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History  Bert '53  On Line

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Operation RIPPER

RIPPER operation, line Idaho, was anchored in the west on the Han River eight miles east of Seoul. From that point it looped steeply northeastward through the eastern third of the I Corps zone and almost to the 38th parallel in the IX Corps' central zone, then fell off gently southeastward across the X Corps and South Korean zones to Hap'yong-dong, an east coast town six miles north of Kangnung. Since line Idaho traced a deep salient into enemy territory, a successful advance to it would carry the Eighth Army, in particular the IX Corps in the center, into an area believed to hold a large concentration of enemy forces and supplies.1

Prize terrain objectives in the central zone were the towns of Hongch'on and Ch'unch'on. (Map 26) Both were roads hubs, and Ch'unch'on, nearer the 38th parallel, appeared to be an important enemy supply center. In the major RIPPER effort, the IX Corps, now commanded by Maj. Gen. William M. Hoge, was to seize the two towns as it moved some thirty miles north to the deepest point of the Idaho salient.2 The 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, currently undergoing refresher training at Taegu, was to assist the IX Corps attack should an opportunity arise to employ airborne tactics profitably.3

To General Hoge's right, the X Corps was to move to a segment of line Idaho whose most northerly point lay about twenty miles above the present corps front. (Map 27) In clearing enemy forces from this territory, General Almond was to pay particular attention to the two principal northsouth corridors in his zone, one traced by the Soksa-ri-Pangnim-ni segment of Route 20 at the corps right, the other by a lesser road running south out of P'ungam-ni in the left third of the corps zone.4

Map 26. Operation RIPPER, Western Front, 6-31 March 1951

Responsibility for the remaining ground to the east was once again divided between the ROK III and ROK I Corps. Believing that the South Korean sector needed to be strengthened, particularly after the Capital Division lost almost a thousand men in the ambush at Soksa-ri on 3 March, General Ridgway had detached the ROK I Corps headquarters and the ROK 3d Division from the X Corps, sending the division to rejoin the ROK III Corps and reestablishing the ROK I Corps with the ROK 9th and Capital Divisions in the coastal zone. The ROK 5th Division, having reorganized after being hurt in the enemy's mid-February offensive, meanwhile rejoined the X Corps.5

During the RIPPER advance the two South Korean corps were to secure Route 20. In the coastal area, ROK I Corps forces already were well above this lateral road-in fact, were already on or above line Idaho. Inland, the ROK III Corps would have to move about ten miles north through the higher Taebaek ridges to get onto the Idaho trace some five miles above Route 20.6

In the I Corps zone at the west end of the army front, General Milburn was to retain two divisions, the ROK 1st and U.S. 3d, in his western and central positions along the lower bank of the Han to secure the army flank and protect Inch'on, where five hundred to six hundred tons of supplies were being unloaded daily thanks to Task Force 90 and the 2d Engineer Special Brigade. East of Seoul on the corps right, the 25th Division, now commanded by Brig. Gen. J. Sladen Bradley, was to attack across the Han on both sides of its confluence with the southward flowing Pukhan River. Above the Han, General Bradley's division was to clear the high ground bordering the Pukhan to protect the left flank of the IX Corps and to threaten envelopment of enemy forces defending Seoul.7

Except in the South Korean corps zone in the east, where the shortest advances were scheduled, the RIPPER attack was to be made through a succession of phase lines. The first of these, line Albany, lay five to twelve miles ahead of the I, IX, and X Corps. This line traced commanding ground that in the IX Corps zone dominated Hongch'on, six miles farther north. The second line, Buffalo, lay ahead of the I and IX Corps only. A 25th Division advance to this line in the I Corps zone would enlarge the envelopment threat to enemy forces defending the Seoul area. In the IX Corps zone, the main objective would be Hongch'on. The last phase line, Cairo, applied only to the IX Corps. Its seizure would give General Hoge the approaches to Ch'unch'on, and Ch'unch'on itself would be Hoge's objective in the final drive to line Idaho.8

Map 27. Operation RIPPER, Eastern Front, 6-31 March 1951

General Ridgway made a strong bid to secure preparations for the advance. He began by restricting access to plans and orders within his command. To forestall a premature press release, he personally briefed newsmen on the RIPPER concept on 6 March, then pressed them not to disclose anything about the operation for forty-eight hours.9 Following through on his earlier decision to discourage General MacArthur's publicized visits to Korea lest they alert the enemy to impending operations, he also sent MacArthur a carefully worded message explaining the danger and urging him to postpone coming to Korea until Operation RIPPER was well under way.10

MacArthur flew to Korea on the opening day of the RIPPER advance but in line with Ridgway's request timed his arrival at Suwon airfield for late in the morning, several hours after the initial assaults. Returning to the field in midafternoon after an inspection of the IX Corps zone, MacArthur opened a press conference with an announcement that UNC operations were progressing satisfactorily. But "there should be no illusions in this matter," he continued. "Assuming no diminution of the enemy's flow of ground forces and materiel to the Korean battle area, a continuation of the existing limitation upon our freedom of counter-offensive action, and no major additions to our organizational strength, the battle lines cannot fail in time to reach a point of theoretical stalemate."11

Implicit in his words, which some referred to as MacArthur's "Die for Tie" statement, was an objection to the positions previously taken in Washington that denied MacArthur substantial troop reinforcement and prevented him from carrying the war into China.12 In his own view, as he would write later, "a great nation which enters upon war and does not see it through to victory will ultimately suffer all the consequences of defeat."13 Having indicated that under present circumstances he could not lead the United Nation Command to victory, MacArthur, in concluding his Suwon statement, insisted that "vital decisions have yet to be made-decisions far beyond the scope of the authority vested in me as the military commander."14

