ATTACHMENT TO THE FIRST MARINE DIVISION
Following the Inchon landings the lst Marine Division was withdrawn and made two amphibious landings on the East coast in pursuit of the NKPA. at Wonsan and at Hungnam. From there, the Division under command of X Corps (Lt Gen Almond USA) advanced 78 miles into the mountains to the Village of Yudam-ni on the Western arm of the Chosin Reservoir. (8th Army, including the 27 and 29 Brigades, later the British Commonwealth Division, operated on the West of the peninsula).
In its "Home by Christmas" euphoria the UN Command chose to disregard the ominous signs of Chinese intervention. Fierce attacks by Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) were reported against over extended UN units from late October but these ceased early in November as the Chinese reinforced and regrouped. Aerial reconnaissance showed massive troop movements across the Yalu River and China announced she would not stand idly by and watch her Communist neighbour overrun.
In the light of subsequent events a digression is relevant here to consider the attributes of the new enemy. The Chinese soldier crossed the Yalu armed initially with an assortment of Japanese, Russian and US (Ex Nationalist) weapons and carrying some 80 rounds of ammunition and four days rations. Thereafter he was independent of routine re-supply. He wore a thick reversible yellow and white quilted cotton uniform and crepe soled canvas shoes. Inured to hardship, indoctrinated with Communism, and by a "hate America" campaign, and courageous to the point of being suicidal he made a formidable adversary.
This peasant army hid by day and made long approach marches by night. Adept at infiltration, mass attacks, almost invariably at night, were conducted by "pepper potting" (small scale fire and movement) forward and exploiting every weakness and advantage. Co-ordination was achieved by bugles, whistles and flares.
The rapid advance of the UN Forces reduced opportunities for raiding and 41 Independent Commando was shipped to Hungnam where it arrived on 15 November 1950, to be placed under command of 1 Mar Div and issued with cold weather clothing (Appendix A). The intention was for the Commando, which (less a small rear party left in Japan) only mustered 235, to be used as an additional Reconnaissance Company to protect the left flank during the advance from Yudm-ni.
It should be noted that Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith, commanding 1 Mar Div, had misgivings over the X Corps plan to push him further out on a limb and into a winter campaign in the mountains. However he managed to concentrate his division along the narrow single track road which was to become his vital Main Supply Route (MSR). He was thus in a better position to extricate his Division when the inevitable happened.
41 INDEPENDENT COMMANDO OPERATIONS WITH 1ST MAR DIV
After enjoying Thanksgiving Day at Hungnam 41 Commando embussed in 22 x 2.5 ton trucks and one 30 cwt weapons carrier, contributed by divisional service units, for the journey up the line. (Only a jeep had been allocated for the CO). This was to be an administrative move up the MSR and for ease of loading, stores, including heavy weapons, remained crated.
Having driven to 4000 ft up the Funchilin Pass the Commando arrived at Koto-rii where Col "Chesty" Puller's 1st RCT HQ was based. The unit was greeted with the news that the CCF had blocked the road to the North and were given part of the perimeter to guard for the night.
Early next morning HQ 1 Mar Div ordered that Task Force Drysdale totalling 922 men and 141 vehicles comprising: 41 Independent Commando, G Coy USMC, B Coy 31st Infantry USA and elements of the Divisional train, be formed to fight its way to Hagaru at the Southern tip of the Chosin Reservoir.
There was just time for the Heavy Weapons group to break out a section of 81mm mortars and A4 Brownings before 41 Commando led the advance from Koto-ri at 0930 on 29 November 1950. Within two miles the Commando and G Coy were up against serious resistance but at 1350 Force Drysdale was reinforced with 17 tanks from D Coy 1st USMC tank battalion which had moved up that morning. Slow progress was resumed until, at about 1615, the column was halted four miles North of Koto-ri.
Lt Col Drysdale asked Div HQ whether he should resume the advance and, because of the urgent need for reinforcements, Gen Smith directed him to continue at all costs.
