This site brings together in one place
a small picture of the infantry weapons and history of
the Korean War. But, 50 years removed from when I
bounced around in a VP at Inchon, preparing the
site has left me numbed at our generally abysmal
Given the huge disparity in artillery,
armor, air and naval support, the United States should
have crushed North Korea's offensive within the
first month of our entry into the war. We should have
crushed the Chinese as easily, if necessary.
But then, we should only have crossed
the 38th parallel far enough to establish better
defensive positions for the South.
No need to use nuclear weapons. No need
to start WWIII.
But since the victorious close of WWII
our nation's main concern was self-gratification.
Our political leaders' main concern was staying in
office. Our military leaders' main concern was not
upsetting any higher level of command. As one consequence, our nation could not easily
provide fighting forces who were adequately armed and
psychologically prepared to fight.
In the end, we were saved national
humiliation by a small cadre of cynical professionals,
and an uneven sprinkling of
resolute units and proud individuals. Our capable few
who are always prepared.
Against all odds.
Upon reflection, history shows this
pattern is one we repeat over and over.
The thing is, I had forgotten all
On Sunday, 6/25/50, preceded by a long
and intensive barrage of artillery and mortar fire,
90,000 Russian -armed North
Korean (NK) troops in seven assault infantry divisions
smashed headlong into totally unprepared units of the
army of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Inmun
Gun were led by over 150 T34/85 tanks, and closely supported
by seventeen hundred 122mm howitzers and SU76
self-propelled 76mm guns. Over 200 Russian-supplied YAK
ground-attack aircraft gave them total domination of
The ROKs had eight divisions, but only
four deployed along the 38th parallel, and they only
partially. Much worse, they had no air force, only 2.36
inch rocket launchers, no recoilless rifles, no heavy
mortars, no medium artillery ... and no armor. The
T34s, arguably the best tanks developed in WWII,
advanced in a line-ahead formation. After scores of
ROKs died under their treads, trying desperately to
stop them with satchel charges and hand grenades, the
tanks began moving through the survivors as though they
weren't there. At the same time, their infantry
formations attacked in an inverted Y formation,
sweeping around ROK opposition with the arms,
encircling them, and finally crushing them.
In two days, Seoul was abandoned to the
1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th Korean People's Army (KPA)
divisions, and the KPA 6th division was moving swiftly
down east of the rugged Taebaek mountains. In the first
week, more than 34,000 ROKs, a third of their army,
were killed, captured, or missing.
Although the ROKs had fought
desperately, inflicting severe losses on the assault
troops, this did not slow them down. The high cost of
success to the KPA (or NK) wasn't apparent to US
observers, an intelligence lack with serious
consequences later. By the third week, the NK were
brushing aside our own unprepared 24th division.
The North Koreans were pros. A third of
them fought in the Chinese civil war, and whipped the
rest into fighting shape before they crossed the 38th
parallel. They wiped out 5 ROK divisions in as many
weeks. Had they not paused to re-group, had they simply
continued their violent assault until they either won
all or lost all, they would probably have captured
Pusan and all of South Korea before America had time to
marshal enough force to stop them.
But they did pause, shortly after
meeting American troops.
In fact, the NK easily won most of their initial battles
with us. Truman's Secretary of Defense, Louis
Johnson, had not only virtually disarmed our ground
forces, he had forced a change of mind-set for their
training, resulting in an army much more prepared to be
friendly garrison troops than to fight for their lives
against a fearsome and vicious enemy.
The NK simply crushed 24id's 34th
Regiment, overwhelming them with numbers, better
equipment, and better fighting ability. When this
became generally known, the fighting spirit of other US
units was sometimes hard to find.
The most serious example was 25id's
unreliable all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment. 24th Infantry
coined the term "Bug Out" and illustrated it,
as around Sangju where 24th units abandoned their
machine guns and mortars without being attacked.
Exposing the flanks of adjacent regiments without
warning offered the enemy access around our front
lines, endangering all Eighth Army. At Muchon-ni, when
our disciplined, competent 27th Infantry re-captured
positions fled by 2/24 they found the battalion's
abandoned crew-served weapons still in place.
Even more tragically shameful, when
some of our best men in other regiments were wounded,
they were abandoned by their comrades to the cruelties
of the enemy.
