Artillery in Perimeter Defense
* The U.S. IX Corps, near the center of the Korean peninsula, renewed an
attack on 21 April 1951 to seize a line running generally from Kumhwa to Hwachon
Reservoir. The corps included only two divisions at the time the U.S. 1st Marine
Division and a ROK division. The attack went well. Both divisions, meeting no
enemy opposition, gained about three miles. They encountered only scant
resistance after they jumped off again on the morning of 22 April. 
Front-line units advanced two more miles on the 22d. The enemy made little
effort to interfere although, late in the afternoon, artillery and air observers
reported an unusual amount of enemy movement north of the line. 
That night the Chinese struck back with their own 1951 spring offensive, a
full-scale attack, which they labeled the "First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive."
The Chinese limited their offensive to the western half of the front lines, the
eastern prong of which pointed directly at the IX Corps' ROK division. It
appeared that the Chinese had made it easy for IX Corps troops to advance so
that they, in turn, could launch their own attack when friendly forces were
extended and before they had a chance to dig in securely again. By 2000 enemy
soldiers were several thousand yards behind friendly lines and were firing on
artillery units that had displaced forward only that afternoon. Front lines
crumbled within an hour or two. Infantrymen poured back on the double. Artillery
units were forced to withdraw. 
The liaison officer from the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion to
one of the ROK regiments (Capt. Floyd C. Hines) radioed his battalion.
"Someone's pushed the panic button up here," he warned.
The battalion commander (Lt.Col. Leon F. Lavoie) received this message on his
jeep radio as he was on the way to Corps Artillery headquarters where he
intended to seek immediate engineer help to repair and maintain the precariously
narrow supply road. From other messages it was soon evident to Colonel Lavoie
that the Chinese had made a serious penetration of the lines. Stopping at the
first military installation he came to, he called IX Corps Artillery to report
the information he had on the front-line situation, and then, because the
emphasis had suddenly shifted from repairing the supply road to defending it, he
turned back to his own battalion.
The 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion, reinforcing the fires of both
divisions of the corps, had moved forward that afternoon to a point near the
boundary between the ROKs and marines, a little less than half way from
Chichon-ni to Sachang-ni. The road between these two villages, following a deep
river gorge, was exceedingly narrow. By 2130, when Colonel Lavoie got back to
his battalion, the road was jammed with vehicles and ROK infantrymen were moving
back pell-mell along both sides of it. Putting his entire battalion on a
man-battle-stations basis, Colonel Lavoie and his staff officers tried
desperately to collect stragglers and stop the withdrawal, but the momentum was
too great by the time the soldiers reached Colonel Lavoie's battalion and most
of them continued determinedly on. 
When morning came on 23 April the Chinese, in possession of a threemile-deep
corridor west of the 1st Marine Division, turned to attack the Marine left
flank. They completely overran one ROK artillery battalion and the 2d Rocket
Field Artillery Battery, both of which lost all equipment.  The 987th Armored
Field Artillery Battalion, partially overrun, lost some. 
Colonel Lavoie's 92d Field Artillery Battalion (a self-propelled 155-mm
howitzer unit) moved back battery by battery to a new position near the Pukhan
River south of Chichon-ni. Batteries registered as soon as they were laid.
Battery C, in position north of a trail-size road through the new battalion
position, placed its howitzers on the reverse slope of an incline that offered
defilade. Battery A and Headquarters Battery were in a rice paddy south of the
road with Battery A, 17th Field Artillery Battalion. Battery A of the 17th was
an 8-inch howitzer outfit temporarily attached to the 92d Field Artillery
Battalion to replace its own Battery B which, in turn, was attached to the 17th
Field Artillery Battalion.
