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The Brink of Disaster

Reinforcement Prospects

When General MacArthur had warned General Collins on 6 December that unless material reinforcements were sent within a reasonable time his forces in Korea should be evacuated as soon as possible, Collins had replied that MacArthur could expect no significant numbers of additional troops in the near future. Collins had not spoken idly, as was borne out by Department of the Army officers in Washington who were then examining the Army's currently available means of strengthening MacArthur's command.

General Bolte had proposed on 3 December that the 82d Airborne Division, the only combat-ready division in the United States, be sent to Japan immediately where it would be available to protect the American base in Japan, or to fight in Korea if needed. He felt that the division could move without its drop equipment since the troops probably would be used in conventional ground operations only. Bolte maintained that the division could reach Japan within thirty-four days after being alerted. Since the division was approximately 2,000 men over-strength, a cadre of that size could be left in the United States to activate another airborne division. The Army's G-4, Maj. Gen. William 0. Reeder, admitted that, from the logistic standpoint, the division could be sent, but he did not concur in sending it. General Ridgway recommended to the Acting Chief of Staff, General Haislip, that any decision on sending the unit be postponed until General Collins returned from Korea. On 8 December, after Collins' return, the shipment was disapproved. [1]

[1] Memo, ACofS G-3 for CofS USA, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Movement of 82d Abn Div. to FEC, with handwritten comments on original, in G-3, DA file 320.2 Pac, Case 59.

Aside from the 82d Airborne Division, the Army's means for reinforcing MacArthur with combat-ready divisions were slight indeed. Two National Guard divisions, the 28th and the 43d, could be readied for shipment to Korea by June 1951; two more, the 40th and 45th, could be sent by July 1951; by August, the 4th Infantry Division could join the others; and by September 1951 the 2d Armored and 11th Airborne Divisions could be in Korea. But the current U.S. ground force capabilities were so limited that the situation in Korea was likely to run its course before significant deployments (other than the 82d Airborne Division) could be made. Furthermore, "The greatly increased possibility that global war will eventuate from the current crisis makes it mandatory that the United States make no further deployments that are not in consonance with the strategic concept of the current emergency war plan." [2]


Furnishing individual replacements was an equally insoluble problem. When the Chinese struck, each of MacArthur's divisions had lacked about 30 percent of its men and officers. This weakness, acceptable during operations against an enemy of inferior strength, became intolerable after the Chinese intervened. [3] MacArthur made this very clear on 28 November when he appealed for more than twice the number of replacements then scheduled for his command. He had been notified that 33,000 replacements would arrive in December. He claimed that he now needed 74,000 replacements to compensate for losses suffered in the Chinese attack and to bring his units up to strength. This figure did not include losses anticipated for January. [4]

The Department of the Army recognized MacArthur's need but could increase neither the number nor the rate of replacement shipments. In fact, the promised 33,000 could not even be provided. The best estimate of shipments during December was placed at 23,000. [6]

Chinese Nationalist Forces

In search of additional troops, MacArthur had reminded the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Chiang Kai-shek's July offer to send 33,000 troops to serve under him in Korea. This offer had been turned down on his own advice and on the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But MacArthur felt that the Chinese intervention put an entirely different light on the offer, and on 28 November applied to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the services of Chiang's troops. He felt that the original refusal had been prompted or at least influenced by the belief that the use of Chinese Nationalists in Korea might give the Chinese Communists an excuse for coming into the war. Another reason had been the need for the Chinese Nationalists to conserve their strength to meet threatened attacks against Formosa by the Chinese Communists. Neither reason remained valid, MacArthur informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He maintained that the Chinese force on Formosa was the only source of trained manpower available to him for early commitment against his new enemy. He estimated that these troops could reach Korea within two weeks and in far greater strength than the 33,000 originally offered. "I strongly recommend," MacArthur urged the Joint Chiefs, "that the theater commander be authorized to negotiate directly with the Chinese Government authorities on Formosa for the movement north and incorporation in the United Nations Command of such Chinese units as may be available and desirable for reinforcing our position in Korea." [6]

[2] Memo, ACofS G-3 for CofS USA, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Further Reinforcements for Korea, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 125.

[3] Briefing, Gen. Gaither to Army Comdrs' Conference, 4 Dec. 50, in G-3, DA file 337, Case 12/2.

[4] (1) Rad, CX 69983, CINCFE to DA, 28 Nov. 50. (2) Rad, WAR 97786, DA to CINCFE, 1 Dec. 50.

[5] Rad, WAR 97786, DA to CINCFE, 1 Dec. 50.

Washington authorities did not share these views. They felt that the introduction of Chinese Nationalist forces into the Korean conflict would precipitate a full-scale war with Communist China and might trigger a global war for which the United States was unprepared. Furthermore, the use of Chiang Kai-shek's men would likely be unacceptable to some, if not all, of the United Nations members with troops in Korea. The Commonwealth nations, for instance, would very probably refuse to have their forces employed alongside Chinese Nationalist troops. In case of a general war with China, moreover, it would be better to use Nationalist forces on the mainland rather than in Korea. Also, in view of an increasingly critical supply situation, complicated by recent substantial losses in Korea, Washington was reluctant to equip Chinese Nationalist troops for Korea. Politically, the move would commit the United States to the Chinese Nationalist regime to an unacceptable extent. In any case, Washington doubted that the employment of 33,000 Chinese Nationalist troops, which represented the only firm offer made, would decisively influence the situation in Korea. [7]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff gave no immediate, definite answer to MacArthur, merely replying that they were considering the proposal. But they warned that the matter could have a worldwide impact which might disrupt the unity of the nations associated with the United States in the United Nations and even isolate the United States from its allies. [8]

On 18 December, General MacArthur made another attempt to procure major reinforcements, although not for Korea, when he asked that the four National Guard divisions called to active duty in September be sent to Japan at once. He pointed out that a recent build-up of USSR propaganda interest in Japan and the increasing tempo of international Communist pressure upon the remaining free segments of Asia were alarming the Japanese. In order to provide reasonable safeguards against any USSR thrust at Japan, he urged that these four divisions be moved to Japan to complete their training. The Joint Chiefs of Staff told MacArthur that it did not appear probable that the National Guard divisions could be sent him, although General Collins, then away on a trip to Europe, would have to give the final decision. Every effort would continue to bring MacArthur's units to full strength and to keep them there. "Meanwhile," the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested, "you may wish to consider moving a portion of X Corps to Japan without prejudice to future disposition." After General Collins' return, the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that since no decision had been made at the governmental level as to the future United States course of action in Korea, no additional divisions would be deployed to the Far East for the time being. [9]

[6] Rad, C 50021, CINCFE to JCS, 28 Nov. 50.

