided strikes against troops in ridges along the road as well as a jet CAP. All day and throughout the night the march continued; in mid-morning of the 7th, as the rearguard was preparing to move out from Hagaru, the lead elements entered Koto-ri. For a brief period the convoy extended over the entire11-mile distance between the towns, but air support kept the Chinese under control until the movement was completed.
By now the exigencies of the situation had led to innovation in the form of an airborne close support control center. At the suggestion of the MTACS personnel with the Marine Division, whose work would be made difficult with radios packed for march and shielded by the surrounding hills, a Marine R5D had been hastily modified for this task. An extra radio, a chart board, and a situation map were installed; extra oxygen and cabin fuel tanks gave both personnel and plane the required endurance; three controllers were flown out from Hagaru to man the aircraft. From dawn to dusk from 6 to 10 December this very large Mosquito orbited over the moving column to provide, in addition to the basic necessity of reliable VHF communications, the bonus of sustained visual observation of the entire area of action.
On the 7th the three fast carriers continued operations, and Badoeng Strait was joined by Sicily. In the course of the day, and despite bad weather in the afternoon, Philippine Sea, Princeton, and Leyte put 125 offensive sorties into the Koto-ri area, more than half the day’s total of 216. Of the 49 flights handled by the airborne control center, one was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division and eight to the control parties of the 5th Marines, notably to the 2nd Battalion, rearguard during the disengagement at Hagaru. The remaining 40 were employed on search and attack missions against troops in the hills along the road, troops and horses east of the reservoir, and villages in the hills near Koto-rl.
These villages had by now become prime targets. The discrepancy between infrequent air sightings of the enemy and persistent reports from local inhabitants of vast quantities of Chinese had been resolved by the discovery that the CCF soldiers had been crowding by day into all available housing for shelter both from air attack and cold. Reports from the dispossessed Koreans of this invasion of their homes had been followed by requests for the destruction of their villages, and thus of the invader. Once begun, these attacks produced eruptions of surprising numbers of Chinese soldiery, and bombing and frostbite multiplied enemy casualties.
The Marines had reached Koto-ri on the 7th. But the roughest stretch was still to come, in the march across the divide and down to Chinhung-ni. On this route, described by General Shepherd as "a defile through which no military force should ever have to fight," cliff sides are steep, with drops of more than a hundred feet frrom the road’s edge; the road itself abounds in hairpin turns; opportunities for road blocks are unsurpassed. Midway through the gorge there was a bridge, three times blown by the enemy and twice restored by Army engineers, on whose further replacement depended the division’s ability to bring out its vehicles. On the 6th a request for airdropped treadway bridge material had been made to Combat Cargo Command, and the next day this unprecedented operation was successfully accomplished.
The move south from Koto-ri began on 8 December, while a battalion of the 1st Marines attacked up-hill from Chinhung-ni to gain control of the lower half of the road. The bad weather which had limited carrier operations on the afternoon before had now really arrived: the attacks were begun in a swirling snowstorm, throughout the day zero visibility prevailed, the carriers were unable to operate, and of 5 flights of 15 aircraft which got off the ground at Yonpo only one reached the zone of march. But on the 9th, with the fast carriers back at work, X Corps sorties mounted to a record 479, half of which were assigned to the airborne control center. This abundance of riches permitted large diversions to search and attack; a wide area east and north of the reservoir was covered, and in addition to numerous troop concentrations the bag of targets included such unlikely items as switch engines and a horse corral. On the ground the chasm was successfully bridged: by great good fortune the enemy had blown only the bridge and not the road, and by afternoon of the 9th the division trains were leaving Koto-ri.
On 10 December, two weeks to the day after the Chinese onfall at Yudam-ni, the leading elements of the Marines reached Chinhung-ni and the command post was flown down to Hungnam. At a cost to the enemy immeasurably greater than that to itself, the Marine Division, under its canopy of Marine and naval air, had been extricated from an impossible situation. The Chinese were still hovering on the flanks, and there were minor reverses in the rear that night; but from Chinhung-ni it was all downhill, and on the 11th all units reached the staging area at Hungnam. After reaching the sea, according to a later chronicler, the Marines set up a trophy and sacrificed to Hermes. Doubtless some of them did, if only metaphorically, but they might better have devoted their offerings to Poseidon. The division had received harsh treatment from the god of roads, but once again in touch with the friendly sea all things were possible.
Part 3. 30 November—13 December: Concentration in the East
The 2nd Division was still in the gantlet, the Marines were still up on the hill, and the deployment of Task Force 90 to Korea was just beginning, when on 30 November General Almond’s headquarters issued orders for a retirement upon Hamhung. For the next ten days, while Eighth Army retired southward and the Marines fought their way down from the reservoir, the concentration of X Corps in the Hamhung-Hungnam area continued by land and by sea.
The instructions of 30 November found Almond’s command widely dispersed. Three battalions of the 7th Infantry Division were with the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, while the rest of the division was stretched out along the road to Hyesanjin. From its base at Wonsan the 3rd Division was expanding its holdings westward across the narrow part of Korea. On the eastern flank the ROK I Corps had a division at Hapsu and another on the coast, near the outskirts of Chongjin, where its advance was being supported by Commander Cruiser Division 1, Rear Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter, in Saint Paul, with the destroyer Zellars.
Implementing orders went out the following day. At the same time that the Marines were instructed to concentrate at Hagaru, the 3rd Division was ordered to reassemble at Wonsan, and the 7th Division to withdraw southward from the Manchurian border to Hainhung. Up the coast to the northeast the ROK I Corps was ordered to retire on Songjin, and to prepare for further movement by land or sea. On 2 December, after firing night harassing missions north of Chongjin, Saint Paul and Zellars moved south to Kyongsong Man to support the withdrawal of the ROK Capital Division.
No serious pressure was to be exerted against the ROK corps. Except for the battalions at the reservoir the retirement of the 7th Division was unhindered by the enemy. But at Wonsan apprehensions of enemy attack had prevented the aircraft from Task Force 77 from staying the night of 1 December, and X Corps reported that road and rail communications with Hungnam had been cut. Since here, if anywhere, it seemed that an emergency evacuation might be necessary, Admiral Doyle requested Commander Seventh Fleet to order Saint Paul and Zellars down for fire support. The message got a rapid response, and although the destroyer was held in the north until a relief could be provided, Admiral Hillenkoetter at once headed southward. By mid-day of 3 December Saint Paul had anchored in the harbor of Wonsan.
There she was shortly joined by a transport group of four APAs, two AKAs, and an APD, Captain Albert E. Jarrell in Henrico, which had previously been ordered forward from Japan. On the afternoon of the 3rd, Doyle instructed Jarrell to commence loading the 3rd Infantry Division on arrival, advised Admiral Joy’s headquarters of his estimate of shipping requirements for the lift, and himself sailed for Wonsan to supervise the out-loading. But the emergency had been somewhat exaggerated: loading had begun by the time CTF 90 arrived on the 4th, but no enemy pressure was in fact being exerted; most of the division was already moving north to Hamhung by road and rail, and only an estimated 4,000 men and 12,000 tons of gear remained to be removed.
This situation permitted a downward revision of the Wonsan requirements and freed some shipping for use elsewhere. On the 5th Captain Michael F. D. Flaherty in Noble was detached from the Wonsan group with a couple of merchantmen and ordered to Songjin to outload elements of the retiring ROK I Corps. Unlike the harbor at Iwon, Task Force 90’s previous farthest north, the mineral and lumber export center of Songjin had reasonable loading facilities: behind a sheltering peninsula an 1,800-foot quay with depths of more than 27 feet permitted large ships to lie alongside. At Songjin the transports were joined by one Scajap and one Korean LST, everything went according to the book, and on the 9th, as the destroyers Moore and Maddox arrived to cover his departure, Flaherty finished loading up his task element and sailed his ships for Pusan.
At Wonsan, in the meantime, embarkation of the 3rd Division remnants continued, assisted by a Marine shore party battalion. On the 5th one Army battalion and two of Korean Marines formed a defensive perimeter, and Saint Paul, Zellars, Hank, and Sperry fired a short mission against a reported enemy troop concentration. But although the ships continued throughout the operation to provide night harassing and interdiction fires, little opposition developed. While loading was in progress Captain Jarrell carried out a search for enemy installations on the principal harbor islands; on Yo Do an observation post was destroyed, while Sin Do produced four 76-millimeter guns and a couple of ammunition dumps.
Except for one ROK Marine battalion, assigned to cover the removal of MAG 12 equipment from Kalma Pando, all friendly forces were clear by the 7th. There remained one empty Victory ship, and into this, during the day, Korean refugees were jammed to a total far in excess of normal capacity. With covering fire from Saint Paul and the destroyers, the final withdrawal took place on the evening of the 9th, and by 2215 the beach was clear. Everything had been taken out, no destruction of supplies or gear had been necessary, and the total Wonsan lift—3,800 troops, 7,000 refugees, 1,146 vehicles, and 10,000 tons of cargo—exceeded that removed from Chinnampo. On the morning of the 10th, as the last transport cleared the harbor, Admiral Hillenkoetter headed Saint Paul and Hank back to the northward, to provide fire support at Hungnam. All that remained at Wonsan was a salvage group in the outer harbor working over the hulks of Pirate and Pledge.
For ten days divers from the rescue ship Conserver had been attempting to remove classified gear from the sunken minesweepers. But the work had been hampered by heavy swells, by the bottom mud which partially covered the hulks, and by water temperatures in the cool low 50’s. On 5 December Diachenko was placed in charge of the operations, and next day the decision was taken to demolish what remained of the minesweepers. Covered by Zellars and Sperry the work continued, depth and demolition charges were used to dismantle the wrecks, and on the 13th the job was done.
Two east coast evacuations had by now been completed, and a third was shaping up. General MacArthur’s first reports of the emergency created by the Chinese intervention had limited themselves to a description of the "new war" and to a request for Chinese Nationalist reinforcement, but on 30 November he had forwarded to Washington his strategic concept for dealing with the altered situation. As was perhaps natural for a commander whose devotion to a maritime strategy had forced through the Inchon and Wonsan landings, this called for the retirement of Eighth Army on Pyongyang and Seoul, and for the concentration of X Corps in the Hamhung-Wonsan region, where it would present a flanking threat to a Chinese southward movement.
At Tobruk, in the North African campaign of 1941, the British had for eight months held a lodginent against heavier metal than the Chinese could be expected to bring forward. During his withdrawal from the reservoir General Smith had expected that a perimeter would be formed and maintained in the Hamhung region; General Almond felt that a position on the coast could be defended throughout the winter; Admiral Doyle and others held similar views. But this possibility seems to have fallen victim to the larger scene. The usefulness of such an advanced position depends largely on the moves in prospect for supporting forces, and these were for the moment retrograde. Impressed by CincFE’s description of the emergency, oppressed by their world-wide responsibilities, the Joint Chiefs on 1 December had pointed out the dangers of the central mountain gap, and had instructed General MacArthur to withdraw X Corps and coordinate it with Eighth Army. And a second dispatch from CincFE, in which he declared himself unable to hold the line at the waist of Korea, brought orders to consolidate his forces into beachheads.
The crisis in Korea had by this time produced another trans-Pacific migration of the high command. General Shepherd had come out from Pearl, and on his arrival on the 6th had found CincFE’s demeanor "not optimistic ;" General Collins had been flown out from Washington. On the 7th discussions were held in Tokyo between Generals MacArthur, Collins, and Stratemeyer, Admirals Joy and Struble, General Shepherd, and others, concerning the proposed new U.N. plan, which called for holding Seoul as long as possible prior to retirement upon Pusan, and for ferrying X Corps back south and integrating it into Eighth Army.
Since General Walker’s command had already reached the area of Seoul, action was for the moment required only of X Corps. Following the Tokyo discussions the responsible conferees adjourned to Mount McKinley at Hungnam, where Joy, Shepherd, Struble, Doyle, and Higgins considered both the problem of defending a perimeter and the more probable alternative of withdrawal. But the uncertainty was ended on the 9th by JCS approval of General MacArthur’s revised plan, and by announcement of the decision to redeploy to the southward. On his arrival from Koto-ri next day, General Smith learned that the Marines would go out first, and embarkation was begun.
For the previous week CTF 90 and his staff had been preparing for contingencies. To enlarge usable harbor space and to provide lanes for fire support ships a second minesweeping operation had been undertaken at Hungnam. Plans had been sketched out both for the defense of a perimeter and for the evacuation, not only of X Corps, but of west and south coast ports as well. Now, with the decision to withdraw, Admiral Doyle had to halt all operations in support of X Corps, put his organization into reverse and accelerate again. A shift to seaborne logistics was at once commenced: floating dumps of POL and ammunition were established, along with a floating evacuation center and a floating prisoner of war camp. A large order was put in for life jackets, cargo and floater nets, debarkation ladders, and the like, and once again a redeployment of Amphibious Force shipping was begun. Admiral Thackrey was directed to send all available APAs and AKAs together with one LSD from Inchon to Hungnam; Admiral Joy was requested to provide ten empty cargo ships daily at Hungnam until further notice; the instructions of the Wonsan and Songjin evacuation groups were altered.
At Wonsan Captain Jarrell had originally been ordered to sail his ships to Pusan for unloading. On the 9th, however, this directive was modified by orders to transport Marine shore party and MSTS shipping control personnel to Hungnam for service in another evacuation. Some reloading was required to consolidate these units in a single LST, but this was accomplished in routine fashion. At Songjin the situation was more complicated.
Captain Flaherty had also been directed to send his ships to Pusan, and had done so on the afternoon of the 9th. But as midnight approached, nine hours after his two LSTs had departed for the south and six hours after the transports had got underway, a message was received changing the destination to Hungnam. Ordering his merchant ships to proceed there independently, Flaherty began to search the ocean darkness for the vanished LSTs, and in time managed to find one by radar and to raise the other on 500 kcs. On arrival at Hungnam one ROK RCT and the Capital Division’s artillery were offloaded to strengthen the defenses of the perimeter, and the task element then continued to Pusan.
The events of 9 December marked the beginning of what later became known, following the concept of ComNavFE’s operation plan, as an amphibious operation in reverse. The image is a useful one, and one can envisage the proceedings in terms of a film run backward. On shore, supplies are packed up, moved down to the beach, and lifted out to the anchored cargo ships; from the steadily shrinking perimeter the troops retire on the embarkation points; the landing craft return to the transports; the transports put to sea. But in two ways, at least, one of which complicated and one of which facilitated the operation, things were different.
On the debit side this backwards operation involved great problems in the compression of space and time. Troops and supplies that had reached the theater through three ports and troops that had arrived overland now had to be funneled out a single harbor; personnel and gear that had come in over a period of two months were to be removed in the space of two weeks. With a winter campaign in prospect, General Almond had been authorized a 30-day supply level for his forces, and while this had not yet been achieved, X Corps was considerably oversupplied for an evacuation. The extension of operations from Wonsan to the Manchurian border had led to a dispersal of supply dumps; some tergiversation regarding the employment of the 3rd Infantry Division had complicated administrative procedures; air operations at Wonsan and Yonpo had brought the accumulation of large stocks of gasoline and aviation ordnance. Initial estimates of the task at hand called for the removal of between 110,000 and 120,000 men, some 15,000 vehicles, and about 400,000 measurement tons of cargo. No such lift had been required since Okinawa, and although here the distances were fortunately shorter, the limited amount of available shipping necessarily called for multiple turnarounds.
On the credit side, however, there are advantages to the amphibious departure. In contrast to an arrival from the sea, control organizations can be established before work is begun, and without the complications of enemy action. At Hungnam the problem of matching outgoing troops and supplies with incoming ships was accomplished by two such organisms, one ashore under Colonel Edward H. Forney, USMC, Deputy Chief of Staff of X Corps, and a special organization set up in Task Force 90 by Admiral Doyle.
Map 20. The Evacuation of Hungnam, 10–24 December 1950
Click on map for higher resolution image (195KB).
As control officer, Colonel Forney, with his staff, selected the units to be loaded on the basis of available tactical and administrative information, and assigned shipping in consultation with the operations section of Task Force 90. Port operating units were then advised of dockside requirements, the loading section ground out its plans, the movement section got the traffic down to the water, and the rations people laid down these useful items alongside.
While the outbound units were moving to the docks, shipping from over the horizon was being put in to meet them by the Task Force 90 control group. Two frigates in the offing guided vessels through the swept channel to the control ship near the harbor entrance. There they were boarded and their characteristics ascertained for relay to the operations section, and there they were instructed, as conditions warranted, either to anchor in the outer harbor or to continue in. Here too shipping was separated by category: APA and AKA types from the Amphibious Force were anchored close in for loading by small craft from the beach, while merchant ships and LSTs were sent on into the inner harbor.
Inside the main pier and breakwater there were beaching slots for 14 LSTs, while four concrete wharves provided seven workable alongside berths. Bad winter weather, which restricted lighterage outside the sheltered area, brought the expedient of double-banking cargo vessels and loading the inboard one from the wharf and the outboard one by lighter. The result was that twice as many ships could be worked, whatever the state of the sea, the run from the loading beaches was greatly reduced, and men could be marched from the wharves across the inboard vessels to those on the outside.
At the docks and on the beaches outgoing soldiers and incoming shipping met. The port was operated by the Army’s 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, reinforced by elements of the Marine shore party battalion which had been brought up from Wonsan. Winch operators were provided by the ESB and stevedoring by 1,200 Japanese, who had arrived in late November and who were housed in the mother ship Shinano Maru. It would be hard to imagine a more joint or combined operation: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Merchant Marine, Americans, Koreans, and Japanese worked expeditiously together and to excellent purpose. During the Second World War there had been some unedifying exhibitions on the part of merchant mariners in forward areas, but none developed here, and the performance of the crews of the time-charter vessels was uniformly excellent.
Administrative arrangements had been pretty well completed by 10 December, when the Marines began to arrive, and although no corps operation order was as yet available, the Marine Division began to load at once. In planning for the evacuation General Almond had been faced with the problem of whether to conduct a simultaneous withdrawal of elements of all units from their pie-shaped sectors of the perimeter, or a retirement by divi-sions which would require side-slipping the remaining units to fill the emptied gaps. But the choice turned out to be largely illusory; the decision was forced upon the corps commander, both by his instructions, which called for the earliest possible outloading of the ROK Corps, and by the battleworn condition of the Marines. As promulgated, therefore, the plan called for the immediate evacuation of the Marines, followed in order by the Koreans, and by the 7th and 3rd Divisions. And step by step, as troops were taken out and the perimeter diminished, responsibility for the foothold would be transferred to the Navy.
With embarkation planning under control, it remained to erect defenses against possible enemy attack. Unlike the amphibious entrances into Korea which had preceded it, this amphibious exodus was conducted without the organization of a Joint Task Force, and indeed the command arrangements, derived from the NavFE Op Plan of 13 November, were rather odd. The possibility that Soviet intervention would follow upon that of the Chinese, which had already led Admiral Joy to reinstitute the submarine patrol of La Pe'rouse Strait and to intensify his air search, made him feel that the Seventh Fleet should be kept free to move upon an instant’s notice. The result was to place Commander Seventh Fleet in a supporting role: Admiral Struble was to provide air and gunfire support as feasible, while continuing carrier operations against the enemy in coordination with Fifth Air Force. Admiral Doyle’s instructions, by contrast, were very far-reaching, and charged him not only with the responsibility for Korean redeployment, but for control of air and naval gunfire in embarkation areas, gunfire support of friendly units, protection of shipping, and maintenance of the blockade. And a final complication was provided by the presence of General Shepherd, Commanding General Fleet Marine Force Pacific, as ComNavFE representative "on matters relating to the Marine Corps and for consultation and advice," and, as he later described the situation, with oral instructions from both CincPacFleet and ComNavFE to take command of the naval phase of the evacuation should he consider it desirable. But if the possibilities for confusion here were infinite, the individuals involved were fortunately able to make things work.
At sea the enemy remained quiescent. No submarine threat developed, and shipping was sailed independently in steady procession from Hungnam to Pusan and back again. But on land, as from the beginning, and now also in the air, the enemy had capabilities which deserved consideration. The attentions of the supporting naval units were consequently focused on the perimeter, on the mountainous hinterland behind Hungnam, and on the airstrips beyond the Yalu.
Large numbers of high-performance jets were now operating from these Manchurian fields; quite possibly advanced types of attack planes had also been made available to the Chinese. The large quantities of troops and shipping concentrated at the Hungnam beachhead offered an inviting target, and it was at least conceivable that the enemy’s success on land might tempt him to offensive action in the air. Against this threat X Corps and its supporting naval forces were on their own; no help could be expected from Fifth Air Force, whose nearest fighter group at Kimpo was as far away as were the Antung MIGs. So long as Yonpo airfield remained operational the Marines would provide combat air patrol, and on the 10th this defensive effort was strengthened as the first Marine jets to reach the Orient flew in from Japan. But shrinkage of the perimeter would uncover the airstrip and force their departure three days later, from which time Admiral Ewen’s F9Fs would form the mainstay of the defense against air attack.
Table 13.—HUNGNAM TASK ORGANIZATION
[Expanded version of this table is under construction]
Task Force 90
REAR ADMIRAL J. H. DOYLE.
Task Element 90.00. Flagship Element
Captain C. A. Printup.
Task Element 90.01 Tactical Air Control Element
Comdr. R. W. Arndt
Task Element 90.02. Repair and Salvage Element.
Comdr. L.C. Conwell
1 ARG, 1 ARL, 2 ARS, 1 ATF.
Task Element 90.03. Control Element.
Lt. Comdr. C.E. Allmon.
2 APD,1 1 PCEC1.
Task Group 90.2. Transport Group.
Capt. S.G. Kelly.
Task Element 90.21. Transport Element.
Captain A.E. Jarrell
3 APA, 3 AKA, 2 APD,1 1 PCEC,1 3 LSD (9 LSU embarked), 11 LST, 27 Scajap LST, plus MSTS shipping assigned.
Task Group 90.8. Gunfire Support Group.
Rear Admiral R. H. Hillenkoetter.
1 CA, 4 DD, 3 LSMR, plus 1 CA and DD from TG 95.2.
Task Group 95.2. Blockade, Escort, and Minesweeping Group.
Rear Admiral J. M. Higgins.
1 CA, 4 DD, 6 PF, plus DMS, AM, AMS from TG 95.6.
VICE ADMIRAL A. D. STRUBLE.
TASK FORGE 77. FAST CARRIER FORCE.
REAR ADMIRAL E. C. EWEN.
Task Group 77.1. Support Group.
Captain I. T. Duke.
1 BB, 1 CL, 1 CLAA.
Task Group 77.2. Screening Group.
Captain J. R. Clark.
Task Group 77.3. Carrier Group.
Rear Admiral E. C. Ewen.
Task Group 96.8. Escort Carrier Group.
Rear Admiral R. W. Ruble.
1-2 CVE, 0-1 CVL, 3-8 DD.
Task Group 79.2. Logistic Support Group.
Captain B. L. Austin.
Units assigned from Service Squadron 3 and Service Division 31.
1 Units assigned to two task elements.
In the absence of an overall commander, the air plans were drawn up in consultation by representatives of Task Force 90 and Task Force 77, and Commander Seventh Fleet was advised of what was required of his carriers. Air support duties imposed upon the escort carriers called for four fighters on station throughout the day for close support, and for the provision of tactical air observers and airborne controllers. The fast carriers were assigned responsibilities in air defense, deep support, and interdiction, and for night heckler missions and night combat air patrol. This last requirement amounted to something of an overload, but as congestion in the harbor area and the all-night air traffic at Yonpo made defense by antiaircraft gunfire undesirable, the task force undertook to do what it could. Since air control was complicated by the hills north of Hungnam, which blanketed the radars of ships in harbor, the destroyer Duncan was assigned as radar picket ship and stationed 50 miles to seaward. All arrangements were completed by the 11th, at which time Admiral Doyle assumed responsibility for air defense of the Hungnam embarkation area.
Estimates of enemy capabilities indicated that the Chinese could throw between six and eight divisions against the perimeter, all of which, however, were thought to have been seriously weakened in their encounters with the Marines. Against this threat Task Force 77 would fly offensive strikes upcountry, and in emergency would augment the escort carrier effort in close-in work. The embarkation plan was designed to leave as much artillery on shore as long as possible. Fire support ships were assigned to reinforce the corps and regimental guns, and their efforts, with those of the close support aircraft, were tied in through the Corps Fire Support Coordination Center, a dominantly Marine-staffed outfit with a naval member as gunfire officer.
Fire support planning was also tidied up on the 11th, in a conference between General Almond, Admiral Hillenkoetter, and a representative of Task Force 77. Stations for the fire support ships were established in the swept channel, which by now extended ten miles on either side of the port; the defensive positions ashore were laid out to permit naval gunfire to bear upon an attacking force; control of gunfire was assigned to Anglico and Marine personnel attached to the 3rd and 7th Divisions. In addition to his flagship Saint Paul, and the destroyers and LSMRs of Task Group 90.8, Admiral Hillenkoetter had the services of Rochester, Admiral Higgins’ flagship, and of two destroyers from Higgins’ group. On the 16th the planned total of two cruisers, six destroyers, and three rocket ships was met, as Zellars and Sperry reported in from Wonsan.
Although the ship in which he hung his hat was doing duty in the fire support group, Admiral Higgins’ responsibilities lay elsewhere. Upon him and upon the remaining units of Task Groups 95.2 and 95.6 lay the multitudinous responsibilities of blockade, control, escort, and minesweeping, which among other tasks involved maintaining two destroyers on coastal blockade to the northward, a frigate patrolling off the Wonsan swept channel, and three more handling traffic in and out of Hungnam.
The directives for these supporting operations, originally issued separately, were consolidated on the 13th in Admiral Doyle’s Operation Order 20-50. The arrangements had been made, the forces deployed, the evacuation was already underway. That these defensive preparations were in the end hardly required would seem to prove their wisdom. No serious effort was made against the perimeter by the Communist enemy, whose casualties had been very great, and at Hungnam, as on other occasions in history, the availability of arms made their employment largely unnecessary.
Part 4. 11 December–24 December: The Evacuation of Hungnam
By 11 December, when the Marines reached Hungnam, amphibious and MSTS shipping had begun to arrive. Having off-loaded at Pusan following his evacuation of Chinnampo, Captain Kelly had been ordered back to Inchon; no sooner had he reached that port than new orders flowing from new decisions directed him to Hungnam, where he arrived on the 11th to take charge of the movement of the Marine Division. By the 14th the Marines had loaded in one APA, one AKA, 3 APs, 13 LSTs, 3 LSDs, and 7 time-chartered merchant ships, and next morning Kelly sailed his convoy for Pusan. As soon as the Marines were clear the loading of the 7th Division was begun, to continue through the following week.
While these evolutions were in progress Admiral Doyle and his staff found themselves faced with a requirement for a small amphibious landing. In order to block the east coast route General Almond had requested that the ROK I Corps be put ashore in the area of Samchok, 40 miles below the parallel, where Juneau had carried out the first bombardment of the war. The undertaking was accepted, and on the basis of corps’ estimates shipping was assigned to lift 12,000 men and a few trucks, an allocation which in the end had to be more than doubled as 25,000 ROKs and 700 vehicles turned up. Preparation for the operation involved intelligence studies and photo reconnaissance; the port of Mukho, just north of Samchok, where breakwaters enclose a small harbor area, was selected as the landing site. Between 15 and 18 December Captain Spofford’s ships swept and buoyed a channel in from the 100-fathom curve, and on the 16th the operation was turned over to Captain Jarrell, who had by now returned from Pusan. In addition to Henrico, one APA, one AKA, three chartered merchantmen, and two LSTs were included in the movement group, while reports of Chinese penetrations south of the parallel brought the assignment of the DMS Endicott and the destroyer Forrest Royal for fire support. At noon of the 17th Captain Jarrell sailed for Mukho, the landing was uneventful, and this important position was quickly secured. By the 20th the destroyers were back on station at Hungnam.
There loading had continued day and night, hindered only by the vagaries of nature. Bad weather inland on the 16th, which limited fast carrier offensive sorties to a mere 41, reached Hungnam on the following day; the temperature dropped below freezing and the sea worked up. As westerly winds reached 40 knots, four LCMs went adrift and were blown out into the minefields, and from 1700 until after midnight small boat traffic had to be halted. This was the worst day, but throughout the operation the continuing cold created probems for materiel and personnel alike: working around the clock and exposed to cold, spray, and wind, many of the coxswains had to be carried aboard their ships after returning from long trips.
It was the hope both of those ashore and of those afloat to get everything out; not just personnel and loaded vehicles, but everything, and they very nearly did. To deprive the enemy of salvage possibilities even broken-down vehicles were outloaded, a lift of inoperative machinery which in the end filled four Liberty ships. In the bulk categories of POL and ammunition Colonel Forney found his responsibilities steadily increasing: an original count of 5,000 drums of POL ended up in the outloading of 29,500 drums, with 200 left behind; almost 9,000 tons of ammunition was taken out, and of the1,000 tons remaining, half was frozen dynamite too dangerous to handle. Ultimately, in any event, these left-over commodities were put to use in the final demolition of the port.
On water as on land, salvage problems presented themselves. Considering the amount of traffic at this small port, at all hours and in all weathers, mishaps were extraordinarily few, but three which did occur well illustrate the importance of the salvage organization. Standing out of harbor late on the night of 10 December the Enid Victory, a chartered MSTS vessel, cut the eastern point too close and ran aground. Here the one-foot tide of the Sea of Japan, otherwise so agreeable, proved disadvantageous, but by next afternoon the ARL Askari, the fleet tug Tawakoni, and two harbor tugs managed to get her off, and she continued to Pusan. A more intractable proposition had been presented a few days earlier when Senzan Maru, a Japanese time-charter laden with 50,000 bags of flour, missed the entrance channel in the morning darkness and hit a mine. Damage was serious, but although flooded forward, eight feet down by the head, and with only two feet of freeboard remaining, she made it in, whereupon divers from Askari investigated the damage and the ship doctors prescribed. The flour paste was jettisoned from the forward hold and the rest of the cargo shifted, bulkheads were shored up and flotation provided by filling the hold with empty oil drums, and after ten days work Senzan Maru was sailed in company for Moji where she arrived safely.
Last and most difficult of these problems was that presented by a Korean LST, which fouled a shaft with manila line and was unable to retract from the beach. The snarl was cleared and repairs to the main engines were provided by personnel from the rescue ship Conserver, after which the LST docked again and on her second attempt to get underway fouled both shafts. By this time her troubles were snowballing: more engine repairs were needed and the gyrocompass had broken down; there were eight turns of 1 1/8-inch wire around the port shaft and many of 8-inch manila around the starboard one; a food and water shortage had developed, which was the more serious in view of a reported 7,400 refugees on board. Despite difficulties from the cold, the port shaft was freed by divers from Conserver; Askari contributed 26,000 gallons of water; 1,500 loaves of bread and a quantity of cooked rice were procured from other ships in harbor, and eight tons of food from Army sources ashore. There was no time to do more, and on 19 December the invalid was sailed for Samchok, accompanied by Diachenko and another Korean LST, both rigged for towing. She got there.
As in all overseas operations, but more visibly than in most, the key problem at Hungnam was the availability of shipping. Here the time of turnaround was crucial. At Pusan, where scant notice had been received of the impending arrivals, unloading capacity proved for a time unable to match the rate of outloading in the north, and the resulting congestion brought diversions to Japan, where progress was even more leisurely. In this situation, and as reports from Eighth Army indicated that evacuation of Inchon might become necessary before Hungnam was cleared, Admiral Joy twice found himself obliged to call upon CincFE to prevent ships being sent east of Moji for unloading, to order port authorities to work ships 24 hours a day, and to have idle shipping in Japan emptied to provide reserve.
There was also, as in any amphibious operation, the special problem of the availability of LSTs. These for a time were scarce. Counting Scajap and Korean vessels, a total of about 40 ultimately became available, but some were slow in arriving, 13 had sailed with the Marine Division, and 2 more had been committed to the ROK lift to Mukho. Bad weather and congestion at Pusan had delayed the return of those which had lifted the Marines, and the resultant shortage had slowed the outloading of engineer troops and gear. But by the 18th they were beginning to arrive again, within two days a score had been loaded and sailed, and again the problem of availability arose. With an estimated 22 needed to lift the last elements from the beachhead, and on the basis of an assumed five-day turnaround between Hungnam and Pusan, Forney began stockpiling LSTs on the evening of the 20th. By this time the port of Pusan was operating in high gear, unloading was also in progress at Masan and Ulsan, and Liberty and Victory ships as well as LSTs were being emptied in time for a second run. In the end enough LSTs became available, and indeed there were a couple to spare.
LST with oil drums. Looking northeast from Blue Beach across the inner harbor; harbor entrance control frigate in the right distance, 14 December 1950 (Photo 80-G-423913).
Click on the image for additional information and related photographs.
In the air the defenses of Hungnam grew steadily stronger. Through the period of concentration and outloading, the Marine squadrons were conducting a complicated series of redeployments and more carriers were mustering offshore, with the remarkable result that air strength in the Hungnam area, far from diminishing as the evacuation progressed, actually increased. On 1 December the three fighter squadrons at Wonsan had moved up to Yonpo. On the 3rd the Air Force fighter-bombers left for the south, and next day one of the Corsair squadrons was flown out to Itami for embarkation on the light carrier Bataan, but these deficits were more than made up by the arrival of Princeton on the 5th. On the 6th Sicily reached Hungnam, loaded the personnel and gear of VMF 214 in an all-night evolution, and took the planes aboard in the course of the next day’s operations. On 10 December the Yonpo air garrison was reinforced by a squadron of Marine Panther jets, which had come out along with Air Force fighters in the escort carrier Bairoko, and which operated from the shore strip until the 13th, when they were flown south to Pusan. After unloading her cargo of Air Force fighters at Yokosuka, Bataan proceeded to Kobe, embarked VMF 212, and sailed for the Sea of Japan where she joined Task Force 77 on the 16th.
On the 14th the three Marine squadrons still at Yonpo were flown to Itami. Following this departure CTF 90 relieved the Marine Aircraft Wing of air control within a 35-mile radius of Hungnam, and General Harris's headquarters moved aboard an LST, to assume on the 17th the duties of standby Tactical Air Direction Center. On 22 December Valley Forge arrived from the United States and the evolution was complete.
Table 14.—HUNGNAM AIR DEPLOYMENT
U.N. SQUADRONS ON HAND
F9F At Yonpo
F4U F7FN F9F Embarked
F4U AD Total
1 December 0 3 2 3 5 2 151
10 December 1 1 2 4 9 3 20
16 December 0 0 0 4 10 3 17
23 December 0 0 0 4 14 4 22
1 Plus 35th Fighter-Bomber Group (2 USAF, 1 RAAF F-51 squadrons).
The virtues of the movable floating air base and of carrier training for Marine pilots had again been demonstrated. Where embarked aviation had at first been limited to two fast carriers and one escort carrier, much more was now on hand, and the total of Navy and Marine squadrons operating in the X Corps area had risen from 15 on 1 December to 22 as the evacuation was ending. For a brief moment Task Force 77 reached a peak strength of 4 attack carriers, one battleship, 2 cruisers, and 22 destroyers, and except for snow on deck and ice on the forecastle it began to look like old times.
Throughout the period of embarkation carrier air operations continued. Over Hungnam the jet combat air patrol was maintained, but with gaps: owing to the limited endurance of the F9F and the spacing of task force launching times it proved impossible to relieve patrols on station. For the rest, the focus of air operations narrowed steadily from the northern hills to the embarkation area. In mid-December, as outloading was begun, attacks were being flown against troops and horses along the reservoir road, abandoned equipment in the Songjin area, and targets near the Fusen Reservoir. A tunnel on the narrow gauge railroad leading up to Hagaru was hit with 11-inch Tiny Tim rockets; to the westward armed reconnaissance flights struck at enemy troops moving south across the Wonsan-Pyongyang road. Ten days later, as the date of final departure approached and with a perimeter which covered only the city of Hungnam, the situation was very different. Although lacking in armor and artillery, enemy troops had reached the suburbs in sizable numbers; and while perhaps a third of the sorties were still employed upcountry, the greater part was used within the 35-mile circle. Troop movements on the roads approaching the town were hit; fuel drums and a rocket dump, overlooked in the sweeping-up process, were attacked and destroyed; an enemy command post in Hamhung and buildings on the western edge of Hungnam were bombed. And by this time the guns of the fire support ships had come into play.
Admiral Hillenkoetter began shooting on the night of the 15th, as Saint Paul commenced 8-inch call fire for deep support and for interdiction of enemy movements. On the 17th Rochester took the 8-inch duty, and nightly thereafter cruisers and destroyers delivered prearranged harassing and illumination fire, while responding to requests from ashore by day. To supplement the flat-trajectory fire of the cruisers and destroyers, and to put plunging fire on reverse slopes, the three rocket ships had been maintained on station; on the 21st they let go their first barrage against a reported troop concentration in the hills along the eastern flank.
Gunfire support more than met all tests, although these, it should be said, were not severe. There was some difficulty with control arrangements resulting from an unfortunate choice of radio channels, and from intervention by X Corps in the assignment of missions to specific ships. The success of the departing artillery battalions in using up the local ammunition oversupply had imbued commanders ashore with large ideas; the resultant pressures led to an extravagant volume of fire, and this in turn, given the limited capacity of ships’ magazines, to a replenishment problem. But the needs were met by the Logistic Support Group, which kept an AKA and an LST loaded with ammunition on station in Hungnam harbor, with delivery to the firing ships accomplished by off-loading into the AKL Ryer, one of the small cargo vessels which MSTS had inherited from the Army. By these expedients the impressive total of 18,637 rounds of 5-inch and 2,932 of 8-inch was fired during the evacuation phase, an increase respectively of about 70 and 27 percent over expenditures in the Inchon landing. The investment was perhaps excessive, in view of the paucity of targets, but it was written off as a contribution to troop morale.
By now the perimeter had diminished to a radius of about 5,000 yards from the center of town, outposted for another thousand yards, and the evacuation was entering its final stage. On 18 December Captain Kelly returned from the south, and was placed in charge of the shore-to-ship movement of the remaining corps and 3rd Division troops. Early on the afternoon of the 19th Major General Robert H. Soule, USA, commander of the 3rd Division, took charge of the ground defenses; General Almond and his staff moved aboard Mount McKinley; and responsibility for the defense of Hungnam passed to Admiral Doyle. Next day the 7th Division completed embarkation, and at first light on the 21st was sailed to the southward. On shore there remained three RCTs with their tanks, six battalions of artillery, and three antiaircraft battalions. Loading of corps and division troops was being pressed; the tempo of naval gunfire was going up as artillery began to be withdrawn; and D-Day had been tentatively set for the 24th.
One aspect of the operation which had by now developed wholly unanticipated proportions was the problem of the Korean refugees. In a sense this problem was not new. In July, as the North Korean armies pressed southward, the countless civilians fleeing before them had created grave difficulties for the U.N. forces. In late October the combination of ROK and Marine forces at Kojo, and of Communist units in the hills, had produced a similar if smaller phenomenon, as thousands of Koreans had descended from the hinterland upon the port. With the intervention of the Chinese and the reverses of the U.N. the spectacle of displaced masses of humanity again developed.
In the first week of December thousands of North Koreans, fleeing the Chinese armies, had sailed from Chinnampo. At Wonsan, where Captain Jarrell had arranged a screening of civilians so that those whose lives would be endangered by the Communists could be removed, an anticipated thousand refugees had multiplied beyond belief. With 7,000 aboard, and with the ships filled to capacity, the transport crews had been confronted with the tragic sight of another 20,000 trying to break through the barbed wire barriers, and had concluded that about twice the population of Wonsan had gathered there in the hope of escape. At Hungnam it was still worse.
Refugees on Green Beach: The bullock cart stops at tidewater and the LST takes over. In the background a merchant shop alongside Dock 4, 19 December 1950 (Photo #80-G-424096).
Click on the image for additional information and related photographs.
For the inhabitants of North Korea the miseries of war had been compounded by the arrival of an alien army from across the Yalu. Villagers on the Chosin plateau, their houses taken over by the Chinese, had requested the Marines to call down air strikes upon the invader; their wishes had been granted them, and their villages had been burned from the air. Thus twice dispossessed, and preferring the invader from overseas to the invader from the north, the tide of humanity flowed southward toward Hungnam. As the Marines moved down from Hagaru the thousands of civilians followed, huddling outside the perimeter by night and moving onward when the march resumed, presenting both tragic spectacle and military menace.
At Hungnam an original estimate of 25,000 refugees requiring evacuation had quickly to be abandoned. Early in the operation Colonel Forney found himself with 50,000 in hastily constructed camps and more pouring in; at Hamhung more than 50,000 had attempted to board the last refugee train for Hungnam. In the light of these numbers the few vessels furnished by the Republic of Korea were wholly inadequate, and other shipping had to be committed at an early date. The exodus involved an incredible packing of humanity: LST loads were never less than 5,000, and in one case reached 10,500; a total of about 14,000 was taken out in the chartered Meredith Victory. On the 23rd, as preparations to close down were being completed, a temporary surplus of shipping developed, and Forney brought in three Victory ships and two LSTs on which he loaded 50,000 Koreans. In the end the record showed 91,000 taken out, not counting children in arms, in knapsacks, or in utero. If this was a remarkable accomplishment no one congratulated himself overmuch, for, as the report concludes, "at least that number had to be left behind for lack of shipping space, and riot among these was only prevented by subterfuge."
Heavy Chinese pressure had been expected from about the 20th, but although from time to time night probing attacks were reported, the perimeter remained generally quiet to the last. With loading ahead of schedule, and with sufficient shipping on hand, 4,000 tons of ammunition and 13 boxcars were added to the scheduled lift. On the 22nd the 3rd Division began loading everything but the infantry and artillery, while excess transport from these units was put on board during that day and the next. As zero hour approached, air support was increased, and the offensive sorties from Task Force 77 went up from 105 on the 21st to 161 on the 23rd. General Almond had repeatedly suggested bringing in Missouri from Task Force 77, and Struble had planned to do so for the final phase. So in she came on the 23rd, as the last battalion of corps artillery was being taken off. That night naval gunfire increased by a factor of three.
The 24th of December dawned clear, and by 0800 all was in readiness. To lift the remaining 9,720 personnel, LVTs had been put up on the flanking beaches, and seven LSTs along the Hungnam waterfront. During the morning the gunfire ships maintained a zone barrage covering a mile-wide area outside the 3,000-yard perimeter. At 1100, as the troops began to pull back, embarkation was begun. Everything went as planned. The enemy made no appearance. The only difficulties were caused by an accidental explosion of an ammunition dump, which destroyed some landing craft and resulted in a number of casualties. By 1405 all beaches were secured. At 1410 Admiral Doyle ordered the UDT personnel to blow the place, demolition charges were set off, and the piers, cranes, and walls of the inner harbor disappeared in an eruption of smoke and flame.
By 1436 all hands were off and Captain Kelly was preparing to sortie the amphibious shipping. Overhead in the cold sky there orbited the last combat air patrol from the fast carrier task force. Along the docks the explosions had stopped, but fire was licking at the ruins, and from the harbor of Hungnam, briefly one of the world’s busiest ports, a column of smoke rose high into the air. Three miles inland, as the gunfire ships were getting underway, some Chinese troops were observed coming over a hill, and a few Parthian salvos were let go at these individuals, who by their temerity thus achieved the distinction of receiving the last rounds of the campaign.
The statistics of the evacuation are worth noting: 105,000 U.S. and Korean military personnel, 91,000 refugees, 350,000 measurement tons of cargo, 17,500 vehicles. The available shipping had proved sufficient, although most vessels had to make two trips, some made more, and the loads involved totalled 6 APAs, 6 AKAs, 13 T—APs, 76 MSTS time-charters, 81 LSTs, and 11 LSDs. As for comparisons with other operations, none seems very fruitful. Dunkirk comes first to mind, but circumstances there were very different: 338,000 troops were taken out, but many remained behind, hardly any equipment was saved, and the ships involved suffered grievously from air attack. But such questions concerning the degree of enemy opposition and the size of the lift tend to obscure the central point, that freedom to come and go depends upon control of the sea. The Athenians at Syracuse, Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Axis forces in North Africa lacked this control. In those armies no one escaped captivity.
Part 5. 7 December 1950–25 January 1951: The Second Chinese Offensive
Evacuations, doubtless, can hardly be counted victories, but the conduct of the December campaign in northeastern Korea was nevertheless impressive. Despite the suddenness of the Chinese onslaught, the extraordinarily exposed position of the Marine Division, and an enemy numerical superiority of more than two to one, the situation never quite escaped from control, and from the time the Yudam-ni Marines reached Hagaru there was little question as to who held the initiative. Under the severest possible conditions the march to the sea was successfully accomplished; only the barest minimum of equipment and supplies had to be destroyed; the evacuation, with no air or submarine opposition and with little pressure on the ground, was a deliberate, orderly, and controlled process.
This is not to say that the campaign was cheap. With a strength slightly exceeding 25,000, the Marine Division between 27 November and 11 December suffered 556 killed, 182 missing, 2,872 wounded, and 3,648 non-battle casualties, the last largely from frostbite. But for the Chinese Third Field Army the campaign was a disaster. The 60,000 men of the eight divisions committed by the 9th Army Group were later estimated by the Marine Corps to have suffered 37,500 combat casualties, a little over half inflicted by the ground forces and the rest by air attack. Of estimates such as these everyone must be his own judge, but the order of magnitude appears not far from the mark. Total casualties, indeed, would seem to have been still greater, for the Chinese had been engaged not only with the Marine Division and with naval and Marine aviation but had also had to fight the cold, and for them General Winter proved a more redoubtable enemy than for the Americans. Poorly clad, poorly fed, without hospitalization or air evacuation, the Chinese froze to death in quantities: the CCF 27th Army, which had put in two divisions at the opening of the campaign, alone complained of 10,000 non-combat casualties.
Whatever the precise figure of their losses, doubtless also unknown to them, it seems fair to say that in forcing the Marine Division down off the plateau the 9th Army Group committed military suicide. Much concern, following the evacuation, was evinced in U.N. command circles over the possibility that Chen Yi’s divisions might move south to reinforce the Fourth Field Army, and on 2 January Commander Seventh Fleet and CTF 95 were urgently instructed to report all information on the location and movements of this force. But not until mid-March, three full months later, was the 9th Army Group again identified in action.
In the west, in contrast to the campaign at the reservoir, action had been brief. Contact with the Chinese was broken in the first days of December, as Eighth Army retired rapidly on Seoul; for more than three weeks the ground forces were out of touch; and the only war in progress was that carried on by Fifth Air Force, whose attacks inflicted heavy casualties and soon forced the enemy to confine his movement to the hours of darkness. But the fact that Communist success against Eighth Army was limited to the first days of combat, and that the march to the sea and the evacuation of X Corps were handled in masterly fashion, should not operate to conceal the effects of the Chinese onslaught. Strategically and psychologically the enemy’s success was great. In the long run Chinese intervention would entail abandonment of the objective of Korean unification, and a return to the original U.N. aim of repelling aggression; for the moment, however, it seemed that it might force the evacuation of Korea. Since a concern for the integrity of China had been a major plank in American foreign policy for more than half a century, and a fundamental reason for the embroilment of the United States and Japan, this accomplishment of the new Chinese regime ranks high among the ironies of history.
Throughout December the planning of the U.N. Command was retrograde to a degree; having suffered one reverse it prepared rapidly for more. The plan of 7 December had envisaged resistance in the area of Seoul, with subsequent retirement upon Pusan, and the results of this concept were manifest in efforts to fortify the Naktong line and in the assignment of Navy underwater demolition teams to a survey of beaches in South Korea, Tsushima Island, and western Japan in preparation for an emergency withdrawal. At Inchon Admiral Thackrey was scouting the Tokchok Islands as a possible refuge in an emergency redeployment; on 6 December, with the evacuation of Kimpo in prospect, he had asked Admiral Struble for carrier air support; on the 7th, two days before X Corps was ordered to redeploy south from Hungnam, he was instructed to start the removal of Army supplies from Inchon. Soon Eighth Army would pose a requirement for naval gunfire support along the entire western coast of South Korea.