Late in the afternoon the last howitzer was laid and ready to fire. The
general military situation was tense. The artillerymen, having had little sleep
during the past thirty-six hours, were tired, but immediately went to work
establishing their usual perimeter for the night. Colonel Lavoie, tall
and gentle almost to the point of shyness, insisted upon always having a
well-fortified perimeter. Even when smiling, as he usually was, he had a way of
being obdurately firm about the condition of the battalion perimeter, as he also
was about standards of performance. Convinced that his responsibility as an
artillery commander was to insure continuous artillery support to the infantry,
he also reasoned that the very time when the infantrymen would most urgently
need supporting artillery might well coincide with an enemy attack on his own
perimeter. Colonel Lavoie had therefore developed a standard defensive perimeter
that, from the outside toward the gun batteries in the center, consisted of
patrols covering neighboring terrain; outposts, usually centered around a
halftrack, for warning and delaying; a dug-in and fully manned main battle line
just beyond grenade range of the battalion's critical installations; and a
highly mobile reserve in the center. This reserve force usually was made up of
two or three halftracks with 8 or 10 men for each vehicle.
Colonel Lavoie's acting executive officer (Major Roy A. Tucker) set up the
perimeter on the afternoon of 23 April. Because of the limited time before
darkness, which came about 1745, the perimeter was not as elaborately developed
as usual, nor was there time to patrol nearby terrain. However, Major Tucker did
establish a complete system of security outposts with trip flares ahead of the
outposts, a complete telephone communication system, and a radio net as an
alternate means of communication. He had laid out the main battle line but only
a few positions were dug in at darkness. There was no defensive wire,
demolitions were not out, nor had the men dug in and sandbagged such critical
installations as the fire direction center and the communications center. These
tasks had a lower priority and usually waited until the second or third day of
the process of developing the battalion perimeter. 
Members of outpost detachments ate chow early and went to their halftracks or
ground-mounted machine-gun positions before dusk in order to be familiar with
their sectors of responsibility, fields of fire, and to check their
communications. Thereafter, except for relief detachments, no traffic was
allowed to the outposts or beyond the battalion perimeter. Colonel Lavoie wanted
security guards to heed and challenge all movement or activity. Four to eight
men manned each security outpost, half of them being on duty at a time. Colonel
Lavoie inspected the perimeter defenses just before dark, pointing out to his
men the Marine positions on the hill to the front. 
That night the battalion reinforced the fires of the 1st Marine Division.
Corps Artillery headquarters called about 2100 with instructions for the 92d
Field Artillery Battalion to prepare to remain in its present positions for
several days. Colonel Lavoie promptly called the 11th Marine Regiment (an
artillery unit) he was to reinforce and asked for further instructions. Wire
sections laid telephone lines to the 11th Marines, completing the job
at 2300. Midnight passed and all was quiet. At 0115 the Marine regiment
telephoned asking Colonel Lavoie to report immediately to its headquarters. When
Lavoie arrived there, the Marine commander outlined a new plan. The 1st Marine
Division, its entire left flank exposed, planned to withdraw soon after daylight
on 24 April. Colonel Lavoie was to keep his howitzers in firing position until
the last moment, but to be prepared to move at 0530. Battery A, 17th Field
Artillery Battalion, with its heavy, towed howitzers, was to leave at 0400.
At 0230 Colonel Lavoie returned to his command post. Although he was very
tired, he could not sleep and scarcely had time for it anyway. He reviewed the
displacement plan, being particularly concerned about getting the 8-inch
howitzers on the road at 0400. Battery commanders were called at 0315, and
Colonel Lavoie gave them the complete plan and order for the move. He instructed
his commanders to serve a hot breakfast.
The heavy howitzers moved out on schedule. At the same time guards were going
through the battalion area waking all personnel. Within a few minutes there was
the sound of trucks moving about and the usual commotion that goes with the job
of getting up, packing equipment, striking tents, and loading trucks all in the
Gun sections still manned the howitzers, firing harassing and interdiction
missions. The range had decreased during the night and the cannoneers were aware
of increased machine-gun activity on the hill mass in front of the
Breakfast was ready at 0445. Chow lines formed in all batteries.
First sign of daylight appeared ten or fifteen minutes after 0500. Most of
the men had finished breakfast. Most of the pyramidal tents, used because of
cool weather, were down. In Headquarters Battery only the command post and
kitchen tents were standing. In Battery A the kitchen tent was still up. The
communications system was still intact but commanders had pulled in most of
their outlying security installations. Equipment and personnel were just about
ready for march order.
