Military history



Goddamit, get back up on that hill! You'll die down here anyway—you might as well go up on the hill and die there!

— Lieutenant Thomas Heath, G Company, 23rd Infantry, Chipyong-ni.

BY 1 DECEMBER 1950, Walton Walker, MacArthur, and Washington knew what the front-line riflemen had been painfully aware of for some days—they had an entirely new war on their hands. MacArthur was outraged at the Communist defiance. With entire sincerity he branded the Chinese intervention a criminal act, and with equal sincerity, from this time on, he desired to unleash the lightning upon the transgressors.

The Chinese criminals should be punished; they should be bombed, interdicted, and harassed, and their warmaking potential destroyed for decades to come. Despite the sharp tactical defeat on the ground of North Korea, the United States had sufficient power to do so, if such power were to be thrown into the war.

It was a time of confusion once again in the United States. Men in government met, while newspapers and periodicals spread a finely distilled gloom across the land. From their arrogance of October most media came full circle; now the action on the Ch'ongch'on and at the reservoir was described as the greatest defeat in American history; even as the Marines marched out, heads up, and the Eighth Army, once more in order, pulled back from P'yongyang, newsman and analyst cried disaster, and that the troops were lost.

Time, in its 11 December 1950 issue editorialized: The United States and its Allies stood on the abyss of disaster. The Chinese Communists, pouring across the Manchurian border in vast formations, had smashed the U.N. Army … caught in the desperate retreat were 140,000 American troops, the flower of the U.S. Army—almost the whole effective Army the U.S. had. With them, fighting to establish a defensive position were 20,000 British, Turkish, and other allies, and some 100,000 South Korean soldiers.

It was defeat—the worst defeat the United States had ever suffered. If this defeat were allowed to stand, it would mean the loss of Asia to Communism.

To place the defeat in North Korea in perspective, American casualties during the entire time of action did not come to half one week's total in the Ardennes campaign, when Germans killed or wounded 27,000 Americans in one seven-day period.

The 2nd Division, in the west, bearing the brunt, lost its equipment and some 4,000 men; the Marines lost slightly less. And after the first week's fighting, American retreat was a matter of policy. It was decided in FECOM, by the military. American forces had never been positioned to fight the CCF. When its intervention was a known reality, the American tactical and strategical position was untenable.

But the U.N. Army, pulling south faster than its tired, decimated pursuers could at first follow, was basically intact. It was in no danger of being over- whelmed, although there was some appearance of gloom and doom among commanders and staffs.

The problem that worried Washington was not what was happening in the frozen wastes of North Korea, but what was happening in the chancelleries of Communist nations. Now, as in summer, Washington could never be sure the thing it feared most—the start of World War III—was not occurring.

At a mass briefing of all officers stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, concurrent with such briefings all across the world, an Army spokesman stood before a map of the earth, pointing out the location of Soviet divisions, Soviet air armies. He pinpointed the hordes of the CCF; discussed the at least 175 divisions—one-third of them armored—Russia had assembled in East Germany alone. He talked of Soviet nuclear capability, and most of the assembled Americans, knowing their own strengths and weaknesses, were shaken. In the event of a major Soviet move, only the American nuclear deterrent could stave off disaster.

But after the divisions were placed on the map, and all the possible moves of the potential enemy analyzed, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant seated in the middle of the theater stood up.

"Sir," he asked the briefing officer, "but what do we figure the Communists will do?"

The briefing officer touched his pointer to the floor, looked down. Then he met the lieutenant's eyes and smiled wryly.

"Son, I don't have a living clue."

In Washington, General of the Army Omar Bradley could have said the same. He was certain of only one thing: That a war with the Chinese, on the mainland of Asia, was the wrong war, at the wrong time, with the wrong enemy. The more important men in government tended to agree with him.

Time shrilled, for all the world to read in its 18 December 1950 issue: The policy of containment was dead. There remained only the policy of retaliation and positive action by the U.S. and its allies to damage Communist power at the sources from which aggression flowed.

But what the editors of Time believed, and what was truth, were, as it so often is, two different things.

Harry Truman had not altered his basic belief that the United States might engage in general war with the Communist bloc, but it had no reasonable hope of forcing its will over the vast expanse of immense humanity of Eurasia. In defense of its vital interests America would still fight such a war—but Harry Truman saw no profit in it, and he would avoid it as long as he could do so with honor. Truman and his advisers could only hope that the Eighth Army could avoid complete debacle.

In the last days of November 1950, MacArthur wired Washington: We face an entirely new war … this command has done everything humanly possible within its capabilities but is now faced with conditions beyond its control and strength. MacArthur now wanted to accept Chiang Kai-shek's offer of Nationalist Chinese troops, but Washington told him such a move would have to be cleared with the U.N.—which was obviously hostile to the idea.

