At the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, the U.S. Army combat units nearest the scene were the four infantry divisions performing occupation duties in Japan. When the Army of the Republic of Korea, supported only by U.S. air and naval forces, was unable to halt the North Korean aggressors, these divisions, seriously understrength and only partially trained and equipped for fighting, provided the troops that were committed initially to action in response to the call of the United Nations Security Council.
Colonel Appleman's narrative portrays vividly the grimness of "limited
war" against a fanatical enemy, and the tragic consequences of unpreparedness.
His writing recaptures the dismay that most Americans experienced in the
realization that a small, little-known country could achieve military success
against a coalition that included this, the world's most powerful nation.
Here is the story of how U.S. Army combat units, thrown piecemeal into
the battle to slow Communist advances, fought a desperate and heroic delaying
action, buying time until the United Nations forces could attain the military
strength necessary to take the offensive. When that offensive was launched,
it quickly crushed the North Korean forces, only to be met with the massive
intervention of a more formidable adversary, Communist China.
This volume covers U.S. Army action in Korea from the outbreak of war
to the full-scale intervention of the Chinese Communists. It is the first
of five volumes now planned for inclusion in UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE
KOREAN WAR, a series patterned on the much more voluminous UNITED STATES
ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. Subsequent volumes will complete the Korean combat
narrative as well as deal with related problems of command, strategy, logistics,
handling of prisoners of war, and the armistice negotiations.
Washington, D. C. JAMES A. NORELL
15 March 1960 Brigadier General, U.S.A.
Chief of Military History
Roy E. Appleman, a graduate of Ohio State University, magna cum laude,
continued his education at Yale Law School and Columbia University,
receiving from the latter the M.A. degree in History and completing all
requirements for the Ph.D. degree except the publication of a dissertation.
He entered the United States Army as a private in the infantry in 1942
during World War II and after completing Officer Candidate School the following
year was commissioned a 2d lieutenant. After a number of assignments, he
was sent overseas to the Pacific theater in 1944, assigned as a combat
historian with the United States Tenth Army and subsequently attached to
the XXIV Corps. Coauthor of Okinawa: The Last Battle, first combat
volume to be published in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II,
he received the Army Commendation Ribbon in 1945 for performance of duties
as combat historian in the Okinawa campaign and his subsequent contribution
to the Okinawa volume.
Early in 1951 Colonel Appleman (then a major) was ordered from reserve
status to active duty with the Army and sent to Korea as a combat historian
for the purpose of studying the action there and preparing the Army's history
of the Korean War. A lieutenant colonel, he returned to civilian life in
the autumn of 1954. Upon completion of the manuscript for the present work,
he received the Secretary of the Army's Certificate of Appreciation for
Patriotic Civilian Service.
Author of Abraham Lincoln: From His Own Words and Contemporary Accounts,
published by the Government Printing Office; coauthor of Great Western
Indian Fights, being published by Doubleday & Company, Inc.; and
coauthor of History of the United States Flag and Symbols of Sovereignty,
being published by Harper & Brothers, Mr. Appleman is presently
Staff Historian in the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,
and holds a commission as lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Army Reserve.
William Napier, upon finishing after seventeen years of painful toil
the six volumes of his Peninsular War, wrote in a parody of Chaucer:
"Easy ys myne bake to rede and telleth of moche fyte,
But then your easy rede is damned hard to wryte...."
True it is that a historian's first business is grinding toil and drudgery.
All of this it has been to the writer of this book. Nevertheless it was
a labor willingly undertaken, but accompanied throughout by the apprehension
that he might fail in doing justice to the story of his countrymen who
fought in Korea.
First and always, within the limits of his knowledge and ability, the
author has neglected no effort nor passed over any evidence that seemed
likely to further his purpose of writing a true history of the Korean War.
He accepted Parkman's dictum that faithfulness to the truth of history
involves far more than research, that one who is to write it "must
study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits,
and manners of those who took part in them . . . and must himself be, as
it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes."