Colonel Lavoie, having eaten an early breakfast, had just returned to the
mess tent where an attendant was pouring him a cup of coffee. Major Raymond F.
Hotopp (battalion S-3) prepared to leave on reconnaissance at 0530, placed his
personal belongings in his jeep and walked over to see whether the battalion
commander was ready. Capt. John F. Gerrity (commanding Battery A) was getting
into his jeep to join Colonel Lavoie on reconnaissance.
An unidentified artilleryman from Battery C, with a roll of toilet paper in
his hand, walked toward the cemetery in front of the howitzers. As he approached
the mounds in the graveyard, he saw several Chinese crawling on their bellies
toward his battery. Startled, he yelled, threw the toilet paper at an enemy
soldier, turned, and ran. The Chinese soldier ducked involuntarily. At that
moment, someone tripped a flare outside the perimeter. Capt.
Bernard G. Raftery (commanding Battery C) looked at his watch. It was
Machine guns opened fire. At first many thought someone had accidentally
tripped a machine gun, since the marines were supposed to be in front of the
artillery positions. But when the firing increased there was no more doubt. Men
in the mess line scattered for cover. Major Hotopp dropped to the ground and
dived under a halftrack. SFC Charles R. Linder (chief of section), warming his
feet over the running "tank" motor,  jumped off and took cover behind the
vehicle. Most of the men took cover wherever it was most quickly available.
Colonel Lavoie saw a bullet hole suddenly appear in the side of the mess
tent. He ran outside. "Man battle stations!" he yelled, "Man battle stations!"
and headed for his command post tent to get into communication with his battery
Captain Raftery looked at Lt. Joseph N. Hearin (Battery C executive). "This
is it!" he said, scrambling to his feet. "Let's go!" He and Hearin got out of
their command post tent at the same time.
SFC George T. Powell (Battery C chief of detail), anxious about some new men
who had never seen combat, took off toward their section of the main battle
line. When he arrived at the nearest halftracks, he found his men already
manning the machine guns. Several others were setting up a machine gun on a
ground mount. No longer anxious, Powell relaxed and began to enjoy the battle.
Several other friendly machine guns were already in action.
SFC Willis V. Ruble, Jr. (Headquarters Battery motor sergeant), who at first
thought the noise was caused by someone throwing wads of ammunition into the
fire, ran for a halftrack and unzipped the canvas cover on a caliber .50 machine
gun while several slugs whistled past, and he then looked about for a target. He
saw four or five persons in the field in front of Battery A's positions. They
were wearing dirty white civilian clothes and Ruble thought they were South
Koreans until he saw one of them carrying a rifle. He fired three short bursts,
knocked one of them down, spun another one around. Just then he noticed flashes
on the hill in front. Figuring that the small-arms fire could take care of the
enemy troops close in, Ruble turned his machine gun toward the distant
SFC James R. White (Battery A) remembered only being at a machine gun on a
halftrack but did not know how he got there. By this time, a minute or two after
the first shot had been fired, enemy fire was so intense that tracer bullets
formed a thin red arch between the battalion's position and Hill 200, from which
most of the enemy long-range fire came. The ammunition belt in White's machine
gun was crossed. White was shaking so badly that he could not get it
straightened, and he was afraid to expose himself above the ring mount. After a
bit, he stood up, straightened the belt, and began firing.
The battalion executive officer (Major Tucker), who had started out to
inspect the perimeter soon after the firing commenced, opened the rear door of
White's halftrack and cautioned him and several other men in the vehicle to pick
targets before firing. White then waited until he saw the location of the enemy
machine guns before he fired. Visually following the tracers back toward the
hill, White was able to locate an enemy emplacement. He opened fire again. He
could see his own tracers hitting the hill, so he walked his fire in on the
enemy position, then held it there until his belt gave out. White then reloaded
his gun with a fresh belt (105 rounds) but did not fire at once. The man firing
the caliber .30 machine gun on the same halftrack was playing it cool; he was
firing in short bursts at enemy in a field across the road.
Within ten minutes or less the exchange of fire had become a noisy roar.