On 8 December there came an astonishing report from EUSAK of a 20-ship Chinese convoy en route from Shanghai for a landing in Korea; by the 12th this had grown to a fleet of 100 ships headed for Ongjin; on the 14th Theseus was held back from replenishment by a report of 20 AKs approaching Sinanju. But these shortly shrank to fishing boats, and the convoy never appeared. By midmonth air raid alarms were a daily occurrence in the Seoul area; on the 14th a Navy helicopter was attacked by MIGs which had ventured south to within a few miles of Haeju. Four days later FEAF closed down its electronic navigational installation on Tokchok To, and men and gear were taken out by LSU. As yet there were no positive indications that the Chinese would cross the 38th parallel; equally, there was little evidence of a firm intention to defend the capital. President Rhee and his government had refused to leave for the southward, but by the 20th Eighth Army headquarters had been withdrawn to Taegu, where it was joined by Fifth Air Force on the 22nd.
In these gloomy circumstances General Walker was killed in a road accident, like General Patton before him, and Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, USA, was ordered out from Washington to take over Eighth Army. Both in the capital from which he departed, and in the peninsula which was his destination, it might have seemed that Ridgway was being appointed receiver in bankruptcy: CincFE’s early dispatches had produced an atmosphere of depression in Washington; the Truman-Attlee talks of early December concerned themselves, among other things, with the question of seeking a cease-fire; and U.N. efforts in this same direction ended only with Chinese rejection of the terms proposed. Efforts to increase the nation’s armed strength were redoubled, and on 15 December the President declared a state of national emergency. But results would take time, and the available reserve within the continental United States remained at one Army and one Marine division.
Unable, in the circumstances, to honor General MacArthur’s request for reinforcements for the defense of Japan, the Joint Chiefs began to consider withdrawal from Korea to the Japanese islands. These deliberations resulted in a new directive of 29 December, which may be taken as a measure of the Chinese Communist success. The safety of the U.N. Command and of Japan were given precedence over support of the Republic of Korea, the enemy was conceded the capability of forcing a U.N. evacuation, and instructions now called for defense in successive positions and for the infliction of maximum damage on the Communists.
Of this estimate of Chinese capabilities, as seen through the dark glass of CincFE’s dispatches, time would be the test. But if General Ridgway had indeed been nominated as receiver in bankruptcy, he acquired upon his arrival in Korea certain welcome assets. The Fourth Chinese Field Army, victor in the battle of the Chongchon, was suffering in its southward progress from logistic inadequacy and from the efforts of the Fifth Air Force. Completion of the Hungnam evacuation had provided a considerable Christmas bonus, and the land and naval forces which had demobilized the Chinese 9th Army Group were now available for the defense of South Korea.
On Christmas Day the command of Task Force 77 changed as Admiral Ewen, after four months of strenuous operations, was relieved by Admiral Ofstie, and sailed with Philippine Sea and Leyte for Japan. Fifty days had passed since CincFE’s alarm had summoned the Seventh Fleet from port, and throughout that time, in bitter winter weather, an intense air effort had been maintained, without return to port, and with all needs cared for by the mobile replenishment groups. Two fast carriers now remained on the line, voice and CW communications with the JOC were at last functioning effectively, and on the same day Admiral Struble advised Fifth Air Force that his ships would resume air operations on the 28th, and would provide from 75 to 100 Corsair and Skyraider sorties daily. On the 27th, in a conference between FEAF and NavFE, it was agreed to use the carrier aircraft in support of the eastern front, with pilots pre-briefed for armed reconnaissance should no CAS targets be available. On the next day operations began as scheduled, directed principally against troops and troop shelters in the central mountains along the 38th parallel.
On 26 December, as General Ridgway arrived in Korea, X Corps was integrated into Eighth Army. At Pusan the last of the Hungnam forces were going ashore. On the east coast the sweepers were hard at work clearing an inshore lane for the destroyers, now back at their summer’s task of supporting ROK units on the coastal road. At the western end of the line, where an enemy drive on Seoul was momently awaited, reinforcements from Hungnam were also arriving. In response to earlier requests from Admiral Thackrey, Sicily and Badoeng Strait had started west on Christmas Day; on the 27th they relieved Theseus in the Yellow Sea operating area and began to fly missions in support of Eighth Army. On the 29th Admiral Hillenkoetter arrived at Inchon with Rochester, to join Ceylon and the Australian destroyers Warramunga and Bataan in the support of forces on the Kumpo peninsula.
Map 21. Withdrawal from Hungnam and Inchon, 12 December 1950–15 January 1951
Click on map for higher resolution image (225 KB).
As yet, however, the Chinese had not resumed the attack, a situation which raises some interesting problems in relative motion. The Fourth Field Army had entered Pyongyang on 5 December while the Marine Division was still up on the hill at Hagaru. By the time the Chinese had covered the ninety miles from Pyongyang to the parallel, X Corps had been concentrated, evacuated, and relanded in South Korea, and ships which had covered the evacuation had rounded the peninsula to help confront the expected western offensive. These facts say something about floating weapons systems, most notably perhaps in the case of embarked aviation, for while the Air Force was shortly to be forced out of Kimpo and Suwon, and by 5 January would have no operating base forward of Taegu, the carriers were now working off both ends of the battle line. They say something also about the rudimentary nature of Chinese logistics, the effectiveness of Fifth Air Force’s December effort against the advancing enemy, and the validity of the estimates which conceded to the Chinese the ability to throw the U.N. armies into the sea.
With orders to defend important positions, inflict maximum damage, and preserve its major units, Eighth Army awaited the enemy on a line running from the Han Delta up the Imjin, and eastward through the razor-backed mountains of central Korea, to Yangyang on the Sea of Japan. Here, in the northern basin of the Han, strategic virtue lies not in the western coastal plain but in the valley routes of the interior. With the water barriers of the Yesong and the Imjin, the road from Pyongyang is easy to defend, but to the invader from the north all streams flow onward to the Han and all roads lead to Seoul. Once at the headwaters of the northern tributaries, movement is all downhill: south from Chorwon to the capital, southwest from Chunchon to the Pukhan Valley, through Hongchon to the Han Valley road, west from Wonju to take the capital in the rear. In the presence of so many flanking routes, the defense of Seoul depends less on holding the west coast road than on plugging the valleys to the northeast; failing in this the position becomes untenable.
The enemy arrived with the New Year. On the left three Chinese armies pushed down the northern approaches to the capital; in the center another heavy thrust was delivered north of Wonju. Further retirement seemed necessary, and on 4 January Seoul was abandoned, the Han bridges were blown, and the army started south again. At Inchon all ships were put on one-hour notice, and on orders from ComNavFE the destruction of the port was begun.
There, as the enemy offensive broke, Admiral Thackrey had at his disposal his flagship Eldorado, one AKA, two APAs, two LSDs, one APD, two U.S. Navy and nine Scajap LSTs; in Japan MSTS was holding 15 empty Victory ships and transports as a reserve. Although Eighth Army intended to retire by land rather than redeploy by sea, the staff of Task Group 90.1 had worked up plans for all contingencies, including an emergency outloading of up to 135,000 troops by shuttle service to the off-shore islands. But these precautions proved unnecessary, and the principal withdrawal from the Seoul area was carried out, as planned, by road.
The sea lift from Inchon was nevertheless a sizable one. The original estimates from EUSAK, which had called for the sailing of between 3,000 and 5,000 personnel, had been surpassed by 18 December, and the total lifted out during the month amounted to 32,000 troops, more than 1,000 vehicles, and 55,000 tons of cargo. Completion of the Hungnam evacuation brought six more Scajap LSTs together with some MSTS vessels, and the advent of the Chinese speeded the work. On 5 January port facilities were blown, somewhat purposelessly, it would seem, in view of U.N. control of Korean waters, and as the Chinese entered the town Thackrey sortied his shipping. In these last five days a few hundred more vehicles, a few thousand more tons of supplies, and another 37,000 military personnel had been taken out. In vehicles and cargo the Inchon evacuation was far smaller than that at Hungnam; in personnel, however, the addition of 64,200 Korean nationals to the 69,000 military yields a not unimpressive figure. But the accomplishment had to be its own reward: of the large number of press correspondents currently accredited to the U.N. naval forces, all but one had elected to cover Hungnam.
As in the previous summer, major ports were now in short supply. With Inchon gone only overloaded Pusan remained, and there the larger ships were sailed. But there was still the problem of supporting the western flank without overwhelming the Pusan port organization and the rail and road systems, and this time it was met by the opening of a seaport where none had existed before. Twenty-five miles north of Kunsan, at the mouth of Chonsu Man, the town of Taechon lies at the head of a drying bay; from Taechon a road and single-tracked railroad run northeast, joining the main line at Chonan, behind the new-formed front. Here in September CincFE’s momentary apprehensions about Inchon had brought the UDTs from Bass to seek a second landing place; here in December, as a precautionary measure, Thackrey had swept a major anchorage area; here in January, following a check-sweep by Carmick and Swallow, the Inchon LSTs were beached and their men and stores unloaded. On the 8th, a convoy came up from Ulsan with artillery and tanks of the 3rd Division, and between the 9th and 12th this support was continued by 13 Scajap LSTs, which brought POL and other urgently needed cargo from Pusan to Taechon and Kunsan.
Throughout the period of retirement the naval forces of the U.N. did what they could to help stem the Chinese tide. On the east coast the destroyers worked to help the ROK defenders, while Admiral Ofstie’s carriers flew strikes against enemy concentrations in the central mountains and westward to the area of Seoul. At Inchon Rochester, Kenya, and Ceylon supported the withdrawal across the Han and the evacuation of the port, and bombarded Kimpo airfield. From the Yellow Sea the Marine fighter pilots embarked in Sicily and Badoeng Strait flew in to provide protective patrols, strike the advancing enemy, and burn quantities of abandoned supplies at Kimpo. On1 January EUSAK’s wish for more support brought a request for increased carrier strength, and two days later Bataan arrived to join the west coast group. For a brief period, from 30 December to 3 January, the possibility of a diversionary landing at Haeju was under active consideration.
In the Sea of Japan on 7 January Philippine Sea and Leyte returned to action; but while Princeton retired to Sasebo for upkeep, such was the magnitude of the Communist offensive that Valley Forge was held on station. For the next two weeks three carriers were kept on the line, working in the triangular pattern which permitted daily operations by two while the third replenished. But their effectiveness, as indeed that of all supporting forces, was severely limited by the January foul weather, which on 12 days brought winds exceeding 30 knots. On the 7th, in a snowstorm, the Thai frigate Prasae went aground on the east coast, behind the enemy lines, and despite prolonged attempts at salvage had ultimately to be destroyed. From 6 to 10 January low clouds and heavy snow prevented carrier operations; on the 10th things were so bad that all land-based aircraft were grounded; and from the 11th to the 13th Task Force 77 was forced to operate south of the peninsula where the visibility was somewhat better.
The coming of the bad weather coincided with a shift of enemy pressure to the central front. In the west on 7 January U.N. patrols had moved north without opposition to the neighborhood of Inchon, but in the center very heavy fighting continued, infiltrating Chinese forces reached south to the 37th parallel, and reviving North Korean guerrillas raided supply lines inside the Naktong Basin. On 9 January the Marine Division was ordered out of Army reserve and moved up to prevent enemy penetrations south of the Andong-Yongdok road. On the 11th, with clearing weather, aircraft from Task Force 77 attacked large troop concentrations southeast of Wonju, at Kangnung on the east coast, and as far south as the headwaters of the Naktong.
Weather at sea: Water over the flight deck of Valley Forge. (Photo #80-G-440889)
Click on the image for additional information and related photographs.
As snowstorms swirled through the mountains of central Korea, where the battle for Wonju was in progress, the weather was bad in other high places as well. To a CincFE message of 29 December, which had posed the alternatives of expanding the war or evacuating Korea, the Joint Chiefs on 9 January replied with a repetition of earlier instructions to defend, inflict maximum damage, and withdraw if the safety of the command and of Japan so required. On the next day CincFE reiterated that lacking either reinforcement or an expansion of the war the position in Korea was untenable, and urged, in the absence of overriding political considerations, as rapid a withdrawal as possible. This view, together with his observations that his troops were embittered and that the defense of a beachhead would be costly, led to more gloom in Washington and to a new directive. On the 12th, while emphasizing their desire for time to permit military and diplomatic consultations, the Joint Chiefs accepted the view that holding for a protracted period was infeasible. At Lake Success a second effort at a cease-fire was begun on the basis of a plan which, in exchange for a U.N. approved administration of a unified Korea, would include the government of Communist China in an agency designed to settle the issues of Formosa and of Chinese membership in the United Nations. But in turn the Chinese now overreached themselves, and insisted that admission to the United Nations and the commencement of Korean negotiations precede any cease-fire.
By the time this diplomatic fumble took place the Korean balance was beginning to tilt the other way. On the west coast, behind enemy lines, carrier aircraft had reported ROK flags flying in the coastal villages, and the governor of Hwanghae Province had asked for ammunition; on 13 January CTF 95 recommended to ComNavFE the arming of the estimated 10,000 patriotic volunteers in this area. At EUSAK, far from looking over his shoulder toward Pusan, General Ridgway was directing his gaze northward. On the 16th a reconnaissance in force had penetrated as far as Suwon; soon diminished contact in the center would bring more ambitious efforts. By the 20th General MacArthur was demonstrating a qualified optimism. By the 23rd ground fighting was limited to bushwhacking in the south, where the Marines were rounding up guerrillas. On 25 January the northward movement of Eighth Army began against only slight resistance. Ten days later the Chinese commander had decided to retire beyond the 38th parallel.
Chapter 10: The Second Six Months
Part 1. February 1951: Back to the Han
Part 2. March- April 1951: On to the Parallel
Part 3. April-May 1951: the Communist Spring Offensive
Part 4. June-July 1951: North to Kaesong
Part 1. February, 1951: Back to the Han
By late January the immediate crisis was over, but as the armies started north again it was still a new war. Not only had the arrival of the Chinese made it difficult to see the conflict as a mere police action against a minor league aggressor; it had also forced the United Nations and the United States back to the original aim of repelling aggression, and in doing so had changed the nature of the fighting. Avoidance of defeat at the Pusan perimeter had been followed by a resort to an amphibious strategy and to larger goals, and by four months of rapid movement up and down the peninsula. But this was history. By January the objectives had been revised, no plans for great amphibious operations existed, X Corps had been integrated into Eighth Army, a more or less continuous front now stretched from sea to sea. Although the focus of action had always been on land, the campaign in Korea in the first half of 1951 was more than ever a ground war.
Depending upon one’s preconceptions, one could look at the Korean War as a land campaign with amphibious aspects or as an amphibious war with resemblances to a continental struggle. Whatever the precise nature of this hybrid conflict, which indeed varied with the passing of time, it posed difficult problems of marrying the divergent histories of the Pacific and European theaters of operations, and of coordinating forces which postwar military doctrine had attempted to separate. These difficulties had been briefly apparent during the defense of the perimeter in the previous August; inevitably, with the coming of a stabilized front, the question of how to integrate a naval force into a land campaign again arose. This question had implications for almost all the subdivisions of Naval Forces Far East.
The fate of the Marine Division, designed, trained, and so far largely employed as a force to bridge the gap between control of the sea and large-scale operations ashore, was paradoxical. The postwar years had seen the Marines repeatedly accused of trying to develop a "second army," and much effort had been expended within the Defense Department to reduce the corps to guard functions and to prevent its again developing a force of the size and sort so useful in the war against Japan. Now, however, in the existing stringency of Army units, the Marines were integrated into Eighth Army along with the rest of X Corps; after a period devoted to guerrilla-chasing in the neighborhood of Andong they would find themselves committed by higher authority to sustained land combat. Although there was no question of their competence to perform such duty, this continued employment on inland work made it difficult to maintain their special skills, divorced as they now were by distance from the Amphibious Force and naval gunfire support, and by doctrine from their Aircraft Wing.
In July CincFE had promised General Craig that the integrity of the Marine air-ground team would be preserved. But circumstances alter cases, and this situation did not outlast the Hungnam evacuation. With a single front in existence, and with ground commanders eager to share the benefits of Marine close air support, MAW 1 was absorbed by the Fifth Air Force and employed in accordance with Air Force doctrine. The wing’s commanding general found himself bypassed in the operational chain of command, and efforts by the division to have their own planes assigned to their support were turned down. The long history of cooperative training and the great fund of recent experience acquired at Inchon and at the reservoir were to a considerable degree sacrificed, and so far as air support in the line was concerned the Marines now had to take pot luck with everyone else.
The Amphibious Force, perhaps the most important single weapons system of the war so far, and the one whose capabilities had governed both advance and retreat, was still on hand, but commitment of the landing force to the ground front had greatly limited its future possibilities. As the new year opened, the principal activity of Admiral Doyle’s units was in preparation for a possible large-scale emergency evacuation of the Korean peninsula. Surveys of Korean and Japanese beaches, begun in anticipation of a forced and hasty departure, were continuing at a rapid rate, and by June would have provided essential information on some 40 miles of strategically located shore line. The single untoward incident to mar this operation occurred on 19 January, halfway between Kunsan and Mokpo and far south of the battle-line, when some apparent civilians, previously engaged in conversation with Bass’ survey party, produced concealed weapons, killed two, and wounded three.
This hydrographic work, however, required the participation of but a fraction of the force. The greater part of Task Force 90 was consequently divided into three roughly equal groups, and an employment schedule worked out which assigned one to amphibious training of Army troops in Japan, and one to upkeep and maintenance at Yokosuka, while the third remained on call for services to the forces in the peninsula. On 15 January the job of transporting refugees and prisoners to Koje Do and Cheju Do was assigned CTF 90, and five days later an AKA lifted the first load of refugees from Pusan. This was the last task imposed upon Admiral Doyle. At Pusan, on the 24th, he was relieved by Rear Admiral Ingolf N. Kiland, in a ceremony which numbered CincPacFleet, ComNavFE, and Commander Seventh Fleet among those present.
Along the coastline matters were less changed, and in both Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan the Blockading and Escort Force continued to perform its duties. If fire support of amphibious operations was no longer required of the gunnery ships, the blockade remained important, and there were coastal targets to bombard. In the east, where the enemy had been checked at Mukho, the front was still susceptible of support by naval gunfire. But the fighting was less intense than in the previous summer, and as both sides increasingly concentrated their weight of effort in the central mountains, the pace of action on the coastal road diminished.
For the minesweepers, however, nothing had altered. Their work continued as before, and their tasks remained arduous, uncomfortable, and dangerous. The short winter daylight hampered operations; the winter weather, with high winds and freezing spray, made small ship work particularly uncomfortable. There was always the chance of new minefields or of the replenishment of those previously swept; the continued possibility of influence mines increased the load; intelligence reports indicated that the enemy was preparing a new mining campaign. Minesweeping capabilities, nevertheless, had been increased, and something better than the shoestring force of the previous autumn was now on hand. The four DMS, oversized for their task, had proven only marginally useful, and two were shortly to be returned to the United States, but 13 AMS and 2 AMs were now available, and 2 more of the latter were en route. Although the LST conversion to headquarters ship and helicopter base was still in the works, the force was profiting from the support of the LSD Comstock. In the naval establishment at large the efforts in updating and improving mine warfare, begun following the unpleasant experiences at Wonsan, were being pressed. Technological development was being expedited, and the coordinated tactical employment of patrol plane and helicopter search and of underwater demolition teams was moving forward. With the reestablishment early in the year of the Mine Force Pacific Fleet, and the appointment of Admiral Higgins as type commander, the sweepers at last acquired a home of their own and an administrator who cared.
In January, in addition to routine checks of vital areas like the Chinhae entrance channel, the main effort of the minesweeping forces was devoted to the clearance between 36° and 38°40', of an inshore lane, for the east coast fire support ships. This work, which permitted more effective support of the ROK I Corps on the coastal road, was completed by early February, but again at a cost. On 2 February the AMS Partridge hit a mine about a mile off Sokcho, just north of the parallel, and sank in ten minutes with a loss of ten killed or missing and six severely wounded.
With the completion of this sweep, fire support activities were stepped up. Along the eastern coast four of the eight destroyers of Task Group 95.2 were continuously on station, with one pair patrolling the 100-fathom curve north to the limit of the blockade, while the second provided fire support to the Korean troops. At Mukho, and at Yongchu Gap to the southward, ROKN forces had established minor operating bases, from which their small craft sortied to collect intelligence from behind enemy lines, and to tighten the blockade through control of North Korean junk traffic and of South Korean fishing.
Although the hydrography of Korea’s western shore greatly limited the possibilities of naval gunfire, Task Group 95.1 was also active. In the west the prevalence of islands permitted the establishment of useful advanced bases, and the advance of 1950 had brought possession of holdings off Inchon and Haeju, of the Sir James Hall Group near the 38th parallel, of Cho Do and Sok To off the Taedong estuary, and of islands in the Yalu Gulf. Most of these islands were informally controlled by guerrilla groups, and employed as bases for intelligence activities and for raids behind enemy lines. But responsibility for three of them–Ochong Do off Kunsan, Tokchok To in the Inchon approaches, and Taechong Do off the Ongjin peninsula–had been assigned to Admiral Andrewes’ West Coast Group, and these islands had been given ROKN garrisons in January. Inshore patrol of the shallow coastal waters was provided by four groups of Korean ships, supported as necessary by Andrewes' surface units, which otherwise continued to maintain their designated blocking points, patrol northward into the Yalu Gulf, and bombard targets of opportunity.
For the carriers of Naval Forces Far East the deployment of January was little changed. With stabilization of the front and the passing of the emergency a reduction of Seventh Fleet strength from four carriers to three seemed feasible, and arrangements for regular maintenance desirable. Leyte, present in the Far East on loan from the Atlantic Fleet, was consequently headed homeward late in January, and a rotational schedule established which would send a third of the force at a time to Yokosuka for a ten-day stay. Taken together with the similar deployment of the ships of Task Force 90, this made for a considerable eastward shift in the logistic center of gravity, and for a corresponding reorientation of Service Force effort from Sasebo to Yokosuka.
The departure of Leyte left the Pacific Fleet with four fast carriers, Valley Forge, Philippine Sea, and Princeton in Korean waters, and Boxer under overhaul at San Francisco. But the reactivation of mothballed ships was proceeding apace, and more were coming. Bon Homme Richard and Essex were on the way, with arrivals in Far Eastern waters scheduled for May and August; shortly Antietam would be removed from the Reserve Fleet for arrival in October. By autumn the Pacific Fleet would contain seven operational fast carriers, compared with the three of the preceding June, and units on duty in the forward area could be rapidly and heavily reinforced.
Although Badoeng Strait and Sicily had left the Yellow Sea following the evacuation of Inchon, and had subsequently off-loaded their squadrons and sailed for the United States, west coast carrier operations did not lapse. The work of Triumph and Theseus had shown the need for carrier aircraft to enforce the blockade, to provide air strikes, aerial photography, and close support, and to spot gunfire for west coast surface units. On 7 January, as the escort carriers departed, Theseus again assumed the load, and following representations by Admiral Andrewes a continuity of effort was assured. The CVL Bataan, which had operated with the escort carriers during the critical period of the Inchon evacuation, was assigned by Admiral Struble to Task Group 95.1, and began to alternate ten-day periods of duty with Theseus as the principal unit of Task Element 95.11.
Something new had by now been added in the field of embarked aviation with the activation of an antisubmarine warfare task group, established by ComNavFE in view of the possibility that the intervention of new armies might be followed by an intervention of new weapons. An antisubmarine squadron was embarked in Bairoko, the escort carrier which in December had brought Air Force and Marine jet fighters to the Far East, and two destroyer divisions were added to make up Task Group 96.7, operating out of Yokosuka under the control of ComNavFE. Since enemy submarines did not in fact appear, this Hunter-Killer Group confined itself to training duties with the destroyers that were rotated through it from the other forces in Far Eastern waters.
Yet while the deployment of carrier strength remained the same, the problem of optimum employment was again much to the fore. Having been used first in long-range interdiction and emergency close support, and then in two landings and an evacuation, Task Force 77 now found itself faced with the long haul. In January its work had been principally in support of the battleline and in attacks on southward moving Chinese forces, a function of great importance in view of the withdrawal of shore-based squadrons to Japan. But as the ground situation stabilized, and the move back north began, the question of the relative usefulness of close support and interdiction arose once more.
For both these types of operation Task Force 77 had certain advantages not shared by other U.N. forces. Historically, naval aviation had been more sympathetic to close support than had the Air Force; the tradition was reflected in pilot training and doctrine, in tendencies in aircraft design which permitted heavier loads and more time on station, and in techniques of accurate dive bombing derived from a generation of training for attack on maneuvering ships. Although the communications problem, central to the close support difficulties of the early months, still remained, the Army’s situation was so far improved that the normal air request net worked adequately in periods of relative inactivity, if not in time of crisis. Coordination of the carrier effort with that of Fifth Air Force had also shown some progress: daily by noon the air plan for the morrow was passed to JOC, while problems arising from crowded radio channels and last minute changes were reduced by the dispatch of a communications relay plane ahead of each strike, to shop for a controller and then brief the strike leader on a clear channel. All things considered, air support was going reasonably well.
Yet in interdiction, which in the context of the moment meant primarily the destruction of rail and highway bridges, the carrier air groups also had solid advantages. Even when based in Korea and modified by tip tanks, the F-80 Shooting Star, for the moment the standard Air Force fighter-bomber, lacked sufficient range and lift to accomplish much north of the Pyongyang-Hungnam radius, while from Japanese bases its load rarely exceeded two rockets and a tank of napalm. The F-51 Mustang had excellent lift and endurance, but was considered too vulnerable to the increasing threat of jet fighters for employment far to the north. The B-26 and B-29 had the lift and range, but were unsuited to attacks on small targets and were vulnerable, respectively, to antiaircraft and fighter opposition. Such opposition, of course, presented problems to the carrier planes as well, but approach routes and attack tactics were more flexible than those of horizontal bombers, the movable base and the built-in range of its aircraft permitted escorted strikes to the uttermost ends of Korea, and the load and accuracy of the AD made it uniquely effective against bridge targets.
As to the choice of employment one could find all opinions in all services. Although as a result of the earlier campaigns there had developed a strong Army school, particularly within X Corps, which favored the Navy-Marine system of close support, Admiral Struble’s Christmas Day offer had elicited a request from EUSAK for interdiction of the northeastern transportation network. Doubtless a doubled carrier force, with half assigned each function, would have suited the Army best, but the postwar military establishment had not been designed with an eye to this. In its absence, and as operations went on, there ensued a period of debate and discussion which lasted through February.
In December, following the Chinese intervention, FEAF had prepared a new interdiction plan; in January, reports of rail activity in the northeast had led General Stratemeyer to inquire about the capabilities of the fast carrier task force in this regard. If the effort in close support were not to be diminished these capabilities were limited: only in the presence of Valley Forge, whose lack of jet squadrons was made up by a surplus of F4Us, could a two-carrier force take on the added load; with Valley Forge present, or with all three carriers in the line, two strikes a day could be sent northward on interdiction missions without prejudice to the support of the battleline. In response to FEAF’s inquiry such an effort was begun, although both ComNavFE and Commander Seventh Fleet reaffirmed their view that given only suitable control facilities, close support was the most effective contribution the carriers could make, and urged that it remain the primary function. But in reply FEAF again put forward the need for interdiction to forestall a renewed Chinese offensive.
On 18 January the issue was discussed in a meeting at Taegu between Admiral Struble, the other major commanders in Korea, and the Army and Air Force Chiefs of Staff, out once again from Washington. Whatever the views of the other services, the Navy remained on the side of close support. After conferring with his carrier commanders, following his return to the fleet, Admiral Struble observed that an assignment to armed reconnaissance would be executed to the best of his capability, but reiterated his opinion that support of the line was more effective, and was punishing the enemy more severely, than was generally realized.
By this time the Chinese had broken contact and, following the reconnaissance to Suwon, General Ridgway had ordered a two-divisional advance toward the Han River. To assist this operation, known as "Thunderbolt," Yellow Sea forces were strengthened by the dispatch of Saint Paul, escorted by two destroyers, to provide 8-inch gunfire at Inchon. On both coasts, as the armies moved forward, the carrier air groups continued to contribute to the support of troops in the line.
With planning for the future still in flux, with the Marines chasing guerrillas in the southern mountains, and with Task Force 90 dispersed, there was no possibility of a flanking amphibious operation. Yet intelligence indicated an extreme Chinese concern with the landing in the rear, and if no such stroke was possible one could always pretend. As Eighth Army advanced and as ROK forces on the eastern shore were also moving forward, Admiral Smith conceived the notion of assisting their progress by an amphibious feint in the Kansong-Kosong area, some 50 miles beyond the front lines, where a slightly expanded coastal plain and a road through the mountains to the central front provided a logical objective for an assault from the sea. For this enterprise, Operation Ascendant, CTF 95 borrowed two AKAs, two LSTs, and a couple of rocket ships from the Amphibious Force, secured a promise of assistance from the fast carriers, and set sail on 29 January in his flagship, the destroyer tender Dixie, with his gunnery ships in company.
At 0700 on the 30th the bombardment group, Missouri, Manchester, and their screening destroyers, opened a vigorous fire on the Kansong area, and throughout the day the minesweepers, landing craft, and rocket ships went through their paces. After retiring seaward during the night, the force reappeared next morning off Kosong to repeat the bombardment effort. If the effectiveness of these maneuvers on enemy troop dispositions was largely unassessable, the operation was at least unique in the presence of a destroyer tender as flagship and participant in beach bombardment. Since such an event may never recur, let the record show that at 1400 on the 31st Dixie commenced firing on the beaches at Kosong, and expended 204 rounds.
At Inchon, where Saint Paul had arrived on 25 January, a second deceptive operation was scheduled to follow. There Admiral Hillenkoetter had been greeted by some short salvos from Wolmi Do, but with the assistance of an air strike from Theseus, and gunfire from Ceylon and some destroyers, the Wolmi batteries were neutralized and the Kimpo-Kumpo area subsequently kept under intermittent bombardment. On 6 February Admiral Andrewes sailed from Sasebo in Belfast to administer the pretended landing, and two days later, after some shooting in support of ROK troops at Kangnung, Missouri was started west.
Captain Kelly reached Inchon on the 8th, with two AKAs and an LSD, to simulate pre-landing operations; on the next day Missouri arrived and began to bombard enemy positions; a demonstration involving two transport divisions was planned for the afternoon tide of the 10th. But the affair was cancelled as a result of successes ashore: enemy resistance in the west, which had stiffened at the start of the month, gave way suddenly on the 9th, and the Chinese retired from the area; on the afternoon of the 10th Inchon was occupied by a party of ROK Marines from Tokchok To, and by nightfall American troops had reached the banks of the Han.
The reoccupation of Inchon was more than welcome. For the past month, as in the previous summer, Pusan had been a madhouse, as the difficulties of supplying the armies through a single port were compounded by the need to plan a complete and to accomplish a partial evacuation of Korea. Unfortunately, however, the advantages of a second port could not at once be realized. Not only would operations necessarily remain limited until the security of Inchon could be assured, but the demolitions of the previous month had to be cleared, a situation which raised some questions as to the wisdom, for the side which enjoyed command of the sea, of the policy of "blow and go" which had governed the evacuations. To accomplish the necessary restoration of facilities, and to get the port in working order, Admiral Thackrey had sailed from Yokosuka on 10 February with an amphibious task group carrying the Army’s 2nd Engineer Special Brigade. He arrived on the 15th just as a new emergency was developing.
Map 22. Back to the Parallel, 16 January–20 April 1951
Click on map for higher resolution image (220 KB).
The advance to the Han and the recovery of Inchon had been followed by hard fighting in the center. There the move north from Wonju had begun on 5 February, and there, while giving way in the west, the enemy had reinforced his defenses. On the 11th the Chinese pushed a heavy attack down the valley north of Wonju, punched a hole in the ROK lines, and brought about a local collapse in which for four days large gaps existed in the front. One river valley to the eastward, similar difficulties arose from a thrust aimed south at Chechon, while between Wonju and Seoul an enemy column struck southwestward toward Suwon. Such was the pressure in the center that on the 14th the Marine Division was relieved of its anti-guerrilla efforts in the south and ordered up to Wonju, while in the west the threat to Suwon brought an alert from Eighth Army for a possible evacuation of Inchon.
As a result of this alert, received just as the effort to open the port was beginning, Admiral Thackrey decided to avoid drying out LSTs on the mudfiats, and to limit his rate of unloading so that no more would be put ashore than could be packed up inside of 12 hours. With time the situation improved, but for the rest of February a truck shortage limited EUSAK’s acceptance of cargo to a mere 500 tons a day, while a 48-hour withdrawal notice remained in effect for a full month. Considerable congestion resulted, as the ships of Task Group 90.1 being used to work the port and those held against the possibility of evacuation were joined by new arrivals with supplies for Eighth Army, and by early March, Thackrey was crying "Hold, enough!"
Prompt reinforcement of the menaced sectors checked the mid-February threat, and by the 18th the Communists had given up and were retiring. General Ridgway now resumed his advance with Operation Killer, a move forward by IX and X Corps in the center which would bring them abreast of the line in the west, and would clear the Wonju-Kangnung road. On 21 February the Marine Division led out from Wonju, and for the remainder of the month Eighth Army moved forward against varying resistance and through abominable terrain, its movement hindered by the beginning thaw and by heavy rains which turned all roads into mudholes. By the end of the month, however, the Marines were approaching Hoengsong and the objectives of "Killer" were in hand, while on the Sea of Japan the maritime flank had been pushed forward in a great bound.
There Admiral Smith had had his eyes on the strategic islands north of the parallel, and in his concept of operations for February had noted that their occupation would be "of inestimable value," both for control of enemy junk traffic and minelaying and to provide potentially valuable staging areas. In order to undo, at least to some extent, the effects of the abandonment of northeastern Korean footholds, he proposed a heavy bombardment of Wonsan, to take place with or immediately after that at Inchon, and to be accompanied if possible by seizure of the islands of Yo Do and Ung Do which guard the harbor entrance. The idea seemed good and the execution proved better, when enemy reaction to the bombardment stimulated the seizure of an island even further in.
At sea February was a rough month, and on 13 days the blockading ships found their operations seriously hindered by foul weather. On the 12th, nevertheless, the minesweepers went in to check the Wonsan channel, and four days later two destroyers entered to bombard the port. On the 18th, in a return engagement, the destroyer Ozbourn was hit by artillery fire, apparently originating from the island of Sin Do, two miles off the tip of Kalma Pando. The result of this impudence was an air strike from Task Force 77 that very day, a bombardment by Belfast on the 19th, and the appearance on the morning of the 24th of two destroyers, a frigate, and an ROK LST with an assault party of 110 Korean Marines. Lacking a shore fire control party, the arrangements to support the Sin Do landing were somewhat complex: the Koreans had been given a portable radio, but the only interpreter was on the cruiser Manchester offshore, and messages to the supporting destroyers had to be relayed; Manchester’s helicopter, which provided aerial observation, was in communication with the destroyers but not the landing party. But all went well: two hours of bombardment were followed by an unopposed landing, and the island was soon declared secure. United Nations forces were back at, if not in, Wonsan.
The Wonson siege begins: Paracutin rearming Manchester; in the background LSTs and minesweepers anchored in the lee of snow-covered Yo Do. March 1951. (Photo #80-G-427259)
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With these February operations the tempo of naval gunfire began a rapid rise. Where ammunition expenditures in December at Hungnam had set a new record, those of January had plummeted. But with clearance of the coastal fire support lane and with seizure of the Wonsan islands there came a radical increase, and by March the expenditure of 5-inch ammunition had become phenomenal. That this fluctuating consumption imposed heavy problems upon the logistic agencies may be seen from the statistics in Table 15.
Table 15.—AMMUNITION EXPENDED IN BOMBARDMENT
Caliber December January February March
16-inch 162 0 997 994
8-inch 3, 357 651 2,395 1,577
6-inch 0 159 3,290 6,050
5-inch 15,357 3,468 13,385 43,360
For the Seventh Fleet carriers February was a period of transition. Close support of the battleline continued, as did intermittent strikes against transportation targets, but the generalized nature of FEAF’s basic request for interdiction led to duplication of effort with Bomber Command. Yet the problem remained and, following repeated reports of heavy movement on the Hoeryong-Wonsan line, FEAF directed Fifth Air Force to attack a group of bridges in the northeast. But to ask this was to ask too much. On 15 February General Stratemeyer advised Admiral Joy that the withdrawal from forward air bases had made operations in northeastern Korea difficult for Fifth Air Force, occupied as it was by commitments to the support of Eighth Army, to bomber escort, and to interdiction in the northwest. Stating that "naval air could greatly assist interdiction" by covering the northeastern route, he requested a ten-day effort against important bridges and proposed, if this were agreeable, to reschedule the work of Bomber Command, both to prevent duplication in the northeast and to improve coverage in the northwest. The proposition was accepted by ComNavFE, and Commander Seventh Fleet was instructed to apply his principal effort for the next ten days to the Hoeryong-Wonsan railroad.
As this work began the Chinese again disappeared from the front, and Eighth Army resumed the advance. The generalized chaos and the very large number of dead that U.N. troops discovered on their way north from Wonju went far to bear out Admiral Struble’s feeling that close support had hurt the enemy more than was generally appreciated. On the other hand the altered ground situation emphasized the desirability of cutting the flow of supply and reinforcement, so as to prevent Communist recuperation. On 20 February Admiral Joy moved to coordinate the efforts against the east coast transportation line by providing the carriers and gunnery ships with a list of rail and highway bridges accessible to naval gunfire, 13 in the Wonsan area, 23 in the north on the shores of Kyongsong Man, and 25 in the region south of Songjin which had been the target of earlier attacks by raiders from Juneau, Bass, and Perch. As the dispatch went forth it was already being implemented, for Missouri, now returned from her west coast bombardment duties, was dispensing 16-inch shells against the multiple bridges which span the double river at Tanchon. On the 22nd and the 23rd this enterprise was continued, and the expenditure, with helicopter spot, of an average of 166 rounds a day effectively subdivided these overwater structures.
The assignment of the fast carriers to rail interdiction had originally been scheduled to run through 25 February; on that date ComNavFE ordered it continued; by month’s end it had become the primary task. To Admiral Ofstie it so commended itself, in view of the preoccupation of Fifth Air Force in the northwest and of the greater effectiveness of Bomber Command in attacks on marshalling yards and supply areas; on 28 February he proposed that his force apply its main effort to interdiction, set up a schedule for future operations, and made recommendations for more effective coordination with the work of the bombardment ships.
Essentially this shift from close support to interdiction was the result of differential capabilities, deriving in large measure from the existing air base situation. For the United Nations, at this time, Korea formed a large beachhead, in which inward or outward deployment followed the fortunes of war. The retirement of the armies from North Korea and the redeployment of the greater part of land-based air strength to Japan had returned the peninsula to the stage which, in a normal amphibious operation, precedes the introduction of garrison air. In these circumstances Fifth Air Force found itself obliged to abandon the interdiction function, and on 26 February, as Task Force 77 began its extended stint in the northeast, the responsibility for northwestern Korea reverted to the B-29s of Bomber Command.
Difficult though the situation still remained, it was about to improve. The Army had started north the latter part of January; as March opened, the objectives of "Killer" were in hand and the U.N. line, both stable and relatively straight, extended eastward from the lower Han through Hoengsong, and thence northeasterly to Chumunjin. In these circumstances it was possible to return evacuated air units to Korea: in early February the Marines had moved three fighter squadrons in from Japan, and by month’s end Fifth Air Force squadrons and supporting units were preparing to return. At Wonsan in the east, and from Inchon to the Yalu in the west, U.N. forces held islands off the enemy shore. Along both coasts, from the battleline to the northern limits of the blockade, the surface units of Task Force 95 patrolled and bombarded. The effort of the fast carriers had shifted northward, and was focussed on the rail lines leading down from Manchuria. Eighth Army was preparing a new offensive.
Part 2. March–April 1951: On to the Parallel
On 2 March the Marine Division, spearheading the drive up the center, captured Hoengsong. With the aims of "Killer" accomplished, EUSAK now planned a further advance, Operation Ripper, which by pushing onward through Hongchon to Chunchon would outflank Seoul, and gain a line in the neighborhood of the 38th parallel. This new move would take General Ridgway’s armies through the region of the enemy’s January offensive, and as it had for the Communists, so now for the United Nations the topography of the area would pull the armies to the right and away from the axis of the peninsula. As Eighth Army moved onward through the central hill country the valley roads would lead not toward Pyongyang but north through the mountains to Kansong, Kojo, and Wonsan on the eastern coast. In this situation, and as the battleline had now acquired a national compartmentation with U.N. and Chinese forces in the west and center, and with the eastern flank remaining an all-Korean affair, it was hoped to split the Chinese off from their indigenous subordinates. Finally, as in the operations of February, General Ridgway intended to inflict maximum attrition on the enemy, and by keeping the pressure on to inhibit his preparation of a new offensive.
To assist the planned advance EUSAK had again asked for an amphibious demonstration in the Yellow Sea. Feeling that the speed of earlier efforts had not given the sluggish enemy sufficient time to react, Admiral Andrewes now planned for deliberate fraud. Beginning on 27 February the air activities of Bataan were increased and localized; for two days the DMS Carmick, the frigate Alacrity, and two Korean YMS swept northward along the coast and into the mush ice of the Taedong estuary; there followed a cruiser and destroyer bombardment. On 3 March the amphibious element of three APAs and two AKAs appeared, escorted by two destroyers, to steam northward along the shore. Half way to Cho Do the transports reversed course and retired to Inchon, whence they made an ostentatious departure on the 5th to continue the effort at mystification.
After a heavy artillery preparation, Operation Ripper was launched on 7 March, and began a steady progress up the center of the peninsula. Seoul this time was captured not on the beaches of Inchon but on the Pukhan: as the 25th Division forced the Han near its junction with that river and moved on to the north the capital was outflanked, and on the 15th was reoccupied without a fight. But two conquests and two liberations had taken a frightful toll, and hardly a tenth of the city’s original population still skulked amid the ruins On the east coast, as "Ripper" began, the destroyers continued to provide fire support; at Inchon the heavy cruiser Saint Paul remained on station, her 8-inch guns closely tied in with I Corps artillery. But with the flanks holding and the center advancing, and with Task Force 95 concentrating on the disruption of enemy transport and supply, gunfire support was for the moment of secondary importance and the trend of naval activity continued northerly. Task Force 77 was working over east coast transportation targets; east coast bombardment efforts were centered at Wonsan and Songjin; in the northwest Belfast, Kenya, and associated light units shot up enemy positions at the mouth of the Taedong estuary.
Since 16 February Wonsan had been under siege, and of the 31 days of March found itself subjected to gunfire on 31. As April opened, all important harbor islands had been occupied by the U.N., the record for continuous naval bombardment, established at Vicksburg almost a century before, had been surpassed, and a long and uninterruptedly difficult future lay ahead of the town. Enemy response to these operations involved a build-up of artillery and garrison forces, and a persistent if small-scale effort to remine the harbor: of the 28 mines swept in March–some of them new and shiny–20 were swept at Wonsan. Despite frequent and increasing artillery opposition, the sweepers worked persistently to enlarge the bombardment lanes, while the gunnery ships, beneficiaries of the effort, supported them by counterbattery fire and bombardment. On 1 March Korean agents reported that the enemy was unloading Soviet mines at the Kalma railroad siding, and on the 7th a bombardment of this target by the light cruiser Manchester brought a gratifying high order detonation of a boxcar full.
The precaution of arranging for east coast intelligence sources proved rewarding in other ways. On 15 March, in response to reports from ashore of enemy troop concentrations, a special event was laid on. Rapid fire bombardment of reported assembly areas in the neighborhood of Wonsan by Manchester and the destroyer Lind brought reports of 6,000 and 2,000 casualties respectively, and follow-up information from agents ashore indicated that the civilian population had fled the city and that morale among the military was not good. Pressure from the sea nevertheless continued undiminished: an enemy effort to land by sampan on ROKN-occupied Tae Do, off the end of Kalma Pando, was repelled; on the 24th a fire control party was put ashore on Tae Do by the destroyer English, with beneficial results in the spotting of bombardment.
At Songjin, 120 miles to the northeast and halfway to the Siberian border, a similar if less intensive siege had meanwhile been commenced. Mine reconnaissance of Songjin, carried out in the first days of March, was followed by daily bombardment of the port and of rail bridges neighboring the town, and in the first week of April a major minesweeping effort was undertaken to provide increased maneuvering room for the firing ships.
In addition to the work at the bombline, and at Wonsan and Songjin, intermittent bombardment of bridge targets was conducted in Kyongsong Man to the northward. On three days in mid-March, from the 14th to the 16th, Missouri was in action against east coast transportation targets in the Chongjin area, after which she moved southward to fire on the coastal rail line in the neighborhood of 400 and to shoot up Wonsan.
By this time the efforts against enemy transportation targets were beginning to develop into a concentrated and coordinated campaign. The Communists, of course, had long since lost the use of the sea; seaborne import of useful objects from Vladivostok or from China ports had been eliminated, along with coastal traffic, in the first days of war. Enemy logistics therefore depended on the two principal land transport nets, the western rail and road complex, in which the lines from the lower Yalu and from Manpojin joined in the area north of Pyongyang, and the eastern route, in which the tracks south from Hoeryong and southeast from Hyesanjin met at Kilchu and continued down the coast to join the transpeninsular line below Hungnam. In the west the mission of interdiction had been assumed by Bomber Command; the eastern rail and road lines, more distant from U.N. bases, became the responsibility of the Navy.
These tasks would of course have been far simpler had only the position at Wonsan been maintained. Given the topography of east central Korea, and the resulting configuration of the rail and road net, such a foothold would have blocked enemy supply of the eastern front, while Marine fighter-bombers based on Kalma Pando would have had the entire transpeninsular line and a major portion of the western transportation system within the 100-mile circle. As it was, however, the evacuation of X Corps, the result of fears for Eighth Army rather than of doubts as to the feasibility of holding a perimeter, led to the imposition for the remainder of the war of a heavy and continuing burden upon the carrier and gunnery forces.
In the circumstances, however, it was fortunate these forces existed. With them, in the continued absence of air and submarine opposition, targets 400 miles from the nearest U.N. airstrip could be kept under dive bomber attack, and coastal targets 300 road miles behind the lines subjected to naval gunfire. The importance of such action had been emphasized in early 1951 by intelligence of a strenuous impending enemy logistic effort on the east coast route, by the knowledge that some reorganized North Korean divisions were scheduled for rail movement south from Hoeryong, and by expectations of an important secondary traffic from Manpojin through Kanggye by rail, across to the Chosin Reservoir by truck, and thence down to Hamhung. It was in the context of this intelligence that ComNavFE had accepted FEAF’s request to put the fast carriers on interdiction, and had moved to shift the efforts of Task Force 95 from control of the sea approaches to the interruption of land transport by providing the list of rail and highway bridges.
Such target information was most helpful, but for a number of reasons effective interdiction of Communist supply lines remained extremely difficult. This was so in the first instance because of the enemy’s logistic austerity. As compared with a figure of 50 pounds per day for the individual in the U.S. Eighth Army, and of 64 pounds per man-day with the Fifth Air Force in Korea’s heavy logistic requirements figured in, the best available estimates indicated that the Communists subsisted on a supply basis of ten pounds per man per day. Measured against this requirement, which worked out at about 50 tons per day per division, the North Korean transportation net was more than adequate, although its peacetime capacity had been gravely diminished by damage to rails and rolling stock and by limitation to night movement. In early March the capacity of the west coast rail line was estimated at between 500 and 1,000 tons per day, and that of the east coast railroad at about 500, while highways in the west and east were capable of transporting 1,000 and 500 tons per day respectively. In these circumstances it appeared that the enemy could support half a million troops, with something over a third dependent on the east coast rail and road nets.
Interdiction of these routes depended, at least in the first instance, upon bridge demolition, and modern reinforced concrete bridges, hard to hit and hard to destroy, requiring the hitting power of battleship or heavy cruiser main battery fire, or of the AD attack plane. Experience gained as the campaign progressed showed force requirements of about 60 rounds of 16-inch gunfire or of 12 to 16 AD sorties per bridge destroyed, so that for battleship and carrier alike, two a day was the average capability. Knocking down the bridges was therefore well within the realm of possibility, but while the rail net could be thus fragmented the effect on highway travel was less decisive: a truck can be detoured more easily than a train, and the supply of trucks from north of the border was a continuing one.