Deliberations toward an important decision were currently under way in Washington, but not in the direction of MacArthur's viewpoint. No one in Washington disputed MacArthur's prediction that a stalemate could develop out of the conditions obtaining. But a military victory, because of the commitments and risks an attempt to achieve it would entail, was no longer considered a practical objective. The preferred course- preferred because it would be consistent with the greater strategy and ongoing preparations against the possibility of world war- was to seek a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of Korean issues. Such a course of action was under study in the Department of State and Department of Defense. Exactly how to go about achieving the desired ends remained undecided at the opening of Operation RIPPER, but there was general agreement that an attempt to achieve them might best be made after the Eighth Army had driven enemy forces above the 38th parallel.15

Concerned that MacArthur's prediction of a stalemate might hurt operations by giving Eighth Army forces the impression that their best efforts would nevertheless be futile, General Ridgway put his own, and somewhat different, view on public record on 12 March. Calling a press conference at his new tactical command post, established on the 10th in Yoju so that it would be more centrally located, he told newsmen that regaining the 38th parallel would be a "tremendous victory" for the Eighth Army. It would mean that the encroachment of communism in Korea had been stopped-exactly what the U.N. Command had set out to accomplish. (In January he had made this same point in his "What Are We Fighting For" statement to his troops.) Conversely, if the Chinese failed to drive the U.N. Command out of Korea, they would have "failed monumentally." In any case, he emphasized, "we didn't set out to conquer China."16

The Advance to Line Albany

The opening phase of Operation RIPPER gave promise that the Eighth Army might reach its final ground objectives almost by enemy default. Employing only a delaying action by small forces, the Chinese and North Korean line units frequently offered stubborn resistance, including local counterattacks, but more frequently opposed approaching Eighth Army forces at long range, then withdrew.17

25th Infantry Division Tanks Cross the Han River
25th Infantry Division Tanks Cross the Han River

In the I Corps zone, the 25th Division made a model crossing of the Han before daylight on 7 March. Attacking with three regiments abreast following heavy preparatory fires on the northern bank of the river and in company with simulated crossings by other corps forces, the division reached the northern shore almost unopposed. Joined quickly by tanks that forded or were ferried across the river, and helped by good close air support after daybreak, the assault battalions pushed through moderate resistance, much of it in the form of small arms, machine gun, and mortar fire and a profusion of well placed antitank and antipersonnel mines, for first-day gains of one to two miles.18

Averaging similar daily gains against opposition that faded after 10 March, General Bradley's three regiments reached line Albany between the 11th and 13th. The 35th Infantry, first to reach the phase line, cleared a narrow zone on the east side of the Pukhan River. On the west side the 24th Infantry and 27th Infantry occupied heights in the Yebong Mountain mass within two to three miles of the Seoul-Ch'unch'on road and on line with the northern outskirts of Seoul to the west.19

In the main attack, the IX Corps advanced four divisions abreast. In a wide zone at the corps left the 24th Division attacked through the Yongmun Mountain mass, while in narrower zones in the eastern half of the corps area the 1st Cavalry, ROK 6th, and 1st Marine Divisions moved toward Hongch'on. Advancing steadily against light to moderate resistance, all but the ROK 6th Division, which the cavalrymen and marines on either side gradually pinched out, were on line Albany by dark on 12 March.20

Accompanying forces of the 1st Marine Division attacking astride Route 29 above Hoengsong was a recovery team from the 2d Infantry Division detailed to search for the bodies of men and the equipment lost in that area by division forces who had been supporting the X Corps' ROUNDUP operation when the Chinese attacked in mid-February. By 12 March the team recovered more than two hundred fifty bodies, mostly of men who had been members of Support Force 21, and retrieved the five 155-mm. howitzers left behind when the support force withdrew. (The air strikes the support force commander had requested on the abandoned weapons either had not been flown or had not found their targets.) The team also retrieved the six M-5 tractors left behind by the support force artillery, evacuated four of the six tanks that had been lost, and recovered a number of damaged trucks that were of value at least for spare parts.21

In the X Corps zone, the 2d, ROK 5th, and 7th Divisions advanced abreast, the 2d moving through the P'ungam-ni corridor on the left, the 7th along Route 20 on the right, and the ROK 5th over the ridges in the center. In a well fought delaying action, North Korean forces kept gains short until 11 March, when they began to withdraw above the Albany line. Against the diminishing resistance, the 2d and 7th Divisions each placed a regiment on the phase line on 13 March. At corps center, the ROK 5th Division reached the line on the following day.22

Immediately east, the ROK III Corps reached and at some points passed above Route 20 by dark on 13 March. With forces already well above line Idaho in the coastal zone, the ROK I Corps meanwhile made only minor adjustments to consolidate its forward positions. As of the 13th, a regiment of the ROK 9th Division and two regiments of the Capital Division occupied a line reaching northeastward from the Hwangbyong Mountain area to the coast near the town of Chumunjin.23

A problem meanwhile had arisen in rear of the ROK I Corps when the North Korean 10th Division, isolated behind Eighth Army lines since January, opened a bid to return to its own lines. Though much reduced by attempts of the 1st Marine Division until midFebruary and the ROK 2d Division thereafter to destroy the enemy unit in the P'ohang-dong-Andong-Yongdok area, the division had maintained a formal organization of a headquarters and three regiments and with a surviving strength of about two thousand had managed by the opening of Operation RIPPER to slip north through the Taebaeks to the Irwol Mountain region, thirty miles northeast of Andong. Easily withstanding further efforts of the ROK 2d Division to eliminate it, the division by 13 March reached the Chungbong Mountain area, about twenty-five miles south of Kangnung. As the North Korean unit approached the ROK I Corps rear, General Kim sent two regiments of the ROK 9th Division and a battalion of the Capital Division south to intercept it. The two forces clashed briefly in the Chungbong heights on the morning of the 13th to open what would become a cat-and-mouse affair lasting ten days.24

