In 1952, overriding political objectives compelled UN forces to abandon the pursuit of decisive victory in Korea. The Outpost War tells the story of the First Marine Division's move to western Korea, where these assault-trained troops were ordered to dig in and fight a defensive war. It describes their deadly learning curve and includes reports on such battles as Bunker Hill and the Hook. The use of previously unpublished archival material blended with first-person oral accounts places the reader on the battle line.
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The Outpost WarU.S. Marines in Korea, 1952
By Lee Ballenger
Brassey's IncCopyright ©2003 Lee Ballenger
All right reserved.
The Move West
Everything that is shot or dropped on you in war is most unpleasant but of all the horrible devices, the most terrifying is the land mine.
Sir William Slim,
Unofficial History, 1959
It was brass-monkey cold in the back of the open truck. Snow had begun falling early that morning, and now the vehicles were having trouble negotiating the slick, muddy road. Seated on the wooden slat benches in back of a six-by-six truck, the men hunched over and stared at the floor. They tried to keep the snow out of their clothing, but it was useless. The wet slushy snow splotched their boots and trousers, everywhere their ponchos failed to cover. Soon they were soaked to the skin. Their full packs, lying on the floor, grew soggy. Many of the men had stretched condoms over their rifle muzzles in an effort to keep them dry. The trucks were equipped with canvas covers over the back, but they were furled to facilitate escape in the event that enemy aircraft approached. The men simply got wet.
The vehicles ground on, downshifting as a hill steepened, slowly grinding to the top, and then, just as slowly, moving downthe other side. The long convoy of trucks, jeeps, trailers, and artillery pieces, winding its way west through the hills and valleys of central Korea, passed through poor villages of even poorer people. Each village looked like the last one, with houses made of mud plastered white and thatched roofs. A flue running up one side of each building constituted a primitive but efficient heating system. A fire was built in a pit beneath the house, and the heat and smoke traveled under the house to emerge up the flue on the other side. It worked well. Korean houses stayed toasty warm during the winter, provided that wood could be scavenged.
Often the roads were lined with people, like the old man with a wispy white beard who was carrying an A frame of firewood taller than he was. A more prosperous individual might have a wooden cart pulled by an emaciated ox and piled high with goods for sale or for personal use. Lining the roadside were dirty, cold Korean children, with dripping noses and red cheeks, wearing dirty padded jackets and rubber shoes, often without socks. Some were peeking from behind their mothers' skirts while others, bolder perhaps, ran alongside the road and shouted with their hands outstretched, "Alo Joe, chocolato, chocolato." At first, the Marines threw them candy or other unwanted items from their small supply of C rations. Soon the "presentos" ran out, as did their concern.
After a few hours of bouncing on hard benches, of being cold, of wet snow turned to rivulets running down their backs, the Marines lost interest. They didn't care about the problems of others. Heads nodded as the men tried to sleep, but cold, potholes, bumps, gear shifts, noise, and odors combined to defeat any attempts at rest. Like cargo, they just rode.
The 140-mile trip to the new position took about ten hours to travel. Every two or three hours, the convoy stopped for a break. The men made a bee line for a tree or the side of the road to relieve themselves. Many just walked, stretched their legs, and worked out kinks until they had to reload and continue west. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were cold C rations eaten on the truck.
For nearly two weeks, vehicles shuttled back and forth over the dirt roads and hills of Korea as they carried Marines and their supplies west and returned east with ROK Army troops. The weather was no help. On 18 March, it began to rain and then snow again. Temperatures dropped into the low 20s. The roads turned first to slime and then to mush as truck tires churned and slued in trying to find traction in the reddish-brown chowder that once was a road.
Some of the trucks were so full that the men were jammed into the rear almost as an afterthought. One battalion had so few vehicles that it loaded each truck with "eighteen men, sleeping bags, seabags, tents, stoves, cots and nine cases of C Ration." Other trucks were less crowded, and gear was replaced by more bodies. Many units had just come off-line. The men had not had a hot meal, a shower, or a change of clothing in weeks, and it would be a while before they would encounter any of them. In that respect, the open trucks and cold weather were probably a blessing to the senses.
This was Operation Mixmaster. Although not intended to be an exercise in torment, it worked out that way for some Marines. Each day for a week, the scenario was repeated despite the rain, the snow, the cold, and the ever-present Murphy's Law"anything that can go wrong will go wrong."
One battalion of 5th Marines had only eighty trucks to move one thousand men and their equipment. Later, a battalion of 1st Marines had to relieve positions on the MLR with one map to share among all the officers. Planning had not been perfect. Some men with the 1st Marines suffered the ultimate of indignitiesriding on top of a loaded truck trussed up like a chicken en route to market. One of them recalled that the men from his small headquarters unit had loaded all their weapons, personal gear, field desks, files, and supplies on the back of a truck until there was no room for people. Then, because the men still had to go, room or no room, they climbed to the top of the pile and got into their sleeping bags for warmth. Atop the trucks, they were lashed to the load and covered with canvas to ward off the wind and snow. Their only relief during the trip consisted of head calls and chow. Uncomfortable as they were, they preferred riding to walking, the more traditional mode of moving infantry.
The sole exceptions to the tedious migration were amphibious tractors, tanks, and engineering equipment. They were too heavy to cross the small bridges, and their continued operation on the ungraded dirt roads of Korea would have destroyed the road for subsequent use by wheeled vehicles. As a consequence, tracked vehicles traveled by sea on board Navy ships.
Before dawn on 18 March, elements of Able, Charlie, and the Korean Marine Corps (KMC) tank companies lined up on the dirt road. The tanks, accompanied by heavily loaded trucks, trailers, and jeeps full of equipment, formed one of the largest and most deadly convoys seen by anyone in years. At first light, the lead unit received the word to move. In perfect order, the tracked behemoths, belching two feet of flame from their twin exhausts, snaked down the road toward the rising sun.
The following morning, 19 March, the send-off was repeated with a second convoy, this time with elements of Baker and Dog Companies accompanied by five tanks from the 5th Marine's Anti-Tank Platoon. On 20 March, there was another convoy and again on 21 March, until finally the entire battalion had displaced to the east.
