Striking without warning in overwhelming force, armed and supported by Communist Russia, North Korea's veteran troops crushed the unprepared
Republic of Korea (ROK). The NK were only contained by the entry of the United States, quickly supported by the United Nations.
For a time, the issue was in doubt. Although the NK had virtually annihilated the
ROK forces, the surprised ROKs had resisted desperately, and the NK had
suffered grave losses in men and material in the savage fighting. When the NK
first met our own unprepared army they initially crushed us as well, but the resolute few who always respond to challenge in spite of poor leadership
fought well enough to give the US and UN time to build strength to contain, and finally stop them completely, in the battle of the Pusan
Perimeter. Even before it was clear we could do even this, General MacArthur was preparing a masterful counter-strike, perhaps the greatest amphibious assault
of the 20th Century.
On September 15, 1950 Joint Task Force Seven, with more than 320 warships including 4 aircraft
carriers, carried the nearly 70,000 man strong force of X Corps into the dangerous tides of Inchon harbor. Preceded by heavy
naval bombardment and under a blanket of fighting aircraft, led by the veteran 5th Marines, elements of
the 1st Marine Division were landed 100 miles behind the North Korean lines and fought their way
on to take Seoul, by 9/25. The newly reinforced 7th Infantry Division protected its flank. The stroke was decisive.
Conceived and directed by our brilliant general Douglas MacArthur, the assault
at Inchon was a strategic masterpiece. The invasion
had suddenly positioned some of our finest fighting men across the main NK lines of
supply, and retreat, far in the rear of their attacking armies. Within two weeks, the North Korean army was
largely destroyed or made ineffective.
The way to the Yalu, and total destruction of North Korea's military power,
With the North Korean invasion hardly a week old, and their armies running
amok down the Peninsula, General MacArthur began planning an amphibious
assault to retake the communications center at Seoul. This would trap
the main NK combat forces, and permit us to destroy them at leisure.
MacArthur placed army Major General Edward M. Almond in charge of
X Corps, with the responsibility of carrying out this operation. The Marine
Corps were expert in amphibious assault, so this was a surprising move.
It led to serious problems from the beginning, and was almost fatally
damaging later in the rugged Taebaek mountains.
For the assault to have maximum effectiveness, a strong military force was
required on the southern part of the Peninsula to keep the NK fully engaged.
However, the violence of the NK attacks was menacing their very existence.
A series of military defeats, and organizational difficulties, repeatedly
delayed formation of a strong enough reserve force to stage such a daring
United States Marine Corps Readiness
President Truman, guided by his Cabinet and the JCS and a strong personal dislike of the USMC, had cut the Fleet Marine Force to 34,000 officers
and men, giving a ground fighting strength of only six infantry battalions, and a total Corps strength of 74,279 officers and men. Eliminated
were the two Marine divisions which would surely have enabled Eighth Army to meet and defeat the In Min Gun in the Pusan Perimeter.
Corps strength was so reduced that the 3 Rifle battalions available for a provisional brigade only had two companies each.
Truman had so weakened the Corps that they could not man the third companies ... the elements of maneuver!
Forced to attack their veteran enemy frontally, not manned with the force needed to flank them and cut off their retreat, the Marines suffered
terrible losses in their early battles. The third
companies did not join 5th Marines until after the second Naktong battle, and then were mostly manned by reservists who had been driving buses
and bagging at supermarkets barely weeks before.
As it turned out, that single under-strength Marine RCT was still a resolute and deadly fighting force, capable of rapid deployment, and effectively
saved the Perimeter and South Korea with its valiant defeats of the NK in the Naktong battles.
When Truman permitted calling up the Reserves, the Marines once again rose to the Nation's need, and gave MacArthur the Infantry force needed for decisive
counter-attack behind the enemy's over-extended front lines.
5th Marine Regiment
Originally selected by MacArthur for the amphibious operation, early Eighth Army defeats made
the need for reliable infantry in the perimeter paramount. 5th Marines formed the 1st
Provisional Marine Brigade and landed at Pusan 8/3, serving with distinction at the Naktong
Bulge, well supported by their M26 Pershings and Marine Corsairs.
By "distinction", the 5th Marines
typically won their engagements with the NK forces whereas Army units typically did not, and half the Army casualties were usually MIAs whereas the 5th usually had none. On 9/12, the 5th mounted out from Pusan
to help form the rest of 1st Mar Div and X Corps at sea.
1st Marine Regiment
1st Marines were activated in August, and staged in Japan. 1st joined the Inchon invasion in the afternoon of the first day, assaulting Blue beach.
7th Marine Regiment
7th Marines were activated around 9/1, staged at Kobe around 9/9, and on 9/21 were landed at Inchon
to join 1st Mar Div.
7th Infantry Division
7id had been drained piecemeal to supply replacements for 8th Army losses in the perimeter.
By August, it was under half strength, with critical shortages in NCO weapons leaders. By
augmenting the division with over 8,000 inexperienced ROKs, but with high quality artillery
and infantry crew-served weapons troops, 7id was at full strength (24,845) on embarkation
9/11 at Yokohama for Inchon.
General Almond wanted to substitute the 32nd Infantry for the 5th Marines, in
the actual landings. 32nd had about 40% raw ROK recruits, with no amphibious
training. 1stMarDiv commander General O. P. Smith refused to comply with
Almond's directive, and the order was eventually rescinded.
7id landed on 9/18, and mounted out to block NK threats from the south.
AT THE POINT
About one week prior to the invasion, a joint CIA-military
operation "Trudy Jackson" sent in a tough guerilla unit led by Navy
Lt. Eugene Clark, an Old China hand ex-CPO. His team included
an Army captain, three EMs and two Korean military specialists, and
landed on Yonghung-do,
a small island at the mouth of the channel, ten miles from Inchon. Helped
by the small civilian population, Clark's men scouted the tides,
mud-flats and seawalls, getting vital last minute information for the assault.
