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American Ground Forces Enter the Battle

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Combat Photos

(Back to Appleman: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu)
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the resultof a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for everyvictory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemynor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
SUN TZU, The Art of War

Across the Korea Strait events of importance were taking place in Japanthat would soon have an impact on the Korean scene. In Tokyo, General MacArthuron 30 June instructed General Walker, commander of Eighth Army, to orderthe 24th Infantry Division to Korea at once. Its proximity to Korea wasthe principal reason General MacArthur selected it for immediate commitment.[1] General Walker gave Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, Commanding General,24th Division, preliminary verbal instructions concerning the division.These instructions were formalized in an Eighth Army Operation Order at0315 1 July which provided that (1) a delaying force of two rifle companies,under a battalion commander, reinforced by two platoons of 4.2-inch mortarsand one platoon of 75-mm. recoilless rifles was to go by air to Pusan andreport to General Church for orders; (2) the division headquarters andone battalion of infantry were to go to Pusan by air at once; (3) the remainderof the division would follow by water; and (4) a base was to be establishedfor early offensive operations. The mission of the advance elements wasphrased as follows: "Advance at once upon landing with delaying force,in accordance with the situation, to the north by all possible means, contactenemy now advancing south from Seoul towards Suwon and delay his advance."[2] The order also stated that General Dean would assume command of allU.S. Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) upon his arrival there.

In the next few days Eighth Army transferred a total of 2,108 men tothe 24th Division from other units to bring it up to full authorized strength,most of them from the other three infantry divisions. The division, thusreadied for the movement to Korea, numbered 15,965 men and had 4,773 vehicles.[3]

General Dean

Task Force Smith Goes to Korea

On the evening of 30 June, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, Commanding Officer,1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, went tobed at 9 o'clock in his quarters at Camp Wood near Kumamoto, Kyushu, tiredand sleepy after having been up all the previous night because of an alert.An hour and a half later his wife awakened him, saying, "Colonel Stephensis on the phone and wants you." At the telephone Smith heard Col.Richard W. Stephens, Commanding Officer, 21st Infantry, say to him, "Thelid has blown off-get on your clothes and report to the CP." Thusbegan Task Force Smith as seen by its leader. [4] Colonel Smith had beenat Schofield Barracks, Oahu, on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese hit PearlHarbor, causing him hurriedly to take D Company, 35th Infantry, to forma defense position on Barbers Point. Now, this call in the night vividlyreminded him of that earlier event.

At the regimental command post, Colonel Stephens told Smith to takehis battalion, less A and D Companies, to Itazuke Air Base; it was to flyto Korea at once. General Dean would meet him at the airfield with furtherinstructions.

Colonel Stephens quickly arranged to lend Smith officers from the 3dBattalion to fill gaps in the rifle platoons of B and C Companies. By 03001 July Colonel Smith and his men were on trucks and started on the seventy-fivemile drive from Camp Wood to Itazake. They rode in a downpour of rain,the same monsoon deluge that descended on General Church and his ADCOMparty that night on the road from Suwon to Taejon. Smith's motor convoyreached Itazake at 0805.

General Dean was waiting for Smith at the airfield. "When you getto Pusan," he said to him, "head for Taejon. We want to stopthe North Koreans as far from Pusan as we can. Block the main road as farnorth as possible. Contact General Church. If you can't locate him, goto Taejon and beyond if you can. Sorry I can't give you more information.That's all I've got. Good luck to you, and God bless you and your men."[5]

Thus, the fortunes of war decreed that Colonel Smith, a young infantryofficer of the West Point Class of 1939 who had served with the 25th Divisionin the Pacific in World War II, would command the first American groundtroops to meet the enemy in the Korean War. Smith was about thirty-four yearsof age, of medium stature, and possessed a strong, compact body. His facewas friendly and open.