The first convoy that left on the eighteenth, Able, Charlie, and the KMCs, was typical of the twenty-four-hour trek experienced by the tankers. They traveled all that day and into the night. Inside the tanks the men slept and ate as best they could. By midnight, it began to snow and then to storm. Falling snow obscured vision, dropped inside their hatches and stuck to their faces. They couldn't button up and most of the heaters had long ago ceased to function. Still, the convoy traveled east, slower now and more cautiously, but moving nevertheless. During the fifty-mile trip on narrow Korean roads the column paused only for gas and relief stops, to rotate drivers, and to try and thaw out exposed skin.
As the sun rose the next morning, each convoy reached the east coast village of Sokcho-ri. Looking to sea, the Marines watched as the Navy came in to pick them up. LSTs (landing ship, tank), escorted by destroyers and cruisers, fourteen ships in all, were steaming toward shore. The LSTs beached. Opening their enormous doors, they dropped loading ramps that invited the Marine tanks inside. Like the maws of some mythical monsters, they absorbed the men and vehicles into the guts of the ships. The loading went quickly. The ships soon returned to the sea, leaving Sokcho-ri as they had found it, a sleepy Korean fishing village. The villagers would be able to pass on stories to their children of the day that a hundred steel monsters clanked into town and were swallowed by great ships that took them out to sea, hardly a normal day in the life of a poor fisherman.
The ocean trip to the west coast took five days. For the Marines, it was a welcome respite, a chance to get dry, eat hot food, take showers, and change into clean clothes. They also used the time for maintenance, to clean and service vehicles and weapons. The war was not over, and they knew that they would be back in it soon enough.
When the ships arrived at Inchon harbor the Marines off-loaded their equipment and bid farewell to the Navy. On the road, they drove forty miles northeast to the village of Munsan-ni, the battalion's new home in west Korea.
Battalions of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments replaced elements of the ROK 1st Army Division on the Jamestown Line, the current MLR. During that relief, the first Marine casualties on the western front occurred. At 1315 on 24 March, a man from Item Company, 3/1 (3d Battalion, First Marines), tripped a land mine. One Marine was killed in action (KIA) and another wounded. The following day, six men from Charlie, 1/1, were wounded and evacuated; they too had met up with land mines.
The waning days of March saw more Marines become casualties as they explored their new surroundings to get a feel for the area and learn danger spots. Each night, squad-sized units of Chinese probed and poked at positions on the MLR and various outposts. The probes were small, usually unsupported by heavy weapons, just a few soldiers with small arms and grenades. During the day, mortarmen and snipers on either side plied their trade, also taking a toll. Each side was looking for weak spots as it sized up its new opponent.
In all, more than thirty Marine casualties occurred during the relief. Although not a heavy loss, the casualties were all the more tragic because so many resulted from snipers and land mines, which indicated an unfamiliarity with the terrain and enemy positions. Mixmaster had happened too rapidly and without sufficient reconnaissance. The Marines found, for example, that many of the ROK minefields near their positions were poorly marked or, in some cases, not marked at all. Too frequently, they discovered the minefields the hard way.
On 24 March, 2d Lt. Bernard Trainor, platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1/1, was taking his platoon out to Hill 159 (later named Outpost Yoke) to relieve the ROK troops there. He tells how that relief was accomplished:
We were silently wending our way up a narrow trail on the back side of the hill when I spotted figures hurrying down the hill on either side of the column. Suspecting they were the Koreans we were to replace, I hissed at the Korean interpreter on loan to me for the relief of lines, "Find out who they are!" No sooner was that said, when the familiar sound of burp guns [PPsh guns, called burp guns, were fast firing sub-machine guns of Russian design. The name is derived from the very rapid staccato sound it made when firing.] broke the silence from the crest of the hill, followed by the bellow of a Marine behind me who was hit. In a nano-second it was clear what happened. The Chinese had become suspicious and sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The ROK's saw them coming, we were late, and they had no interest in a firefight just when they were being relieved. So, they simply headed down the hill for the rear. The Chinese were now on the position and firing at whatever was coming or going on the slope below them. At that point I issued the shortest "five paragraph combat order" of my career ... "LET'S GO!" As if by magic the squads and fire teams dropped their heavy packs, spread out and assaulted, the BARs gaining fire superiority as we went. It was just like the endless assault drills we practiced at Camp Tripoli while in reserve. Like the working of the human hand, each finger is different and moves independently, but all work in harmony to do what the hand needs to do. A well trained unit, with perfect trust in one another, operates the same way. It wasn't much of a fight. The Chinese were firing high. They had found out what they came for and were faced with a platoon of pissed-off Marines coming at themthey scurried down the far side of the hill.
Taking only the one casualty caught in the initial fire, we had the abandoned hill under our control in short order. It was well after midnight when the platoon took up a hasty defense in the ROK trenches. The "relief of lines" was late and inelegant, but complete. Not sure if the Chinese would be back, we had one man per fire team go back down the hill to bring up the packs without regard to squad ownership. We would sort them out when it got light. It was not long, however, before the outraged working party came panting up the hill with the news that most of the packs had been grabbed by the ROK soldiers on their way to the rear. "Those bastards were in too much of a hurry to stay and fight, but they had plenty of time to loot," summed up our feelings. The loss of our gear was no small thing. Everything we owned was jammed into a "Willie peter" bag and tied to a packboard. Goodbye to parkas, sleeping bags, rations, spare ammunition, personal effects, and in my case, binoculars. As the division was still on the move across the peninsula, we knew there would be little in the way of resupply and replacement in the days to come. We were in for some cold and hungry days.
The enemy was well aware that U.S. Marines had traded places with regular ROK Army troops and needed to take their measure. Conversely, the Marines were now facing battle-hardened soldiers of the Communist Chinese Forces (CCF), instead of the war-weary North Koreans. Most assuredly, the war situation had significantly altered.
THE NEW HOME
The new sector of responsibility was little improved from where the Marines had been and, in terms of defense, worse. Extending east from the Kimpo Peninsula on the Yellow Sea, the Jamestown Line included the Imjin River Basin at the confluence of the Han and Imjin Rivers. Composed of low hills and broad valleys, the Imjin River Basin was the traditional invasion route into Seoul and the agricultural lands beyond. For centuries incursions from the north had used this broad plain to move south. Unlike the mountainous east, this terrain could support tanks and vehicular troop movements.