On 28 November, in a Security Council meeting, Omar Bradley informed President Truman that the JCS did not think the situation in Korea was "such a catastrophe as our newspapers were leading us to believe." At the same time George Marshall, Secretary of Defense, stated that in his opinion it was essential for the United States to go along with the United Nations and that all the service secretaries had agreed that neither the U.S. nor the U.N. should become involved in a general war with Red China if it could be avoided. Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, said that the nation should try to find some way to end the conflict.

He added that if the United States went into Manchuria and bombed bases and airfields there as part of a successful action, "Russia would cheerfully get in it."

The United States' entire foreign policy rested on the containment of Soviet Russia—not bringing her to battle.

Averell Harriman thought careful consideration had to be given to the opinions of the rest of the free world. Truman himself said it was going to be hard to convince the free world that United States policy was going to remain calm in the face of the cries of alarm and distortions of "three of our biggest publishers."

The Cabinet, the next day, agreed with the Security Council.

The United States must continue to fight in Korea, hoping for the best, but it would not send orders to MacArthur to bomb Manchuria or in any way carry the war to the Chinese mainland. The conflict would still be an attempted police action.

The Korean conflict—it would still not be dignified by Washington by the name of war—had escalated, but perhaps not fatally. South Korea must still be held. The holding would take more time, money, and men than anyone had realized, but the mission had not changed.

To MacArthur went no orders to attack the criminals in their lair; the prohibitions upon his air and sea power were not lifted. As before, he was to hold the far frontier. He might punish the Chinese all he desired—as long as he did so within the confines of the Korean peninsula.

If World War III were to begin, it would be by Communist initiative.

Now, at Christmastime, a new wave of apprehension swept over the American people, for unlike the old wars on the frontier, this one was reported daily by electronic means.

Time magazine stated: The nation received the fearful news from Korea with a strange calmness—the kind of confused, fearful, half-believing matter-of-factness with which many a man has reacted on learning he has cancer.… The news of Pearl Harbor … pealed out like a bell. But the numbing facts of Korea seeped out of a jumble of headlines, bulletins, and communiqués.

The people could not remain indifferent in the face of incessant newscasts. Again scare buying was in progress, and even dealers of unpopular makes of automobiles sold out their stocks.

Millions resolved to enjoy one last great Christmas before the deluge, and for hundreds it was the last Christmas, as the holiday traffic toll rose to a record level.

There was still no problem of money or machines, guns or butter, despite the increased effort Chinese intervention now required. But the problem of the men—never solved—remained. President Truman called the militia of Minnesota and Mississippi, the Viking and Dixie divisions, into Federal service, and induction calls soared. Thousands more reservists were ordered to the colors, of all services.

Still the clarion call to arms was not sounded to the people, who waited in confusion. Men were again taken from each city, town, and village, but the bugles did not blow, the drums did not resound, for there is no glory to a war on the far frontier.

This kind of war, however necessary, is dirty business, first to last.

It took, perhaps, more courage for Harry Truman not to sound the angel's trumpet than to mobilize the nation, for the people would never understand.

It must be emphasized that the decision to withdraw from North Korea was a strategic one. Once contact had been broken both in east and west, American and ROK forces were under no immediate pressure forcing them backward. But the stance in the mountains of North Korea was exceedingly perilous with unknown numbers of Chinese in the war. The supply situation had never been good, and the transportation network was completely incapable of standing up under the needs of a large-scale campaign. MacArthur wanted to pull back.

And there was always the haunting fear that a bigger war might start, elsewhere. If the Russians came in, fully, all the men in Korea might be cut off as Russian submarines and air interdicted their lifeline; and forgotten in the general chaos, they might be slaughtered at leisure.

On 3 December 1950 MacArthur sent a message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Eighth Army situation was "becoming increasingly critical.…" He stated that he and General Walker agreed, as part of a very long and thoroughly gloomy report, that a withdrawal to the Seoul area was necessary. He wrote of the weakness and tiredness of his command, and of the freshness, complete organization, and splendid training of the Chinese divisions. He ended: The directives under which I am operating based on the North Korean Forces as an enemy [no bombing of Manchuria, and so on] are completely outmoded by events.… This calls for political decisions and strategic plans in implementation thereof, adequate fully to meet the realities involved. In this, time is of the essence as every hour sees the enemy power increase and ours decline.

