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The Threshold of Victory

The gauntlet cast down by the Chinese in late October and early November left American intelligence experts guessing. Were the Chinese merely saving face? Were they bluffing? Or did the Communist Chinese seriously mean to throw their vast armies into Korea to defeat MacArthur's United Nations forces? American and other intelligence analysts might disagree on Chinese motives and intentions. But all corroborated that Chinese armies had massed in great strength along the Yalu in Manchuria, disposed for early action in Korea if the signal came, and that an unknown number had entered Korea. It was indeed a time for careful treading and sober consideration.

Eighth Army's Plans and Problems

The temporary setbacks in early November did not alter MacArthur's plans. He continued to prepare for the northward advance in the face of proof that Chinese Communist forces had entered Korea. General Bolte had visited Korea just after, as he described it, "the Chinese had destroyed the 8th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team." He found General Walker apprehensive but confident over the ultimate outcome. Walker assured Bolte that he had no intention of going on the defensive and had withdrawn only as a temporary regrouping measure. Walker, at the time, was bringing up his IX Corps on the right of his I Corps in order to renew the attack in greater strength. [1]

Walker intended to advance three corps abreast, the U.S. I Corps on the west, the U.S. IX Corps in the center, and the ROK II Corps on the east. He had set D-day at 15 November and given his army the mission to "attack to the north destroying enemy forces, and advance to the northern border of Korea in zone." [2]

[1] Memo, G-3 (Bolte) for CofS USA, 14 Nov. 50, sub: Visit of Gen. Bolte and Party to the Pacific Area, in G-3, DA file Pac, Case 8/2.

[2] (1) EUSAK Opns Plan No. 14, 6 Nov. 50. (2) War Diary, EUSAK G-3 Sec, 6 Nov. 50.

Walker's main concern in preparing for the attack lay in alleviating a shortage of supplies in his forward areas. Since moving above P'yongyang, the Eighth Army had been supplied mainly by airlift. General Milburn, commanding the I Corps, told General Bolte that his corps was operating with only one day of fire and one and one-half days of POL in reserve. General Walker felt that he could not improve this dangerous situation in the face of the limited transportation, the poor roads, and the long distances involved, unless the Chinnamp'o port was in full operation. General Bolte thought that the solution to these supply problems lay in greater effort by the Air Force. He pointed out that the Air Force was lifting 1,000 tons daily but could double this with more flight crews and better maintenance. "Cargo aircraft stand idle and supply is critical," Bolte complained to Washington, "Cannot this be remedied soonest? I emphatically recommend more help including triple crews immediately." [3]

In response to Bolte's question, General Vandenberg, Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, stepped in and asked General Stratemeyer, the FEAF commander, if his command was supporting the Eighth Army to its fullest capability. MacArthur's air chief replied indignantly that his planes could do no more to step up airlift tonnage because the capacity of Korean airfields simply would not permit doubling airlift while at the same time rendering combat tactical air support. "General Bolte's statement re the ground situation is quite correct," he asserted, "but his statements re Tunner's [CG FEAF Combat Cargo Command] are not quite so accurate. We could use much more airlift than is available, but Bolte's recommended solution of triple crews is an over-simplification." [4]

Reporting by teleconference to the Army chief of transportation on 9 November, the transportation officer of the Far East Command sketched the situation with regard to ports and lines of communication in Korea. Pusan was handling about 15,000 metric tons of supply daily, and Inch'on about 8,000 metric tons. Chinnamp'o, a vital port since it was much closer to the front, had been opened for partial operation but could handle only shallow-draft vessels. The port had not been completely mineswept, and the large tidal basin at the port had silted up considerably. Some LST's were being unloaded even though they rested on the bottom of the harbor at low tide. [5]

Rail lines were equally restrictive. Single-track bottlenecks and destroyed bridges materially reduced their capacity. The supply shortage remained serious, and General Walker decided to postpone his attack. On 14 November, General MacArthur's headquarters so notified the Department of the Army. When pressed for reasons, the Far East Command staff officers told their counterparts in Washington that the logistical estimate on which General Walker's decision was based was not available to GHQ. Meanwhile, Walker's forces took a few steps forward along the Ch'ongch'on River to positions they would use as a line of departure when they did reopen their general advance. [6]

[3] Rad, CM-IN 8483, CINCFE (Bolte) to DA, 6 Nov. 50.

[4] (1) Rad, AFOOP-OD56864, CG USAF to CG FEAF, 10 Nov. 50. (2) Rad, AX 3359 B VCAP, CG FEAF to CG USAF, 12 Nov. 50.

[5] Telecon, TT 3992, DA to GHQ, 9 Nov. 50.

[6] Telecons, TT 4011, DA to GHQ, 14 Nov. 50, and TT 4016, 15 Nov. 50.