Anchored at the sea, the Jamestown Line extended northeast across the peninsula crossing over the 38th Parallel a short distance from the coast. The 1st Marine Division, reinforced with a KMC regiment, was responsible for thirty-five miles of front. Backed against the Imjin River, the division had little room to maneuver and was dependent on four bridges for supply and support. Three of the bridges were temporary creations subject to the capricious whims of flooding and weather.
The chief problem faced by the Marines on the Jamestown Line was the ratio of men to miles. Even with the additional numbers provided by the KMC regiment, thirty-five miles meant an extremely thin spread of manpower. Just how thin is best illustrated by comparing this deployment with the doctrine of the U.S. Army, which was responsible for deploying the First Division. Typical Army policy at the time called for an infantry division to defend approximately eight to nine thousand yards of line. The 1st Marine Division was called on to defend more than sixty thousand yards of line, six times the recommended amount of real estate. After the division established itself on the Jamestown Line, the reality of this weakness became so apparent that it was necessary to redeploy the 5th Marine Regiment, originally slated to be used as a reserve regiment in the Kimpo area.
The defense strategy that evolved, therefore, depended on a thinly manned MLR protected by forward outpost positions and mobile reserves to the rear. In the event of invasion, the outposts would serve as early warning alarms. Troops on the MLR were expected to hold until reserves could be moved forward.
The hills and valleys of western Korea were not unlike the inland coastal area of Southern California, particularly Camp Pendleton in San Diego County where the Marines had trained. Western Korea was much colder, of course, and wetter in the summer, but the hills were low and the valleys broad. Vegetation was low scrub pine with shrubs of an indeterminate genus growing on the hillsides. In the valleys, rice paddies with dirt berms, or dikes, terraced the plots and created dams for standing water.
The Jamestown Line, a meandering trench line across the high ground, faced north. Incorporated into the trenches were machine-gun positions, fighting holes, and tank slots, along with sandbagged log bunkers serving as command posts, first-aid stations, and living quarters. Depending on the terrain, a trench might be five or six feet deep, or maybe a mere eighteen inches, requiring one to crawl on his belly to avoid enemy sharpshooters.
A few feet in front of the trenches was concertinabarbed-wire entanglements meant to discourage and slow an advancing enemy. Makeshift alarms, often ration cans filled with pebbles that clattered when the cans moved, hung from the wire. Occasionally, in particularly troublesome spots, the Marines set booby traps, typically white-phosphorus grenades rigged to explode when disturbed.
There was no foliage around the MLR. It had all been cut away to create fields of fire, or it had been burned away by explosives. Piles of dirt, holes, and stumps of vegetation were the residue of countless rounds of artillery and mortar shellsthe MLR's "incoming mail."
In front of the MLR was the OPLR, the Outpost Line of Resistance. The OPLR was the first line of defense and, in fact, where the bulk of the fighting occurred. It consisted of a series of hilltops, roughly paralleling the MLR but well forward of it. Like a picket line during the American Civil War, the OPLR was created to give early warning of an attacking enemy to the troops in the MLR. Nightly, squads or platoons of men left the MLR and trekked to a designated outpost to spend the night. They might remain on duty at the OPLR anywhere from a few hours to twenty-four hours.
During darkness, the outpost was on full alert. The men watched for the enemy and listened for movement or, worse, for bugles, whistles, and flares signaling an attack. They also manned listening posts, small foxholes in front of the wire where one or two men listened for movement, voices, the smell of garlic, or anything to indicate that enemy soldiers were nearby. Communications on the outposts were usually by landline, telephones connected by thin communication wire. The men spoke quietly, communicating in whispers or, better still, by clicking a transmission switch and not speaking at all. As the purpose of the outpost was to delay the enemy and alarm the MLR, its occupants were expected to fall back to the MLR when it was attacked.
Not surprisingly, reality turned the book of war topsy-turvy. As the war developed, outposts themselves became military objectives, whereas the MLR was merely a place from which to support them. The line of weakly manned temporary outposts faded into obscurity, to be replaced by fewer, more heavily fortified and strategically placed positions. Rather like medieval forts, they often came under siege.
Restricted by orders to avoid advancing any farther into North Korea and limited to offensive actions of less than battalion strength, the Marines, like all UN troops in Korea, were confined to a defensive war. Hurt the enemy, but not enough to win the war. Outposts, because of their forward positions, became the common focal points for aggressive actions.
The disposition of the Marines that began in March 1952 remained unchanged throughout the entire seventeen months of war, except for the months of May and June 1953. The left sector on the west was held by men of the KMC. The center and right sectors were each allocated to one of the three regular U.S. Marine regiments, which allowed for a third regiment to be in reserve at all times. Often, units from the reserve regiment were deployed on special operations against enemy positions, thus leaving the assigned defenses unchanged.
Supporting arms of tanks tended to follow a similar pattern of rotating units. The 1st Marine Armored Amphibian Battalion, semipermanently situated with the KMC regiment on the banks of the Han and Imjin Rivers, used its amphibious capabilities for patrolling, crossing, and defending the water line. The U.S. 11th Marines, an artillery regiment, positioned its four battalions behind the lines to support the infantry. The tank battalion split its four companies, with one company assigned to each infantry regiment and one to the KMCs. A reserve company was maintained at Munsan-ni for mechanical maintenance of the vehicles.
Thus, as spring progressed, the Marine Division settled in to fight a new war with a different enemy, in a new place, and with different tactics.
On the last day of March a new major unit was organized and deployed. The Kimpo Provisional Regiment (KPR) was the most heterogeneous UN military unit of the war. Composed of elements of U.S. Marines, Navy, and Army, the Korean Marine Corps, and civilian National Police, this unique multinational, interservice unit, under control of the 1st Marine Division, was formed for the sole purpose of defending the Kimpo Peninsulaa verdant and fertile piece of land north of Seoul. It was, as the name implies, surrounded on three sides by water. On the left side was the Yom River, a tributary of the Han that flowed into the sea. On the north and right was the Han, where it was joined by the Imjin. Across the Han River, in front of the peninsula, were the Chinese Communists.