I realize these facts are politically
incorrect, and many creative attempts are being made
today to discount or deny them. Such revisions of
history do injustice to those troops who did stand
their ground and fight, and may do harm to those who
must stand and fight in the future. In the case of the
24th, when it was finally integrated with other
infantry units a year later the issue of race began
gradually fading into military history.
Note 1: Not all the 24th ran.
Pfc William Thompson of 3/24 Heavy Weapons was one of
our few who are always prepared to fight. Although his
whole battalion had fled, he manned his machine gun
alone until he was killed. (As I write these notes,
I wish with all my heart I could go back in time with a
BAR, a bandolier of magazines, a box of Mark IIs, and
stand with him. He got The Medal, posthumously, but I think
he'd rather have had someone take his
From the first six months of the Korean
War one fundamental lesson was taught our nation yet
again, and hopefully by now has been learned. The need
to always keep our combat troops well armed, physically
and psychologically prepared to fight, and to fight as
teams, remains a vital lesson for us today, and
Note 2: True understanding of
the concept of "Team" and its vital
importance in infantry combat is best gained by study
of successful teams in Company or Battalion size.
The Marine Brigade and the 27th Infantry Regiment
action reports are well worth careful reading between
the lines, as are those from elements of
1stMarDiv's later fight-out from Chosin. Although not part of Pusan
Perimeter battles, little mentioned at the time but now
recognized as a classic example of small unit team
coordination in combat is the capture of Maryang
San by the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian
In addition to isolated individuals,
24id's Task Force Smith, 1/21, had earlier
fought well, although heavily outnumbered. First
Battalion's gallant delay of two NK assault
divisions gave the NK their first inkling that the US
was entering the war. Going into Korea on July 1 with
16,000 men, the 24th Infantry Division was down to less
than 9000 when they were relieved by the 1st Cavalry
Division on July 22. By helping cause the NK to
re-group before continuing their onslaught, 24id and
their 21st Infantry Regiment bought time to help save
Astonishingly, the US and UN used that
time to act rapidly and resolutely. Driven by the
energetic UN Secretary-General, Norwegian Trygve Lee,
unopposed in the Security Council because of the
absence of a petulant USSR, and supported by the
belated awareness of the Truman administration of the
true Soviet intentions, the UN authorized international
use of force to drive the NK back to their borders.
With this authorization, in spite of the Truman
Administration's near-emasculation of our Army and
Marine Corps, General MacArthur used the time to
assemble powerful infantry and armour forces, and move
them into an area around the southern port of Pusan, to
form a defensive perimeter. The NK used the time to
consolidate their gains and stage to continue the
The NK seriously began an assault on
the Pusan perimeter on August 4. For the next 6 weeks,
the issue of whether or not we could hold that
perimeter, or would be crushed within it, was in
When they finally crossed the Naktong
and began their violent assault along the entire
Perimeter, simultaneously, only 98,000 NK were
attacking about 180,000 US and ROK troops. We were well
equipped, with 600 main battle tanks against only 100
NK T34s, in excellent defensive positions, supported by
far superior artillery, and we had overwhelming air
superiority. Yet the NK came within a hair of wiping us
The fighting during the first two weeks
of this Second Battle of the Naktong was some of the
most violent during the Korean War, with
proportionately heavy casualties. For instance, about
August 24, near Masan, 7500 NK with 25 tanks daringly
attacked 20,000 US troops with 100 tanks, and almost
broke through for what would have been a cataclysmic
bloodbath at Pusan.
In part, this early NK success was
owing to the Truman administration having reduced our
Army from tough professional soldiers to poorly armed
civilians in uniform, fit for garrison duty but
completely unprepared for the savagery of combat.
In part, it was because the NK were the
reverse. Prepared, veteran, resolute and ferocious.