After a delay for the tanks to refuel, during which darkness fell, the advance resumed. The tanks declined to comply with Lt Col Drysdale's request to spread in pairs throughout the convoy and pushed on to Hagaru leaving the soft skinned vehicles unprotected.
About halfway to Hagaru the MSR entered a defile where the CCF closed in and split the column, leaving one Heavy Weapons section, the Assault Engineers and elements of Commando HQ with most of B Coy and Div HQ, who fought throughout the night, strung out in a number of defensive perimeters. Subsequently the Heavy Weapons section, led by Cpl E Cruse, found its way to Hagaru badly frostbitten and 25 of the Cdo HQ personnel were led back to Koto-ri by the Assault Engineer Officer, Capt P J Ovens, after slipping out of the perimeter whilst surrender terms were being negotiated in the early hours of 30 November.
Meanwhile the remainder of the column forced on under sporadic fire until under a mile from Hagaru where it was stopped by concentrated mortar and small arms fire within sight of the USMC engineers working under floodlights to construct a 2900 ft runway out of the frozen earth. The MSR was blocked by an abandoned tank and several vehicles were set on fire. During this phase Lt Col Drysdale was lightly wounded and amongst the casualties were: B Tp Commander Capt Parkinson-Cumine, the Medical Officer Surg Lt D A Knock and PO J A Tate, section commander of the Fleet Volunteers, killed; and D Tp Commander, Capt L G Marsh and the IO/Signals Officer, Lt D L Goodchild, seriously wounded.
The last vehicles to enter the four mile defensive perimeter were a 2.5 ton truck and the Heavy Weapons 30 cwt, both loaded with wounded and led by the Heavy Weapons Officer Lt P R Thomas.
Force Drysdale had sustained 321 casualties and lost 75 vehicles, but to quote from the official USMC history: "To the slender garrison of Hagaru was added a tank company and some 300 seasoned infantry." Less than 100 of 41 Independent Commando got through and 61 became battle casualties. Those who arrived are indebted to Lt Col Beall, commanding the 1st Motor Transport Battalion, for taking them in and providing food and shelter from the sub zero temperatures which at night fell to -24 degrees F.
41 Commando was nominated Garrison Reserve under command of 5 RCT (Lt Col Murray). The first call came on the night of 30 November/1 December when B Tp, now led by Lt G F D Roberts (later to be Adjutant), took part in a counter attack to regain G Coy's left flank on East Hill. This dominating feature was critical to the defence of the perimeter and although the garrison of Hagaru were not to know it, the CCF shot their bolt that night when their 58th and 59th Divisons incurred an estimated 5000 casualties in two large scale assaults.
THE ADVANCE TO THE SEA
A number of UN formations had disintegrated under the CCF attack. To the West Eighth Army was withdrawing and X Corps commander placed all troops in the Chosin reservoir area under the operational control of 1 Mar Div. 75% casualties had been suffered by three US Army battalions East of the Reservoir in five days of attacks. Only 385 able bodied survivors eventually reached Hagaru across the ice, to be re-equipped and reorganized as a provisional battalion.
In a high level conference at Hagaru X Corps commander authorized Maj Gen Smith to destroy all equipment and fall back with all speed to Hungnam. Gen Smith replied that his Division would fight its way out bringing back all its heavy equipment and that movement would be governed by his ability to evacuate his wounded. As "withdrawal" was not in the USMC vocabulary this operation was to be called "The Advance to the South."
The first task was to concentrate the 5th and 7th RCT's 18 rifle companies and the artillery of the 11th Regiment, back the 14 miles over the from Yudam-ni where they had been under ferocious attack since 27 November. This was accomplished by 4 December and members of 41 Independent Commando who were privileged to go out to the perimeter to meet them will have an abiding memory of the splendid US Marine Corps infantry marching into Hagaru alongside their wounded after fighting for a week in numbing sub zero temperatures driven by the screaming North wind.