The KPR was formed to consolidate command of a variety of units that formerly had acted independently. The regiment was charged with defense of the approaches to vital UN command facilities: the Kimpo airport, the supply center at Ascom City, the port of Inchon, and the ROK capital city of Seoul. Among the units assigned to the KPR were the 1st Marine Armored Amphibian Battalion, acting as supporting artillery; the 5th KMC Battalion; the 13th ROK Security Battalion; two platoons from the 1st Marine Reconnaissance Company; and one battalion of infantry from the division reserve.
The Kimpo Peninsula, although a vital link in the MLR, was fortunately not one of frequent enemy activity. Fighting in other sectors, however, managed to compensate for that lack.
A PROBLEM WITH MINES
One of the major problems facing Marines on the Jamestown Line was land mines. 2d Lt. Howard Matthias, a platoon leader with Dog Company, 2/5, recalled one of his early encounters with land mines:
A sergeant in my platoon was killed less than a hundred yards from my bunker. He was new to our outfit and either missed the path or tried to take a shortcut. He was evidently moving quickly. He set off a mine of the "bouncing Betty" type. This type mine is designed to bounce in the air and explode about waist high. The damage caused to the human body at this height is beyond description. My sergeant was killed by a piece of shrapnel that pierced his throat and cut his jugular vein.
ROK troops, the former occupants of these positions, had made extensive use of land mines and placed them liberally throughout the network of trails and roads between the MLR and the OPLR. Unfortunately for the Marines, they had often failed to mark these minefields or map their whereabouts (leading some to conclude that perhaps the ROK Army did not send many patrols out in front of the MLR). Worse yet, the ROK soldiers apparently did not, or could not, warn the relieving Marines of their existence. As a consequence, during the first few months of the year, land mines became the cause of more casualties than did Chinese bullets.
The Marines sent out patrols daily and manned outposts nightly. They spent a great deal of time in front of the MLR looking for the enemy. With tragic frequency, mines were tripped and Americans were killed or maimed. According to Meid and Yingling, during the first weeks in I Corps sector, mines of all types caused 50 percent of all Marine casualties.
Land mines in Korea originated from two predominant sources, the United States and those of Soviet manufacture. Both sources produced antitank mines and antipersonnel mines. The most commonly found Soviet mine was the Schu mine, consisting of a crudely constructed wooden box, about half the size of a cigar box, with a hinged lid. The explosive charge was a three-eighth-pound block of TNT. It was fused with a standard Soviet pull-type fuse projecting through the front wall of the hinged lid. This weapon required only two pounds of weight to detonate and contained no metal to register on a mine detector. Buried in a path or road edge, it instantly ended the war for an unsuspecting infantryman.
The American antipersonnel mine, called Bouncing Betty, was particularly insidious. When triggered, often by trip wire, it sprang from the ground and exploded at waist height of a walking man. Instead of taking a foot or a leg, as did the Schu, the Bouncing Betty targeted bigger body parts, such as the abdomen, and was most effective in taking the victim out of action, usually forever.
As might be expected, antitank mines were far more powerful than their personnel counterparts, but they were often adjusted for antipersonnel purposes. The most common antitank mine in Korea was the Soviet box mine, a larger version of the Schu. Greater quantities of TNT were packed into the box mine, and the device was adjusted to require greater pressure for activation. For this reason, foot troops leading a tank on a road might pass over the mine only to have it activated by the tank. Box mines were found stacked one on the other or resting atop a 55-gallon drum of explosives. Detonation of these mines could raise a 50-ton M-46 tank into the air and leave a crater the size of the vehicle itself.
A cousin to the land mine and equally prevalent was the booby trap. This was any explosive charge, usually a mine, a mortar bomb, or a hand grenade, ingeniously rigged with trip wire or pressure release to detonate when the trap was sprung. Tripping a fine wire, stretched across a trail and unseen at night, triggered the device. A trip wire was one of the most frightening situations that a point man could experience. It is difficult to imagine what thoughts pass through the mind during that split second after a wire is felt pulling on one's boot. Second Lt. Stan Rauh of Able, 1/7, wrote of such an incident:
At dusk I took a small patrol out to set up an ambush not very far forward of the MLR. The squad leader, a respected and seasoned corporal, was soon to rotate stateside. Suddenly he froze. He indicated that he had stepped on a trip wire. Believing it to be a pressure release type device, I held the wire down and told him to back off. He was indeed frozen and couldn't move. I had another Marine move up and replace me holding the wire down. It was necessary for me to "cold cock" the corporal. Another Marine and I caught him as he fell, then we placed a rock on the wire to keep pressure on. The corporala fine Marine who had had enoughwas moved to the rear.
The following excerpt from the 3/5 Command Diary for April 1952 illustrates some of the unique efforts devoted to clearing mines and booby traps:
Lieutenant Horner and Technical Sergeant Wolfe of How Company developed a wire device made from the wire on "Charlie" Ration boxes to help detect the almost invisible trip wires. This consisted of making a bend at one end of a three (3) to four (4) length of wire and slowly pushing this along the ground ahead of the lead man in a clearing detail. The heavier wire bend would pick up the trip wire enough for detection but would not give enough disturbance to detonate the mine or grenade.
Slowly and methodically, the Marines created fighting room. As trails and paths were cleared, more and more patrols were sent out to greater distances. So much energy and manpower were necessarily spent in clearing mines that opportunities for aggressive action on the ground were limited. In this situation, much of the offensive action of carrying the fight to the enemy was left to artillery, a few air strikes, and tanks. The tanks, firing their 90-mm rifles and heavy machine guns from the safety of the MLR destroyed countless positions, bunkers, buildings, and gun positions, not to mention enemy soldiers.
LEARNING THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Initially, the 7th Marine Regiment saw little action. It was in the division reserve, where the men trained and maintained security patrols of the rear area. With the KMC regiment on the left, the 5th Marines were in place in the center sector and flanked by the 1st Marines on their right.