In part, it was because General
MacArthur's Intelligence Section grossly
underestimated the casualties inflicted on the NK by
the ROKs (estimated 31,000 when in reality the NK had
taken 58,000 casualties, to about 76,000 ROK
casualties). From the outset, NK conscripted South
Koreans into their army, giving the appearance of
strength, but these forced recruits had not the years
of experience at guerilla warfare possessed by the
veteran NK, let alone the will to destroy their own
country. This lack of correct military intelligence led
to a great over-estimation by Far East Command of NK
strength, and a lowered confidence in our front line
The NK continued to menace the
perimeter in early September. On September 6, they
broke through at Yongchon, forcing ROK headquarters to
evacuate Taegu. This time, UN forces bent but they
didn't break, and on September 7 General Walton
Walker finally proclaimed "Our lines will
When the 5th Marines, a proud regiment
of our best fighting men, were withdrawn from his
command, General Walker became less confident. The
Marines had been consistently effective during the
Naktong Bulge fighting. They usually had won their
battles with the NK while Army units usually had not,
and often about half of Army casualties were MIAs while
the Marines usually had none.
But by early September the Army had
been able to bring in its better trained infantry units
from Hawaii and elsewhere, and was steadily improving
in overall combat efficiency.
For example the 35th Infantry Regiment,
the 'Rock of the Nam', well deserved the
Distinguished Unit Citation it won there. Other units
such as our 1st Cavalry Division and 27th Infantry
Regiment were also fighting with determination and
effectiveness. Against our larger numbers, superior
artillery and armor, and total air supremacy, although
the NK were still confident and ferocious they were no
longer nearly good enough to seriously threaten Eighth
Note: Most of the units I mention are
ones I culled from military records only because I
remember them from those times. There were many more
that fought gallantly in defense of the Perimeter,
particularly small units and individuals. Unit for
unit, Eighth Army was badly out-fought by the veteran
NK, but any man who has faced fire and steel for his
country and stood his ground deserves respect. More, in
bravery and sacrifice many of our individual soldiers equalled the
best fighting men of any army, anywhere, any time.
For the Inchon invasion, Army Major General
Almond tried to substitute the 32nd Infantry, almost
half manned by raw ROK recruits with no amphibious
training, for the 5th Marines, but would have had to
relieve 1stMarDiv commander General O.P. Smith to push
through such an astonishing order. Ultimately, it was
decided to let the 5th Marine Regiment mount out with
other Marine units at sea, to help formation of the 1st
Marine Division and X Corps. On September 15, the 5th
led the way when our brilliant General
Douglas MacArthur, with statregic prescience and
unflinching nerve, sent the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry
divisions storming ashore at Inchon, 100 miles behind NK
lines, and soon there were no lines.
Finally able to fight in the kind of
fluid action they were trained for 1st Cavalry division
led a breakout, and the Pusan Perimeter battle was soon
The Road to the
Yalu had opened.
As with all Communist armies, the NK
army had political leadership at all command levels.
This leadership reflected the policies of the NK
government, as well as Communist ideology. The NK
government was, and remains today, brutal and ignorant.
The war they began was brutal and merciless.
The UN estimates that 26,000 South
Koreans were murdered in the first few months of the
war by the invading KPA. Mostly on grounds they had
opposed North Korea politically. Over 7,000 civilians,
ROKs and US troops were tied up and shot in Taejon
Hundreds of US troops were murdered in
this way during the war. One example was Hill 303. Twenty-six mortarmen of H
Co. 5th Cav had mistaken advancing NK 3rd division
troops for ROKs, and were taken without a fight. Their
hands were tied behind their backs with communication
wire and cord. Two days later, on August 17 when 5th
Cav units moved to retake the area, the NK murdered the
helpless prisoners with submachine gun fire.
The NK also often tortured and
mutilated prisoners. As particularly gruesome examples,
the NK 7th Division tied a few captured 25th Infantry
Division prisoners, and cut off their feet before
murdering them. They castrated and cut the tongues from
still others. These atrocities were most frequently
discovered in the confused fighting in the rear areas,
while retaking ground which the NK had infiltrated.
There is no public record of the total
number of civilians, ROKs, and United Nations forces
tortured, mutilated and murdered by the KPA by the
There is no public record that any of
the murderers were identified, much less tried and
Civilians suffered heavy casualties
during the actual fighting, as well. From both
At the Naktong, for example, the 1st
Cavalry division blew up scores of civilians, along
with a bridge destroyed to deny the NK access. In an
earlier instance, on 6/28, the ROKs blew up the last
3-lane bridge across the Han, without warning, killing
about 800 soldiers and refugees.
In this way began one of the most
vicious and most misunderstood wars the United States
has ever fought.