The Eighth Army would need about 4,000 tons of supply per day in order to sustain the offensive northward. By 20 November, the efforts of all supply agencies began to pay off and achieved the required figure. [7] General Walker, on 22 November, notified General MacArthur that the logistics problems in the forward area of the Eighth Army had been solved and that he could now support a renewed offensive. [8]

The X Corps Plan

Logistically, the X Corps on the east coast enjoyed a somewhat better status than Eighth Army. Supplies came in at Wonsan, Hungnam, and Iwon. Almond's combat units sat relatively close to those ports in early November. ROK units moving up the east coast were actually supplied by LST's operating over the beaches. The situation of the 7th Division and the 1st Marine Division, however, became progressively more difficult logistically as they moved inland away from the ports. [9]

The reverses suffered by the Eighth Army and the appearance of Chinese troops in front of his own troops sobered General Almond considerably. Whereas earlier he had pressed the Marines to push forward as rapidly as possible to the border, the brief Chinese intervention caused him to grow more cautious for a few days. But the virtual disappearance of the Chinese from the field had the same effect on him as it had had on General MacArthur. In any case, Almond was under orders to resume the advance. On 11 November, he again directed the Marines to advance to the north. [10]

The presence of Chinese forces at the front of the X Corps caused General MacArthur's staff to re-examine the scheduled operations of Almond's corps. The staff now assumed that the coming attacks would not be routine marches to the border. General Willoughby's intelligence report to the Department of the Army on 10 November showed that the enemy's offensive potential had been materially strengthened. Particularly significant was a Chinese build-up in the Changjin-Pujon Reservoir area. Willoughby told Department of the Army that this build-up posed a serious threat to Almond's forces not only in the immediate area but also in the coastal area along the northeast shoreline of Korea. "It is believed," Willoughby stated, "that this enemy concentration even now may be capable of seizing the initiative and launching offensive operations." He speculated that such operations might take the form of a concerted drive to the south in an effort to cut off U.N. forces then located to the north and east of Hungnam. Willoughby estimated that as of that date there might well be as many as 64,200 regular Chinese troops in Korea. By the next day, on 11 November, he had raised this figure to 76,800. [11]

[7] (1) Interv, Col. Appleman with Col. Albert K. Stebbins, EUSAK G-4, 4 Dec. 53. (2) War Diary, EUSAK, G-4 Journal, Rad 7, 241015 Nov. 50. (3) Interv, Col. Appleman with Gen. Allen, 15 Dec. 53.

[8] Rad, GX 50025 KGIX, CG Army Eight to CINCFE, 22 Nov. 50.

[9] Telecon, TT 3992, DA and GHQ, 9 Nov. 50.

[10] X Corps Opns Order No. 6, 11 Nov. 50.

[11] (1) Telecon, TT 3996, DA and GHQ, 10 Nov. 50. (2) Telecon, TT 4000, DA and GHQ, 11 Nov. 50. (3) Later analyses of Chinese troop movements and order of battle during this part of November show that, in fact, the Chinese had, as of this date, moved 300,000 men, organized into 30 divisions, into Korea. In front of the Eighth Army stood 180,000 men and 120,000 were concentrated in front of Almond's X Corps. See Appleman, South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu, pp. 768-69.

In the face of the enemy strength evident in General Almond's area and in the Eighth Army's zone, General Wright's JSPOG staff closely examined the original plan developed for X Corps operations. The Eighth Army attack was to be the main U.N. effort. Wright's staff looked at the X Corps' plans from the standpoint of "how can X Corps best assist Eighth Army?" The JSPOG planners had either not consulted or did not believe intelligence estimates forwarded to Washington by Willoughby, since their planning assumptions credited the Chinese with less strength than shown in Willoughby's reports of the same date. According to JSPOG assumptions on 12 November, the Eighth Army faced 18,000 Chinese troops, and the X Corps, 7,500. These troops were in addition to 50,000 North Koreans fronting the X Corps' path of advance. The Chinese were credited with the ability to reinforce at the rate of 24,000 men per day. [12]

As JSPOG officers saw it, Almond's plan called for an advance to the Korean border and destruction of enemy forces; keeping contact with the Eighth Army; protection of the Eighth Army's right flank against enemy forces sideslipping into it from the north; elimination of guerrillas; administration of his area. These projected operations would not provide direct assistance to the Eighth Army in its attack, but JSPOG officers noted that successful completion of X Corps plans would be of considerable incidental aid to the Eighth Army. [13]

Advantages seen in the X Corps' planned operation were that momentum of forces moving along an established direction would be retained; North Korean forces would not have time to dig in and resist; logistics difficulties within the X Corps would be minimized; and the route of the 1st Marine Division's advance (to Changjin thence north to the Yalu) would pose a threat of envelopment to the enemy. On the other hand, certain disadvantages would result if the X Corps carried out the operation as then planned. The X Corps' drive would not immediately affect enemy forces facing the Eighth Army. The direction of movement of the center of mass in the X Corps would be away from the main strength of the enemy. The most significant observation was the statement that by continuing to advance to the north, "X Corps incurs the danger of becoming seriously over-extended," and that if progress by the right flank of the Eighth Army was appreciably slower than X Corps', the left flank of the X Corps would be exposed. [14] For all practical purposes, that flank was already exposed.