Communist activity confined itself to spasmodic artillery and mortar demonstrations. Chinese soldiers also occupied much of their time digging and improving fortifications. The Marines, too, spent their days with home improvement projects, such as construction of trenches and bunkers. Division Headquarters ordered that all units rebuild their positions sturdy enough to withstand a direct hit from shells as large as 105-mm. They also were to combine living bunkers with fighting positions so as not to get caught in the open while running from one to the other. The men learned that, for an infantryman, the shovel can be as important as a rifle.
The first week in April saw little significant action, routine but not boring. When sixteen enemy soldiers were seen carrying ammunition into tunnels near Outpost One, they were dispersed by mortar fire. A platoon of Able Company tanks destroyed several buildings and killed or wounded twenty-eight Communists. On 2 April, when Marines with Able Company, 2/1, observed what appeared to be a Chinese officer studying their lines with field glasses, they called in more mortar fire and believed they hit him. Later that afternoon, a Marine sniper picked off a Chinese soldier who failed to keep his head down.
As dawn broke on 2 April, tanks from Able Company, 1st Tank Battalion, which was supporting the KMCs, crawled atop a hill. The Marines blew up seventeen buildings and four gun emplacements and killed or wounded eight Chinese soldiers. On another day, a tank gunner spotted an enemy tank well north of the MLR. The marksman quickly aimed his 90-mm and scored a hit. The enemy tank, obviously damaged, limped away.
RAID AT TOMAK-TONG
Trained for offensive assault rather than static defense, Marine infantry could not long sit idle. Companies on line chafed at a role that called for so little aggressive action and that allowed the initiative to remain with the enemy.
In the center sector of the MLR, Item Company, 3/5, initiated a raid on Chinese positions in early April. The raid was planned to capture prisoners and destroy enemy mortar sites in the vicinity of an abandoned village identified on the map as Tomak-tong. It was only a dozen isolated houses in a small north-south valley surrounded by rice paddies on three sides. A dirt road, equally poor and abandoned, meandered its way north from the MLR and turned east at the southern edge of the village. It was situated at the base of Taedok-san, an imposing mountain that stood at 236 meters (775 feet) and was the undisputed high ground for miles around. Taedok-san was a major Chinese strong point facing the Marine MLR, heavily fortified, and well dug in.
The raiding force was built on the 1st Platoon of Item Company, augmented with mortar and machine-gun squads. The reinforced platoon was divided into four units. The assault group consisted of four fire teams (sixteen men), supported by a second group, a light machine-gun squad, and two more fire teams to provide covering fire. The third group was a forward base of fire that consisted of two 60-mm mortar squads, two fire teams, and a .50-caliber machine-gun squad. Behind the forward firebase was the fourth group, a rear base of fire identical in composition to the third group.
At 2230 on 8 April, the raiding force slipped from the trenches. The point consisted of a fire team followed by the platoon leader, a runner, a radioman, and the remainder of the assault group. The various fire support groups followed in the order in which they would drop off to set up their firebase. The men tried hard to be quiet. No one spoke, and metal gear was taped or tied down. Still, one could hear the swish of cotton clothing, belts, and straps. It was impossible for that many men to be absolutely silent.
Walking in single file, the men maintained a five-to-ten-pace interval between them as permitted by the terrain and darkness. They held formation throughout their approach as they followed a barely discernible path through minefields. Reaching the OPLR at 2255, they continued down the nose of a hill to the valley floor and thence to the road. Dropping off the rear firebase at the road edge, the column continued across the rice paddies to a site where the forward firebase could set up on a hillside to the left of the village. Moving through the village and out the other side, the assault group dropped off its covering group on the high ground to the left and continued on the trail as it turned left (west) to climb the hill toward Taedok-san.
At 0130, six enemy mortar rounds exploded south of the covering group. Five minutes later, still in column, the assault group reached the enemy trench line and attracted the fire of a burp gun. The point fire team returned the fire and silenced the gun. Almost immediately, Chinese soldiers began throwing hand grenades and firing burp guns at the Marines. The Marines returned fire and scattered into a wedge formation on either side of the point. At the same time, two enemy machine guns opened up in a deadly cross fire and mortar rounds began to fall. Two members of the point fire team jumped into the Chinese trench and fired weapons up and down the line.
By now, the assault squad had suffered numerous casualties. With his men wounded, outnumbered, and outgunned, the platoon leader ordered a withdrawal. No sooner had the order been given when a hand grenade exploded and killed him instantly. Pfc. Robert Beatty and another Marine saw their lieutenant fall and rushed to his aid. Observing that he was dead and unwilling to leave him, the two men began carrying, pulling, and dragging him down the hill. The task was made the more difficult because of their own injuries, and they were still under considerable hostile fire.
The assault group managed to join its base of fire, and both groups fell back toward the forward firebase. Sporadic machine-gun and mortar fire from enemy positions continued to follow their progress. About 0210, they rendezvoused with the forward firebase and began to reorganize for a head count. Noting the missing men (Beatty, his companion, and the platoon leader), they tried to request help from the command post, but their radio had been disabled during the firefight.
Meanwhile, at approximately 0220, Beatty and his companion appeared at the rear firebase position. Inadvertently, they had bypassed the forward firebase. The men related that they had carried their platoon leader's body away from the scene of initial contact until they finally grew too weak to continue. Hiding the body under a clump of bushes, they tried to locate other members of their squad. Unsuccessful, the two Marines made their way to the rear base.
During the first platoon's withdrawal, friendly artillery fired on enemy mortar and machine-gun positions, but incoming fire continued to fall in the vicinity of the rear firebase. Simultaneously, the Item Company commander moved forward from the MLR to the rear firebase and established a forward command post (CP). Item Company's 3d Platoon moved from the MLR and reported to the forward CP to stand by for possible rescue operations. Item Company's platoon was replaced on the MLR by George Company's 2d Platoon, which moved forward from battalion reserve.
At the forward CP, a muster revealed that the platoon leader was the only Marine unaccounted for. 2d Lt. George W. Alexander, Jr., the battalion intelligence officer, volunteered to take out a detail of men to recover the body. Private First Class Beatty, concealing his wounds, offered to guide the group back to where he had hidden the body. A hastily assembled squad of eight men left for the village. They crossed the paddies and continued to the south side of the village, where three men were dropped to set up a base of covering fire. Beatty led the remainder of the rescue party through the town to the thicket where he had concealed the lieutenant's body.