[7] Draft Memo for JCS Representative, 1 Dec. 50, with Annex 1, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 127/8.

[8] Rad, JCS 97594, JCS to CINCFE, 29 Nov. 50.

[9] (1) Rad, C 51599, CINCFE to DA, 18 Dec. 50. (2) Rad, CM-OUT 99274, JCS to CINCFE, 19 Dec. 50. (3) Rad, JCS 99616, JCS to CINCFE, 23 Dec. 50. (4) Truman says of this transaction, "The Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Marshall held a series of meetings with State Department officials, trying to find some way to meet the problem. Reinforcements were simply not available.... The military chiefs thought that we might consider ways to withdraw from Korea 'with honor' in order to protect Japan. The State Department took the position, however, that we could not retreat from Korea unless we were forced out," See Truman, Memoirs, II, 432. The author has found no record of these meetings in files available to him, nor does any indication of this type of thinking by the Joint Chiefs of Staff appear elsewhere in their discussions.

Operation Pink

Not only had the Eighth Army and X Corps suffered numerous casualties in the Chinese onslaught of late November and early December-they also had lost considerable amounts of supplies and equipment through enemy action, abandonment, and voluntary destruction. The widely separated units of X Corps, particularly those in the Changjin Reservoir area, had left behind or destroyed bedding, tentage, ordnance equipment, signal equipment, and engineer equipment as they made their way back to Hamhung. General Almond's supply staff estimated that the X Corps needed equipment for refitting one-half a division as a result of the Chinese attacks against his forces in the Changjin Reservoir area. General Walker's supply chief told the GHQ G-4 on 1 December that the Turkish brigade had lost a large part of its equipment and that at least one RCT of the 2d Division would need considerable re-equipping.

From his depot stocks in Japan, General MacArthur ordered the immediate shipment to Korea of major items of equipment for two RCT's. As one of the few concrete steps which it could take to remedy the situation, the Department of the Army started immediate action to furnish MacArthur's command with full equipment for an infantry division. On 4 December, the Department's G-4, General Larkin, ordered the immediate preparation, loading, and shipping on a priority basis to the Far East Command a complete division set of equipment less aircraft, general-purpose vehicles, ammunition, and certain other items either not readily available for shipment or not essential to combat operations. This shipping operation was code-named Operation PINK. Upon being informed of the action being taken, MacArthur asked that equipment for two divisions, rather than one, be sent. But the Department of the Army told him that, because of the pending augmentation of the Army and the requirements of units ordered to his command, further emergency shipments of equipment could not be made.

Operation PINK took place in an atmosphere of the greatest urgency. Four ships loaded at San Francisco, California, and four at Seattle, Washington, commencing on 5 December. On 9 December, these eight ships, partially combat-loaded, sailed for the Far East. Much of the equipment they carried came from Mutual Defense Assistance Pact (MDAP) stocks, from the Special Reserve, and from troops located near San Francisco and Seattle. Among the items rushed to MacArthur were 140 medium tanks. [10]

[10] (1) Telecon, TT 4088, DA and FEC, 2 Dec. 50. (2) Rad, WAR 97969, DA to CINCFE, 4 Dec. 50. (3) DF, ACofS S4 to ChTechSves, 4 Dec. 50, sub: Emergency Shipment of One Div. Set of TO & E Equipment to FEC, in FEC, G-4 file G-4/D5 WAR 98480, 9 Dec. 50. (4) Rad, WAR 98907, DA to CINCFE, 14 Dec. 50.

Possibility of Evacuation

During General Collins' absence from Washington in early December, other leading officers of the Army staff, including Generals Haislip, Ridgway, Gruenther, Bolte, and Reeder, studied the situation resulting from Chinese intervention and its impact on the United States Army. These officers were uncertain of the extent of the Korean crisis, but judging from the situation map and MacArthur's gloomy reports, concluded that United Nations forces stood in some danger of being overrun and destroyed.

General Bolte, mindful of MacArthur's warning, that unless large numbers of ground troops were sent him at once he would be forced to withdraw his divisions into beachheads, declared that MacArthur should be directed to pull out of Korea. He pointed out that the additional forces needed by MacArthur simply did not exist in the United States or in other member nations of the United Nations. Hence, if MacArthur continued to fight in Korea, his command might be destroyed. [11]

Bolte was convinced that the Chinese intervention had considerably enhanced Russian capabilities in any global war, and that the United States must take immediate countermeasures against this Russian advantage. Even in the most optimistic circumstances MacArthur's forces in Korea, including seven U.S. divisions, would be neutralized and useless in any effort to counter a USSR attack on the United States or its allies. Consequently, Bolte recommended that MacArthur's mission be modified at once to permit him to evacuate Korea as soon as possible. [12]

The greatest concern and one shared by American military and political leaders lay in the possibility that the Chinese intervention in Korea was only the first step in a USSR move to conquer the world. Throughout December, these authorities did what they could and considered what they could further do to place the United States in the best possible position to meet the global war that seemed so imminent. General Bolte set the stage for preparation at the military level early in December when he urged that American unified commands be alerted and authorized to put their current emergency war plans into effect in case of attack. [13]

On 6 December, the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the action recommended by Bolte. They told their unified commanders worldwide that Chinese intervention had greatly increased the possibility of general war. "Take such action," the unified commanders were directed, "as feasible to increase readiness without creating an atmosphere of alarm." [14]

[11] (1) MFR, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Korean Sit. (2) Memo, Gen. Bolte for CofS USA, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Course of Action To Be Taken as a Result of Developments in Korea, both in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 134.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Memo, Gen. Bolte for CofS USA, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Courses of Action To Be Taken as a Result of Developments in Korea, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 134.