In his dispatch of 28 February Admiral Ofstie had proposed to rotate the efforts of his force between the area north of Hamhung, the complex south and west of Hamhung-Wonsan, and the route between Hamhung and the Chosin Reservoir, and had observed that better coordination with the gunnery ships would be helpful to the enterprise. The proposed procedure for Task Force 77 was approved by Admiral Struble; with reference to the comments on naval gunfire, however, Commander Seventh Fleet somewhat sourly observed that coordination between Task Force 77 and Task Force 95 was in the hands of ComNavFE. Passing upward through the chain of command, CTF 77’s plan received the blessing of NavFE headquarters; arrangements for exchange of information between Bomber Command and the carriers were worked out; and the force set to work in the area east of a line drawn south along 127°E, and thence through Yangdok to Kumwha. Ultimately the coordination with Task Force 95 would also come.
Map 23. Interdiction, 1951
Click on map for higher resolution image (224 KB).
Within the carrier task force the campaign was carefully planned. Since the 395 major bridges in eastern North Korea afforded a surplus of targets, a research effort was undertaken which cut the list to 48 "key bridges," structures in difficult terrain which were hard to bypass, and which once destroyed would have to be rebuilt. Attack on these key bridges was to be supplemented by track breaking, by destruction of minor bridges in areas where no key structure existed, and by surface gunfire at specific points along the coast, of which Kyongson Man, Songjin, and Iwon were of primary importance. The backbone of the striking force was provided by the ADs, lifting three 2,000-pound GP bombs apiece, and accompanied by F4Us for fighter cover and flak suppression, each with a 1000-pound bomb for added striking power. The entire campaign was backed up by a comprehensive and continuing program of aerial photography. Maximum economy of effort was derived from careful briefing, and no pilot was sent off without one or more photographs of his target.
Through March and into April the carrier planes ranged over northeastern Korea, covering the four degrees of latitude from the 38th parallel north to beyond Chongjin. As the three complexes named by CTF 77 were attacked in regular succession, the box score grew and the impact upon the enemy became severe. The effectiveness both of the bridge strikes and of Communist efforts to undo the damage may be seen in the history of the most famous of east coast structures, the bridge below Kilchu, where the railroad crosses what came to be known as Carlson’s Canyon.
Of the valley named in his honor, Lieutenant Commander Harold G. Carlson, commanding officer of VA 195 in Princeton, was the Vespucci rather than the Columbus, exploiter rather than discoverer, for the bridge that crossed it was first sighted by a shipmate, Lieutenant Commander Clement M. Craig, while flying homeward on the morning of 2 March from a strike on Kilchu. Eight miles southwest of that town the rail line, tunnelling through the hills, emerges briefly to span a gully and then disappears again underground. Twin tunnels had been dug in preparation for double tracking, and two sets of piers erected, but only a single track had been thrown across the chasm on a six-span bridge, 650 feet long and 60 feet high. The tunnels made it difficult to bypass; its height made it difficult to repair. That afternoon a strike was flown off which damaged the southern approach.
Next day Commander Carlson led a second flight of ADs against the bridge. As a result of this event one span was dropped, a second damaged, two more shifted out of line, and the site rechristened by Admiral Ofstie in honor of the strike leader. Four days later, on 7 March, a follow-up attack dropped the northernmost of the previously shifted spans.
The attacks on the railroad bridges quickly resulted in pile-tips of supplies at breaks in the line, in concentrations of vehicles to truck material past the choke points, and in energetic efforts at repair. By 8 March the Corsairs were loading with 100 and 250-pound bombs for employment against these accumulations of supplies and vehicles, while the ADs and the heavy ordnance were reserved for the interdiction targets proper. At Carlson’s Canyon the vigor of the enemy effort was revealed on the14th by photo plane inspection which showed rough but effective repairs in the form of wooden cribbing, built up to replace the missing spans. Strike 4 followed the next day, knocked down all new construction, dropped another span at the southern end, and damaged the northern approach; but within two days large piles of wooden ties had been assembled in the gully preparatory to re-reconstruction. The extraordinary persistence of this engineering effort, paralleled at all important broken bridges, testified to the importance of the east coast rail net, demonstrated the availablity of repair crews and materials, and imposed upon the task force the requirement of rephotographing all key targets at four-day intervals.
Following the strike of 15 March Admiral Ofstie recommended to ComNavFE that Bomber Command be asked to inhibit repair activity by seeding the gully with long-delay bombs. In spite of JOC concurrence FEAF’s first reaction was adverse, but a study of photographs provided by the task force showed the site to be a prime objective for this combination of naval and Air Force capabilities; on the 24th a B-29 was sent out with a bomb load fused for long and varying delays, and three days later the effort was repeated.
Despite this useful contribution, the enemy continued to press the work with great determination. On 20 March photographs again revealed large piles of construction material. By the 30th, cribbing of the four central spans and the northern approach had been completed, transverse members had been installed, and only the rails were lacking. On 2 April, therefore, Admiral Ofstie sent off Strikes 5 and 6 which destroyed the whole works, knocking down all rebuilt cribs and spans and leaving only the concrete piers.
AD in a glide-bombing run. A broken rail bridge, a newly-constructed bypass, and breaks in the new line. In the background the shore of the Sea of Japan. October 1951. (Photo 80-G-435044)
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If it did not discourage the enemy, this destruction at least forced him to change his plans. Reconstruction of the bridge was abandoned and the labor force put to work on the building of a four-mile serpentine which would bypass bridge and tunnels alike. This bypass required eight new bridges of its own, but all were short and low; although a number were knocked out in April, the new simplicity of repair made the site no longer an attractive one, and the attention of the force was shifted southward to the area of Songjin. There, after first breaking some low bridges north of the city, CTF 77 turned to the area south of the town, where the bridge-tunnel-bridge sequence was three times repeated close to the water’s edge, and where gunfire from the besieging destroyer could delay the rebuilding of structures taken out by air attack. Already once destroyed and once repaired, these bridges began to receive the concentrated treatment on April Fool’s Day, and here through June the same sequence of destruction, cribbing, destruction, and bypassing would take place.
On 4 April, after 38 days of concentrated effort in interdiction, Admiral Ofstie turned over tactical command of the force, and Princeton sailed for Yokosuka for an overdue period of rehabilitation and maintenance. In this period 54 rail and 37 highway bridges had been rendered inoperable, 44 more had been damaged in varying degree, and the railroad tracks had been broken in more than 200 places. For much of the Korean War, pliots’ claims are difficult to assess, and statistics of attacks against such evanescent targets as personnel, rolling stock, and guns must be taken as approximations only. But of these bridges it is possible to speak with some confidence, for in Task Force 77 "inoperable" meant that photographs showed one or more spans destroyed.
Table 16.—Task Force 77 Rail Interdiction, February–April 1951
Area Rail bridges inoperable
4 April 1951
Hoeryong south to Chongjin 3
Chongjin south to Pukchong 23
Inland from Tanchon, Songjin, and Kilchu 3
Pukchong south to Wonsan and inland to the Chosin and Fusen
Wonsan west to Yangdok 4
Wonsan south to Chorwon and Kumwha 9
Enemy response to this extremely destructive campaign was not limited to the effort in reconstruction. Antiaircraft defenses of key points were rapidly increased, and there developed an extraordinary increase in truck traffic which brought April air sightings of vehicles to more than four times the January total. Since trucks and antiaircraft, unlike bridges, were available on requisition from the north in practically unlimited quantity, it was soon apparent that interdiction could hardly be absolute, and that to maintain its effectiveness would require continuous effort. Nevertheless the work of the fast carriers had been fruitful: the east coast rail system, which had carried two-thirds of North Korean traffic in February, in March moved less than half the total and in April less than a third, and east coast enemy road transport was likewise proportionately reduced.
Table 17.—GHQ United Nations Command Analysis of Enemy Transport, January–April 1951
Daily average sightings
Railroad cars 147 155 199 179
Vehicles 236 398 633 1,048
Estimated percent of total enemy rail or road traffic, transpeninsular route excluded:
January February March April
East coast rail 55 64 49 29
East coast road 37 38 36 29
West coast rail 35 23 46 50
West coast road 37 59 59 61
Despite the virtues of modernity, as exemplified in bombing and bombardment, it remains true that the surest way of getting explosives where you want them is the old-fashioned one of putting them there by hand. With this sometimes forgotten truth in mind, ComNavFE in mid-March had conceived the idea of assisting the interdiction of the east coast rail line by a commando raid. A special task organization, Task Force 74, was set up under Admiral Hillenkoetter; 250 men of the Royal Marine Commando were embarked in the LSD Fort Marion and a UDT detachment in the APD Begor. Following rehearsals at Kure these ships set sail for Sorye Dong, eight miles south of Songjin, with a somewhat elaborate supporting force composed of Saint Paul, two destroyers, and six minesweepers.
The operation took place on 7 April. Owing in part to the directive, and in part to limited communications facilities in the participating ships, command arrangements were rather unorthodox. The landing itself was the responsibility of Captain Philip W. Mothersill, commanding officer of Fort Marion and Commander Amphibious Group, and Admiral Hillenkoetter controlled only the supporting ships. Instead of awaiting an expression of readiness on the part of the landing force commander, transfer of control ashore was to take place automatically the moment the troops hit the beach, although, oddly enough, fire support and air control personnel were to remain subordinate to the Amphibious Group. Shore fire control personnel from a Marine Anglico had been offered but declined; the SFCP, composed of ship’s company from Saint Paul, was inexperienced in troop fire support and lacked direct communications with the landing force.
The raid at Sorye Dong: LVTAs leaving the well of Fort Marion with the Royal Marine raiding party. 7 April 1951. (Photo 80-G-428316)
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To the distress of the landing force commander, who felt that it would reveal intentions and gain him a warm welcome ashore, a conspicuous minesweeping effort had been arranged. The landing itself, scheduled to take place in the pre-dawn darkness, was to be preceded by UDT beach reconnaissance, but pea soup fog frustrated the latter and delayed the former until 0800. Beach intelligence, based on few photographs and faulty interpretation, had promised a sandy shore with suitable exit for tracked vehicles; in fact no exit existed and the beach was fouled by boulders which, but for the fortunate absence of swell, would have ripped the tracks off the LVTs.
In these circumstances it was well that opposition was negligible. Operations proceeded deliberately, the demolitions were satisfactorily accomplished, and by 1600 the landing force had reembarked. But the whole comedy was labor lost: the point of attack was just south of some of Task Force 77’s favorite bridges, the rails were red with rust, and local inhabitants reported that for 40 days and 40 nights no train had passed through Sorye Dong.
By this time the ships, the commanders, and the crews who had carried the burden during the early months of the war were being rotated homeward. Hoskins, Hartman, Higgins, and Doyle had already moved on to new commands, and as spring came more and more new faces blossomed in Korea. Naval reservists, who had earlier come forward in drafts and as individuals, now began to arrive in organized units: the first weekend-warrior aviation unit, a PBM patrol squadron, had reached Japan in mid-December; in late March the first reserve air group arrived when Boxer, her long-delayed overhaul at last completed, returned to relieve Valley Forge. Also embarked in Boxer was Rear Admiral William G. Tomlinson, Commander Carrier Division 3, whose impending arrival at last permitted Admiral Ewen to go home. But Philippine Sea, his long-time flagship, remained, and her flag quarters were taken over on 25 March by Vice Admiral Harold M. Martin, who three days later relieved Admiral Struble as Commander Seventh Fleet.
This shift in the principal naval operating command was followed, in early April, by changes in subordinate echelons and by a major structural revision of Naval Forces Far East. Admiral Andrewes, who following promotion to vice admiral earlier in the year had for six weeks commanded Task Force 95, was relieved by Rear Admiral Alan K. Scott-Moncrieff, RN, and command of the Blockading and Escort Force reverted to Admiral Smith. Service Force units, previously organized in separate Seventh Fleet and NavFE groups, were consolidated into Task Force 92; with the departure of Captain Austin, who had run the logistics for Inchon, Wonsan, and Hungnam, command of this force devolved upon Captain Wright, formerly ComServDiv 31. And with these changes Admiral Martin got something that Struble had repeatedly sought without success, when on 3 April Task Force 92, Task Force 95, and all U.S. Navy destroyers in the Far East were assigned to his operational control.
With this consolidation only the patrol planes, the submarines, the Hunter-Killer Group, and the Amphibious Force remained directly under ComNavFE, and these would be assigned to Seventh Fleet as need arose. One result was a considerable simplification of command relations and of the associated communications problem as between Eighth Army, Fifth Air Force, and theater naval forces; another was an improved coordination of carrier and gunnery units in the east coast interdiction campaign. Admiral Ofstie had earlier commented on the economy of effort to be derived from such coordination, then requiring action at the NavFE level, and while exchange of information had been improved the results were not yet wholly satisfactory. Following the reorganization of 3 April, however, Commander Seventh Fleet assumed responsibility for the interdiction campaign. All heavy ships were absorbed into Task Force 77, while Task Force 95, composed of two U.S. destroyer divisions, the ROK Navy, and units of other U.N. member nations, became in fact as in name the Blockading and Escort Force. Shortly Admiral Martin would delegate responsibility for east coast interdiction, gun-fire as well as air, to CTF 77, and by instructing him to make recommendations for supplementary commando raids ensure that there would be no more Sorye Dongs.
Through March, while the aviators were breaking down the bridges, Operation Ripper had continued, with U.N. forces pressing onward through the razor-edged mountains and precipitous valleys of central Korea. Although winter had ended, the spring thaws and heavy rains continued to make movement difficult, while to the delays imposed by nature were added the delaying operations of small enemy groups. Only in mid-month was variety provided by a singular operation in which the remnants of the North Korean 10th Division, which the Marines had earlier been chasing through the upper Naktong Basin, moved northward, fought their way through the ROK lines from the rear, and disappeared into the distance.
The escape of these people was regrettable, but was compensated for by more important developments. The advance of IX and X Corps in the center had freed the flanks for rapid movement, and in the west, following the reoccupation of Seoul, the I Corps moved raipdly to the Imjin River. There by month’s end the line had been pushed forward to the 38th parallel, while on the east coast ROK forces had again crossed into North Korea.
In the west, too, the logistic situation was easing. At Inchon, by midMarch, the MSTS representative had opened his office ashore, and on the 17th EUSAK lifted its 48-hour evacuation notice. On the 25th, with the Army engineers ashore and with unloading proceeding at a rate of over 3,000 tons a day, Admiral Thackrey closed down his operations and departed. Although the delay had been considerable, it was less than that in exploitation of the neighboring strategic prize, for Kimpo did not become fully operational until May.
With the armies of the U.N. astride the 38th parallel, the question of how far to press the advance again presented itself, this time to be answered on tactical grounds. For some time intelligence had indicated that the Chinese intended to hold at the dividing line, while preparing for a major offensive in May. Since there was plenty of evidence, not least the Communist diligence in bridge repair, to show that these preparations were being earnestly pressed, this intelligence was taken seriously. To hinder the enemy build-up and to maintain pressure on the Communist armies, EUSAK had planned a further move. The Imjin River would remain the western anchor, but the remainder of the front would be advanced across the parallel, to shorten the line and to provide a labor-saving ten-mile water frontage at the Hwachon Reservoir. This movement, Operation Rugged, began on 5 April.
In the air, too, the enemy was growing stronger. In late March Communist air strength was estimated to have reached a total of some 750 aircraft of all types, and B-29 attacks on northern targets were meeting heavy MIG opposition. Ominously, on 29 March, a twin-jet bomber was sighted over central North Korea; equally ominously, efforts were underway to rehabilitate the North Korean airfields.
This threat found the forces of the United Nations in an extremely vulnerable position. Nine months of exemption from the dangers of air attack had taught bad habits. On shore, camouflage discipline was nonexistent, housing and equipment were disposed in orderly rows about the Korean landscape, stockpiles were open and conspicuous, aircraft were parked in close formation on unrevetted airfields. Along both coasts blockading ships operated without air cover, which in any event could hardly have been provided, and skills in air defense had rusted. For the naval forces the danger was emphasized on 15 April, when the ROK frigate Apnok, straggling in somewhat undisciplined fashion from a force returning from the Yalu Gulf, was attacked by three enemy propeller-driven aircraft. Apnok fought back well, and shot down one of her attackers, but her topsides were chewed up by strafing and near misses, and there were numerous casualties among the crew.
FEAF, in the meantime, had been watching the Communist airfield reconstruction, and on 13 April began a neutralization campaign which, for the balance of the month, would see a dozen B-29s sent off daily to crater the runways and seed them with delayed-action bombs. As a further precautionary measure, an agreement had been concluded between FEAF and NavFE which provided that in the event of an emergency the air defense commander would have control of all shore-based naval and Marine fighter planes. For the Air Force, still desirous of gaining operational control of naval air, this seemed little enough, and the exemption of embarked aviation as "an integral part of the fleet" from this prior commitment was disappointing. But reasons for retaining this freedom of action shortly became apparent.
The commitment of the Marine Division to the mountain front had limited the offensive capabilities of the Amphibious Force to the conduct of feints and demonstrations. This, however, was a game at which two could play, and resurgent Communist activities in the Formosa area now had impact on Korean naval operations. Since the summer of 1950 the Formosa Strait patrol had been continued by long-range search planes and by a small destroyer force. But with the new year intelligence of troop and junk concentrations in mainland ports suggested the possibility of an invasion attempt when the April good weather came. In mid-February Struble had again visited Formosa, and an improved and expanded Formosa defense plan had been prepared. Late in the month ComNavFE took cognizance of the situation, and inaugurated a series of experiments to determine the optimum choice of weapons against a junk fleet.
In warfare between forces of radically different technological capabilities the advantages are not all on one side. In Korea the virtues of primitivism in conflict with technology had been clearly demonstrated in the difficulties that had beset Eighth Army, mechanized, heavily equipped, and road-bound, when locked in combat with the lightly armed, ridge-running levies of North Korea and Communist China. The difficulties of successfully interdicting the supply lines of an army whose logistic requirements per man were about a sixth of those of U.S. forces had reinforced the lesson, which promised also to apply to action between naval air and gunnery forces and fleets of wooden junks.
Such fleets present numerous small targets, hard to hit, impossible to sink, and whose destruction may prove excessively costly in ammunition expenditure. On 24 February, therefore, with the Formosan question in mind, ComNavFE directed Admiral Thackrey to provide some samples at Yokosuka for practice purposes. Eight 60-foot Korean junks were salvaged at Inchon and brought across in the LSD Tortuga; a sunken Chinese 100-foot 600-tonner presented more difficulties, but in time was floated, beached at Wolmi Do, and embarked in the LSD Colonial for delivery to Japan. In March and April extensive tests were conducted under the direction of Rear Admiral Edgar A. Cruise, commander of the Hunter-Killer Task Group. But his report on ordnance selection was not completed until May, by which time the Communist build-up in Formosa Strait had already had strategic effect.
The intelligence from the south and the coming of the invasion season made a show of force appear in order. On 8 April, therefore, with Admiral Martin in Philippine Sea and Admiral Tomlinson as OTC in Boxer, Task Force 77 left Korean waters and steamed southward through the East China Sea. On the 13th Admiral Martin flew in to visit the Generalissimo at Taipei, and an air parade was flown over Formosa to strengthen Nationalist morale; two days earlier a similar demonstration had been made along the three-mile limit off the Chinese mainland pour encourager les autres; on both days high-altitude photography of selected coastal staging areas was carried out. On the 14th the force again headed northward and on the 16th resumed its efforts in interdiction of the northeastern transportation net. But while the demonstration may have had value in Formosa, it had proven costly in Korea: although Bataan and Theseus had been shifted from the Yellow Sea to the east coast, their weight of effort had proven insufficient, and the eight-day hiatus in fast carrier operations had left the interdiction program almost out of hand.
Important though they were, these workaday problems were for the moment overshadowed by events on a higher level, for following a series of public and private disagreements concerning Far Eastern strategic aims President Truman on 11 April relieved CincFE of his commands. Where the military had already had to adjust to an Amphibious Force without a Marine Division, to a Marine Division without its Aircraft Wing, and to a United Nations force shorn of its amphibious capability and limited in strategic aim, the world now faced the problem of adjusting to a Far East Command without General MacArthur. "New war" had required a new commander.
The manifold responsibilities of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Commander in Chief United Nations Command, Commander in Chief Far East Command, and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East, now devolved upon General Ridgway, who was in turn relieved at Eighth Army by Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet, USA. Having been concerned with the implementation of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, a country also in large part surrounded by sea and troubled by visitors from beyond the northern mountains, General Van Fleet found himself in a not unfamiliar strategic situation. Under its new commander Eighth Army continued its northward advance, while preparing, in anticipation of a CCF offensive, for a fighting retirement which would inflict maximum punishment on the enemy. By the third week of April the Hwachon Reservoir had been reached, and from the Imjin to the Sea of Japan the line ran some ten miles north of the parallel.
At sea as on land, operations continued in routine fashion. On the east coast the sieges of Wonsan and Songjin went on, with daily bombardment and daily minesweeping. For the sweepers, life had been eased by the arrival of LST 799, whose conversion to minesweep tender and helicopter base had been completed; her presence also proved a boon to U.N. pilots, who could now ditch damaged planes in Wonsan harbor in confidence of expeditious rescue. In early April a new technique was developed by the Wonsan besiegers when an Air Force night intruder pilot employed his previous experience in the artillery to coach ships’ gunners on to targets they could not see. This happenstance was followed by a visit of the Task Force 95 gunnery officer to the pilot’s parent squadron, and by a developing coordination of gunfire illumination with air bombardment, strafing, and spotting, which was limited in its prospects only by the number of available intruder aircraft.
In the northeast, where the interdiction campaign was now the sole responsibility of Task Force 77, the fast carriers had resumed their effort, and while the rotating emphasis on different sections of the transportation net continued, the focus, with Carlson’s Canyon bypassed, was on the bridges south of Songjin. In the Yellow Sea the carrier element worked over western Hwanghae Province, the surface ships continued their missions of bombardinent and patrol, and guerrilla raiding forces were put ashore. In all services all hands had been alerted to the impending attack, which indeed the enemy had advertised, in his press and on his radio, as one designed utterly to destroy the forces of the U.N. This time, at any rate, there would be no surprise.
Part 3. April–May 1951: The Communist Spring Offensive
The enemy offensive broke on the evening of 22 April with a thrust down the center by the Chinese 20th Army. South of Kumwha the ROK 6th Division collapsed under the weight of the attack, and as the enemy poured through the gap between the Marines and the 24th Infantry Division, General Van Fleet ordered a withdrawal. Four days went by before the assault was checked, and in this interval, with the enemy out in the open and moving, more than a thousand close support sorties by Fifth Air Force and carrier-based aircraft inflicted very heavy casualties.
Map 24. Communist Offensive and U.N. Advance, 21 April–30 June 1951
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The attack in the center and the U.N. retirement which followed had opened the valley of the Pukhan and the Chunchon-Seoul road. On the 26th, therefore, the Communists launched their main effort in an attempted double envelopment of Seoul, in which one prong was pushed down the Pukhan valley, while in the west an attempt was made to ferry troops across the Han onto the Kumpo peninsula. Both moves failed. The eastern threat to the capital was checked by the 24th and 25th Divisions, while on the Han a busy day of strafing by aircraft of the West Coast Carrier Element limited the arrivals to a number easily dealt with by the ROK Marine battalion defending the Kumpo peninsula. In the end the enemy advance in the west central sector reached a maximum of about 30 miles; east of the Hwachon Reservoir the Communists captured the town of Inje on the Hongchon-Kansong road; on the east coast they moved forward some five miles. But despite casualties estimated at ten times those of the U.N. no decisive advantage had been gained, and by the 29th the front was stabilized once more.
Once again the enemy offensive brought an immediate response from U.N. naval forces. On 23 April Task Force 77 began a ten-day sustained effort in support of the battleline. On the next day the first of a series of amphibious feints was carried out. On the 26th the threat to Seoul brought another evacuation alert at Inchon: cruiser Toledo was sent in to provide 8-inch gunfire support and once again Admiral Thackrey was ordered up to take charge. By the 1st of May, as redeployment shipping was beginning to arrive, some 200,000 refugees had clustered in the Inchon area.
The Chinese breakthrough in the center posed urgent requirements for air support, but the Korean airbase situation remained difficult. In April, in addition to the 5 Marine squadrons in Korea, only 3 of the 18 Air Force groups committed to the conflict could be based in the peninsula; in May runway difficulties at Taegu forced the closing of that field and the return of its F-80s to Japan. Over and above the airbase problem the operations of both carrier and land-based squadrons were complicated by the seasonal bad weather. Fog was reported at sea on 17 days in May, rain and low ceilings were prevalent, and visibility in the combat area was further restricted by smoke haze from brush fires set by the enemy for protection against air attack.
These circumstances called for the immediate shift of fast carrier operations from interdiction to close support, and for the greatest possible weight of effort. To avoid the loss of a day in four in refueling and rearming, Admiral Ofstie on 24 April began a schedule of daily replenishment. For ten days the force joined the logistic ships in late afternoon to load until midnight, and while this made for a long working day, it also made it possible to keep pace with the high rate of expenditure of aviation gasoline and ordnance.
To this shift in carrier employment and this intensification of operations there was also added an increase in strength. On 1 May, as Boxer returned from Yokosuka, the retirement of Philippine Sea was delayed, and for three days three carriers were kept on the line. On the same day, as the result of pressure in the west, Bataan’s replenishment period was cut short, her pilots were recalled from leave, and she was sailed from Sasebo for the Yellow Sea. There she joined HMS Glory, recently arrived as relief for Theseus, and there from 2 to 6 May the two ships worked together to strengthen the west coast effort.
Although close support was for the moment the primary task, the most striking carrier operation of the period was the attack on the Hwachon Dam, which by impounding the waters of the upper Pukhan both provided a barrier to movement and held back water usable for tactical purposes. In January, in the hope of impeding enemy progress, Eighth Army had asked FEAF to hole the dam, but an attack by a couple of B-29s with 6-ton guided bombs had failed of success. On 9 April, as Eighth Army was moving northward, the enemy had turned the trick, and by opening the gates had flooded the Pukhan and decommissioned some bridges. Two days later a small and hastily organized force of cavalrymen and rangers failed in an attempt to capture the dam; on 21 April the KMC Regiment had seized it, only to be ordered back as the Chinese broke through the line on the left. Now at April’s end, as the Chinese lunge expended itself, EUSAK again developed the desire to break the dam, wet down the Communists, and prevent them from using the water as a weapon.
On the afternoon of 30 April Admiral Ofstie received a photograph of the dam, with a notation requesting that two or more sluice gates be knocked out, and was informed that EUSAK was the requesting agency and wanted it done at once. At 1600 six ADs were flown off with two 2,000-pound GP bombs apiece, accompanied by five Corsairs for flak suppression, and a dive bombing attack was carried out which produced a hole in one gate. A request from EUSAK for another try and a night’s consideration led to a change in ordnance selection: on the next day eight ADs were launched with torpedoes set for surface run, and at 1100 the Skyraiders went in on this now unfamiliar mission. One torpedo was a dud and one erratic, but the remaining six ran true. One flood gate and the lower half of a second were removed, the dam’s western abutment was holed, and the enemy deprived of control of the waters.
By April’s end the offensive had been contained, and in the first two weeks of May, as Eighth Army probed northward and the enemy prepared for a second try, U.N. aircraft renewed their efforts in interdiction. This interlude brought a temporary expansion of the work of the fast carriers as the result of a request from the Joint Operations Center for help in the interdiction of the western rail lines. In response Rear Admiral George R. Henderson, who had just relieved Admiral Ofstie as CTF 77, advised the JOC that on 11 May he would strike railroad bridges in the triangle which connects Pyongyang, Sunchon, and the transpeninsular line to the east. On the morning of the 11th 32 ADs carrying two 2,000-pound bombs apiece, and accompanied by 32 F4Us for flak suppression and 16 F9Fs for top cover, attacked four of these bridges and dropped spans in three. This success elicited a further request from Fifth Air Force for the destruction of bridges in the rail quadrilateral which links Pyongyang with Sinanju, Kaechon, and Sunchon.
In reply to this message Admiral Henderson observed that while he would be glad to help out from time to time, existing obligations prevented his assuming any permanent responsibility. But the request for such a "substantial and continuing commitment" of the fast carrier effort brought ComNavFE to his feet, and on 16 May he informed Commander Seventh Fleet that such proposals should pass through appropriate service channels for action by higher authority. But by the time this dispatch was on its way the enemy was on the move again: on the 18th, EUSAK called for maximum effort in close air support, and when interdiction again came to the fore the situation had changed.
The failure of the Communists’ first attack, and their evident intention to try again, raised the question of the possible employment of new weapons and brought steps to guard against surprise. Where the first five months of war had produced 80 reports of possible submarine contacts, the second five months had brought a mere 16, a change which could be interpreted as either a threat or a promise. In the air, by contrast, there was no question as to the magnitude of the Communist build-up across the Yalu, nor as to the earnestness of the effort to rehabilitate North Korean airfields. Although no air commitment had accompanied the April offensive, the possibility remained, and on the 29th Commander Seventh Fleet again warned of the chance of surprise air or submarine attack.
For the carrier force, which could operate from beyond MIG range and fight off attacks from other aircraft types available to the enemy, the submarine presented the major hazard, but for the units of Task Force 95 the air question was the serious one. Admiral Smith had alerted his force in April; now on 10 May he advised his ships that the next ten days would be critical with regard to enemy commitment of air strength, credited the Communists with a capability of 300 offensive sorties a day, issued instructions as to procedures to be adopted under attacks of varying weight, and instructed replenishment vessels to avoid anchoring in forward locations.
In the event, although subsequent evidence indicated that the Chinese had hoped to provide their armies with air support, neither menace developed. FEAF’s attacks on North Korean airfields had kept the rehabilitation effort down, and on 9 May, following reports that 40 fighter planes had been sighted at Sinuiju, on the Korean side of the Yalu, Fifth Air Force sent up 250 Air Force and 56 Marine aircraft to deposit more than 40 tons of bombs on the airfield. In the air, despite promises to his troops, the launching of the second spring drive found the enemy no better off than had the first.
The weight of the April thrust toward Seoul had led General Van Fleet to bolster his forces in the western lowlands. Contrariwise, while this movement was in progress, the Chinese were shifting eastward to the central mountains, where on the night of 15 May they attacked in strength. On the Soyang River, southeast of the reservoir, the brunt of the attack was again borne by ROK divisions; again these dissolved, and in the exploitation phase the Communists advanced 25 miles down the valley and across into the upper waters of the Hongchon. To the eastward, in the Sorak Mountains, enemy units overran the ROK III Corps and filtered down to the southeast; on the coast the ROK I Corps withdrew south to Kangnung. In the west Chinese divisions crossed the Pukhan below Chunchon, and on the 17th opened a drive down the valley toward the Han.
As the ground forces struggled to check the attack the supporting arms again stepped up their action. Fifth Air Force increased its effort in close support; on the 17th, after being weathered out for two days, Task Force 77 began another stint of operating by day and replenishing by night; following an appeal from EUSAK for all possible support, Princeton delayed her departure for Yokosuka to permit another period of three-carrier operations. At Inchon, where the enemy was again within range of Toledo’s guns, the drive down the Pukhan brought another redeployment alert, and Admiral Thackrey, who had retained some Scajap LSTs for such a contingency, put in a request for further shipping against the chance that he would have to evacuate the city and the Kumpo peninsula.
This precaution proved unnecessary. In the center the 2nd Division, which had come a long way since the hard times on the Chongchon River, did what was necessary: although under pressure on three sides it maintained its integrity, held while so instructed, reopened its supply line, and retired on order, with minimum casualties to itself and maximum to the enemy. Three days of violent fighting in the Pukhan Valley saw the Chinese thrust turned back by the 25th Division. In the Sorak Mountains, some 20 miles below the parallel, the enemy was checked at Soksa by the 3rd Division, rushed eastward from Army reserve. By 21 May the Communists had been stopped all along the line. Despite a gain of 30 miles in the eastern mountains, and a considerable penetration in the Pukhan valley, nothing decisive had been accomplished, and the price had been higher than before. On the 23rd Admiral Thackrey began to release shipping from Inchon; on the 25th the evacuation alert was ended, all restrictions on stockpiling ashore were removed, and Toledo was at last relieved of her fire support duties.
Naval gunfire support: A shore party from Toledo at an observation post overlooking the Han. May 1951. (Photo 80-G-432346)
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The Communist spring offensive had brought about a sudden spate of simulated pre-landing operations by units of Task Force 90 and Task Force 95. The first of these, carried out on short notice on 24 April, consisted of a two-hour bombardment of Kosong by St. Paul, Helena, Manchester, and four destroyers. Five days later, on the 29th and 30th, Helena, Manchester, four destroyers, two attack transports and an attack cargo ship made a demonstration in the Kojo area, in the hope of taking pressure off Eighth Army. On the evening of 4 May General Van Fleet asked for another such affair on the 6th and 7th at Kansong; ComNavFE passed the word to Seventh Fleet to do what it could on short notice, and on the 5th Kosong was added as a target at the request of CincFE. On the desired date Helena and four destroyers bombarded as requested; fortuitously, their arrival coincided with a heavy enemy attack, and the bombardment, according to KMAG’s flatteringly redundant description, saved the ROK forces from "complete annihilation." On the 13th Eighth Army called for another demonstration at Kosong on the 18th and 19th; this request was cancelled two days later, but a west coast event already underway continued to its conclusion.
Feeling, as had his predecessor, that previous demonstrations had been too short and too transparent to produce the maximum reaction, Admiral Scott-Moncrieff planned this with some finesse. Rumors of an impending landing were spread by agents of Leopard Force, a west coast guerrilla organization, and so successfully that aircraft from Glory, flying cover for the minesweepers, reported a large sign near the landing area which read "Welcome, U.N. Army." By 20 May the preliminaries had been completed and Toledo and Commonwealth ships were on hand to provide fire support. In the afternoon a dozen LCVPs, three loaded with Royal Marines and the others empty, were put up on the beach opposite Cho Do, and the Marines made a brief unopposed excursion inland prior to reembarking.
The popularity of these small demonstrations with Army commanders, and the frequency with which they were requested, led to some study of their actual effectiveness and of measures which might make for greater realism. That the enemy, after the events of the previous autumn, was fully aware of the amphibious capabilities of the United States Navy was unquestionable: information from various sources indicated that special pains were taken to keep track of the movements of the Marine Division. But with the Marines in the line, and given the slow reaction time of the Communist armies, there remained the question of whether much was actually accomplished. Admiral Andrewes had been skeptical; after the operation of 20 May Admiral Scott-Moncrieff remained dubious, feeling that enemy communications were so poor that two or three days might pass before headquarters got the word. EUSAK, on the other hand, estimated that the Inchon feint in February had fixed two Communist divisions, and that the March operation off the Taedong had moved one; following the Cho Do affair in May reports were received of troop movements across the Taedong River into previously undefended areas of Hwanghae Province. Although it seems unlikely that enemy response to any particular demonstration was very impressive, their repetition did serve to emphasize existing possibilities, and to reinforce a real concern about a possible major assault in the Wonsan area. With the passage of time it also brought an increasing concentration of defensive force along the coasts, opposite Cho Do in the west and between Kojo and Hungnam in the east.
This concentration was heaviest at Wonsan, where day after day the siege continued. Uninterrupted bombardment and frequent air attack had obliged the Communists to commit large numbers of personnel to defense and to repair work and had curtailed enemy transport, but although the railroad had been stopped road traffic was harder to inhibit, and some 500 trucks were thought to pass through nightly. Attempting to take the pressure off, the enemy moved in increasing amounts of artillery and the Wonsan garrison stepped up its shooting; in late April an unsuccessful attempt was made to recapture one of the ROK-held harbor islands. Whether this enemy reaction amounted to a good return on the effort invested was another matter. CTF 95 had earlier advocated emplacing artillery on the harbor islands, but no such step had been taken and the responsibility for dealing with the shore batteries remained entirely upon the ships; additionally, the original offensive purpose of the siege had been undercut by the decision not to attempt a return to Wonsan. The absence of any very clear objective and the size of the commitment proved disturbing to Commander Seventh Fleet, who felt the entire concept of the operation needed some rethinking. Pending such clarification the cruiser previously assigned the Wonsan task unit was withdrawn, and the garrison situation rationalized by the assignment of a Marine officer to Yo Do as commander of the island’s defenses.
As the enemy’s second offensive slowed, the harassment of his seaward flanks was stepped up, and the Cho Do raid was followed by activity in the east. At Wonsan, following vigorous efforts by enemy artillerists which had damaged a destroyer and bounced a shell off one of the turrets of the recently arrived New Jersey, the rocket ships were sent in for two night bombardments of known gun emplacements. Plunging fire of 7,700 rockets delivered by LSMR 409 and ISMR 412 on 23 and 25 May had impressive results: intelligence agents reported that the enemy was clearing the harbor area of personnel; for three weeks the batteries remained silent. In the north, too, the pressure was maintained: in an interval between bridge bombardments in Kyongsong Man the, destroyer Stickell destroyed a 70-foot motor junk, and followed up by putting a landing party ashore to blow three more with hand grenades.
Even before the second Chinese push was halted General Van Fleet was preparing his reply. On 18 May he ordered all forces from the Marine Division westward to prepare to attack to the north; next day, with the situation in the eastern mountains improving, he included X Corps in this planned general advance across the parallel. On the 22nd the battle of the Soyang River entered its offensive phase as the Marines and the 2nd Division attacked to the northeast against vigorous resistance. In the west, at the same time, I Corps moved steadily northward toward the so-called Iron Triangle, the important and heavily defended area bounded by the towns of Chorwon, Kumwha, and Pyonggang. Since seizure of the Iron Triangle would open the corridor to Wonsan, this movement held great possibilities.
The advance up the Soyang valley toward Inje threatened to cut off the Chinese in the Sorak Mountain salient, and opened the possibility of a thrust through the mountains to Kansong which would trap the enemy forces on the coastal strip. To provide logistic support for such a move some Scajap LSTs, released from Inchon, were assigned to meet the advance at Kansong and establish an advanced supply base. But the threat at Inje made the operation unnecessary, the enemy pulled back, and on 29 May, with minesweeping completed and gunfire about to begin, ROK forces regained control of the Kansong area. By the end of the month the armies of the U.N. were back at the Hwachon Reservoir, and in firm possession of the line from which they had been dislodged by the attacks of April.
The two Communist thrusts and the U.N. counteroffensive had brought the enemy out into the open, and had provided profitable targets for air attack. The response to this opportunity had been vigorous: Fifth Air Force had stepped up its sorties in support of Eighth Army; Task Force 77 had shifted to continuous operations and daily replenishment; in times of crisis all three fast carriers and both light carriers had been put on the line. The statistical results were impressive: the Air Force claimed 21,536 enemy personnel "destroyed" in April and May; Task Force 77 aircraft claimed 1,400 killed on 29 May; on 4 June, following attacks by carrier planes, the advancing ground forces counted more than 1,000 dead.
Whether all this effort, indubitably severe in its effects on the enemy, amounted to efficient close air support was another matter. In his report for this period Admiral Martin observed that while three fast carriers had been employed at Army request, the calls for close support had never exceeded the capacity of two, the controllers had once again been swamped, and much ordnance had been dumped. Nor were the Marines more satisfied. In the later phases of the battle of the Soyang River the division, advancing at a rate of three miles a day against continuing stiff resistance, wanted and needed support from the air, and on two days requested all available aircraft. But advance requests, submitted on the previous day conformably with Air Force practice, were only about half-fulfilled. And while the use of special emergency requests produced a sortie total approximating that originally called for, processing delays were such that time from request to receipt of aircraft averaged 95 minutes.
Such delays, varying unpredictably from one to two hours, have obvious effects on the momentum of attack and on the health of the attackers. To those accustomed to getting strikes in 10 to 20 minutes from aircraft orbiting on station, they were unacceptable, and led to loss of confidence in air support on the part of front line commanders. On 31 May the division commander made the inadequacies of the situation the subject of an official report to X Corps, and such was the feeling within the division as to bring an investigation by the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, once again in Korea on an inspection tour. After working through the numerous and sometimes contradictory allegations, and attempting to separate fact from fancy, General Shepherd concluded that the JOC processing time, the remoteness of airfields from the front lines, the struggle between Mosquito aircraft and ground parties for control of strikes, and the unwieldy nature of the Army-Air Force system, which forced communications to parallel the chain of command all the way to the top and back again, added up to excessive and unacceptable delay. In March he had raised the subject with Fifth Air Force, but to little purpose; now he went to the top, and on 24 May discussed the close support question with CincFE. With General Ridgway’s view that it was improper for Marine air to support the Marine Division exclusively, General Shepherd concurred; for this problem, inevitable when a division with a private air force specializing in troop support was operating in company with air-starved Army units, no other answer was possible. But the basic difficulty was less the identity of the aircraft than the nature of the system, with all its built-in delays.
In June, as the Marine Division continued on the offensive east of the Hwachon Reservoir, two changes were made. Permission was secured from Fifth Air Force to keep four Marine aircraft on alert at an advanced airstrip, and to notify them of requirements by messages paralleling those to JOC. But direct communication with the airfield remained prohibited, the policy of scrambling and reporting was not permitted, and takeoff still had to await word from JOC. At the same time, in view of the radical discounting of routine requests in May, the Marines adopted a policy of submitting special requests only. But this proved self-defeating, as the resultant saturation of JOC communications facilities tended to offset other efforts to diminish delay time. This indeed was decreased in June to an average of 81 minutes, but the percentage of requests fulfilled dropped from 95 to 74 in good weather, and to 65 for the month as a whole, and nobody was much the happier.
Part 4. June–July 1951: North to Kaesong
By the 1st of June the ground forces had regained the line of the Hwachon Reservoir. Only in the eastern mountains, where the desired front turned sharply northward, were the Marines still fighting hard for their objectives, and there the drive up the valley of the Soyang was completed in mid-month. Since instructions from the Joint Chiefs had by now limited the advance to the neighborhood of this line, although permitting local action to gain more commanding terrain, General Van Fleet prepared to fortify his positions while at the same time pushing forward I and IX Corps into the Iron Triangle.
This operation continued throughout the first half of June. By the 11th both Chorwon and Kumwha at the base of the triangle had been taken, and two days later Eighth Army briefly entered Pyonggang at the northern apex. Northeast of Kumwha IX Corps units moved up to Kumsong, where the enemy was attempting to establish defensive positions, and in mid-month attempted to outflank the town on the east, a move which in the absence of JCS limitations might have opened the Wonsan road and liquidated enemy forces to the eastward. Given these restraints, however, the effort was not pressed, and Kumsong remained in enemy hands. Except on the shores of the Sea of Japan, where ROK divisions moved onward to the outskirts of Kosong, this June advance to Pyonggang and Kumsong marked the farthest north for the remainder of the war.
As before, operations on the east coast were assisted from the sea. As the forward movement of the ROK I Corps took it into the difficult hill country at the mouth of the Nam River, gunfire support became extremely active. On 4 and 5 June the heavy cruiser Los Angeles, a recent arrival in the theater, provided support at the bombline; on the 6th, joined by New Jersey, she bombarded enemy positions in the vicinity of Kosong; on the 7th, as the result of an emergency call from the KMAG party ashore, received while she was replenishing, she had the interesting experience of loading 8-inch ammunition from an AKA over one side while unloading it out the guns over the other.
In the east as in the west, the long Korean coastline invited efforts to make trouble in the enemy rear. For some time the APD Begor had been putting agents ashore by night along the northeastern coast, and while security was imperfect–on one occasion the ship’s departure from Pusan was announced by the North Korean radio the same evening–all the landings were successful. These nocturnal enterprises ranged from Chongjin in the north to Kojo, south of Wonsan, where on the night of 2–3 June Begor and her UDT complement landed 235 ROK guerrillas on an islet less than half a mile from the northern arm of the harbor. But this cloak and dagger business was a two-way street: 30 miles back down the coast, at the same time that the guerrillas were going in at Kojo, an ROK intelligence team, surrounded and hard-pressed by the enemy, was departing Kosong under cover of gunfire from an ROK PC and the destroyer Rush.
As the end of the U.N. offensive approached and the intensity of ground action diminished, the attentions of the gunnery forces shifted northward and fire support again gave way to bombardment. The communications centers of Wonsan and Songjin remained daily on the receiving end of gunfire from everything from LSMRs up to the battleship New Jersey. Far in the north the blockade of Chongjin was maintained, and the road and rail bridges leading south from that city subjected to frequent bombardment. On 8 June the efforts of the light ships were supplemented as Task Force 77 sent in Helena, now on her second tour of Korean duty, for three days work on transportation targets in the Songjin, Iwon, and Kyongsong Man areas, and ten days later Toledo gave Songjin a repeat performance.
In the operations of Task Force 77, where Bon Homme Richard had relieved Philippine Sea on the 1st of the month, a similar shift was apparent. Although support continued to be provided for the Marines east of the reservoir and for Army forces in the Iron Triangle, interdiction again became the primary task. A sufficient effort was committed to the northeastern rail bridges to keep them broken down, and an ambitious new inter-service effort, Operation Strangle, was begun.
Admiral Ofstie’s spring campaign had pretty well stopped the eastern railroad. But despite the efforts of Navy, Air Force, and Marines alike, truck traffic had continued to increase, and the daily average of North Korean vehicle sightings had risen spectacularly from 236 in January to 1,760 in May. Analysis of these sightings indicated that the enemy possessed some 20,000 trucks, a tenth of which arrived nightly in the combat zone, and suggested the difficulty of interdicting this logistic effort; it also brought a request from General Van Fleet to Fifth Air Force and to Task Force 77 to make the attempt. The importance of the problem was emphasized in early June by a GHQ announcement of the record vehicle sightings of the preceding month and, despite some skepticism within the Air Force as to its feasibility, the program was accepted on an experimental basis.
In the planning for "Strangle" the main north-south road routes behind the enemy lines were identified and parcelled out among the services. Three routes south and southeast of Pyongyang were taken by the Air Force; the two central routes, from Yangdok down the upper Nam and from Majon-ni south along the upper Imjin, went to Task Force 77; the Marines were assigned the roads running down from Wonsan and Kojo. Where defiles or watercourses made bypassing difficult, "Strangle Areas" were set up for cratering and for seeding with delayed-action and antipersonnel bombs.
From the very start the task was difficult, owing to the greater ease of bypassing by truck than by train, and to the fact that while almost all enemy movement was now night movement, all services were very limited in night capability. All hands nevertheless did their best, although the force requirements to keep the "Strangle Areas" strangled turned out to be somewhere between twice and five times those necessary to maintain an equal number of rail cuts. Dawn and dusk sorties were flown by the carriers, in addition to their normal daytime load, and the Air Force kept its B-26 intruders busily on the job. Best of all, perhaps, was the ingenious system evolved by the Marines, which teamed their night fighters with flare-dropping Navy patrol planes, and although these operations were extremely hazardous, owing to the restricted maneuvering room inside Korean valleys and the effect of the flares on night vision, good work was done. But in mid-June, after 13 days of "Strangle," a preliminary Air Force assessment indicated that while movement past the cut-points had been almost entirely stopped, and the enemy inconvenienced by being forced onto secondary roads, total north-south vehicle sightings remained about the same and arrivals in the front line area showed little ascertainable change. The conclusions were hardly encouraging, but as no obvious alternative presented itself "Strangle" was continued on into the summer.
Naval operations during the period of the enemy spring offensive and the United Nations advance to the north had not been without cost. The increasing strength of enemy antiaircraft was being felt: combat losses from April through June totalled 3 F9Fs, 8 ADs, and 19 Corsairs, and on 18 May Task Force 77 had its worst day of the war thus far when 6 planes failed to return. Enemy coastal batteries were also increasing in number, and not only in Wonsan. On 7 May the frigate Hoquiam was hit off Songjin, and on 14 June the DMS Thompson met trouble in the same area: having closed to 40-millimeter range of the beach and slowed to search for targets, Thompson was surprised when the enemy suddenly wheeled four guns out from under cover, opened fire, and scored 13 hits before the ship got clear.
The continuous efforts of the sweepers had by now largely conquered the minefields, but the threat remained, and on 5 May the first loss since February took place when the ROK JML 306 was sunk off Sok To. More serious than the anchored fields was the problem of drifting mines: not only were the Russian moored mines fused to remain armed after breaking loose, but many had apparently been launched as drifters, to take advantage of prevailing southerly currents. Increasing reports of floating mines came in from the Sea of Japan and from the North Pacific; in June the destroyer Walke, steaming some 60 miles offshore as part of the carrier task force screen, ran upon a floater which exploded on the port side aft, inflicting serious damage and killing 25; by autumn more than 300 mines would have been recovered on Japanese shores.