Enemy bullets cut up the telephone wires that were strung overhead, forcing the
battalion to rely on its radios.
Captain Raftery stood in the middle of Battery C's area trying to determine
enemy intentions. The bulk of enemy fire against the battery appeared to be
coming from Hill 200, where Raftery estimated there were six machine-gun
emplacements, which the Chinese had reached by old communication trenches. As
these entrenched troops acted as a base of fire, enemy riflemen took concealed
positions in the cemetery while others, armed only with hand grenades, crawled
toward the howitzers. Captain Raftery thought the Chinese were concentrating on
his No. 5 howitzer the most vulnerable because of its forward position. Enemy
fire in that area was so intense that the artillerymen could not man the machine
guns on the nearest halftrack. Deciding that the enemy was trying to knock out
one howitzer and blow up the powder and ammunition for psychological effect, he
called the chief of No. 5 howitzer section and instructed him to pull his "tank"
back into defilade and on line with Nos. 4 and 6.
Behind the No. 4 howitzer, Lieutenant Hearin tried to see what the men were
shooting at. Flashes on the hill were 600 to 1,000 yards away, and it seemed
unusual that the enemy would attack from so far. He looked for enemy elements
coming in under the base of fire. Suddenly he noticed men of the battery running
from the No. 5 to the No. 6 howitzer. Several feet behind them, grenades were
Jumping on a halftrack, Hearin swung the caliber .so machine gun around and
shot a Chinese grenadier who was crawling up on the No. 5 piece. A couple of
other machine-gunners swung their guns to help Hearin and, among them, they shot
a half dozen enemy attempting to destroy the No. 5 howitzer.
Under cover of this fire, Sgt. Theral J. Hatley (chief of section) ran
forward and backed his vehicle out of immediate reach of the enemy grenadiers,
crushing one who lay concealed underneath.
After the initial scramble to their positions, Colonel Lavoie's men
settled down to returning the fire with enthusiasm. Having staged so many
"dry runs," the battalion commander was pleased to see the results of the
practice. The firing, however, was getting out of hand and although there was
plenty of ammunition and more at Service Battery's position three miles away,
Colonel Lavoie feared that they were experiencing only an initial attack
calculated to pin them down while a larger force maneuvered from the west to
seal the river defile and destroy the only bridge over the Pukhan. As soon as
his executive officer returned from checking defensive positions, Colonel Lavoie
changed places with him and set out to inspect the battle line. He wanted to see
for himself the positions and the trend of the action, to be seen by the men for
whatever effect that might have upon their morale, and to persuade the men to
stop aimless and unnecessary firing. He sought out his three battery
"You must control and limit your fire to specific targets," Lavoie told
them. "Make every bullet count."
Captain Raftery, who thought his Battery C was under the heaviest enemy fire,
defended his men and their volume of fire. "Sir," he answered, "Battery C has
Chinks all through its area"
"Are they dead or alive?"
"Both," said Raftery.
"Well, don't worry about the dead ones," Colonel Lavoie told him; "just
take care of the live ones and make every bullet count."
Lavoie continued around the perimeter. He opened the rear doors on the
halftracks and crawled up to talk with the machine gunners to ask them to
cooperate in firing only at specific targets, and to tell them how successfully
the battalion was holding off the Chinese.
One man told him he'd better get down. "It's dangerous up here," he
explained. Others, reassured, only grinned.
On two occasions Lavoie found groups of two or three men huddled in the bed
of a halftrack. He told them to get out and help: "I'm scared too. There's
nothing wrong with being scared as long as you do your part." Ashamed, they
promptly returned to their proper positions.
In Battery A's area, enemy fire was coming in from Hill 454 on the leftfront
as well as from Hill 200. Enemy snipers behind piles of rubble and rock were
also firing from the field directly in front of Battery A. There was no haze and
the artillerymen could clearly see enemy soldiers on the hills a thousand yards
Returning to his command post, Colonel Lavoie received a radio message from
the Marine regimental headquarters objecting to excessive firing and ordering
the artillerymen to cease fire.
"You're firing on friendly troops," the officer complained.
"Those friendly troops," Colonel Lavoie argued, "are inflicting casualties
on my battalion."