[14] Rad, JCS 98172, JCS to All Comdrs, 6 Dec. 50.

[15] MFR, 3 Dec. 50, sub: Korean Sit, G-3 091 Korea, Case 134.

At the Department of the Army level, Army officials in early December considered the initiation of full mobilization without delay. [15] Full mobilization was judged premature, but intermediate steps were taken to increase the strength of the Army and greatly broaden the mobilization and production bases. The National Security Council, acting on recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had approved on 22 November a military program for fiscal 1951 providing an army of sixteen combat divisions within a total Army strength of 1,263,000. By 30 June 1954, the Army would reach a strength, through gradual expansion, of 1,353,000, with eighteen combat divisions. [16]

Secretary of the Army Pace expressed the views of many Army officials when he told the Army Policy Council on 6 December that as a result of the Chinese intervention Americans were now living in a world essentially different from the kind of a world they had been living in a week before. The Army's requirements of 6 December were quite different from those of 30 November. He emphasized that the Army's program of an orderly build-up was not good enough nor fast enough to meet the emergency situation. General Ridgway, speaking for General Collins in the latter's absence, told Pace that the Army staff had prepared a plan for quick expansion to a 21-division army of 1,530,000 strength. Pace approved this concept for planning purposes only. [17]

Still, the immediate threat posed by Chinese action and the larger threat of possible global war gave some impetus to Army expansion. On 5 December, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended an accelerated rate of Army expansion with the 18-division force originally scheduled for June 1954 to be created by June 1952. The National Security Council agreed to this action on 14 December. As a result of this acceleration policy, the Department of the Army in December called two more National Guard divisions, the 31st and 47th, to active Federal service, beginning in January 1951. [18]

Various military authorities, including General Collins and General Ridgway, had expressed the opinion that the President should proclaim a national emergency. Such a proclamation would place in force the statutory provisions and authorizations normally granted the President in time of war and facilitate the expansion of the nation's armed forces and industrial facilities in support of these forces. [19] On 15 December, in a radio address to the nation, President Truman declared that a state of national emergency existed. On the following day, he affixed his signature to a proclamation which said, in part:

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, HARRY S. TRUMAN, President of the United States 
     of America, do proclaim the existence of a national emergency, 
     which requires that the military, naval, air, and civilian defenses 
     of this country be strengthened as speedily as possible to the end 
     that we may be able 
     to repel any and all threats against our national security....[20] 

[16] JCS 2101/25, 22 Nov. 50.

[17] Min., 51st mtg. Army Policy Council, 6 Dec. 50, in CofS, DA file 334 (APC).

[18] (1) Memo, Gen. Ridgway for Gen. Haislip, 7 Dec. 50, sub: Briefing for the Chief of Staff, in CofS, DA file 337, Case 14. (2) MFR, 11 Dec. 50, sub: Conference, in G-3, DA file 320.2, Case 45. (3) History of DA Activities Relating to the Korean Conflict, 25 June 1950-8 September 1951, ACofS G-3, Army War Plans Br, p. 4. (4) MFR, 11 Dec. 50, sub: Augmentation of the Army to Eighteen Divs. in G-3, DA file 320.2, Case 45.

[19] (1) Min., 51st mtg. Army Policy Council, 6 Dec. 50, in CofS, DA file 334 (APC). (2) MFR, 11 Dec. 50, sub: Conference, in G-3, DA file 320.2, Case 45. (3) PL 450, 82d Congress, 2d session, H. J. Resolution 477 as amended by PL 12, 83d Congress.

Washington officials asked MacArthur to sound out opinion within his command on the President's proclamation. MacArthur replied that because of limitations of time and the "far flung distribution" of his various subcommands no real sampling of reactions to the speech could be obtained. But, as far as he could judge, the reaction was favorable. "There can be little doubt, however," MacArthur concluded, "but that most would concur in my own personal opinion that the crucial realities of the nation's present circumstances impel the immediate and complete mobilization of our full military potential." [21]

X Corps Is Ordered Out of North Korea

The possibility that evacuation might be forced by enemy pressure was being considered in Tokyo at this same time. On 6 December, General Wright gave General MacArthur a detailed study of the problem of quitting Korea should it become necessary. Wright pointed out that an evacuation through Inch'on would be slow and dangerous. Pusan, on the other hand, offered every advantage for speedy and efficient out-loading of men and equipment. At Pusan, twenty-eight ships could be berthed around the clock while Inch'on could handle only LST's and similar assault craft and then only for two 4-hour periods each day. Pusan had pier-crane facilities for all types of heavy lift, while Inch'on had none, The turnaround time from Japan to Pusan, moreover, was only one-fourth that from Japan to Inch'on. By conservative estimate, General Wright believed that all U.N. units and equipment could be taken out of Pusan five times as fast as from Inch'on. Wright realized, too, that air operations against the Chinese would be more effective as the enemy moved deeper into Korea. If the evacuation took place from Pusan, it could be inferred that MacArthur's forces had delayed successively and that rear airfields would be maintained and protected. Once these forces reached the old Pusan Perimeter, Japanese airfields could be used to continue effective support of the evacuation. [22]

Following this line of reasoning, General Wright then recommended that Almond's corps be sea-lifted from the northeastern portion of Korea at the earliest practicable date and relanded at Pusan or P'ohang-dong. Wright further recommended that X Corps be absorbed by the Eighth Army. Thus strengthened, the Eighth Army would make withdrawals in successive positions-if necessary, to the Pusan Perimeter. [23]

[20] (1) Presidential Proclamation 2914, 16 Dec. 50. (2) MacArthur Hearings, p. 3520.

[21] (1) Rad, DA 99090, DA to CINCFE, 17 Dec. 50. (2) Rad, C 51515, CINCFE to DA for Haislip, 18 Dec. 50.

[22] (1) Memo, Gen. Wright for CofS, GHQ, UNC, 6 Dec. 50. (2) Comd Rpt, GHQ, UNC, Dec. 50, Annex 4, Part III, "A" 741.

[23] Ibid.