During the first four of the nine years he devoted to writing this book,
from 1951 to 1954, the writer was on active duty in the United States Army
and completed a first draft of the manuscript. In the following five years,
as a civilian in Army reserve status, he devoted the time he could salvage
from earning a living to several revisions and final completion of the
The writer was not entirely a stranger to Korea when he arrived there
early in July 1951. Six years earlier, as a staff officer, he had accompanied
Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge's U. S. XXIV Army Corps from Okinawa to Korea in
early September 1945. This was at the beginning of United States commitment
in Korea, when General Hodge accepted the surrender of the Japanese there
at the end of World War II and began the occupation of that country below
the 38th Parallel. But it was in 1951 that the writer saw Korea's hills
at close quarter and felt his knees tremble and buckle as he climbed the
steeply pitched ridges.
Korea was at the same time both beautiful and sordid. The green hills
and patchwork-patterned rice paddies have an enchanting beauty when seen
from a distance or the relative comfort of a vehicle on the roads. Slogging
over this same ground carrying a load of weapons and pack in scorching
heat or pelting rain, or in the numbing cold of a Siberian-type winter,
with the enemy waiting around the next bend or over the next rise of ground,
is another matter. Then the landscape loses its charm and becomes harsh
and deadly to the spirit and exhausting to mind and body.
From Pusan in the south to the United Nations line north of the 38th
Parallel, from the Imjin River in the west to the Iron Triangle, to. the
mountain line above the Hwach'on Reservoir, to Heartbreak Ridge and the
Punchbowl, and on to the high Taebaek Mountains near the east coast in
the ROK sector, the writer traveled from command post to command post and
often up to battalions and rifle companies on the line. His companion during
these travels in Korea was Capt. (now Major) Russell A. Gugeler, an experienced
soldier who subsequently wrote Combat Actions in Korea. Whenever
possible the earlier, 1950 battlefields were visited. Where lack of time
or other circumstances did not permit this, critical terrain was studied
from liaison planes that could dip low and circle at leisure around points
The writer came to know the stifling dust, the heat, the soaking rains,
the aching legs, the exhausted body that was the common experience of the
men who fought in Korea, although he seldom had to run any risk of known
personal danger as did they, and he could always look forward to food at
night and a safe place to sleep at some command post, which most of them
could not. It is easy for him now to close his eyes and see the rushing
torrents in the mountain gorges and everywhere the hills, scantily covered,
if at all, in the south, and green with pine in the higher mountains of
the north. In the lower ground were the rice paddies, small vegetable patches,
the mud-walled and thatched-roof huts. How could one forget this Asiatic
land where so many of his countrymen died or were maimed, where they enacted
their roles of bravery and fortitude. In a sense, the Korean War experience
became a part of him.
Official records are indispensable for fixing dates and time of major
events and troop movements. But anyone familiar with the way the records
of combat units during battle are made up will know that they seldom tell
the essential facts of what happened, and how, and why. They are often
the products of indifferent clerks transcribing, at places remote from
the scene of action, a minimum of messages for something-anything-that
will satisfy the official requirement for a report. Those who know the
most about an action or an event seldom take the time to tell, or write,
about it. They are too tired, or too nearly dead, or they are dead.
In the early months of the Korean War there was little time for the
military organizations committed there to keep adequate records of what
they did, even had there been the desire to do so. Always they were stopping
only briefly, fighting hazardous rear-guard actions, and then on the run
again. No one had time to write down what had happened and why, even if
he knew. And no one in the various headquarters had the time or the energy
or the will to search out those who survived each action and from them
learn firsthand of the event. Everyone was too much concerned with survival
or of getting a moment of respite from exhaustion. A record for posterity,
for history, weighed the least of many things on their minds. Even when
reports of military organizations are models of official records, the author
agrees wholly with Marshal Erich von Manstein, who believes that a historian
of military matters and campaigns "cannot get the truth from files
and documents alone . . . the answer . . . will seldom be found-certainly
not in a complete form-in files or war diaries."