A prophetic warning was contained in the portion of the staff study discussing the advance of the Marine elements of the X Corps:

As the 1st Marines move toward Changjin they will tend to be 
     extended. The left flank of the Marines will be on the mountainous 
     ridge that divides the watersheds of the peninsula. It is generally 
     impassable for heavy military traffic. However, prisoner reports 
     show that the 124th CCF Division entered North Korea at Manpojin 
     and is now in the Choshin [Changjin] Reservoir area. If the 1st 
     Marine Division attacks north beyond this route well ahead 
     of the Eighth Army it will be vulnerable to attacks on its flank 
     and rear. [15] 

This line of reasoning was quite in harmony with the views of General Smith, the Marine division commander. General Smith on 15 November received a visit from the chief of staff to COMNAVFE, Rear Adm. Albert K. Morehouse, whom Admiral Joy had sent to Korea on a liaison and inspection tour. At that time Smith, feeling that he was, as he expressed it, "talking in the family," expressed frank concern over what he considered General Almond's unrealistic planning and his tendency to ignore enemy capabilities when he wanted a rapid advance. [16]

Smith's views on the combat scene are further illustrated by a personal letter to General Cates, the Marine Corps Commandant, on the same day, 15 November. He frankly admitted that he felt Almond's orders were wrong and that he, as Marine commander in Korea, was not going to press his own troops forward rashly to possible destruction. "Our orders still require us to advance to the Manchurian border," Smith said. "However, we are the left flank division of the Corps and our left flank is wide open." Smith pointed out that there was no Eighth Army unit closer to his flank than eighty miles southwest. While the X Corps, according to Smith, could assure him "when it is convenient" that there were no Chinese on his flank, he observed, "if this were true, there could be nothing to prevent the Eighth Army from coming abreast of us. This they are not doing." [17]

Smith deliberately stalled on the advance because he did not like the prospect of stringing out his division along "a single mountain road close to 200 miles long." Smith's principles, which he followed all the way and which probably accounted for a good number of saved lives a month or so later, called for concentrating his entire division into a reasonable sector and developing as completely as possible his main supply route. He built under adverse conditions an airfield at Hagaru-ri, and, through a slower advance, took care of his flank security. He outposted the high ground along both sides of his main supply route at all times. [18]

JSPOG officers believed that if X Corps operations were to be effective in assisting the Eighth Army, only one general course of action lay open. Almond should attack to the northwest, thus threatening the rear of the Chinese formation facing the Eighth Army and forcing their withdrawal to avoid envelopment. If Almond called off his advance north, two divisions could be made available for this attack. Since the attack would probably develop on a narrow front as a struggle for control of the route of advance, concentration of forces for a coordinated attack would not be necessary. The attack could be launched at once using forces already in position. [19]

[15] Ibid.

[16] Aide-Memoire, Gen. Smith, p. 600.

[17] Ibid., p. 609.

[18] See Lynn Montross and Capt. Nicholas A. Canzona, U.S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953, vol. III, The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, ch. VII.

[19] Staff Study, X Corps Assistance to Eighth Army, 12 Nov. 50, JSPOG files.

The JSPOG staff concluded that the X Corps must eliminate enemy forces in the reservoir area before any operations were feasible, and that once Changjin was cleared it might be feasible to revise the X Corps-Eighth Army boundary and direct X Corps to attack to the northwest to cut the Manp'ojin-Kanggye road, which enemy forces, in all likelihood, were using as a main supply route. They recommended that no change in the projected operations of the X Corps be made immediately, but that the X Corps be directed to begin planning for an attack to the northwest to cut the enemy main supply route. [20]

It is apparent that the joint planning staff did not like the look of the situation in northeast Korea and did not completely endorse Almond's plan for operating there. But the planners hedged. Two factors may have caused them not to speak out against the plan. First, they must have known that MacArthur was set on attacking to end the fighting. Also, they had a no more acceptable solution to the problem than that under consideration. [21]

The advantages which the staff read into Almond's plans were so innocuous as to seem fabricated. On the other hand, the disadvantages, or more exactly, the dangers of Almond's intended advances, were plainly and honestly stated. An objective appraisal would have weighed the advantages against the disadvantages and found the scale tipped completely on the side of disadvantages and danger. Had this been done, it is entirely likely that MacArthur's advisers would have urged immediate changes in Almond's planned operations to include more limited objectives, more coordinated advances, and, possibly, even preparations for defensive action.

By personal letter to General Almond on 10 November, General Wright outlined the general plan to be carried out by the Eighth Army and relayed General MacArthur's desire that the X Corps do everything possible to assist Eighth Army. Then, on 15 November, and accepting the recommendation of the JSPOG staff, MacArthur directed Almond to develop, as an alternate feature of his operation, plans for reorienting the attack to the west upon reaching the vicinity of Changjin town, north of the Changjin Reservoir. This alternate operation would be executed upon order from General MacArthur. [22]

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] (1) X Corps Comd Rpt, 27 Nov. 50, p. 9 (2) Rad, CX 69009, CINCFE to CG X Corps, 15 Nov. 50.