The evidence is very strong that the continually gloomy reports that MacArthur regularly sent from this time forward were written with the motive of influencing United States policy. MacArthur wanted "political decisions and strategic plans" that would permit him fully to engage the Chinese enemy, and he continued to hint and ask for them. His own feelings on what should be done were closer to those of the publisher of Time than to those of the United States Government—but the President of the United States, and neither Time nor public opinion, was General MacArthur's boss.

On receipt of MacArthur's message on 3 December, Truman approved the following terse reply: We consider that the preservation of your forces is now the primary consideration. Consolidation of forces into beachheads is concurred in.

Truman had decided that until the United Nations clarified its position, or decided to support a major United States move, it seemed best not to sacrifice men trying to hold a tenuous position in North Korea.

The new U.N. Command plan now was to try to hold a line across South Korea north of Seoul—or if worse came to worst, to hold two beachheads, one in the Seoul-Inch'on area, the other the old Pusan Perimeter.

With more than a quarter-million Allied ground troops in Korea, heavily mechanized and possessing all supporting weapons, the JCS felt the Chinese could be contained despite their seeming advantage in numbers.

But over a defeated—even though not shattered—army lies a grayness of spirit. A retreat, once started, is the most difficult of all human actions to reverse. Most of the thousands who had come to Korea had never been interested in the action; now, most of them would have willingly departed the peninsula forever.

The grayness spread upward, to staffs and even to commanders. Men who had burned their fingers were now wary of the flame.

After coming through the CCF gauntlet on the Kunu-ri-Sunch'on road, the movement south was nothing but a truck ride for George Company, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division. The division was shattered, its equipment gone. It would be rebuilt and rebuilt well, but the process would take time.

On 5 December 1950, disgusted and in a low mood, Captain Frank Muñoz and his company reached Seoul. He realized the Chinese had not been supermen; in many instances they hadn't even been good. Frank Muñoz would always believe that if the division could have maintained battalion integrity, set up mutually supporting strongpoints, and held on to them until hell froze over, the Chinese would have been beaten. But what was done was done.

Arriving in Seoul, Muñoz found the AP cable offices were still open. He sent a wire home. It was something of a puzzle what to send—there were security regulations, and he didn't want to frighten anyone. Finally he sent the wire in his daughter's name. "Happy Birthday. I'm fine."

He figured that took care of everything.

Then his unit went to stage and recoup at the old ASCOM City, between Seoul and Inch'on, where it rebuilt from the ground up until Christmas Eve. Now it was getting warm in Seoul, as thousands of CCF pressed down, and the divisions holding the line were backing up. Muñoz went to Ch'unch'on, and finally, his company once again reconstituted, to a hill north of Wonju.

Moving south from the vicinity of the Yalu, Corpora James B. Mount, aid man with Item Company, 21st Infantry, had been too busy to worry much over where the company was going, until he saw a stopped tank doused with gasoline and set afire. Now he thought, There's more to this than they're telling us.

There was. The 24th Division was going south, a long way south. As far as the eye could see, long columns of trucks threw up frozen dust on the coastal roads, and beside the roads every village burned smokily as the Americans retired. Scorched-earth policy, Mount understood they called this.

By New Year's Eve, Mount's Company was dug in along the 38th parallel some fifteen miles north of Seoul, a broad valley stretching out before them. It was as cold as hell, and nobody was in a celebrating mood.

In front of them were more Chinese than Mount or anyone else liked to think about.

Mount was aid man with the 2nd Platoon, Lieutenant Pritchard. Pritchard was a West Pointer, of the recent class that had been pretty well decimated already in Korea. Mount understood that the losses in this class had been a matter of argument at home—as if the public thought the function of a military academy was to make future generals rather than men capable of ably leading platoons in action.

Mount himself knew that battle was a series of platoon actions, each of which went toward deciding the battle as a whole. The best general in the world couldn't succeed without good men in his small units, however high the loss of skilled manpower. And realistically, Mount knew that the men who survived platoon combat would make better generals, however many were killed.

The 2nd Platoon was centered on high ground to the right of the Seoul highway. Across the road, on the left, stood some old Quonset huts that had been used by the occupation forces years ago.

About dark, artillery began to search Item Company's lines. Fortunately, most of the incoming stuff fell behind them. But snipers had moved in close, under the shelling, and two enlisted men of 2nd Platoon had been killed. As Mount and an aid man from an adjoining platoon struggled with a third man, shot through the shoulder, a bullet clipped the other aid man in the heel. Then Mount had two casualties on his hands.

Captain Porter, who had taken the company upon the former commander's breakdown, was hit in the leg by the first round that came in. Porter refused to stop long enough for an aid man to look at him, hobbling up and down furiously.