Assembled at Itazake, Colonel Smith's force consisted of the followingunits and weapons of the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment: 2 under-strengthrifle companies, B and C; one-half of Headquarters Company; one-half ofa communications platoon; a composite 75-mm. recoilless rifle platoon of4 guns, only 2 of which were airlifted; and 4 4.2-inch mortars, only 2airlifted. The organization of B and C Companies included 6 2.36-inch bazookateams and 4 60-mm. mortars. Each man had 120 rounds of .30-caliber rifleammunition and 2 days of C rations. In all, there were about 440 men, ofwhom only 406 were destined to be in the group air-landed in Korea thatday. [6]

Smith's force had a liberal sprinkling of combat veterans from WorldWar II. About one-third of the officers had had combat experience eitherin Europe or in the Pacific. About one-half of the noncommissioned officerswere World War II veterans, but not all had been in combat. Throughoutthe force, perhaps one man in six had had combat experience. Most of themen were young, twenty years old or less.

Only six C-54 planes were available for the transport job. The firstplane was airborne at 0845. The first and second planes upon arrival overthe small runway near Pusan found it closed in with fog and, unable toland, they returned to Japan. Colonel Smith was on the second plane buthe could not land in Korea until the tenth flight-between 1400 and 1500.Colonel Emmerich, who the previous afternoon had received instructionsto have the airstrip ready, a few other KMAG officers, and a great numberof South Korean civilians met the first elements when they landed about1100. [7]

A miscellaneous assortment of about a hundred Korean trucks and vehiclesassembled by Colonel Emmerich transported the men of Task Force Smith theseventeen miles from the airstrip to the railroad station in Pusan. Cheeringcrowds lined the streets and waved happily to the American soldiers asthey passed. The city was in gay spirits-flags, banners, streamers, andposters were everywhere. Korean bands at the railroad station gave a noisysend-off as the loaded train pulled out at 2000.

The train with Task Force Smith aboard arrived at Taejon the next morning,0800 2 July. There Lt. Col. LeRoy Lutes, a member of ADCOM, met ColonelSmith and took him to General Church's headquarters where the general wasin conference with several American and ROK officers. Church greeted Smithand, pointing to a place on the map, explained, "We have a littleaction up here. All we need is some men up there who won't run when theysee tanks. We're going to move you up to support the ROKs and give themmoral support." [8]

Colonel Smith then suggested that he would like to go forward and lookover the ground. While his men went to their bivouac area, Smith and hisprincipal officers got into jeeps and set out over the eighty miles ofbad, bumpy roads to Osan. All along the way they saw thousands of ROK soldiersand refugees cluttering the roads and moving south.

Three miles north of Osan, at a point where the road runs through alow saddle, drops down, and bends slightly northwest toward Suwon, Smithfound an excellent infantry position which commanded both the highway andthe railroad. An irregular ridge of hills crossed the road at right angles,the highest point rising about 300 feet above the low ground which stretchednorthward toward Suwon. From this high point both the highway and railroadwere in view almost the entire distance to Suwon, eight miles to the north.

After looking over the ground, Smith issued verbal orders for organizinga position there. A flight of enemy fighters, red stars plainly visibleon their wings, passed overhead, but their pilots apparently did not seethe few men below. Its purpose accomplished, the group returned to theTaejon airstrip well after dark.

That night, 2 July, Smith received an order to take his men north bytrain to P'yongt'aek and Ansong. The former is 15 miles south, and thelatter 20 miles southeast, of Osan. Smith loaded his men into trains andthey rolled north into the night. One company dug in at P'yongt'aek; theother at Ansong 12 miles away. Smith established his command post withthe group at P'yongt'aek on the main highway.