Meanwhile, General Almond had been doing some planning of his own and on 14 November sent a letter to General Wright which, in effect, was quite in line with the order to plan for a westward move after clearing the town of Changjin. General Almond told General Wright:

     I have your letter of 10 November relaying the CinC's directive 
     that the X Corps be made fully familiar with Eighth Army's plan in 
     order to be prepared for any possible change for a strong effort in 
     coordinating with Eighth Army's attack. Two members of my planning 
     staff have just returned from Eighth Army with a draft copy of 
     General Walker's Operation Plan No. 15, yet to be published in 
     final form. They discussed Eighth Army's plan at some length with 
     General Walker and certain members of his staff.
     As you may already know, the Eighth Army plan is for a very 
     deliberate and thorough advance to objectives distant only an 
     average of some 20 miles North of present front line positions. 
   You will recall that during your recent visit with us at WONSAN we 
     presented X Corps capabilities of making an all-out effort, with 
     not less than two US divisions, to the west in the event of an 
     enemy breakthrough or envelopment of Eighth Army's right flank. We 
     have devoted continuing efforts in planning possible operations not 
     only to further the CinC's overall objective of securing all of 
     North Korea within our assigned zone as expeditiously as possible 
     but also to assist Eighth Army's effort.
     With the containment by Eighth Army of the Communist offensive in 
     that area, coupled with the unchanged overall mission, it now 
     appears to me to be inadvisable, at this stage of Eighth Army and X 
     Corps operations, for X Corps forces to operate in any strength to 
     the west. The principal reason for this conclusion is that the only 
     two feasible vehicular routes to the westward in X Corps zone, 
     short of CHOSIN Reservoir, [23] are the YONGHUNG-TAEPYONG-NI and 
     the WONSAN-YANDOK roads. Since both of these routes enter the   
     Eighth Army zone in rear of General Walker's present front lines,  
     any advance in strength to the westward over them would appear to 
     be a fruitless operation. Even contacting the Eighth Army right 
     flank in the vicinity of ONYANG-NI with more than foot troops would 
     require a major engineer road-building effort in the mountains to 
     the eastward thereof.

     In view of the foregoing, I am convinced that X Corps can best 
     support Eighth Army's effort by continuing its advance to the 
     north, prepared to move westward if desirable when X Corps elements 
     are well north of CHOSIN Reservoir, and they will be prepared to 
     trap and destroy any enemy forces engaging Eighth Army which depend 
     upon a line of communication through MANPOJIN. North of CHOSIN 
     Reservoir suitable lateral routes to the west appear to exist but 
     these routes would have to be verified when that area is reached.

     Thus, X Corps Operation Order No. 6, 11 November 1950, directing      
     advance in zone to the north border of Korea is in accordance with   
     Part II, CX67291, and is I believe, at present the most important 
     contribution we can make to the overall operation in Korea. The 
     success of this advance will result in the destruction of Chinese 
     and North Korean forces in the reservoir area, which might 
     otherwise be employed on the Eighth Army front, and will place X 
     Corps units in a position to threaten or to cut enemy lines of 
     communication in the Eighth Army zone. As a corollary, X Corps will 
     secure the important hydroelectric power installations in its zone 
     and will be well along toward completing its ultimate mission prior 
     to the advent of severe winter conditions.

     I fully appreciate the CinC's desire for us to assist the Eighth 
     Army in every possible way. I trust that my analysis of present X 
     Corps capabilities explains our views here and hope that energetic 
     execution of my Operation No. 6 will place assistance to the Eighth 
     Army before the cold weather now upon us is much more severe. [24] 

[23] Chosin Reservoir is the Japanese name for the Changjin Reservoir, and is the name by which U.N. forces best knew this body of water. The Pujon Reservoir, east of the Changjin, was also best known by its Japanese name, Fusen.

[24] Ltr., Gen. Almond to Gen. Wright, 14 Nov. 50.

General Willoughby continued to report a crucial build-up of forces in the Changjin-Pujon Reservoir area north of Hamhung-Hungnam. Even as Almond and Wright exchanged views on the best course of action for the X Corps, Willoughby informed Washington that his study revealed a great vulnerability of the open west flank of the X Corps and of the main supply route leading from Hungnam to the Changjin Reservoir. Almost 10,000 enemy troops had been spotted immediately west of this vital line. In addition, the enemy had the equivalent of four divisions in the Changjin-Pujon area. With this strength, the Chinese could counterattack to the southeast with troops from the Changjin area in an effort to isolate X Corps forces northeast of Hungnam, could conduct active guerrilla operations against corps lines of communications, could throw a combined offensive against X Corps using guerrillas and other forces, or could launch an offensive against the gap between the Eighth Army and X Corps by sideslipping to the southwest from the Changjin Reservoir area. [25]

[25] Telecon, TT 4028, DA and GHQ, 17 Nov. 50.