The Enemy Buildup

During the evening of the 13th General Ridgway ordered the next phase of the RIPPER advance to begin the following morning. On the west, the 25th Division was to advance toward a segment of line Buffalo bulging four miles above the Seoul-Ch'unch'on road in a zone confined to the west side of the Pukhan River. In the main attack, the IX Corps was to make its major effort in the right half of the corps zone, sending the 1st Cavalry and 1st Marine Divisions to clear Hongch'on and then to occupy line Buffalo above town to block Route 29 leading northwest to Ch'unch'on and Route 24 running through the Hongch'on River valley to the northeast. Only short advances were required in the western half of the IX Corps zone, by the 24th Division at the left in conjunction with the I Corps advance and by the ROK 6th Division at the right to protect the flank of the forces attacking Hongch'on. To the east, the X Corps and ROK III Corps were to continue toward line Idaho while, on the flank, the ROK I Corps had only to maintain its forward positions in the coastal slopes while other corps forces concentrated on eliminating the North Korean 10th Division.25

Against the continued advance, according to estimates prepared by the army G2 as the initial RIPPER phase concluded, the Chinese delaying forces backing away from the 25th Division and the four divisions of the IX Corps were expected to join their parent units in defenses in the next good system of high ground to the north located generally on an east-west line through Hongch'on. Presenting something of a barrier to this ground in the IX Corps zone was the Hongch'on River, which flowed into the zone from the northeast to a bend below Hongch'on town, then meandered west to empty into the Pukhan. Colonel Tarkenton expected the North Korean forces in the higher ridges to the east to withdraw to positions on line with those of the Chinese in the IX Corps zone but did not expect the North Koreans defending Seoul and the ground west of the city, all of whom were outside the zone of the RIPPER advance, to abandon their positions along the Han. Tarkenton also believed that enemy forces were now prepared, or nearly so, to make some form of strong counter effort and that they well might open it out of the Hongch'on area when Ridgway's forces arrived in that region.26 But on this count, as well as in his estimate of enemy defensive plans, the continuation of Operation RIPPER would prove Colonel Tarkenton in error.

The evidence of an enemy buildup collected by the army intelligence staff was nonetheless valid. At the same time, it was incomplete and off the mark in the identification and location of units. To begin with, what the intelligence staff had reported in mid-February as the entry of seven new Chinese armies into Korea was largely the return of the three North Korean corps and nine divisions that had withdrawn into Manchuria for reorganization and retraining the past autumn. Beginning in January, the North Korean VI Corps, with the 18th, 19th, and 36th Divisions, crossed the Yalu at Ch'ongsongjin, thirty miles northeast of Sinuiju. Avoiding Route I in favor of lesser roads nearby, corps commander Lt. Gen. Choe Yong Jin took his divisions south into Hwanghae Province and assembled them in the Namch'onjom-Yonan area northwest of Seoul. On arriving there in mid-February, General Choe assumed command of the North Korean 23d Brigade previously stationed in the area to defend the Haeju sector of the Yellow Sea coast.27

Eighth Army intelligence identified and caught the southward movement of the VI Corps by 1 March but remained in the dark, even at midmonth, about the reentry of the North Korean VII and VIII Corps. Crossing the Yalu at Sinuiju in January, the VII Corps, with the 13th, 32d, and 37th Divisions, proceeded across Korea in a drawn out series of independent movements by subordinate units to the Wonsan area, closing there by the end of February. In the same time the VIII Corps, with the 42d, 45th, and 46th Divisions, reentered Korea at Manp'ojin and, without the 45th Division, moved across the peninsula to the Hungnam area. The 45th Division proceeded to Inje, just above the 38th parallel in eastern Korea, to join the North Korean Ill Corps as a replacement for the 3d Division, which the Ill Corps had left in the Wonsan area when it moved to the front.28

Once in Wonsan, VII Corps commander Lt. Gen. Lee Yong Ho assumed command of the 3d Division and also the 24th Division, which was defending the coast in that area. Similarly, on arriving in Hungnam with two divisions, Lt. Gen. Kim Chang Dok, commander of the VIII Corps, accumulated two other units already in the vicinity, the 41st Division and 63d Brigade. Thus, by the beginning of March North Korean reserves in the Hungnam-Wonsan area totaled two corps with eight divisions and a brigade. As late as the middle of the month Ridgway's intelligence staff was aware only of the two divisions and brigade that had been in the region for some time.29

Besides the recently arrived VI Corps, North Korean reserves in western North Korea included the IV Corps, whose location and composition Eighth Army intelligence at mid-March had yet to discover. Operating in northeastern Korea until late December, the headquarters of the IV Corps had then moved west to the P'yongyang area. Since that time, under the command of Lt. Gen. Pak Chong Kok and operating with the 4th, 5th, and 105th Tank Divisions and the 26th Brigade, the corps had had the mission of defending the Yellow Sea coast between Chinnamp'o and Sinanju.30

With the return of forces from Manchuria, North Korean reserves by early March altogether numbered four corps, fourteen divisions, and three brigades. These and the units at the front, including the 10th Division currently attempting to return to its own lines, gave the North Korean People's Army an organization of eight corps, twenty-seven divisions, and four brigades. This force was not nearly so strong as its numerous units would indicate. Most divisions were understrength, and many of those recently reconstituted were scarcely battle worthy. Before March was out, in fact, two divisions, the 41st and 42d, would be broken up to provide replacements for others. Nevertheless, the army had recovered measurably from its depleted condition in early autumn of 1950.31