Next day 41 Commando made an abortive foray to recover nine 155mm howitzers which had been abandoned when their tractors ran out of diesel. These were later demolished; the largest loss of the Yudam-ni breakout.
Whilst the men of the 5th and 7th Marines recovered in Hagaru, casualty evacuation and re-supply continued apace. By nightfall on 5 December 4312 men, including 25 Royal Marines, had been evacuated by air and 537 reinforcements flown in.
The plan for the move from Hagaru to Koto-ri was for 7th Marines to lead and 5th Marines (Lt Col R L Murray), with 41 Commando attached, to bring up the rear. The operation was to be supported by Navy and Marine aircraft from seven US Navy carriers. The dedication of the pilots of the cranked wing Corsairs who had already flown many close support sorties in the most appalling weather conditions has become legendary.
The advance started at dawn on 6 December. It took 38 hours to move the 10,000 troops and over 1000 vehicles the 10 miles to Koto-ri against fierce attacks from the seven CCF Divisions which were now concentrated against 1st Mar Div.
Before marching out of Hagaru Lt Col Drysdale ordered a unit inspection which impressed the USMC. The Royal Marines' custom of shaving daily despite the freezing weather had been greeted initially with derision but eventually the USMC conceded there was something in such outward signs of self discipline.
En route the Unit dead were recovered to be buried in a mass grave for 117, including US Marines and soldiers, at Koto-ri on 8 December. Here too Lt Ovens' party of 25 was reunited bringing 41 Independent Commando's strength up to 150. (A mistaken report of page 298 of "US Marine Corps Operations in Korea" refers to the 2/7th Marines rescuing 22 Royal Marines during this phase of the withdrawal who had been stranded in CCF dominated territory since the convoy had fought its way through on 29/30 November. This statement cannot be substantiated.)
There was a pause before the advance towards Hungnam could be resumed whilst steel trackway was airdropped to bridge a demolished culvert in the Funchilin Pass. 1st Battalion 1st Marines also fought its way up the pass from the South to seize the key heights dominating the Pass.
41 Commando moved out of Koto-ri in a snowstorm in the afternoon of 8 December with the task of holding the high ground overlooking the MSR during the night to guard against infiltration. Whilst away the faithful 30cwt weapons carrier, the only unit transport besides the DO's jeep, slid off the road and was later demolished. (A tribute to the loyal USMC driver, Cpl D Saunchegrow, was published in the February 1970 Globe and Laurel).
Next morning the Commando returned to relieve 3rd Battalion 1st Marines in the Koto-ri perimeter. The unit set off with the 5th Marines column to march the 23 miles to the Hungnam bridgehead held by two US Army Divisions. At Majon-dong the Commando embussed in trucks to be ferried down to the tented assembly area prepared in Hungnam.
By 11 December the whole of 1 Mar Div was clear. As Maj Gen Smith had promised the Division had come out fighting, bringing its wounded and most of its equipment. In the process it had inflicted a major defeat on the CCF which had sustained an estimated 37,000 casualties from all causes, including the bitter sub zero weather.
41 Commando embarked with 22,000 US Marines in transports assembled off Hungnam and were shipped down to Pusan. From there the Unit was moved West along the coast by LCT to Masan to spend Christmas 1950 with 1 Mar Div.
Sadly the US Marines were deprived of Christmas drink because of political influences back home (the Women's Christian Temperance Union for instance blocked the Milwaukee brewers donation of a million cases of beer to the US Forces in Korea). 41 Commando, however, received a large consignment of "medical supplies" from its friends in the British Embassy in Tokyo which enabled the whole unit to splice the main brace on Christmas Day. Contact had also been made with the British Army base in Pusan (which kindly lent two 30cwt vehicles) and NAAFI stores were obtained with which the Officers Mess threw a cocktail party. The Commando cooks showed they were as good at concocting canapes as they had been with rifles.