On 20 November General Almond, acting on instructions from General MacArthur, warned his command that minimum forces only were to advance to the immediate vicinity of Korea's northern border. No troops or vehicles were to go beyond the boundary into Manchuria or the USSR, and no fire was to be exchanged with, or air strikes brought down on, forces north of the northern boundary. Damage, destruction, and disruption of power plants were to be avoided. [26]

Troops of the 17th Infantry, 7th Division, reached the Yalu River at Hyesanjin on 21 November. General MacArthur immediately congratulated General Almond, who, in turn, commended the 7th Division for "an outstanding military achievement." Almond's message ended on an optimistic note when he told Maj. Gen. David G. Barr, "The 7th Division has reached its objective and I am confident that you will hold it." [27]

[26] Rad, X 12811, CG X Corps to All Comdrs, 20 Nov. 50.

[27] Rads, X 2867 and X 2859, CG X Corps to CG 7th Division, 22 Nov. 50.

Almond meanwhile ordered a plan made for a westward advance along the Hagaru-ri-Mup'yong-ni axis. He directed that the road to the Changjin Reservoir be developed as a corps supply road and that an RCT of the 7th Division be assigned to seize Changjin town and to protect the east flank of the 1st Marine Division. The two objectives, Changjin and Mup'yong-ni, were too widely separated to be assigned to a single division. General Almond also directed that the planners take into consideration that extreme winter temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit would severely restrict both friendly and enemy operations.

On 23 November, Colonel Chiles, X Corps operations officer, took this plan to Tokyo where he discussed it with General MacArthur's staff. On 24 November, General MacArthur directed that the plan be carried out with one modification, a shift of the proposed boundary between the X Corps and Eighth Army farther west and south in the zone of the 1st Marine Division. General Almond was told to designate his own D-day. [28] The details of the corps plan were passed on to General Walker and the Eighth Army staff by visiting GHQ officers on 24 November. [29]

General Almond ordered his troops to advance at 0800, 27 November. The final assignment of tasks directed the 1st Marine Division to seize Mup'yong-ni and advance to the Yalu, the 7th Division to attack from the Changjin Reservoir and advance to the Yalu, and the ROK I Corps to advance from Hapsu and Ch'ongjin areas to destroy the enemy. [30]

The Cautious View

Other friendly nations meanwhile were concentrating on the threatening situation developing along the Yalu border and took a consistently darker view of it than did the United States. On 13 November, the Australian Prime Minister informed the United States through diplomatic channels that the Australian Government now believed that Chinese intervention had created a new situation in Korea which called for careful examination. He recommended "military caution" and forecast that the consequences of Manchurian border incidents could be so grave that it might be best "temporarily to ignore Chinese Communist provocation to the extent possible." [31] From embassies located in Peiping came other warnings. The Swedish Ambassador to Communist China reported in mid-November that Chinese Communist movements toward Korea were on a large scale. The Burmese Embassy in Peiping at the same time expressed the view that the Chinese Communists were ready to go to any length to aid the North Koreans and that they were fostering mass hysteria based upon an alleged United States intention to invade Manchuria. The Netherlands on 17 November passed along to the United States Government information from Peiping that Chinese intervention in Korea was motivated by fear of aggression against Manchuria. If U.N. forces halted fifty miles south of the Yalu, the Netherlands believed, there would be no further intervention.

[28] Rad, CX 69661, CINCFE to CG X Corps, 24 Nov. 50.

[29] Rad, CX 69661, CINCFE to CG X Corps and CG Eighth Army, 23 Nov. 50.

[30] X Corps Opns Order No. 7, 25 Nov. 50.

[31] Intelligence Rpt, 13 Nov. 50, in C-2, DA files.

General MacArthur was prescient in his apprehension that steps might be taken to prevent his advance to the northern border of Korea. Strong sentiment was developing among other members of the United Nations and within the Department of State for a solution to the problem of Chinese intervention through means other than those currently planned. General Bolte pointed out to General Collins on 20 November that the State Department was seriously considering a "buffer state" or neutralized zone as a means of stopping the military action in Korea and decreasing the possibility of world conflict. This idea, according to General Bolte, was being pushed within the Department of State with considerable vigor, to the extent that specific proposals by which the policy would be presented were being drawn up. The British Government had reportedly suggested that such an approach should be considered by the United Nations. [32]

Bolte left no doubt as to where he stood. He told Collins that he was as unalterably opposed to a buffer zone concept as was General MacArthur. Bolte felt that any buffer zone offer by the United States could seriously restrict the United Nations (and the United States) militarily without any resulting gain. He recommended strongly that General MacArthur's missions and directives not be changed. [33]