The next day at P'yongt'aek Colonel Smith and his men witnessed a demonstrationof aerial destructiveness. A northbound ammunition train of nine boxcarson its way to ROK units pulled into P'yongt'aek. While the train waitedfor further instructions, four Mustangs flown by Royal Australian Air Forcepilots made six strafing runs over it firing rockets and machine guns.The train was blown up, the station demolished, and parts of the town shotup. All night ammunition kept exploding. Many residents of P'yongt'aekdied or were injured in this mistaken air strike. [9]

That same afternoon friendly air also attacked Suwon and strafed a SouthKorean truck column near the town. ROK rifle fire damaged one plane andforced the pilot to land at Suwon Airfield. There, KMAG and ROK officers"captured" a highly embarrassed American pilot. One KMAG officerwith the ROK Army headquarters at Suwon said he was under attack by friendlyplanes five different times on 3 July. This same officer in a letter toa friend a few days later wrote of these misplaced air attacks, "Thefly boys really had a field day! They hit friendly ammo dumps, gas dumps,the Suwon air strip, trains, motor columns, and KA [Korean Army] Hq."In the afternoon, four friendly jet planes made strikes on Suwon and alongthe Suwon-Osan highway setting fire to gasoline at the railroad stationin Suwon and destroying buildings and injuring civilians. On the road theystrafed and burned thirty South Korean trucks and killed 200 ROK soldiers.Because of these incidents throughout the day, General Church sent a strongprotest to FEAF asking that air action be held to Han River bridges or northward.[10]

American combat troops arriving at Taejon

AMERICAN COMBAT TROOPS arriving at Taejon, 2 July. Thesewere 21st Infantry men of task Force Smith.

The next day, 4 July, Smith's divided command reunited at P'yongt'aek,and was joined there by a part of the 52d Field Artillery Battalion. Thisartillery contingent comprised one-half each of Headquarters and ServiceBatteries and all of A Battery with 6 105-mm. howitzers, 73 vehicles, and108 men under the command of Lt. Col. Miller O. Perry. It had crossed fromJapan on an LST 2 July, disembarking at Pusan late that night. Two trainsthe next day carried the unit to Taejon. There General Church ordered Perryto join Smith at P'yongt'aek, and about 2100 that night Perry's artillerygroup entrained and departed northward. Because of the destroyed railroadstation at P'yongt'aek, the train stopped at Songhwan-ni, where the artillerymenunloaded and drove on the six miles to P'yongt'aek before daylight. [11]

Meanwhile, the 34th Infantry Regiment loaded at Sasebo during the nightof 1 July, and arrived at Pusan the next night. After Task Force Smithhad left Japan the rest of the 21st Infantry Regiment, except A and D Companieswhich sailed from Moji, loaded at Sasebo 3 July and departed for Pusan, arriving there early the next morning.[12]

Road leading to Suwon

General Dean also was on his way to Korea. Failing on 2 July to landat Taejon because his pilot could not find the airstrip in the dark, GeneralDean the next morning at Ashiya Air Base joined Capt. Ben L. Tufts on hisway to Korea by General Almond's order to act as liaison between Army andthe press. Tufts' pilot knew the Taejon airstrip and landed his plane thereabout 1030, 3 July. General Dean and Captain Tufts went directly to thetwo-story yellow brick building serving as General Church's ADCOM Headquarters.[13]

That afternoon a message from General MacArthur notified General Deanthat United States Army Forces in Korea was activated under his commandas of 0001 4 July. General Dean assumed command of USAFIK during the dayand appointed General Church as Deputy Commander. Twenty-two other officerswere named General and Special Staff officers of USAFIK. [14] ADCOM provided most of the officers for the USAFIK staff, but some KMAG officersalso served on it. Most of the KMAG officers who had left Korea by airon 27 June returned aboard the ammunition ship Sergeant Keathley on2 July. [15] By this time the ROK Army had assembled and partly reorganizedabout 68,000 men.

Task Force Smith at Osan

Colonels Smith and Perry, and some others, went forward in the lateafternoon of 4 July to make a final reconnaissance of the Osan position.At this time Perry selected the positions for his artillery. On the roadROK engineer groups were preparing demolitions on all bridges.