41 Commando had suffered 93 casualties and was particularly short of specialists: SBAs, assault engineers, signallers, heavy weapons NCOs etc. It was therefore decided to withdraw the unit to Japan in January 1951 to await reinforcements and to retrain and re-equip. It was with mixed feelings that the Royal Marines of 41 Commando left their USMC comrades who were shortly to go back into the line with the 8th Army, now well South of the 38th Parallel. Lt. Col Drysdale wrote in his report. "This was the first time that the Marines of the two nations had fought side by side since the defence of the Peking Legations in 1900. Let it be said that the admiration of all ranks of 41 Commando for their brothers in arms was and is unbounded. They fought like tigers and their morale and esprit de corps is second to none."
Note: For this action between 27 November and 11 December 1 Mar Div and the attached units were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. The wording of the citation is at Appendix I of Vol III of "US Marine Corps Operations in Korea". 41 Independent Commando was not listed in the original citation but subsequent representations by the Marine Corps resulted in the Commando being included. The award was accepted on behalf of the Corps by our Captain General from the US Ambassador to UK in 1957.
THE SORYE DONG RAID
41 Independent Commando moved into Ebisu Camp in the suburbs of Tokyo in January 1951 and all ranks enjoyed a period of R&R. Later, the Unit was transferred to HMAS Commonwealth at the Naval Base at Kure to re-equip, train and absorb reinforcements. Unfortunately, the arrival of key specialists was delayed and the CO became concerned that morale would suffer through prolonged inactivity so plans were made to mount a unit raid to cut the supplies from Manchuria to Hungnam. This was to be a daylight demonstration in force with very considerable support.
On 2 April 1951, 21 Officers and 256 ORs of 41 Independent Commando embarked in the LPD USS Fort Marion (11 LVT, 5 LVT(A) and 13 LC) and the APD USS Begor (4 LC). The Gunfire Support Group comprised a cruiser and two destroyers. Air Support was available from the carriers USS Boxer and USS Phillipine Sea. Six minesweepers were to approach to within 2000 yards of the beach. An SFCP (Shore Fire Control Party), a Tactical Air Support Party, and an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT), to reconnoitre the beach, were attached to the Commando.
After two rehearsals of the Amphibious Group the Force assembled off the objective area where proper consultations between the group commanders became possible for the first time on D-1, 6 April 1951.
Thick fog postponed the landing and reduced the naval bombardment to two hours but, at 0805 7 April, D Tp landed from two LVTs (armoured amphibians) and by 0900 hours the covering force was in position ready for the Assault Engineers, aided by the MT Section, to begin work.
Earlier raids had been directed at culverts and bridges, which could soon be repaired, and tunnels, from which roof falls could easily be removed. (Ideally, a train wrecked in a tunnel would block a line longest). On this raid the target was the embankment. Demolitions were carried out in four phases: first 16 shaped charges were blown to make boreholes, next each borehole was packed with 801lbs of TNT which were detonated. This process was then repeated in the craters to produce a gap in the embankment 100 ft wide and 16 ft deep. Finally 55 anti personnel mines were laid in the craters.
When mining was complete the withdrawal started and the last LVT left the beach at 1555 hrs. The Commando had been ashore for nearly eight hours and, apart from a small group which fired at C Tp from long range, there had been no enemy activity, although an informer reported two division in Songjin 15 miles to the North. There were no landing force casualties but unfortunately 5 villagers had been killed and 15 wounded. These were tended by the SBAs. Apart from this the naval bombardment had inflicted only superficial damage.
The Commando disembarked at Yokosuka and was re-established in Camp McGill on 13 April from where sub unit and unit training continued.
