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Eighth Army Holds The Chongchon Bridgehead

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(Back to Appleman: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu)
The whole art of war consists in getting at what is on the other side of the hill.

Action North of the River

Monday, 2 November, was a day of hectic activity and some confusion in the command posts of Eighth Army and its subordinate organizations. Orders and changes to orders came in an almost endless stream as steps were taken to withdraw U.S. I Corps below the Ch'ongch'on River. In the final instructions the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division were to remain north of the river in a bridgehead that encompassed and protected the bridges and tank fords over the Ch'ongch'on and Taeryong Rivers in the Anju-Pakch'on areas. General Walker wished to hold these river crossing sites for the purpose of resuming the offensive. [1]

By evening of 3 November the 27th Brigade had moved from Taech'on into its assigned defensive positions around Pakch'on at the northwest corner of the bridgehead. (Map 24) The fine fur boots on the feet of some of the enemy dead at Taech'on, and three Chinese deserters who entered their lines there, revealed to the British that they already had had minor brushes with the Chinese. Following close behind the departing British, Chinese forces entered Taech'on less than an hour after the British rear guard had left it. [2]

The other part of the bridgehead force, the 18th Infantry Regiment, also moved during 3 November to its defensive positions just north of the Ch'ongch'on and northeast of Anju. Once the 18th Infantry was in its defensive positions, the ROK 1st Division, still in contact with the enemy, withdrew through it to the south side of the Ch'ongch'on, completing its crossing before noon of 4 November. [3]

map 24

The boundary between the ROK Army and the U.S. I Corps crossed the Ch'ongch'on on a north-south line at Kunu-ri. Already the Chinese had crowded the ROK II Corps into a restricted defensive area near Won-ni about four miles northeast of Kunu-ri. On 3 November the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Division took a position at Kunu-ri behind the ROK II Corps. The 9th Regiment of the U.S. 2d Infantry Division was in position south of Kunu-ri protecting the road to Sunch'on. Enemy forces during the day advanced within two and a half miles of Kunu-ri. [4]

The next day, 4 November, enemy forces drove hard for Kunu-ri. Hill 622, a large mountain cresting three miles northeast of Kunu-ri, dominated the town, the valley of the Ch'ongch'on, and the rail and highway communication lines passing along it. The 3d and 5th Regiments of the ROK 7th Division held this key terrain feature, with the 5th RCT, 24th Division, in blocking position just behind them. The ROK 8th Regiment was in reserve along the road east of Kunu-ri. That morning a strong CCF attack broke the ROK 3d Regiment position on the mountain and the South Koreans began streaming back through the 5th RCT. Capt. Hubert H. Ellis, commanding officer of C Company, stopped and reorganized these ROK troops and sent them back to retake the hill. The ROK 8th Regiment was now also committed to the battle. The hill changed hands several times throughout the day, but at dark ROK troops held its vital northwest ridge.

The 5th RCT itself had heavy fighting in this battle to hold Kunu-ri, and was forced to withdraw about 1,000 yards. Part of the fighting was at close quarters. Some men, like 1st Lt. Morgan B. Hansel of C Company who gave his life to prevent the disintegration of a platoon, charged Chinese machine gun emplacements alone. By evening the enemy attack in estimated division strength (elements of the CCF 38th Army) had been repulsed. The ROK 7th Division and Col. "Rocky John" Throckmorton's 5th Regimental Combat Team had saved Kunu-ri and successfully protected the right flank of Eighth Army. [5]

Simultaneously with this attack south of the Ch'ongch'on against Kunu-ri, the enemy struck the bridgehead force north of the river. On 4 November both ground and aerial observers reported approximately 1,000 enemy soldiers crossing the Kuryong River two miles northwest of the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, and moving south through wooded terrain, evidently intent on getting into the rear of the battalion. The enemy maneuver succeeded. Chinese troops captured the battalion's radio while the operator was using it to report the situation to the regimental headquarters. The battalion did not make much of a fight, and, after destroying and abandoning its heavy equipment and vehicles, it withdrew eastward and infiltrated across the Kuryong and Ch'ongch'on Rivers to friendly positions. Nearly all the men escaped.[6]