Back at Taejon General Dean, a big six-footer with a bristling crewcut cropping his sand-colored hair, and beanpole General Church, slightlystooped, always calm seemingly to the point of indifference, discussedthe probability of imminent American combat with the enemy. The third generalofficer to come to the forward area in Korea, Brig. Gen. George B. Barth,acting commanding general of the 24th Division artillery, now arrived inTaejon in the early afternoon. General Dean decided to send Barth forwardto represent him, and with instructions for Task Force Smith. So, at 15004 July, General Barth started north by jeep for P'yongt'aek. [16] Whenhe found Smith, General Barth relayed his orders to "take up thosegood positions near Osan you told General Church about." [17]

A little after midnight the infantry and artillery of Task Force Smithmoved out of P'yongt'aek. Colonel Smith had to commandeer Korean trucksand miscellaneous vehicles to mount his men. The native Korean driversdeserted when they found that the vehicles were going north. American soldierstook over in the drivers' seats. General Barth and Colonel Smith followedthe task force northward. On the way, General Barth tried to halt the ROKdemolition preparations by telling the engineer groups that he plannedto use the bridges. At one bridge, after talk failed to influence the ROKengineers, Barth threw the boxes of dynamite into the river. It was onlytwelve miles to Osan, but it took two and a half hours to get there becauseROK soldiers and civilians fleeing south filled the road and driving wasunder blackout conditions. [18]

About 0300 on 5 July, the delaying force reached the position whichSmith had previously selected. The infantry units started setting up weaponsand digging in at the pre-designated places. Colonel Perry moved his gunsinto the positions behind the infantry that he had selected the previousafternoon. All units were in place, but not completely dug in, before daylight.

Task Force Smith position

In seeking the most favorable place to pass through the ridge, the railroadbent eastward away from the highway until it was almost a mile distant.There the railroad split into two single-track lines and passed over lowground between hills of the ridge line. On his left flank Colonel Smithplaced one platoon of B Company on the high knob immediately west of thehighway; east of the road were B Company's other two rifle platoons. Beyondthem eastward to the railroad tracks were two platoons of C Company. Thiscompany's third platoon occupied a finger ridge running south, forminga refused right flank along the west side of the railroad track. Just eastof the highway B Company emplaced one 75-mm. recoilless rifle; C Companyemplaced the other 75-mm. recoilless rifle just west of the railroad. ColonelSmith placed the 4.2-inch mortars on the reverse, or south, slope of theridge about 400 yards behind the center of B Company's position. The infantryline formed a 1-mile front, not counting the refused right flank alongthe railroad track. [20] The highway, likely to be the critical axis ofenemy advance, passed through the shallow saddle at the infantry positionand then zigzagged gently downgrade northward around several knob-likespurs to low ground a little more than a mile away. There it crossed tothe east side of the railroad track and continued on over semi-level groundto Suwon.

Two thousand yards behind the infantry, Colonel Perry pulled four 105-mm.howitzers 150 yards to the left (west) off the highway over a small trailthat only jeeps could travel. Two jeeps in tandem pulled the guns intoplace. Near a cluster of houses with rice paddies in front and low hills back of them, the men arranged the gunsin battery position. Perry emplaced the fifth howitzer as an antitank gunon the west side of the road about halfway between the main battery positionand the infantry. From there it could place direct fire on the highwaywhere it passed through the saddle and the infantry positions. [21]

Map 2. Task Force Smith At Osan-Ni, 5 July 1950.

Map 2. "Task Force Smith At Osan-Ni, 5 July 1950."

Volunteers from the artillery Headquarters and Service Batteries madeup four .50-caliber machine gun and four 2.36-inch bazooka teams and joinedthe infantry in their position.