General MacArthur was most reluctant to place Almond under Walker's command, but yielded to what appeared to him to be the overriding wisdom of consolidating his strength in Korea. On 7 December, he approved General Wright's recommendations and notified both Walker and Almond of his decision. [24] He told them:

     Current planning provides for a withdrawal in successive positions, 
     if necessary, to the Pusan area. Eighth Army will hold the Seoul 
     area for the maximum time possible short of entailing such 
     envelopment as would prevent its withdrawal to the south. Planning 
     further envisions the early withdrawal of X Corps from the Hungnam 
     area and junction with Eighth Army as practicable. At such time, X 
     Corps will pass to command of the Eighth Army. [25]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff told MacArthur at once that they approved his action and that they felt Almond's corps should be withdrawn from Hungnam as early as practicable. [26]

At the 28 November meeting in Tokyo, Almond had told MacArthur that he could hold at Hungnam forever if he were so ordered. Considered without reference to the plight of the Eighth Army in the west, the presence of the X Corps on the Chinese Rank could have proven of considerable military value. But military considerations in northeast Korea had become secondary. The Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly instructed MacArthur to ignore that region.

Upon returning from the Tokyo consultations, Almond had directed his forces to retire upon Hungnam. The first order of business had been to extricate the Army and Marine units cut off by the Chinese around the Changjin Reservoir. Fighting as they withdrew and aided by concentrated close air support, these Marine and Army troops reached Hungnam on 11 December. By the same date, most of Almond's remaining forces had reached the same area.

MacArthur converted his 7 December withdrawal plans into orders on the 8th, and on the 11th, flew into Yonp'o Airfield near Hungnam to hear in person Almond's plan for taking the X Corps out of northeastern Korea. [27] Almond told MacArthur that his corps could clear Hungnam by 25 December and close in Pusan by 27 December. The total tonnage to be outloaded from Hungnam would reach 400,000 tons. To move this amount of tonnage by water, 75 cargo vessels, 15 troopships, and 40 LST's would be required. About 500 tons of men and equipment would have to be airlifted each day from 14 to 18 December. Almond believed that the withdrawal would be orderly, and that enemy forces in the area were too limited to interfere with the movement. No supplies or organic equipment would be destroyed or left behind. [28]

On 12 December, MacArthur notified the Department of the Army that the X Corps had started withdrawing, with the ROK 3d Division already en route by water to Pusan. The plan for the remainder of the evacuation provided for the contraction of the corps defense perimeter around the Hamhung-Hungnam area as the corps units departed in phases. [29]

[24] (1) Comments, Gen. Hickey on Appleman MS, 14 Feb. 56. (2) Rad, CX 50635, CINCFE to All Comdrs, 7 Dec. 50.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Rad, JCS 94800, JCS to CINCFE, 8 Dec. 50.

[27] (1) Rad, CX 50801, CINCUNC to All Comdrs, 8 Dec. 50. (2) Comd Rpt, U.S. X Corps, Dec. 50. (3) Rad, CX 50801, CINCUNC to CG X Corps, 9 Dec. 50.

[28] Memo, by Gen. Almond, 11 Dec. 50, sub: Movement of X Corps to the Pusan Area, GHQ, UNC Comd Rpt, Dec. 50, Annex 4, Part III, "I" 1475.

[29] Rad, CX 51102, CINCFE to DA, 12 Dec. 50.

There were no manuals to rely on in the planning and carrying out of the evacuation of such great numbers of troops and such great quantities of equipment from an area under constant enemy pressure. There was no time, either, for research or experimentation. Unlike Dunkerque, the evacuation plan called for the removal of all equipment and supplies. [30]

[30] X Corps Special Rpt, Hungnam Evacuation, December 1950.

Department of the Army officials were apprehensive lest Almond's force leave behind supplies and equipment which would be of value to the enemy. On 19 December, in a teleconference with the Far East Command's representatives, they asked what plans had been made for the evacuation or destruction of X Corps' supplies and whether or not it appeared that these plans could be carried out successfully. These officials were reassured by General MacArthur's staff, who told them that the evacuation plan called for the transfer of X Corps' supplies to the Eighth Army area. Such items as were excess or damaged but repairable would be sent to Japan. Any supplies which could not be loaded out in time would be destroyed. Most of the stocks of food and ammunition would have been used up by troops covering the evacuation. "The prospect of successfully implementing the evacuation," Department of the Army officials were reassured, "are excellent." [31]

[31] (1) Telecon, TT 4147, DA and GHQ, 19 Dec. 50. (2) Rad, C 51686, CINCFE to DA, 20 Dec. 50.

Fortunately, and for reasons best known to themselves, the Chinese made no concerted effort to overrun the beachhead, although light scattered thrusts suggesting reconnaissance in preparation for larger operations were made by them throughout the evacuation operation. As the corps perimeter contracted, naval gunfire, artillery, and air support were intensified against the possibility of enemy attempts to build up forces for major assaults. The 3d Division provided the last defensive force for the perimeter, and, on 24 December, strongly supported by naval gunfire and carrier-based marine and naval aircraft, successfully executed the final withdrawal from the Hungnam beachhead. Extensive demolitions of bridges and installations of military value were carried out at the last minute. According to X Corps officers, no serviceable equipment or supplies were abandoned, and all personnel were evacuated. [32] All together, 193 shiploads of men and materiel were moved out of Hungnam Harbor aboard Navy transports. Approximately 105,000 fighting men, 98,000 Korean civilians, 17,500 vehicles, and 350,000 tons of bulk cargo were removed from the beachhead. [33]

As Almond's troops evacuated their holdings in northeast Korea, the Eighth Army continued to withdraw to the south. Chinese pressure did not force these displacements. They were part of Walker's general withdrawal plan to form a continuous defensive line across Korea at the most advantageous position. The Eighth Army still had no contact with the Chinese, but intelligence reports showed that the enemy was moving into P'yongyang. By mid-December, the Eighth Army occupied a vague line extending along the south bank of the Imjin River, through Yongp'yong, Hwach'on, and Inje, to Yangyang on the east coast. [34]