As dark deepened, all the company could hear heavy firing off to the left, where the 19th Infantry held their flank. It sounded like the 19th was getting clobbered.

The company radio man reported, "I've lost all contact with the 19th—"

Porter sent out patrols to try to contact the units on his left flank. The patrols went as far as they dared, came back to report no contact. "Hell," said Porter, "get in your holes and stay there. Shoot anything that moves!"

Mount, sticking tight now with Pritchard's platoon, heard one report come to the lieutenant from company HQ. "There's 50,000 Chinks out there. Stay loose!" The boys at Company were getting puckered.

The night grew colder. With Pritchard, Mount helped check the outposts. In the bitter weather, the sentries were having trouble staying alert. It was cold enough to keep a man's teeth chattering all night long—but Pritchard had learned a lesson earlier in the campaign. At first, every man had been issued a sleeping bag—and this had proved a mistake, fatal for a lot of Americans who could not resist the temptation to crawl in the bag, even on guard, and fall asleep.

The Chinese had learned the expensiveness of bugling and tootling their way into American lines. Now they came quietly, padding on rubber-soled feet. The only way for the outposts to have a chance was to issue only one arctic sleeping bag to each two men. This way, one man would be too miserable to go to sleep, and he would damn well see to it that his buddy didn't sleep too long.

It was not a popular ruling, but it saved lives.

Shivering but alert, Item Company held during the night. At daybreak, Porter found that the units adjacent to him had pulled out. He checked for a reading with Battalion, and was ordered to pull back, too.

The company moved out after New Year's Day dinner, which for the line companies was a fiasco. Mount got no dinner, but did grab a handful of cigars, which he preferred. Now the regiment pulled back to a line five miles north of Seoul, from which it was ordered to retreat no farther. A thorough defensive position was completed—holes, wire, minefields.

But immediately the regiment was hard hit by Chinese. Neither air nor artillery could completely stop them from scrambling over the ridges, dropping down into the valleys. Mount saw that some attacking Chinese had no rifles; as they advanced, they waited until a companion was hit, then took his weapon.

But they had plenty of manpower, and manpower—and the grayness that was sinking over Eighth Army—pushed them out.

They held north of the Han exactly four days. When they withdrew, they went back thirty miles.

On a gray day in December 1950, riding in his jeep with its handrail and autoloading shotgun, Walton Walker was spilled and killed in a collision on the dusty road.

Walker, dying on the frozen dirt, was spared a worse fate. For days a whisper had run through command channels of the Eighth Army that Walker was through.

The reverse of the coin that nothing succeeds like success is that in battle there is no prize for second place.

Walker, an armored leader of some note in the big war, had done his best, against great odds, in Korea. He fought in a way completely new to his experience, with an army passionately preferring not to fight. Before Pusan, his blunt, bulldog outspokenness and stubbornness had much to do with the successful defense of the Perimeter.

Given his plan of maneuver in the North, it is doubtful that any leader, with the same troops, could have done much better. But the one thing a democracy has in common with a dictatorship is that when there is military failure, heads must roll. Perhaps, as Voltaire remarked, it is not a bad policy, since it tends to encourage the remaining leaders.

Some days before, Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, CG in the Canal Zone, had been briefed for Korea. But with Walker's death, this would never be publicized.

But the man who could dissipate the grayness arrived in Korea, to assume command of the Eighth Army.

History has tended to prove that, like bishops, generals need a certain flamboyance for public success. Walker had none; he could never have been a public figure, win or lose.

Flamboyance in itself is worth nothing, but when it is coupled with genuine ability, history records the passage of a great leader across the lives of men. It is no accident that the names of Clausewitz, Jomini, von Franqois, or Gruenther—brilliant minds all—are known only to students of warfare, while all the world remembers Ney and his grenadiers, Patton's pearl-handled pistols, and Matt Ridgway's taped grenades.

For while Karl von Clausewitz, Henri Jomini, and Kurt von François influenced the history of warfare, Patton and Ridgway made an indelible mark upon the hearts of men.

Ridgway, a well-built, bald soldier with the look of eagles about his strong-nosed face, was the kind of leader the Eighth Army needed. For as the commandos say, "It is all in the mind and in the heart," and battles, more often, are won not on the drawing boards but in the hearts of men. Ridgway was a strong man, and an articulate one. He could think, and he could put his thoughts across with pen and tongue.

He was possessed of such personal courage that, caught in artillery shell-fire, he was always the first man out of the ditch—a habit that caused his aide, a Medal of Honor winner, once to remark, "Oh, Jesus, I wish the Old Man would wait a little longer!"