The infantry parked most of their miscellaneous trucks and jeeps alongthe road just south of the saddle. The artillerymen left their trucks concealedin yards and sheds and behind Korean houses along the road just north ofOsan. There were about 1,200 rounds of artillery ammunition at the batteryposition and in two trucks parked inside a walled enclosure nearby. Oneor two truckloads more were in the vehicles parked among the houses justnorth of Osan. Nearly all this ammunition was high explosive (HE); only6 rounds were high explosive antitank (HEAT), and all of it was taken tothe forward gun. [22] When the 52d Field Artillery was loading out at Sasebo,Japan, the battalion ammunition officer drew all the HEAT ammunition availablethere-only 18 rounds. [23] He issued 6 rounds to A Battery, now on thepoint of engaging in the first battle between American artillery and theRussian-built T34 tanks.

At the Osan position as rainy 5 July dawned were 540 Americans: 389enlisted men and 17 officers among the infantry and 125 enlisted men and9 officers among the artillerymen. [24] When first light came, the infantrytest-fired their weapons and the artillerymen registered their guns. Thenthey ate their C ration breakfasts.

In spite of the rain Smith could see almost to Suwon. He first saw movementon the road in the distance near Suwon a little after 0700. In about halfan hour a tank column, now easily discernible, approached the waiting Americans.In this first group there were eight tanks. About 0800 the men back inthe artillery position received a call from the forward observer with theinfantry for a fire mission. [25]

At 0816 the first American artillery fire of the Korean War hurtledthrough the air toward the North Korean tanks. The number two howitzerfired the first two rounds, and the other pieces then joined in the firing.The artillery took the tanks under fire at a range of approximately 4,000yards, about 2,000 yards in front of the American infantry. [26] The forwardobserver quickly adjusted the fire and shells began landing among the tanks.But the watching infantrymen saw the tanks keep on coming, undeterred bythe exploding artillery shells.

To conserve ammunition Colonel Smith issued orders that the 75-mm. recoillessrifle covering the highway should withhold fire until the tanks closedto 700 yards. The tanks stayed in column, displayed little caution, anddid not leave the road. The commander of the enemy tank column may havethought he had encountered only another minor ROK delaying position.

General Barth had gone back to the artillery just before the enemy cameinto view and did not know when he arrived there that an enemy force wasapproaching. After receiving reports from the forward observer that theartillery fire was ineffective against the tanks, he started back to alertthe 1st Battalion of the 34th Infantry, whose arrival he expected at P'yongt'aekduring the night, against a probable breakthrough of the enemy tanks. [27]

When the enemy tank column approached within 700 yards of the infantryposition, the two recoilless rifles took it under fire. They scored directhits, but apparently did not damage the tanks which, firing their 85-mm.cannon and 7.62-mm. machine guns, rumbled on up the incline toward thesaddle. When they were almost abreast of the infantry position, the leadtanks came under 2.36-inch rocket launcher fire. Operating a bazooka fromthe ditch along the east side of the road, 2d Lt. Ollie D. Connor, firedtwenty-two rockets at approximately fifteen yards' range against the rearof the tanks where their armor was weakest. Whether they were effectiveis doubtful. The two lead tanks, however, were stopped just through thepass when they came under direct fire of the single 105-mm. howitzer usingHEAT ammunition. Very likely these artillery shells stopped the two tanks,although the barrage of close-range bazooka rockets may have damaged theirtracks. [28]

The two damaged tanks pulled off to the side of the road, clearing theway for those following. One of the two caught fire and burned. Two menemerged from its turret with their hands up. A third jumped out with aburp gun in his hands and fired directly into a machine gun position, killingthe assistant gunner. This unidentified machine gunner probably was thefirst American ground soldier killed in action in Korea. [29] Americanfire killed the three North Koreans. The six rounds of HEAT ammunition at the forwardgun were soon expended, leaving only the HE shells which ricocheted offthe tanks. The third tank through the pass knocked out the forward gunand wounded one of its crew members.