There was also fresh leadership in the North Korean People's Army high command. In a recent change, Lt. Gen. Nam Il replaced General Lee as chief of staff. General Nam, about forty years old, had a background of college and military training in the Soviet Union and World War II service as a company grade officer in the Soviet Army. A close associate of Premier Kim, Nam had a solid political, if not military, foundation for his new post. Nam's headquarters was in P'yongyang, where in December General Lee had reassembled the General Headquarters staff from Manchuria and Kanggye.32

Front Headquarters, the tactical echelon of General Headquarters, was again in operation (apparently in the town of Kumhwa, located in central Korea some thirty miles north of Ch'unch'on). General Kim Chaek, the original commander of this forward headquarters, had died in February. Now in command was Lt. Gen. Kim Ung, who during World War II had served with the Chinese 8th Route Army in north China and more recently had led the North Korean I Corps in the main attack during the initial invasion of South Korea. A solid tactician, he was currently the ablest North Korean People's Army field commander.33

Lt. Gen. Nam Il
Lt. Gen. Nam Il

Peng Teh-huai
Peng Teh-huai

The Chinese forces in Korea also were under new leadership. In either January or February Peng Teh-huai had replaced Lin Piao as commander of the Chinese People's Volunteers.34 In company with the change in command, a surge of fresh Chinese units from Manchuria had begun. During the last two weeks of February the XIX Army Group, with the 63d, 64th, and 65th Armies, crossed into Korea at Sinuiju, and during the first half of March the group commander, Yang Tehchih, assembled his forces not far above the 38th parallel northwest of Seoul in the Kumch'on-Kuhwa-ri area between the Yesong and Imjin rivers. Also entering in late February were the 9th Independent Artillery Regiment and the 11th Artillery Regiment of the 7th Motorized Artillery Division.35

As these forces entered, the IX Army Group, which had been seriously hurt in the Changjin Reservoir engagement and which now had been out of action for two months, was well along in refurbishing its three armies, the 20th, 26th, and 27th. At the time of this group's entry into Korea, each of its armies had been reinforced by a fourth division. The extra divisions had been inactivated, and their troops were being distributed as replacements among the remaining units. By 1 March the 26th Army had begun to move into an area near the 38th parallel behind the central sector of the front. The Eighth Army intelligence staff quickly picked up the move of the 26th, but even at mid-March the staff had only a few reports- which it did not accept- that any part of the XIX Army Group had entered Korea.36

As part of the buildup, four armies of the XIII Army Group, all in need of restoration, were replaced at the front during the first half of March. By the 10th, the 26th Army moved southwest out of its central reserve location to relieve the 38th and 50th Armies, which had been opposing the 25th Division and 24th Division. Upon relief, the 38th withdrew to the Sukch'on area, north of P'yongyang, where it came under the control of Headquarters, Chinese People's Volunteers. The 50th returned to Manchuria, reaching An-tung by the end of the month.37

The 39th and 40th Armies, which had left the line before the start of the RIPPER operation and had assembled in the Hongch'on area, meanwhile began relieving the 42d and 66th Armies in the central sector, completing relief on or about 14 March. On being replaced, the 42d moved north to Yangdok, midway between P'yongyang and Wonsan, for reorganization and resupply. Like the 38th, the 42d also passed to Headquarters, Chinese People's Volunteers, control. The 66th had seen its last day of battle in Korea. En route to Hopei Province, its home base in China, the army paraded through An-tung, Manchuria, on 2 April.38

As these frontline changes were made, another complement of fresh Chinese forces began entering Korea. First to enter in March was the independent 47th Army, commanded by Chang Tien-yun. The army was assigned to the XIII Army Group but not given a combat mission. Its divisions, the 139th, 140th, and 141st, were sent to the area above P'yongyang to construct airfields at Sunan, Sunch'on, and Namyang-ni, respectively. Coming into Korea at the same time was the 5th Artillery Division, which because of its means of transportation was known also as the "Mule Division." This unit, too, was assigned to the XIII Army Group.39

Following these units into Korea was a far larger force, the III Army Group, with the 12th, 15th, and 60th Armies. At mid-March this group was still in the process of entering the peninsula and assembling in the Koksan-Sin'ggye-Ich'on region north of the area occupied by the newly arrived XIX Army Group. The final force due to enter Korea in March made up the bulk of the 2d Motorized Artillery Division. Entering late in the month, the division would join its 29th Regiment already in Korea.40

When all Chinese movements in March were completed, the strength of the Chinese People's Volunteers would have risen to four army groups with fourteen armies and forty-two divisions, these supported by four artillery divisions and two separate artillery regiments. As sensed by Eighth Army intelligence, the buildup was in preparation for an offensive. But the offensive would not originate in the Hongch'on area, as Colonel Tarkenton thought possible, nor was it imminent. The movement and positioning of reinforcements from Manchuria would continue through most of March; the remainder of the IX Army Groin would not be fully ready to move south until the turn of the month; and the refurbishing of other units, both North Korean and Chinese, would require even more time. In line with the doctrine of elastic, or mobile, defense, small forces meanwhile would continue to employ delaying tactics against the RIPPER advance. With some exceptions, the delaying forces would give ground even more easily than they had during the opening phase of the operation as they fell back toward the concentrations of major units above the 38th parallel.