Placing the dead officer on a stretcher, the group made its way back over a different route. The men became separated by 20 yards as they paralleled a small stream east of the village. At 0552, they came under enemy cross fire from three directions. The initial burst of fire killed one Marine and wounded another. The others, who were across the stream, were not hit, but they were immediately pinned down. As enemy troops closed on the survivors, the Marines returned fire and wounded two of them. Lieutenant Alexander shot two more enemy soldiers as the patrol worked its way back. One of the men from the recovery party hid near a stream as the enemy soldiers passed him. Later, he worked his way back and rejoined his companions.
By 0600, the recovery detail was reformed. Using flashlight signals, Alexander called for artillery to silence the enemy machine guns, but the Marines were still pinned down. As they husbanded their ammunition in anticipation of an imminent assault, artillery came in to cover the Chinese with smoke. As it commingled with the morning mist and drifted across the paddies, the Marines lost all visual and fire contact. Taking the opportunity of light from the rising sun to search for the missing men, two members of the recovery detail relocated the body of the 1st Platoon's lieutenant and returned to the base of fire for help.
At this time, a Marine from the forward CP ran across the paddies and joined the men at the firebase. He was sent back as a runner to call for more smoke and for help with carrying bodies. The bodies of the platoon leader and of another Marine, as well as a wounded member of the detail who had been pinned down in a nearby bunker, were all recovered and assembled at the firebase. The detail awaited more smoke to cover its withdrawal to the forward CP.
In the meantime, things were not going smoothly at the forward CP. A section of 81-mm and 4.2-inch mortars had been called from the MLR to augment the artillery and supplement the application of smoke. During their movement forward, the Marines entered an unmarked minefield. Someone activated a trip wire, and three men were wounded.
By 0730, with a screen of smoke masking their movements, the recovery detail began its withdrawal to the forward CP and arrived there at 0815. Thirty minutes later, a withdrawal from the forward CP commenced and all hands returned to the MLR by 1000.
Overall casualties resulting from the operation were eight Chinese killed and eleven wounded (determined by a count and an estimate) and two Marines killed and seventeen wounded. Among the wounded was Private First Class Beatty, who had taken two more hits as he returned to the MLR after guiding the recovery detail to his platoon leader's body. Tactically, one could not say that Marine objectives were attained. No prisoners were taken, and no mention is made of destroying Chinese mortar emplacements.
This action, however, was the first raid by the Marines on Chinese forces in west Korea, and they gained important intelligence. An intelligence summary accompanying the 3/5 Special Action Report indicated that the enemy, "had well camouflaged firing ports and positions along trench line ... apparently had no knowledge of patrol's presence until they were almost up the trench line ... was aggressive but seemed overanxious which permitted friendly recovery patrol to close with enemy and work back to base of fire ... talked and yelled to each other consistently during fire fight which gave friendly patrol advantage in spotting them."
Lieutenant Alexander and Private First Class Beatty were each awarded a Navy Cross for their heroism during this action.
FOG OF WAR
Elsewhere on the line, men of the 1st Marine Regiment were also getting serious about the war. The 2d and 3d Battalions, on the right sector, were defending the line between the British on the east and the 5th Marines on the west.
At 0900 on 9 April, men from Charlie Company (temporarily attached to 2/1) and Easy Company were ordered to abandon their respective outpost defenses temporarily while an air strike was called to destroy nearby enemy positions. Simultaneously, a platoon of five tanks from Charlie Company, Tank Battalion, drove to the MLR to join in. Marine air struck the reverse slopes with bombs and bullets as the tanks fired nearly 250 rounds of 90-mm at various Chinese positions on the forward slope. During the air strike, Marine observers on line noted the position of an enemy machine gun firing at the diving planes. Calling in the map coordinates enabled fire controllers to direct tank fire accurately into the machine-gunner's position and destroy it.
On 10 April, Charlie Company, 1/1, personnel were relieved from the OPLR and returned to their parent battalion. They were replaced by Dog Company. No sooner had the relief been effected when the men began receiving mortar fire. Spotting the source, artillery was called in to saturate the area with VT. Watching from atop the hill, the Marines cheered as Chinese troops fell into mass confusion, threw hand grenades among themselves, and fired burp guns everywhere. From the outpost, it appeared that the Chinese soldiers did more damage to each other than was caused by the artillery.
The Chinese, however, had no corner on the market when it came to confusion. On that same day, the Division Reconnaissance Company, deployed on the east side of the Han and Imjin Rivers, reported that two of its company's positions were attacked by friendly aircraft. The incident, observed by officers and men of the 1st and 2d Platoons, was reported in irate detail to Division Headquarters.
At 1925, eight planes, identified as American F-80s or F-84s, passed over the company area and headed south at an estimated altitude of 1,500 feet. Four of the planes flying in column went into a shallow dive toward the Marine position. Sgt. Leroy Modrow, following the action through field glasses, watched in horror as muzzle flashes from the diving aircraft spit a stream of bullets at a group often Marines in the open. The rounds missed the Marines but impacted the dirt in front of them.
Completing the strafing run, the jets continued south along the Imjin River still at 1,500 feet. The lead plane then turned and made another pass, this time firing at Cpl. James Mayberry and Pfc. Samuel Bayless, who were manning an outpost. As the planes dived, the Marines immediately took cover. The aircraft fired two distinct bursts that missed the Marines by 15-20 yards but drilled holes through their shelter halves erected nearby. After killing the tent, our heroes flew off into the wild blue yonder.
As might be expected, the men were first frightened, then relieved, and finally very, very angry. Both platoon leaders, Lt. William Whitney and Lt. Robert Smith, witnessed the incident and wrote complete reports. The outcome, if documented, is not available to the author. A few days later, however, a shiny blue jeep drove up to the platoon CP and stopped. Two U.S. Air Force pilots dismounted and, meeting with Lieutenants Whitney and Smith, apologized for the error.