The tanks did not stop to engage the infantry; they merely fired onthem as they came through. Following the first group of 8 tanks came othersat short intervals, usually in groups of 4. These, too, went unhesitatinglythrough the infantry position and on down the road toward the artilleryposition. In all, there were 33 tanks in the column. The last passed throughthe infantry position by 0900, about an hour after the lead tanks had reachedthe saddle. In this hour, tank fire had killed or wounded approximatelytwenty men in Smith's position. [30]

Earlier in the morning it was supposed to have been no more than anacademic question as to what would happen if tanks came through the infantryto the artillery position. Someone in the artillery had raised this pointto be answered by the infantry, "Don't worry, they will never getback to you." One of the artillerymen later expressed the prevailingopinion by saying, "Everyone thought the enemy would turn around andgo back when they found out who was fighting." [31] Word now cameto the artillerymen from the forward observer that tanks were through theinfantry and to be ready for them.

The first tanks cut up the telephone wire strung along the road fromthe artillery to the infantry and destroyed this communication. The radioswere wet and functioning badly; now only the jeep radio worked. Communicationwith the infantry after 0900 was spotty at best, and, about 1100, it ceasedaltogether.

The tanks came on toward the artillery pieces, which kept them underfire but could not stop them. About 500 yards from the battery, the tanksstopped behind a little hill seeking protection from direct fire. Then,one at a time, they came down the road with a rush, hatches closed, makinga run to get past the battery position. Some fired their 85-mm cannon,others only their machine guns. Their aim was haphazard in most cases forthe enemy tankers had not located the gun positions. Some of the tank gunseven pointed toward the opposite side of the road. Only one tank stoppedmomentarily at the little trail where the howitzers had pulled off themain road as though it meant to try to overrun the battery which its crewevidently had located. Fortunately, however, it did not leave the roadbut instead, after a moment, continued on toward Osan. The 105-mm. howitzersfired at ranges of 150-300 yards as the tanks went by, but the shells onlyjarred the tanks and bounced off. Altogether, the tanks did not averagemore than one round each in return fire. [32]

Three bazooka teams from the artillery had posted themselves near theroad before the tanks appeared. When word came that the tanks were throughthe infantry, two more bazooka teams, one led by Colonel Perry and theother by Sgt. Edwin A. Eversole, started to move into position. The first tankcaught both Perry and Eversole in the rice paddy between the howitzersand the highway. When Eversole's first bazooka round bounced off the turretof the tank, he said that tank suddenly looked to him "as big as abattleship." This tank fired its 85-mm. cannon, cutting down a telephonepole which fell harmlessly over Eversole who had flung himself down intoa paddy drainage ditch. A 105-mm. shell hit the tracks of the third tankand stopped it. The other tanks in this group went on through. The fourAmerican howitzers remained undamaged. [33]

After these tanks had passed out of sight, Colonel Perry took an interpreterand worked his way up close to the immobilized enemy tank. Through theinterpreter, he called on the crew to come out and surrender. There wasno response. Perry then ordered the howitzers to destroy the tank. Afterthree rounds had hit the tank, two men jumped out of it and took coverin a culvert. Perry sent a squad forward and it killed the two North Koreans.[34]

During this little action, small arms fire hit Colonel Perry in theright leg. Refusing to be evacuated, he hobbled around or sat against thebase of a tree orders and instructions in preparation for the appearanceof more tanks. [35]

In about ten minutes the second wave of tanks followed the last of thefirst group. This time there were more-"a string of them," asone man expressed it. They came in ones, twos, and threes, close togetherwith no apparent interval or organization.

When the second wave of tanks came into view, some of the howitzer crewmembers started to "take off." As one present said, the men were"shy about helping." [36] The officers had to drag the ammunitionup and load the pieces themselves. The senior noncommissioned officersfired the pieces. The momentary panic soon passed and, with the good exampleand strong leadership of Colonel Perry and 1st Lt. Dwain L. Scott beforethem, the men returned to their positions. Many of the second group oftanks did not fire on the artillery at all. Again, the 105-mm. howitzerscould not stop the oncoming tanks. They did, however hit another in itstracks, disabling it in front of the artillery position. [37] Some of thetanks had one or two infantrymen on their decks. Artillery fire blew offor killed most of them; some lay limply dead as the tanks went by; othersslowly jolted off onto the road. [38] Enemy tank fire caused a buildingto burn near the battery position and a nearby dump of about 300 roundsof artillery shells began to explode. The last of the tanks passed theartillery position by 1015. [39] These tanks were from the 107th Tank Regiment of the 105th Armored Division, insupport of the N.K. 4th Division. [40]