WONSAN HARBOR AND FURTHER RAIDS
A period of relative inactivity ensued whilst future operations and a possible return to 1 Mar Div were discussed. (Peace talks started during this time). Finally it was decided to establish a forward operating base on Yo Do Island within Wonsan Harbor, some 60 miles behind the lines, and a Rear HQ in an old Japanese sea plane base near Sasebo, the HQ of Flag Officer Second in Command British Far East Fleet. Accordingly "Charlie Force" (Capt FRD Pearce) comprising C Tp, an HW Section, 16 tents, two LCVPs, to be manned by LC Marines, two canoes, 14 days rations and two units of fire (ie two outfits of ammunition) left as an advance party on 1 July 1951).
Wonsan Harbor is a large bay quarded by two peninsulas some 5 miles apart; Hodo Pando to the North and Kalmagak to the South. This bay is about 10 miles deep. Inside and across the entrance of the bay are a number of islands, the largest had been swept clear of mines and here usually three destroyers circled to bombard opportunity targets. Occasionally communist batteries opened up whereupon the destroyers and any other ships present would increase speed and return fire (called "Operation WAR DANCE"). When 41 Independent Commando arrived some of the islands were garrisoned by ROK Marines and a number of separate intelligence organizations were based on Yo Do.
Through late Summer and Autumn, 41 Commando extended its operations by taking over various islands as patrol bases. B Tp (Capt E T G Shuldham) occupied Modo on 9 August. Later, D Tp (Capt A Stoddart) took over Taedo, some 1200 yards from Kalmagak, when the Leper colony there had been evacuated in November. After its ROK Marine garrison had been overwhelmed by a Communist raid, Hwangto Do was reoccupied by a force from D Tp led by Lt J R H Walter and the garrison reinforced in December by Heavy Weapons whose 81mm mortars and 75mm recoilless rifles had already used this island for shoots against targets on the mainland. Defensive positions were dug on all islands to withstand return shell and mortar fire, and the beach exits were mined. SFCP and HW fire controllers frequently directed Naval gunfire from OPs on occupied and unoccupied islands including Umi Do 300 yards from a battery of 76mm anti tank guns used against UN ships.
B and C Tp canoe patrols made six landings on Hodo Pando. During one of these Lt Harwood and Sgt Barnes of B Tp were killed in a patrol clash on 30 August. Also at this time B Tp's LCPR broke down off Modo and was driven ashore on Kalmagak. TSM Day and the four ranks with him were taken prisoner.
Lt Col Drysdale embarked in the USS WANTUCK for a raid in the Songjin area the following night. The plan was for one party to secure a tunnel entrance to attract enemy reaction whilst a second party made a clandestine landing by canoes to ambush enemy reinforcements moving from Songjin. In the event the tunnel party was fired on and withdrew after one marine was wounded. The ambush party laid mines on the road and as it was withdrawing heard the sound of trucks moving followed by an explosion. Both parties re-embarked by 0400 and returned to Modo on 29 September.
On 3 October D Tp, reinforced by the Assault Engineers, UDT swimmers and a rocket launcher team from B Tp, all under command of the 2TC, embarked in USS WANTUCK for operations South of Chongjin. After a night rehearsal on 4 October two parties totalling 34 attempted the following night to repeat the plan of the previous raid. However, the UDT reconnaissance indicated that the railway was more heavily guarded than before and both parties withdrew.
On 6 October, 10 men, preceded by two canoes led by Lt J R H Walter attempted a landing 1.4 mile North of Sorye Dong but the first canoe came under fire as it beached and the force retired.
Lt Col F N Grant relieved Lt Col Drysdale on 15 October 1951 and moved up to the Islands soon afterwards. On 30 November B Tp, accompanied by the CO, embarked in the USS BASS. After a preliminary destroyer bombardment the Troop landed at 2300 on 2 December mid way between Songjin and Hungnam. Opposition was met on beaching and a corporal and two marines were wounded. The raiding party withdrew.