On the night of 15 April, Item Company, 3/1, received an enemy probe on one of its outpost positions (Hill 27). Fifteen minutes later, Easy Company, on a small hill to the south, was likewise probed by five or six enemy soldiers. The Marines returned fire, and the enemy withdrew under cover of increasing artillery fire. Suddenly, both outposts were hit with 76-mm artillery fire, accompanied by 82-mm and 120-mm mortar rounds. Within ten minutes, communications from George Company personnel related that Hill 27 was thought to be overrun. At midnight, all companies were reporting that they were receiving incessant artillery and mortar fire.
The fighting on the outpost that night is most accurately related by quoting from 3/1's Command Diary for 16 April 1952:
At 0015, three men from Item Company's outpost came into the MLR, and at 0020 one more came into the MLR. All four men had suffered wounds and reported that their outpost had been over-run by 75 to 100 enemy. They believed that the remainder of the outpost were KIA. At 0030 all companies reported still receiving incoming rounds of all types. At 0130 one man from Item Company outpost reported into the Easy Company sector of the MLR. This man was badly wounded and was evacuated. At 0130 artillery and mortar fire had decreased and only sporadic fire was being received by all companies on the OPLR. At this time the enemy was forced to withdraw by friendly mortar fire. During the attack the enemy fired approximately 765 rounds of mortar and artillery. This battalion suffered a total of 14 WIA's [wounded in action] and 5 MIA's [missing in action]. The 5 MIA's were believed to be KIA's. At 1401 a reinforced patrol from Item Company was sent to investigate results of the enemy probe. At 1425 the patrol reached the objective. 4 bodies of friendly KIA, previously listed as MIA, were recovered, leaving one MIA. A thorough search was made for this remaining MIA but no trace of him was found. Medical treatment was administered and the enemy WIA was evacuated but died while in transit to the MLR.
MAKING A STAND
OP-3 was a 400-foot hill, well forward of the MLR, near Panmunjom. On the hill were eighty Marines, a reinforced platoon of Easy Company, 2/5. During the day, the men worked at improving defenses and digging trenches and fighting holes. At night, they stood watch.
During the late afternoon of 15 April, the outpost received two rounds of enemy 76-mm artillery that exploded without harm. Later, at dusk, it received four rounds of 122-mm mortar that injured one Marine. Unknown to the Marines on the hill, Chinese artillerymen were registering their pieces in preparation for an assault.
A half hour before midnight, a single green flare arched through the sky from Hill 67, an enemy strong point about 1,900 yards to the southwest. As the flare descended, Chinese artillery began to fire. Marines on the outpost were subjected to an intense artillery bombardment as 120-mm mortars and 76-mm artillery rounds fell around them. Twenty minutes later, another green flare, fired from the same place, signaled cessation to the shelling. Following an eerie five-minute silence, a third green flare appeared from Hill 67 and shelling resumed, this time impacting west of the outpost. Simultaneously, with the shift in artillery, waves of Chinese infantry began to attack.
The assault initially struck the front of the outpost but soon enveloped the hill on three sides. Drawing into a tight perimeter at one corner of the hill, the Marines fought back with small arms and hand grenades. The fighting raged, and the defenders were soon completely surrounded. They lost all communication with the MLR but they held. The first assault failed to dislodge the Marines.
There was a lull in the fighting as the Chinese pulled back to regroup, but they soon resumed the attack. The second attempt also failed, and they lost three of their number, who were captured by the defenders. For three hours, the fighting continued with wave after wave of enemy troops assaulting the small group of Marines. At one point, the momentum of attack carried Chinese soldiers into the defense perimeter among the Marines. The battle went hand to hand as the men used fists, bayonets, feet, and rifle butts to drive off the attackers. Still, the outpost held.
At 0315, the Communist forces withdrew from the battle of OP-3. It was estimated that they had thrown six to eight hundred troops into the assault and failed to drive the eighty Marines from the hill. Their casualties numbered ninety-five known and estimated killed or wounded. They also lost three men as prisoners of war. Marine casualties were six killed, five missing, and thirty-six wounded.
Although not a famous battle, the firefight on OP-3 was equal in courage to any of the last stands recorded in military history. There was one exception, howeverthis stand was successful. Greatly outnumbering the Marines, enemy troops failed in their objective, and most of the defenders survived.
Easy Company's Cpl. Duane Dewey, a machine gunner, was twice wounded. He contracted his second wound when an enemy hand grenade landed nearby as he was being treated for his original injury. Seeing the grenade, Dewey pulled the attending corpsman to the ground, called a warning to those around him, and rolled over onto the weapon as it exploded. Miraculously, he survived. A year later, Corporal Dewey reported to the White House in Washington, D.C., where President Eisenhower awarded him the Medal of Honor.
By mid-April, it became evident that some adjustments on the east side of the MLR were in order. On the far right, the line dividing the U.S. Marine division from the British Commonwealth division needed to be extended east, not that the Marines needed more area to defend but rather because they wanted to take better advantage of the natural terrain. The dividing line became the Samichon River, situated in a narrow north-southoriented valley with defensible high ground on either side.
The change was effected on 14 April when the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 1st Marines were pulled from regimental reserve to relieve two Canadian regiments, the Royal Canadian Rifles and the Princess Patricia Light Infantry. The Canadians, displaced to the right, accepted responsibility for the heights on the east side of the valley. The new Marine sector would later become the site of some of the most lethal fighting of the warat a place called the Hook.
BEHIND THE LINES
While the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments were on line during April, the 7th Marines functioned as the division reserve. The 2d Battalion was deployed on the Kimpo Peninsula with the Kimpo Provisional Regiment. The 1st and 3d Battalions were located south of the Imjin River behind the Jamestown Line. Although the men were away from the rigors and dangers of combat, reserve duty was not an opportunity for rest and relaxation. The troops followed a heavy training regimen and maintained a constant state of readiness while they awaited the call to move forward.
Between attending various schools, such as Noncommissioned Officers (NCO) School and Mine Warfare School, and performing training exercises, the troops improved rear blocking positions and patrolled for infiltrators. A typical day consisted of six hours of training, with much of the tactical work accomplished during hours of darkness. Squad- and platoon-sized patrols went out daily. In reserve, the term patrols was often a euphemism for long conditioning marches and twenty-four-hour hikes to maintain physical strength and unit cohesion.