Ridgway came to an army gray with the habit of defeat, strong but no longer sure of itself. He said to his staff, who had caught enough brickbats to last them a lifetime in the past weeks, and had grown cautious: "There will be no more discussion of retreat. We're going back!"

But habits are hard to break. Shortly after this, Ridgway's G-3, Dabney, said, "Here, General, are our contingency plans for retreat—"

Ridgway relieved him upon the spot.

The staff got the message. It took only a little longer for it to seep down to the ranks. Seventy-five miles below the 38th parallel, the U.N. line got "straightened out." It would never move south again, except under local pressure, for the balance of the war.

Into Frank Muñoz's new George Company flowed dozens of replacements, many of them recalled reservists from the States. These last, as Muñoz said later, didn't want to be there.

He integrated and oriented his newcomers. He told the N.C.O's and old men: "No war stories to scare hell out of these people. I don't want a bunch of scared rabbits. Let's get 'em trained and on the team."

When he was fully manned again, one half of his company, including N.C.O.'s, had never seen combat. He had some new officers, some of them recallees. These men were not eager. They were patriotic men, with good records. But listening for the trumpet, they had received instead orders to Korea, telling them to go and serve, not saying why.

They had little interest in holding the far frontier. They were citizens, and each of them had better things to do.

South of Wonju, there was patrol action, and George Company got into more than one skirmish. Once, knocking, some Chinese off a hill, Muñoz saw several of his EM run up to enemy dead, pause, searching, then move on.

Long, now made lieutenant in the field, smiled wryly at him, when Muñoz asked what the hell they were doing. "One old hand teaching two new ones how to loot, Captain."

Fortunately, the old hands were teaching the new ones how to fight, too. The old hardness they had had after the Naktong returned. Again, all thoughts of going home soon had vanished; everybody realized that they were going to have to stay in Korea to fight. And the veterans of the early fights had forged in each company of the division a solid core of strength.

But there were still some problems. Thousands of Korean refugees in January 1951 were pouring southward, streaming through U.N. lines, and with them came disguised NKPA. Muñoz, like all the old hands, had grown wary of infiltrators.

One day he ordered his roadblocks, "Let no more civilians through."

A sergeant, a recallee who had had to leave his new business and was understandably bitter about it, said, "Captain, I'm not about to shoot civilians."

Muñoz put hard black eyes on this man. "Sergeant, I realize you're new. We've had experience with this. Some of these 'civilians' have inflicted casualties on us, and unless you. want to be killed, you'd better watch it."

One night, while on roadblock guard, the sergeant disappeared. Muñoz figured some "civilians" had probably thrown his body into the deep snows along the road. In spring, thousands of skeletons were found all over the roadsides of Korea, but few of them could be identified.

Then, in early January 1951, the 2nd Division was ordered to attack north. At the same time, Muñoz was offered a job up at Battalion, but turned it down.

Wading in snow up to their waists at times, crossing ridges so high that they could clearly see the pilots of supporting aircraft in their cockpits, George Company attacked toward Wonju. They had sharp fights with enemy in the hills, and enemy interdicting the roads from deep railway tunnels. They took Wonju, and news photographers took their pictures in the square of the damaged, burning city.

But now Colonel Messenger, the new C.O. of 9th Infantry, had learned that Frank Muñoz was the senior company commander of the regiment. He felt Muñoz had had enough line time from the Naktong to the Ch'ongch'on to the hills about Wonju. And there was an opening on Division G-4—supply—staff.

Major Birmingham called Muñoz in, offered him the job. "Frank," Pete Birmingham said, "last night I had a dream that you were KIA—"

Young Muñoz, normally not a superstitious man, was convinced. A man had only so much luck. On 17 January he reported to Division G-4, and was made supply liaison officer between that HQ and the regimental supply officers.

The Chinese hordes that had burst the U.N. Korean bubble did not number more than 300,000 at the time of their intervention, and of this number, probably not more than 60,000 actually went into close combat with the advance ROK and American divisions.

While in overall numbers the allied forces nearly matched the Chinese, at the point of impact the disparity was overwhelming. It had been the plan of maneuver of the U.N., plus the Chinese tactics—not the relative size of the two forces—that resulted in U.N. defeat.

At the crucial moment, only two American divisions had been in contact with the Chinese in the west, while in the east a large part of the combat power of six CCF divisions engulfed one Marine division.

Had the U.N. Command been able to employ the main body of the Eighth Army, or to throw the entire X Corps against the CCF IX Army Group, there is good reason to suppose the Chinese might have failed. But the terrain made it a series of Indian rights. While one American division was cut to pieces, others a few miles across the mountains enjoyed relative peace and quiet.

Understandably, American commanders were eager to get out of the horrible mountains and back to where they could fight once more in modern, civilized fashion.