Colonel Perry estimates that his four howitzers fired an average of4 to 6 rounds at each of the tanks, and that they averaged perhaps 1 roundeach in return. After the last tank was out of sight, rumbling on towardOsan, the score stood as follows: the forward 105-mm. howitzer, and 2.36-inchbazookas fired from the infantry position, had knocked out and left burning1 tank and damaged another so that it could not move; the artillery hadstopped 3 more in front of the battery position, while 3 others thoughdamaged had managed to limp out of range toward Osan. This made 4 tanksdestroyed or immobilized and 3 others slightly damaged but serviceableout of a total of 33.

For their part, the tanks had destroyed the forward 105-mm. howitzerand wounded one of its crew members, had killed or wounded an estimatedtwenty infantrymen, and had destroyed all the parked vehicles behind theinfantry position. At the main battery position the tanks had slightlydamaged one of the four guns by a near miss. [41] Only Colonel Perry andanother man were wounded at the battery position.

Task Force Smith was not able to use any antitank mines-one of the mosteffective methods of defense against tanks-as there were none in Koreaat the time. Colonel Perry was of the opinion that a few well-placed antitankmines would have stopped the entire armored column in the road. [42]

After the last of the tank column had passed through the infantry positionand the artillery and tank fire back toward Osan had subsided, the Americanpositions became quiet again. There was no movement of any kind discernibleon the road ahead toward Suwon. But Smith knew that he must expect enemyinfantry soon. In the steady rain that continued throughout the morning,the men deepened their foxholes and otherwise improved their positions.

Perhaps an hour after the enemy tank column had moved through, ColonelSmith, from his observation post, saw movement on the road far away, nearSuwon. This slowly became discernible as a long column of trucks and footsoldiers. Smith estimated the column to be about six miles long. [43] Ittook an hour for the head of the column to reach a point 1,000 yards infront of the American infantry. There were three tanks in front, followedby a long line of trucks, and, behind these, several miles of marchinginfantry. There could be no doubt about it, this was a major force of theNorth Korean Army pushing south-the 16th and 18th Regiments ofthe N.K. 4th Division, as learned later. [44]

Whether the enemy column knew that American ground troops had arrivedin Korea and were present in the battle area is unknown. Later, Sr. Col.Lee Hak Ku, in early July operations officer of the N.K. II Corps, saidhe had no idea that the United States would intervene in the war, that nothing hadbeen said about possible U.S. intervention, and that he believed it cameas a surprise to North Korean authorities. [45]

With battle against a greatly superior number of enemy troops only amatter of minutes away, the apprehensions of the American infantry watchingthe approaching procession can well be imagined. General MacArthur laterreferred to his commitment of a handful of American ground troops as "thatarrogant display of strength" which he hoped would fool the enemyinto thinking that a much larger force was at hand. [46]

When the convoy of enemy trucks was about 1,000 yards away, ColonelSmith, to use his own words, "threw the book at them." Mortarshells landed among the trucks and .50-caliber machine gun bullets sweptthe column. Trucks burst into flames. Men were blown into the air; otherssprang from their vehicles and jumped into ditches alongside the road.The three tanks moved to within 200-300 yards of the American positionsand began raking the ridge line with cannon and machine gun fire. Behindthe burning vehicles an estimated 1,000 enemy infantry detrucked and startedto deploy. Behind them other truckloads of infantry stopped and waited.It was now about 1145.