For the U.N. divisions in Korea the bill had of course been higher, although ground force casualties in April and May were less than half those of November and December, less even than those of January and February. But for the armies of Communist China the spring offensive had proved disastrous. United Nations’ estimates of casualties inflicted on the enemy claimed 70,000 for the April push, 90,000 for the week ending 23 May, and 147,000 for the two-week period from 20 May to 3 June; GHQ intelligence summaries estimated a total for April and May of 283,000, with 72,000 more in June. Figures like these do not, perhaps, inspire complete confidence, but unquestionably Communist losses were extremely severe, and while the impact of this bloody attrition on the manpower of China was minimal, its impact on the available total of trained military personnel was not. There was also a perceptible effect on morale, and prisoners began to surrender in unprecedented numbers: 3,000 Chinese were taken between 16 and 22 May and another 10,000 in the following week.
As the defeated Communists retired northward, with Van Fleet’s armies hard on their heels, command changes continued throughout the forces of the U.N. Subsequent to the attack on the Hwachon Dam, Admiral Ofstie had been relieved of command of Task Force 77 by Admiral Henderson, and on 17 May had taken over as Chief of Staff to ComNavFE. In April Major General Gerald C. Thomas, USMC, had relieved General Smith in command of the Marine Division; late in May General Cushman, who had come out with the brigade, succeeded General Harris in command of the Aircraft Wing, to be himself relieved two months later. With the ending of the threat to Inchon Admiral Thackrey went home; in June, Task Force 95 got a new commander in the person of Rear Admiral George C. Dyer. In the other services the same was true: the Army command had changed in April; in June command of FEAF was assumed by Lieutenant General Otto P. Weyland, USAF, previously vice-commander for operations; at Fifth Air Force, General Partridge was replaced by Major General Frank P. Everest, USAF. Of major force commanders present in the Far East when the troubles began, only Admiral Joy remained, and he was shortly to receive some temporary additional duty which would occupy his whole attention.
At home, meanwhile, the United States had resumed its peculiar custom of conducting foreign policy by congressional hearing. In 1949 the unification investigation had demonstrated, through its exposition of military capability and strategic intent, that the only war contemplated by the United States was a big war in defense of Europe, and had opened the door to aggression by proxy in Asia. Now in the MacArthur hearings the details of strategic planning were again spread upon the public record, to reaffirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the United States, unwilling to become fixed in a secondary theater, neither intended to expand the war in Asia nor to attempt the forcible unification of Korea. This separation of the political aim of Korean unification from the military objective of repelling aggression was reaffirmed by the President in May, and by the Secretary of State and the Secretary General of the United Nations in early June.
Since the United States did not propose to advance farther into North Korea, and since the Communists were in no condition to advance southward, an agreement to disagree seemed possible, which, while leaving the world and Korea divided much as before, would at least liquidate the fighting. On 23 June the Russian representative at the Security Council, whose fortuitous absence a year before had permitted U.N. action, made a radio address in which he indicated that the chief string-pullers would look favorably upon negotiations for an armistice.
Soundings in Moscow confirmed the official nature of these views, and the offer was taken up. General Ridgway was instructed to invite the Communists to meet with U.N. delegates on board the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia in Wonsan harbor for discussion of an armistice. With the selection of Admiral Joy as senior delegate for the United Nations, Admiral Ofstie took over in Tokyo as acting ComNavFE, and Naval Forces Far East were alerted to support the armistice discussions. On 30 June the invitation was broadcast to the enemy.
The reply came the next day: while agreeing to meet for talks, the Communists suggested that the location be changed to the city of Kaesong, 35 miles northwest of Seoul. This counterproposal doubtless reflected the symbolic difference between a meeting in one of Korea’s historic cities, within Communist lines yet south of the 38th parallel, and one at sea on board a United Nations ship. Since the progress of negotiations would impede military action in the immediate neighborhood, it may also have indicated a desire to block the main road to Pyongyang. Possibly the Communists merely wanted the last word. The suggestion was quickly accepted, presumably in anticipation of an expeditious settlement, but in time the U.N. Command would regret this easy complaisance. On 8 July, following further communications, there was a meeting of liaison officers, and on the 10th, ComNavFE and his delegation confronted the Communists at Kaesong.
To the peoples of the non-Communist world the commencement of armistice discussions was heartening. Although Syngman Rhee went at once on record against all compromise, and demanded a continuation of the war for unification, elsewhere the hope that rational solutions would be quickly found produced a lifting of the spirit. These hopes were doubtless highest among the Americans, with their inbred belief in the value of the spoken and written word and their congenital distrust of the gloomy lessons of history. But even in the United States there were perhaps some whose experience encompassed negotiations with the Communists, and who could see the omens in the meeting at Kaesong.
The presence at the conference table of Chinese generals and an American naval officer called to mind the earlier discussions between Shufeldt and Li Hung-chang concerning the future of Korea, a future which intervening decades had done little to clarify. The antiquity of American concern with the welfare of the Koreans was recalled in the persons of the American interpreters, Lieutenants Horace G. Underwood, USNR, and Richard Underwood, AUS, grandsons of that Underwood who 66 years before had founded the Presbyterian mission to Korea. If these echoes of the past did not sufficiently suggest the intractability of the Korean question, and a likelihood that no speedy settlement would be reached, a contemporary incident, passing almost unnoticed, could have served as evidence that wars do not end all at once. On 30 June, on a little island in the northern Marianas, 19 Japanese soldiers and sailors, who for six years had refused to believe that their war was over, finally surrendered to the USS Cocopa.
Chapter 11: Problems of a Policeman
Part 1. The Unexpected Shape of War
Part 2. Operating Problems
Part 3. Logistic Support
Part 4. Interservice Coordination and the Air Problem
Part 5. The Larger Picture
Part 6. Into the Future
Part 1. The Unexpected Face of War
In a small bronze shrine in the forum of ancient Rome the image of Janus, god of beginnings and endings, looked both east and west. It was the custom of the Romans, upon the outbreak of war, to throw wide the doors of this temple, and to shut them up again with the return of peace. In the summer of 1951 the commencement of Korean armistice talks seemed to promise an imminent end to the fighting, and a return of the struggle to the diplomatic plane. It seems a propitious moment to emulate the two-headed god, and to look, before the doors are closed, forward and backward in time, and east and west toward distant horizons.
In a year of Korean fighting the forces of the United Nations, with those of the United States in great preponderance, could be said to have won two wars. Successively, following initial surprise and early reverses, the armies of North Korea and of Communist China had been defeated. But the policy adopted following the second victory differed strikingly from that of the autumn before: rather than press on to the northward, and to possible involvement with yet another previously uncommitted force, it was decided to stabilize the situation, and to abandon the aim of a military unification of Korea. Yet though success was therefore limited, and though the cost had not been cheap, fulfillment of the original aim of repelling invasion made the enterprise worthwhile. Those mindful of earlier unchecked Axis aggressions who had taken the momentous decision to intervene could properly feel themselves justified, the more so in view of the implications of the fall of an undefended South Korea.
That so much had been accomplished, given the unexpected nature of the conflict, appears remarkable. If war, as someone has said, is a matter of surprise and movement, the first year of fighting in Korea certainly qualifies. The invasion of South Korea had come as a decided and unpleasant surprise to the United States; the intervention of the Chinese surprised the U.N. Command. Equally, it may be presumed, the rapidity of American diplomatic and military reaction in the summer of 1950 surprised the enemy, as did the recovery of the Eighth Army after the low point of the winter campaign. Most surprised of all, perhaps, were the members of the prevailing school of American military thought, with their emphasis on single-weapon single-theater strategy. War had come but not in Europe, nor, at least formally, with the "one possible enemy." Despite the view that held the assault from the sea to be a thing of the past, the pattern of the conflict had been shaped, not by the heavy bomber with its atomic weapon, but by the Amphibious Force and its projectile, the Marine Division.
For this there were a variety of reasons. The agreed and publicized strategic plan had found, hardly surprisingly, an enemy intelligent enough to circumvent it. Despite the impact of budgetary considerations on defense planning there remained, if narrowly, enough conventional force to permit a descent from fancy to fact and the conduct of a land war supported by sea and air. The nature of the theater, the ground rules which came to govern the campaign, and the importance of collective action all militated against employment of the atomic bomb and in favor of rational warfare. And lastly, the choice between accepting defeat and employing nuclear weapons was never finally posed.
In any event the atomic art, in those far-off days, was still somewhat primitive. Only eight nuclear explosions had been set off by the United States, and none since 1948. There had been no development of low-yield tactical weapons. In the Air Force the delivery of the bomb still rested on the capabilities of piston-engined aircraft: the first production B-47 only took the air the day the North Koreans crossed the parallel. In the Navy only the three large carriers–Coral Sea, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Midway–had any kind of atomic capability, and all were assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.
The Russian explosion of the previous year had, it is true, expedited work on both the hydrogen bomb and tactical weapons, and the coming of war in Korea spurred the effort. Preparations for new tests at Eniwetok were underway at the time of the invasion of South Korea, and 1951 saw 16 U.S. explosions which, with two more by the Soviets, doubled the total of the preceding years. While the threat to the perimeter was at its height, and again in the dark days of December 1950, there was some talk of tactical use of existing atomic devices; some training runs were carried out in the course of the war by the Air Force, and by the Navy after the arrival in 1952 of the converted Oriskany and Kearsarge. But that was all. The war was fought to its end with conventional weapons. The Strategic Air Command turned out to be the shield rather than the sword of strategy, and as a limiting rather than an expanding agent wholly justified, if in an unexpected manner, its great cost.
As things worked out, therefore, the war in Korea developed as a classic exercise in sea power reminiscent of earlier times. The similarity, it is true, was to some extent concealed by differences in the society that supported the campaign, for to Americans of the mid-20th century the struggle was confusing and at times distressing. If a war, it was one which had never been declared by Congress; if a police action, it was of a magnitude without precedent since the affair with Tripoli; for those whose lives had spanned periods of presumed peace punctuated by world-wide conflict, the concept of limited war took some getting used to. At home, life went on as usual, with no restrictions on civilian consumption, with no apparent all-out national effort, and with administration policy subjected to increasing criticism. But however limited the war, for the individual in the armed forces–regular, recalled reserve, or draftee–there was no limit on the strain, hazard, or boredom of the conflict. Although mitigated by a purposeful program of rapid rotation, this situation, acceptable in 19th century wars fought by regulars, inevitably created problems of morale for those on the fighting line, as shown by conduct after capture by the enemy. Inevitably, too, it created serious tensions at home, which were not diminished by the cooperative nature of the U.N. effort, with its incumbent need to defer to allies whose contribution at times seemed minimal.
Back of all this, however, the historic pattern remained. As in earlier days the entire enterprise rested on control of the ocean highway, by which the troops were transported from the metropolis to the theater of action, and there supplied, supported, and assisted by the Navy. But here too time had wrought its changes. Where in the expeditions to Mexico and the Crimea, to the Sudan and South Africa, free use of the seas had been the prime enabling factor, in Korea the nature of the theater and the development of modern weapons gave the Navy important influence throughout the conflict. For the first year of war, above all for the first six months when the elements of surprise and movement were most apparent, this influence was so great as to be almost described as controlling.
The maritime aspect of the campaign first showed itself in the concentration of forces to meet the unexpected emergency, a concentration so rapid as to surprise friend and foe alike. To MSTS lifts of Army units from Japan, Okinawa, and the continental United States, to the Amphibious Force’s management of the Pohang landing and the trans-Pacific movement of the Marine Division, to the high-speed delivery of Air Force fighter-bombers by aircraft carrier, and to logistic support of the entire U.N. effort, there was added a rapid and extensive reinforcement of naval fighting strength.
Table 18.—Growth of Western Pacific Naval Strength
Type U.S. only
June 1950 U.S. and U.N.
Fleet Carriers 1 4
Escort and Light Carriers 0 4
Battleships 0 1
Cruisers 2 9
Destroyer Types 16 54
Submarines 4 6
Minecraft 10 16
AGC/APA/AKA 3 22
APD 0 3
LST (including Scajap) 50 75
LSD 0 5
T—AP/Merchant Ships 0 75
U.S. Navy Personnel, Western Pacific
June 1950 10,990
August 1950 33,465
October 1950 59,375
January 1951 66,930
April 1951 70,315
July 1951 74,335
This speed of concentration was vital, given the shortage of force which in the summer of 1950 affected all services alike. Although the Army was to commit almost everything it had to the narrow Korean front, and although numerically large ROK contingents were available, it was necessary to employ the Marine Division as an infantry force throughout the war. From beginning to end the Air Force felt itself operating on a shoestring, with limited strength, obsolescent types, and a very marginal supporting organization. For the naval forces of the U.N. the situation was the same. While the speed and size of reinforcement were impressive, base facilities in the the Far East were marginal; and while all available ships were committed to the Korean theater, these proved no more than sufficient for the war that did develop. Delayed deployment would have meant the loss of the Korean foothold; further opposition would have meant a very different war.
So speed of movement to a large degree made up for shortages, and weakness on the ground was counterbalanced by supremacy at sea and in the air. Together with the work of the Air Force, the northern strikes by Task Force 77, the close support provided by both fast and escort carriers, the blockade of the Korean coast, the bombing and bombardment of enemy transportation facilities, and the gunfire support of the ends of the perimeter made it possible for Eighth Army to stabilize a chaotic situation. This done, the forces of the U.N. assumed the initiative, and with the landing at Inchon commenced three months of rapid movement up and down the peninsula. The two landings and the evacuations of this period of triumph and tragedy demonstrated that in a theater of combat washed by the sea the forces of the West possessed a flexibility, a speed of movement, and a strategic freedom for which the enemy had no answer. Yet while this rapid movement derived entirely from naval capabilities it should be noted that the Navy, skeptical of the proposed amphibious operations, sailed somewhat reluctantly to glory.
Of the decision to invade Inchon, pushed through by General MacArthur in the face of generalized doubts, it seems profitless to inquire whether it was in fact strategically sound. A success of such a magnitude would seem to justify even unjustifiable risks, and in any case once the decision had been made the risks, as always, began to seem smaller. But regarding the argument that the landing was unnecessary and that a better solution would have been for Eighth Army merely to shove against the perimeter, some comment may be in order. Doubtless this unimaginative strategy would have worked in time, but a victory so won would have been more costly, less elegant, and less decisive, and America at that moment had great need of a decisive victory. One should, it would seem, play from strength: so long as the U.N. fought its own kind of war, and used its advantages at sea and in the air, in sophisticated control systems, and in more efficient transport, the enemy was at a disadvantage. When these factors were neglected, and the North Koreans and Chinese given time to play it their way, the consequences were less happy.
Criticism has also been directed against CincFE’s decision for a second amphibious landing. Both at the time and since, the overland movement by way of the Seoul-Wonsan corridor has been urged as the preferable alternative, and the anticlimactic nature of the Wonsan operation has seemed to lend weight to this view. But the fact that South Korean forces got there before the Marines appears less an indictment of "Tailboard" than testimony to the extraordinary effectiveness of "Chromite." If some in both Army and Navy urged the overland route, it was still true that the road was a difficult one, and that, as the affair at Kojo showed, there were enemy forces in the flanking hills. It is, of course, undeniable that the reembarkation of X Corps wrought considerable confusion in the logistic sphere, and slowed the preparations of Eighth Army and Fifth Air Force for the advance on Pyongyang. Equally, however, the problem of supporting both X Corps and Eighth Army through Inchon and Seoul would have been far from child’s play. And whatever the decision as to the route, the harbor of Wonsan, strategically essential, had to be swept and opened to shipping before further moves could be undertaken.
As X Corps was floated up first one side of the peninsula and then the other, and as Eighth Army pressed on to seize the enemy capital, none foresaw the impending disaster. Yet it was in their response to the Chinese onslaught that the forces under Admirals Joy and Struble made perhaps their greatest contribution. The size of the attacking Chinese forces, the collapse in the west, and the widely dispersed condition of X Corps combined to bring about a major emergency and to return the initiative to the other side. But the crisis was met, and previous conscientious staff work was implemented with zeal and competence, to assist the retreat of Eighth Army, to help the Marines down from the hill, and to accomplish the redeployment of X Corps. Indeed the work of the Marine Division, of the Marine and naval aviators, of the gunnery ships and of the Amphibious Force may well have done still more, for one may wonder whether in the event of a major tragedy in northeastern Korea the war could have been kept limited. It is at least conceivable that the enemy, as well as the U.N., had in this instance cause to be grateful for the capabilities of the United States Navy and Marines.
Thus in the space of six months a scheme of maneuver made possible by rapid overseas deployment and based on the maximum use of naval capabilities had halted one invasion, defeated one enemy, and saved the day when a second intervened. But the period of a dominantly maritime strategy ended with the old year. The numerical strength of the new enemy required the retention of all ground forces in the line, and when the armies of the U.N. again moved north it was without benefit of the amphibious encirclement.
Yet while land operations henceforth held the center of the stage, the strategic situation was little changed. Korea was still a peninsular war, and supporting naval action was still of prime importance. On both coasts the blockade continued, while the lessons of history were brandished before the enemy in a series of amphibious feints. In the east, as it had from the beginning, naval gunfire continued to support the movements of ROK troops. In the interdiction of enemy transportation routes and along the battleline the work of naval air remained essential. Pusan port was still the basis of the campaign; the reopening of Inchon had greatly eased logistics in the western lowlands; in forward coastal areas and on the offshore islands, ground forces were supplied by LST. Underlying all was the Pacific Ocean supply line, by which rations, rounds, and gaiter buttons reached the free world’s Asiatic toehold. Whatever the specific reasons for his selection, the choice of Commander Naval Forces Far East as chief of the U.N. Armistice Delegation was symbolically wholly appropriate.
Part 2. Operating Problems
Seen in the large, therefore, the struggle in Korea greatly resembled the classic overseas campaigns of previous times. But within this framework the Korean War, like all wars, was unique, and the questions that faced those charged with its prosecution were questions of the moment. Daily, as is always the case in war, problems presented themselves, their nature governed by the immediate situation, and were faced, solved, evaded, or lived with as the ingenuity of man permitted.
In Korea the collective nature of the effort to repel the aggressor led, in notable contradistinction to most small wars of the 19th century, to the development of international forces on land, at sea, and in the air. Although the United States provided by far the largest part of the U.N. naval contingent, and although the second contribution derived from Britain and the British Commonwealth, units from the navies of Colombia, France, the Netherlands, and Thailand also took part. And special notice should be taken of the accomplishments of the ROK Navy and Marine Corps in developing, in circumstances tragic for them and amidst almost indescribable difficulties, into forces of considerable size and efficiency.
Within the structure of the U.N. Command the Korean Navy remained a separate task group. All other foreign units were assigned for administrative purposes to Rear Admiral Andrewes’ West Coast Group, and at an early date that commander was confiding to his war dairy his need for the gift of tongues, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, and his relief at not having acquired, at least as yet, any recruits from Phrygia or Pamphilia. Inevitably some "very original problems" arose owing to language difficulties, the absence of common codes, varying degrees of training and expertise, and differing dietary preferences. Yet to the credit of all participants no insoluble difficulties developed, workable solutions were invariably thrashed out, and command relations remained excellent.
The rapid assembly of sufficient strength made the waging of a campaign possible. The nature of the campaign was largely governed by that of the assembled force. For the navies of the U.N. the lack of new construction, the limited funds available for modernization, and the restricted aircraft procurement programs made it inevitable that the war would be fought with ships, gear, and personnel largely left over from World War II. This situation, generally applicable to first-line units, was emphasized with time, as aging ships were removed from the mothball fleet, hastily refurbished, and deployed forward manned by aging reserves.
In all areas of naval operations, although in varying degree, problems of obsolescence presented themselves. Radar capabilities had not kept up with advances in aircraft performance; the limitations of World War II sonar were becoming critical; the unloading rates of APA and AKA types had fallen behind the needs of the times; everywhere maintenance was becoming an increasing problem. But it was in the carrier forces that the pressures of change and progress were most acute.
There the march of events was dramatized in the operation, side by side and throughout the war, of the first jet fighters, the last and finest of the piston-engined attack planes, and the F4U Corsair, in active service ever since the campaign in the Solomons. Continued dependence on this ancient aircraft was made possible by the existence of large numbers of preserved leftovers; in the circumstances prevailing in Korea it gave excellent service, eased the problems of transition, and made possible the useful work of escort and light carriers throughout the war. Yet even with the F4U, operational requirements pressed against the limits of the capabilities of these smaller ships: the low wind conditions of summer in the Yellow Sea made the speed limitations of the escort carrier critical; although the CVL had the speed, its limited bunker capacity restricted the fuelling of screening ships and limited endurance. And in the fast carriers, despite the cushioning effect of the presence of these old friends, the advent of new types presented difficulties.
The takeoff and landing characteristics of the newer aircraft posed needs for more powerful catapults and for improved arresting gear. The advent of the jet fighter, essentially a flying gasoline barrel which paid for increased performance in phenomenal fuel consumption, raised difficult logistic problems, as did the great lifting capacity of the AD: each jet sortie cost the parent ship a minute in replenishment alongside a tanker; each three-ton bombload that left the deck meant a couple of minutes alongside an AE. And month by month these difficulties became more pressing, for as the efficiency of carrier operations increased, as the jet complement grew from one squadron to two, and as the jets in turn began to be launched with bombs, full-scale operations could exhaust certain types of ammunition in a day and use up the aviation gasoline of a non-converted carrier in less than two.
Thus the problems consequent to the introduction of new aircraft, while impinging directly upon the carriers and their crews, radiated outward to affect the work of their replenishment and screening ships. A more general difficulty, particularly apparent in the carriers owing to the complex nature of their operations but affecting all ship types, was the congestion brought about by new equipment: larger catapult machinery and magazine spaces in the carriers, more elaborate electronic and communications gear in all ships. Such installations take up space, but shipboard space is finite; their operation calls for personnel; with less space and larger crews comes undesirable crowding, or a diminution of military capabilities, or both. For this generalized tendency of modern war toward greater and greater complication the obvious theoretical answer was newer and larger ships; a more immediately practical one was the modification of existing hulls. This, for the fleet carriers, took place in stages: a first modernization of units of the Essex class brought various improvements, most notably more powerful catapults and larger fuel capacity, but at the cost of space for five aircraft; the second stage, reached late in the war, produced the "converted" Essex carrier with additional aviation fuel capacity, reinforced flight decks, and other new developments. There remained the angled deck, which began to appear after the Korean armistice, but this marked about the limit of what could be done with old hulls, and further progress waited upon new construction.
Winter at sea: Snow scene on the flight deck of Essex. (Photo 80-G-437710)
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These tendencies toward specialization, elaboration, size, complexity, and cost, apparent throughout the fleet, placed a great premium upon versatility, and emphasized the value of any multipurpose instruments that might come along. Two of these, one new and one old, were of such importance as to deserve special mention. These were the helicopter and the LST.
The helicopter, here receiving its first test in combat, proved of transcendent value as plane guard for carrier operations, as platform for observation and for gunfire spotting, in the location of underwater mines, in providing courier and transport service between ships at sea and across difficult terrain ashore, in the rescue of pilots down behind enemy lines, and in the rapid evacuation of the wounded. The aging and awkward LST, with its ability to beach where ports were lacking and to load and discharge by the bow without the need of winchmen and stevedores, was wholly indispensable. In addition to filling their primary amphibious role, and so greatly speeding both advance and retreat, Scajap and Amphibious Force LSTs provided logistic support across the beaches to units dispersed along the length of the peninsula and among the outlying islands. In December 1950, in a report to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Joy expressed his belief that the 38 Scajap ships had made the difference between holding and losing the Pusan beachhead, and observed that "the LST has possibly made the greatest single contribution to the success of the U.N. forces in Korea."
Within the operating forces the demonstrated versatility of both helicopter and LST led quickly to insatiable demands. For the minesweeping groups the marriage of these two instruments produced an unmatched combination of reconnaissance base, headquarters, and small boat mother ship. From all ships of sufficient size arose appeals for the installation of helicopter landing platforms. From numerous commands came urgent recommendations for the construction of new and improved LSTs.
Interacting with these problems of technological change and suitability were those posed by the nature of the theater and the actions of the enemy. Of these, one never before encountered on any scale and looked forward to with some apprehension, was that of cold weather carrier operations. But winter in the Sea of Japan proved no great obstacle, and despite low temperatures, stormy seas, and snow and ice on the flight deck, the carrier force continued as before with but a slight reduction in sortie rate.
Night carrier operations, however, were another matter, for in the air, as elsewhere, western-style war had been generally unable to adapt to the hours of darkness. In the war against Japan no permanent solution had been found, and the Pacific Fleet had wavered between employment of special night detachments and the assignment of individual carriers to night work only. In Korea the enemy’s predilection for night attacks, and his dependence on nightly truck convoys for logistic support, raised the problem in an acute form for the aviators of all services.
In the Navy the handful of specially-configurated carrier aircraft soon proved inadequate, and from the beginning of the conflict carrier commanders commented on the lack of night capabilities. At home, by early 1951, the Chief of Staff of the Operational Development Force was urging the assignment of a fleet carrier to night work. In April 1952 Admiral Ofstie observed that "until effective techniques for night attacks are available, interdiction will be at best only marginal." But since carrier decks were in short supply and techniques left much to be desired, the deficiency remained for the duration, in embarked as in shore-based aviation.
With the single exception of the mining campaign the enemy made no effort at sea. But this stroke hit where economy had been compounded by disinterest, and the difficulties at Wonsan demonstrated the outstanding naval deficiency of the conflict. Despite all efforts to improve the situation the mine remained a most effective weapon, costly in time and effort, and one which would have been more so had the Soviets chosen to commit advanced types. As it was, the lessons of previous wars were reaffirmed, the importance of the mine reemphasized, and a research program of considerable magnitude undertaken for the development of efficient methods of detection and removal.
Two other areas of potentially serious trouble went untested by the enemy. Without question a Communist submarine offensive would have changed the entire nature of the war. Harbor defense installations had enjoyed a low priority in planning and were but tardily completed; destroyers and frigates were in short supply. Although the early efforts to provide minimum cover for convoys in Tsushima Strait were soon terminated, and the escorts assigned to blockade duty, the total number of antisubmarine types was never more than sufficient to provide a minimum sound screen for the carrier task force and to meet the requirements of blockade. No effort was ever made at trans-Pacific escort of convoy, and this was perhaps just as well, for the half-dozen oilers and escort carriers and the hundred-odd escort types needed for such an enterprise were nowhere to be found.
Almost equally, a determined enemy air offensive would have raised grave problems, at sea as well as on shore. Here too the destroyer shortage was important, limiting as it did the strength of antiaircraft screens for major vessels and the employment of radar picket ships. Against propeller-driven attack planes the fast carriers could doubtless have given a good account of themselves, but operation within the range of enemy jets was complicated by various factors. Since the World War II electronic identification devices were known to the Russians, and since newer systems were only gradually becoming operational, there was a serious recognition problem. Shipborne radar capabilities were inadequate, owing both to postwar concentration on resolution rather than range, and to the concurrent arrival of the jet airplane, in which higher speeds and operating altitudes accompanied a reflecting surface greatly diminished by absence of a propeller. To cap all there was the lack, at the outset not peculiar to the Navy, of a plane which could meet the MIG on anything approaching even terms. But although in late 1950 the Air Force received, in the F-86 Sabre, a fighter of comparable performance, no such carrier-based jet was to appear in Korea.
The questions thus far considered have been principally of a technological nature. But armaments themselves are neutral, only their users give them meaning, and among the complex problems posed by war in Korea was that of personnel. In June 1950 the Pacific Fleet was manned slightly below peacetime level, and the naval population of the Western Pacific was of the order of 11,000; within the space of six months this total was to be multiplied by six, and the need for so rapid an increase raised pressing questions of where to find the men.
Finding them involved a series of emergency actions. All hands were recalled from leave, overseas tours of duty and enlistments were indefinitely extended and ship-to-shore rotation halted, shore stations were stripped of all that they could spare and more. But despite all, the situation in the early weeks was often critical, especially in the Amphibious Force. Both at Inchon and at Wonsan ships were manned well below operational requirements, and in some cases even below peacetime allowances; some of the LSTs for Inchon were recommissioned a bare two weeks before the event with but 30 percent of complement on board, and with the majority of the crews and even some of the commanding officers lacking previous experience with this type.
Great difficulties also developed in providing the staff personnel needed to direct the operations of the expanding naval force. ComNavFE’s staff had been designed for occupation duty, Admiral Higgins’ was tailored to show the flag, and others were in a similar fix. In some areas nothing existed and drastic action was necessary, as when the need for a shore-based air command brought the shanghaiing of Captain Alderman and the borrowing of Admiral Ruble. Most dramatic of the staff problems was that which afflicted Admiral Smith upon his arrival from the United States to assume command of Task Force 95: on 12 September 1950 Smith broke his flag on a tender in Sasebo with no staff at all, a condition of lonely splendor in which he continued for two weeks before anyone reported in, and for more than a month before his principal assistants were all on board.
Over and above the resources made available by emergency measures the only personnel stockpile lay in the Naval Reserve. This was immediately levied upon, both to increase existing complements and for fleet expansion. Here again, in another context, the timing of the Korean War may be said to have been fortunate: a few more years and the capabilities of the dominantly World War II Reserve would have been very doubtful.
Selective recall of reservists was at once begun, but the remedy, as always, brought its own problems. However willing to take part in a major national emergency, those recalled could hardly avoid a feeling of double jeopardy while some of their fellows, and others who had never served in uniform, remained uncalled upon. Like the population at large, the Reserve doubtless contained a handful of the politically disaffected: at one point a suspicion of sabotage on one of the fast carriers brought an investigation and the precautionary transfer of a few hands to other duty. But no serious problems ever developed, and despite the strains imposed by prosperity and lack of interest at home, morale remained generally excellent.
By the end of 1950 the personnel situation was satisfactory in total numbers, but the distribution of regulars and reserves, hastily accomplished, was extremely unbalanced. The training of many reserves was below standard. There were acute shortages in certain categories of commissioned personnel and in a number of crucial ratings. The selection and detail of those recalled to active duty suffered from the nature of mobilization planning, where once again the concept of the one big war had proven costly. In the years after 1945 an emergency service rating structure had been set up, predicated on prospective full mobilization, which divided the normal ratings into specialized subcategories to which individual reservists were assigned. But since Korea did not qualify as a general emergency no shift to the new structure was made, and reservists were called up in their general service ratings. Within these larger groupings there was ample room for misassignment, but while some of the results were sufficiently dramatic to excite attention the situation never reached gross dimensions.
Most of these difficulties could be cured in time, but in some areas famine was endemic: certain rates were short throughout the war; with the release of reservists in 1952 the shortage of reliable and experienced petty officers became increasingly acute. In November 1951 CincPacFleet warned of this impending scarcity; in February 1952 both ComServPac and CincPacFleet felt the situation presented a serious threat to combat readiness. By the end of the year it was expected that allowances would on the average be only some 40 percent filled, and would drop as low as 25 percent in those crucial specialties–yeoman, radarman, radioman, and electrician’s and machinist’s mate–in which the armed forces were competing directly with American industry.
Dangerous though these shortages were, they seem never to have seriously affected combat readiness. A questionnaire circulated among ships in the Western Pacific, inquiring if damage or casualty had resulted from personnel shortage, produced a majority of negative answers, although a number of replies reported minor maintenance difficulties and a continued shortage of deck watch standers and of radiomen. This rating, indeed, despite the establishment of a special school at Sasebo, remained most critical of all, and these people were perhaps the real heroes of the Korean War: in many ships, particularly destroyers, a six-hour watch-and-watch schedule was the rule for weeks on end. It is, of course, a truism that burdens are never equally distributed in time of crisis, but the effect of loads like this on the inclination to reenlist needs no elaboration.
Part 3. Logistic Support
No one can fight unsupported. Without timely and adequate logistic backing the finest strategy is only a paper plan. In Korea, as in any overseas theater, land strategy was a function of port facilities, and the campaign developed as a series of movements based on Pusan, Inchon, Wonsan, Hungnam, and Chinnampo. At sea, as always, the capabilities of the fighting forces were similarly dependent on the effectiveness of the supporting organization. The importance of seaborne supply to the war in the peninsula has already been touched on; it remains to consider the administration of naval logistics.
Here too affairs were complicated by the absence of plans for other than major hostilities, and by the resultant need to improvise. In the Far East the lack of a naval logistic command, the general shortage of staff personnel, and the pressure of operations hampered logistic planning. Since most Pacific and Far Eastern base facilities had been either inactivated or reduced to an austerity level, support for the Korean effort had to be projected in one bound from the west coast. Lacking both high-level guidance and detailed requests from the theater of operations, Admiral Denebrink’s Service Force had, at the start, to fight its war intuitively.
With the outbreak of war the immediate problem was to provide a flow of consumer’s goods for the expanding Western Pacific naval force, a problem calling both for estimates of needs and for action to fulfill them. In such items as rations, clothing, and small and general stores, where usage is closely related to population, prediction is simple enough, and in any case fleet units can live off their fat for a time. In these categories all that was required was a rapid expansion of overseas shipments. But in ammunition and petroleum products, where usage varies unpredictably with the tempo of operations, more complicated questions arise.
The first steps in ammunition supply have been noted earlier. Until late August, when the pipeline from the United States became filled, ammunition was hurried forward from stocks at Guam and Pearl Harbor. By mid-November some 66,000 tons had been delivered to NavFE and Seventh Fleet, of which only about 15,000 tons had been expended, and except for intermittent and unpredictable spot shortages this problem was under control for the duration.
In petroleum, the lifeblood of modern war, the situation was less satisfactory. Jurisdiction over POL had been centralized in Washington in the Armed Services Petroleum Purchasing Agency, and overseas in the theater commanders. In July, as consumption skyrocketed, Service Force oilers and gasoline tankers were pressed into duty and MSTS expanded its contract tanker fleet. In the Pacific Area, despite the drain from increased transoceanic sea and air movement, petroleum stocks were adequately maintained, but in the Far East there developed a series of potentially dangerous shortages.
Although adequate storage capacity was available in the theater, the supply on hand in the summer of 1950 was not what it should have been, and the planners failed adequately to anticipate the increase in demand. In the grade of aviation gasoline used by the Navy, stocks remained relatively constant, but by October increased consumption had brought local shortages which had to be made up by shipments from the Pacific Area and from the Philippines. In Air Force grade aviation gasoline and in Navy fuel oil the situation was worse: supplies of the former declined steadily from the start of the war, and monthly from August to November there came periods of crisis; in black oil, increased usage coupled with inadequate requests produced a serious December shortage which required rapid transfers from the Pacific Area. Except for some restrictions on airlift, the fighting forces were fortunately never affected, but the margin was too close for comfort. No safety factor existed, and the loss of a single tanker from whatever cause would have seriously curtailed operations.
In two other areas of fleet support, shortages and delays developed, although again happily without ill effect. Plans for emergency establishment of harbor defenses were lacking, and materiel was in short supply: the laying of an antisubmarine net at Sasebo, although stimulated by a submarine alarm withih the harbor in mid-August, was begun only on 3 October.
Similar troubles affected the provision of degaussing facilities, where construction of a range at Yokosuka, begun as a routine project, was raised to the highest priority with the first evidence of enemy mining. But here fate intervened: en route to the California port of embarkation a truck loaded with instruments for this installation rolled off the highway, outloading was not completed until 9 November, and not until eight months after its authorization did the Yokosuka range become operational.
As supplies and gear were hurried west, and as the Service Force moved to assume its administrative responsibilities, service units were deployed forward to provide the maximum in floating support and to minimize the need for expanded shore facilities. The establishment in July of Service Squadron 3 and of Service Division 31 eased planning problems and implementing responsibilities for both Seventh Fleet and Naval Forces Far East. In the following weeks the expansion of Service Force strength in the forward area was expedited to provide underway replenishment of operating forces, salvage services, and in-port replenishment and maintenance at Sasebo and at amphibious objectives. By September, when this procedure received formal ratification in an exchange of dispatches between CincPacFleet and the Chief of Naval Operations, its implementation was well underway. Its dimensions may be appreciated from the tabulation of supporting units present in the theater.
Table 19.—SERVICE FORCE DEPLOYMENT TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC
(Yard Types Omitted)
Type 29 June 1950 1 August 1950 15 September 1950
AD 1 2 2
AE 0 0 1
AF 1 2 2
AK 0 1 1
AKA 0 1 4
AKL 0 1 3
AN 0 0 1
AO 1 3 5
AOG 0 1 1
ARH 0 0 1
ARS 0 1 2
ATF 1 3 4
LSD 0 1 0
LST 0 1 0
4 17 27
Appreciable though it was, to those involved this reinforcement seemed only marginal, as did the projected growth of Service Force strength as a whole. The plans for naval expansion which developed over the summer called for an increase of service vessels from 46 to 67, a growth of less than 50 percent, while the active strength of the Pacific Fleet was slated to rise from 259 ships to 492, thus nearly doubling. With more than 90 fighting ships in the Western Pacific this allowance of repair vessels and tenders promised to be adequate only so long as battle damage remained small, while in other logistic types day-to-day requirements threatened to exceed the capacity of deployed units. The availability of oilers was marginal: despite the proximity of the operating area to the Japanese base, the demands of underway replenishment were such that in-port fuelling was dependent upon Britisb and Scajap tankers. The lack of ammunition ships forced early recourse to the use of AKAs with specially sheathed holds, an expedient which fortunately worked out acceptably. And of course there were never enough LSTs.
Despite the shortage of oilers and ammunition ships, replenishment at sea was quickly begun. Unavoidably, in the first days of action, naval units refueled and rearmed in port, the Seventh Fleet at Buckner Bay and Sasebo, NavFE ships at Sasebo and at Pusan. But the need to keep the carriers on the line brought a shift to underway resupply at the earliest possible date, and on 23 July Task Force 77 first fueled at sea to the south of Cheju Do. For the rest of 1950, the expansion of the carrier force and the high rate of consumption at Inchon and in the December crisis kept this a shoestring operation. By year’s end, nevertheless, ComServron 3’s fleet oilers, in 72 meetings, had accomplished 100 carrier, 11 battleship, 50 cruiser, and 546 destroyer fuelings at sea, while Mount Katmai, the reactivated Paricutin, and the sheathed AKAs had rearmed the force on 54 occasions. Transfers during these exercises were not limited to the 1,750,000 barrels of fuel oil, the 171,000 barrels of aviation gasoline, and the 7,665 short tons of ammunition which were delivered, but included numerous passengers and an infinite variety of miscellaneous commodities and fleet freight. And the supply of urgently needed items had been speeded by the institution of a daily air delivery service from Japan to Seventh Fleet carrier decks carried out by war surplus TBMs.
For the rest of the war the deployment of underway replenishment ships remained largely unchanged. One oiler was maintained at Keelung to fuel the Formosa Strait patrol; Yellow Sea units were serviced by independently sailed ships; to meet the larger needs of forces in the Sea of Japan two tankers and one or two ammunition ships were kept on station, joined as necessary by storeships and reefers. By 1952 it had become possible to replenish the entire fast carrier task force in the space of nine hours, and the impact of logistics upon operations was being further diminished by resort to the hours of darkness. Night-time replenishment, once considered so dangerous as to be impracticable, now became increasingly routine as a realistic appreciation of the possibilities of radar detection brought a relaxation of darken-ship requirements and the use of screened lights. By 1952 this evolution had become standard to the extent that the first ships were alongside the tankers before daybreak. In the last months of war nightly replenishment became the rule, and the force was meeting requirements which would have seemed wholly visionary in the war against Japan, or indeed in the summer of 1950.
Continuing operations need continuing replenishment: Ashtabula fueling Boxer and a destroyer in breezy weather. (Photo 80-G-435050)
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At no time did the underway replenishment force have much leeway. The lifting ability of the ADs and the fuel consumption of the jets strained the capacity, not only of the parent carriers, but of ammunition ships and oilers as well. One result of these steadily increasing requirements was a variety of ingenious improvisations and modifications to the equipment for transfer of POL and ammunition. Another was a vigorous debate on the future of the art, which centered on the need for replenishment vessels with more speed and longer hulls, to keep the force moving and improve handling characteristics alongside, and on the desirability of developing composite replenishment ships which could issue more than one commodity at a time.
In-port logistic support, by contrast, remained comparatively routine once the early period of improvisation was over. Replenishment and repair were handled as practicable by the floating base at Sasebo and by its smaller sister at Yokosuka, while overload requirements were contracted out to Japanese shipyards. Of the 640,000 items of material required to support a modern naval force, some 83,000 high-demand articles, enough to supply 90 percent of fleet needs, were stocked by the Service Squadron; supplies of very large items such as propellers and radar antennae were maintained ashore; more exotic objects were procured on special order, locally or from the United States. The use of Japanese sources of supply, encouraged both by price differential and by elimination of shipping costs and time, rapidly became extensive; for the Navy this reached a peak of over $1,750,000 in June 1951, and although subsequently diminishing, owing to Japanese inflation and to some instances of poor quality or delayed delivery, remained of importance throughout the war.
The value of the Japanese base, indeed, went far beyond the opportunities it afforded for offshore procurement. Although floating support was employed to the utmost, some things, inevitably, had to be done ashore. At the outbreak of hostilities ComNavFE had been faced with the immediate need to convert Sasebo from stand-by status to major operating base, and to provide some airbase facilities in Japan. The first of these requirements called for a rapid expansion of ammunition and cargo-handling capacity and of storage space; the second, urgent in view of the needs for cargo, mail, and passenger services, for carrier aircraft replacement pools, and for patrol plane bases, was solved in the early weeks through negotiations with FEAF.
But such growth tends to snowball. These new and expanded supporting activities came in due course to require support of their own, in expansion of the supply department of Fleet Activities Sasebo and of the Naval Supply Depot at Yokosuka. And in time further steps proved necessary, as needs developed for the enlargement of NavFE headquarters, of naval hospital facilities, and of ship repair capacity.
That these requirements did not make the personnel problem wholly unmanageable was owing to the availability of Japanese labor. At Sasebo, by mid-November 1950, more than 100,000 man-days of Japanese stevedoring had been used in ammunition handling alone, a contribution equivalent to that of a thousand-man labor battalion; at Inchon, Wonsan, and Hungnam, Japanese stevedores were also employed. At Fleet Activities Yokosuka, and elsewhere, nine-tenths of the jobs in the supply and similar organizations were filled by Japanese civilians. In the course of time the staffing of the Yokosuka Ship Repair Facility came to involve about 3,900 Japanese, with some 350 U.S. naval personnel engaged in supervisory work.
In all aspects of logistic support the early days were unavoidably hectic, but from November 1950 quality and quantity improved steadily, both afloat and ashore. Indeed there were triumphs: the possible need for cold weather clothing was anticipated in midsummer, and prompt procurement and shipment met all requirements of the winter campaign. There were also, of course, crises: the embarkation of X Corps in December pretty well stripped the Far East of tobacco, candy, and writing paper and required, among other things, an emergency order for a million candy bars. But by spring of 1951 the situation was well under control: underway replenishment was meeting all demands, floating support in Japan had been expanded by the arrival of reactivated repair ships, shore-based activities were running smoothly. If it had required almost ten months to assemble a well-rounded logistics command, no major crisis had developed at any point in the chain. The affair had been so managed that support of Central Pacific trust territories and preparations at Eniwetok for the forthcoming atomic tests had suffered only minor delays. And once the basic military requirements had been satisfied the American standard of living came to attract the solicitude of supply officers, and a growing proportion of correspondence to be devoted to requisitions for beer, baseballs, boxing gloves, phonographs, pinochle sets, and the like.
What this surplus implied in operating terms became apparent in August 1952, following a hangar deck fire which caused major damage to Boxer. Although no great military urgency existed, it was decided to make repairs locally rather than sailing the ship ahead of schedule to the United States. Needed material was ordered by dispatch and assembled at Yokosuka or flown out from the United States while Boxer was returning from the operating area. Following an all-hands evolution by the Yokosuka Ship Repair Facility, the repaired and refurbished carrier was back on the line 19 days after the fire, and completed five more days of flight operations before heading homeward.
Thus far the discussion has concerned only the naval side of the war. But before leaving the subject of logistics some notice should be taken of the work of the Military Sea Transportation Service in providing the trans-Pacific lift on which the entire campaign depended. With the decision to intervene in South Korea the expanding needs of Army, Navy, and Air Force brought an immediate doubling of the load for MSTS Pacific: in contrast to a westward lift of 812,000 measurement tons and 71,000 passengers in the second quarter of 1950, the period from July through September saw 1,984,000 tons and 136,000 passengers carried forward. But to double the lift, in view of the length of the supply line, the time required for the round trip, and the need for simultaneous increase of intratheater movement, required far more than a doubling of assigned shipping: the 25 MSTS vessels in or en route to the Western Pacific on 1 July had increased to 117 by 1 September and to 263 by 1 November.
Such an expansion inevitably had its growing pains. In Japan the recently opened Western Pacific headquarters of MSTS was acutely short of personnel, and the first weeks were rough ones. In the San Francisco Bay area the recruitment of merchant marine crews for contract vessels suffered some delays, while an overestimate of requirements by continental commands resulted for a time in idle shipping. Some administrative inefficiency developed in the Far East when CincFE, having failed to assign Army and Air Force personnel to the MSTS Joint Space Assignment Board, complicated communications and planning by interposing a GHQ staff section between Captain Junker and his customers. The peak loads which accompanied the Inchon, Wonsan, and Hungnam operations strained the capacity of MSTS to the utmost.
Some questions were also raised in the course of 1950 concerning the efficiency of utilization of MSTS shipping by the Far East Command. Here speed of cargo handling at destination is the crucial factor, and here, despite the best efforts of theater port commands, the first months saw considerable delays. Where estimated required port time was of the order of two weeks, the average ship reaching the Far Eastern theater spent almost a month in harbor, and the cumulative losses worked out to such considerable equivalents as an entire month’s lift to Korea, 32 ships assigned to the trans-Pacific run, or $8,000,000 in time charter hire. But this wastage seems ascribable more to tactical and geographical factors than to ineptitude in the Far East Command: port time analyses for Japan, and for Pusan, Wonsan, and Iwon, show a utilization close to maximum; the big losses came in the Inchon, where tidal and other limitations of the harbor were compounded by the mounting out of X Corps units for Wonsan.
With time these difficulties were overcome, and with time operations became routine. They were also impressively large, for the Korean War absorbed the major portion of the activity of MSTS, by now the largest shipping organization in the world. What is needed to support a modern transoceanic war of even limited dimensions may be indicated by a few figures. For World War II the average monthly Pacific outbound cargo came to 1,085,000 tons; in 1953 it fluctuated between 880,000 and 1,400,000 tons. In World War II the monthly average of westbound passengers was 49,200; in 1953 this figure varied between 39,000 and 58,000. As for the shipping requirements which such loads impose, it may be noted that MSTS operated more than three-score ships within the Far Eastern theater, moving 626,000 tons and 74,000 persons a month, while the trans-Pacific figures, in "notional" ships of standard types, reached the totals indicated in Table 20.
Table 20.—MSTS TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING REQUIREMENTS
monthly quantities Required monthly arrivals Required ships
in the pipe line
Provisions 78,000 tons 9. 7 24
General cargo 381,000 tons 38 95
Ammunition 103,000 tons 17. 7 44
Aircraft 50,000 tons 1. 6 3
Personnel 39, 000 16 24
Fuel oil 1,663, 000 bbls. 17 29
Diesel oil 675, 000 bbls. 6 11
Gasoline 1,419, 000 bbls. 11 21
Shipping required 117 251
Grand total 368
Beyond these problems of logistic administration two factors in the Korean situation deserve attention. The first relates to the problem of petroleum procurement, and to the extent to which the ability to make war may be subject to developments independent of the belligerent’s control. The second concerns the nature of the theater of operations, and its influence upon the magnitude of military effort.