Hongch'on Cleared

In ordering the second phase of RIPPER to begin, General Ridgway allowed for the possibility that the Chinese would set up stout defenses in the ground immediately below Hongch'on and instructed the IX Corps commander to take the town by double envelopment, not by frontal assault. Accordingly, General Hoge directed the 1st Cavalry Division to envelope it on the west and the 1st Marine Division to move around it on the east. Hongch'on actually lay in the Marine zone near the boundary between the two divisions.41

As Hoge's forces attacked north on the morning of the 14th, it became steadily clearer that they would meet little resistance in the ground below their objectives. Long range small arms fire and small, scattered groups of Chinese who made no genuine attempt to delay the advance toward Hongch'on were the extent of the opposition the 1st Cavalry and 1st Marine Divisions encountered during the morning. The 24th Division and the ROK 6th Division, which had rejoined the advance in a new zone on the right of the 24th, met no enemy at all in making their short advances in the western half of the corps zone.42

Prompted by the easy morning gains, General Hoge recommended to General Ridgway that the 24th and ROK 6th Divisions extend their advances to the lower bank of the Hongch'on River and to the Chongp'yong Reservoir, located within a double bend of the Pukhan just west of the mouth of the Hongch'on. Ridgway approved, and through the afternoon the two divisions continued to advance, still unopposed, within two to four miles of the river line. In continuing the attack on Hongch'on, the 1st Cavalry Division advanced against scant resistance and reached the Hongch'on River west of town late in the afternoon. The 1st Marine Division, moving more slowly in descending the Oum Mountain mass on the eastern approach, advanced within three miles of Hongch'on before organizing perimeters for the night.43

On 15 March the 24th Division at the far left of the corps advance moved without opposition to the lower bank of the Chongp'yong Reservoir while the ROK 6th Division in the zone between the 24th and 1st Cavalry Divisions also advanced against no resistance to high ground overlooking the Hongch'on River. The 25th Division at the right of the I Corps zone moved just as easily through the ground west of the Pukhan. By dark on the 15th the 24th Infantry and 27th Infantry reached the Seoul-Ch'unch'on road at the left and center of the division zone while the attached Turkish brigade, having taken over a zone bordering the Pukhan at the far right, moved about two miles above the road adjacent to the newly won positions of the 24th Division.44

In the Hongch'on area, the cavalry division stood fast along the Hongch'on River on the 15th to wait for the marines to come up on its right. Strong enemy positions on a ridge due east of Hongch'on stalled the marines in that area, but at the far left of the Marine zone the town itself fell to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, at noon. A motorized patrol, first to enter, found the town ruined and undefended. On the return trip, following an explosion that damaged a truck, the patrol discovered that Far East Air Forces bombers had liberally sprinkled the eastern half of the town with small bombs set to explode when disturbed.45 A company of Marine engineers began the uncomfortable task of clearing these explosives while the 1st Battalion passed through and occupied high round immediately northeast of town.46

Seoul Retaken

By the time Hongch'on fell, General Ridgway discerned that the enemy high command had decided to hand over a far bigger prize, Seoul. The first sign appeared on 12 March when aerial observers flying over the enemy's Han River positions between Seoul and the 25th Division's bridgehead saw a large number of troops moving northwest out of that area. Patrols from the 3d Division, which held positions along the Han opposite, crossed the river on the night of the 12th and found shoreline positions vacant. On the following night 3d Division patrols moved more than a half mile above the Han without making contact.47

Patrols from both the 3d Division and ROK 1st Division crossed the Han during the afternoon of 14 March. One from the 3d Division discovered that enemy forces had . vacated an important defensive position on Hill 348, the peak of a prominent north-south ridge three miles east of Seoul. Nearer the city, another moved as far north as the SeoulCh'unch'on road without contact; a third found that Hill 175, one of the lower peaks of South Mountain hugging Seoul at its southeast edge, also was vacant. Five patrols from the ROK 1st Division entered Seoul itself. One moved all the way through the western portion of the city to the gate on Route 1 while another reached the capitol building near city center and raised the ROK flag from the dome. None of the patrols received fire or sighted enemy troops.48

In continuing to search the city on the 15th, the South Koreans discovered only a few North Korean deserters who had been away from their units too long to provide information of value. Outside Seoul, a patrol from the Belgian battalion, recently attached to the 3d Division, checked the ground along the eastern edge of the city without making contact; two companies of ROK troops moved unopposed through the ground just west of the city; and still farther west, a South Korean patrol crossed the Han and moved more than five miles north before running into enemy fire.49 Aerial observers saw no enemy activity immediately above the northern limits of Seoul but observed extensive defensive preparations and troops disposed in depth east and west of Route 3 beginning at a point five miles to the north, roughly halfway between Seoul and Uijongbu.50

Assured that the North Koreans had withdrawn from Seoul and adjacent ground, General Ridgway late on the 15th instructed General Milburn to occupy the nearest commanding ground above the capital city. The general line to be occupied, which Milburn later designated Lincoln, arched across heights two miles to the west and north of Seoul, then angled northeast across the ridge holding Hill 348 to join line Buffalo in the 25th Division's zone. Ridgway left it to Milburn to decide the strength of the forces who would cross the river but restricted their forward movement, once they were on line Lincoln, to patrolling to the north and northwest to regain contact. The restriction on further advances applied to the 25th Division as well. The principal objective at the moment, Ridgway explained to Milburn, was not to attack the enemy but simply to follow his withdrawal.51

Assigning the segment of line Lincoln encompassing Seoul to the ROK 1st Division and the shorter portion east of the city to the 3d Division, General Milburn instructed General Paik to occupy his sector with a regiment, General Soule to hold his with a battalion reinforced by not more than two platoons of tanks. Paik was to send combat patrols in search of enemy forces to the northwest while Soule sent armored combat patrols to regain contact to the north. Meanwhile, as bridges were put across the river, one in each division zone, Paik could place a second regiment on line Lincoln and Soule could increase his bridgehead force to a full regiment.52