The Chinese did not follow up Walker's withdrawal as closely as had been expected. In mid-December, ROK units in east central Korea had been attacked by North Korean troops. These North Korean forces appeared to be engaged in a screening and reconnaissance mission for the Chinese. Since the North Koreans were operating on their home grounds it was natural they should be used for this purpose. Throughout the next several days, more and more North Koreans appeared in front of the Eighth Army, apparently probing the line on behalf of the Chinese. American authorities were frankly puzzled by the actions of the Chinese. General Willoughby had several theories which he passed along to Washington. "Due to the depth of the withdrawal executed by Eighth Army," he said, "it is evident that the enemy, lacking any great degree of mobility has been unable to regain contact." He surmised that the Chinese had expected Walker to make a strong stand north of P'yongyang and that when he failed to do so the Chinese had been thrown off-balance. "There is little doubt but that he is now regrouping his forces under the screen of North Korean units," the UNC intelligence chief asserted, "preparatory to renewing the offensive at a time of his own choosing." It had been reliably reported that the Chinese had entered P'yongyang soon after it was deserted by the Eighth Army, but the whereabouts of the main body of Chinese forces in late December remained a mystery. [35]

[32] X Corps Special Rpt, Dec. 50, sub: Hungnam Evacuation, 9-24 Dec. 50.

[33] Comd Rpt, GHQ, UNC, Dec. 50.

[34] Comd Rpt, HQ, EUSAK, Dec. 50, p. 62, plate 6, line B.

[35] (1) Telecon, TT 4135, DA and GHQ, 14 Dec. 50. (2) Telecon, TT 4142, DA and GHQ, 18 Dec. 50.

On 19 December, Willoughby again expressed his puzzlement, telling Washington, "The whereabouts of the Chinese Communist forces and the reasons why these units have remained so long out of contact continue in the speculative realm." He felt that an offensive was not immediately forthcoming since the lack of contact with the Chinese and the relatively light pressure being exerted by North Korean forces against the Eighth Army did not point in that direction. In order to find out just what was going on, General MacArthur directed Walker to conduct aggressive ground reconnaissance to a considerable depth through the North Korean screen with particular attention to finding probable routes of enemy advance, locations, strengths, and to capture Chinese prisoners for interrogation. [36]

General Walker was killed in a vehicle accident near Uijongbu, Korea, on the morning of 23 December 1950. General Milburn, the I Corps commander, became acting commanding general of the Eighth Army. The possibility that Walker might be killed had been discussed earlier by General MacArthur and General Collins during the latter's visits to the Far East. General MacArthur had told Collins that if Walker were lost he wanted General Ridgway, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Administration, Department of the Army, and one of General Collins' key assistants in Washington, as Eighth Army commander. MacArthur was familiar with Ridgway's fine combat record in World War II and realized that Ridgway, in his position at the Department of the Army, was in extremely close touch with the Korean situation and capable of stepping in at once. Upon Walker's death, an immediate call was made from Tokyo to General Collins, who obtained clearance from Secretary Marshall and President Truman on the designation of Ridgway as the new Eighth Army commander. [37] General Ridgway left Washington almost immediately and reached Tokyo at midnight on Christmas Day.

[36] (1) Telecon, TT 4147, DA and GHQ, 19 Dec. 50. (2) Telecon, TT 4156, DA and GHQ, 21 Dec. 50.

No American outside the Far East knew more about the Korean situation than General Ridgway. In his position as deputy chief of staff for administration all reports, studies, and recommendations on Korea at the national level had passed through his hands. It was he who had taken much of the action to speed the shipments of units and replacements to MacArthur in July and August. He had gone with the President's special representative, Mr. Harriman, to Tokyo in August during the touch-and-go battles around Pusan. He had conferred with MacArthur and seen the Eighth Army's plight at first hand.

Ridgway's whole career had prepared him to command the Eighth Army. As a young officer he had served in China and in the Philippines. During World War II he had commanded an airborne division, later, a corps. He had led his troops brilliantly through Sicily and Normandy, through the Battle of the Bulge, and to the Baltic at the war's end. After the war, in a variety of staff and command assignments, Ridgway had gained valuable knowledge of Communist methods, purposes, and strategies. He was convinced they had to be stopped in Korea.

Ridgway took command of forces in Korea that had suffered a month of reversals. No major decisions as to future courses of action had yet been reached although numerous exploratory steps had been taken. As in November, once the enemy relaxed pressure, the nation's planners seemed to slacken their efforts to find a solution. The problems facing the United States and the United Nations Command were more political than military. Such decisions as whether or not to take action against the Chinese aggressors outside Korea had been raised but not answered. The problem of whether or not to evacuate had also been raised, but had been put aside as a result of lessening enemy pressure. The same fact had befallen the closely related cease-fire problem. The question of whether or not to reinforce the Far East Command was half answered by the nation's inability to do so, and the rest of the answer was obscured by the fog of indecision surrounding the core of the problem, "What is the best course of action now."

[37] MacArthur Hearings, pp. 588, 1201-02.

Ridgway Takes Over

Christmas found the Eighth Army halted uneasily near the 38th Parallel, awaiting its new commander and the new enemy. Signs were increasing that the Chinese were closing the gap and were advancing down the peninsula in a coordinated effort to feel out the Eighth Army's defenses before launching another major attack. A tense calm hung over the battle area. In a telephone report from Korea on 26 December, General Allen, Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, told GHQ officers, "We got another army. Pick up another one about every day. They are just building up. Don't know when they will hit. That is all we have. Otherwise dead quiet." [38]

MacArthur told Ridgway that the best he could hope for was a tactical success, possibly holding and defending South Korea. He remarked, "We are now operating in a mission vacuum while diplomacy attempts to feel its way...." Any substantial military success by Ridgway's Eighth Army would greatly strengthen the hands of the diplomats. Tactical air power had proven disappointing to MacArthur, who now charged that it could not isolate the battlefield or stop the flow of enemy reinforcements into the battle. MacArthur reiterated that the Chinese were dangerous opponents and that the entire Chinese military establishment was coming into Korea to win. Touching on his recommendations to Washington, MacArthur remarked that the Chinese mainland was wide open in the south for attack by forces on Formosa. He had recommended that such an attack be made since it would relieve the pressure in Korea. [39]

Ridgway found MacArthur discouraged by the swing of events in Korea and ready to turn over to him a great deal of authority and latitude in directing combat operations. MacArthur indicated to Ridgway that he was to be both empowered and expected to plan and carry out all military operations of the United Nations forces in Korea. He told Ridgway that he was to act as he thought best. "You will make mistakes in Korea," MacArthur said, "we all do. But I will take full responsibility." He also told Ridgway that the X Corps would pass to his control as soon as it arrived in South Korea. [40]