Although the POL to support the Korean campaign came, in the first instance, from American stocks, the passage of time brought increasing reliance on the Middle East. Beginning in 1952 a considerable proportion of the jet fuel used in the Far East originated in the Persian Gulf. At a fairly early date the procurement of motor gasoline was divided between U.S. and Persian Gulf sources, while at intervals recourse was had to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. From the latter half of 1951 the sources of both diesel oil and Navy standard fuel oil were almost entirely Middle Eastern. In the last months of conflict the Persian Gulf provided the United Nations with all its black oil, about a third of the jet fuel, a quarter of the motor gasoline, and more than half the diesel oil; aviation gasoline alone remained a wholly American product. This Middle Eastern procurement afforded a considerable economy in tanker turnaround time as compared to the U.S. Gulf coast, but it also gave hostages to fortune. In the disturbed political state of the area, emphasized in these years by the quarrel between Britain and the Mossadegh regime in Iran, there was little assurance from one month to the next that this source would remain open.
While the ability to prosecute the war thus depended in uncomfortable degree upon the continuity of Middle Eastern oil supplies, the size of the military effort was in large part a function of port capacity. Throughout the war, despite the opportunities offered by the long Korean coast line, United Nations forces remained heavily dependent upon Pusan and Inchon. Such dependence placed a rigid if theoretical limit on the size of the forces that could be supported: a study of the shipping situation in 1951 demonstrated that, in view of the physical limitations of these ports and of Yokohama, a doubling of shipping assigned the Korean run would augment deliveries by a mere 31 percent, and an infinite increase by only 37 percent.
The implications of the study are of interest, applying as they do not only to Korea but to the Indo-China crisis that followed, and indeed to any theater of operations where ports are few. It may be granted that the use of a few large ports is more efficient than a resort to many small ones. But the multiplication of forward unloading sites provides offsetting advantages in economy of land transport, as shown by the difficulties of the post-Inchon advance, and in spreading of risk, as illustrated by the beach surveys of the winter of 1950-51, motivated in part by the possibility of nuclear attack against Pusan.
This whole question of the support of a campaign in a coastal area where ports are few and communications primitive would seem to pose heavy contingent responsibilities upon the Navy. Had it been desired to increase the effort at the front beyond the capacity of Pusan and Inchon, certain steps were theoretically possible. A reallocation of resources to the ground forces might have been accomplished by the shift of Air Force units to island sites, Ullung Do in the east and Tokchok To in the west, for example; an increase in the proportion of embarked aviation, which carries its own port facilities in the form of the Service Squadron, would have had similar results; an expansion of over the beach supply would have been helpful. But none of these solutions was easily available. The rugged topography of the Korean islands was uninviting, and the islands themselves lacked ports: indeed, a Fifth Air Force desire to set up a Tactical Air Direction Center on Paengnyong Do went unsatisfied owing to presumed logistic impossibility. As for an increase in embarked aviation and in over the beach supply, such measures would have required more carriers and more LSTs, and these were not available.
These questions, however, are speculative. So far as needs and desires dictated, maritime logistics appear to have been well handled. For all forces MSTS did its job; for the Navy the system of mobile logistic support, backed by limited base development in Japan, proved adequate to all demands while obviating the need for extensive construction ashore. If the outbreak of this unexpected war had imposed sudden and sizable logistic problems upon the armed forces of the United States, the impact had not been wholly one-sided. Reports from the submarine patrols in La P'erouse Strait indicated a volume of traffic inbound for Vladivostok which greatly exceeded previous estimates, and which was on the increase.
Part 4. Interservice Coordination and the Air Problem
Throughout the Korean War, routine interservice problems were solved with little difficulty. The evacuation of casualties and the allocation of air and sea lift crossed service bounds. Joint planning for amphibious operations was effective. Logistic cross-servicing was generally satisfactory, as Marine aviation was provided with scarce engineering talent by the Air Force, deficiencies in Marine transport were made up by the Army, and aviation materiel was traded back and forth between the Air Force and the Navy. But there was one great exception to this generally harmonious picture.
The exception, of course, concerned the question of the proper employment of tactical aviation, a problem of very long standing and one for which no agreed solution had ever been developed. In the United States a generation of impassioned doctrinal controversy and the experiences of the Second World War had resulted in a reorganization of the armed forces in which the Army was shorn of its aviation and the Army Air Force transmuted into a separate service, while the Navy and Marines retained their organic air components. This reorganization, and the conflicting philosophies and practices which it embodied, met its first test in Korea.
Less than a year before, in the congressional hearings on "Unification and Strategy," the ancient controversy between the schools of separate and of integrated air war had reached its moment of greatest bitterness. With the invasion of South Korea the dollar aspect of the problem disappeared, but in place of budgetary pressures there developed those exerted by an enemy apparently unimpressed with air theory. The locus of tension between the services shifted from Washington to the theater of operations, where difficulties reappeared in conflict between Navy and Air Force over the control and employment of aircraft, and in controversy between Army and Air Force as well.
Given the history of the air question the reappearance in Korea of controversy and tension was hardly surprising. Nor, indeed, should the importance of these conflicts be overestimated. So much, in recent years, has been blamed on service rivalries as to raise the suspicion that some of the talk is used by civilians, whether taxpayers or administrators, to camouflage their own derelictions. And it should be remembered that equally vigorous if less publicized controversies exist within the individual services. In the Navy there was friction between surface and air, and disagreement as to the proper structure of the command organization. In the Air Force such matters as the control of airlift, the coordination of Bomber Command, and authority over service units provided bones of contention for FEAF and Fifth Air Force. Doubtless the Army had its problems too. Nevertheless the interservice difficulties deserve some comment, if only because the greatest tactical surprise of the Korean War was its demonstration of the limited effectiveness of "air power."
The argument that strength in the air is the sufficient precondition of victory, and that an air force which commands the skies inevitably commands all below, had in the years since World War II commended itself to many. Yet although in some respects persuasive, this argument had been less than wholly substantiated by the experience of the wars with Germany and Japan, to say nothing of the Italian campaign. In Korea it was to be quickly refuted.
In the first six months of war, although enjoying almost complete command of the air, the aviation of the U.N. was unable to prevent reverses on the ground, deny the enemy the use of his own territory, isolate the battlefield, or detect the assembly of large enemy forces. The defense of the perimeter had been a very close thing; in the disastrous battle of the Chongchon and the subsequent retreat to the south every aircraft in the sky was friendly; in the later stages of the war a costly and sustained effort to isolate the battlefield by the interdiction of enemy supply lines was to fail of its anticipated success.
Yet where proper control procedures were available the employment of aircraft in direct support of troops had tremendous military effectiveness, as was amply demonstrated by the operations of the Marine Brigade along the Naktong, by the campaign for Seoul, and by the movement of the Marine Division from the reservoir to the sea. In a different context the essential interdependence of air and surface activity was reaffirmed when the failure of interdiction was attributed by air commanders to the diminished enemy consumption which followed stabilization of the front. Paradoxically indeed, the first test of the new service concerned with air war pure resulted in a striking reaffirmation of the great degree to which, in a non-nuclear environment, success in the air depends on events below.
For this lesson the services were unequally prepared. The divergent histories of Air Force and naval aviation had by 1950 produced very different patterns in training, equipment, and control mechanisms. The geography of the plains of North Africa and Europe and the ideology of independent air power had made that "inherent flexibility" of which enthusiasts prated a macroflexibility. For the conduct of the air campaign, control was centralized at the highest possible level and preplanned operations were the rule, with the result that while a large effort could be switched from day to day along an extensive battle front, control at the target had been neglected. From this structure had developed a communications system with large capacity for routine transmission of orders and reports between central command post and operating air bases, but with limited provision for tactical communications at the scene of action.
The Navy and Marines, by contrast, accustomed to attacks against such easily defined targets as fleets and airbases, and to operations within the constricted beachhead, tended to rely on doctrine supplemented by brief orders, and on delegation of control to those on the spot. Provision of tactical aviation in ground warfare was looked upon as a service to the forces involved rather than as part of a separately controlled campaign, as an à la carte rather than a table d’ hôte proposition. The consequence was a command communications system of high reliability but comparatively small capacity, lacking in such automated devices as the radioteletype, but balanced by an emphasis on discrimination at the objective expressed in liberal provision of ground controllers and in the design of tactical communications equipment. As compared to the four VHF channels in the radios of Air Force fighter-bombers, the sets in naval and Marine aircraft had ten.
The incompatability of these systems was forcefully demonstrated in Korea. As in the Southwest Pacific in the war against Japan, Air Force verbosity in communications swamped the less capacious naval circuits, and indeed, at times, FEAF’s own: an extreme example was the grandfather of all radio messages, received by Task Force 77 in November 1950, which took 8,000 encrypted groups to set forth the air plan for one day, and which required over 30 man-hours for processing. Contrariwise, scene of action requirements for precise and deliberate control of aircraft in situations tightly packed in the air and fluid on the ground went far beyond the capacity of Air Force tactical communications. Both services, in a sense, were right in this matter, and both wrong: the land campaign, if only from problems of target description, is unavoidably wordier than war at sea; the compression of space and time brought about by the speed and power of modern weapons has made all tactical situations increasingly approximate the tightly-packed beachhead.
In the months before the war some efforts at improvement of joint communications had been made by Seventh Fleet. With an eye to the need for cooperation in a possible emergency, a series of drills and exercises with Western Pacific Air Force units had been attempted. But success had been only moderate, and the reports had emphasized the "real and urgent" need for action at the Washington level in the interest of efficient interservice communications. Somewhat similar conditions existed in Japan, where Air Force efforts at joint exercises and Air Force tentatives toward establishment of a Joint Operations Center had met little response from the Army. The whole situation points up a failure at Department of Defense level to place sufficient emphasis on joint matters, a failure apparently consequent not only to budgetary pressures and to the primacy in planning for war in the North European plain, but also to the well-meant efforts to prevent "duplication" by writing down exclusive rather than cooperative roles and missions.
With the arrival of the Seventh Fleet in Korean waters the problems of coordination assumed immediate practical importance, and on 8 July General Stratemeyer asked CincFE for operational control over all naval aircraft operating from Japan or over Korea. But this request, which involved authority to select carrier operating areas as well as targets, was resisted by Admiral Joy. Quite apart from the echoes of Air Force imperialism and from technical questions of capability, the felt hazards of Communist submarines and the contingent responsibility of Seventh Fleet for the defense of Formosa made the proposal undesirable, and after a meeting of interested parties the phrase "coordination control" was substituted. Although the term had enjoyed some use in prior planning for analogous situations, the Air Force was later to profess itself unsatisfied with such limited authority. But difficulties deriving from phraseology were less important than those arising from the structure of the Far East Command, and from incompatabilities of doctrine, equipment, and training.
While the early employment of Task Force 77 on northern strikes posed few problems, the air situation, as General Shepherd noted in July, was full of paradox. As a result of the pressures of the moment, B-29s were employed on tactical targets to the dissatisfaction of all concerned; jet fighters, with a fuel restriction limiting them to 15 minutes in the combat zone, were assigned to troop support; despite a wealth of close support opportunities carrier aircraft were committed against semi-strategic objectives. With the passing of time, however, the imperative needs of the perimeter brought a steady southward displacement of carrier operations which culminated with CincFE’s order of 8 August to put everything on close support. This development made necessary the coordination of Seventh Fleet operations, not only with FEAF, but with the Air Force and Army commands in the peninsula as well. On paper the question was dealt with by FEAF and NavFE representatives in the 3 August memorandum on "Proposed Target Arrangements with Navy." In actuality it had hardly been faced.
Arriving in circumstances of great emergency to lend a hand, the carrier aviators found themselves faced with difficulties which frustrated their best efforts. Common maps and common grids were lacking, so that location and designation of targets on an interservice basis was almost impossible. The command structure, presided over by the distant genius of the Dai Ichi Building and overcentralized in Tokyo, made no provision for a field commander charged with the coordination of forces, and little for direct dealing between Eighth Army, Fifth Air Force, and Seventh Fleet. But perhaps the greatest problem was that of communications.
In the first days of fighting, requests for air support had gone through GHQ and FEAF; only on 7 July did Stratemeyer gain CincFE’s permission to have the Army in Korea call directly upon Fifth Air Force. The entry of the carriers into support of the perimeter led to further complications, and in late July, in the hope of bringing order into chaos, Admiral Hoskins sent a representative to Taegu to establish communications with the Joint Operations Center. But incompatibility of facilities limited the success of this effort, as did the command structure, since direct dealing was authorized only for "coordination of air operations previously scheduled by higher authority." What this meant, in terms of emergency calls for close support, was that a dispatch originating at battalion level was supposed to travel normal infantry channels to Army at Taegu, thence to JOC, thence by relay to FEAF in Tokyo, and there from FEAF to NavFE for broadcast to Commander Seventh Fleet.
Under such restrictions it seems unlikely that the most elaborate communications system could have done the job, and the net that actually existed was rudimentary. On 15 July FEAF set up a circuit linking its Tokyo headquarters with FAFIK and with Seventh Fleet; ten days later Admiral Struble was still having difficulty in direct communications with FEAF; on 4 August, as a result of the pressure of other needs, FEAF was obliged to secure this circuit, thus further complicating an originally marginal situation. And even in the autumn, when circuits had been successfully established, slow internal handling of messages on the part of shore-based commands continued to impose delays.
In the air over Korea communications also presented difficulties. Confronted by the requirement of converting a defensive fighter force into one which could participate effectively in the land battle, Fifth Air Force had begun an heroic effort in improvisation. Two tactical air control parties were in the field by the end of June; a small combat operations section reached Taejon in the first week of July; late in the month a Joint Operations Center of sorts had become operational at Taegu. But by this time attrition of the TACPs had forced resort to airborne control of support strikes, while saturation of inadequate Army communications had encouraged the relaying of requests for air support through the orbiting Mosquito control planes.
This practice made a bad situation worse. Of the four VHF channels to which most Air Force planes were limited, only two were common to the various types of aircraft in the theater and to the jeep-mounted radios of tactical air control parties. Since Air Force procedures required incoming flights to report to JOC for assignment, and then to be passed through division to a regimental TACP or Mosquito, a considerable amount of talk was involved. As a result of this insistence on the part of JOC on acting as control as well as scheduling center, channels were so jammed that to drown out competing chatter a reporting aircraft had to come within 10 or 15 miles, a situation which at times imposed as much as 200 extra flight miles on carrier planes coming in from the west. Over the lines, meanwhile, the passage of information between attacking aircraft, Mosquito control plane, and ground party was confined to a single channel on which more than a dozen controlling centers were talking simultaneously, all this against a background buzz of conversation between the JOC and other flights. When to these circumstances was added a general indiscipline in voice communications, the difficulties encountered became quite understandable.
Both at command and tactical levels, therefore, the communications system proved inadequate to effective joint operations. One result was uncertainty in Task Force 77 as to the real nature of the emergency when calls for help came in, and in commands ashore as to its availability for support; a second was the frustrating inability of aviators to gain adequate control over the battleline. In time this situation would lead to attempts to break away from the perimeter, and to find more constructive employment for the air groups of Seventh Fleet; more immediately, it brought a number of unsuccessful efforts to short-circuit the established system. On 23 July an urgent plea from EUSAK for carrier support led to protests from Fifth Air Force, which had failed to receive its copy of the message. Two days later an attempt by Admiral Struble to bypass the Tokyo echelon and operate in consultation with EUSAK and the Joint Operations Center brought reproaches from ComNavFE. In early August a move by the commanding officer of Sicily to avoid the communications jam and gain more time over target by sending flights directly to the front was slapped down as "not acceptable." Late in the month, in an effort to reduce direct calls for naval air and gunfire from the forces in the field, ComNavFE got CincFE to remind all hands that any request involving changes in naval planning, or action against Bomber Command targets, had to be arranged through Tokyo.
In this situation effective control of close support proved impossible to attain. While the forces defending the perimeter could hardly have managed without the support they got, its quality, judged by any serious standard, was generally poor. The exception to this generalization, which shone the brighter in contrast to the general confusion, was in the support of the Marine ground forces by Marine and naval aviation, where the complexities of integration of ground and air were competently solved. In the southern spoiling offensive and in the battles on the Naktong the Marine aircraft from the escort carriers, exempted from the requirement of reporting in through JOC, checked in directly with their own people and did the job they had been trained to do; in the operations of Joint Task Force 7 at Inchon and of X Corps in northeastern Korea a similar situation prevailed. Much of the credit for these successes was due to pilot training based on a long history of air-ground cooperation; still more, perhaps, to effectiveness of control.
Here some statistics may be in order. Of 668 "close support" sorties sent in from the fast carriers between 26 July and 3 September, 28 percent were not controlled; for 299 such sorties at Inchon the proportion was 2 percent. In the crisis of 1 September some 280 sorties were put into the Naktong front between Tuksongdong and the south coast, an effort beyond the capacity of the JOC control system and which resulted in its collapse. On D-Day at Inchon, by contrast, the Tactical Air Control Squadron in Mount McKinley handled 302 Navy and Marine sorties without difficulty. On 3 December, with a daylight working period three and a half hours shorter than that of early September, X Corps’ Marine controllers at Hungnam processed 359 sorties; of these 197 were passed on to the tactical control section at Hagaru, where four-fifths were employed in the ten-mile sector between Hagaru and Yudam-ni under the direction of six ground parties. On 23 December the Mount McKinley Tacron handled 247 sorties in close and deep support of the shrunken Hungnam perimeter. If none of these figures matches the amphibious set-pieces of the latter part of World War II, in which upwards of 60 aircraft an hour were fed into restricted beachhead areas, they nonetheless reflect the virtue and the necessity of sophisticated and decentralized control systems.
The failures of air support in the summer of 1950 had sizable repercussions. The operations of the Marine Brigade and of Marine and naval aircraft had shown Eighth Army some of the possibilities in this area; in the campaign for Seoul and in northeastern Korea the Army units assigned to X Corps had their education continued; within the Air Force there was considerable soul-searching. In Korea this led to an influx of dignitaries from Washington to study the situation, to the convening of various boards of investigation, and to a discussion of the proper relationships between air and ground forces which lasted throughout the war. In the United States the Tactical Air Command reappeared as a major functional unit of the Air Force. In the Defense Department rumors were afoot that General Collins was contemplating an attempt to recover Army control of tactical aviation, a possibility which, in view of the nature of the earlier Collins Plan for reorganization of the armed forces, was not devoid of humor.
In the end this ferment was to have certain constructive results. For the short term, however, and under the tension of the campaign, the effects were exacerbating. In late August the troubles reached the press, with publication in the Baltimore Sun of a news story supported by editorial comment based on the views of the frustrated aviators of Task Force 77. One result was a dispatch from the Chief of Naval Operations and a memorandum from ComNavFE adjuring naval personnel to keep their criticisms inside the family and out of the newspapers. Another was a rejoinder from a nationally syndicated columnist who alleged that, far from being of superior effectiveness, the Navy and the Marines had been lying down on the job in Korea, and that their air support system was good only for butchering friendly troops.
This last effusion brought a letter from General Stratemeyer, expressing his regret for such unwarranted criticism and assuring Admiral Joy that the staff of FEAF was not responsible; earlier, in the flurry caused by the Sun articles, he had inquired of ComNavFE whether, in his opinion, the derogatory allegations about the Air Force were true. In reply, while regretting that accounts of "these deficiencies" had reached the press, Admiral Joy observed that with regard to air-ground cooperation he thought they were, but that allegations that the Air Force was unreceptive to suggestion were wholly false; to Stratemeyer’s expressed desire that problems be thrashed out between the two of them, ComNavFE replied that tactical air was a difficult problem and that perhaps they should have got together sooner on it.
With this conclusion we may leave the subject. While the failure to provide adequate support for the Army in the perimeter was undeniable, it would seem that more help might have been given by the Navy. The analyses of the situation by Struble, Hoskins, and Ewen, and the remedies that they proposed had been perceptive, but despite an apparently hospitable attitude on the part of FEAF toward naval participation in close support and the use of Navy controllers, their implementation was never pressed. Requests from the Army in Korea and recommendations from the Seventh Fleet for the commitment of the Anglico and of the Tactical Air Control Squadron from Mount McKinley were denied; assignment of Navy planes to share in the control function was the exception rather than the rule; although all services would have benefited from strong naval representation in the JOC, and although the visits of Weymouth and others had proved helpful, no serious attempt to make this a truly joint enterprise took place.
To some degree the atomistic nature of the Tokyo command, where General MacArthur had retained his World War II structure despite directives to establish a unified staff, can be held responsible; to some degree instructions from Washington limited the freedom of action of local commanders in all services. Within the forces afloat there seems to have been insufficient understanding of the appalling difficulties under which Fifth Air Force labored, not all of which were due to faulty doctrine, and some failure to give credit where credit was due, as in the rapid increase of jet fighter bombloads. Not fully appreciating the necessarily deliberate nature of close support, the pilots of Task Force 77 were at times overly impatient of delay. And finally, there existed at certain levels of the naval command a distrust of the Air Force and a desire to keep at a distance not wholly explicable by the submarine problem and the Formosan responsibility, and this defensive attitude, however understandable, was perhaps the saddest consequence of the interservice battles of the preceding years.
With the movement to Inchon and the separation of naval and Air Force operations, relations became easier, and by early 1951 things had improved. Communications between Task Force 77 and the JOC were at last working effectively; air group commanders from the fast carriers were being sent in in rotation to handle the liaison function; in due course a permanent assignment would be made. With the passage of time and the discounting of the submarine, Task Force 77 had taken permanent station in the Sea of Japan and was no longer puzzling Air Force officers by its mobility. From this time on division of labor was to be largely geographical, with operations coordinated by JOC on the basis of daily submission of the task force air plan. In this favorable situation cooperation developed by natural growth: by war’s end the installation of radioteletype had enabled the carriers to master the communication load, while the replacement at JOC of the naval liaison officer by a full-fledged naval member, the so-called NMJ, confirmed the joint nature of the enterprise.
In the controversial question of close support doctrinal differences remained. Overcentralization at JOC, where aircraft allocation was controlled and where all requests had to be approved, kept the system vulnerable both to enemy action and to communications saturation at times of peak activity. Air Force unwillingness to assign forward air controllers below the regimental level left this function largely in the hands of the Mosquitos, most effective in the stable situations in which least needed. But with calls for close support diminished by the static nature of the front, and with the carriers committed to interdiction, the problems inherent in the system could be ignored, and only in the final weeks of war did there develop a repetition of the confusion of August 1950.
In August 1953, 12 days after the signing of the Korean armistice, an interservice board assembled at Seoul to consider the problems of joint air-ground operations. The conclusions of the board reflected adversely on the rigid administrative procedures which in Korea had limited the effectiveness of air in fast-moving tactical situations. The need for better communications, both in the request net and at the scene of action, was emphasized. The excessive delays resulting from reliance on ground alert aircraft for attack against fleeting targets were noted; the employment of flights orbiting on station or diverted from preplanned missions was urged; and it was made clear that the Mosquito was no substitute for ground control of strikes against targets close to the MLR. For effective joint action in future comparable situations the establishment of a Joint Operations Center, 1953 model, was recommended, and the proposal, dating back to the summer of 1950, that the Navy provide a quota of forward air controllers was revived. This report marked a real step toward a meeting of minds in this complex and vital area: only in the question of providing air controllers at battalion level did the Air Force members disagree with the representatives of the other services. And all hands agreed on the "urgent requirement" for an established joint air support doctrine and procedure.
But Korea was far from home, and the victories of peace are different, if no less renowned, than those of war. Pursuant to the urgent recommendation of the conference the job of developing an agreed joint doctrine for air support of ground forces was quickly undertaken. On 28 August, only a week after adjournment of the Seoul meetings, this task was assigned the Joint Tactical Air Support Board "as a matter of priority," but with the proviso that if "inter-service divergent views" were encountered, these should be referred to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force for resolution at department level.
The hint, if hint it was, was quickly taken. The Air Force members of the board broadened the discussion to discover areas of difference, insisted that joint action take place on the highest rather than the lowest echelon, and looked with disfavor upon joint activities below the level of the area commander. The separateness and co-equality of air was stressed at the expense of integrated action, the need for joint task force organizations for airborne or amphibious operations was denied, the concept of joint planning conferences was evaded, and heavy emphasis was placed on the necessity of adhering to "the operational procedures which have worked with outstanding success in World War II and in Korea."
The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps members, for their part, while attempting to keep the discussion on the track, expressed some doubt as to the "outstanding success" of existing methods, and urged that development be not restricted by a blind adherence to the past. But agreement between the representatives of these three services was of no avail. In December 1953 the split report was forwarded to Washington for resolution at department level and there, presumably, suitably interred. In any event there is still no joint doctrine.
Part 5. The Larger Picture
Despite its violence and drama the struggle in Korea was but one aspect of a larger whole. While the tide of battle flowed up and down the peninsula, the war of maneuver, diplomacy, and subsidy continued all along the frontiers of the divided world. Unquestionably there were great differences between the operations in the Korean sector and the course of affairs elsewhere: as General MacArthur, who felt this most keenly, observed, "here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words." But words are weapons; the aims and stakes were everywhere the same; Europe remained of primary importance and the boundaries of the shooting war subject to change.
For the armed forces in the Far East, most of all, perhaps, for the Navy, the existence of Communist nations on both flanks, the commitment to defend Formosa, and the international nature of the high seas obscured the borders of the conflict. Of the possibilities inherent in the conduct of operations in an area flanked by unfriendly powers, both possessed of military air forces and one with a sizable submarine fleet, the most dramatic example had been the destruction of the Russian bomber in September 1950. But while the chance of similar incidents was ever present, it was with regard to the submarine that the question of when properly to engage an unidentified intruder was most puzzling.
Early in the conflict Admiral Joy had advised his forces that "unidentified submarines may be attacked and driven off by any means available in self-defense or when offensive action against our forces is indicated," and that "continued submergence of an unidentified submarine in position to attack . . . is considered to indicate offensive action." Since submarines can detect an approaching surface force before being themselves discovered, and so enjoy a period of time in which to make their presence known, "continued submergence" was narrowly interpreted and sound contacts were invariably attacked at once. Such attacks were frequent in the first months of fighting, both in Korean waters and in the Ryukyu-Formosa area, but most targets were ultimately evaluated doubtful and some as positively non-submarine.
The air action in the Yellow Sea was not repeated, and no submarine attacks developed. But there remained, most notably in the Formosa area and along the patrol plane tracks in the Yellow and Japan Seas, the possibility of chance encounters with Chinese Communist or Soviet forces. In the Yellow Sea, except for the loss of a patrol plane to North Korean antiaircraft, no incidents took place until summer of 1952, when two PBMs were attacked and damaged by Communist jets. In the Sea of Japan, however, in November 1951, a P2V failed to return from a northerly search, and subsequent information indicated that it had been shot down off Cape Ostrovnoy by Soviet fighters. Here in the north the Air Force also engaged in reconnaissance, and with similar results: in October 1952, a year after the loss of the P2V, a B-29 was shot down off Hokkaido by Soviet fighters; in March 1953 an RB-50 was attacked, although without damage, over the sea to the east of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
In Formosa Strait, the region of Seventh Fleet’s contingent responsibility, the situation remained generally quiescent. The alarm of late July 1950 had brought the hasty diversion of Helena and a destroyer division from Korea, followed within a few days by Juneau. Early in August Admiral Struble formed Juneau, two destroyers, and an oiler into Task Group 77.3, based at Keelung and shortly to be reinforced by Worcester and another destroyer from the Mediterranean. By month’s end Rear Admiral Thomas H. Binford, who in 1942 had commanded the old fourstackers in the Java Sea fighting, had arrived from the United States in the heavy cruiser Saint Paul to assume command of the Formosa Patrol. Although the crisis of December brought the surface units north the task group was shortly reconstituted, and throughout the war surveillance of the strait was continued by Seventh Fleet surface units and by patrol planes.
Here, too, as in the north, long-range naval aircaft working the area from their bases in the Pescadores, at Buckner Bay, and on Luzon, had intermittent brushes with the Communists. As early as 26 July 1950 a P4Y was attacked by fighters in northern Formosa Strait, but escaped without damage; ten days later a PBM was fired on by antiaircraft batteries in the neighborhood of Amoy. On 5 November a PBM failed to return from southern Formosa Strait, and although searches were persistent they were also negative and the cause of loss remained unknown. Two generally peaceful years followed, but in the autumn of 1952 there developed a number of antiaircraft actions with shore batteries and small warships, and on two occasions patrol aircraft were attacked by MIGs. But no plane was lost until January 1953, when a P2V was shot down by gunfire from a coastal island and a Coast Guard PBM, sent to rescue the crew, itself crashed and sank while attempting takeoff in heavy seas.
So despite all hazards the war remained circumscribed. Although planning for larger things had followed the intervention of the CCF, the blockade of mainland China was never implemented and mainland target folders stayed on the shelf. The intensity of action diminished rapidly with distance, and except for minor incidents shooting was limited to Korea and to Korean waters. In the northern Sea of Japan the units of the Soviet Far Eastern Fleet maneuvered, undisturbed and undisturbing. Through the waters of the Western Pacific, Soviet and Chinese Communist merchant ships continued on their way, subject only to the photographic efforts of search planes and submarines. But while the area of actual combat remained small, related events of great importance were taking place throughout the world.
In the United States, in September 1950, a controversial career ended as Louis Johnson, in part the architect and in part the victim of the Truman administration’s defense policies, departed Washington, and General Marshall, again recalled from retirement, reigned in his place. Already, however, the policies had changed. With the invasion of South Korea the $14 billion ceiling vanished overnight, and budgeting and planning officers labored to keep up with administration willingness to approve and congressional readiness to appropriate. In the fiscal year 1949–50, the year of interservice quarreling and the B-36 hearings, naval appropriations, originally voted at slightly over $5 billion, had been cut by the Johnsonian ax to less than $4½ billion. For 1950–51 they totalled more than $12 billion, and in the following fiscal year monies appropriated for the Navy alone would exceed the earlier three-service ceiling, while the total defense budget would approach $60 billion.
It is, of course, easier to appropriate than to spend, and the events of immediate significance were less the dollar votes than the recall of reserves, the expansion of selective service calls, and the reactivation of fleet units and base facilities. But with the passing of time expenditures also rose dramatically: the $14¼ billion spent by all services in fiscal 1950 rose to $38¼ billion in 1952; for the Navy alone the increase was from $4.1 billion to almost $10 billion. The effects on the national economy were not disastrous.
For the Navy’s operating forces two principal consequences followed this dollar flood: an immediate expansion of the fleet through reactivation of mothballed ships, and its subsequent strengthening by conversion of existing units and by new construction. Reserving the latter subject for later treatment, it may be noted here that fleet expansion took place in all categories from attack carriers of the Essex class down to yard craft and liberty boats. The extent and speed of this expansion may be inferred from a tabulation of major combatant ships in active service in June and October 1950.
Table 21.—DISTRIBUTION OF MAJOR COMBAT SHIPS
June 1950 October 1950
Type Atlantic Fleet Pacific Fleet Total Atlantic Fleet Pacific Fleet Total
Fleet carriers 4 3 7 4 5 9
Light carriers 3 1 4 4 1 5
Escort carriers 2 2 4 3 3 6
Battleships 1 0 1 1 1 2
Cruisers 7 6 13 8 8 16
Totals 17 12 29 20 18 38
The 50 percent expansion of the Pacific Fleet, while sufficiently impressive, is perhaps less remarkable than the fact that the Atlantic Fleet should have expanded at all, while at the same time contributing heavily to the increase of Far Eastern naval strength. From this Fleet, by way of the Suez and Panama Canals, there came in the early months a battleship, a fleet carrier, a light cruiser, a destroyer squadron and an escort destroyer division, a hospital ship, three attack transports, three attack cargo ships, and two LSDs. This was no inconsiderable contribution, yet it was dwarfed by that of the Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, which for a time almost disappeared as a result of the need to reinforce the 1st Marine Division for Inchon. In the period between June and mid-August, when FMFLant hit its low point, onboard personnel, officer and enlisted, diminished from 18,470 to a mere 3,196.
Notable as was this westward shift of force, it was controlled and limited. Great though they were, the exigencies of the Korean situation were not permitted to overthrow the broad lines of accepted strategy. The defense of Europe remained the primary task; the larger portion of the Navy remained in the Atlantic. And as a precautionary measure, since none could read the future, the outbreak of fighting in Asia was soon followed by a forward deployment on the other side of the world.
In the Mediterranean Sea, where geography affords the opportunity to reach behind the Iron Curtain and to sustain the independence of the nations of Southern Europe and the Near East, the Navy maintained its Sixth Fleet. This fleet, lineal descendant of the Naval Forces Mediterranean of World War II days, had received its current designation in early 1950. Its existing deployment dated from the previous year, at which time the Atlantic Fleet had organized three carrier task forces, one of which was at all times kept on station in the Mediterranean, along with an amphibious element embarking a Marine battalion and miscellaneous supporting units. Spring of 1950 had seen this force, built around the carrier Leyte and the cruisers Salem and Worcester, engaged in routine exercises. With the invasion of the Republic of Korea its strength was to be more than doubled.
Escorted by a division of destroyers, the large carrier Midway, which already enjoyed a limited nuclear capability, was speedily sailed for the Mediterranean, where she arrived in mid-July and where she was joined shortly by her sister Coral Sea. With the striking force thus strengthened, Worcester and a destroyer division were detached to the Far East by way of Suez, followed in mid-August by Bexar and Montague with the Marine battalion, while Leyte was returned to the United States for further transfer to the Far East by way of Panama. There remained in the Sixth Fleet the 2 large carriers, 3 cruisers, and 14 destroyers, and in September the force was further strengthened by an antisubmarine group formed about the escort carrier Mindoro. But with the period of triumph in Korea the crisis seemed to have been surmounted, tension diminished, and Sixth Fleet was cut back to normal size.
The reduction, like the triumph, was to prove short-lived. As the emergency which followed Chinese intervention in Korea brought a second hasty reinforcement of the Far East, so too it governed movements in the Atlantic. In January a new augmentation of the Sixth Fleet was begun, as a light carrier, a destroyer division, and two fast minesweepers were ordered forward. With the apparent imminence of a major spring crisis the scheduled May relieving group of one large carrier, 11 destroyers, and ancillary units was sailed to reach the Mediterranean in March; at the same time an amphibious task element with a Marine battalion was sent forward to provide, for the first time since the previous August, a limited amphibious capability. Following the arrival of these reinforcements the ships already on station were kept on through early May, with the result that these months saw the largest concentration of American naval power in the Mediterranean since the end of World War II.
The expected crisis did not come, but little relaxation resulted. Over and above the necessity of strengthening its striking force in Mediterranean waters, and of contributing to Far Eastern naval strength, manifold responsibilities weighed upon the Atlantic Fleet. During the warm months resupply convoys had to be sent up to the Arctic. Spring of 1951 brought the need to transport and land the newly established Iceland Defense Force. An arduous and continuing schedule of training in convoy work, mine warfare, amphibious operations, and air defense had to be maintained. The strains of rapid expansion, brought about by reactivation of mothballed ships and the activation of new aviation units, imposed a heavy load in personnel training and administration as on-board complement expanded in the space of two years from 107,575 to 235,426. Nor was non-shooting war without its costs: the greatest single tragedy of the period of the Korean conflict took place in the Atlantic, when in April 1952, in the course of night air operations, the DMS Hobson got in front of the carrier Wasp and was run down and sunk with a loss of 176 lives.
So war in Europe, if still in CincFE’s phrase only a war of words, absorbed large quantities of naval strength. And in diplomacy, as in the military establishment, the sense of urgency deriving from aggression in Korea was employed to strengthen the defenses of the West. This process was most notable in the fleshing out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where the treaty of April 1949 had been followed by requests for American military assistance and these, in October, by the Mutual Defense Act. More paperwork and negotiation followed, but in March of 1950 shipment of materiel began with the sailing of a load of naval aircraft on the French carrier Dixmude, a vessel of appropriately international background which, begun as an American merchant ship, had been converted to an auxiliary aircraft carrier, lend-leased for wartime service to Great Britain, and ultimately transferred to the French Navy.
The NATO powers had by now agreed on broad strategic concepts, and the wheels of implementation were grinding. The pace, however, remained leisurely: Russian forces in the satellites outnumbered those available for the defense of Europe by perhaps five to one, and the latter, of widely varying quality, were maldeployed, malsupported, and without a coordinating command structure. But Korea changed all this. In the new atmosphere came new effort, and on 15 September, as the Marines were going over the seawalls at Inchon, the North Atlantic Council voted to create an integrated force under centralized command. In December the call went out for General Eisenhower to return to the scene of his earlier triumphs; in January the organization of a headquarters was begun; on 2 April 1951 SHAPE assumed operational control of NATO forces.
Although much remained to be done, General Eisenhower’s hand had already been strengthened by the arrival of new Army and Air Force contingents, as well as by expansion of the Sixth Fleet. Following the invasion of South Korea an increase of jet fighters and B-50 bombers had trebled Air Force strength in the United Kingdom. In the course of 1951 the Air Divisions there and in Germany were expanded into Air Forces, the southern flank was strengthened by acquisition of North African airbases, and four more Army divisions reached Europe to join the two already there. There was also reinforcement from within: in Europe as in America defense expenditures rose steadily, and while the American contribution continued to predominate, the outlays of European NATO members more than doubled between 1949 and 1952.
While the defenses were going up in Europe the right flank was pushed forward through the Mediterranean. Here geography and naval power permitted both the development of advanced airfields in Tripoli and Saudi Arabia and the extension of NATO planning to include Greece and Turkey. These were hardly Atlantic states, and their accession was consequently opposed by some, but the sea road that connected them with the Atlantic made possible their support against pressure from the north. These facts of life were emphasized and western power made tangible in the summer of 1950 by the appearance of the Sixth Fleet at Phaleron Bay, just east of the Piraeus; by amphibious exercises in Crete; and by an aerial demonstration staged over Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government. Late in the year Greece and Turkey were invited to associate themselves with NATO planning, and in early 1951 the Sixth Fleet again called at Phaleron Bay. In May the United States proposed formal NATO membership for these countries, and in July Coral Sea and her attendant ships dropped anchor at Istanbul. In the fall the formal invitation to accede was issued, and early in 1952 the transaction was consummated.
Naval diplomacy was by this time in full swing, and the fleet was showing the flag in a new area. The adherence of Greece and Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization greatly emphasized the importance of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Army. Here cooperation had been facilitated by the end of civil war in Greece and by Tito’s break with Russia. Subsequent to these developments crop failures had forced this Communist country to turn westward and, despite many protestations to the contrary, to start edging into the position of a constructive member of NATO. By early 1951 Yugoslav preparations to receive assistance were in progress and in February food and credits began arriving. In April former German military equipment was provided by France and Britain, to be followed, with poetic justice, by Russian gear captured in Korea. Before the year was out military missions had been exchanged with the United States, and in December Sixth Fleet units visited a Yugoslav port. In 1952 this developing cordiality brought a task force built around Coral Sea to Split, finest of Adriatic harbors, where Marshal Tito was himself embarked and edified by a demonstration of flight operations.
By early 1952 the NATO naval command structure had been completed, and arduous efforts in the coordination of multinational forces were beginning to flower in large-scale naval exercises. In November a six-nation operation was carried out; in the following March a large NATO maneuver was held in the Western Mediterranean; in the autumn of 1953 the Sixth Fleet would sortie to the North Atlantic, to join the forces of that ocean in the greatest combined exercise to date.
So in Europe, as in Korea, the line was held, and even slightly improved. As always the imperfect world contained sufficient difficulties: despite SEATO and the Baghdad Pact, the unsettled conditions of Southeast Asia and the Near East continued to resist treatment. Still, it could be said that the events set in train by the invasion of South Korea had reacted, on balance, to the detriment rather than the advantage of the Communist world. The North Korean People’s Army had been destroyed and the forces of Communist China heavily punished. Japan had been protected; the Republic of Korea had been liberated; Formosa had not fallen. In Europe NATO had been built up. The United States, keystone of the entire structure, was to a considerable degree rearmed.
All this, of course, had been accomplished by way of reaction. That so much had to be credited to the North Koreans rather than to the conscious and purposeful initiative of the West was perhaps cause for philosophical regret. But the response, for the moment at least, had been a notable one.
Part 6. Into the Future
The fighting in Korea was accompanied, for those who had ears to hear, by ominous rumblings offstage, as the nuclear powers labored to perfect and expand their arsenals. The explosions of 1951 marked but the start of a period of accelerated development in which tests were carried out by the United States at Eniwetok and in Nevada, by the British in Australia and in the Pacific, and by the Soviets within the Asiatic land mass. Before peace came to the embattled peninsula a whole new spectrum of weapons had been developed: at one end there lay the hydrogen bomb, with its appalling implications for victim, neutral, and user alike; at the other the need for an explosive return proportionate to the rising costs of delivery was bringing warheads for missile, artillery, antisubmarine, antiaircraft, and infantry use.
The possibilities of the world struggle and the actualities of Korea, so important in forwarding the nuclear research and development programs, had important results in other spheres. The shock effect of the North Korean mining campaign gave mine warfare an unaccustomedly high priority, both in research and in the Navy’s building program. The immediate response to the emergency involved the installation of underwater search gear in a number of infantry landing craft, to permit their use as mine locators, and the conversion of four motor launches to shoal-water sweepers. But these expedients, like the many World War II minesweepers, had been largely obsoleted by the magnetic mine. Subsequent development of the mine-hunters involved the conversion of wooden-hulled YMS and the construction of wooden-hulled minesweeping boats, while the need for larger sweepers led to the construction of new non-magnetic types. Of these, three were developed: the MSO, an ocean minesweeper, 171 feet in length and of 750 tons full load displacement; the MSC, a somewhat smaller coastal minesweeper, 144 feet overall; and the MSI, a 112-foot inshore minesweeper.
The building of truly non-magnetic ships is no simple matter, involving as it does, in addition to wooden hull construction, the design and procurement of much special equipment including engines of non-magnetic stainless steel alloys. Yet, despite the complexities of the task, production was not inconsiderable. Of the MSOs, which began launching in 1952 and commissioning in the next year, more than 100 were projected, while almost 150 MSCs and about 50 inshore sweepers were planned. Such quantities, of course, were more than enough for the U.S. Navy, but the United States was now supplier to the whole free world. With the anti-Communist alliance dependent on the uninterrupted use of the seas, and with a mine threat which knew no geographical limitations, something more than half this new construction was slated for transfer, under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, to countries along the entire maritime arc from Norway in the west through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific and Japan.
In amphibious warfare, too, the Korean experience had consequences for new construction. The extraordinary usefulness of the LST resulted in an immediate program for 15 of the 1156 series, a development of earlier experimental types, longer (384 as compared to 328 feet), faster (15 as opposed to 11 knots), and of larger capacity than their elder sisters; these began launching in mid-1952. The next step came two years later with the laying down of the first of seven Suffolk County class LSTs–442 feet overall, 7,100 tons full load displacement, 17 knots–which would carry 20 amphibious vehicles and 700 troops in air-conditioned spaces.
This, it appeared, was about as far as the type could go, despite the enthusiasm of some officers who, on the basis of Korean experience, appealed for clouds of these ships to replace rather than supplement the APA and AKA types. Since problems of design placed unavoidable limits on beaching ability, further progress tended toward the elaboration of the dock landing ship, also of great use in Korea. Eight new LSDs of the Thomaston class were undertaken and these, like all new construction, were larger (11,270 tons full load as against 8,700 tons) and faster (24 knots as compared to 15½) than their World War II predecessors. The direction this development was taking became apparent a few years later with the completion of plans for the LPD, a transport designed on the Thomaston hull, in which the increased troop and cargo space gained by the use of a smaller well gave a capacity approximating the AKA or APA.
Other than the LST, the most prominent all-purpose workhorse of the Korean War had been the helicopter. So necessary had these contraptions suddenly become that landing platforms sprouted throughout the fleet and were designed into all possible new construction, while their further implications for amphibious warfare attracted the interest of the Marines. As the tactical possibilities of vertical envelopment were clarified, there came proposals for the conversion of escort carriers to helicopter work and the projection of the helicopter amphibious assault ship (LPH), which would carry a Marine battalion, its supplies, and the helicopters necessary to land it. And a final contribution to the welfare of those who have to land on beaches came in late 1952, with the laying down of Carronade, the first rocket ship specifically designed for the purpose.
While the virtues of flexibility of movement over the beaches and over the hills were being worked out, through development of LST and LSD types and of helicopter employment, concurrent advances took place in more conventional areas. Since in addition to the problems of minefields and beaches the Korean War had emphasized those of supply, a share of new construction was allocated to logistic support units. Early in the conflict three 20-knot passenger ships, already building for the American President Lines, were taken over and completed as troop transports for MSTS, which also acquired some new cargo types with roll-on roll-off loading systems and with hulls strengthened for use in ice. Under the stimulus of war the Maritime Commission undertook the construction of a number of 20-knot Mariner class cargo ships, of which one was early acquired by the Navy for conversion to an AKA and others in due course for conversion to attack transports. The shortage of reefers in Korea brought the inclusion of two 18-knot vessels in the post-Korean construction program. The problems of underway replenishment and of accelerated consumption of fuel and ammunition led to experimental work with an ex-German U-boat supply ship to test the theory of one-stop replenishment, and to planning for a composite type which would carry ammunition, petroleum products, and miscellaneous cargo as well. But this development would take time, and more immediate help came from the construction of six new 20-knot fleet oilers, 100 feet longer than any previously available, of which the first was launched in late 1953, and from the five new ammunition ships of the Suribachi class, built from the hull up for this purpose, and providing higher speed, new methods of storage, and new and faster handling machinery.
Essential though they were, these advances in mine and amphibious warfare and in logistic support of overseas operations were overshadowed by developments in the striking forces. In carrier aviation the lessons of Korea, the availability of more money, and the implications of the future led to a dramatic reversal. In July 1951, only two years after cancellation of the supercarrier United States, a contract was awarded for the first of six vessels of the Forrestal class, ships more than 1,000 feet in overall length and with a full load displacement almost twice that of the Essex carriers. On these colossal hulls, in addition to machinery for speeds upwards of 33 knots, the new class of carrier provided larger fuel capacity, larger hangars, more powerful catapults, more elevators, and an angled deck layout which would permit the handling of almost 100 of the larger and higher performance aircraft soon to become available.
As construction of these behemoths was getting underway an extensive conversion program for existing aircraft carriers was begun. Here the most significant new step was the incorporation of the angled deck, a British development, which permitted simultaneous launching and landing and at the same time removed the hazards of the barrier crash. With success of an experimental installation on Antietam, other Essex-class ships were put into the works to emerge in due time with the new deck configuration, modernized elevators, new steam catapults, and other improvements, and in 1954 similar modernization of the three Midway-class carriers was begun.
What all this implied in terms of aircraft performance may be seen by a few comparisons. For the Korean war the best available Navy fighters were the Grumman F9F Panther and the McDonnell F2H Banshee with maximum speeds of something over 600 miles an hour; the AD attack plane, last and finest flower of the piston-engined line, lumbered along at a mere 365 miles an hour. But as the war was ending the Douglas F4D Skyray, a supersonic fighter capable of speeds up to about 750 miles an hour, was commencing its fleet trials. The A3D twin-jet heavy attack plane, with a top speed roughly equivalent to the F9F, was already in production. The prototype of the still faster A4D light attack plane was building and a contract had been let for the Chance Vought F8U-2, an advanced fighter which on completion would set some records with speeds exceeding 1,000 miles an hour.
Paralleling these advances in fighter and attack aircraft, the continuing trend toward complexity of equipment and size of vehicle was bringing multi-engined antisubmarine aircraft to the fleet. These larger planes required larger decks: in 1953 half the Essex class was assigned to antisubmarine warfare, and with this step the light carrier and the escort carrier reached the end of the road. After a short period in training duty the last CVL followed her sisters into inactivity, while those CVEs not destined for the scrap heap were reclassified as aircraft transports or as helicopter carriers.
The advent of new high-performance aircraft and the proliferation of nuclear weapons inevitably revolutionized the air defense problem. To increase the range of radar detection, early warning aircraft and radar picket submarines were given high priority. In fighter planes the machine gun gave way to the target-seeking missile, while aboard ship the antiaircraft gun began to disappear. Although the first group of post-Korean destroyers– one of which was to be christened Turner Joy–mounted new 3-inch automatic antiaircraft batteries, this was but a brief transitional phase. In 1955–56 the heavy cruisers Boston and Canberra were modified to carry two twin launching mounts for Terrier, a beam-riding antiaircraft missile with a ten-mile range. The next step was the conversion of the destroyer Gyatt to carry a Terrier mount, and of six Cleveland-class light cruisers, three to carry Terrier and three Tabs, a larger missile with a slant range of up to 65 miles. And in due course there followed a program for guided missile destroyers of new design.