How easy it would have been to write a story of the war based on the
records alone, never stopping to get beneath that gloss! Such a book might
have read smoothly and had a tone of plausibility to all except those whose
personal knowledge would have branded it as inadequate at best and as almost
wholly false at worst. Rather than produce such a book, the author chose
the nine years of work that resulted in this one.
Since it was only from survivors of the early battles in Korea that
one could hope to reconstruct the narrative of the first months of the
conflict, the writer undertook to get their story. When he arrived in Korea
in early July 1951, on active duty with the Army, he had orders from Maj.
Gen. Orlando Ward, then Chief of Military History, to study the terrain
of the action and to interview as many participants, of all ranks, as he
could find. He began then a process continued almost to the hour that this
manuscript went to press. He talked with hundreds of soldiers, from privates
to three- and four-star generals, about particular actions and decisions
affecting the action of which each had personal knowledge in some degree.
One interview would result in leads to others. Thus the snowball grew.
Many officers and soldiers who had information were now in distant lands
on reassignment, or otherwise out of reach for personal discussion. To
them went letters. Over the years, information came back from many corners
of the globe. The response was remarkable. The author had only to ask and
he received. The men were eager to tell their story-from the private in
the ranks to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Without this willing
help of those who toiled, suffered, bled, and lost their comrades the story
of the Korean War in 1950 could never have been told satisfactorily. If
this narrative carries the mark of truth, it is to these men largely that
it is due. My debt to them is great.
Some major events almost defied comprehension. Such was the battle of
Taejon. The author spent seven years in attempting to solve that puzzling
and bizarre action. The first draft of the Taejon chapter, based on the
official records, was nothing. Knowing this, the author sought out survivors
and throughout the years searched for, and gradually accumulated, more
information. Missing pieces of the puzzle came to light that made it possible
to fit others into place. The author rewrote this Chaptereight times.
Finally he obtained from Maj. Gen. William F. Dean his comments on the
manuscript and a statement of his contemporary thoughts and actions bearing
on the events described. Some of them were not calculated to raise him
to the level of an all-seeing military commander, but they marked Dean
as a man of truth and honor. Then, with General Dean's contributions, the
author felt at last that he had salvaged about all that ever would be learned concerning
Taejon from American sources. Many other chapters reached their final form
in much the same manner as this one.
The scope and scale of treatment change as the narrative proceeds. At
first only two reinforced rifle companies were committed to battle, then
a battalion, then a regiment, then a division, finally the Eighth Army
and the reconstituted ROK Army. Against them was the might of the initially
victorious North Korean Army, and later the light infantry masses of the
Chinese Communist Forces. Gradually, United Nations troops from many parts
of the world entered the lists, usually in small numbers to be sure, but
in the case of Great Britain the force rose from two battalions to a Commonwealth
division. As the larger forces came into action against each other the
focus of action necessarily broadened and detail diminished. Task Force
Smith, for example, in the first week of July 1950, received a detail of
treatment that could not possibly be continued for all of the Eighth Army
late in the year, nor even in August and September at the Naktong Perimeter.
The use of detail necessarily had to be more selective. The ROK Army is
treated in less detail than the American organizations, but enough is told
to relate its part in the over-all operations. Reliable information on
ROK action was nearly always very difficult to obtain, and sometimes impossible.
Throughout, the writer's sympathies have been with the troops who fought
the battles at close range-the men who handled the rifles, who threw the
grenades, who caught the enemy's bullets, who fought their own fears in
the face of the unknown, who tried to do their duty as United States soldiers
even though they were fighting for a cause they did not understand, and
in a country to whose culture and interests they were strangers. He tried
to be there with them.
The writer is indebted to many officers who, while serving in the Office
of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, have read the
manuscript in its various stages and offered comments and criticisms. They
include Maj. Gen. Richard W. Stephens, a leading participant in the action;
Col. George G. O'Connor; Col. S. W. Foote; Col. Carl D. McFerren; Col.