When Ridgway questioned MacArthur more specifically as to his authority in directing operations in Korea, including a possible attack, MacArthur simply said, "Matt, the Eighth Army is yours." "No field commander could have asked for more," Ridgway says of this full grant of authority. [41]

General Ridgway thus went into Korea carrying a carte blanche to employ the Eighth Army as he found best and without reference to Tokyo for instructions. Ridgway could attack, defend, or withdraw; the decision was left to him. But while he was not required and never did ask confirmation of his actions, he did notify MacArthur in detail of his intentions. But MacArthur never questioned him. Whereas Walker had been kept under close supervision and control, Ridgway was not. [42]

[38] General Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War, Issues and Policies, June 1950-June 1951, pp. 350-53, MS, copy in OCMH.

[39] (1) Ibid. (2) See also Matthew B. Ridgway, The Korean War (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1967), pp. 82-83.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] General Ridgway recalls that between the time he assumed command and March 1951, after the Eighth Army had begun its northward march, General MacArthur stayed aloof from tactical decisions and visited Korea only twice. Thereafter he visited Korea and Ridgway weekly. Ridgway also expressed the belief that, had he thought it necessary, he could have led the Eighth Army out of Korea without recrimination from his superiors. General Hickey, who was acting chief of staff under MacArthur and, later, chief of staff under Ridgway, was of the opinion that Ridgway was under no restrictions on withdrawing, and that it was Ridgway's decisions and actions that eventually tipped the balance and kept the Eighth Army fighting in Korea. See Intervs, Appleman with Ridgway, Oct. 51, and Appleman with Hickey, 10 Oct. 51.

Fear that the Eighth Army might evacuate Korea obsessed the South Koreans. Admittedly, the specter had substance. The final decision awaited the outcome on the battlefield but the prospects were not bright at the moment. One of Ridgway's first acts on reaching Korea was to call on President Rhee in Seoul and to assure him, "I am glad to be here and I aim to stay." To the men of his new command, Ridgway announced bluntly, "You will have my utmost. I shall expect yours." [43]

During his conference with General MacArthur, Ridgway had asked for and received permission to attack in order to regain lost ground, and when he went to Korea he fully intended to attack as soon as possible. But he found not only his major commanders but also his Eighth Army staff extremely skeptical of such an attack. They were not, in Ridgway's words, "offensive minded." Under the circumstances and in view of these attitudes, Ridgway decided against an attack in the immediate future, at least during the remainder of December. But he ordered plans made at once for offensive operations and he set about instilling an "attack" spirit into his staff. "I skinned Eighth Army staff officers individually and collectively many times to have them do what I wanted," Ridgway later recalled. "I told them heads would roll if my orders were not carried out"; and he warned his staff, "I am going to attack to find out where the enemy is since G-2 cannot give me clear evidence." [44]

With characteristic directness, Ridgway began forcing the army to turn its eyes to the front. Step by step, in deliberate and carefully conceived actions and orders, he bore down on his new command. By example and by exhortation, he began shaking his staff, commanders, and men out of the defeatist mood. Where toughness was required, he was tough; where persuasion was indicated, he persuaded; and where personal example was needed, he set the example.

[43] Ridgway's activities and reactions during the first several weeks after his assumption of command are well covered in his manuscript, The Korean War, Issues and Policies, June 1950-June 1951; in his books, Soldier and The Korean War, in various interviews and conversations with the author; and in interviews with Dr. John Miller, jr., Major Owen Carroll, and Mr. B. C. Mossman, 30 November 1956, copies in OCMH.

[44] Interv, Appleman with Ridgway, Oct. 51.

A Decision Hangs Fire

The enemy, meanwhile, had completed his concentrations and other preparations for attacking the Eighth Army, and on the night of 31 December introduced the New Year with a general offensive south of the 38th parallel. (Map VI) The Chinese attacked on a 44-mile front stretching east from Kaesong on Ridgway's left flank to a point northwest of Ch'unch'on on the east central front. The main effort came down the Yongch'on-Uijongbu-Seoul axis, obviously aimed at the seizure of Seoul and Inch'on. General Ridgway, in reporting the attack to General MacArthur, predicted that the Chinese invasion of South Korea was a prelude to an attempt by the Chinese to drive his command from the Korean peninsula by sheer manpower. "The Army Eight," Ridgway told MacArthur, "will continue its present mission, inflicting the maximum punishment and delaying in successive positions while maintaining its major forces intact " [45]

The great strength of the Chinese assault in the west and the imminent danger of a breakthrough and envelopment down the east central corridors, defended largely by ROK units, forced General Ridgway reluctantly to direct certain withdrawals in early January. On 1 January, Ridgway ordered his western divisions to fall back from the Imjin River to a line slightly north of the Han River that formed a deep bridgehead around Seoul But when the enemy swiftly followed up this withdrawal, Ridgway on 3 January decided to move south of the Han and to abandon Seoul. He was determined that this rearward move would be fought as a delaying action and so instructed his corps commanders. On 4 January, the Eighth Army started back to a line extending from P'yongt'aek on the west coast eastward to the coastal village of Samch'ok. [46]

Reports reached General Ridgway that in withdrawing from the Han River some of his major units failed to damage the enemy materially or even delay him appreciably. Some units actually had broken contact with the enemy to fall back. Ridgway addressed his corps commanders sternly on this matter, emphasizing that he expected them to exploit fully every opportunity to damage the enemy. [47]

[45] Msg., C 52524, CINCFE to DA (quoting Ridgway), 2 Jan. 51.

[46] Comd Rpt, EUSAK, Jan. 51, Narrative, p. 56.