As expected, there was no opposition when the two division commanders sent forces across the Han on the morning of the 16th. By early afternoon the ROK 15th Regiment moved through Seoul into position on the far side of the city, and the 2d Battalion of the 65th Infantry occupied the Hill 348 area. The capital city, as it changed hands for the fourth time, was a shambles. Bombing, shelling, and fires since the Eighth Army had withdrawn in January had taken a large toll of buildings and had heavily damaged transportation, communications, and utilities systems. Two months of work would be required to produce even a minimum supply of power and water, and local food supplies were insufficient even for the estimated remaining two hundred thousand of the city's original population of 1.5 million. Soon after Seoul was reoccupied, therefore, a concerted but not entirely successful effort began via the press, radio, and police lines to prevent former residents from returning to the city while it was made livable again and while local government was restored under the guidance of civil assistance teams and ROK officials. Pusan meanwhile remained the temporary seat of national government.53

Seoul Residents Reenter the City
Seoul Residents Reenter the City

This time there was no ceremony dramatizing the reoccupation of the capital city as there had been at the climax of the Inch'on landing operation the past September. General MacArthur visited Korea on 17 March but elected not to enter Seoul and limited his inspection to the 1st Marine Division as the IX Corps prepared to move forward toward Ch'unch'on.54

Ch'unch'on Captured

On the morning of 16 March the marines held up the day before by strong enemy positions east of Hongch'on discovered that the occupants had withdrawn during the night. They encountered only light resistance as they continued toward line Buffalo north and northeast of Hongch'on. In the western half of the IX Corps zone, patrols from the 24th Division and ROK 6th Division searching above the Chongp'yong Reservoir and Hongch'on River encountered almost no opposition. Immediately west of Hongch'on, however, the 1st Cavalry Division since reaching the Hongch'on River on 14 March had run into heavy fire and numerous, if small, enemy groups while putting two battalions into position just above the river and sending patrols to investigate farther north. This resistance and aerial observation of prepared positions indicated that the Chinese planned to offer a strong delaying action in the ground bordering Route 29 between Hongch'on and Ch'unch'on.55

To assist the advance above Hongch'on, General Ridgway on the 16th authorized General Hoge to move all of his divisions forward. The intention was that advances by the two divisions in the western half of the corps zone, in particular by the ROK 6th Division in its zone adjacent to the 1st Cavalry Division, would threaten the flank of the Chinese in front of the cavalrymen. Accordingly, Hoge ordered his two divisions in the west and the 1st Cavalry Division to advance five to six miles beyond their current river positions to line Buster, which was almost even with the line Buffalo objectives of the 1st Marine Division on the corps right.56

While the 24th Division completed preparations for crossing the Pukhan at the far left, Hoge's other divisions attacked toward lines Buster and Buffalo on 17 March. Much as anticipated, the marines on the right and the South Koreans on the left met negligible resistance while the 1st Cavalry Division in the center received heavy fire and several sharp counterattacks in a daylong fight for dominating heights just above the Hongch'on River. But on the 18th, with all four divisions moving forward, the resistance faded out, and it became clear that the Chinese were withdrawing rapidly. Advancing easily against minor rearguard action, Hoge's forces were on or near the Buster-Buffalo line by day's end on 19 March. The highlight of the advance on the 19th occurred in the zone of the ROK 6th Division after a patrol in the van of the 2d Battalion, 2d Regiment, discovered a Chinese battalion assembling in a small valley three miles above the Hongch'on River. Maj. Lee Hong Sun, commander of the 2d Battalion, swiftly deployed forces on three sides of the enemy unit and attacked. Lee's forces killed 231 Chinese, captured 2, and took a large quantity of weapons without suffering a casualty.57

On 18 March, as the rapid Chinese withdrawal became evident, General Ridgway ordered the IX Corps to continue its attack and take Ch'unch'on. General Hoge opened the move by instructing his divisions on the 19th to proceed to the next RIPPER phase line, Cairo, four to six miles above their Buster-Buffalo objectives. Once on line Cairo, the 1st Cavalry Division would be on the southern lip of the basin in which Ch'unch'on was located and within five miles of the town itself. Ridgway meanwhile alerted the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team for operations in the Ch'unch'on area. The landing plan, codenamed HAWK, called for the 187th with the 2d and 4th Ranger Companies attached to drop north of the town on the morning of 22 March and block enemy movements out of the Ch'unch'on basin. IX Corps forces coming from the south were to link up with the paratroopers within twenty-four hours.58

Easy progress by Hoge's divisions on 20 and 21 March and the continuing rapid withdrawal of Chinese forces made it evident that the projected airborne operation would not be profitable. Ridgway canceled it on the morning of the 21st as the 1st Cavalry Division came up on line Cairo without opposition. Moving ahead of the main body of the division, an armored task force meanwhile entered the Ch'unch'on basin and at 1330 on the 21st entered the town itself. It was empty of both enemy troops and supplies. The task force made contact only after moving ten miles northeast of Ch'unch'on over Route 29 in the Soyang River valley and then located only a few troops who scattered when the force opened fire.59

During this search to the northeast a second task force from the cavalry division reached Ch'unch'on in midafternoon, just in time to greet General Ridgway, who, after observing operations from a light plane overhead, landed on one of the town's longer streets. As a precaution against an enemy attempt to retake the town during the night, Ridgway before leaving instructed both task forces to return to the cavalry division's line Cairo positions by dark. The precaution was unnecessary. Ch'unch'on remained vacant until the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, set up a patrol base in the town on the following day.60