They were completely successful in this, even reconnoitering fortified Wolmi-do!
The NK soon found the guerillas were there, and sent an assault craft with
16 infantrymen to attack them, but Clark met them in the channel with a
.50 machine gun on a sampan, and sank them all. In a major accomplishment,
Clark got an old light-house working on Palmi-do, which provided a critical
navigation point for our Naval forces.
The down side, when Clark moved his small unit to Palmi-do, the
NK came back unopposed to Yonghung-do, lined up 50 South Koreans
who had helped Clark, and murdered them. A favorite NK tactic.
(My major personal regrets about the KW are that we never rounded
up the guys who did tens of thousands of murders like those, and
hanged them all. )
The assault at Wolmi-Do was preceded by two days of bombardment by 4 cruisers and 5
destroyers, and violent air attacks from TF77. Destroyers Collett and Gurke were hit, and Swenson
took casualties from a near miss. At 0500 on the third day after a final barrage by three LSMRs,
LCVPs and LSVs from three high speed transports (APDs) and one LSD
loaded 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and nine M26 Pershing tanks from A company, 1st Tank Battalion. These marines led the 9/15 Inchon invasion with a dawn assault on Green beach, at Wolmi-do Island, killing over 200 enemy troops and capturing 136 more, with only 17 casualties themselves.
In the afternoon, after the tides had gone out and then back in, the rest of the 5th Marines took Red beach. The enemy now fully alerted, the 5th lost 8 killed and 28 wounded in forcing the NK to surrender. At about the same time, the 1st Marine Regiment assaulted Blue beach, taking it with relatively few casualties.
All these attacks were spearheaded by LCVPs, each carrying 22 men who swarmed up the sea walls over assault ladders. In between the morning and afternoon landings, with the tides out, the Marines on Wolmi-do were surrounded by a sea of mud.
By evening, 9/18, the Marines were at the edge of Kimpo air field, 6 miles from Inchon, capturing the
6,000 foot runway the next day. Although often displaying great individual valor, we had suffered
fewer than 300 casualties, with fewer than 30 KIA, including one corsair pilot. For their loss, besides
winning a major sea port, killing many hundreds of enemy soldiers, destroying 12 of their T34 tanks, and
capturing a major airport, we were positioned to cut off the retreat of their 70,000 assault troops in the south, and move on to capture Seoul itself.
Brilliantly conceived, driven home through the strength and courage of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, Inchon was a remarkable military accomplishment.
"It was a flaming miracle"
Remember, the assaulting forces had never trained together for any combined operation, let alone one so complex as Inchon, where the prominence on
Wolmi-do loomed like Mt. Surubachi on Iwo, where the tides were far more severe than Tarawa, and the narrow approaches made the harbor a potential
My squadron had trained with Marines in prior years, but there was nothing like the pre-invasion
rehearsals of WWII. Not only was the First Marine Division and all of X Corps only formed while actually at sea, but so was the entire invasion
fleet!. And all this done on the fringes of a typhoon!
Apart from the 32' tides and mudflats, we were all very concerned about the enemy blowing us out of the water along
the approaches before we could even reach the assault positions. I mean, we were very very
concerned. A month later at Wonsan we found about 3,000 well placed mines. Only 300 mines along the winding, mud-lined approaches would have been
more than enough to sink our assault ships and block access to the inner harbor. The entire operation would have come apart.
Still, we were almost all Regulars. All senior officers and most senior Navy POs and Marine NCOs were WWII veterans. The battalion assaulting
Wolmi were fresh from victory over North Korea's toughest at 1st and 2nd Naktong. Justified or not, we had infinite confidence.
In the event, it came off like clockwork. That is mainly because of the audacity of MacArthur's plan of attack, and the speed of its execution.
The NK were simply not yet prepared. The approaches were not yet mined nor the inner harbor commanded by their artillery. Their infantry on
Wolmi-do weren't well dug in either. Their 18th Rifle Division was waiting uselessly at Seoul, as were their Tank Regiments.
The NK were beginning to deploy these forces and, if allowed to do so, would have destroyed any invasion attempt. We in the attacking forces would
be there still.
But General MacArthur didn't give them time.
A few weeks later, Washington authorized UN forces to cross the 38th Parallel. Washington informed MacArthur that China was unlikely to enter the
war immediately, so again he sacrificed preparation for speed in an effort to reach the Yalu before the situation could change. As with their
earlier evaluation that North Korea would not attack, CIA Intelligence was
faulty. Against China's veteran guerilla armies preparation was much more vital than haste. 8th Army was ambushed and beaten.
The Marines who crushed the North Koreans at Inchon were also ambushed in the frozen wastes of Chosin where they won a series of
savagely fought tactical victories amidst an overwhelming strategic defeat. Of the 200 Marines my ship Wantuck landed at Wolmi-do,
only 20 were still
standing when 1stMarDiv fought its way out of the trap.
The war went on for almost three more bloody years.
The Naval logistics people for the Inchon invasion did an incredible job, as did the same folks in getting X Corps out of Hungnam on the other side
of the peninsula later on (along with 100,000 refugees!!). These men were real heroes, and nobody remembers even one of them, today.
God bless them, one and all. !!!!
And, for me, General MacArthur will always be a great American, betrayed by
CIA Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs, and politicians at home, who virtually panicked during key moments of decision.
A crowning moment of the brilliance of the logistics planners, and MacArthur's genius,
one of the most amazing photos of the entire war, is the empty
shore on the other side of the Wolmi-do causeway.
A miracle indeed. By any standards.