The move to halt the United Nations Command short of the international boundary took more definite form on 21 November with scheduling of a meeting between the representatives of the Department of Defense and the Department of State to discuss the possibility of negotiating with the Chinese Communists to end the fighting in Korea by establishing a demilitarized zone on one or both sides of the Korean-Manchurian frontier. General Bolte again addressed the Chief of Staff on the matter and again expressed strong feelings against any such method of curtailing military operations in Korea. "In light not only of the United Nations objectives in Korea," Bolte said, "but also of our national objectives world-wide, and until such time as CINCUNC indicates that he is unable to continue the action against the Chinese Communists, his directives . . . should not be changed, and a decision to halt the action in Korea short of the Korean frontier should not be made on military grounds." The Army's top planning officer felt that the only grounds on which MacArthur should be ordered to halt his advance would be that further offensive action would cause too great a risk of global war and conversely that cessation of the offensive would tend to minimize that risk. In General Bolte's opinion, a continuation of the action would not, of itself, engender risk of general war nor would a cessation of the action lessen such a risk. He held a rather optimistic view of the United Nations Command's combat potential, saying, "It is not envisaged that the Chinese Communists can succeed in driving presently committed United Nations forces from Korea, unless materially assisted by Soviet ground and air power." He believed that MacArthur had sufficient strength to hold any line in North Korea "in light of circumstances now prevailing." Bolte admitted that the drive to the border would no doubt increase the tenseness of the situation to some extent. But he emphasized that the decision to cross the 38th Parallel was based on the consideration that all of Korea should be cleared of Communist forces, and that attack from Manchuria would be recognized as an open act of military aggression. Further, the United Nations would actually have a better chance of localizing the conflict by driving all Communist forces from North Korea. A show of strength might well discourage further aggression where weakness would encourage it. [34]

[32] Memo, Bolte for CofS USA (Gruenther), 20 Nov. 50, sub: Buffer State in North Korea, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 120.

[33] Ibid.

General Bolte urged that if the Secretary of State suggested ". . . a new United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a demilitarized zone in North Korea to be administered by a United Nations body with Chinese Communist representation," the Defense Department oppose it. He concluded, prophetically, that ". . . history has proved that negotiating with Communists is as fruitless as it is repulsive. The present case is no exception." [35]

As a result of the conference and of further moves by other members of the United Nations a compromise solution was worked out. Assistant Secretary of State Rusk prepared a message for General MacArthur along general lines agreed to by the Department of Defense. He forwarded this message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noting that "we fully recognize that the Department of State does not have drafting responsibility with respect to this message, but we thought that a revised draft might provide the most convenient means for setting forth our views for the consideration of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff." General Collins made a few alterations in the State Department draft and on 24 November the Joint Chiefs sent the revised message to General MacArthur. [38]

This message could in no way be considered a directive to MacArthur. At best, it was a tentative proposal for a course of action that left him with both the initiative and the responsibility for deciding which way the war should go. General Collins frankly told MacArthur that the question of halting short of the border had been raised because of the growing concern among other members of the United Nations. The United States was faced, in this as in other instances, with loss of support in the United Nations if it did not carefully consider the views of its allies in Korea. Collins warned that the United States anticipated proposals within the United Nations for resolutions which would place unwelcome restrictions on MacArthur's advance. Considerable sentiment existed among other nations in favor of establishing a demilitarized zone between the United Nations forces and the frontier in the hope of reducing Chinese Communist fear of military action against Manchuria and a corresponding sensitivity on the part of Russia with respect to Vladivostok. [37]

[34] Memo, G-3 DA for CofS USA, 21 Nov. 50, sub: State-Defense High-Level Mtg. on Korea, with Annex A.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Rad, WAR 97287, CofS USA (Collins) to CINCUNC, 24 Nov. 50.

[37] Ibid.

The consensus among American political and military leaders in Washington, crystallized at the meeting of Department of Defense and State officials, had been that no change should be made in MacArthur's immediate mission; but that the highest officials in the American Government should at once draft a course of action to permit the establishment of a unified Korea and, at the same time, reduce the risk of more general involvement. The State-Defense group had worked out in exploratory discussions certain military measures which, it seemed to them, might reduce the tension with Communist China and the Soviet Union, thus avoiding a rift between the United States and its allies. These measures, which if adopted would change MacArthur's mission, were transmitted to him. [38]

The measures assumed that MacArthur could push to the Yalu. General Collins suggested that after advancing to or near the Yalu MacArthur pull his forces back. Using a holding force of ROK troops, he would secure the terrain dominating the approaches leading from the mouth of the Yalu to the area held by the 7th Division near Hyesanjin. Other United Nations troops would fall back into reserve positions to support the South Koreans if necessary. This plan would be used only if effective enemy resistance ceased. The line held would be extended eastward through Ch'ongjin on the Sea of Japan with no advances being made by Almond's forces beyond this line. "It was thought," General Collins explained, "that the above would not seriously affect the accomplishment of your military mission." [39]

Only if it were militarily necessary would the United Nations troops destroy the hydroelectric installations in North Korea. The United Nations Committee for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea would deal at the appropriate time with appropriate representatives, presumably the Chinese Communists, to insure an equitable distribution of power from these installations. And in the event that the Chinese did not again attack in force, orderly elections could be held in North Korea and the country unified in line with United Nations plans. No decision had yet been made on procedures for handling the matter of entering northeastern Korea, which was extremely sensitive since dealings there would be with the USSR and not China. [40]