The first withdrawal, to the 38th parallel, would have accomplished this. But the retreat once started was difficult to halt. The U.N. line, with X Corps redeployed in the center of South Korea, finally came to rest along the 37th parallel in January 1951.

Contact, except for scattered patrol actions, was broken. The mechanized U.N. forces had been able to move south faster than the footsore, ill-supplied, and badly coordinated CCF could follow.

Now geography began to exert its influence in reverse. In South Korea the terrain was still broken, but passable to vehicles. In a narrower part of the peninsula, Americans and ROK's could throw a continuous line from coast to coast, with a refused flank to either side. And while U.N. supply lines were shortened and improved, the CCF inherited a logistic nightmare.

The CCF's guns, ammunition, and supplies had to be brought down from the Yalu under constant air attack, over poor roads, and on a limited amount of transport. The CCF had manpower, including thousands of Korean laborers, and could live on very little, but there is a limit to the operations of an army that has to bear its ammunition hundreds of miles over mountains, principally by muscle power.

Now, rebuilt, reequipped, in maneuverable terrain, the U.N. forces needed more than anything else the will to fight. The means they had.

Matt Ridgway supplied the will.

By the end of January, as a result of firm and unmistakable orders from the new ground commander, the Eighth Army moved north to reestablish contact, and to bring the enemy to battle.

Everywhere Ridgway went, he talked of attack. Soon, nothing more was heard of the whispers that had been bruited about, over a gray-spirited army, that Korea might have to be evacuated.

And soon there was renewed battle.

The first United Nations counteroffensive, beginning 5 February 1951, was short-lived. On the night of 11 February, the CCF struck south again, this time in the center of the line, against Ned Almond's X Corps, which now contained the United States 2nd Division. The CCF attacked with two main columns pointed toward Hoengsong and Wonju. As usual, the Chinese first put pressure against the weaker firepower of the ROK's.

They slashed through two ROK divisions, forcing friendly lines southward from five to twenty miles.

Leading the U.N. offensive, Paul Freeman's 23rd Infantry had been well ahead of the van. On 3 February the regiment had moved into the road junction village of Chipyong-ni, already half destroyed by air and artillery, and in the small valley about the town Colonel Freeman threw up a tight mile-long perimeter. To the northwest of Chipyong-ni the 23rd dug in across a section of frozen rice paddies, and on the other sides of the valley the line lay across a series of low hills. Here the 23rd, including a French battalion, supported by the 37th Field Artillery, a battery of 155's from the 503rd, a Ranger company, and engineers, were still positioned when the CCF released the flood.

The front lines to either side of Chipyong-ni washed back, and Freeman, his patrols reporting Chinese on all sides of him, conferred with General Almond on 13 February. Freeman wanted to pull back fifteen miles to prevent encirclement; the 2nd Division commander approved.

Almond agreed, and submitted the request to the Eighth Army.

Matt Ridgway's comment can be summed up in one printable word: No.

The word went north to Freeman, who immediately strengthened his perimeter and called his various subordinate commanders in. He advised them, "We're going to stay here and fight it out."

That night, the fight began.

Soon after dark, there was skirmishing, and a few violent close-in brushes on the south of the perimeter, where 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry, the French, and Battery B of the 503rd defended.

Then, two hours past midnight, Chinese blew bugles and whistles and ran forward toward the lines of the French battalion.

The French nation, already heavily engaged in war with the Communists in Vietnam, had supplied only one battalion of infantry to the Korean effort. But throughout the conflict the battalion was a good one. Professionals all, the unit contained many half-wild Algerians, to whom no war was complete unless a little fun could be had out of it, too.

As the first platoon of Chinese rushed them, a Frenchman cranked a hand siren, setting up an ungodly screech. A single squad fixed bayonets, grabbed up hand grenades, and when the enemy was twenty yards away, came out of their holes and charged.

Four times their number of CCF stopped, turned, and into the night. The Frenchmen went back to smoking and telling jokes.

But in another part of the line, Heath's George Company was hit four times. With some difficulty, the company held till dawn.

With light, the Chinese withdrew to the circling hills, and the defenders had a breathing spell. The Air Force came over to search the hills with rockets and napalm, and cargo planes made two-dozen ammunition drops. Other than this, nothing occurred on 14 February.

But after nightfall, flares soared high all around the southern rim of Chipyong-ni, and the brassy noise of bugles beat on the defender's ears. Chinese began to infiltrate over the low hills, carrying pole and satchel charges. They poured into George Company, killing many men by dropping explosives in the foxholes. McGee's 3rd Platoon was riddled, and in bad shape by midnight. He asked the company commander, Heath, for help. B Battery offered men to plug the infantry line.