On the Eastern Front

With the capture of Ch'unch'on, all major ground objectives of Operation RIPPER were in Eighth Army hands. To the east, the X Corps and ROK III Corps had reached line Idaho by 17 March. North Korean forces had offered stiff resistance to the attack on only one day, the 15th, and then only in the X Corps area. Prisoners taken during the advance indicated that the V, II, and III Corps were withdrawing above the 38th parallel to reorganize and prepare for offensive operations. Searching to confirm this information, General Ridgway on 18 March ordered all three corps on the eastern front to reconnoiter deep beyond the parallel in the area between the Hwach'on Reservoir, located almost due north of Ch'unch'on, and the east coast.61

As Ridgway's forces in the east consolidated positions along line Idaho and sent patrols north, the problem of the North Korean 10th Division remained. On 20 March Ridgway pressed the ROK Army chief of staff and the KMAG chief to eliminate the enemy unit.62 But in the difficult Taebaek terrain, the retreating division, although it lost heavily to air and ground attacks, separated into, small groups and managed to find ways northwest through the mountains. After a flurry of small engagements while infiltrating the line Idaho fronts of the ROK III Corps and ROK I Corps, the remnants of the division, less than a thousand men, reached their own lines on 23 March. In the days following, the reduced division moved to Ch'ongju, deep in northwestern Korea, and began reorganizing under the control of the North Korean IV Corps as a mechanized infantry division. Still later, while continuing to reorganize and retrain, the unit was assigned to defend a sector of the west coast.63 It would not again see frontline duty.

The Courageous Concept

The inability of South Korean forces to eliminate the North Korean 10th Division reflected the total result of Operation RIPPER to date. For although the Eighth Army had taken its principal territorial objectives, it had had far less success in destroying enemy forces and materiel. Through the period 1-15 March, which included most of the harder fighting, known enemy dead totaled 7,151; as the Chinese and North Koreans accelerated their withdrawal after the 15th, that figure had not increased to any great extent." Ch'unch'on, the suspected enemy supply center, had been bare when entered; although numerous caches of materiel had been captured elsewhere, these had been relatively small. In sum, the enemy high command so far had succeeded in keeping the bulk of frontline forces and supplies out of range of the RIPPER advance.65

As Ch'unch'on fell, one area in which there appeared to be an opportunity to destroy an enemy force of some size was in the west above the I Corps. According to patrol results and intelligence sources, the North Korean I Corps and the Chinese 26th Army occupied that area, generally along and above a line through Uijongbu. Appearing most vulnerable were the three divisions of the I Corps in the region west of Uijongbu with the lower stretch of the Imjin River at their backs. Any withdrawal by these forces would require primarily the use of Route 1 and its crossing over the Imjin near the town of Munsan-ni; thus, if this withdrawal route could be blocked in the vicinity of its Imjin crossing, the North Koreans below the river would find it extremely difficult to escape attacks from the south. With this in mind, General Ridgway enlarged Operation RIPPER with plans for an airborne landing at Munsan-ni by the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in concert with overland attacks by the I Corps. He called the supplemental squeeze play Operation COURAGEOUS.


1 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs 1, IX, and X Corps, 187th Alm RCT, and C/S ROKA, 1 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

2 General Collins, Army chief of staff, preferred not to release General Swing, whom Ridgway had requested to take the IX Corps, from his assignment as commandant of the Army War College. General Hoge, Ridgway's next choice, relinquished command of U.S. Army forces in Trieste to take command of the IX Corps on 5 March. Hoge was noted for a World War II exploit in which forces under his direct command seized the Remagen bridge over the Rhine. See Eighth Army GO 118, 5 Mar 51. See also Ltr Gen Mark W. Clark to Gen Ridgway, 26 Feb 51, and Ltr, Gen Swing to Gen Ridgway, 28 Feb 51, both in private papers of General Ridgway held by the Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

3 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs I, IX, and X Corps, 187th Abn RCT, and C/S ROKA, 1 Mar 51.

4 Ibid.

5 Eighth Army G3 Jnls, 2, 3, and 5 Mar 51; Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

6 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs I, ix, and X Corps, 187th Abn RCT, and C/S ROKA, 1 Mar 51.

7 Ibid.; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Field, United States Naval Operations, Korea, pp. 324-26.

8 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs I, IX, and X Corps, 187th Abn RCT, and C/S ROKA, 1 Mar 51.

9 Judging the enemy's own communications to be very weak, Ridgway was convinced that much of the enemy's intelligence information came from the Stars and Stripes and the Armed Forces Radio Service.

10 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs 1, IX, and X Corps, 187th Abn RCT, and C/S ROKA, I Mar 51; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; Ridgway, The Korean War, p. 110.

11 Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; MacArthur's statement is quoted in MacArthur Hearings, pp. 3540-41.

12 See Rees, Korea: The Limited War, p. 189. 

13 MacArthur, Reminiscences, p. 386. 

14 MacArthur Hearings, pp. 3540-41.

15 See Schnabel, Policy and Direction, ch. XIX.

16 Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; Middleton, The Compact History of the Korean War, p. 173; Rees, Korea: The Limited War, p. 208.

17 Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51. 

18 Ibid.; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 25th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

19 25th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51. 

20 IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

21 2d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

22 X Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 2d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 7th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

23 Eighth Army G3 Jnls, 7-15 Mar 51.

24 Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Eighth Army PIRs 236-246, 5-15 Mar 51.

25 Rad, GX-3-134 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs I, IX, and X Corps, 187th Abn RCT, and C/S ROKA, 1 Mar 51; Rad, GX-3-2401 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CG I Corps et al., 13 Mar 51; Rad, GX-32446 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to C/S ROKA et al., 13 Mar 51; Rad, GX-3-2480 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CG I Corps et al., 13 Mar 51; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; IX Corps Opn Dir 27, 12 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; X Corps 01 134, 13 Mar 51.