Page 310

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Consider Options

Even before this January demonstration of Chinese power, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had concluded that the Chinese Communists had enough strength to drive MacArthur out of Korea. But they wanted MacArthur to stay if he could. A quick, massive build-up of the forces in Korea, much greater than that for Operation CHROMITE five months earlier, might keep the Eighth Army from being shoved into the Sea of Japan; but a major build-up, especially a quick one, was out of the question in view of shortages of combat divisions in the United States and the worsening world situation. On 30 December, the Joint Chiefs of Staff scotched any vestigial hopes which MacArthur might have held for additional ground forces by telling him that they would not send any more American divisions to fight in Korea at that time. [48]

Chinese successes in Korea had, concomitantly, increased the threat of a general war, encouraging further Communist military moves against other sensitive areas and heightening the tensions between the Soviet bloc and those nations allied with the United States. The Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed this out to MacArthur and told him bluntly, "We believe that Korea is not the place to fight a major war." If more American divisions were sent to Korea, American commitments throughout the world, including protection of Japan, would be seriously jeopardized. [49]

This news came as no surprise to MacArthur. Collins had told him substantially the same thing three weeks earlier when he had pressed for an increase in the strength of other United Nations contingents to a total of 75,000 men. The Joint Chiefs now told him that this could not be done either. "It is not practicable to obtain significant additional forces for Korea from other members of the United Nations," they said. [50]

In the minds of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the best way for MacArthur to keep from being pushed off Korea was to fight and to fight hard. If the Eighth Army fought and killed enough enemy troops, Chinese and North Korean commanders might give up any attempt to drive the United Nations out of Korea as too costly. The Joint Chiefs of Staff expected no miracles. But if the Eighth Army could, without losing too many men and too much equipment, stop and hold the Chinese, not necessarily north of the 38th Parallel, MacArthur would have done his nation a great service. For the prestige, both military and political, which the Chinese Communists had lately acquired by defeating the United Nations Command in North Korea, was exceedingly detrimental to the national interests of the United States; and MacArthur could deflate that prestige by staging a military comeback.

[47] Ibid., p. 12.

[48] Rad, JCS 99935, JCS (Personal) for MacArthur, 30 Dec. 50.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

The events of the past month had shown clearly that General MacArthur's military mission assigned on 27 September stood in need of revision. The Joint Chiefs revised it in these words: "You are now directed to defend in successive positions...." These positions were those which MacArthur had already described to his major commanders on 7 December. In addition to defending these positions, MacArthur was to damage the enemy as much as possible, "subject to the primary consideration of the safety of your troops." [51]

But the Washington authorities fully realized that mere words and military directives would not halt the Chinese and that enemy pressure might, in spite of MacArthur's best efforts, force him to evacuate Korea. They saw, too, that it was advisable to determine, in advance if possible, the last reasonable opportunity for MacArthur's command to evacuate in an orderly fashion. This was especially important since the enemy threatened not only Korea, but, in league with the Soviet Union, posed, by no great stretch of the imagination, a real threat to Japan. With Japan gone, MacArthur's command could only fall back on Okinawa, Formosa, or the Philippines.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff told General MacArthur:

     It seems to us that if you are forced back to positions in the 
     vicinity of the Kum River and a line generally eastward therefrom, 
     and if thereafter the Chinese Communists mass large forces against 
     your positions with an evident capability of forcing us out of 
     Korea, it then would be necessary, under those conditions, to 
     direct you to commence a withdrawal to Japan. [52]

When the Joint Chiefs sought MacArthur's ideas on the timing of such a withdrawal, MacArthur assured them that there was no need to make a decision for evacuation until his forces were actually forced back to what he called the "beachhead line." Since the term beachhead line could be interpreted several ways, the Joint Chiefs asked MacArthur to be more specific. General Collins had brought back from the Far East a marked map showing nine possible defensive positions to be occupied by the Eighth Army in its withdrawal down the peninsula. One line marked positions held by the Eighth Army along the Naktong River in early September, and the Joint Chiefs asked MacArthur if this line was the beachhead line he had in mind. He stated that it was, but pointed out that exactly where the line would run should be regarded as completely flexible. "In an actual evacuation under pressure there would be progressive further contractions to a final inner arc," he told them. "The operation would probably be generally similar to that at Hungnam." General Collins still did not understand which line MacArthur meant. He reminded MacArthur that three lines on his marked map could be interpreted as a beachhead line, and asserted that when the Eighth Army had been forced back to the northernmost of the three, the time for final decision would have arrived. [53]

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

Page 312

Evacuation Plans

The rumor of a United Nations withdrawal from Korea spread quickly among men and officers of the ROK Army. General Ridgway pointed out to General MacArthur on 8 January that the apprehension among ROK soldiers as to their future was dangerous and could seriously affect his command. Ridgway suggested that MacArthur make a public statement which would serve to banish the fears of the ROK fighting forces. MacArthur passed this suggestion to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the comment that "A reassuring statement by me such as General Ridgway suggests is impossible unless and until the basis for such a statement is established by policy determination at governmental level." [54]

MacArthur had already directed his staff to continue planning the evacuation procedures. Since an actual evacuation would be largely a Navy task, General Wright, the G-3, turned to the Navy for advice. Rear Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, Deputy Chief of Staff, COMNAVFE, on 7 January addressed Wright on the problems and factors to be considered. If the evacuation took place from Pusan, there was a strong likelihood it would be done under enemy pressure. There would be little similarity between a Pusan evacuation and the removal of forces from the Hungnam beachhead. Both in scale and difficulty, the Pusan operation would surpass that at Hungnam. Consequently, the length of time required to move troops and supplies would be much greater, and Burke therefore urged the early completion of advance plans. He advised Wright to designate at once the division which would hold the final perimeter at Pusan. Burke recommended the 1st Marine Division since it had special training in naval procedures, including the requirements for naval gunfire support, and had proven its combat effectiveness on more than one occasion. For employment on the intermediate perimeter, which would probably be manned by two divisions, Burke felt that any of the Army divisions would do. [55]

No divisions were ever designated for these duties, since by the middle of January the military situation gave General Wright some reason to believe that a forced withdrawal might not materialize. By 16 January, in fact, Wright was willing to speculate that, unless political considerations required or indicated withdrawal as the best course of action, it would be possible for the United Nations Command to remain in Korea as long as higher authority dictated. He hesitated to establish an evacuation target date even for planning purposes since, in his mind, the proper date would be dictated by enemy action and "political considerations." He did estimate the time required for a complete withdrawal. On the basis of tonnage to be removed from the peninsula, estimated at 2,000,000 metric tons, the best possible out-loading time, using all possible ports of exit within the contracted defense perimeter, would be fifty days. [56]

[53] (1) Ibid. (2) Rad, C 52391, MacArthur (Personal) for JCS, 30 Dec. 50. (3) Rad, DA 80149, Collins (Personal) for MacArthur, 3 Jan. 51. (4) Rad, C 52586, CINCUNC to DA, 3 Jan. 51. (5) Rad, DA 80253, Collins (Personal) for MacArthur, 4 Jan. 51. (6) Rad, C 52712, MacArthur (Personal) for Collins 4 Jan. 51. (7) Rad, JCS 80680, JCS (Personal) for MacArthur, 9 Jan. 51.