Heath assembled fifteen men from the supporting artillery, and sent them forward. These men were not trained as infantrymen, and when they drew mortar fire they ran back down the hill, without making contact with the hard-hit 3rd Platoon.

As they ran, the enemy poured across the 3rd Platoon area, and the hill was alight with grenade blasts and pinpricks of rifle fire.

Lieutenant Heath himself stopped the artillerymen at the base of the hill, screaming and raging at them. He re-formed them, and led them toward the blazing fire fight up above. Again the group came apart when fired on, and the men ran away.

Still on the hill, furious, Heath grabbed men by the collar and tried to make them go forward. When they refused, he came back off the hill with them. By now Chinese flares were throwing weird light over the hill and its rear slope, and the air was filled with reddish tracer. The artillerymen tried to hide themselves in the ground, and Heath ran back and forth, urging them to get up and fight.

An artillery liaison, Captain Elledge, heard Heath's yelling. Elledge was the rare breed who loved a fight. He went back to the firing positions, grabbed about a dozen men, and forced these up to the platoons' defense line. Elledge himself carried up a .30-caliber machine gun. He heard the Chinese whistling and hooting to one another in the dark, and he went forward over the hard snow to investigate. He met Chinese face to face. He killed two with his carbine in a hand-to-hand fight, before a grenade blast numbed his left arm and he retired.

Now, while the entire perimeter of Chipyong-ni was under pressure, the main CCF blow fell against weakened George Company. George was piling up the dead by the hundreds, but too many of the enemy were getting in close with explosives and hand grenades. The artillery fired star shells and HE alternately, riddling the Chinese, but still they came on.

The CCF washed up on the low ridge again and again, fighting a determined battle for each foxhole. Little by little, against violent resistance, they were chipping the ground away from the American defenders.

Heath, behind the hill, went to the 503rd's battery commander for more men. He was determined to counterattack and thrust the Chinese out of his position. He yelled over and over, "We're going up that goddamned hill or bust!"

Again the artillery C.O. gave him all men not needed on the guns. But neither officer could force these men onto the hill.

The 2nd Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Edwards, sent a squad from Fox Company to help fill the gaping holes in George's line. Heath sent these men into the hottest part of the fight, the saddle between 1st and 2nd platoons. Within minutes, every man of this squad was killed or hurt. Still, G Company held its precarious perch on the ridge.

The 2nd Platoon's platoon sergeant, Bill Kluttz, yelled at Lieutenant McGee, "Lieutenant, we've got to stop them!"

The Chinese kept pressing in. They did not try to overwhelm G with one vast rush, but continued to creep through the night, knocking out hole after hole. The 1st Platoon, near three o'clock in the morning, was pushed back out of position. Now without the support on his flank, McGee was down to a few able-bodied men.

And the fires of his spirit ran low, too. He said to Kluttz, over the field phone, "Looks like they've got us—"

On another portion of the hill, Kluttz snapped back grimly, his voice carried by its own power over the wires, "Let's kill as many of these sons of bitches as we can before they get us!"

Meanwhile, to the rear, George's 4th Platoon leader commanding the company mortars, discovered a group of artillerymen huddling together inside one of the battery's canvas tents. Fire from the hills was beginning to spray over into the valley now, and mortarmen and gunners were being hurt.

"Hell!" this officer barked at them. "A squad tent won't stop bullets!"

Despite this officer's urging, none of these men would go up on the hill to give the riflemen a hand. Faced with being overrun, they seemed to feel that because their primary military occupational specialty did not include handling a rifle, no one had the right to make them use one.

A few minutes later, McGee's last machine gun jammed. The 1st Platoon, under its surviving sergeant, was coming off the hill; McGee and Kluttz realized they could gain nothing now by dying in place, for even their ammunition was low.

McGee, Kluttz, and four other men backed off the hill. They were all who were left.

The 23rd's perimeter was broken. The Chinese had a pathway into the vitals of the regiment. All they had to do was to exploit it.

And now, at Chipyong-ni on the night of 14 February 1951, the battle took in miniature the form it would have for the next few months: The Chinese by prodigally throwing men against fire and steel had wiped out a defending unit. Any ground commander, given men and willing to spend them, can break any ground defense, in time, at any chosen place.

The CCF had punched through George Company, on the south, but that in itself availed them nothing. Everywhere else they were still battling a solid line that could not be flanked.

And the heartbreaking effort to spring George Company had left the Chinese spent, too. Their ammunitions was low, and their supply center far behind. Their communications—horns and bugles—could not pass the word fast enough, coherently enough, that the bung had been started and that the Chinese wave might now flow through into the hollow of Chipyong-ni.