Meanwhile, a task force of the 3d Battalion, 19th Infantry, subsequently reinforced by the entire battalion, tried to drive through to the 1st Battalion's position, but strong enemy forces on the road repelled it. With these difficulties developing in the bridgehead area, General Church ordered Brig. Gen. Garrison H. Davidson, the assistant division commander of the 24th Division, to assume command of all 24th Division troops north of the Ch'ongch'on and to co-ordinate the actions of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the division troops. Davidson arrived at the 19th Infantry command post shortly after noon of the 4th to assume command of Task Force Davidson. The worsening situation caused General Church at 1630 also to order the 21st Infantry Regiment to cross to the north side of the Ch'ongch'on River during the night and attack the next day, to clear the enemy from the 19th Infantry area and restore the bridgehead line. [7]

An enemy force made a further penetration in the 19th Infantry zone during the night, but the next morning, 5 November, the 2d and 3d Battalions, 21st Infantry, attacked and restored the position. Once again, as in the days on the Naktong, the 3d Engineer Combat Battalion assumed an infantry role in taking positions to protect the Anju bridges over the Ch'ongch'on. Fleeing the battle area, hordes of refugees crossed the Ch'ongch'on; 20,000 of them passed through the checking points on the south side of the river on 4-5 November. [8]

On the west, there was a 5-mile gap between the left flank of the 19th Infantry bridgehead position and the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade position. A large mountain mass lay in this no man's land, and over and through it enemy forces could move at will to the flank and rear of either the 27th Brigade or the 19th Infantry. On the 19th Infantry's extreme left flank at the edge of this gap the 2d Battalion held Hill 123 which overlooked a valley near the little village of Ch'onghyon, four miles above the Ch'ongch'on.

On the night of 5-6 November the enemy made a co-ordinated attack all along the bridgehead line. At Hill 123 the attack achieved surprise against E and G Companies, 19th Infantry. At least part of the enemy assault force came up to E Company's position from the rear, apparently following field telephone wire. The Chinese caught many men asleep in their sleeping bags and killed them where they lay. Others were shot in the back of the head. The Chinese virtually overran the battalion positions on Hill 123.

Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud, an Indian from Wisconsin, gave the first alarm to E Company from his position on the point of the ridge where a trail climbed to the company command post. A group of Chinese suddenly charged him from a brush-covered area 100 feet away. Corporal Red Cloud sprang to his feet and fired his BAR into them. Enemy fire wounded and felled him, but he pulled himself to his feet, wrapped one arm around a small tree, and again delivered point-blank BAR fire until Chinese bullets cut him down. Later, American officers found a string of Chinese dead in front of his body. [9]

Another BAR man in E Company, Pfc. Joseph W. Balboni, was equally heroic. Chinese soldiers approached unnoticed within seventy-five feet of him. From this short distance they charged forward. Balboni met them with bursts from his BAR and stood in his tracks until killed. Two days later when a friendly patrol visited the spot seventeen enemy dead were found in front of Balboni's body. [10]

By 0300 the battalion had withdrawn 1,000 yards. There it was only barely able to hold its new position. After daylight the enemy withdrew from contact with the 2d Battalion. Elsewhere the other battalions on the 18th Infantry front repulsed the attacks on them after hard fighting. Artillery firing from the south side of the Ch'ongch'on supported the 19th Infantry during the bridgehead battles.

After daylight the re-equipped 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, which had recrossed to the north side of the Ch'ongch'on during the night, counterattacked and closed the gap between the 2d Battalion and the rest of the regiment on its right. The 19th Regiment then began restoring its original bridgehead line.