"While it is recognized," General Collins went on, "that from the point of view of the commander in the field this course of action may leave much to be desired, it is felt that there may be other considerations which must be accepted...." Apparently, American authorities still felt that the Chinese were interfering reluctantly in Korea. General Collins postulated that this course "might well provide an out for the Chinese Communists to withdraw into Manchuria without loss of face...." The Russians, too, might be reassured; and it was felt that Russian concern was at the root of their pressure on the Chinese to interfere in Korea. [41]

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

General Collins asked for MacArthur's comments on the proposals, to include timing and method of announcement if he agreed. He wanted to be sure that the measures did not impede the military operation, yet felt it important that the Chinese and Russians not misinterpret MacArthur's intention as aggression against their borders. General Collins concluded:

     Since there are many political and military implications involved 
     in these ideas and since other nations would be involved, no action 
     along these lines is contemplated until full opportunity has been 
     given for further consideration of your views, final decision by 
     the President and, possibly discussion with certain other 
     countries. [42] 

General MacArthur turned thumbs down on the proposals. But his reply, in contrast to his earlier blast against any form of restriction upon his advance, was temperate. The tone of his reply approached, in some respects, patient forbearance. The anticipated move to halt his advance had come, not as an order, but as a suggestion which could become an order only after time-consuming negotiation. Walker's forces had already jumped off toward the border and well might reach it before further political action could be taken.

"The concern underlying the search for the means to confine the spread of the Korean conflict is fully understood and shared here, but it is believed that the suggested approach would not only fail to achieve the desired result but would be provocative of the very consequences we seek to avert," General MacArthur stated. He had just returned to Tokyo from a tour of the battlefront where he had flown over the Yalu River area in a "personal reconnaissance." This flight had convinced him beyond all doubt that it would be utterly impossible to stop upon commanding terrain south of the Yalu if he were to keep the lines of approach to North Korea from Manchuria under effective control. The terrain, ranging from the lowlands in the west to the rugged central and eastern sectors, could not easily be defended. Only along the river line itself, a line which he was not proposing to sacrifice once achieved, were there natural defense features to be found such as in no other defense line in all of Korea. "Nor would it be either militarily or politically defensive," he asserted, "to yield this natural protective barrier safeguarding the territorial integrity of Korea." [43]

General MacArthur feared, aside from the military foolishness of such a move, that the political results would be "fraught with most disastrous consequences." Any failure on the part of the United Nations Command to keep going until it had achieved its "public and oft-repeated" objective of destroying all enemy forces south of Korea's northern boundary would be viewed by the Korean people as betrayal. The Chinese and all other Asians would, he maintained, view it as weakness and appeasement of the Communist Chinese and Russians. [44]

[42] Ibid.

[43] Rad, C 69808, CINCUNC (MacArthur) to DA for JCS, 25 Nov. 50.

[44] Ibid.

He presented a novel secondary argument against establishment of any sort of buffer zone by pointing out that political tension between Manchuria and Korea required that the international boundary be closed to minimize bandit raids and smuggling. His study of Russian and Chinese propaganda caused him to doubt that either nation was actually concerned over the fate of the Yalu power installations. The ROK unit which had reached the Yalu at Ch'osan in October had found that the power plants there had been shut down for a full month with much of the machinery and equipment removed, and nothing had been said by the Russians or the Chinese about the loss of power. "In view of these factual considerations," he said, "one is brought to the conclusion that the issue of hydroelectric power rests upon the most tenuous of grounds." [45]

General MacArthur continued his argument by emphasizing that the entry of Chinese Communist forces into the Korean conflict was a risk which the United States had taken with its eyes wide open when it sent troops into Korea. "Had they entered at the time we were beleaguered behind our Pusan Perimeter beachhead," MacArthur surmised, "the hazard would have been far more grave than it is now that we hold the initiative...." United Nations forces were committed to seize the entire border area, and had already, in General Almond's sector, occupied a sector of the Yalu River. Yet, in his opinion, there had been no noticeable political or military reaction by the Chinese or Russians. [46]

He then outlined his plans for the future in Korea, telling the Joint Chiefs of Staff that as soon as his men consolidated positions along the Yalu River he would replace American troops with ROK forces. He would then order, through public announcement so the Chinese could not fail to hear, the return of American forces to Japan, and the parole of all prisoners of war to their homes, and would leave the unification of Korea and the restoration of the civil procedures of government to the people, with the advice and assistance of United Nations authorities. [47]

If this plan did not effectively appeal to reason in the Chinese mind, MacArthur maintained, ". . . the resulting situation is not one which might be influenced by bringing to a halt our military measures short of present commitments." But by resolutely meeting those commitments and accomplishing the publicly proclaimed military mission of destroying enemy forces in Korea, the United States could find its only hope of checking Soviet and Chinese aggressive designs before those countries were committed to a course from which ". . . for political reasons . . . they cannot withdraw." [48]

General Bolte urged the Chief of Staff to subscribe to these views and recommended that the Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterate their approval of the idea of a full force advance to the border. But events were to overtake any such action by the Joint Chiefs. [49]

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Memo, Gen. Bolte for CofS USA, 27 Nov. 50, sub: U.S. Courses of Action in Korea, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 121.