The following night B Tp made another landing 1/2 mile North of the privious night's target. (During the run in a train was seen moving along the line). Opposition was again encountered and the force again withdrew after a sergeant, corporal and two marines had been wounded by grenade fragments. The CO, TSM Dodds and the UDT under Lt Roman USN tried to plant some explosive to the North of the landing but a charge was dropped under the landing craft ramp. The craft got stuck and the party got clear just before the charge blew.
The force re-embarked and by 2100 on 4 December was back at Yo Do.
Meanwhile operations continued in Wonsan harbor: Desultory shelling, a typhoon, rescue of survivors from crashed aircraft. Rifle troops and HQ personnel were rotated through Sasebo. Tents were winterized and cold weather clothing issued in preparation for another winter in North Korea. Heavy seas made re-supply difficult.
At this stage the policy behind 41 Commando's raids was questioned. It was suggested the unit was wasting its time in Wonsan Harbor on defensive operations for which a Commando was inappropriate and that raids would become impracticable in winter.
In fact raids were carried out in the winter and more were planned in conjunction with some 800 ROK Marines who had been placed under Col Grant's command. These were not raids for raiding's sake but an effective means of tying down a quite disproportionate number of enemy forces who were forever conscious that a raid might be a prelude to a landing in strength by 1 Mar Div.
Col Grant had made some headway with the idea of "keeping the coast alive" using rocky landing techniques on headlands instead of the heavily guarded beaches, when the totally unexpected order came in late December 1951 for 41 Independent Commando to withdraw. One final canoe raid called "Operation Swansong" was carried out by Lt Walter and Sgt Dodds of D Tp who destroyed enemy craft at Changguok Hank two miles up the West coast of Hodo Pando.
On 22/23 December 41 Independent Commando handed over to the ROK Marine Corps and embarked for Sasebo.
DISBANDMENT AND CONCLUSIONS
It was decided that those who had served less than a year overseas should complete their foreign tours in 3 Commando Brigade and the remainder of 41 Independent Commando RM should return to the UK. The unit embarked in the troop ship SS Empire Orwell at Kure. The contingent destined for Malaya left at Singapore and the majority of the Commando continued to Southampton for an ecstatic welcome and a long train journey to Plymouth.
41 Independent Commando was formally disbanded on Stonehouse Barracks parade on 22 February 1952. The fortunate ones went on leave but 31 members of the unit never left Korean soil and it was not until mid 1954 that the 17 surviving Royal Marines prisoners of war were repatriated.
For the first time since the wars of religion prisoners had been subjected to psychological "interrogation" for ideological reasons: brainwashing. One Royal Marine, Marine Condron, elected to remain in China as the only British defector. Others showed great gallantry in resisting interrogation by all possible means. No one should condemn without themselves having experienced the four year ordeal for which none of the UN forces had at that time been prepared. Seven Royal Marines died in the grim conditions under which they were held.
What had 41 Independent Commando achieved in the over 18 months of its existence? The unit had made some 18 amphibious landings on the enemy coast. 11 of these had been directed against one of the major communist supply routes where, as the later raids showed, considerable forces were diverted from the main battle area for its protection. The enemy attached great importance to Wonsan which was a focal point for North/South, and lateral, road and rail traffic. 41 Commando's presence on the islands must have been a constant thorn in the communist flank.
Although so small a unit could make but little impact on the operations of the 1st US Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir, the effect on the morale of the hard pressed Marines, who were beginning to think they were "the only troops fighting this goddam war", was out of all proportion to the numbers involved. The comradeship and mutual respect engendered between the two Corps endures to this day.
New lessons were learned and many old ones re-learned, about raiding techniques and the command and control of amplibious operations. For the next 20 years the Corps was primarily to be engaged on anti terrorist duties during the withdrawal from Empire. Many of those who served in 41 Independent Commando were to attain high commissioned and non commisioned rank. Their operational experience became relevant to the Corps' present role in NATO.
41 Independent Commando made a small but significant contribution to the history of our Corps. This account is offered as a record of its activities and achievements and as a tribute to those who did not return.