In these night battles of predawn 6 November the enemy had lost heavily. Two days later, the 2d Battalion alone counted 474 enemy dead in the vicinity of Hill 123, and it found evidence that many more dead had been buried. The 3d Battalion, 19th Infantry, counted more than 100 enemy dead. Interrogation of prisoners disclosed that the 355th Regiment, CCF 119th Division; the 358th Regiment, CCF 120th Division; and a North Korean regiment had attacked the 19th Infantry on the east side of the bridgehead. [11]

Simultaneously with its attacks against the Eighth Army right flank at Kunu-ri and the eastern side of the Ch'ongch'on bridgehead, the enemy struck with equal force against the western side of the bridgehead at Pakch'on on the Taeryong River. The Australian 3d and Argyll 1st Battalions were in defensive positions on the west side of the Taeryong River opposite Pakch'on, except A Company of the Argylls which was on the east side of the river south of Pakch'on. The Middlesex 1st Battalion was also on the east side in and around Pakch'on. Two and a half miles south of Pakch'on the 61st Field Artillery Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division had emplaced to support the British.

During the night of 4-5 November an enemy force moved east around Pakch'on toward the support artillery where it could cut the road behind the brigade. By daylight these enemy troops were in position to launch their attack.

An estimated battalion of Chinese opened fire from the east with mortars and small arms on the 61st Field Artillery Battalion. Immediately, each battery commander placed all his men, except the gun crews who remained with their weapons, in a tight perimeter around the battery positions, manning every automatic weapon. Word of the attack reached the British, and A Company of the Argylls started south at once to the aid of the artillerymen. The brigade commander then ordered the remainder of the Argyll 1st Battalion to cross to the east side of the river.

The most severe attack fell on C Battery. Capt. Howard M. Moore, commanding officer of the battery, wheeled one 105-mm. howitzer around and fired point-blank into enemy troops in the rice paddies to the east. Forty-five minutes later he got a second howitzer turned around. The battery fired 1,400 rounds, some at a range of 50 yards, although the average range was about 300 yards. An aerial observer directed the fire of another battery in support of C Battery. Part of the enemy plan was to blow a critical bridge at the artillery position. If this had succeeded it is unlikely that the brigade would have saved a single tank or vehicle. The artillerymen killed one member of a demolition squad within twenty yards of the bridge.

At 0900 two tanks arrived at the C Battery perimeter. Before the Argylls arrived with more armored support, C Battery had lost 2 men killed and 18 wounded. The rest of the artillery battalion had 17 men wounded. Enemy action had destroyed 1 howitzer, 6 vehicles, 1 radio, and some other miscellaneous equipment. There were about 70 enemy dead in the vicinity of the gun positions. Speaking later before an English audience, Brigadier Coad said of C Battery, 61st Field Artillery Battalion, "I would like to say how magnificently these American gunners fought. Dead Chinese were lying thirty yards from the gun shields.... It was up to the very highest traditions of any artillery regiment." [12]

Upon arriving at the artillery position, A Company of the Argylls attacked a nearby hill, first winning, then losing it. Air reports now indicated that approximately one Chinese division had passed east around and below Pakch'on, virtually surrounding the brigade. While heavy air strikes went in to impede and disrupt the Chinese maneuver and attack, Brigadier Coad ordered the Australian 3d Battalion, still on the west side of the Taeryong, to withdraw to the east side.

Once on the east side, the Australians passed through the Argylls and in the early afternoon attacked north toward Pakch'on. In a bayonet charge they regained high ground the Argylls had lost two miles below the town. In this desperate battle the Australians lost twelve killed and sixty-four wounded. It now became apparent that the brigade could not hold the Pakch'on bridgehead. Under cover of the Australian attack, and a simultaneous one by the Middlesex 1st Battalion which cleared the road southward, the rest of the brigade and the artillery withdrew under fire toward the Ch'ongch'on River.

That evening the Australians joined the rest of the brigade in a defense perimeter astride the Pakch'on road on the first line of hills, 4,000 to 6,000 yards north of the Ch'ongch'on River. The Australians occupied the most advanced and exposed position. Soon after dark the Chinese struck them in an attack which continued unabated for four hours, forcing two companies to withdraw. By dawn of 6 November, however, the Chinese themselves had withdrawn from contact. The British estimated the Chinese lost 300 men to ground action and 600 to 1,000 to air action during the day and that night.