[54] Msg., C 52964, CINCFE to JCS, 8 Jan. 51.

[55] Memo, COMNAVFE for Gen. Wright, 7 Jan. 51 sub: Plans for Possible Re-Employment From Pusan Area, GHQ, UNC, G-3 files.

As a further step in evacuation planning, General Collins, while on another visit to the theater, informed General MacArthur on 15 January that if a UNC evacuation became necessary, President Truman wanted all members of the ROK Government, ROK Army, and ROK police forces taken out. General MacArthur expressed satisfaction with this directive, stating that he thought it essential. Plans for the evacuation were immediately begun, and when Collins returned from Korea on 19 January the situation was laid before him. General Hickey pointed out that more than a million Koreans would have to be evacuated under the President's order. This figure included 36,000 ROK governmental officials and their dependents, 600,000 ROK police, and 260,000 ROK soldiers. These latter two groups had about 400,000 dependents. As to the place to which these people would be removed, Collins and MacArthur agreed that as many ROK soldiers as possible would be placed on the off-shore island of Cheju-do in order to maintain, after evacuation, a legal status for continuing to fight in Korea.

A possible complication in planning and achieving any evacuation of ROK personnel as directed by President Truman rested in a recent ROK petition to the United States for aid in strengthening ROK forces. In December, the ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs had asked Secretary of Defense Marshall to "release to us all the light arms which are available, in order that our young men may hurl themselves in the face of the advancing enemy." At the same time, the Korean Ambassador, Dr. John M. Chang, had urged the Department of State to arm the so-called Korean Youth Corps, which Chang claimed consisted of 500,000 young men, all eager to fight the Chinese. The Department of State recommended to the Department of Defense that this be done, but only after these Korean youths had been formed into organized units under the control and discipline of the military authorities in Korea. [57] General Marshall directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to look into these requests and to obtain General MacArthur's views on their propriety.

In General MacArthur's mind, the whole problem of giving more arms to the ROK Government centered not on whether these units could be created and armed but on whether any advantage was to be gained by so doing. MacArthur emphasized that large numbers of small arms had already been given ROK police units, anti-guerrilla security forces, and special ROK organizations for use in enemy-held territory. But friendly guerrilla forces lacked strong-willed leadership and were accomplishing little in enemy rear areas. Enemy guerrilla units, on the other hand, continued to operate effectively throughout South Korea. [58]

[56] Memo, Gen. Wright for CofS GHQ, UNC (Gen. Hickey), 16 Jan. 51, sub: Disposition of U.N. Forces in Korea in Event of Withdrawal From Korea, G-3, GHQ, UNC files.

[57] (1) Ltr., B. C. Limb, ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Gen. George C. Marshall, Secy. Defense, 12 Dec. 50, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 149. (2) Ltr., H. Freeman Mathews, Depy. Under Secy. State, to Maj. Gen. James H. Burns, OSD, 12 Dec. 50, in G-3, DA file 091 Korea, Case 137.

General MacArthur believed that checking the enemy would depend upon setting up a defense with U.S. divisions deployed in depth and in mutually supporting positions. This observation strongly indicates that MacArthur felt, in early January, that his forces would have to withdraw back to the Pusan Perimeter or even farther. He expressed the opinion that, because of the probably restricted area of the battlefield in which the United Nations forces might be fighting in the near future, and the greater value per rifle that might be gained by arming the Japanese National Police Reserve, training and arming of additional ROK forces appeared questionable. He recommended that the extra South Korean manpower be used to replace losses in existing ROK units, concluding:

     The long range requirement for or desirability of arming additional 
     ROK personnel appears to be dependent primarily upon determination 
     of the future United States military position with respect to both 
     the Korean campaign and the generally critical situation in the Far 
     East. [59] 

MacArthur had once again taken the opportunity to point out to the Washington officials that he did not feel their policy was sufficiently clear. Further, if evacuation became necessary he did not want a bigger ROK Army to evacuate.

The big question in MacArthur's mind, now as before, was whether there was to be a change in national policy that would make evacuation unnecessary. If there was such a change, and the steps which MacArthur had proposed were taken, evacuation would not be necessary. But if the nation's leaders appeared unwilling to make this policy change, MacArthur felt that eventual evacuation was inevitable and that there was no reason why the Joint Chiefs of Staff should not issue their evacuation directive to him right away. If some slight chance existed that national policy might be changed, even if not immediately, General MacArthur felt that the Joint Chiefs of Staff could delay issuing the evacuation directive until the Eighth Army had been forced back to the ninth and final marked position he had drawn around Pusan in the hope that an extension of military activity against the Chinese might be allowed and evacuation staved off. [60]

[58] Rad, C 52879, CINCFE to DA for JCS, 6 Jan. 51.

[59] Msg., C 52879, CINCFE to DA for JCS, 6 Jan. 51.

[60] (1) Rad, JCS 99935, JCS (Personal) for MacArthur, 29 Dec. 50. (2) Rad, C 52391, MacArthur (Personal) for JCS, 30 Dec. 50. (3) Rad, DA 80149, Collins (Personal) for MacArthur, 3 Jan. 51. (4) Rad, C 52586, CINCUNC to DA, 3 Jan. 51. (5) Rad, DA 80253, Collins (Personal) for MacArthur, 4 Jan. 51. (6) Rad, C 52712, MacArthur (Personal) for Collins, 4 Jan. 51. (7) Rad, JCS 80680, JCS (Personal) for MacArthur, 9 Jan. 51.

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