It is a soldier's axiom that combat is endurable when compared with training. Without the adrenaline rush that fear inspires in combat, training can be tedious and boring. Despite the obvious drawbacks, most young Marines prefer life on line to the drudgery of training while in reserve.
Korean civilians presented an added difficulty to the Marines in reserve as they began to occupy former ROK army positions. Months earlier, in accordance with I Corps orders, a "stayback line" seven miles south of the Imjin River had been established to limit the movement of unauthorized civilians into forward areas. It was soon discovered that the ROK Army had been lax in enforcing this policy. Even in front of the MLR, there were occasional populated villages. Farmers were observed cultivating fields. Commerce across the river was brisk. One officer reported that there "was even a school operating in one area ahead of the Marine lines."
Civilians who lived or worked forward of the stayback line were removed by Marine patrols augmented by the Korean National Police. Military police set up roving patrols and checkpoints to keep unauthorized civilians out of the stayback area and away from military installations.
Military police (MP) patrols working out of Division Headquarters spent much of their time enforcing the stayback rule. The concern was not only with spies, saboteurs, and Communist infiltrators but also with prostitution. Daily, MPs arrested suspected prostitutes; when they raided makeshift brothels and cribs, they arrested both civilians and military personnel. The randy men were usually Marines and occasionally American soldiers. Once, they even found five British soldiers poaching on the American side. In all cases, they turned the prostitutes over to civilian authorities and returned military personnel to their respective units for disposition. For the MPs, it was an endless project. There was no stopping the world's oldest profession. Although training in reserve might be arduous for some of the men, others took advantage of their time off line to sample offerings of the ladies. As might be expected, the incidence of venereal disease rose as units rotated into reserve.
ABANDONING THE OPLR
Meanwhile, changes were being made on the MLR. The extension of the line eastward that occurred on 14 April, when elements of the 1st Marines replaced Canadian units at the Samichon River, created a manpower problem. The Marine division was now responsible for 35 1/2 miles of resistance, and the thinly held line was stretched well beyond capacity. Considering his options, Maj. Gen. John T. Selden, 1st Division commander, decided that manning the OPLR would be discontinued. While providing an additional line of resistance in front of the MLR, it also constituted a heavy drain on manpower. He chose instead to strengthen the MLR and to provide a stronger, more maneuverable reserve force behind the line. The OPLR was to be abandoned.
Frontline battalions were required to position all of their companies on line, thus doing away with reserve companies at the battalion level that had been manning the OPLR. Instead, a few permanent combat outposts were established that could be supplied and supported from the MLR. These outposts became permanent fixtures for the remainder of the war and, over time, witnessed the bulk of the fighting.
On 28 April, Sgt. Robert McNesky was a squad leader in the 2d Platoon of George Company, 3/1. His reinforced squad had been defending Hill 190.5 for the past week or two. When he received orders to abandon the outpost, the men were not pleased. McNesky remembers how he and his men felt:
The orders were to abandon the outpost; we were quite let down as we felt we had earned every foot of it. Although we had suffered no casualties, we had been without food and sleep and we were in a high state of anxiety and anger; it was a perfect atmosphere for someone to get shot.
The relief squad left about noon. We policed the area, and I booby trapped the entire top of the hill, all the bunkers and the trench line. In the early afternoon we left 190.5 and as we backed out, I armed all the mines and put the pins in my shirt pocket.
Sergeant McNesky's squad reached the MLR about 1600, and the exhausted Marines turned in for some long missed sleep. But it wasn't to last. Hearing an explosion on Hill 190.5 early the next morning, the squad was roused and told to investigate. The suspicion was that the enemy was planning to attack the Marine MLR but was first occupying the recently abandoned outpost in preparation for the assault. The third squad, led by Sergeant McNesky, was ordered to find out. McNesky tells of his squad's return to the hill on April 30:
... I picked five men out of the squad who were still eager to do some exploring. In order not to attract any attention, we crossed the saddle just below the ridge line, and on the way to Hill 190.5 I disarmed several mines.
We entered the deep trench on 190.5, being careful not to utter a sound. The trench leading into the bunkers was very deep and narrow; it went straight in and then encircled the outer perimeter of the hill.
The Chinks had been there all right; there were many signs and I could make out some blood and parts of clothing. The light was good at this time. I placed the men and gave orders not to move because it appeared to me that some of the mines had been moved.
All of a sudden, mortar shells were coming down like rain. We had no where to go! I had previously mined the entire area, and for all I knew the Chinese could have added mines of their own. Moving forward, I called for the rest to follow me to the open bunkers on the back side of the hill. We would have to take the chance that these had not been mined.
Carrying my carbine in my right hand, I turned to give the order to follow while running down the trench. After but a few steps, I detonated a mine; it could have been one of ours or it could have been one of theirs.
A flash of fire, with no noise. I went straight up in the air with my legs over my head. While flipping in the air, I saw that my right foot was gone and that my heel was hanging by the Achilles tendon. I hit the ground on my back, just a little back from where I had detonated the mine. My right finger and a small part of my hand was gone. I could only see out of my left eye, and a large piece of shrapnel was buried in my right cheek, sticking out so far I could see it with my good eye. My right hand and arm were full of shrapnel and my flak jacket was shredded on the right side.
Mortar shells were still coming down like rain. Lying on my back, I crawled up the trench, disarming the booby traps as I came to them. At each one, I had to turn over on my stomach and get a pin out of my pocket and insert it into the hole. Oddly enough, I was in no pain and my hand was steady. After each mine I prayed that the Chinese hadn't moved any more or placed some of their own. Soon the rest of the squad arrived and helped us into the bunkers. We had to get back to Hill 190, so Cpl. Melvin Weiss picked me up, putting me across his shoulders in a fireman carry, and made his way across the saddle, running most of the way.
Sergeant McNesky was evacuated by helicopter from Hill 190 to a forward aid station where his condition was stabilized. He was subsequently flown to a hospital ship lying offshore in Inchon Harbor for more intensive treatment. Though severely wounded, had he not made the effort to disarm the remaining mines in that trench, the rest of his squad, no doubt, would have suffered a similar fate. He was later awarded a Silver Star for his action that morning.
Excerpted from The Outpost War by Lee Ballenger Copyright ©2003 by Lee Ballenger. Excerpted by permission.
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