After daylight on Monday, 6 November, Australians in their positions could see enemy forces withdrawing northward up a valley. The predawn attacks of 6 November against the bridgehead area and Kunu-ri proved to be the last heavy engagements of the Chinese in their First Phase Offensive. During the day they withdrew generally out of contact. Aerial observers reported many sightings of large enemy forces moving northward. Limited objective attacks by the 24th Division on 7 November all reached their goals against light opposition, and seemed to indicate that the violent enemy attacks of the past twelve days had ended for the present. [13]

MiG's and Jets Over the Yalu

Coinciding with the appearance of the Chinese in the Korean War came a new turn in air action over Korean territory. Except for its opening weeks, the Korean War had been characterized by the U.S. Fifth Air Force's complete dominance of the skies. Now, suddenly, Russian-built MIG's began crossing over into North Korea from Manchurian bases and challenging the Fifth Air Force when its planes approached the Yalu border. In the closing days of October, American planes had for the first time been allowed to approach the border.

At the beginning of the month, Fifth Air Force planes were prohibited from flying within fifty miles of the border. On 17 October this restriction was eased, and finally on 25 October it was lifted to allow close support missions, under control of a tactical air control party or a Mosquito observer, as near the border as necessary. Pilots of these missions were carefully selected and flew under experienced leaders, for there was to be no bombing within five miles of the border. [14]

On 31 October the famous Russian-built MIG-15 jet first entered combat over Korean territory when a number of them attacked American propeller-driven aircraft in the Sinuiju area. The Fifth Air Force reportedly destroyed several MIG's at this time. It was not known then whether the enemy plane build-up was North Korean or some "volunteer" air force. [15]

On 5 November General MacArthur gave a new turn to the course of the war by ordering aerial bombing to destroy the Yalu River bridges from the Korean side halfway into the stream. He felt this action necessary to stop or greatly reduce the flow of Chinese troops and equipment into Korea. The order came at the time the CCF attack threatened to overrun Eighth Army's Ch'ongch'on River bridgehead and to capture Kunu-ri on the south side. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington received from MacArthur a radio report of the order. They immediately countermanded it, repeating their directive not to bomb targets within five miles of the border. [16]

General MacArthur replied at once to the JCS message in one of the strongest protests he ever dispatched to Washington. He said the only way to halt the reinforcement of the enemy was to destroy the bridges. Paraphrased, his message continued, "Under the gravest protest that I can make I am carrying out your instructions and suspending this strike." He argued that what he proposed to do was within the rules of war and the resolutions and directions he had received, and that it constituted no act of belligerency against Chinese territory. He asked that the matter be brought immediately to the attention of the President, "as I believe your instructions may result in a calamity of major proportions for which, without his personal and direct understanding of the situation, I cannot accept responsibility." [17]

This message produced the result MacArthur desired. The Joint Chiefs of Staff on 6 November authorized MacArthur to proceed with the planned bombing of the Korean end of the Yalu bridges, provided that he still considered such action essential to the safety of his forces. MacArthur was expressly forbidden, however, to bomb any dams or power plants on the Yalu River or to violate Manchurian property and airspace. [18]

Along the Manchurian border there were known to be at least seven major bridges across the Yalu River and three across the Tumen River. The most important Yalu structures were the 3,000-foot-long rail and highway bridges connecting Sinuiju and An-tung, the 2,000-foot-long rail and highway bridges thirty-five air miles northeast of Sinuiju near Sakchu, and the 1,500-foot-long rail bridge at Manp'ojin.

The first bomber strike against the Yalu River bridges at Sinuiju went in on 8 November, seventy-nine B-29's under fighter escort executing the mission. The date is memorable also for the first battle between jet planes in aerial warfare. Lt. Russell Brown, pilot of an F-80 in the fighter escort, shot a MIG-15 down in flames.

Thereafter, land-based and carrier-based planes attacked the Yalu bridges almost daily during the rest of the month and the doctrine of "hot pursuit" into the enemy's Manchurian sanctuary soon became a burning issue, not only in the battle zone but in the diplomatic capitals of the world.