Joseph Rockis; Col. Warren H. Hoover; and Lt. Col. Eugene J. White.
The sympathetic and generous viewpoint of Dr. Kent Roberts Greenfield,
who gave valuable help in directing the critical panel review of the manuscript
and evaluating needed final revisions, is gratefully acknowledged. Dr.
Louis Morton gave detailed and critical review to the manuscript. Dr. Stetson
Conn, who succeeded Dr. Greenfield as Chief Historian, and his Deputy,
Dr. John Miller, jr., have been most helpful in reviewing the final draft
of the manuscript.
To Miss Ruth Stout, the editor, and Mr. Thomas J. Seess, the copy editor,
the writer especially wants to express his appreciation for their friendly,
necessary, and painstaking editing of the manuscript and guiding it through
the printer. Mr. Joseph R. Friedman, as Editor in Chief, has contributed
from his wide editorial experience and wisdom. Mrs. Norma Heacock Sherris
assisted in finding suitable illustrations for the volume.
Mr. Billy-Mossman, assisted by Mr. Elliot Dunay and the draftsmen who
worked under his supervision, produced the maps in this volume. The author
turned over to Mr. Mossman a large number of sketch maps and overlays which
he had prepared while writing the text. Mr. Mossman, a former infantry
officer with World War II experience in the Pacific Theater, and later
on active duty in Korea during the Korean War, has a wide knowledge of
military matters and of Korea itself. This background combined with his
training in military cartography made him an ideal choice for the layout
and supervision of the map work on this volume.
Mr. Israel Wice and his staff in the General Reference Section, Office
of the Chief of Military History, cheerfully and efficiently gave their
services in obtaining official records and other materials requested by
the writer for his use. Mr. Stanley Falk prepared a useful digest of the
Far East Command Daily Intelligence Summary, July through November 1950,
relative to the Korean War. In an early stage of the work, Mrs. Gwendolyn
Taylor as typist and general assistant gave valuable help.
The writer is much indebted to Mrs. Joy B. Kaiser. Many a complicated
troop movement she has reconstructed on an overlay from coordinate readings
given in S-3 and G-3 journals and periodic reports. The author never tried
to write up the story of an action until after it had been plotted on a
terrain map. Thus, Mrs. Kaiser in a two-year period saved him much labor,
doubling as typist for an early draft of the manuscript, preparing overlays
from journal co-ordinates, and otherwise contributing to the work.
Another whose dedication benefited the writer is Mrs. Edna W. Salsbury.
She assumed the task of typing what turned out to be the last two revisions
of the manuscript, and she performed that task ably. Throughout the tedious
work of typing a heavily footnoted manuscript she made many suggestions
that resulted in improving readability and her careful attention to detail
contributed much in maintaining accuracy.
Notwithstanding the considerable assistance given the author by so many
individuals and organizations, he alone is responsible for interpretations
made and conclusions drawn in this volume as well as for any errors of
omission or commission.
The person to whom the author owes most is Maj. Gen. Orlando Ward. As
Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, in 1951, he ordered
him to Korea to start this work. He opened the door for him to all commanders
in Korea and the Far East Command. His experience as Secretary of the General
Staff from 1938 to 1941, and subsequently as commander of the 1st Armored
Division in North Africa, had given him broad knowledge of military matters
and firsthand experience of battle and how it affects men.
General Ward's constant injunction to the author was to seek the truth
of the Korean War and to tell it, no matter whom it might touch unfavorably.
He wanted the facts made known, because only from them, he thought, could
the United States build a better army for its defense. How well the writer remembers his statement one day in casual conversation, "Truth
is the first casualty in battle." He has tried not to have it the
first casualty in this account of the Korean War.
Washington, D.C. ROY E. APPLEMAN
15 March 1960 Lieutenant Colonel, USAR