Although in Korea the submarine had been only a threat, new developments promised it a considerable future. In the years before 1950 some new construction and conversion had been undertaken with an eye to increased submerged speed, and some of a specialized nature for antisubmarine work. But the great developments came in the course of the Korean conflict, with the construction of Albacore, a wholly streamlined boat which compensated for awkward handling on the surface by extraordinary speed and maneuverability in the depths, and with the laying of the keel of the nuclear submarine Nautilus. Marriage of the speeds possible with the new hull form and the almost unlimited endurance bestowed by nuclear propulsion was to give wholly new dimensions to undersea warfare, while with the advent of the offensive guided missile the submarine gained awesome potentialities for action against land targets.
Naval development of the surface-to-surface guided weapon, begun shortly after World War II, first took operational form in 1951 with the flight of Regulus I, a subsonic missile with a range of 575 miles. Designed originally for launching by submarine, Regulus proved versatile, and in the course of time was embarked in aircraft carriers and cruisers as well. By 1958, when production ended, a supersonic longer-range successor was on the way, and submarines specifically designed for missile work were under construction.
While much had been said of push-button warfare in the years after World War II, all this, when war came to Korea, was still largely talk. But before the decade had ended changes of a truly revolutionary nature had indeed developed. Nuclear-powered submarines were in operation and more were building; nuclear-powered cruisers and frigates were in contemplation; surface ships as well as submarines were carrying long- range missiles; as an outgrowth of the Forrestal class an even larger carrier was under construction.
This was Enterprise, 1,100 feet long and with a flight deck 252 feet wide, displacing 85,000 tons full load, defended by missiles, powered by eight nuclear reactors. This new dispensation in propulsive machinery would give her a maximum speed of 35 knots and an estimated endurance of five years; by eliminating the need for oil storage and stacks it would provide twice the aviation fuel capacity of her largest predecessors and permit the installation, on the sides of the island structure, of fixed radar antennae of advanced design. This astounding vessel marked the culmination of the Navy’s development of shipboard aviation, a development begun within the service lives of many still on active duty with the conversion, in 1922, of the old 15-knot collier Jupiter into the Langley as an experimental aircraft carrier. But Enterprise was not alone in manifesting the possibilities of the new technology, for work was simultaneously going forward on a series of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, whose displacement would approximate that of a small light cruiser and whose armament had a projected range of 1,500 miles.
What these developments of Promethean man promised for the future of warfare was by no means clear, least of all for the kind of limited war that had taken place in Korea. Despite a change of administration at home and ultimate agreement on a Korean armistice, military policy was to continue much as before. At the Pentagon the bad old chiefs departed and the good new chiefs came in, a change chiefly significant for the promulgation of the "New Look" which, with its emphasis on the size of the bang, harked back to pre-Korean days. On the level of higher policy the concept of "massive retaliation," with its promise of converting all small wars into big ones, seemed a denial of all Korea had stood for and a return to the position of 1949. With the end of the Korean fighting, the Bureau of the Budget regained its ascendancy in military affairs, dollar problems returned to harass and divide the services, and the only difference was that this time it was the Army, which had borne the heat of the day in Korea, that suffered most.
Yet however predestined, all this was in the future in July of 1951 as the delegates gathered for the commencement of Korean armistice talks. At 1100 on the morning of the 10th Admiral Joy led his colleagues into the teahouse at Kaesong to confront the emissaries of the enemy. Among the correspondents present to observe proceedings, bets were being made on how long it would take to close the gates of the temple. The pessimists thought six weeks.
Chapter 12: Two More Years
Part 1. July 1951-February 1952: Stabilized and Peripheral War
Part 2. March 1952-February 1953: Stalemate
Part 3. March-July 1953: Progress, Crisis, Conclusion
Part 1. July 1951-February 1952: Stabilized Front and Peripheral War
At Kaesong the first few days of talk were not auspicious, occupied as they were by U.N. efforts to control Communist propaganda activity, by argument over the administration of the neutral area, and by procedural disputation. Nevertheless, in the course of little more than two weeks, an agenda was adopted and the delegates proceeded to address themselves to the question of a cease-fire.
Although hostilities were to continue until agreement had been reached, the commencement of negotiations made for optimism, and ComNavFE thought it necessary to warn of possible acts of treachery. Ground action, nevertheless, continued to diminish: six months of grinding frontline warfare had ended, the battleline had been stabilized on favorable ground, and except in the Iron Triangle and on the Soyang River, United Nations activity was limited to patrolling and to the improvement of defensive positions. But since the enemy was busily engaged in bringing down new units to replace those chewed up in the spring offensives, and was bending every effort to improve his logistic position, interdiction perforce continued. For the next two years, as hopes of peace continued to be frustrated, the burden of offensive action was to lie principally upon the Air Force and the Navy.
The prospect of an early armistice had already been reflected in the movements and composition of the Amphibious Force. With the departure of Admiral Thackrey in June the number of Amphibious Force flag officers in the Western Pacific dropped from two to one; at the end of the month a recommended reduction in the Far Eastern deployment of larger PhibPac ships to one AGC, seven APAs, and two AKAs had been approved by CincPacFleet; in time the allowance of LSTs would also be cut down. Concurrent with this diminution of strength, however, there arose the requirement of supporting the U.N. armistice delegation, and a special task element of one AGC, one APA, and an LST helicopter base was formed and stationed at Inchon to provide logistic and communications services. And at the same time other units of Task Force 90 were assisting in a special operation to the northward.
This affair, of the greatest importance for technical intelligence, involved the recovery of a downed Russian MIG. For although U.N. aviators were by now well acquainted with this high-performance fighter, Communist reluctance to engage in combat far from base had prevented acquisition of a specimen for closer examination, and a previous search by west coast ships for one reported on the sandbars of the Yalu Gulf had proved fruitless. On 9 July, however, word was received from JOC that a MIG was down in shoal water off the mouth of the Chongchon River; Sicily, back again in the Far East as relief for Bataan, was ordered to search, and the American officers in charge of west coast underground activities, "Leopard" on Paengnyong Do and "Salamander" on Cho Do, were instructed to alert their people. But the reported position was 15 miles in error, the weather was foggy, and the aircraft, awash only at low water, was hard to see; not until the11th did planes from Glory find the MIG a couple of miles offshore and 33 miles north of the Taedong estuary.
This location, less than 10 minutes flying time from the enemy’s Antung airfields, was both risky and navigationally difficult. But photographs indicated that recovery might be practicable, every effort was ordered by ComNavFE, and the commanding officer of Ceylon worked out a plan. On 18 July an LSU equipped with a special crane was borrowed from CTF 90 and sent up to Cho Do in the LSD Whetstone. The next day’s effort ended with the LSU fast on a sandbar, but on the 20th, with air cover from Glory, with Belfast stationed to warn of air attack, and with Cardigan Bay on hand for fire support, a U.S. Navy helicopter operating from the British carrier buoyed the site and Glory aircraft led the LSU through the sandbars. By evening the engine had been recovered and the major portions of the airframe located; next morning the pieces were loaded on the LSU. In the afternoon Sicily pilots sighted 32 MIGs heading for the area, but foggy weather prevented contact, no trouble ensued, and on the 22nd the LSU and its precious cargo were embarked in the LSD Epping Forest and the MIG brought back to Inchon.
Along both coasts, as talks began, action continued. On the western shore British Commonwealth, ROK, and U.S. units carried out a number of small bombardments and raids. At Wonsan in the east, activity increased as the enemy worked to expand his truck traffic and to develop his coastal defenses: reports from agents within the city made frequent mention of the presence of Soviet advisors, of the massing of troops, of possible shore-based torpedo firing facilities, and of the installation of batteries of impressive size, including a "Stalin gun" said to have been hauled out to Hodo Pando by 12 horses. Sufficient credence was placed in these reports to produce the "Wonsan Special" of 5 July, in which Task Force 77 helped out the bombardment group by devoting its entire day and 247 sorties to the city. And further confirmatory evidence was soon forthcoming.
At 1637 on the afternoon of the 17th, shore batteries opened on the destroyers O’Brien, Blue, and Cunningham from three sides of the Wonsan swept area. The ships at once went into the War Dance, an evasive maneuver originated in May by Brinkley Bass and Duncan, steaming in an ellipse at 22 knots and firing on batteries in each sector as their guns came to bear. As enemy fire continued heavy, Task Force 77 was called upon for air support; at 1650, and again an hour later, an LSMR was brought in from the outer channel to deliver a long-range rocket barrage against enemy gun positions. By 1830 the batteries on Hodo Pando, Umi Do, and the tip of Kalma Pando had been silenced or had checked fire, but a new group of emplacements at the base of Kalma Pando presently opened up. By this time Helena and New Jersey had been started in from Task Force 77, and HMS Morecambe Bay, en route to Songjin, had been diverted to Wonsan. At 2000 in she came to join the dance, and for another hour, until darkness descended, shooting continued. Despite many very near misses no ship had been hit, and the single casualty was treated by the application of a Band-Aid, but the more than 500 splashes observed and the far larger number of rounds returned made the so-called "Battle of the Buzz Saw" a very respectable engagement. Late that night Helena reached the outer channel, to be followed by New Jersey in the morning, and since something heavier than 5-inch gunfire seemed needed, both ships stayed on for two days of heavy-gun bombardment.
Prospects nevertheless seemed warm, and future policy deserving of consideration. To the Seventh Fleet staff the value of the Wonsan foothold seemed dependent on the future intentions of CincFE, a view which was communicated to the higher levels for comment. But there, owing to the commencement of armistice talks, planning was largely in abeyance, and answer came there none. In the absence of guidance from above, Admiral Martin decided, as an interim measure, to hold the harbor islands for bargaining purposes. It was to prove a long interim.
Offshore, despite the hindrance of the July fogs, Task Force 77 continued to provide aircraft for close support, armed reconnaissance, and interdiction. Since requests from JOC for support of the battleline seldom exceeded 30 sorties a day the main effort was invested in a continuation of Operation Strangle, the attempt to cut truck traffic between 38°15’ and 39°15’, and in a return to bridge breaking. Here foggy weather, increased antiaircraft, and the recent emphasis on close support had worked in favor of the enemy; the bridge cuts south of Songjin had been eliminated, and few breaks existed in the line. But by month’s end things were again under control, and a new program of systematic photography was underway to provide information for a new key bridge list.
Rocket-carrying F9Fs over Wonsan. On the right the railroad curves inland before turning north to Hamhung; on the left the Kalma Pando airstrip, the Namdae River, and the valley route to Seoul. July 1951. (Photo #80-G-431907)
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At Kaesong, following agreement on the agenda, the delegates in late July took up the question of a demarcation line. Here the Communists, who by now had suffered a net loss of territory, insisted on the 38th parallel. But since an armistice would bring an end to the blockade, and to air and naval action against enemy territory, the U.N. negotiators, for their part, sought compensation in a line north of the existing front. From this discussion there soon arose the question of who in fact controlled the territory of the Yonan and Ongjin peninsulas, south of 38° and west of the Imjin River.
Largely untouched by war, and but lightly held by the enemy, the coastal parts of Hwanghae Province were subject at any time to descents from the sea, or to raids by partisans operating from the offshore islands. At the end of June ROK guerrillas with naval support had landed south of Yonan to destroy two ammunition dumps; in the following weeks raids were carried out against the mainland opposite Cho Do. On the evening of 24 July, as the question of the demarcation line arose, CTF 95 received a message from Admiral Joy asking for a show of strength in the Han River estuary as close as possible to Kaesong. Admiral Dyer at once committed all but one of his west coast frigates to this operation, Glory was ordered from Sasebo to join Sicily, and a check sweep of the entrance to Haeju Man was undertaken to permit the entry of heavy bombardment ships.
Two-carrier operations were carried out from 26 to 29 July; from the 27th to the 29th the heavy cruiser Los Angeles shot up targets on the western shore of Haeju Man; in the Han the Commonwealth frigates bombarded the northern bank. For these operations in the estuary the finest kind of seamanship was necessary: U.S. and British charts of the area differed widely, and none showed any very reassuring depths; the liquid medium in the Han, brown soup rather than clear water, was lined with rocks; currents reached eight to ten knots, and so poor was the holding ground that on one occasion Comus dragged while steaming to both anchors.
Although targets for bombardment, obtained from JOC and from the Leopard organization, were generally unprofitable, and although enemy reaction was for the moment nil, the demonstration was more concerned with capabilities than with accomplishments. By early August, despite intermittent groundings, the bombarding ships had succeeded in penetrating upstream to fire on Yonan from the southeast and northward up the Yesong River; on the 17th three of the frigates found 400 enemy troops along the river bank and gave them a thorough shelling. Late in the month, on the urging of Admiral Scott-Moncreiff, a survey of the river was begun by a UDT detachment in the APD Weiss, and the channel was buoyed by the fleet tug Abnakz.
By this time the optimism which had accompanied the opening of armistice talks was dead. In early August negotiations had been briefly suspended by General Ridgway in protest against Communist violations of the neutral zone; late in the month, following an incident apparently fabricated to suggest that U.N. aircraft had bombed the conference site, the Communists in turn refused to talk; only in late October, with transfer of the conference site to Panmunjom, were plenary sessions resumed. These events governed the progress of the fighting. In mid-August General Van Fleet launched a limited offensive on the eastern coastal strip; with the breakdown in negotiations he ordered a larger effort east of the Hwachon Reservoir in X Corps zone.
Once again fire support was needed on the coastal road. On 17 August a special bombardment group, Task Group 95.9, was formed to assist the ROK advance into the difficult hill country south of Kosong; composed initially of New Jersey, Toledo, and two destroyers, this group continued through various changes of ships and of designation to support the eastern end of the battleline through August and into September.
Once again, also, an amphibious demonstration was called for to assist the forward movement. On 27 August a minesweeping group composed of three AMS and the LSD Whetstone moved into the objective area at Changjon, to be followed in due course by Helena, three destroyers, and an LSMR, and on the 30th by New Jersey and another destroyer. On the 30th and 31st the beach and adjacent troop and gun positions were bombarded and subjected to air strikes; offshore, where the transport group lay to, the boats were lowered, formed into waves, and headed for shore, before being recalled and hoisted in. But although the demonstration was more elaborate than its predecessors, it remained questionable what diversionary impact had been created, or whether anything over and above the bombardment damage had been accomplished.
The main effort, however, was inland, and there on the 31st the attack began as the Marine Division, fresh from a six-week rest, pushed northward up the Soyang Valley, while the 2nd Division pressed forward on its left. By 18 September the Marines had reached their objectives, as did the 2nd Division in mid-October. West of the Hwachon Reservoir, IX Corps was also pressing forward, and by 21 October was looking down upon Kumsong. Seventh Fleet planners had by this time produced a follow-up plan, known as "Wrangler," which involved withdrawing the Marines from X Corps, embarking them at Sokcho, and landing them in assault at Kojo to link up with the advance of IX Corps. But on 24 October, after a month of haggling by liaison officers, the Communists asked that talks be resumed, and "Wrangler" never came off.
The northward advance of the Marines since their February commitment to the Wonju front had brought them steadily closer to the Sea of Japan. Late September found the division on the upper waters of the Soyang River where its right, though still west of the Korean divide, was less than ten miles from the sea. This proximity to tidewater raised possibilities of naval gunfire and maritime logistics which were quickly embraced.
In this extremely mountainous country the enemy, deeply entrenched on the reverse slopes, was hard to reach. Since artillery could not touch him, and since air support was in short supply and unpredictable in quality, resort was had for the first time in a year to naval gunfire. On 20 September New Jersey was sent in to provide support; on the 23rd, after liaison officers had been sent out by helicopter and radio communication had been established, ranging rounds were fired; on the next two days, and again on 2 and 3 October, 16-inch fire was called down upon the backsides of the enemy with destructive and demoralizing effect. On 17 October New Jersey returned to the task, and for five days late in the month support was provided by the heavy cruiser Toledo. Intermittently throughout the winter this work continued, with the ships firing at ranges of 11 to 16 miles, their shells sailing over 2,000-foot mountains and across the Nam River valley to embed themselves amidst the enemy’s supply concentrations and command posts.
The proximity of the sea also held logistic promise. In contrast to the ROK I Corps on the coast, always largely supported by sea, the Marines in September were dependent on their railhead at Wonju, 91 bad road miles away, a situation which required greatly increased allowances of motor transport, communications gear, and heavy engineer equipment. Now, however, encouraged by the prospect of "Wrangler," a road was cut through the mountains to the sea, Sokcho in the ROK zone was pressed into use as a supply port, and an adjacent airstrip was employed as division airhead. The impressive consequence of this shift to seaborne supply was the addition to the division’s monthly potential of an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 combat man-days.
In somewhat similar manner Marine air units attempted to base themselves on the sea. MAG 12, with its main base at Pusan West, had been increasing its output and decreasing commuting time by staging through a forward field near Wonju; in July this field was closed, and in August forward operations were shifted to a coastal strip near Kangnung. But Kangnung has no harbor, and although use of this strip greatly improved the sortie rate, the exposed nature of the coastline complicated logistics. Original plans to bring supplies in across the beaches foundered when the broaching of an LST showed the beach to be unsatisfactory. Resort was next had to unloading at Chumunjin, but at the cost of a 17-mile trucking requirement over inferior roads. In early September the construction of a pontoon causeway near Kangnung eased the situation until its destruction by winter weather necessitated further recourse to Chumunjin.
Still, if the complications of beach logistics forced the working hands to a variety of expedients, the support provided by MAG 12’s neighbors was unsurpassed. The broaching of the LST, with its vital load of POL and ordnance, brought an immediate response from the population of nearby fishing villages. Sampans were lashed together to form a causeway, and then overlaid by pierced steel planking across which the cargo was manhandled ashore. Twenty-four hours of continuous effort finished the job, and as no pay would be accepted by the Koreans the best the Marines could do was to set up a fund for the families of fishermen lost at sea.
Day after day throughout the summer the fast carriers continued the effort at interdiction. On 22 August a new face appeared in the Far East with the arrival of Essex, first of her class to enter World War II and first also to reach Korea following modernization to provide more powerful catapults, larger elevators for planes and bombs, and most importantly a larger gasoline capacity and an improved fueling system to cope with the insatiable demands of jet aircraft. Embarked in Essex was Air Group 5 with one squadron of ADs, one of F4Us, one of F9Fs, and one of the McDonnell F2H Banshee, an excellent twin-jet fighter, larger, heavier, and superior in performance to the F9F, although still, like all U.S. aircraft except the F-86, inferior to the MIG in speed and maneuverability.
Essex’s first month in the theater was one of developmental progress. Operationally a new first in interservice cooperation was effected when 23 F9F and F2H fighters escorted 35 B-29s in a strike against Najin, a Communist storage center on the northeast coast beyond the range of Air Force fighters and but 17 miles from the Soviet boundary. In materiel also an advance took place, following a serious accident in which a damaged F2H floated over the barriers and into parked aircraft, causing a gasoline fire which destroyed 4 planes, killed 7, and injured 27. Lacking propellers to catch the barricades, floating jets had always been hard to stop, and the ultimate solution of the angled deck was still some years away; but the Essex incident brought an effective interim measure in the installation of a ten-foot barrier of wire and nylon tape as a last-resort midships arresting device.
For the most part, however, the work went on, day after day, in routine fashion. "Strangle" operations against the North Korean road net continued into September, as did attacks on key rail bridges. Across the peninsula Fifth Air Force also continued its efforts against road traffic, but with a progressive tendency to shift to a new concept, still under the rubric "Strangle," which called for the destruction of railroad trackage in the optimistic hope that this would force the enemy to wear out his motor transport. In this effort, officially begun on 19 August, the carriers soon joined; a month later, on orders from CincFE, all close support was halted to permit full concentration on interdiction; on the last day of September, following a conference between Air Force and Navy commanders, it was decided to emphasize rail cutting supplemented by the destruction of a small number of key bridges. The Navy’s part began fast with 131 track cuts in the first three days of October, and as the enemy’s repair parties were poorly deployed to meet the new tactic, both Air Force and carrier airmen managed to stay ahead while the flying weather remained good.
Map 25. The Island War, July 1951–February 1952
Click on map for higher resolution image (232 KB).
At intervals throughout the fall the work of the fast carriers in the Sea of Japan was augmented by the Commonwealth light carrier. On 18 and 19 September, at the suggestion of Commander Seventh Fleet, CTF 95 put on a special two-day air, gun, and rocket effort against Wonsan, in which the air strikes were provided by HMS Glory. On 10 and 11 October a similar operation against the Kojo area, with air strikes from HMAS Sydney, and with a mixed U.S., British, and Canadian screen, was carried out by Rear Admiral Scott-Moncreiff in Belfast. Late in November Scott-Moncreiff returned again with Belfast and Sydney, and with a screen still further internationalized by the addition of a Dutch destroyer, to spend two days in banging up Hungnam.
In the east, along the 300 miles of enemy coast, the ships of Task Force 95 continued to provide fire support, to patrol and bombard, and to besiege the cities of Wonsan and Songjin. In July the Royal Marine Commando, whose varied experiences had taken it under the sea in Perch, up to thc reservoir with the Marines, and into enemy country near the mouth of the Taedong River, had arrived at Yo Do for a six month’s tour of duty; after some practice raids against the Wonsan mainland the Royal Marines began a series of autumn operations, landing from an APD to attack targets along the northeastern coast. On 5 September, on orders from Seventh Fleet, CTF 95 instructed the minesweepers to clear a lane between Wonsan and Hungnam to bring the western shore of the Korean Gulf within gunfire range. One month later, as the job was being finished, New Jersey, Helena, and some destroyers bombarded the Hungnam area for the first time since the X Corps evacuation, destroying an oil refinery and some ammunition dumps. But although the clearance of Hungnam had been successful not everyone had heard the details, and on 7 October the destroyer Small got outside the swept area and was mined with considerable damage and heavy casualties.
The efforts at interdiction by Fifth Air Force in the west and Task Force 77 in the east, together with surface ship bombardment of accessible coastal pressure points, had placed a heavy load upon the Communists. Their Department of Military Highway Administration, charged with road repair, had grown to a total of some 20,000 men, and the railroad repair organization was estimated of equivalent size. But despite all, it still seemed impossible to cut the flow of supplies below the enemy’s requirements. Persistence and diligence in repair, a determination to get supplies through, and the small logistic requirements of Communist forces had resulted in continuous improvement of the enemy’s front line logistic situation: his soldiers were better fed than ever before, his number of tanks had increased, and his expenditure of artillery ammunition had risen from 8,000 rounds in July to 43,000 in November. For one side, at least, negotiation had proven profitable.
Not only were supplies getting through, but some 500 heavy antiaircraft guns and almost 2,000 automatic weapons had by now been emplaced in North Korea, and U.N. aircraft were suffering increasing losses. The increase in coast artillery, first noted at Wonsan, had extended along the shore, with the result that U.N. vessels could no longer move close in or lie to while firing. At sea the possible submarine threat continued to preoccupy naval commanders, while in the air enemy strength continued to grow.
Steadily increasing totals of MIG sorties were being reported by Air Force fighter pilots on northern patrols–180 on 2 October, more than 300 on 29 November–while the availability of light bombers and propeller-driven attack planes was no longer a matter of question. Following an Air Force query as to carrier jet capabilities in the northwest an F2H sweep was sent off to MIG Alley; no contact was made, and this maximum-range effort was not repeated, but the menace remained. Noting the increase in Communist air strength and the concurrent effort to activate North Korean airstrips, ComNavFE in early November informed his command that enemy aircraft had been sighted south of Pyongyang, and directed heavy ships not to operate north of Wonsan without air cover. On 27 November a flight from Bon Homme Richard was attacked by MIGs near Wonsan, and on subsequent occasions contrails were sighted high overhead. In early December, as the Amphibious Force began an interchange of Army units between Hokkaido and Inchon, CincFE instructed FEAF and the West Coast Carrier Element to provide cover for all troop movements in the Yellow Sea.
F2H Banshees over Hungnam on their way back to base. Upper left, the mouth of the Songchon River. July 1953. (Photo #80-G-630625)
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Nevertheless, despite the enemy’s increasing material prosperity, the movement of the battleline had continued northward, the U.N. retained command of the air over most of North Korea, the U.N. navies controlled the coasts, and bombardment at Wonsan, Songjin, and in the Han River estuary remained a daily affair. On 28 September CTF 95 made an inspection trip up the Han in the Australian frigate Murchison, only to be opened on by mortars, small arms, and light field guns. Contemporaneously with this first instance of the long-awaited enemy reaction, indications that the Communists were about to abandon their insistence on the 38th parallel brought requests from the U.N. delegation and from EUSAK for more gunfire.
Admiral Dyer at once ordered the Han River operation intensified. The Yellow Sea carrier was directed to bomb the northern banks daily and to provide air spot and CAP for the bombarding frigates. On 3 October Black Swan steamed up the river to draw enemy fire, whereupon 13 F4Us from Rendova attacked the gun positions; and for the balance of the month, as carrier aircraft burned off the cover on the northern bank, the noise of the bombardment was wafted to the negotiators at Kaesong. By October’s end an effort originally scheduled for a few days had lasted a hundred, and like the destroyers at Wonsan the frigates in the Han estuary had become fixed.
On 25 October, as the enemy returned to the truce table, the U.N. negotiators proposed the establishment of a four-kilometer demilitarized zone based generally on the existing line of contact. On 5 November the proposal was accepted, together with a U.N. proviso that the line be that existing when final agreement was reached. A week later General Ridgway directed Eighth Army to cease offensive operations and commence an active defense of existing positions. By the 27th the front had been mapped and accepted by both sides, and a bait provided for the Communists by a U.N. undertaking to accept this line should the armistice be conduded within a month.
With this agreement, frigate bombardment in the Han River was terminated and ground action again diminished. Along the entire front, from the Imjin to the sea, the Communists pressed the fortification of defensive positions. But as the ground battle tapered off into patrolling, the enemy commenced an offensive effort in a new sphere, and the seat of war was transferred to the offshore islands.
These islands, acquired during the U.N. advance in late 1950, had since that time been employed as bases for raids and for intelligence activities. On the eastern shore the picture was a fairly simple one: except for those in Wonsan harbor only four islands of importance lie along this coast, and of these the two largest, Mayang Do on the 40th parallel and Hwa Do off Hungnam, were enemy controlled. Northeast of Songjin, however, the Yang Do island group, two miles offshore, accommodated intelligence personnel moving in and out of North Korea, and in time would become an ROKN PT operating base; off the bomb line on the 39th parallel the little island of Nan Do was employed as a base for Task Force Kirkland, a EUSAK unconventional warfare organization.
In the west the situation was more complex. On Tokchok To, off Inchon, the Air Force navigational equipment evacuated in December had been reinstalled in February, and similar gear had been emplaced on Paengnyong Do on the 38th parallel. Along the southern shore of Hwanghae Province, from the Han estuary to Korea’s western tip, numerous coastal islets were employed as bases by partisan groups, of which Leopard Force was the most notable. Off the Chinnampo approaches, the important islands of Sok To and Cho Do supported guerrilla and clandestine operations, and an Air Force desire to install radar facilities and rescue helicopters on Cho Do waited only on improved security. To the northward in the Yalu Gulf a group of islands, seized by the ROK Navy in November 1950, contained numerous anti-Communist guerrillas.
The number of independent agencies on these islands led at times to situations of considerable complexity. In August 1951 one observer noted that Yo Do in Wonsan harbor was crowded with uncoordinated delegations from nearly every organization operating in Korea, and that the masses of amateurs commuting to and from the mainland created hazards for the skilled agents. In the west a FEAF outfit which operated its own private navy, and the organizations controlled by Leopard at Paengyong Do and by Salamander at Cho Do, cooperated well with the blockading force. But other groups, too mysterious to mention, were less considerate, and when NavFE headquarters proved unable to influence the state of affairs, Admiral Scott-Moncreiff ordered the apprehension and detention of all unidentifiable travellers. By autumn this particular situation had improved, but by this time the enemy was showing interest in the islands, while the armistice talks had adversely affected the morale of anti-Communist North Korean guerrillas.
Giving thought to their future status in the event of a cease-fire, many of these now became double or triple agents, or went over to the Communists. At Sok To a mutiny of the garrison and landing force was caught in the nick of time by Leopard, and 300 prisoners were removed to the southward. On 30 August Royal Marines and stokers from Ceylon made a descent upon a west coast target designated by Leopard Force; Leopard himself accompanied the raiders and no trouble was expected, but someone had leaked and the opposition was waiting. On Cho Do, in early September, an attempt on the life of Salamander was made by one of his own ex-agents. But not all developments were adverse. On 24 September, supported by gunfire from Comus, Leopard’s Sok To agent led a small raid against the Amgak peninsula, and returned with nine prisoners including a North Korean colonel and his concubine. The colonel, recently transferred from Wonsan, reported that he was fed up with the war; the comments of his lady have unfortunately not been preserved.
In this situation of tension and uncertainty the enemy, in early October, began to exert pressure. On the 9th, 600 invaders from the mainland landed on the large Yalu Gulf island of Sinmi Do, and although the garrison held for a time with support from Cossack and Ceylon, reinforcements arriving across the tidal mud flats forced withdrawal on the 12th. On the 30th Cayuga reported receiving a hundred rounds of artillery fire from the Amgak peninsula opposite Sok To; in the Yalu Gulf the island of Taehwa Do, where friendly forces had concentrated, was attacked by aircraft on 6 November in the first confirmed enemy employment of light bombers in Korea. That night Ka Do and Tan Do, two of the smaller northern islands, were seized by the Communists in a night amphibious attack.
Since the U.N. delegation hoped to use the islands as counters to trade off against the Kaesong area, these events served to stimulate some interest. From Commander Seventh Fleet came a request for an inventory of west coast islands, and from EUSAK a hope that Taehwa Do would be held. Although he felt the northern islands were not worth the effort required to defend them, Admiral Scott-Moncreiff on 9 November ordered a destroyer to patrol the area during the hours of darkness. Shortly Commander Seventh Fleet appeared in the Yellow Sea on an inspection tour; on the 12th, with air spot from HMAS Sydney, his flagship New Jersey fired her final Korean bombardment and her 3,000th 16-inch round of the war at troop concentrations reported by Leopard Force.
Winter by now had come again bringing strong winds, cold, and the first snows to the northern Yellow Sea. Nightly, nevertheless, ships of the blockading force went up to Taehwa Do; in the course of the month guerrilla raids supported by naval units were conducted against enemy-held islands in the Yalu Gulf; but the proximity of these positions to enemy airfields prevented daylight surface support or carrier air patrol. On 27 November the subject of the offshore islands came up for discussion at Panmunjom, and at once the Communists stepped up their efforts.
Although the enemy carried out a successful raid against Hwangto Do in Wonsan harbor on the night of the 28th, his principal effort was in the west. On 30 November, as CincFE warned that the islands had become critical to the negotiations and adjured his island commanders to make preparations for defense, Fifth Air Force fighters intercepted a formation of 12 twin-engine bombers heading for Taehwa Do with an escort of 16 propeller fighters and 50 MIGs, and destroyed the greater part of the bomber force. Nevertheless the island was lost that night to a well-planned amphibious assault supported by artillery from Ka Do, and of some 1,200 guerrillas and inhabitants only about a quarter got out. This affair was followed almost immediately by further enemy shore-to-shore attacks which seized six small coastal islets in Haeju Man, and by reports of extensive troop movements in Hwanghae Province. These events brought a review of the island situation.
Responsibility for island defense was at this time somewhat obscure. Tokchok To and Paengnyong Do had for almost a year been charges of CTG 95.1; other islands where U.S. intelligence activities or equipment were operative were under the control of CincFE; the Korean-occupied islands were pretty much on their own. The loss of Taehwa Do had brought increased patrolling by west coast ships and a request for reinforcement of the Cho Do, Sok To, and Paengyong Do garrisons; on higher levels various proposals for the institution of small boat patrols, reinforcement of the islands by air, and the like, were bandied about; in the south ROK Marine units were alerted for movement to the threatened islands. On 7 December Admiral Dyer received the loan of Manchester from Commander Seventh Fleet, and followed by Ceylon proceeded west at speed to Cho Do. But the attitude of higher echelons remained obscure, no reinforcements were available from EUSAK, and Commander Seventh Fleet was reluctant to become too deeply involved.
At Cho Do and Sok To, Admiral Dyer found morale improved by the news that the islands would be defended, but the situation was still precarious, Island commanders, intelligence officers rather than Marine or Army line, were inexperienced in organizing defenses; since the guerrillas were all natives of North Korea, security was inherently poor; conversation with Leopard indicated the great desirability of getting the refugees out and the ROK Marines in as fast as possible. An LSD and some AMS were brought in to keep the Sok To anchorage swept and to strengthen the small craft patrol, and arrangements were made for the LSTs bringing up the ROK Marines to remove the refugees. With this much accomplished, and with an apparently growing small boat menace to the Wonsan harbor islands, CTF 95 proceeded to the east coast.
Hardly, however, had he reached Wonsan when word was received of attacks on two small islands inboard of Sok To, and between 16 and 18 December, despite support from U.N. ships and aircraft, an enemy force of about 600 overran these positions. With the situation apparently still deteriorating, CTF 95 again headed west, and on the 18th took over as officer in tactical command on the west coast. By the 20th the ships on anti-invasion duty near Cho Do included Manchester, Ceylon, and two destroyers, and the question of responsibility for island defense was at last beginning to jell.
Despite the fact that all islands north of 38° were conceded by the U.N. negotiators on 21 December, failing an armistice agreement the defensive requirement remained. On 6 January responsibility for the overall defense, local ground defense included, of designated islands on both coasts, was assigned the Navy and delegated to CTF 95. So far as east coast islands were concerned only Nan Do, off the bombline, had not previously been a naval responsibility; in the west, however, Sok To and Cho Do in the Chinnampo approaches, Taechong Do in the Sir James Hall group, and Taeyongpyong Do south of Haeju were added to the list. On the 9th an Army-Navy-Air Force island defense conference was held aboard Wisconsin, following which the West Coast Island Defense Element was organized with a U.S. Marine officer in command, with headquarters on Paengnyong Do, and with two battalions of ROK Marines distributed among critical islands.
Already the LSTs of Task Force 90, which had brought the defenders in, had begun to evacuate refugees: by 22 December about 9,000 had been lifted out and by late January some 20,000 had been transported south to Kunsan. Constant patrolling of the threatened areas was undertaken, and an LST with armed small boats was provided for inshore work. In mid- January, in an effort to suppress the artillery effort against Cho Do and Sok To, CTF 95 went north in Rochester to bombard the Amgak peninsula in coordination with a Marine air strike from Badoeng Strait. By early February the enemy had retired from a number of the captured islets in Haeju Man and off the Ongjin peninsula, in part apparently owing to bombardment by rocket ships, in part to inability to support his forces. By March these islets were being reoccupied by anti-Communist partisans and a number of enemy efforts to attack across the mud flats had been thrown back by naval gunfire.
The period following naval assumption of responsibility for island defense brought two actions of some importance. On the northeast coast, after a month of careful preparation, the North Koreans mounted a raid on the Yang Do group by some 250 troops boated in sampans. Shortly after midnight on 20 February the New Zealand frigate Taupo, the DMS Endicott, and the destroyer Shelton were patrolling to the northward when an emergency dispatch reported Yang Do under fire from the mainland and invasion apparently imminent. Steaming at flank speed the ships reached the islands to discover bombardment continuing and fighting in progress ashore, but by this time radio contact had been broken. With daylight, however, the island commander came back on the air: all invaders on Yang Do had been either killed or captured, those on East Yang Do were departing for the mainland. There followed a spirited engagement in the two-mile strait in which Taupo and Endicott engaged some 15 sampans, destroying 10 and damaging the rest, and were themselves engaged by artillery from the mainland, while Shelton put up counter-battery fire. This was all very well, but on the west coast the enemy fared better, and in a successful assault on the night of 24 March seized a small island between Cho Do and Sok To and eliminated its defenders.
Although reports of enemy offensive plans continued to come in, and although artillery fire was persistently directed against Cho Do, Sok To, and their supporting ships, as well as against the islands at Wonsan, the enemy island offensive was limited in its success to the elimination of the foothold in the Yalu Gulf. At Cho Do improved defensive arrangements were followed by the installation of radar and antiaircraft weapons in February, and in March by a helicopter detachment; these facilities, together with naval patrol of the surrounding waters and a rescue B-29 which orbited overhead, made the Cho Do area a useful bail-out and rescue zone for pilots from the Yellow Sea carrier and from the Fifth Air Force. Elsewhere the offshore positions continued to provide bases for intelligence and guerrilla activity, while at Wonsan possession of the harbor islands paid an unexpected dividend. Some concern had been caused the U.N. Command by events such as the Sok To mutiny, and by reports that guerrillas were surrendering in response to an enemy offer of amnesty. But at Wonsan, on 21 February, reassurance was gained when at 0630 in the morning Brigadier General Lee Il, NKPA, reached Tae Do in a stolen sampan, with a briefcase full of top secret papers, a head full of top secret plans, and a strong desire to make himself useful.
As the war continued among the islands, along the coasts, and in the air over North Korea, so did the talks at Panmunjom. There, with agreement on the demarcation line, discussion had turned to arrangements for a ceasefire and to the question of prisoners of war. December and January brought abandonment by the U.N. of the northern islands, of the right to air reconnaissance over North Korea, and of a previously proposed limitation on Communist rehabilitation of airfields. But with the New Year the sticking point appeared in the question of forced repatriation of prisoners. Despite further U.N. concessions all progress ceased, while continued enemy pressure against the islands was indicative of no speedy peace.
Through the winter cold and winds and snow, naval and air operations went on. The Amphibious Force was engaged in further troop lifts between Korea and Japan. The units of Task Force 95 continued as before, the monotony interrupted only by a brief resumption of the Han River patrol, by rumors of.a Soviet submarine in the northeastern coastal area, and by the loss with all hands of an ROK PC, presumably by mining, at Wonsan. On the east coast the detachment of the ROK Capital Division to chase guerrillas in the southern mountains imposed additional burdens at the bombline, but the assignment of a heavy ship and of another destroyer to duty there enabled the remaining forces to hold the road while the extermination campaign went on. The load of the minesweepers was increased by the decision of CTF 95 to sweep the east coast from Kansong to Songjin every two weeks. As for the aviators, they were still working on the railroad.
Table 22.-COMMUNIST AND U.N. TRANSPORT, WINTER 1951-52
Vehicles Locomotives Rolling stock
North Korea 6,000-7,000 275 7,700
South Korea 22,000 486 8,314
In the north the frugal and ant-like enemy continued to accumulate supplies and, as the table shows, to maintain with roughly half the logistic means of the U.N. a larger military establishment. At year’s end total U.N. strength in Korea was of the order of 600,000, and that of the Communists a third as much again, while EUSAK credited the enemy with the ability to launch a general offensive with a force of more than 40 divisions.
So spring came.
Part 2. March 1952—February 1953: Stalemate
Watch after watch, day after weary day, the war went on. The cold of winter passed, to be followed by the thaw and rains of spring, the haze and fog and steaming heat of summer, and the clear days of early autumn. In steady succession carriers and their air groups crossed the Pacific to take their tour of combat and depart; from the west coast of the United States destroyers crossed the ocean and from the Atlantic coast the world, operated for their allotted period, and returned again. In the Atlantic and Mediterranean the larger half of the U.S. Navy was also working on an accelerated schedule in a situation that was neither peace nor war. Throughout the establishment and on both sides of the world effort was called for from all hands, and particularly from the career personnel, laboring to accomplish an acceptable minimum of training while watching the steady disappearance of rated men and qualified reserves into the welcoming arms of American industry.
Stalemate existed, but stalemate brought no rest. Readiness had to be maintained; crews had to be trained; the enemy, ensconced in the northern half of the peninsula, had to be harassed, and if possible brought to terms. Day after day the F-86s went up to the Yalu, Air Force fighter-bombers and carrier aircraft ranged over North Korea, the gunnery ships continued on patrol, mines were swept. But month after month went by, and increasingly the question of what leverage to employ upon the enemy became more puzzling and more frustrating.
Map 26. Stalemate, March 1952–February 1953
Click on map for higher resolution image (225 KB).
For the supporting forces and for the NavFE shore establishment, as well as for those on the line, life continued arduous under the twin pressures of operational load and Parkinson’s Law. The hazards of the sea continued to manifest themselves in run-of-the-mill casualties and breakdowns calling for the attention of the Service Force, while April brought a major tragedy when an explosion in Saint Paul’s forward 8-inch turret took 30 lives. In some areas, however, appropriate savings were effected: to economize on pilots and aircraft, pull-out altitudes were raised and passes over a target limited; to economize on fuel and ammunition Commander Seventh Fleet would soon restrict speed in transit and unobserved gunfire. Expenditure of aviation ordnance, however, continued apace, aided by the load-carrying characteristics of the AD, with the surprising result that by May 1952 Navy and Marine usage in Korea equalled their total for the entire war against Japan. In communications, too, economy was hard to come by, and multiplied circuits and augmented personnel struggled bravely but vainly against the loquacity of the human animal. The message count of late 1950, when great operations were afoot, was up by half again in 1952 though all remained routine; in the autumn an amphibious feint would double the peak reached during the amphibious strokes of two years before.
For the enemy, too, the war went on, the seasons passed. To a country hardly worth more devastation, and to men whose lives held little value for their rulers, U.N. aircraft and ships and artillery brought destruction and death. What the Communists thought they were accomplishing remains unknown. Their inability to deal with the situation in constructive terms, either for themselves or for the world at large, remained unimpeachable.
Once more in 1952 the coming of spring brought changes to the Far East. In Europe General Eisenhower gave up his command at SHAPE, and returned home to begin a career in politics. Summoned to succeed him, General Ridgway was in May relieved of his commands by General Mark W. Clark, USA, who had struggled in Italy with the problems of peninsular war and in Austria with those of negotiating with the Communists. This change at the top of the U.N. Command was paralleled throughout the echelons of Naval Forces Far East: the Marine Division and the Marine Aircraft Wing received new commanding generals; with the arrival of Rear Admiral Burton B. Biggs the Logistic Support Force got a flag officer at its head; in April the first of a new generation of carrier division commanders arrived in the person of Rear Admiral Apollo Soucek; in May Vice Admiral Joseph J. Clark become Commander Seventh Fleet and Rear Admiral Frederick W. McMahon, for four months ComCarDiv 5 in Valley Forge, relieved Admiral Ofstie as Chief of Staff of Naval Forces Far East.
Although rotation and relief had brought multiple changes in most Far Eastern billets there remained two commanders who had seen it all. Now, at long last, replacements for these veterans arrived. On 1 June Commander Luosey, who since the earliest days had administered the ROK Navy, was relieved. In May, after ten months of negotiations, Admiral Joy was succeeded as head of the truce team by Major General William K. Harrison, Jr., USA; in June, after nearly three years in peace and war as Commander Naval Forces Far East, he turned over his Tokyo command to Vice Admiral Robert P. Briscoe.
As the faces changed so did the problems faced. In mid-March the command structure of the Western Pacific was modified by presidential order, and military responsibility for the Philippine-Formosa-Marianas area transferred from CincFE to CincPac; local responsibility, however, remained with Commander Seventh Fleet, in his capacity as Commander Formosa Defense Force, and standing orders dating from Struble’s time, to proceed to Formosa at best speed in the event of a serious invasion threat, continued in effect. In April the Japanese peace treaty became effective and that war, at least, was formally over. For Naval Forces Far East this had a variety of implications. Along with their sister services in Japan they had to transmute themselves from occupation forces into guests, a process facilitated by war in Korea which both demonstrated the virtues of available force and provided a sizable infusion of dollars for the Japanese economy. With the peace treaty came also the disestablishment of Scajap, the Navy-administered Japanese-manned shipping concern which had performed such yeoman service in support of the Korean campaign, and the transfer of its LSTs to MSTS contract operations. For the future, ComNavFE acquired new responsibilities in helping the Japanese to organize a Coastal Security Force, and in supervising the transfer of frigates and landing craft to Japanese control.
Within Korea, spring of 1952 brought a change of some importance in the move of the Marine Division from the Soyang River sector to the Imjin front. On the tactical level this shift was occasioned by concern at EUSAK for the defenses in the west; strategically, it reflected the final abandonment of plans for an east coast amphibious envelopment. For most of the troops this 160-mile movement across everyone else’s supply lines was carried out between 18 and 25 March by road, but the tanks, amphibian tractors, and much of the engineering equipment were lifted out from Sokcho by two AKAs, three LSDs, and ten LSTs from Task Force 90. The arrival of the Marines west of the Imjin, where they relieved the ROK 1st Division, made it for the first time possible to hold this position against determined attack, while their transfer to a coastal sector produced an extra dividend as an amphibious retraining program, conducted throughout the summer in the Tokchok Islands, was apprehensively observed by the enemy.
Support of the line: Napalm drops by Marine F4Us in the Imjin River sector. October 1952. (Photo #80-G-447567)
Click on the image for additional information and related photographs.
The continuing amphibious threat, together with U.N. occupancy of islands off the enemy’s shore, had by now brought the assignment of three North Korean corps and three CCF armies to coast defense. In March and April, enemy raids across the mud flats of Haeju Man against Yongmae Do were repulsed by gunfire from Commonwealth naval units; on the east coast enemy batteries on Mayang Do fired on minesweepers and patrolling ships. U.N. forces, for their part, continued to exploit the islands for their opportunities in evasion and escape, and as bases for guerrilla operations. Attacks by APD-borne detachments against the east coast rail line were resumed, but with diminishing dividends; in the west, coastal raids and incursions into the Haeju area were supported by the Yellow Sea carrier and by gunnery ships.
At Cho Do and Sok To, which with their valuable radar, weather, and helicopter detachments had become the Wonsan of the west, a series of intermittent engagements took place between ships, carrier and Fifth Air Force aircraft, and enemy coastal batteries. In July there was a brief flurry in the Yellow Sea as an island close to the tip of the Ongjin peninsula was invaded by a North Korean force embarked in junks and outboard motor-boats. As Belfast and Amethyst converged to assist the defenders, and as Marine fighter planes from Bataan answered the call, other west coast ships manned anti-invasion stations off Cho Do and Sok To; within two days only 5 of the 156 invaders were missing and unaccounted for. More trouble-some than the enemy were outbreaks of typhus on Cho Do and Paengnyong Do, but the epidemics were quickly controlled by a naval medical unit.
With the front remaining relatively quiet, the most conspicuous ground action of early 1952 was the campaign of Koje Do. On this island, 30 miles southwest of Pusan, camps had been erected to hold the more than 100,000 prisoners of war. Early in the year a screening program, intended to separate civilians from bona fide soldiers, had culled out some thousands of the former, who were then lifted by LST to mainland ports; it had also been violently resisted by organized prisoner groups. With the commencement of a second screening cycle, designed to separate those desiring repatriation from those who would resist it, disorder and violence increased; within the Communist-controlled pens the prisoners reigned supreme, and by their riotous activity provided grist for enemy propaganda mills. In May the capture of the camp commander by his charges provided embarrassing evidence of a need for reinforcement.
Five ROKN small craft were ordered to Koje to prevent escape by water; elements of the 187th Airborne Regiment were hastily flown from Japan to Pusan and lifted out by LST, while the rest of the regiment with its heavy gear was brought across by sea. For Task Force 90 the sudden calls resulting from the crisis on Koje Do meant that scheduled maintenance had to be foregone and training schedules modified, but in due course the campaign was won. New island sites for camps were selected by aerial reconnaissance, beach surveys for LST slots were carried out by the UDTs, Army engineers and equipment were lifted to the new locations to construct new compounds. On 10 June a new camp commander imposed control upon his intransigent wards, and in July Task Force 90 carried 37,000 prisoners to their new decentralized homes.
At Panmunjom no progress remained the order of the day. Enemy insistence on freedom to reconstruct the North Korean airfields, on a limitation on rotation of forces in Korea, and on crippling restrictions for the proposed Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission sufficiently impeded agreement. But the insuperable barrier to progress, which no concession could apparently move, was the reluctance of Communist prisoners to return home and the insistence of their governments on forced repatriation.
Behind his fortified front, his stubbornness in negotiation, and his vigor in propaganda, the enemy continued to increase his strength. In March, interrogation of prisoners indicated that great operations were impending. On 1 April the biggest air battle of the year occurred when 186 F-86s took on some 350 MIGs. Late in the month piles of construction material at the Pyongyang airbase evidenced continued intentions of rehabilitation. In May an unparalleled 4,000 vehicle sightings a night betokened an extremely active logistic effort. In the weeks that followed, increased aggressiveness brought the MIGs south as far as Sinanju.