26 Eighth Army PIRs 242-244, 11-13 Mar 51. 

27 Eighth Army G2 Estimate, 16 Feb 51; GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, North Korean Army, 16 Feb 51; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52.

28 Operation Ripper, Annex "A" (Intelligence), 1 Mar 51; Eighth Army PIR 245, 14 Mar 51; GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, North Korean Army, 16 Feb 51; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid. 

31 GHQ, FEC, Order of Battle Information, North Korean Army, 16 Feb 51; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52.

32 Ibid.; Hq, NKPA (North Korean People's Army), Order no. 027, 14 Jan 51, translation in Eighth Army PIR 235, 4 Mar 51.

33 Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52.

34 Peng meanwhile retained his posts as deputy commander in chief of the People's Liberation Army and commander of the First Field Army.

35 George, The Chinese Communist Army in Action, p. 7; Eighth Army PIRs 235, 4 Mar 51, and 239, 8 Mar 51; USAFFE Intel Dig, vol. 1, no. 5, 16-28 Feb 53, and no. 26, 16-30 Jun 52.

36 USAFFE Intel Dig, vol. 1, no. 3, 16-31 Jan 53, and no. 99, 2 Feb 53; Eighth Army PIRs 232, 1 Mar 51, and 245, 14 Mar 51.

37 USAFFE Intel Dig, no. 99, 2 Feb 53, and no. 115, 17 Feb 53.

38 Ibid., no. 115, 17 Feb 53.

39 Ibid., vol. 1, no. 4,1-15 Feb 53, and no. 26,16-30 Jun 52.

40 Ibid., vol. 1, no. 1, 1-31 Dec 52, and no. 26, 16-30 Jun 52.

41 Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; IX Corps Opn Dir 27, 12 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

42 IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Marine Div Hist Diary, Mar 51; 24th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

43 IX Corps Comd Rpt, Comd Jul, Mar 51; Rad, G-3-2599 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CGs I and IX Corps, 14 Mar 51; IX Corps Opn Dir 28, 14 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Eighth Army G3 Jnl, 14 Mar 51.

44 Eighth Army G3 Jul, 15 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 24th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar Mar 51; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 25th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

45 M83 fragmentation, or "butterfly," bombs, so called because of whirling vanes that controlled their drop and armed them.

46 Eighth Army G3 Jul, 15 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 24th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Marine Div Hist Diary, Mar 51; Montross, Kuokka, and Hicks, Marine Operations in Korea, vol. IV, p. 88.

47 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51. 

48 Eighth Army G3 Jul, 14 Mar 51; I Corps G3 Jnl, 14 Mar 51; 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

49 The Belgian battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. A. Crahay, arrived in Korea on 31 January 1951.

50 Eighth Army G3 Jnl, 15 Mar 51; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; I Corps PIR 74, 15 Mar 51; 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

51 Rad, GX (TAC) 105 KCG, CG Eighth Army to CG I Corps, 15 Mar 51; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; I Corps Opn Dir 48, 15 Mar 51.

52 I Corps Opn Dir 48, 15 Mar 51; 1 Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

53 Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Eighth Army G3 Jnl, 16 Mar 51; I Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 3d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

54 Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51.

55 IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Marine Div Hist Diary, Mar 51; 24th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

56 Rad, GX-3-2925 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CG IX Corps, 16 Mar 51; IX Corps Opn Dir 29, 16 Mar 51.

57 Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Eighth Army G3 Jnl, 19 Mar 51; Eighth Army POR 751, 19 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 24th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Marine Div Hist Diary, Mar 51; Ridgway, The Korean War, p. 112.

58 Rad, GX-3-3360 KGOO, Eighth Army to CG IX Corps et al., 18 Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Rads, GX-3-3469 KGOP and GX-3-3474 KGOP, CG Eighth Army to CG 187th Abn RCT et al., 19 Mar 51; Rad, GX-33682 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CG 187th Abn RCT et al., 20 Mar 51.

59 Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; IX Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

60 1st Cav Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; Ridgway, The Korean War, pp. 114-15. In The Korean War, Ridgway erroneously dates the entry into Ch'unch'on as 19 March.

61 Eighth Army G3 SS Rpt, Sum, Mar 51; Eighth Army G3 Jnls, 14-17 Mar 51; X Corps Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 2d Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; 7th Inf Div Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Rad, GX-3-3266 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to C/S ROKA and CG X Corps, 18 Mar 51.

62 Coincidentally, a psychological warfare leaflet currently being used to urge all guerrillas in South Korea to give up a hopeless fight echoed Ridgway's sentiments. Translated, the message warned, "The mouse has gnawed at the tiger's tail long enough." See Eighth Army G3 Jul, 24 Mar 51.

63 Eighth Army PIRs 245-254, 14-23 Mar 51; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51; Hq, FEC, History of the North Korean Army, 31 Jul 52.

64 Ltr, Maj Gen Leven C. Allen, Eighth Army Chief of Staff, to Maj Gen Doyle O. Hickey, UNC Acting Chief of Staff, 19 Mar 51.

65 Eighth Army Comd Rpt, Nar, Mar 51.

66 Eighth Army PIRs 247-251,1 6-20 Mar 51; I Corps PIR 80, 21 Mar 51; I Corps G3 Jnl, 20 Mar 51; Eighth Army CG SS Rpt, Mar 51; Rad, GX-3-4040 KGOO, CG Eighth Army to CG I Corps et al., 22 Mar 51; Ridgway, The Korean War, p. 115.

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