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T34's That Met the Fifth Marines

The Landing at Inchon

The Capture of Seoul

The Army band that greeted the 1st (Provisional) Marine Brigade debarking from the USS Clymer at Pusan played "Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think." They might have thought they knew something the Marines didn't. Maybe they were wrong.

T34's on road to Seoul

T34s on the Road to Seoul, 9/50
Destroyed by Marine Infantry of D/2/5

Platoon Leader, D/2/5
Korea, 1950

At 0800, 14 July, 1950, the USS George Clymer (APA 25), cast off her lines securing her to a pier in San Diego, and headed west, in convoy, with a number of other PAs and KAs carrying the troops, equipment, and supplies for the 1st (Provisional) Marine Brigade. This Brigade would be the first Marine contingent, but far from the last, who would see combat in the intensifying war in Korea. Aboard Clymer were two rifle companies (D & E) of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. Those familiar with the T/O of rifle battalions will ask where the third letter company was? The truth is it didn't exist. Every man jack possible had been swept up and incorporated into the 5th Marines to fill out the six rifle companies that comprised the regiment. Also aboard Clymer was the Headquarters of the Brigade, including the officers of the General and Special Staff.

The latter fact gave 2/5 a bonus, in that those staff officers had the very latest intelligence and operational information on what was going on in Korea. We had been reading reports in the news of US Army units being overrun because they had no weapons that were effective in stopping the T34 tank. Then shortly before we boarded ship for deployment, there was a picture in the newspaper that I'll never forget. It showed a black soldier standing in a dry paddy, sighting a 3.5 RL, and holding the weapon at a 45 degree angle. One must ask what he was aiming at, and at what range?

Anyway, the Brigade Tank Officer, Major Frank Stewart, lectured us all on the tactics to employ should we encounter enemy tanks. According to what the good Major had gleaned, neither the 2.36 or 3.5 RLs could stop a T34. So our only option was to climb up on the tank, and smear mud or grease on the periscopes. This would effectively blind the crew. He didn't tell us what the NKs in the other tanks and accompanying infantry would be doing while we were dancing the light fantastic on the tank turret. But we thought we knew.

When I imparted the foregoing to my Rocket Section, somehow they were less than enthusiastic about the proposed anti-tank tactics. Can't imagine why.

Should say here that when we went aboard Clymer I was the Mortar and Rockets Section Leader in D/2/5. Three tubes of each. But as everyone knows, what I was really on the rolls for was as spare parts for a rifle platoon. Our first twenty-fours hours in combat saw us lose all three of the rifle platoon leaders in the first few minutes, and so I left the ranks of the unemployed rather quickly. I was dragged out with my second wound the third day of our godforsaken little war. I was the fifth officer (of seven) to leave the company. Two went headfirst.

Whatever. When we arrived in San Diego for embarkation, wonder of wonders, we were issued the brand-new-still-in-cosmolene 3.5 RLs. When I asked about ammo I was told that it was being flown out to Korea, and we'd get it on landing. And on the evening of August 2d, on arrival at Pusan, we did. Eight rounds per tube, and we were told there would be no re-supply. I wanted to ask if that meant that when we used up our eight rounds we could go home, but didn't.

The U. S. Army band that greeted us played, among other popular tunes of the day, "Enjoy Yourself, It's Later Than You Think." They must have known something we didn't. We were soon to learn the lesson.

Discussing the situation with the guys in the Rocket Section, we came to the joint conclusion that since we did have a copious supply of 2.36 rockets, we'd better carry both weapons. So we did. Of course we had no manuals on the 3.5, but in all appearances it looked much like the 2.36 and we assumed it would function the same way. The first morning we were in combat we had a real target of opportunity present itself. My two sections had been left on a connecting ridgeline to the company's position, with orders to hold it in the event of an attack from the east (our right) or the rear. Someone noted that a large building at the foot of the virtual cliff we were atop of was attracting a great deal of traffic. We could see North Koreans in uniform run in and out of the building, as well as people in civilian clothing. Most carried rifles. Here was our target. So as we watched closely, the 3.5 was loaded, and the reputedly best gunner in the section fired one round. Miracles of miracles, the round exploded as it hit the roof of the building. That assured us that the 3.5 would, in fact, work as advertised if called upon. But with no resupply it was obvious that those 3.5 rounds had to be husbanded as though they were pure gold.

Fast forward to the evening of September 15 when 2/5 hit the beach at Inchon. By this time most of the original Rocket Section, including myself, were hors de combat during either the push on Kosong, or the 1st or 2nd Battles of the Naktong Bulge. One of those still present and accounted for was Corporal Okey Johnson Douglas. Douglas, in my memory, was a young Marine of maybe 5' 9, blond curly hair, blue eyes, and always, a very mischievous grin. His serial number (650791) indicates that he had probably entered the Corps shortly after the end of WW II. The fact that he was already a Corporal when we had shipped out of San Diego indicates that he had been a cracker-jack Marine. Making Corporal between WW II and the Korean War was considered very much above par for the course.

Map of D Company Positions The evening of September 16 2/5 had advanced to good defensive positions with its right flank hinged on the Main Supply Route (MSR) to Inchon. This was only some 1,000 meters short of Ascom City which lay to the northeast. D Company was on the right, and F Company across railroad tracks to the north, both dug in on slightly higher ground than the surrounding terrain. Some 500 meters to the northeast the MSR swung sharply east to move between two pieces of higher ground. Lieutenant "H" "J" Smith, looked to his northeast at a range of some 600 meters, and noted a most interesting detail. There the MSR bent, at about a 70 degree angle, and disappeared between two pieces of higher ground where it could not be seen from Lieutenant Smith's position. The high ground directly to Smith's northeast was across (to the north) of the MSR, and whomever controlled that piece of ground would control the critical "bendin the road" where the MSR went due south.

Lieutenant Smith decided to strongly outpost that critical piece of high ground. He ordered Lieutenant Lee R. Howard to move his 2d Platoon, reinforced by a section of light machine guns and a detachment from the company Rocket Section to the key terrain. Corporal Douglas was part of the latter reinforcement and he chose to bring with him a 2.36 RL. Lieutenant Howard moved his platoon some 600 meters and quickly occupied a tight perimeter on top of the knoll. Thus he not only had observation of the defile before the MSR bent sharply to the south, but also could see the route of the MSR to the east to the limit of visibility. Lieutenant Smith, who had but eight days to live, had recognized the key terrain, occupied it, and Lieutenant Howard had done a masterful job in organizing the defense.

Causes of the Korean Tragedy ... Failure of Leadership, Intelligence and Preparation

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