While Lavoie was explaining the situation to the Marine commander,
Major Tucker, made another round of the defensive position, rallying the men.
The exchange of fire was still brisk, but the artillerymen appeared to be
holding their own well and had recovered from their impulse to fire just to make
Having persuaded the marines that his artillerymen had not been seized by
panic, Colonel Lavoie called Battery A by radio and said he wanted to talk with
Captain Gerrity. When the latter reached the command post tent, Colonel Lavoie
instructed him to shift his battery howitzer by howitzer several hundred yards
to the east, thereby reducing the size of the perimeter. When the battery of
8-inch howitzers had pulled out at 0400 it left a gap in the perimeter and also
left Gerrity's battery vulnerable to an attack from the west, from which
direction the battalion commander still thought the Chinese would probably make
a larger attack designed to overrun his position. Gerrity called his battery by
radio and gave it the code word for "close station and march order."
While the two officers, both of them lying on the ground near the radio and
in front of the tent, were still talking, Colonel Lavoie spotted two enemy
machine guns that were firing a high ratio of tracer bullets into the
battalion's position. Pointing them out to Captain Gerrity, he asked him to take
them under direct fire with his 155-mm howitzers. Gerrity took off toward his
Bullets were still ricocheting against the "tanks" and halftracks when the
close-station order reached Battery A. Captain Gerrity had given the order only
to alert his men for the 300- or 400-yard shift. The artillerymen were reluctant
to move and expose themselves to enemy fire while they cranked up the spades and
prepared to move. Sergeant White, firing a machine gun from a halftrack, stood
up, exposing himself completely, and shouted instructions at the men. Every man
jumped to his job, and within a few minutes the battery was ready to move. It
was about 0545 twenty-five minutes after the enemy first attacked.
Captain Gerrity, out of breath from running, returned to his battery just as
the vehicles were ready to move. He shouted orders for the firing mission, the
artillerymen dropped trails again and opened fire on the machine guns Colonel
Lavoie had seen. The range was a thousand yards or less. After a few rounds one
howitzer made a direct hit. Colonel Lavoie saw fragments of Chinese soldiers
thrown twenty feet or higher in the air. Eight or ten Chinese soldiers suddenly
appeared running from a trench about a hundred yards away from the last
explosion. Several machine guns immediately swung toward them and killed three
or four. Having destroyed the two machine guns, Battery A completed its
displacement, tightening up the perimeter.
MSgt. John D. Elder appeared at the command post tent to get instructions for
moving ammunition trucks from Service Battery. He wanted to know if Colonel
Lavoie still planned to move.
"We were going to move," answered the Colonel, "but now we'll wait until we
secure this position."
Colonel Lavoie set out to make another round of his defensive positions. His
indifference to the enemy fire was a steadying influence. As he walked through
the area, talking with the men and cautioning them to conserve ammunition, he
noticed a great change in his troops. Over their initial scare, they now
appeared to be enjoying themselves. A great deal of enemy fire continued to come
into the area even though Chinese machine guns seemed subdued by this time, but
the men no longer hesitated to expose themselves in order to fire their weapons
effectively. Realizing that they were holding their own and winning, they had
lost the fear and uneasiness Colonel Lavoie had seen on his first trip around
the area. It had been replaced by a cocky sort of confidence.
A young artilleryman, usually shy, spotted a small group of Chinese crawling
through weeds toward the fire direction center tent. "Look at them sons of
bitches," he said. "They think they're going to make it." Standing up he aimed
and fired. "I got one!" he exclaimed. Several other men began firing at the same
group and soon destroyed it. 
Several Marine tanks rumbled down the road. No one had asked for help but the
Marine commander sent them over to clean out the area in front of the battalion.
Taking up positions north of the road and in front of Battery A, they blasted
the hills and raked the field with machine-gun fire. Several artillerymen left
their positions and set out "looking for Chinks."
Sgt. Austin E. Roberts (machine-gun sergeant) organized ten men and walked
across the road toward the northwest. After they had gone only a few yards, a
Chinese jumped up in front of them. One of Roberts's men fired, hitting an
American Thompson submachine gun the enemy was carrying. The Chinese dropped it
and held up his hand.