[1] 24th Div WD, 2 Nov 50; 27th British Commonwealth Brig Sitrep, 1-4 Nov 50; EUSAK POR 340, 2 Nov 50; I Corps WD, 1-2 Nov 50.

[2] 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, 4 Nov so, Rpt from Home Guards of Taech'on; 27th British Commonwealth Brig Sitrep, 1-4 Nov 50; Coad, "The Land Campaign in Korea," op. cit., p. 7; Linklater, Our Men in Korea, pp. 26-27; Bartlett, With the Australians in Korea, p. 39.

[3] 19th Inf Unit Rpt 114, 2-3, Nov 50; 24th Div WD, Nov 50 Summ; I Corps WD, 3 Nov 50.

[4] 5th RCT WD, 3 Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 3 Nov 50; I Corps WD, 3 Nov 50; EUSAK WD, 3 Nov 50.

[5] I Corps WD, 4 Nov 50; 5th RCT WD, 4 Nov 50; Interv, author with Maj Grady R. Hamilton (S-3 5th RCT Aug 51), 10 Aug 51; ATIS Interrog Rpts (Enemy Forces), Issue 24, Interrog 2811, p. 29, Sgt Chon Song Hyon. Eighth Army General Order 397, 4 June 1951, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to Lieutenant Hansel.

[6] 19th Inf Unit Rpt 115, 4-5 Nov 50; 19th Inf WD, Opn Summ, Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 4-5 Nov 50; 24th Div PIR 115, 3-4 Nov 50; Interv, Maj Gen Garrison H. Davidson (Asst Div Comdr 24th Div Nov 50), 28 Jan 54.

[7] 19th Inf WD, 4 Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 4 Nov 50; Interv, author with Davidson, 28 Jan 54.

[8] 19th Inf WD, 5 Nov 50; 19th Inf Unit Rpt 116, 4-5 Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 5 Nov 50; I Corps WD, 4-5 Nov 50; EUSAK WD, Br for CG, 5 Nov 50; EUSAK PIR 116, 5 Nov 50.

[9] Department of the Army General Order 26, 25 April 1951, awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Red Cloud. Interv, author with Davidson, 28 Jan 54; 19th Inf Unit Rpt 117, 5-6 Nov, and Rpt 119, 7-8 Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 6 Nov 50; 19th Inf Opn Summ, Nov 50.

[10] Eighth Army General Order 63, 10 February 1951, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to Private Balboni.

[11] 19th Inf Unit Rpts 117, 118, 119, 5-8 Nov 50; Interv, author with Davidson, 28 Jan 54.

[12] Department of the Army General Order 33, 31 March 1952, awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation to the 61st Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. 61st FA Bn WD, 5 Nov 50; 1st Lt Hal W. Chaney (C Btry, 61st FA Bn), Debriefing Rpt 64, Arty School, Ft. Sill, Okla., 22 Jan 52; 27th British Commonwealth Brig Sitrep 4-Nov 5o; Coad, "The Land Campaign in Korea," op. cit.; Linklater, Our Men in Korea, pp. 26-27; Bartlett, With the Australians in Korea, pp. 39-40.

[13] EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 6 Nov 50; I Corps WD, 6 Nov 50; 24th Div WD, 6 Nov 50; 5th Cav WD, Narr Rpt, Nov 50; Ltr, Gay to author, 19 Feb 54. Task Force Allen was dissolved at 1700, 6 November.

[14] USAF Hist Study 71, p. 80.

[15] FEAF Opn Hist, II, 19; Dept of State Pub 4051, United Nations Command Ninth Report to the Security Council, United Nations, 1-15 November 1950, pp. 11-12; EUSAK WD, 4 Nov so, EUSAK Daily News Bul, UP dispatch, 1 November, quoting General Partridge.

[16] Msg, JCS 95878, JCS Personal for MacArthur, 5 Nov 50, quoted in Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in the Korean War, ch. VII, pp. 16-17; Senate MacArthur Hearings, pt. I, p. 20, testimony of MacArthur, 3 May 51.

[17] Msg C68396, CINCFE to DA, 6 Nov 50.

[18] Msg, JCS 95949, JCS to CINCFE, 6 Nov 50.

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