The Chinese now demonstrated what would be proved again and again upon the Korean Field of battle: they could crack a line, but a force lacking mechanization, air power, and rapid communications could not exploit against a force possessing all three.

Lieutenant Heath was on the phone to Colonel Edwards, telling him George was through. Edwards, alarmed, promised help. But all Edwards had available as reserve was one platoon of Fox Company, already minus the squad previously committed.

Edwards called Freeman—but Freeman was also scraping bottom. The 3rd Battalion was under heavy pressure, and Freeman was afraid to commit his entire reserve—one Ranger company. He granted Edwards one platoon of the Rangers and one tank.

Edwards ordered the Fox platoon and the Ranger to the G Company zone. He placed a staff officer, Lieutenant Curtis, over the two-platoon force. But at first the Ranger C.O. made trouble; he refused to take orders from anyone but Freeman. Hearing this, Edwards sent down a captain from his staff, Rams- burg, to take control and get the Rangers straightened out.

As the new force arrived in George's sector, Heath's line was only a group of men stretched thinly along a furrow of earth in front of the artillery-fire direction center. Fire was pouring down upon these men from the shadowy line of hills they had lost.

But to either side the flanks were holding firm, and the artillery was firing a continuous crescendo of flame and noise into the gap.

Ramsburg organized his small force quickly and sent them forward in counterattack. The Rangers, screaming and yelling, led the way back onto George's old hill.

In the near-dawn chill, the blazing fire fight raged across the hill. Both Americans and Chinese massed on the crest, desperately trying to throw the other off. The Ranger platoon leader was killed. Ramsburg was injured by a grenade. Heath, coming up the hill to take Ramsburg's place, was shot through the chest. One of his men, his own arm almost severed from his body, dragged Heath back to safety.

In a brief, savage action, the Americans were knocked off the hill. Fox's platoon lost 22 men of 28; the Rangers suffered equally. Curtis, who had remained to the rear, now tried to take charge of the survivors, and to throw up some kind of line in back of the hill to protect Chipyong-ni.

The CCF, stung by the counterattack, could not reorganize quickly enough to advance against the dozen wounded men barring their way. Ramsburg reported to Edwards by phone, who shouted to hold on, more help was on the way.

Freeman, realizing that whatever happened elsewhere, this hole must be plugged, gave Edwards the remainder of the Ranger force.

In a few minutes Curtis and Ramsburg, having now no able-bodied riflemen, began falling back slowly.

Captain Elledge, the artillery liaison officer, took up the slack. Realizing he was not badly hurt, and having no command, Elledge returned to battle on his own. In the ditch beside the road into Chipyong-ni he found an abandoned Quad .50 ack-ack gun mounted on a half-track, and this he got a tank crew to help him swing around until its muzzle faced the enemy.

Elledge was able to get the track's motor started and the power turned on the gun mount. He leveled the gun and sprayed the hill in front of the retreating Americans. Four .50-caliber machine guns, firing in unison, went over the hill like a vacuum cleaner, sucking it dry of Chinese life.

A Chinese squad sneaked close to him with a 75mm recoilless rifle they had captured on the hill. But it was now light, and Elledge saw them. As they loaded the rifle, he swung the gun and cut them down with one burst.

Now three American tanks moved down the road, blasting the hill with cannon fire. The artillerymen, still on their guns, leveled their huge howitzers and covered the area with bursting white phosphorous.

Colonel Edwards rushed forward with the Rangers, and B Company, which Freeman had released to him at daylight. Soon, overhead, there was the comforting whistle of friendly aircraft.

The Chinese tried to come through, to reach the soft belly of the regiment. They failed; a wall of steel had been moved in front of them. They tried to hold what they had taken, George's hill, fighting stubbornly all day during 15 February against air- and tank-supported infantry attack, while American artillery pounded them.

But air, armor, artillery, and redeployed infantry had plugged the hole. The Chinese had not been able to move swiftly enough during the crucial hours of darkness. All day the best they could do was to hold the single hill they had taken at such cost, and with dusk their spirit broke. Those Chinese who could yet walk faded into the hills.

After dark, a soft snow fell, covering thousands of Chinese corpses lying in a ring about Chipyong-ni. Hundreds lay in front of George Company's hill, and others dotted the hill itself, intermingled with American dead.

At Chipyong-ni on 15 February 1951 a massive Chinese offensive had been blunted. On this date the CCF suffered its first tactical defeat at American hands.

The CCF would try again, and again, but now a new pattern had been set. Eighth Army had risen from its own bitter ashes.

It would not fall again.

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