On the east coast, as well, the growth in enemy capabilities was apparent. There, where the ships of Task Force 95 continued to patrol, bombard, and besiege, enemy gunfire steadily increased. From Kojo north to Chongjin the installation of radar, together with such devices as anchored ranging buoys, led to continued improvement in Communist fire control. March brought the heaviest shooting since the previous July, and April’s fall of shot was double that of March. Reports from captured and defecting personnel, which suggested that an assault against the Wonsan islands was in preparation, gained at least superficial confirmation from the discovery that the boatbuilders of the area had been mobilized, and that the bays west of Hodo Pando contained a large and increasing number of small craft.
By June the greatest troop and supply accumulations of the war were in evidence behind Communist lines, and intelligence indicated the imminence of a general offensive. There was also a rumor circulating, derived from POW interrogation, that the enemy proposed to kidnap the U.N. armistice delegation on the 25th, the second anniversary of the outbreak of war. No one can feel very safe when dealing with such people: as far back as April the Marines had formed a covering force to protect the truce team should the talks break down, and the new rumors brought further preparations. But June passed without difficulty and the anticipated offensive never came.
The naval siege of Wonsan was now well into its second year. Begun in order to take some pressure off Eighth Army and to get the gunnery ships on the offensive, it had by now become institutionalized: the officer in tactical command afloat enjoyed the additional honorific title of Mayor of Wonsan, and with changes of command there passed also a large gilt key to the city. But here too the passage of time, the size of effort, and the difficulty of damage assessment led inevitably to questioning. Certainly the extensive installation of shore batteries and antiaircraft, and the reported presence in the neighborhood of almost 80,000 troops, gave evidence that the effects had been considerable. On the other hand a sizable force was required to maintain the siege, defend the islands, and prevent remining of the harbor: in addition to four or five minesweepers, their tender and a tug, two or three destroyers were maintained permanently on station, and the expenditure of ammunition, much of it unobserved and unspotted, had been heavy. Demonstrable damage to the enemy hardly made up for this investment, which could only be justified by the argument that it held down large enemy forces, and by such incidental advantages as the flow of information gained through the infiltration of agents. Some now came to argue that the siege should never have been undertaken, but its long history made it difficult to abandon without apparent admission of defeat.
But the enemy, too, was concerned about Wonsan. One indication of the extent of his worries was provided by captured records of a war game conducted by North Korean division commanders in early 1952. This problem was concerned with a defense against a four-divisional assault at Wonsan, accompanied by subsidiary landings at Kojo and Hungnam, and by a northward thrust of Eighth Army through the Iron Triangle and the eastern mountains. Against this hypothetical maneuver, which bore a not too remote resemblance to U.N. planning, there were available to the North Koreans the two mobile artillery brigades which manned the Wonsan shore, three infantry divisions in the near neighborhood, and Chinese forces further inland. Interestingly, the exercise conceded inability to prevent a U.N. lodgment, and the scheme of maneuver emphasized an all-out counterattack on D plus 4. Interestingly also, and showing that spies are everywhere, the problem included among the assaulting units the 40th and 45th Infantry Divisions which, at the time the exercise was prepared, had just finished amphibious indoctrination in Japan and were preparing to be lifted to Korea.
Since the Navy, like it or not, appeared to be committed, steps were taken to improve the position at Wonsan. Island fortifications were strengthened; a clear statement from CTF 95 defined the primary mission of ships at Wonsan, as at Yang Do and Nan Do, as the defense of those positions; construction of an emergency airstrip on Yo Do was undertaken. This enterprise had been suggested the previous autumn, when the increased effectiveness of Communist antiaircraft had forced a number of damaged planes to ditch in Wonsan harbor. In the absence of a regular naval construction unit in the area the proposition had been put up to the Army and Air Force, in whose custody, in view of the continuing hopes of an armistice, it had languished for six months. In May 1952, however, permission was secured for the employment of Task Force 90's Amphibious Construction Battalion, and ComNavFE obtained the approval of CincFE. On 9 June a detachment of 3 officers and 75 men from ACB 1 was landed by LST, and began work under intermittent bombardment from Hodo Pando and Umi Do. The planned 2,400-foot runway had been estimated to be a 45-day project, but the Seabees did better than the planners, and in 16 days the strip was finished. The commanding officer of the construction battalion had predicted that salvage of one plane would more than offset the expense of the project, and if his cost accounting was correct the dividends were enormous: eight Corsairs from Task Force 77, damaged or low on fuel, were brought in safely in July, and in time twin-engined transports would arrive bringing the sinews of war and lady war correspondents. This success stimulated jealousy in the west, where the condition of the emergency beach strip on Paengnyong Do was such as to cause frequent damage in landing, and from the commanding officer of Badoeng Strait came a request for the provision of separate but equal facilities.
Along the familiar stretch of coast from Hungnam to Songjin the campaign against the east coast rail line continued. The effort had been simplified, early in the year, with the designation of 16 target areas, 5 of which were to be dealt with initially by carrier air and then kept out by surface gunfire, while the rest were assigned to heavy gun bombardment. As before, the targets were principally bridges, vulnerable tunnel entrances, embankments, and slide areas along the precipitous shore. As previously, the effort was comparatively successful: in the first half of 1952 less traffic passed along this stretch of railroad than along any other line north of Pyongyang-Wonsan. With time, however, and as the employment of Task Force 77 shifted from interdiction to strikes against strategic targets, the responsibility devolved increasingly upon the gunnery ships, while in the interest of economy in ammunition expenditure the shooting up of trains replaced the shooting up of track.
By now, indeed, the interdiction campaign had become the despair of all concerned, and at Air Force headquarters the publicity given the code name "Strangle" was bitterly regretted. Rails could be broken, trains shot up, bridges knocked down, and truck formations harassed, but the enemy continued, largely through night movement, to accumulate supplies in the forward areas. In this situation the inadequacies of U.N. night air capabilities rose again for discussion, and new efforts were undertaken to improve night work.
In May, Task Force 77 put on a series of night attacks, Operation Insomnia, in which six aircraft were launched at midnight and six more at o2oo for a time this tactic permitted unopposed attacks on heavily defended areas; on one occasion ii locomotives were trapped for later destruction by day strike groups. By July, in an effort to provide all-night operations without overloading ships’ companies, three teams of hecklers were being launched at dusk, of which one worked until midnight while the others landed ashore for later takeoff. But by autumn the lack of personnel to man key posts on a 24-hour basis, and the view of Commander Seventh Fleet that unless a special night carrier could be provided the emphasis should be on daytime operations, had led to diminished effort. Owing to the world situation and the shortage of operating carriers no such ship was ever made available, although an abortive attempt was to be made at war s end to do this locally, and the lack of night capabilities remained a major U.N. deficiency.
Through the spring of 1952 Task Force 77 had drifted slowly away from rail interdiction. Although in March the force was still averaging 133 rail cuts per operating day, increased attention was being given to small boat demolition so as to inhibit attempts to recapture offshore islands. In April a series of coordinated air-gun strikes on coastal cities was begun: at Chongjin on the 13th, 246 sorties from Boxer and Philippine Sea deposited 200 tons of bombs while Saint Paul, escorted by three destroyers and with spot from the carrier planes, kept up a daylong bombardment. In May a three-day effort, equally divided between Chongjin and Wonsan and supported by Iowa, was conducted in two installments when the original plans were frustrated by sea fog. But deserving targets were limited, and in June the work of the carrier air groups was shifted inland beyond gun range.
Diminishing and discouraging returns from interdiction and disillusion with the progress at Panmunjom had also led the staff of FEAF to seek alternative employment. Since the enemy was now amply supplied for offensive action, and since any offensive would bring him into the open and subject him to heavy damage, FEAF’s planners proposed to concentrate on maintaining air superiority in MIG Alley while maximizing the cost of war to the other side. In May, therefore, in a move somewhat parallel to the air-gun strikes by Task Force 77, Fifth Air Force sent large fighter-bomber attacks against concentrations of supplies, facilities, and equipment in the enemy rear.
This attempt to maximize enemy costs inevitably raised the question of the hydroelectric complex, the one important untouched target system in North Korea. These generating plants and their related distribution facilities had been brought to high development during the period of Japanese occupation. At Suiho on the Yalu River the world’s fourth largest hydroelectric plant, with an output of some 300,000 kilowatts, supplied power both to Korea and Manchuria; up in the mountains, in what had once been X Corps territory, the Chosin, Fusen, and Kyosen Reservoirs together produced an even larger quantity for the cities of the eastern coast. In the summer of 1950 proposals to attack the power complex had very sensibly been turned down on the ground that the bill for reconstruction would fall upon the American taxpayer; subsequently, in the effort to avoid Chinese intervention, the importance of the Suiho plant to Manchurian industry had led these targets to be placed off-limits. But as the armistice negotiations stretched out into 1952 the question was again raised by FEAF, as on a lower level by CTG 95.2, who was desirous of turning off the lights at Wonsan by shooting up the substation.
The timing was appropriate. In late April, in an effort to compose remaining differences at Panmunjom, Admiral Joy had offered to waive restrictions on airfield rehabilitation if the Communists would accept voluntary repatriation of prisoners and the exclusion of the U.S.S.R. from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. But this offer was violently rejected, all progress ceased, and the meetings degenerated into propaganda about POW riots and bacteriological warfare. In this situation, comparable to the period in World War II when water barriers separated the principal belligerents, a turn to attritional bombardment, the slowest of all methods of war, was almost inevitable.
Early in June, FEAF put the proposition up to General Clark, and was given permission to plan the destruction of all hydroelectric plants except Suiho, which was still off-limits without JCS approval. But with the Chinese carrying the burden of the war for the enemy, the earlier rationale had disappeared, and since damage to Suiho offered a method of making trouble in Manchuria without crossing the border, approval from Washington was forthcoming. In Tokyo a date was selected which would permit the maximum carrier contribution and on 18 June FEAF alerted Fifth Air Force for strikes on the 23rd or 24th, weather permitting.
Since late January, four fast carriers had been present in the theater, working in teams of two. For the power plant attacks, arrivals and departures in the operating area were overlapped to provide, for the first time since December 1950, four on station at once. In another way the situation was a reminiscent one, for not since the strikes on the Sinuiju bridges in November of that year had the carrier attack planes crossed Korea to hit targets in MIG Alley. Joint planning between Task Force 77 and Fifth Air Force was begun at JOC on 21 June; on the 22nd flight schedules and ordnance plans were made up and navigational details worked out. The Suiho strike was to be a joint operation in which the carrier pilots had the place of honor; the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing was given the two Chosin installations; the Kyosen plants were assigned to other task force strike groups; those at Fusen were divided between the Navy and Air Force. Since Suiho, where heavy MIG opposition was expected, was the critical target, the other attacks were timed to follow it by a few minutes.
Early on the 23rd Boxer and Princeton were joined by Bon Homme Richard and Philippine Sea. Preparation for the launch was halted when the Air Force put off the strike owing to anticipated adverse weather. But in the course of the day the operation was rescheduled, H-Hour was set for 1600, and at 1410 the force began launching 35 ADs with 4,000 and 5,000- pound bombloads for the Suiho attack. Forming up at 5,000 feet, the Skyraiders crossed the coastline at Mayang Do and then, keeping low to the mountains to avoid radar detection, headed straight for the target. Fifty miles from Suiho they were overhauled by 35 F9Fs which had taken off 50 minutes later. Eighteen miles from the target the group commenced a climb to 10,000 feet, with one jet squadron going up to 16,000 feet as combat air patrol. Two miles from the target a high-speed approach was begun.
At 1600, precisely on schedule, the first squadron of Panthers dove on the gun positions on the Korean bank, closely followed by the ADs and by the other flak-suppression jets. Release altitude was at 3,000 feet and pull-out at 1,000; within a space of two and one half minutes the attacking aircraft delivered 81 tons of bombs. At the power house which was the main target red flames filled the windows, secondary explosions were reported, and photographs taken by the last ADs to drop showed smoke pouring from the roof. The antiaircraft batteries had opened as the attack began, heavy weapons and automatic fire was moderate and machine gun fire intense, but the defenses were overwhelmed. No plane was lost, and the only Skyraider to suffer serious damage made a successful wheels-up landing at Kimpo. Everyone else was back aboard by dinner time.
As the carrier group departed the attack continued with interservice cooperation of a high order. Beginning at 1610, 79 F-84s and 49 F-80s of Fifth Air Force, which had come up from the south to continue the pummeling, added a further 145 tons of bombs. Downstream, between Suiho and Antung, a total of 84 Sabre jets gave top cover against enemy MIGs. But while the Antung field is only 35 miles from Suiho, none of these gentlemen put in an appearance, and of 250 reported on the ground by Air Force pilots, two-thirds disappeared into interior Manchuria during the attack, a tactic for which, on the U.N. side at least, no firm explanation was ever devised.
While the attacks at Suiho were in progress the Chosin plants received the attentions of 75 aircraft from the Marine Aircraft Wing, a second group of 90 planes from Task Force 77 hit the Fusen plants along with 52 Air Force F-51s, and 70 carrier aircraft went in on Kyosen. These efforts were followed up the next day by carrier, Air Force, and Marine attacks on all three complexes, and on 26 and 27 June the Air Force returned to Chosin and Fusen. Then the picture taking and the photo interpretation began, but in North Korea and Manchuria the lights had already gone out.
The results appear to have been first-class. Something in the neighborhood of 90 percent of North Korean power production had been disabled; for two weeks there was an almost complete blackout in enemy country; even at year’s end a power deficit remained. But if liaison between the Air Force, Navy, and Marines was well nigh perfect, on the upper levels someone had forgotten to pass the word. The British had not been advised of the contemplated attacks, and in Parliament some ructions developed among the opposition.
Admiral Briscoe had requested a detailed breakdown of the strikes, and ten days later his operational intelligence officer provided it. The extent of the naval contribution revealed by this tally was such as to give ComNavFE cause for pride. Total Task Force 77 sorties against the plants on 23 and 24 June exceeded those of Fifth Air Force and Marines together, as did the weight of bombs dropped. On a service basis breakdown, Navy and Marine sorties were of the order of 700, as compared to some 400 by the Air Force, and Navy and Marine bomb tonnage amounted to more than two-thirds the total. These figures, however, are in a sense delusive, for they take no account of the F-86 top cover provided at Suiho, nor of the later Air Force attacks at Chosin and Fusen. Since FEAF had performed the preliminary planning, and since final preparations had been joint, it seems proper to conclude that all hands had done a good job to excellent purpose.
In the course of the summer of 1952 three more large interservice air operations took place. On 11 July 822 Air Force, Marine, and Navy planes, led by 106 from Bon Homme Richard and Princeton, struck Pyongyang gun positions, supply and billeting areas, and factories. Although weather prevented the carriers from launching more than one strike group and hindered shore-based operations, the demolition of designated targets was extensive, and encouraging reports were received of direct hits on a Communist brass hat air raid shelter. On 20 August a sizable combined Navy-Marine-Air Force effort was conducted against a large west coast supply area, and nine days later the enemy capital was subjected to the largest air attack of the war.
The seven weeks since the first joint strike on Pyongyang had seen renewed movement of troops and guns into the North Korean capital. To get these targets, as well as to provide food for thought in Moscow where Chou En-lai was conferring with the Soviets, another attack was laid on. On 28 August warning leaflets were scattered over Pyongyang, and on the next day 1,080 aircraft descended on the luckless city. Everyone and his cousin got into the act this time, for in addition to aircraft from Fifth Air Force, Task Force 77, and the Marine Aircraft Wing, the British carrier and the ROK Air Force also took part.
Over and above these cooperative efforts, the work of the fast carriers during the summer consisted principally of maximum-effort strikes against targets in eastern North Korea. These, insofar as possible, were directed against objectives which, like the hydroelectric system, had importance on both sides of the North Korean border. In July strikes against the small Funei complex near Musan, the smallest grid in North Korea, finished off the power plants within the Navy’s zone. Late in the month the Sindok lead and zinc mill, reportedly a considerable exporter to Iron Curtain countries, was three-quarters destroyed, and the magnesite and thermoelectric plants at Kilchu heavily damaged by Princeton strike groups.
The course of the war by this time had brought a northward displacement of remaining North Korean industrial facilities, and a concentration of new development along the Manchurian and Russian borders. In early August Rear Admiral Herbert E. Regan, ComCarDiv 1, had commented on the build-up of new industry near Aoji in the far northeast, and had urged attack upon these targets. One month later, in response to this request, the Joint Chiefs suspended for a single event their rule against air operations within 12 miles of Soviet territory. On 1 September, in the biggest all-Navy strike yet, morning and afternoon deck loads from Essex, Boxer, and Princeton went up to the north, and while the jets worked over oil storage and an iron mine at Musan and targets at Hoeamdong, the attack planes destroyed synthetic oil production facilities at Aoji. Other attacks in the far north followed at the border town of Hoeryong, at the Yalu bridge town of Hyesanjin, and on a munitions factory near Najin. On three days in October task force aircraft teamed with B-29s in strikes against North Korean objectives. By winter most known targets had been eliminated.
Taken in connection with the increasing boldness of enemy fighter pilots, the northward movement of carrier operations raised the prospect of collision. On the west coast, during the summer, aircraft from the British carrier and the American CVE had clashed repeatedly with MIGs; during the west coast strike of 20 August Princeton F9Fs had an inconclusive skirmish south of Sinanju; on 10 September a Marine flyer had made history by becoming the first pilot of a piston-engined aircraft to shoot down an enemy jet. On 13 September a two-carrier strike against Hoeryong, though unopposed, produced large numbers of bogeys orbiting 50 miles to the eastward over the Siberian border. On the 26th MIGs were sighted over eastern Korea, and in the first week of October two Corsairs were lost in the course of a series of engagements south of Hungnam.
This situation led to some excitement on 18 November as Kearsarge and Oriskany were again striking Hoeryong. The force was operating in 41°30', about 100 miles south of Vladivostok, with the cruiser Helena and a destroyer on search and rescue station halfway in to Najin. During the morning Helena tracked numerous high-speed radar contacts to the northward, which seemed to be flying a barrier patrol under ground control. At 1329 Raid 20, estimated at 16 to 20 aircraft, was approaching from the north, distant 35 miles. This contact or a part of it, estimated at eight aircraft, was also detected by Oriskany, and a four-plane division of F9Fs, which had descended to 13,000 feet owing to fuel pump failure in the leader’s aircraft, was vectored out with instructions not to engage unless attacked.
Having overshot its mark the patrol was turned back to the southwest while the bogey, in its turn, reversed course to close. At 1336, 45 miles north of the force, Lieutenant E. Royce Williams, leader of the second section, reported seven vapor trails high overhead and identified the aircraft as MIGs. As the jets passed over to the northeast they turned, split, came down below the contrail level, and were lost to sight; ordered upstairs by Oriskany controllers, Williams’ section of F9Fs reversed course to the northeast and began a full-power climb. Turning again at 26,000 feet, the section leader sighted four aircraft approaching from ahead and to port; as they opened fire he rolled into them in a hard turn, came out to find the trailing MIG in his sights, fired, and saw the adversary smoke and spiral downward.
All seven MIGs had now joined the fray, the two Americans had become separated, and from below a third Panther was climbing to join them. But just as help was arriving Williams’ plane was hit: with a MIG on his tail and able to maneuver only by zooming, diving, and popping his brakes, he headed for an undercast ten miles to the southward while his partner, ammunition exhausted, flew wing on the enemy in the hope of scaring him off. Coming out of a turn the pilot from the section below sighted this extraordinary procession and dove toward it, was engaged by another head-on attacker, and after a brief engagement saw a plane going into the water. Far below a flash of silver indicated another target, and he dove, only to find a parachute which he orbited and reported to base.
Williams, by this time, had reached cloud cover. The MIGs had broken off. Return to base was uneventful. But within the force, which was now at general quarters, some tension had apparently developed, for as the section leader brought his cranky plane in over the screen one of the destroyers briefly opened fire on him.
Considering the disparity in aircraft performance and number, and the fact that the Americans allowed themselves to indulge in an uncoordinated melee, the results of the engagement—two MIGs down and one damaged in exchange for damage to one friendly aircraft—were highly gratifying. Control and communications in the force were adjudged good, although with less justification: Helena’s attempts to report the approaching raid had been unsuccessful; the effort to fix the parachuting pilot met with no success; two divisions of airborne CAP were not vectored into the fight. For the next hour the force had almost constant radar contacts in the northerly quadrant at ranges down to 40 miles, and at 1510 a slow-speed bogey in the general area of the engagement suggested the presence of a rescue plane. Twice again fighters were vectored out as contacts closed; one sighting was made but the MIGs turned away; by 1625 the screen was clear.
In addition to the strikes against northern industrial areas, some routine attacks on seacoast cities, and a minor continuing interdiction effort, summer and fall of 1952 brought a few operational novelties. In the latter half of July Admiral Soucek took Philippine Sea and Essex to the Formosa area for air parades over the island and along the China coast, and for some high-altitude photography. In North Korea the expansion of the enemy radar net stimulated efforts by the carrier airmen to locate and demolish these installations. Some experiments were run with guided missiles in the form of war-surplus F6F drones, explosive-laden and guided by television, which were flown against a variety of targets in an inquiring frame of mind. In the west the Yellow Sea carrier took steps to salt up the rice paddies by bombing sluice gates on the Yonan peninsula. In September a new technique of rail interdiction was introduced in which, after a full deckload had beaten up a mile or two of track, a two-plane CAP was employed by day and ship’s gunfire by night to inhibit repairs.
Like the earlier interdiction programs, the maximum-effort strikes soon reached the stage of diminishing returns, and with the approach of autumn the activities of Task Force 77 returned gradually to the bombline. No support of ground forces had been provided by the fast carriers in the first six months of 1952. By August, however, an average of 12 sorties a day was being flown in support of X Corps and the ROK I Corps on the eastern front, and with increasing ground action this contribution was to grow. Mid-summer had seen some enemy raids, September brought assaults on U.N. outposts and increased artillery expenditure, and with October came the hardest fighting in more than a year. On the 6th the Chinese commenced a week of heavy pressure in the area west of the Iron Triangle, the next day brought 93,000 rounds of artillery and mortar fire into U.N. positions, and the last half of the month saw bitter action in the hills above Kumwha. With these developments what had originally been undertaken as a training exercise gained operational importance, and by October the effort was averaging 22 sorties a day. With the emphasis on support of troops there came again complaints about inadequate control, and the situation was further obfuscated by the development of the so-called Cherokee Strike.
This operation, the brain child of Commander Seventh Fleet, and so christened in celebration of Admiral Clark’s descent from that civilized tribe, was developed to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of interdiction and the elimination of industrial targets. Having observed exposed U.S. supply dumps, and reasoning that the enemy must be similarly vulnerable, Clark, on 5 October, put his main effort on the destruction of supplies, artillery, and troops behind the enemy lines. Four days later, after arrangements with X and IX Corps, 91 aircraft were launched against troop and supply areas just beyond artillery range. They could not have come at a more confusing time Ground force discontent with Air Force support procedures had been simmering since the early days of the Korean conflict. Following a request by General Almond in June 1951 for a reexamination of the system, General Van Fleet had attempted to persuade Fifth Air Force to place fighter-bombers under corps control, and had subsequently asked CincFE to explore the advantages of decentralization of air. With the departure of General Ridgway these problems were inherited by his successor, with the result that on 11 August 1952 there appeared a CincFE discussion of air-ground operations in which, at one and the same time, criticism of the system was described as inadequately justified, current doctrine was upheld as sound, and numerous methods of improving matters were put forward, including some non-doctrinal experiments in delegation of control after the Marine fashion. To these proposals, as to Van Fleet’s earlier request, the reaction of the Air Force was strongly adverse, and the debate was further complicated by the development of the Cherokee Strike, a method of supporting the battleline which differed from Air Force techniques in that arrangements were made directly with corps, from the Navy and Marine system in being pre-briefed and remote from the line of contact, and from both in being uncontrolled. The touchy question, however, was that of direct negotiation with corps, and there followed a minor eruption.
By November, however, agreed procedures had been worked out which pushed these strikes back beyond the bombline and into the category of deep or general support. From late autumn through January the Cherokee Strikes absorbed more than a third of the Seventh Fleet air effort, concentrated in heavy blows against enemy supplies and equipment. A large bomb tonnage was ferried in, many explosions resulted, and as one carrier division commander observed, the strikes "can’t help but be doing a lot of damage." Doubtless not, but target selection and damage assessment were difficult, and any verdict as to the results was largely a matter of faith. It was a strange type of warfare in which naval aviation was now engaged. The close support control system could not handle a large effort in proximity to friendly forces; the enemy’s antiaircraft strength made deliberate individual attacks costly; interdiction had been tacitly abandoned by its most ardent protagonists; industrial targets were now notable by their absence. For want of something better to do the carrier air groups were hauling explosives in and dumping them in the general neighborhood of the front. Volume had been substituted for accuracy, and the only indisputable dividends were the approval with which the Army greeted the effort, and the morale boost provided the frontline troops by the noise and smoke which rose from the enemy’s back yard.
Elsewhere at sea patrolling, minesweeping, and bombardment continued in arduous but monotonous routine. The number of ships damaged by enemy action diminished from 23 in the first half of 1952 to 19 in the second six months. But in August, for the first time since February 1951, a U.S. ship was lost when Sarsi, a fleet tug, was mined and sunk at Hungnam, an event followed by discontinuance of the bombardment unit off this marginal target port. Three weeks later the problem of armed drifters was again emphasized when the destroyer Barton, steaming in Task Force 77 some 90 miles east of Wonsan, hit one which blew a five-foot hole in her side, killed five, and wounded seven. No further losses to this agency would be sustained, but with war’s end the feeling that the floaters were no accident, strong since the first sightings in September 1950, was confirmed. In contrast to frequent reports of loose mines while fighting was in progress, the five months following the armistice produced but one.
One exception to the tedious routine came in September when HMCS Nootka captured an enemy "naval vessel," a 25-foot sampan propelled by oarsmen, which had been laying magnetic mines in the swept channel south of Cho Do. Another, which brought together in momentary reunion the gunnery ships, the Amphibious Force, and the aircraft carriers, was a major amphibious demonstration. Conceptually an outgrowth of "Wrangler," and staged off Kojo in mid-October, this affair was the last and biggest of the war, and stemmed from the suggestion by CTF 90, Rear Admiral Francis X. Mclnerney, that routine troop movements between Japan and Korea might be employed for training and deception. With approval of the scheme by General Clark, Commander Seventh Fleet was designated Commander Joint Amphibious Task Force 7, and in mid-September planning was begun. Two alternative assault plans were worked up, one for a landing by two divisions in column and one for an attack by a single RCT. The wide discrepancy in scale complicated the paperwork, and as only the highest echelons knew that a bona fide operation was not intended, the troubles of the planners were real. In little over a month, nevertheless, all was in readiness, and the amphibious ships carrying the 8th Cavalry Regiment sortied from Hokkaido. On 12 October, D minus 3, a rehearsal was carried out at Kangnung, hampered by winds of 25 knots which led to the loss of four LCVPs after broaching on the beach.
While the rehearsal was going on, the Advance Force, similarly handicapped, appeared off Kojo to sweep and to bombard. One battleship, two heavy cruisers, and a batch of destroyers worked over the landing area; four fast carriers operating in the Sea of Japan provided air strikes, including a remarkable 667 sorties on D minus 3; Sicily and Badoeng Strait were both on hand, the former for air spot while the latter, as Hunter-Killer carrier, cruised the area in search of submarines and briefly thought she found one.
By this time the demonstration had become an interservice affair. FEAF and Fifth Air Force stepped up their operations, a mock parachute landing was set up, and on the night of 13–14 October Eighth Army launched a two-battalion attack near Kumwha. By dawn of D-Day, the 15th, more than a hundred ships were off the Kojo beaches, and control procedures were getting a serious test. The aerologists, however, had already failed theirs, for the weather had continued to degenerate: poor visibility and low clouds delayed the bombardment, while winds freshening to 50 knots kicked up high seas. At 1400, nevertheless, seven waves of landing craft were sent in from the transport area to pass the line of departure and then retire, seaward. Owing to the heavy seas no troops were boated; owing to the skill of the coxswains no boats were lost or seriously damaged. But two mine-sweepers had been hit by shore fire and five carrier planes lost to antiaircraft.
So ended what some proclaimed to have been the largest-scale fraud in military history. Again a deception ended with a question as to who had been deceived. No troop movements of magnitude had been detected ashore, although in the weeks that followed some shifts were noted in the KojoWonsan area. What was certain, however, was that most of the participants had been fooled, and when the true nature of the operation became known some were very angry. The feeling that at last the war was getting off dead center had produced a tension and degree of effort that made the let-down in morale the greater, and one carrier commanding officer strongly protested the internal secrecy which had led his pilots to take risks of a sort appropriate to a landing but not to an exercise. Of Kojo, as of earlier and smaller demonstrations, it seems proper to conclude that an enemy incapable of quick response cannot be very profitably hoaxed.
The Kojo feint had been planned prior to the enemy’s October pressure, on which, indeed, it had little apparent effect. But this Communist ground activity proved both limited and temporary, and the war continued much as before. Since in the circumstances of the fighting in Korea neither side could inflict unacceptable damage upon the other, the locus of decision had long since come to lie elsewhere. At Panmunjom, following a summer of deadlock, the U.N. negotiators had declared the meetings indefinitely recessed. At the United Nations, efforts to break the stalemate were renewed, and the Indian government busied itself with the attempt to provide the Communists with a face-saving solution to their prisoner of war problem. In the United States an election campaign was underway which interacted with the campaign in Korea: in America the Republican candidate undertook to visit the scene of action; in the Far East electioneering seems to have motivated the enemy’s autumn effort. In addition to heavy fighting in the area of the Iron Triangle, September and October brought an increase in incidents around the periphery, in a rash of antiaircraft actions between Chinese gunboats and Navy patrol planes in Formosa Strait, and in the loss of a B-29 to Soviet fighters off Hokkaido. But following election day the pressure decreased rapidly, and the record 93,000 rounds of artillery fired on 7 October had a month later diminished to a mere trickle.
In the United States the elections of November were followed by a change of administration in January. In the next month President Eisenhower "unleashed" Chiang Kai-shek, a measure of very limited effect on the Formosan situation and on the operations of the Formosa Patrol. No similar change took place in Korean policy, which remained one of willingness to settle on almost any basis that would not require forced repatriation. But as all other possible concessions had long since been made, deadlock continued, and again it was made clear that while one side can start a war it takes two to make a bargain. Progress toward such a bargain remained impossible pending another change in administration, which took place on 5 March 1953 with the death of Joseph Stalin.
Part 3. March—July 1953: Progress, Crisis, Conclusion
Not since the war with Tripoli, a century and a half before, when year after passing year Dale and Morris and Preble maneuvered their squadrons off that other distant shore, blockading and bombarding an enemy they could not reach, had Americans fought a war like this. And as 1953 began, and stalemate still continued, it seemed increasingly possible that this war would outlast that one. In February, however, General Clark moved to break the jam on the repatriation question by proposing an immediate exchange of sick and wounded personnel. The answer was delayed, doubtless owing to difficulties in Moscow concerning the devolution of power, and the interval between letter and reply was marked by heavier than usual enemy pressure. But on 28 March an answer was received which both accepted the proposal and indicated a disposition to proceed further.
The enemy’s March doings produced an increasing effort in troop support, both by the West Coast Carrier Element and by Task Force 77. There were, of course, diversions: Oriskany in mid-March put on a big effort against a mining complex up-country from Songjin; on the night of the 27th three volunteer Corsair pilots made a moonlight attack on the Hamhung highway bridge, one of the most heavily defended targets in Korea, and dropped the center span before the enemy could open fire; the Wonsan batteries, the city of Songjin, some residual power plant targets, and a number of militarized villages also received attention. Pilot morale was boosted by a strike on a North Korean rest camp, which reportedly accommodated heroes of the Communist forces credited with shooting down U.N. planes, and by the accomplishment of two night hecklers who chased two trains into opposite ends of a short and single-tracked tunnel, to be rewarded by gratifying amounts of steam from both entrances. A pleasant custom, instituted early in the year, involved the rotation of one carrier at a time to Hong Kong, to provide both a show of force to the southward and a new liberty port. Late in April the force celebrated Boy-San Day, on which the airplane drivers picked their own targets without interference from higher authority.
Nevertheless the emphasis was on the bombline. In March almost half the offensive sorties were assigned to Cherokee Strikes and troop support, and while this figure dropped in early April it subsequently rose again. Repetition of Cherokee Strikes against the same area over a period of days was now the custom, a measure felt both to limit the effectiveness of antiaircraft and to result in greater destruction of targets. As always, damage assessment remained the problem, but POWs reported results in excess of the pilots’ estimates and Eighth Army officers were high in their praise.
For the Amphibious Force the early months of 1953 were occupied by routine training exercises, minor troop lifts, and logistic support work. For the gunnery ships, however, as for the soldiers in the line, March and April brought increased action. The number of mines encountered rose radically, from 14 in March to 31 in April, and as usual most were floaters. Increased artillery fire directed against the minesweepers required special attention to the employment and positioning of gunfire support ships. Interdiction of train traffic along the eastern shore continued. Off the bombline, destroyers and heavy ships continued to keep the enemy down and, through their ability to fire upon him from the rear, forced him to keep his targets defiladed both from artillery and from the sea. But the principal problem of the spring months was the need to keep the duty heavy cruiser or battleship on notice at all times for immediate movement to Wonsan.
There pressure against the harbor islands continued to increase. In December a CincPacFleet appreciation had foreseen a Communist attempt to recapture these positions, and this prospect was emphasized by the events of early spring. The record 523 rounds which fell upon the islands in March doubled in April, while another 553 were aimed at U.N. ships. The volume did not compare with the Battle of the Buzz Saw, but accuracy was up: from March through May five destroyers and the cruisers Los Angeles and Bremerton were hit, and casualties were incurred both by their crews and by the island garrisons.
In the west the situation was similar. The two rounds fired at Cho Do and Sok To in February by the Wolsa-ri and Amgak batteries, and the 16 rounds of March, increased in April to 440, while ships of the blockading force observed more work in progress on the Wolsa-ri cliff positions. Small-caliber counterbattery fire remained of slight effect; a strike from Glory and a series of Air Force sorties accomplished little more; and a moonlight attempt by the frigate Cardigan Bay to eliminate the guns after closing to within 1,000 yards of the shore proved unsuccessful.
These events brought further reconsideration of the island problem. At Wonsan the commanding officer of Saint Paul recommended an invasion of Hodo Pando, to eliminate the threat of gunfire from the north. At Cho Do the commanding officer of Cardigan Bay, fearing that the Wolsa-ri batteries might force abandonment of the anchorage and relocation of the island’s radar station, suggested a raid to seize the peninsula for 24 hours while guns were spiked and gun positions destroyed. Neither suggestion was approved by higher authority, but taken in conjunction with a proposal by CTF 95 to abandon Yang Do in the northeast, on the ground that the defensive investment was out of proportion to the profit from intelligence activities, they indicate the imminence of a crisis. But for whatever reasons the crisis never quite came.
On the west coast, April bombardments by the British cruisers Newcastle and Birmingham knocked down chunks of the Wolsa-ri cliffs and silenced the guns for a month, but the Amgak batteries overlooking Sok To continued lively. To counter this pressure 90-millimeter guns were brought in and emplaced on Sok To and on Cho Do, and in late May New Jersey was sailed around from the east coast to bombard. At Wonsan Communist artillery remained active, and with the coming of an enemy ground offensive in June the bombardment ships found themselves extremely busy. Between the bombline and Wonsan harbor ruts were worn in the sea, as the heavy ships steamed back and forth in response to emergency calls. Gun strikes by New Jersey and Bremerton in May were followed up in June by Saint Paul and Manchester; and although for a time it seemed that the destroyers might be driven out, the position was maintained. On both coasts, at the end of June, enemy harassment of the island footholds markedly declined.
Map 27. The Final Months, March–July 1953
Click on map for higher resolution image (203 KB).
For the islands, in any event, the days of U.N. occupation were numbered by the approaching armistice. The resumption of plenary sessions on 26 April, which followed the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners and ended a recess of 199 days, ushered in a period of progress which, in comparison with what preceded, could only be described as extremely rapid. By 8 June the thorny question of repatriation had been settled and hopes again rose high.
Since the armistice would prohibit further removal of the inhabitants of the northern islands, CincFE on 12 June directed the outloading of all civilians and all excess supplies from the Wonsan islands and from Yang Do. On the west coast, following the updating of plans, the evacuation of partisan forces, their dependents, and other refugees from islands north of the parallel was begun. In the east the dimensions of the problem were small, but in the Yellow Sea this last tragic displacement brought the departure, after their cattle had been slaughtered and their dwellings razed, of 19,425 persons from the islands above the demarcation line.
Although the line mapped and agreed to in November 1951 remained acceptable to the United Nations Command, the Communists insisted on renegotiation. Reasons for this attitude had for some time been evident in continued enemy troop and vehicle movement and in ostentatious stockpiling of supplies, and on 10 June anticipations were fulfilled as a heavy attack was pushed down the valley of the upper Pukhan against the ROK II Corps. The local collapse which followed required a considerable reshuffling of units on the part of Lieutenant General Maxwell D. Taylor, USA, who in February had relieved General Van Fleet at Eighth Army. But by the 18th the front had been stabilized, at the cost of a few miles of inhospitable terrain above the Hwachon Reservoir and of a little ground on the east coast. As the Chinese impetus declined hopes rose again, only to be dashed by an entirely unexpected development.
At Panmunjom General Harrison and his aides had for months been walking the knife edge between Communist obduracy and South Korean intransigence. Chinese and North Korean disinclination to admit reluctance on the part of their nationals to return to the Communist paradise found its counterpart in the unwillingness of the Rhee government to accept any armistice at all and so forego the last chance of forcible Korean unification. The signing on 8 June of the final agreement on repatriation had been followed by threats and fulminations from the ROK government, and by a period of tension in its relations with the U.N. Command.
In this crisis President Rhee found himself in a strong position. Not only did he control the territory of South Korea, the theater of U.N. operations, but he also controlled, in the ROK Army, the largest single contingent of anti-Communist forces, well-trained, well-equipped, 15 divisions strong, and manning two-thirds of the battleline. Given his fierce opposition to an armistice, the possibility that he might order these forces to attack, independently and in defiance of the U.N. Command, raised the specter of a three-cornered conflict within the peninsula, and of a situation of almost unimaginable complexity.
This he did not do, but on 18 June, without warning and despite prior assurances, the Korean government engineered a mass escape of upwards of 25,000 anti-Communist prisoners, in the apparent hope of causing a Communist break-off of negotiations. The result was an interruption of plenary sessions at Panmunjom, an embarrassing period of Communist harangues, uncertainty as to the security of U.N. forces in Korea, and apprehension as to what might happen next. Again, as on the outbreak of war three summers before, more strength was urgently needed. Again help came by sea.
To the normal commitments of Task Force 90, spring had added a variety of tasks. In April the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners had been carried out; in May two landing exercises had been held, beach surveys continued, preparations for island evacuation begun, and a lift of LCVPs made to the French in Indo-China, where another war was in progress and where, a year later, another demarcation line would be drawn. These responsibilities were increased in June as the result of floods in southern Japan, which imposed requirements for evacuation, relief, and for shipping to replace disrupted land communications. At the same time the apparent imminence of the armistice made it necessary to be ready on short notice to repatriate large numbers of enemy prisoners.
In preparation for the movement of almost 100,000 enemy personnel, a task group of 2 APAs, 6 AKAs, 20 LSTs, and minor units had been assembled, although at the cost of delaying the scheduled return of a number to the United States. On 12 June Task Force 90 was alerted for this operation, all units were placed on 24-hour notice, and ships were ordered to Pusan for installation of wood and wire cribbing which would permit the movement of fractious prisoners in manageable groups. Eleven LSTs and one AKA had been fitted with these cribs when there arose the wholly new requirement of a major emergency troop movement.
On 21 June, three days after the ROK release of prisoners, CincFE ordered the immediate airlift of the 187th Airborne RCT to Korea; two days later 2,100 soldiers and 1,500 tons of gear had been flown in by the Air Force and three LSTs and two LSMs were bringing in the heavy equipment. On the 26th orders were received to lift the equipment of one RCT of the 24th Infantry Division from Japan to Korea; shortly CincFE alerted the entire division for movement by air and sea; by 2 July some 4,000 troops had been flown across, other units had been added to the planned movement, and the emphasis had shifted from air to surface transport. In anticipation of instructions to redeploy the division, Rear Admiral Walter E. Moore, CTF 90, now ordered the removal of security cribs from his amphibious shipping; on 3 July, following receipt of orders, he dispatched three task units to Japanese embarkation ports.
These operations coincided with the centenary of a memorable event, for it was in July 1853 that Commodore Perry had entered Tokyo Bay to attempt the opening of Japan. For the Black Ships Festival, staged by the Japanese in celebration of the anniversary, Task Force 90 dispatched an AKA to Shimoda, long the residence of Townsend Harris, first American consul in Japan, and an APD to Kurihama, where Perry first set foot on Japanese soil. But even this limited representation was hard to spare, for the 14th of July, the centenary of Perry’s reception at Kurihama by the Prince of Idzu and the Prince of Iwami, found his descendants in the gray ships of the Amphibious Force working under heavy pressure.
The movement of the 24th Division, so suddenly called for, required not only the diversion of all available amphibious shipping but the requisitioning of LSTs and cargo ships from MSTS; numerous modifications to CincFE’s plan had brought confusion and a communications overload; weather and the lack of adequate harbor facilities forced some extemporization in loading; at one port difficulties with Japanese customs officials bizarrely delayed embarkation. By 9 July, nevertheless, one RCT was in Korea and the others were loading, when suddenly the situation was complicated by a whole new series of directives.
The double requirements of the Korean crisis and of the impending armistice, with its prohibition of further reinforcement, now produced an eruption of orders from Supreme Headquarters. On 13 July CTF 90 was instructed to transport the Army’s 2nd Amphibious Support Brigade, an amphibious tank battalion, and elements of Naval Beach Group 1 from Japan to Korea. Two days later, as embarkation of these units was beginning, came orders for the movement of a regiment from Pusan to Koje Do. On the 16th, as this lift was commenced, as the last elements of the 24th Division were sailing for Korea, and as loading of other units was continuing in Japan, transfer of a second regiment from Koje up the coast to Sokcho was ordered. On the 17th there came an emergency call to move a battalion from Cheju Do to Inchon, and on the next day, to complete this planner’s nightmare, there arose the possibility of further redeployment of elements of the 24th Division.
One day before the anniversary of Perry’s landing, and while these hasty maritime movements were in progress, the Chinese attacked again, in greater strength than in the month before. Whether this second blow had been long planned, and coordinated with peace table procrastination, or whether it was an afterthought intended to chastise a belligerent Syngman Rhee remained obscure. Again the blow fell on ROK forces, this time in the area south of Kumsong and just west of the June breakthrough, where four divisions were thrown against the junction of IX Corps and the ROK II Corps. Again there came collapse, followed by the development of a fluid situation and accompanied by pressure on the east coast strip. In response to the new emergency General Taylor moved two American divisions into the gap and brought reinforcements forward from Pusan; by 17 July U.N. forces were counterattacking; by the 20th some lost ground had been regained and a new line established which would be held until the armistice. Again some miles of mountain territory had been given up, again Chinese casualties were thought to have been extremely heavy. But the weight of the attack and the temporary disorder which ensued had brought a final period of frantic activity on land, at sea, and in the air.
Fire support off the eastern shore had been stepped up in early June when Communist seizure of Anchor Hill, a key ROK position south of Kosong, ushered in a period of heavy fighting. Two destroyers and the heavy cruiser Saint Paul were busily at work, and New Jersey was sent in to provide, for the first time since February, 16-inch gunfire at the bombline. Although the war against the railroad continued, as did the operations at Wonsan, the center of action in the final weeks was at the battleline, where one destroyer remained permanently on station, backed up for 13 days by New Jersey, and at other times by Manchester, Bremerton, or Saint Paul, Ammunition expenditure off the bombline in July totalled more than 6,000 rounds.
So, as the end approached, the gunnery forces on the eastern shore were back where they had been at the beginning, and the task that fell upon Rear Admiral Clarence E. Olsen, CTF 95 for the last five months of the war, was the task that had faced Admiral Higgins. The emphasis on interdiction of supply and transportation, strong during the period of stalemate, had given way at the last to the requirement of again supporting ROK forces on the coastal road.
For the naval aviators, as well, a cycle had been completed, and war’s end found them back at the job that had once confronted Valley Forge and Triumph. Again the enemy was attacking; again the carriers, now four Essex-class ships plus a light unit in the Yellow Sea, were supporting the ground armies under the control of JOC. Some differences had indeed come with the passage of time: representation at JOC had been institutionalized and communications improved; movement from coast to coast and retirement for replenishment had long since been given up; the risks of air and submarine attack had been accepted, the advantages of mobility and surprise forgone, and the force, with its replenishment ships, was operating as a permanent air base in 39°N 129°E.
Upon this air base, upon its flying personnel, and upon the Logistic Support Force, the events of the final weeks imposed severe demands. Early in June Eighth Army called for 48 close support sorties a day, and for a large additional effort in Cherokee Strikes. On the 6th orders were received to put the entire piston-engined effort into the support of ground forces, while dividing the jets between Cherokee Strikes, road sweeps, and reconnaissance. Late in the month the lull between Communist attacks brought a limited revival of interdiction, but on 14 July Commander Seventh Fleet put all propeller planes back into support of the armies. In the last five days three very large raids were made against seven enemy airfields in the eastern half of North Korea.
With this final period of emergency there developed the most intense flight operations of the war. On 11 June, the day after the opening of the first Communist offensive, Princeton joined Philippine Sea and Boxer on the line, and two days later Lake Champlain, fresh from the Atlantic Fleet, reached the operating area. Four-carrier operations were continued through the 19th, and three carriers were kept on station until the 27th. On 14 July, with the second enemy breakthrough, a third carrier joined the force, and on the 17th the fourth, and so it continued until the end of the war.
Flight operations were hindered by the usual weather difficulties of the Korean summer. In the interior mountains the monsoonal air masses condensed into heavy fog and rain; at sea, fog and low overcast prevailed. For Task Force 77 the period was marked by a continuous search for clear areas, and by the conduct of full-scale operations with ceilings down to 100 feet and visibility of only a mile and a half. Despite this remarkable performance a large proportion of scheduled sorties was weathered out; despite these cancellations new marks for carrier operations were repeatedly set. The June record of 554 sorties flown on the 13th went by the board in July, with 592, 600, and 746 on three successive days. Total sorties rose steadily from 4,343 in May to 6,423 in July; close support sorties went up from 256 to 1,690; aircraft ordnance delivery rose from 2,835 tons in May to 4,606 in the final month.
So massive an offensive called for hard work from all hands, and for an heroic effort on the part of the Logistic Support Force. On 9 June fueling days were abolished, and from that date nightly replenishment, carried out in a mixture of fog and darkness that often required the use of towing spars and searchlights, continued to the end of hostilities. Owing to the coming of the jet airplane and to the increased bomb-carrying capacity of carrier attack planes, the requirements far exceeded anything accomplished or even contemplated in World War II. The increased expenditure of ordnance strained the capabilities of the ammunition ships; the consumption of aviation gasoline, which for a time reached 9,000 barrels a day, forced the recall of an oiler from other scheduled operations. Yet somehow all needs were met.
On men and machinery alike the strain of these final weeks began to tell, until as time went on bad weather came to seem almost a godsend. For the aviators the working day was a long one: good weather or bad, flying or not, they were on the alert and under strain; when the weather was operational the average jet pilot spent some four hours flying and another five in preparation, while propeller-plane pilots were airborne almost seven hours a day. When twilight brought an end to the long flight schedule it was time to go alongside the waiting replenishment ships, pass lines and hoses, and fuel and load far into the night. Here the immediate impact was on the ships’ companies, who after arduous days had to manhandle and stow large quantities of stores and ammunition, but the pilots suffered too, their sleep disturbed by the clanking of handling machinery on the hangar deck.
Under such pressure, maintenance suffered and gear began to fail. Electronic equipment became temperamental, Lake Champlain experienced breakdown of both catapults, Princeton was out for a few days with shaft vibrations, and Philippine Sea had similar troubles. These casualties to her sister ships made it necessary to hold Boxer on the line long after her scheduled date of departure, with the result that on 23 July she set a new fleet record with her 61,000th landing.