Roberts shouted "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" and then sent his prisoner,
guarded by two artillerymen, to battalion headquarters.
The remaining eight men, working with the tanks, went on across the field
examining each hole and clearing the area for four hundred yards. They found no
more enemy soldiers.
In the meantime, the Marine regiment that the 92d Field Artillery Battalion
was supporting called a fire mission. Colonel Lavoie assigned it to Battery C,
instructing the battery to transfer its radio to the Marine channel so it could
receive the mission direct.
Captain Raftery's howitzers were engaged in delivering direct fire against
nearby hills. Leaving one to continue with that mission, he relaid the other
five howitzers to support the marines. This was the first "live" mission that
morning, although the entire battalion had been firing harassing and
interdiction missions before the enemy attack. Raftery then organized about
twenty men into a skirmish line to cross the battery front. Moving through
the cemetery and beyond, the force killed seven Chinese and
captured one who had to be pulled out of his hole. The Marine tanks killed
several others who attempted to escape back to the high ground.
Capt. Albert D. Bessler (S-2), annoyed by persistent small-arms fire striking
near the fire direction center tent, decided a sniper with scope must be firing
from behind a pile of stones in a nearby field. He took a halftrack and
investigated. Several minutes later he returned with two M1 rifles fitted with
scopes. "Got two of them," he boasted.
A light aircraft overhead reported into the battalion radio net and asked if
it could be of assistance. Colonel Lavoie, still apprehensive of an enemy attack
from the west, requested the pilot to check the valley in that direction. The
aircraft pilot reported that he saw no enemy build-up, but that two groups of 25
or 30 enemy each were in a draw near the base of the hills. Lavoie destroyed
these groups with artillery fire.
By 0730 the situation permitted displacement of the batteries. The battalion
suffered 4 men killed and 11 wounded during the action. It lost no equipment.
Marine units later reported finding 179 enemy dead in the area around the
battalion perimeter, all presumedly killed during the attack.
Colonel Lavoie was pleased with the performance of his men. The artillerymen
shared a new feeling of confidence and pride. They had proved they could defend
"Artillery," the Colonel said, "if it makes up its mind, will set itself up
so that it can defend itself from enemy infantry action."
There is no doubt that on 24 April 1951, the 92d Armored Field Artillery
Battalion acquitted itself with great honor. For the military student the
question is: Why? Part of the answer is found in the narrative. Good leadership
is evident at all echelons leadership based on knowledge and experience that
inspired confidence and promoted cooperation. With each man accepting his share
of duty the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion could not be made to panic.
Individuals responded with the initiative of free men who know discipline
Although it is not mentioned in the narrative, Colonel Lavoie had, at the
time of this action, commanded the battalion for about twenty months. He had
trained it, and now he would fight it. Training will make or break an
organization. Only by setting and maintaining high standards of performance
during training can a commander expect similar standards in combat. It should be
noted when estimating the state of training of the 92d Armored Field Artillery
Battalion that the narrative does not once mention a weapon's jamming.
Standing operating procedures come from training. When not carried to a
mechanical extreme they save time and help to minimize oversights.
Because Colonel Lavoie had insisted in training that the 92d habitually fire
from a defensive perimeter, its occupation and organization of position on 23
April went smoothly. It was not a new maneuver it was SOP.
- IX Corps: command report, April 1951 (narrative section).
- 92d Armored FA Battalion: command report, April 1951 (narrative section).
- 92d Armored FA Battalion: command report, April 1951.
- 92d Armored FA Battalion: S-3 journal, entry 2045, 22 April 1951.
- Unless otherwise cited, this narrative is based upon "Artillery in
Perimeter Defense," an account prepared in Korea by Capt. Martin Blumenson, on
file in OCMH.
- Department of Training Publications and Aids, The Artillery School:
Debriefing Report 52 (Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 15 March 1952).
- Lt.Col. Leon F. Lavoie, letter to OCMH, 12 January 1952.
- Men of field artillery battalions styled their self-propelled howitzers
- The Artillery School, op. cit.