MacArthur Attacks

Across most of the battlefront during mid-November the enemy seemed to be withdrawing. Cautious probings by U.N. units occasionally brought strong local reaction, but American commanders noted a definitely defensive trend. On 20 November, as the Eighth Army moved into position for the coming drive northward, the United Nations Command reported to Washington that the enemy had broken contact and was apparently withdrawing to positions farther north in Eighth Army's zone. But in the eastern sector, Almond's troops were still meeting resistance. "Recent reports seem to indicate," MacArthur's staff informed Washington on 20 November, "that the enemy is organizing the ground to take advantage of rough terrain, but it is still not clear as to just what this general limited withdrawal activity may portend." These officers noted that similar withdrawals by the enemy in the past had preceded offensive actions. "On the other hand," they pointed but to Army officials in Washington, "the sudden reversal coupled with limited withdrawals and considerable activity in the vicinity of strong defensive points may indicate a high level decision to defend from previously selected and prepared positions." [50]

Another enemy, North Korea's winter weather, had made its unwelcome appearance. On 14 November, the temperature across the entire front plummeted to readings ranging from ten degrees above zero in the west to twenty degrees below zero in northeastern Korea.

General Walker's orders to his commanders reflected a considerable degree of caution and some respect for the enemy forces facing Eighth Army. He directed a closely coordinated attack by phase line in order to have the army under control at all times for any sudden tactical change required by enemy action. The days of the reckless pursuit had apparently ended. [51] Most units reached their line of departure by 17 November. Since the logistical picture had improved and promised to improve more in the near future, Walker announced to his commanders that the attack northward would start on 24 November. [52]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had been kept informed of the situation as it developed throughout the month, and on 18 November General MacArthur notified them that the Eighth Army would launch its attack as scheduled on 24 November. He emphasized that the delay in mounting the offensive had been caused by logistical difficulties, not enemy action. Rather euphemistically perhaps, in light of later events, he assured the Joint Chiefs that intensified air attacks by his air forces during the preceding 10-day period had been very successful in isolating the battle area, stopping troop reinforcement by the enemy, and greatly reducing his flow of supplies. [53]

There was an almost complete absence of enemy contact on the entire Eighth Army front as Walker's men assumed their starting positions on 22-223 November. General MacArthur, suspicious of this unusual quiet and somewhat worried over the gap between the X Corps and Eighth Army, ordered General Stratemeyer to patrol this gap with great care. But American pilots flying from twelve to sixteen sorties in daylight hours and a half-dozen sorties at night located no enemy forces in the gap. [54]

[50] Telecon, TT 4036, DA and GHQ, 20 Nov. 50.

[51] (1) EUSAK Opn Plan No. 15, 14 Nov. 50. (2) War Diary, EUSAK, G-3 Sec, 11 and 14 Nov. 50.

[52] RAD, 172100, CG EUSAK to CG IX Corps, CG X Corps, and CG ROKA, 17 Nov. 50.

[53] Rad, C 69211, CINCUNC to DA, 18 Nov. 50.

[54] (1) Rad, CX 69453, CINCFE to CG FEAF, 21 Nov. 50. (2) Rad, CG FEAF to CINCFE, 22 Nov. 50.

General Willoughby reported to the Department of the Army on the day before the attack that he felt the Chinese Communist Army was having supply problems of its own and intimated that, if the Chinese did try to stop Eighth Army, they would be at a disadvantage. He told Washington military authorities that the Chinese had "embarked on their Korean venture in some cases with only three days rations" and that constant contact with U.N. ground forces and the pounding from American air had undoubtedly depleted the enemy's ammunition reserves. "Constant United Nations pressure along the entire line during the past few weeks," Willoughby stated, "should make it perfectly clear to the Reds that this drain on fire power is certainly not apt to be decreased but increased." He did not consider it likely that the Chinese high command would make any appreciable effort to alleviate the supply shortages of their forces, ". . . as the Chinese have always been, by western standards, notoriously poor providers for their soldiers." On the day of the jump-off, 24 November, Willoughby's intelligence staff predicted that the U.N. forces were opposed, in Korea, by 82,799 North Korean soldiers and a Chinese Communist military force of between 40,000 and 70,935. [55]

In a communique issued only hours before Walker's divisions started northward, the United Nations commander sketched an optimistic picture of what he referred to as his "massive compression envelopment." He felt that the Air Force had sharply curtailed enemy reinforcement and resupply. General Almond's forces had "reached a commanding enveloping position cutting in two the northern reaches of the enemy's geographical potential," and Walker's forces were now to move forward to "complete the compression and close the vise." "If successful," General MacArthur declared, "this should for all practical purposes end the war." [56]

[55] Telecons, TT 4058 and TT 4063, DA and GHQ, 24-25 Nov. 50.

[56] Communique No. 12, GHQ UNC, 24 Nov. 50.

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