In this situation something had to give, and what gave was a plan for intensified night work which had been developed in May. At long last it had seemed possible to put air operations on a 24-hour basis, by transferring all night-configurated aircraft to Princeton and providing her with a small screen for independent night operations. But the May casualty to her shafts forced postponement of the scheme, and the subsequent need for maximum effort prevented the assignment of a carrier to night work only. So heavy, indeed, was the daytime schedule, that ordinary night heckling was first diminished and then discontinued, and the hours of darkness were conceded to the enemy.
Nevertheless night brought one triumph. Beginning in April the Communists had cast further doubt upon the virtues of modern design by the employment of fabric-covered training planes–Po-2 biplanes, or Yak-18 monoplanes–in a series of night air raids against the Inchon-Kimpo-Seoul area. Employed either singly or in masses of a half-dozen or so, these ancient 80-knot floaters, too low for antiaircraft fire and too slow for jet interceptors, for two months flew with impunity through the interstices of the air defense organization, damaging parked aircraft, burning a fuel dump, shaking up the residences of the President of Korea and of the gentlemen of the press, and causing generalized confusion and frustration. But in June a detachment of Corsair night fighters was sent in from the fleet, and within a month Lieutenant Guy P. Bordelon had disposed of five of the intruders, to become not only the first ace in this particular category but the Navy’s only ace of the Korean War.
The enemy offensive of June and July gave the close support control system its first real test since the beginning of the stalemate. As before, the system of pre-planning strikes proved useless in emergency; as before, requests for help could not be promptly answered. Although communications capacity far exceeded that of 1950, this improvement was more than offset by the vastly increased sortie capability: the close support request net clogged almost at once, and despite resort to extemporized and non-doctrinal direct communications, strikes followed requests by as much as 17 hours. Again, as in the summer of 1950, the control system collapsed as JOC duty officers, remote from the situation but wishing to help, rammed aircraft in large numbers into the threatened sectors. Once more the lack of forward air controllers below the regimental level put the main responsibility on the Mosquitos which, in the fluid situation, once more demonstrated their inability to keep track of friendly positions and important targets. Inevitably, therefore, rather than hitting troops in the open and on the move, close support and Cherokee Strikes attacked supply and billeting areas, gun positions, and trenches, and much waste ensued through jettisoning of ordnance.
These difficulties, experienced for the first time by the personnel involved, although not for the first time in Korea, were compounded by the adverse weather. Large-scale Cherokee operations, sufficiently problematical in themselves, were forced by reduced visibility to operate under ground radar control. In June 577 sorties, some 30 percent of Task Force 77’s support effort, were so employed, bombing in level flight from altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 feet, and by July this was the rule rather than the exception. In their turn the radar facilities became overloaded, and many flights had to be diverted to secondary targets, or directed to dump their loads somewhere north of the bombline.
This situation, which would have scandalized the explosive Ewen, surprisingly seems to have brought little complaint from Navy commanders. A year on interdiction had been followed by a time of only token close support, and this, taken with the rotation of carrier and air group personnel, had permitted interests to change and skills to wither. With strike results unavailable or unassessable, the magnitude of the effort tended to be emphasized, and maximum support of Eighth Army became a trucking operation in which, as often before in air warfare, statistics of sorties flown and ordnance dropped acted to conceal the central question of whether the drops hit anything worthwhile.
Only the Marines still chafed under a system, incapable of effective operation in the fluid situations where it was most necessary, whose failures were then used to support the doctrinal position that close support was an uneconomic use of air strength. But this chafing was largely theoretical. No very heavy attacks were thrown against the division which, with the bulk of its support supplied by the Marine Aircraft Wing and controlled at battalion level, found itself in a reasonably satisfactory situation, and good use was made of the final months in working out techniques for searchlight-directed night close air support.
For the Wing, too, the situation was improved. Relations between the Marine liaison officers and their Air Force colleagues at JOC had become exceptionally harmonious, and in February the Commanding General had at last regained operational control of his own squadrons. But the Marines final views on the Korean situation made no bones about the inadequacy of prevailing concepts, the inferior quality of close support rendered the armies, and the unwieldy, inflexible, and unsatisfactory methods of control which resulted from over-centralization, inadequate communications, and the lack of forward ground controllers. Still, the Marine Aircraft Wing had done its best, and if it had been unable to make experience prevail over theory, it had solid accomplishments to show. Throughout the war the Army had demonstrated its great appreciation of such Marine support as it could get; Marine night fighters had proven in certain respects superior to all others in the theater; a Marine pilot on exchange duty with the Air Force had become a jet ace; following the armistice the MAG 12 softball team became the champions of the Fifth Air Force and subsequently, disguised in Air Force uniforms, went onward and upward to become FEAF champions in September.
So, with the emergencies of the final weeks, the war had come full circle, and the ships and aircraft of Naval Forces Far East were back at the tasks of 1950. Within the naval service at large another cycle was also ending. In the expansion of the past three years, priority had been given the operating forces; the shore establishment had remained undermanned, and CoinNavFE had long been hoping for an increased allowance of personnel. But here the truth expounded by Clausewitz, that war is but the extension of politics, was once again brought home. As the Chinese were mounting their last offensives, proposals were being made in Congress for reduction of the armed forces, and a May dispatch from CNO had directed a 10 percent reduction in complement for shore activities.
But at last the end was at hand. On 19 July, with the halting of their final offensive, the Communists again evinced a willingness for progress, and on the morning of the 27th the armistice was signed to take effect that evening. The final line of contact ran from west of the Imjin River northeastward through the Iron Triangle, east to the headwaters of the Soyang River, and thence northerly to the coast below Kosong. On both shores, according to the agreement, islands beyond the demarcation line were to be evacuated by the U.N., with the exception of Paengnyong Do and the others of the Sir James Hall Group, and of Yonpyong Do and U Do off the mouth of Haeju Man.
For Task Force 77 the final day involved strikes on northern airfields; at Wonsan Bremerton and Saint Paul fired the last missions; the Amphibious Force busied itself in preparation for the repatriation of prisoners. At 2200, as the troops came out of their holes across the Korean peninsula, the ships in Wonsan harbor turned on their lights. On the harbor islands, on Yang Do and Nan Do in the east, and on Cho Do and Sok To in the west, the garrisons began to demolish their installations and pack their bags. Three years, one month, and two days after the North Korean People’s Army had burst south across the parallel the war was over. Aggression had been repelled; Korea, like the rest of the world, remained divided.
The long seige: 28 months after she started the seige of the city, Manchester engages enemy batteries at Wonson. The island is Hwangto (Photo #80-G-483203)
Click on the image for additional information and related photographs.
If armistice there was, it was an uncertain one. Communist violation of provisions regarding reinforcement commenced almost at once; beyond the demarcation line the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee was frustrated in its activities; men’s lives were still at hazard. Up by the Yalu on the last day of action an Air Force fighter pilot had destroyed a twin-engined transport. The aircraft turned out to have been Russian; the event shortly produced a diplomatic protest, and still more quickly a reaction in another sphere. At 0615 on the 29th an Air Force RB-50, flying an easterly heading over the Sea of Japan, was shot down by Soviet MIGs some 30 miles south of Cape Povorotnyy. All but one of the crew parachuted into the sea, where during the afternoon several were sighted by low-altitude search planes, as were a number of Soviet ships and aircraft. In the afternoon Navy assistance was requested, and at 1745 Task Force 77 launched 13 aircraft to search to the northeast. At 1900 rescue ships were called for and a force composed of Bremerton and five destroyers headed north at speed. At 0300, as this group was approaching the area where survivors had been sighted, two night fighters were sent up from the carriers, to be followed by other aircraft throughout the day. Spread out in scouting line and with a helicopter on each flank, Bremerton and the destroyers swept the waters off the Russian doorstep throughout the 30th, covering an area of 3,300 square miles. But despite all efforts only a single survivor could be found.
So ended in a shaky truce America’s first 20th-century war for limited objectives. To some in the armed services, Army, Navy, and Air Force alike, this ending, with little permanently resolved, was less than satisfactory. Something seemed to have been forgone when truce negotiations with a beaten enemy had been commenced; the repeated concessions at Panmunjom had appeared unnecessary; and while none, perhaps, could satisfactorily define the victory he would have liked to gain, the Communist employment of negotiations as a shield for reinforcement and a forum for vituperation seemed infinitely repugnant.
But for this too there was a precedent. To the first John Rodgers, the peace of 1805 which ended the war with Tripoli was so distasteful that he offered to ransom the prisoners with funds raised from the officers of the squadron, if only the war could go on. Yet it may be that such an attitude, whether in Korea or in Tripoli, reflects an excessive emphasis upon the paper provisions of a settlement and an underestimation of the more substantial factors which govern the relations among nations. Unsatisfactory the Treaty of 1805 may well have been, but throughout the 19th century the United States maintained, in its Mediterranean Squadron, a body of armed force appropriate to the situation, and little more was heard from the Bashaw of Tripoli.
A Note on Source Materials
This account of the Korean War is based largely on official records of the U.S. Navy, supplemented by those of the other armed forces and by published material. The most important sources are discussed below; there then follows a listing by chapter and section of items of particular relevance to any given phase of the campaign.
By all odds the most important single source for the history of naval operations in Korea is the series of six Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, "Interim Evaluation Reports," the product of an unprecedented effort in large-scale concurrent evaluation of naval operations. This project was conceived by Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie in August, 1950; recruitment of personnel had commenced by early September, while U.N. forces were still struggling to hold the Pusan perimeter; the evaluation group was officially constituted by an order of 20 September from the Chief of Naval Operations to the Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet; by mid-October the group was at work in the Western Pacific under the direction of Rear Admiral Lucian A. Moebus.
Admiral Sherman’s letter had directed CincPacFleet to conduct a continuing evaluation of combat techniques, weapons employment, and logistics; to submit conclusions and recommendations for current training and operations or for desirable new developments; and to prepare an analysis and record of naval and Marine combat operations. More specifically, the evaluation group was directed to concern itself with all types of air operations, antisubmarine warfare, blockade and escort work, gunfire support, amphibious operations, joint aspects of ground warfare, and logistic matters.
This was a large order. Interpreting this directive, Admiral Moebus’ group set itself the task of recording in detail the happenings within the various operational and administrative commands, of identifying the various difficulties and problems as well as the successes which developed, and of undertaking detailed staff studies of functional components of the Navy and of naval weapons systems with a view to recommendations for improvement. The first result of its efforts, "Interim Evaluation Report No. 1," covering the period from 25 June to 15 November 1950, was completed in early 1951, and was described by Admiral Moebus as "awesome in size." So it was, extending to 3,292 pages, with 928 pages of project studies on various forms of naval action supported by more than twice that amount of narrative annexes from both operational and administrative commands. The results were doubly fortunate: without the prodding of the evaluation group it seems certain that much of the record of the early days of crisis would have never been set down; as a result of the wide net cast by the CNO directive, much material was included for which the normal naval reporting system makes no provision. Special note, in this connection, should be taken of the annexes to the first Report which deal with the operations of Commander Air Force Pacific Fleet, Commander Service Force Pacific Fleet, Commander Western Sea Frontier, the various Pacific MSTS offices, and the Marine Corps administrative commands, without which the narrative of the assembly and movement of force, so central to the entire campaign, would be almost impossible to develop.
The second Evaluation Report, covering the period from 16 November 1950 to 30 April 1951, was also sizable, but the format was considerably changed. Here the chronological narratives of the various commands have disappeared, to be replaced by extensive excerpts from action reports and from various special studies (notably of close air support and interdiction) by sundry groups and boards within the several services. By this expedient the work was reduced to 1,874 pages. By the time of the third Report, routine had been well established, procedures had been institutionalized, and from this time on the product, while still of first importance, becomes less interesting to the historian. But then, of course, so does the war. The end product of the enterprise, six Reports totalling almost 10,000 pages, remains a mine of information, preserving much that would otherwise be lost or inaccessible. As perhaps the only individual to have read the entire work, I owe a personal debt of gratitude to Admiral Moebus and his colleagues.
It might be thought that so sizable a compendium would prove a sufficent source for the history of the war. But since, except in the appendices to the first Report, the approach is analytical rather than narrative, resort is necessary for the chronology of day-today activity to the Operation Plans, Operation Orders, Command Reports, Action Reports, and War Diaries at all levels from CincFE and Commander Naval Forces Far East down to the single ship or squadron. These items, stored in the custody of the Director of Naval History, total something over 50 file-cabinet drawers.
This material suffers from two principal weaknesses. Owing to the pressure of operations on the undermanned ships and staffs, the record of the crucial early months is often scanty. Owing to the nature of the Navy’s reporting system, these reports are too frequently arid and uninformative. This reporting system, in Korea as in World War II, called for the submission by all operating commands of a War Diary, a running account of day-today movements, supplemented after battle by an Action Report. But Korea was a War Diary war: there were no important naval engagements, and except for the landings and evacuations of the first six months, no large set-piece operations. In such a situation the instructions for preparation of the War Diary left much to the initiative of the individual commander, and while some rose to the situation, expanding and contracting their Diaries with the varying tempo of action, many did not. And the American tendency toward the depersonalized report (or, alternatively, the overwritten press release) leaves the historian to infer the atmosphere of any given period from a simple record of movements, orders, and ammunition expenditures. The sense of urgency, the rising hopes, the dashed anticipations of war rarely appear.
In this our British cousins appear to have the advantage of us, especially as regards the reports of commanders of task group level and above. In the Second World War no American reports from commanders of whatever service provide a satisfactory equivalent to those dispatches of British commanders published in the London Gazette. Similarly in Korea, the Reports of Proceedings by the Flag Officer Second in Command Far Eastern Station (Commander Task Group 95.1) are in many respects the most informative command reports of the war. This was noted by Admiral Dyer who, while commanding Task Force 95, forwarded FOSICFES’ "Report of Proceedings" for September 1950—November 1951 with the suggestion that U.S. Navy procedures might be modified to approximate the British. The historian can but reiterate this recommendation.
The limited coverage of the early months, while wholly understandable, also presents problems. At the level of command reports, nothing was forthcoming from the hard-pressed staff of Commander Naval Forces Far East until nine months of warfare had gone by. Information on the course of events in Tokyo in July and August is limited to a scanty annex to the first CincPacFleet Evaluation Report. By March 1951, however, it proved possible to produce a report covering the previous December; this was followed by reports for the early months of 1951, and from May of that year to the end of the war regular monthly reports are available. But July and August 1950 remain unrecorded, while the report covering the crucial months of September through November 1950 was not prepared until 1954. These ComNavFE "Command and Historical Reports," on the order of 70 to 80 pages each, provide summaries of the month’s air and surface operations digested from Action Reports and War Diaries, together with comments on personnel, logistics, aerology, communications, shore activities, and medical matters. Though rather cut and dried in nature, they are nonetheless useful for chronology and statistical information.
For Seventh Fleet, the principal command afloat, the story is much the same. Throughout the period of Admiral Struble’s command, the staff was undermanned and overworked, and although by July 1951 Action Reports had been submitted for Inchon, Wonsan, and for the period of the evacuation of northeastern Korea, one could wish for more. For the latter part of the war the reports of Admirals Martin and Clark, which summarize the operations carried out under their command, are generally adequate.
On the next level down things were not quite so difficult. Since the operations of the Amphibious Force Far East were necessarily intermittent, time was available between events to write the story down. One useful result was the detailed historical narrative of events from 25 June 1950 to 1 January 1951, in ComPhibGru I’s "Report of Operations," included as Appendix AA to CincPacFleet "Interim Evaluation Report No. 1." The War Diary of Task Force 95, the Blockading and Escort Force, although of variable quality, is important for the period from late 1950 through into 1952.
But the early period is the bad period, for the historian as for those who were on the job. Most fortunately, therefore, the Carrier and Cruiser Division Commanders, whose work was so important in the first weeks, kept reasonably full and complete War Diaries, and in addition two notable documents were produced in widely different and complementary spheres.
The first of these is Commander Carrier Division I (Rear Admiral E. C. Ewen), "Report of Task Force 77 Operations During the Korean Campaign (25 June 1950 to 19 January 1951)." This report of 616 pages (also available as Appendix R (Vol. 13) of CincPacFleet’s "Interim Evaluation Report No. I") contains a narrative of operations, a detailed analysis of the close air support situation as seen from the sea, a discussion of communications problems, and 303 pages of appendices which reproduce dispatches, bombline maps, orders, memoranda, and reports for the entire period, few of which are easily available elsewhere.
The second document of particular importance is the War Diary of the Republic of Korea Navy (Task Group 96.7/95.7), which provides a careful and detailed narrative of the campaign as viewed from Pusan and Chinhae. Although primarily important as the single source of information on the ROK Navy and its inshore operations, this War Diary is also a unique repository of information on the organization of naval support of the perimeter, the arrival of ground forces, logistic arrangements, intelligence of enemy movements, and such matters.
Over and above the periodic reports of participating units, some other naval records have proven useful. The Office of Naval History has a considerable body of miscellaneous material from the files of the Chief of Naval Operations and of Commander Naval Forces Far East, which includes occasional material of importance. The personal papers of Admiral Joy and of Admiral Ofstie, deposited in the Office of Naval History, contain some useful items. Various summaries and statistics can be found in the OpNav publication "Combat Activity of Naval Aviation," which appeared monthly from October 1950 to June 1951, and quarterly thereafter. There are some scattered articles of interest in the monthly Review of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
The principal lacuna in the naval sources, and one which is reflected in the narrative, concerns the control and direction of the naval campaign. For Korea, as for the Second World War, information on such evanescent matters as the availability of intelligence, estimates of the situation, concepts of employment of own forces, and relations with the other services and with allies, must be sought in the dispatch traffic between the flag officers involved. But this remains an unexplored field. Although the availability of all pertinent naval sources was a condition of my undertaking this history, I have been unable to gain access to this material.
Doubtless it has never been possible to write naval history in isolation; certainly this is the case for the Korean War, where the various arms of the defense establishment were so intimately and continuously associated. Equally, however, the problem of unified history is a difficult one, and the attempt to produce a "Report from the Secretary of Defense to the President of the United States on Operations in Korea during the period 25 June 1950 to 8 July 1951," ultimately bogged down. This effort, nevertheless, did give rise to a "Secretary of Defense Committee Final Draft," a mimeographed document of 265 pages containing a large amount of usefully summarized information on all services. At the level of the U.N. command in Tokyo, I have made intermittent use of the CincFE-CincUNC monthly Command Reports, which have all the usual large-scale virtues and defects of major headquarters compilations. And GHQ Tokyo also produced a useful "History of the North Korean Army."
At the individual service level the following may be noted. The Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, has published two preliminary narrative volumes, Korea 1950 (Washington, 1952), and Korea 1951–1953 (Washington, 1956) on which I have relied heavily. A number of detailed studies are in progress, of which the first, Roy E. Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (Washington, 1961) was published while this book was going to press. To Stetson Conn and John Miller, Jr., Chief and Deputy Chief Historians of OCMH, I owe thanks for perceptive criticism and helpful suggestion.
For the Navy, two published works are available. Walter Karig, Malcolm W. Cagle, and Frank A. Manson, Battle Report, The War in Korea (New York, 1952), a continuation of the popularly written series of World War II, takes the story through the evacuation of Hungnam. A follow-up effort by the last two named authors, The Sea War in Korea (Annapolis, 1957), deals with the entire period of the Korean conflict. The files of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings are worth investigation.
Of a projected five volumes on Korean operations, the Marine Corps has published three. These volumes, The Pusan Perimeter, The Inchon-Seoul Operation, and The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, by Lynn Montross and Nicholas A. Canzona, are detailed and painstaking studies, extremely useful for the period covered; surprisingly, however, in view of Marine organization and doctrine, they devote little attention to the operations of Marine Corps aviation and to its interrelations with the ground forces.
For the operations of the Air Force in Korea I have relied on the three volumes of U.S. Air Force Operations in Korea (U.S.A.F. Historical Studies 71, 72, and 127), publications of the U.S. Air Force Historical Division, Air University, Maxwell Field. From these basic studies the author, Robert F. Futrell, has distilled an unclassified history of Air Force operations, which I have been privileged to read in manuscript form. And I am under further obligation to Mr. Futrell for courteous and helpful response to requests for information and amplification. Various aspects of the Air Force experience in Korea have been discussed in the Air University Quarterly Review; some of these articles are reprinted in J. T. Stewart (ed.), Airpower - The Decisive Force in Korea (Princeton, 1957).
For the conduct of foreign relations in the period of the Korean War the two volumes of basic documents published by the State Department, American Foreign Policy 1950–1955 (Washington, 1957) are useful. On military and diplomatic policy, the records of two congressional hearings are crucial. The tensions in the Defense Department, and the nature of military planning in 1949, are considered in the hearings of the House Committee on the Armed Services, 81st Congress, 1st Session, on Unification and Strategy; how it all turned out may be seen in the hearings of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, 82nd Congress, 1st Session, The Military Situation in the Far East. In connection with the subject here at issue I have profited from the use of two draft studies of the 20th Century Fund Project on Civil-Military Relations: Paul Y. Hammond, "Missions of the Services" (to be published as "Super-Carriers and B-36 Bombers: Appropriations, Strategy, and Politics"), and Martin Lichterman, "To the Yalu and Back," which were most generously made available by Harold Stein, the project director, and by the authors.
So much for sources of a specialized nature. There exists, of course, in the public domain, a large literature on problems of current foreign policy, the cold war, and national defense, much of which is in one way or another germane to this study. Works of a historical nature are necessarily fewer, but some are of particular importance. For the unification of the armed forces, Walter Millis (ed.), The Forrestal Diaries (New York, 1951), is important. Material on the Korean War and on subsequent developments in the Department of Defense appears in Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier (New York, 1956), James M. Gavin, War and Peace in the Space Age (New York, 1958), Maxwell D. Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet (New York, 1960), and John B. Medaris, Countdown for Decision (New York, 1960). Naval officers, it appears, do not commit themselves to paper on these matters; the pre-Korean views of the Air Force may be traced through the pages of the Reader’s Digest, December 1948–April 1949. The historical background is well treated in Walter Millis, Arms and Men (New York, 1956); assisted by others, the same author has grappled with the recent scene in Arms and the State (New York, 1958). Robert E. Osgood, Limited War (Chicago, 1957) has some perceptive comments on the Korean experience.
The position of the Commander in Chief is set forth in the two volumes of Truman’s Memoirs (New York, 1955–56). On General MacArthur one may take one’s choice between Courtney Whitney, MacArthur. His Rendezvous with History (New York, 1956), and Richard H. Rovere and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The General and the President (New York, 1951); a reading of Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines (Washington, 1953), will develop historical parallels which offer food for thought. R. M. Poats, Decision in Korea (New York, 1954), is a good contemporary history of the Korean War. On the armistice negotiations, see C. Turner Joy, How Communists Negotiate (New York, 1955) and William H. Vatcher, Jr., Panmunjom (New York, 1958). For those concerned with recent military developments, Brassey’s Annual is extremely useful; for those interested in naval matters, Jane’s Fighting Ships and All the World’s Aircraft are essential.
On the fighting in Korea, and how it seemed to those involved, six books come to mind: S. L. A. Marshall, The River and the Gauntlet (New York, 1953) and Pork Chop Hill (New York, 1956) are concerned with Army small unit actions; James M. Michener, The Bridges at Toko-ri (New York, 1953), is a saccharine treatment of carrier aviation; Andrew Geer, The New Breed (New York, 1952) takes the Marines from the Pusan perimeter up to the reservoir and down again, as do the photographs in David D. Duncan, This is War! (New York, 1951); Martin Russ, The Last Parallel (New York, 1957) is the personal narrative of a member of the 1st Marine Division.
Chapter 1. To Korea by Sea
Of the large bibliography concerning American relations with the Orient the following have been most useful:
Tyler Dennett, Americans in Eastern Asia (New York, 1922); C. O. Paullin, Diplomatic Negotiations of American Naval Officers (Baltimore, 1912); M. F. Nelson, Korea and the Old Orders in Eastern Asia (Baton Rouge, La., 1945); F. H. Harrington, God, Mammon, and the Japanese (Madison, Wis., 1944); G. M. McCune and J. A. Harrison, Korean-American Relations (Berkeley, Cal., 1951); L. M. Goodrich, Korea: A Study of U.S. Policy in the United Nations (New York, 1956). The account of the engagement with the Korean forts is derived from Rodgers’ reports in "Letters of the Commanding Officer of the Asiatic Squadron to the Secretary of the Navy," National Archives.
Chapter 2: Policy and its Instruments
1. Divided Korea
Goodrich, Korea; Carl L. Friedrich, American Experience in Military Government in World War II (New York, 1948); E. Grant Meade, American Military Government in Korea (New York, 1951); Truman, Memoirs; Secretary of Defense, "Report to the President of the United States on Operations in Korea."
2. Unified Defense
Millis, The Forrestal Diaries, Arms and Men, Arms and the State; Truman, Memoirs; House Committee on the Armed Services, Hearings on Unification and Strategy; Hammond, "Missions of the Services." S. P. Huntington, "National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy," 80 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 483–93, has some interesting comments on the theoretical difficulties of the period.
3. The Estimate of the Situation
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 7, Intelligence); Truman, Memoirs; Goodrich, Korea; Montross and Canzona, U.S. Marine Operations in Korea (hereafter USMC Operations), I.
Chapter 3. War Begins
1. The Decision to lntervene
Secretary of Defense Report; Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; Lichterman, "To the Yalu and Back"; Truman, Memoirs; Department of State, American Foreign Policy 1950—1955; A. L. Warner, "How the Korea Decision was Made," Harper’s Magazine, June 1951.
2. The Far East Command
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USAF Histories; USMC Operations, I; War Diaries of CarDiv 3, CruDiv 5.
3. The First Days of Naval Action
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Annex A, ComNavFE Staff History); Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Orders 4-50, 5-50, 7-50, 8-50; Seventh Fleet Operation Order 6-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CarDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Juneau, DeHaven, Mansfield; Action Reports of Juneau (24 June–6 July), Suisun.
4. Air Strikes, Coastal Bombardment, Flank Patrols
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Annex A, ComNavFE Staff History; JJ, ComSubPac Submarine Operations); Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Order 6-50; Seventh Fleet Operation Plan 1-50, Operation Orders 6-50, 7-50; War Diaries of CarDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Juneau; ComCarDiv 1, Report of Task Force 77 Operations During the Korean Campaign (hereafter ComCarDiv I Action Report); Action Report of Juneau (24 June–6 July).
Chapter 4. Help on the Way
2. Troops and Supplies
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Annexes FF, ComWestSeaFron Narrative; GG, DepComMSTSPac Report; HH, DepComMSTSWestPac Report); Department of the Army, Korea 1950.
3. Fighting Ships
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Annexes T, U, ComAirPac Reports; EE, ComServPac Evaluation) War Diaries of CruDiv 3, Helena, Badoeng Strait, Sicily.
4. Naval Logistics
CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 7, Logistics; Annex EE, ComServPac Evaluation), II.
5. The Marine Brigade
CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Annexes V, ComAdComPhibPac Narrative; Z, FMFPac Report; DD, 1st MarDiv Report); USMC Operations, I; War Diary of Badoeng Strait.
6. Air Transport and Air Reinforcement
Secretary of Defense Report; USAF Histories; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Annexes T, U, ComAirPac Reports; W, FlogAirWingPac Report; FF, ComWestSeaFron Narrative); Boxer, Overall Report of Activities, 1 July–31 December 1950.
Chapter 5. Into the Perimeter
1. The Korean Theater
In hydrographic matters, here and throughout the book, I have relied on Sailing Directions for the Southeast Coast of Siberia and Korea (Hydrographic Office Publication 122B, Washington, 1951) and on the relevant H.O. charts; for Korean topography I have used the maps of the Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers, to the scales of 1:1,000,000 and 1:250,000. Korean place names have been employed throughout, with but a single exception: up in the high country I have followed the Marines in referring to the Chosin (rather than the Changjin) Reservoir, and in calling the town Hagaru (instead of Changjin). Secretary of Defense Report; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, I.
2. East Coast Bombardment
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations); War Diaries of CruDiv 5, Juneau, Mansfield; Action Report of Juneau (7–23 July).
3. The Pohang Landing
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 5, Amphibious and Ground Operations; Annexes AA, ComPhibGru I Report; HH, DepComMSTSWestPac Report); USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Orders 9-50, 10-50; War Diary of PhibGru I.
4. Seventh Fleet Operations
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Annex B, ComSeventh Fleet Narrative); USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Order 10-50; Seventh Fleet Operation Orders 9-50, 11-50, and Operation Plan 9-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CarDiv3, Fleet Air Wing 1; Action Reports of ComCarDiv 1, Carrier Air Group 5 (18–19 July).
5. Patrol Planes and Gunnery Ships
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Annexes D, ComFairWing 6 Report; H, VP 47 Report; Q-2, ComCruDiv 3 History); NavFE Operation Order 12-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CruDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Helena, Juneau; Action Report of Juneau.
6. The Marines Arrive
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Annexes B, ComSeventh Fleet Narrative; 5, ComCarDiv 15 Narrative; CC, 1st MAW Report; DD, 1st MarDiv Report); USMC Operations, I; NavFE Operation Order 14-50; War Diaries of Badoeng Strait, Sicily; Boxer, Overall Report of Activities (1 July–31 December).
Chapter 6. Holding the Line
1. The Perimeter Takes Form
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, I, II; GHQ, FEC, "History of the North Korean Army;" War Diary of ROK Navy.
2. Coastal Bombardment, The Problem of Carrier Air, and the Southern Spoiling Offensive
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPac Fleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Annexes Q-2, ComCruDiv 3 History; DD, 1st MarDiv Report); USMC Operations, I; USAF Histories; Seventh Fleet Operation Order 13-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CarDiv 3, CruDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Badoeng Strait, Sicily, Diachenko; Action Reports of ComCarDiv 1, Diachenko (4–5 August).
3. East Coast Interdiction. Pohang, and First Naktong
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Annexes JJ, ComSubPac Submarine Operations; Q-2, ComCruDiv 3 History); Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, I; USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Orders 11-50, 13-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CarDiv 3, CruDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Badoeng Strait, Sicily, Horace A. Bass; Action Reports of ComCarDiv I, Horace A. Bass (12–16 August).
4. Coastal Operations and Carrier Strikes
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations); Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USAF Histories; Seventh Fleet Operation Order 14-50; War Diaries of ROK Navy, CarDiv 3, CruDiv 3, CruDiv 5, Sicily; Action Report of ComCarDiv I.
5. The Enemy’s Big Blast
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (as above); Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, I; USAF Histories; War Diaries of CarDiv 3, CruDiv 3, CruDiv5, Badoeng Strait, Sicily; Action Report of ComCarDiv I. For the affair of the Russian bomber, ComCarDiv I (CTF 77) Special Action Report of 6 September 1950, and enclosures; War Diary of Herbert J. Thomas; New York Times, 5–9 September 1950.
Chapter 7. Back to the Parallel
1. Preparing the Counterstroke
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 5, Amphibious and Ground Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations, Mine Warfare; Vol. 8, Intelligence; Annexes B, ComSeventhFleet Narrative; AA, ComPhibGru I Report); NavFE Command and Historical Report, September–November 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, II; USAF Histories; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; NavFE Operation Plan 108-50; Seventh Fleet Operation Plan 9-50; Amphibious Group I Operation Order 14-50; War Diaries of Amphibious Group I, Badoeng Strait, Horace A. Bass, McKean; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7), Horace A. Bass (20–25 August).
2. North to Inchon
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 3, Naval Air Operations; Vol. 4, Marine Air Operations; Vol. 5, Amphibious and Ground Operations; Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations; Vol 7, Logistics; Annexes AA, ComPhibGru I Report; DD, 1st Mardiv Report); NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.–Nov. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, II; USAF Histories; Flag Officer Second in Command Far Eastern Station, Report of Proceedings, 1–14 Sept. 1950; War Diaries of ROK Navy, Amphibious Group 1, Transron 1, Fleet Air Wing I, LSR Division 11, Horace A. Bass, Manchester, Sicily, Badoeng Strait; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7), ComCarDiv 1, Advance Attack Group, Naval Beach Group 1, Tacron 1, Minron 3.
3. The Clearance of South Korea
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 6, Surface and Covering Operations, Mine Warfare; Annexes Q-1, ComUN Blockading and Escort Force Evaluation; Q-2, ComCruDiv 3 History; AA, ComPhibGru I Report); NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.– Nov. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations II; USAF Histories; GHQ, FEC, "History of the North Korean Army;" Flag Officer Second in Command Far Eastern Station, Consolidated Report of Proceedings, Sept. 1950–Nov. 1951 (hereafter FOSICFES Report); War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, CruDiv 3, Amphibious Group 1, Horace A. Bass, Missouri, Manchester; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7); Perch, Report of Raid.
Chapter 8. On to the Border
1. Planning the Wonsan Landing
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report I (Annexes B, ComSeventh Fleet Narrative; AA, ComPhibGru I Report); NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.–Nov. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; Lichterman, "To the Yalu and Back ;" Goodrich, Korea; NavFE Operation Plan 113-50; Seventh Fleet Operation Order 16-50, Operation Plan 1950; Amphibious Group I Operation Order 16-50; Commander D. N. Clay, Trip Report, 18 Oct. 1950; War Diaries of Bass and Wantuck; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7), ComCarDiv 1.
2. The Opening of Wonsan and Chinnampo.
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 6, Mine Warfare); NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.–Nov. 1950; FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, Minron 3, Forrest Royal; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7); Pirate and Pledge, Reports of Sinking.
3. Operations in Eastern North Korea
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, I (Vol. 5, Amphibious and Ground Operations; Vol. 6, Mine Warfare; Annexes AA, ComPhibGru I Report; DD, 1st MarDiv Report); NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.–Nov. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, Minron 3; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (JTF 7), Amphibious Group 3, Tacron 3.
4. New Plans and New Problems
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I (Annex AA, ComPhibGru I Report), II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Sept.–Nov. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; Goodrich, Korea; Truman, Memoirs; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; Lichterman, "To the Yalu and Back ;" FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of ROK Navy, Philippine Sea, Bataan, Badoeng Strait, Sicily; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (1 Nov.—26 Dec. 1950), ComCarDiv 1, Valley Forge, Philippine Sea; Joy Papers.
Chapter 9. Retreat to the South
1. Defeat in the West
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I (Annex AA, ComPhibGru I Report), II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Dec. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; NavFE Operation Plan 116-50; FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, Amphibious Group 3, Transron 1, Forrest Royal; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (1 Nov.—26 Dec. 1950), ComCardiv I.
2. The Campaign at the Reservoir
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I (Annex DD, 1st MarDiv Report), II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Dec. 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; War Diary of CarDiv 1; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (1 Nov.–26 Dec. 1950), ComCarDiv 1, Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 2 (in Action Report of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Wonsan-Hungnam).
3. Concentration in the East
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I (Annex AA, ComPhibGru I Report), II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Dec. 1950; Department of the Army, Korea 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; Seventh Fleet Operation Order 18-50; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, TransDiv 11, Noble; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (1 Nov.–26 Dec. 1950).
4. The Evacuation of Hungnam
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I (Annex AA, ComPhibGru I Report), II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Dec. 1950; USMC Operations, III; USAF Histories; NavFE Operation Plan 116-50; Amphibious Group I Operation Order 20-50; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, Transron I; Action Reports of Seventh Fleet (1 Nov.–26 Dec. 1950), ComCarDiv 1, Tacron 1.
5. The Second Chinese Offensive
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, II; NavFE Command and Historical Reports, Dec. 1950, Jan. 1951; Department of the Army, Korea 1950, Korea 1951–1953; USAF Histories; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; Lichterman, "To the Yalu and Back ;" Truman, Memoirs; Whitney, MacArthur; Seventh Fleet Operation Orders 19-50, 20-50; FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of Seventh Fleet, U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, Amphibious Group 3, Horace A. Bass; Action Reports of ComCarDiv 1, Amphibious Group 3.
Chapter 10. The Second Six Months
1. Back to the Han
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, Feb. 1951; Department of the Army, Korea 1951–1953; USAF Histories; FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of Seventh Fleet, U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, Amphibious Group 3, CruDiv 1, Horace A. Bass.
2. On to the Parallel
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, II; NavFE Command and Historical Report, March, April, 1951; Department of the Army, Korea 1951–1953; USAF Histories; Truman, Memoirs; Senate Hearings on The Military Situation in the Far East; NavFE Operation Order 3-51; FOSICEES Report; War Diaries of Seventh Fleet, U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, Amphibious Group 3, Missouri; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (28 March 1951–3 March 1952), CTF 74 (Sorye Dong).
3. The Communist Spring Offensive
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, II, III; NavFE Command and Historical Report, April, May, 1951; Department of the Army, Korea 1951–1953; USAF Histories; FOSICFES Report; War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, Amphibious Group 3; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (March 1951–March 1952), Princeton (on Hwachon Dam).
4. North to Kaesong
Secretary of Defense Report; CincPacFleet Evaluation Report, III; NavFE Command and Historical Reports, June, July, 1951; Department of the Army, Korea 1951–1953; USAF Histories; FOSICFES Report; War Diary of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force; Action Report of Seventh Fleet (March 1951–March 1952); Walke, Report of Mining.
Chapter 11. Problems of a Policeman
2. Operating Problems
The functional organization and the systematic arrangement of conclusions and recommendations in the CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports make these the most useful single source; some of these reports have extensive special sections on personnel problems. The NavFE files and the papers of Admirals Joy and Ofstie contain relevant items.
3. Logistic Support
Logistic sections of CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, I-VI; information from W. H. Marlow, Principal Investigator, Logistics Research Project, The George Washington University.
4. Interservice Coordination and the Air Problem
The most inclusive sources are the CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, especially I (for close support), II (for interdiction), and VI; the classified and unclassified Air Force Histories; and the Action Report of ComCarDiv1. The NavFE files contain a series of letters and memoranda on the close support question, as do the papers of Admirals Joy and Ofstie. The action reports of Tacron i for Inchon and Hungnam, and of Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 2 for the Chosin Reservoir campaign are important. The end of the story may be investigated in: "Report on Joint Air-Ground Operations Conference held at Headquarters, Fifth Air Force, Seoul, Korea, 8–22 August 1953," and in Joint Tactical Air Support Board, Fort Bragg, N.C., "Special Report Pertaining to Project No. 2-53 ‘To Establish Joint Doctrine and Procedures Governing Command, Employment, and Control of Tactical Air Forces in Support of Ground Forces.’"
5. The Larger Picture
On the Formosa patrol: Seventh Fleet Operation Order 15-50; War Diaries of ComCruDiv I, Juneau, Fleet Air Wing 1. For the submarine problem, see the CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports; the NavFE files contain reports of ASW actions and correspondence on this subject. For patrol plane operations see the relevant sections of CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports. On the other side of the world, Annual Reports of CincLantFleet; H. L. Ismay, NATO, the First Five Years, 1949–1954 (Paris? 1954?); CincNELM, Report of Operations, 1 July–1 November 1950. The Office of Naval History has compiled a chronology of Mediterranean naval operations subsequent to World War II.
6. Into the Future
Almost all this information on ship and aircraft development is available in unclassified sources, notably Jane’s Fighting Ships and All the World’s Aircraft. The Joy and Ofstie papers contain some correspondence on the implications of the Korean experience for new construction.
Chapter 12. Two More Years
The important general sources for the entire chapter are the 4,612 pages of CincPacFleet Evaluation Reports, III–VI; the ten file-drawer inches of monthly NavFE Command and Historical Reports, July 1951–July 1953; and the Reports of the two Seventh Fleet commanders, Admirals Martin and Clark, covering the periods 28 March 1951–3 March 1952 and May 1952–July 1953. For the other services, Department of the Army, Korea 1951–1953, and the USAF Histories. For the armistice negotiations, Vatcher, Panmunjom.
1. Stabilized Front and Peripheral War
War Diaries of U.N. Blockading and Escort Force, ROK Navy, Transdiv 13, New Jersey; FOSICFES Report; 41st Independent Commando, Report of Proceedings; Ofstie papers; Joy notes on armistice negotiations. On the Battle of the Buzz Saw, Action Reports of ComDesDiv 132, Blue, Cunningham, O’Brien (17 July 1951).
The NavFE files contain a study of the interdiction question of 28 April 1952, made in response to a CincFE query of 12 March; material on interdiction also exists in the Ofstie papers. On the transfer of the Marine Division, War Diary of Amphibious Group I; on the Kojo demonstration, Action Report of Amphibious Group 3; on the engagement with the MIGs, Action Reports of Oriskany, Kearsarge, and Helena, and an account in the ONI Review, February 1953.
3. Progress, Crisis, Conclusion
On the last minute redeployments, War Diary of Amphibious Group 1; on the loss of the B-50, War Diary of CruDiv 3, Action Report of ComCarDiv 3 (27 July–1 August 1953), Department of State, American Foreign Policy 1951–1955.
Glossary of Naval Abbreviations
The designations of the various types of U.S. naval vessels are derived by compounding an initial letter indicative of general category (thus A, auxiliary; C, cruiser; D, destroyer; L, landing; P, patrol) with one or more modifiers descriptive of the particular species (thus C, command or craft; D, destroyer or dock; E, explosive or escort; H, hospital or helicopter; O, oiler or ocean; P, transport (i.e., personnel); T, tracked, tank, or torpedo; V, aviation). Type designators employed in this book are as follows:
AD Destroyer tender
AE Ammunition ship
AF Refrigerated stores ship
AGC Amphibious force flagship
AH Hospital ship
AK Cargo ship
AKA Attack cargo ship
AKL Light cargo ship
AM Fleet minesweeper
AMS Motor minesweeper (formerly YMS)
AN Net tender
AOG Gasoline tanker
APA Attack transport
APD Fast transport (destroyer escort conversion)
ARG Internal combustion engine repair ship
ARH Heavy hull repair ship
ARL Landing craft repair ship
ARS Salvage vessel
ASR Submarine rescue vessel
ATF Fleet tug
AV Seaplane tender
AVP Small seaplane tender
CA Heavy cruiser
CL Light cruiser
CLAA Antiaircraft light cruiser
CV Aircraft carrier
CVE Escort aircraft carrier (merchant ship hull)
CVL Light aircraft carrier (cruiser hull)
DE Destroyer escort
DMS Fast minesweeper (destroyer conversion)
DUKW Amphibious truck (manufacturer’s designation)
JMS Japanese minesweeper (YMS type)
LCVP Vehicle and personnel landing craft
LPH Helicopter amphibious assault ship
LSD Dock landing ship
LSMR Rocket ship (medium landing ship conversion)
LST Tank landing ship
LSU Utility landing ship
LVT Tracked landing vehicle
LVTA Armored tracked landing vehicle
MSC Coastal minesweeper (non-magnetic)
MSI Inshore minesweeper (non-magnetic)
MSO Ocean minesweeper (non-magnetic)
PC Submarine chaser
PCEC Amphibious control vessel (patrol escort modification)
PF Frigate (patrol gunboat or corvette)
PT Motor torpedo boat
T—AP Transport assigned to MSTS
T—APc Small coastal transport assigned to MSTS
YMS Motor minesweeper (World War II designation)
Aircraft of the U.S. Navy are designated by a first letter indicative of functional category and by a second which identifies the manufacturer; to distinguish second and subsequent designs in the same category by the same company an intervening number is employed. Suffixed numbers and letters indicate changes to the basic model and special uses and configurations. Important categories of aircraft are:
PB patrol bomber
Relevant manufacturer’s designators are:
O Lockheed (former)
U Chance Vought
V Lockheed (current)
To illustrate, the AD is the first naval attack plane produced by Douglas after the Attack designation was set up by the Navy in September 1946; the F9F is the ninth Grumman-designed shipboard fighter; the F4U—5N is the night-configurated version of the fifth modification of the fourth naval fighter plane designed by Chance Vought.
In the Air Force a different series of letter prefixes is used to indicate function (B, bomber; C, cargo and transport; F, fighter; L, liaison; R, reconnaissance, and so on); these letters are followed by numbers running consecutively in each category, and in the event of model changes by a letter suffix. Thus, for example, the F—86A Sabre is the first modification of the basic design of the eighty-sixth in the sequence of Air Force fighters.
Soviet aircraft, regardless of type, are referred to by the designer’s model number: thus MIG for products of the establishment presided over by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich; Yak for Aleksandir Sergeivich Yakovlev.
ACB Amphibious Construction Battalion (Navy)
ADCOM Advance Command and Liaison Group (Army)
Anglico Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (Navy-Marine)
BLT Battalion Landing Team
CAP Combat air patrol
Cardiv Carrier Division
CAS Close air support
CCF Chinese Communist Forces
CincFE Commander in Chief, Far East Command
CincLantFleet Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet
CincPac Commander in Chief, Pacific
CincPacFleet Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet
CincUNC Commander in Chief, United Nations Command
CNO Chief of Naval Operations
Com Commander (in compounds), as
ComNavFE Commander Naval Forces Far East
Crudiv Cruiser Division
CTF Commander Task Force
CTG Commander Task Group
CW Continuous wave
Desdiv Destroyer Division
ECA Economic Cooperation Administration
ESB Engineer Special Brigade (Army)
EUSAK Eighth U .S Army in Korea
FAFIK Fifth Air Force in Korea
FEAF Far East Air Forces
FEC Far East Command
FLAW Fleet Logistic Air Wing
FMF Fleet Marine Force
FOSICFES Flag Officer Second in Command, Far Eastern Station (British)
F /S Fire Support
GCA Ground control approach
GHQ General Headquarters
HC High capacity
IFF Electronic identification device
JapLogCom Japan Logistical Command
JCS Joint Chiefs of Staff
JOC Joint Operations Center
JTF Joint Task Forcc
KMAG Korean Military Advisory Group (U.S. Army)
KMC Korean Marine Corps
Lant Atlantic (In compounds)
MAG Marine Aircraft Group
MATS Military Air Transport Service
MAW Marine Aircraft Wing
MDA (P ) Mutual Defense Assistance (Program)
Mindiv Minecraft Division
MLR Main line of resistance
MSR Main supply route
MSTS Military Sea Transportation Service
MTACS Marinc Tactical Air Control Squadron
NAF Naval Air Facility
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NavFE Naval Forces Far Fast
NCO Non-commissioned officer
NKPA North Korean People's Army
NMJ Naval Member, Joint Operations Center
OCMH Office of the Chief of Military History (Army)
OpAr ea Operating Area
OPLR Outpost line of resistance
OpNav Officc of Naval Operations
OpPlan Operation plan
OTC Officer in tactical command
Pac Pacific (in compounds)
PhibGru Amphibious Group
POL Petroleum, oil, lubricants
POW Prisoner of war
RAF Royal Air Force
RAN Royal Australian Navy
RCN Royal Canadian Navy
RCT Regimental Combat Team
RN Royal Navy (Gt . Britain)
RNZN Royal New Zealand Navy
ROK Republic of Korea
ROKN Republic of Korea Navy
Scajap Shipping Control Administration, Japan
SEATO Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
ServPac Service Force, Pacific Fleet
SHAPE Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe
SPB Shore Party Battalion (Marine)
TAC Tactical Air Command
TACP Tactical air control party
Tacron Tactical Air Control Squadron (Navy)
TADC Tactical air direction center
TE Task Element
TF Task Force
TG Task Group
UDT Underwater Demoltion Team
UNC United Nations Command
USNS U .S Naval Ship ("in Service, " i.e., non-commissioned vessel of MSTS nucleus fleet
VHF Very high frequency
VT Variable time (radar-controlled) fuse
VMF Marine Fighter Squadron
VMFN Marine Night Fighter Squadron
VMO Marine Observation Squadron
VMR Marine Transport Squadron
VP Patrol Squadron
Related Online Resources:
Korean Conflict (in Wars and Conflicts of the US Navy)
Chronology of US Pacific Fleet Operations, 1950–53
Korean Service Medal
Korean Service Medal: Ships and Other Units (includes list of ships and units that participated)
Bibliography: Korean War Naval Operations
Korean Combat Action Reports for Carriers
Korean Combat Action Reports for Carrier Air Groups and Air Task Groups (PDF files)
The Korean War (in Online Library of Photographic Images)
Art Exhibit: Remembering the Forgotten War: Korea, 1950–53 (Navy Art Collection Online Exhibit)