The enemy infantry began moving up the finger ridge along the east sideof the road. There, some of them set up a base of fire while others fannedout to either side in a double enveloping movement. The American fire brokeup all efforts of the enemy infantry to advance frontally. Strange thoughit was, the North Koreans made no strong effort to attack the flanks; theyseemed bent on getting around rather than closing on them. Within an hour,about 1230, the enemy appeared in force on the high hill to the west ofthe highway overlooking and dominating the knob on that side held by aplatoon of B Company. Smith, observing this, withdrew the platoon to theeast side of the road. Maj. Floyd Martin, executive officer of the 1stBattalion, meanwhile supervised the carrying of available ammunition stocksto a central and protected area back of the battalion command post. The4.2-inch mortars were moved up closer, and otherwise the men achieved atighter defense perimeter on the highest ground east of the road. [48]In the exchange of fire that went on an increasing amount of enemy mortarand artillery fire fell on the American position. Enemy machine guns onhills overlooking the right flank now also began firing on Smith's men.

Earlier, Colonel Perry had twice sent wire parties to repair the communicationswire between the artillery and the infantry, but both had returned sayingthey had been fired upon. At 1300 Perry sent a third group led by his AssistantS-3. This time he ordered the men to put in a new line across the paddieseast of the road and to avoid the area where the earlier parties said they had received fire. [49]

About 1430, Colonel Smith decided that if any of his command was toget out, the time to move was at hand. Large numbers of the enemy werenow on both flanks and moving toward his rear; a huge enemy reserve waitedin front of him along the road stretching back toward Suwon; and his smallarms ammunition was nearly gone. A large enemy tank force was already inhis rear. He had no communications, not even with Colonel Perry's artillerya mile behind him, and he could hope for no reinforcements. Perry's artilleryhad fired on the enemy infantry as long as the fire direction communicationfunctioned properly, but this too had failed soon after the infantry fightbegan. The weather prevented friendly air from arriving at the scene. Hadit been present it could have worked havoc with the enemy-clogged road.[50]

Smith planned to withdraw his men by leapfrogging units off the ridge,each jump of the withdrawal covered by protecting fire of the next unitahead. The selected route of withdrawal was toward Osan down the fingerridge on the right flank, just west of the railroad track. First off thehill was C Company, followed by the medics, then battalion headquarters,and, finally, B Company, except its 2d Platoon which never received thewithdrawal order. A platoon messenger returned from the company commandpost and reported to 2d Lt. Carl F. Bernard that there was no one at thecommand post and that the platoon was the only group left in position.After confirming this report Bernard tried to withdraw his men. At thetime of the withdrawal the men carried only small arms and each averagedtwo or three clips of ammunition. They abandoned all crew-served weapons-recoillessrifles, mortars, and machine guns. They had no alternative but to leavebehind all the dead and about twenty-five to thirty wounded litter cases.A medical sergeant, whose name unfortunately has not been determined, voluntarilyremained with the latter. The slightly wounded moved out with the mainunits, but when enemy fire dispersed some of the groups many of the woundeddropped behind and were seen no more. [51]

Task Force Smith suffered its heaviest casualties in the withdrawal.Some of the enemy machine gun fire was at close quarters. The captain andpitcher of the regimental baseball team, 1st Lt. Raymond "Bodie"Adams, used his pitching arm to win the greatest victory of his careerwhen he threw a grenade forty yards into an enemy machine gun position,destroying the gun and killing the crew. This particular gun had causedheavy casualties.

About the time B Company, the initial covering unit, was ready to withdraw,Colonel Smith left the hill, slanted off to the railroad track and followedit south to a point opposite the artillery position. From there he struckoff west through the rice paddies to find Colonel Perry and tell him theinfantry was leaving. While crossing the rice paddies Smith met Perry'swire party and together they hurried to Perry's artillery battery. Smith had assumedthat the enemy tanks had destroyed all the artillery pieces and had madecasualties of most of the men. His surprise was complete when he foundthat all the guns at this battery position were operable and that onlyColonel Perry and another man were wounded. Enemy infantry had not yetappeared at the artillery position. [52]

Upon receiving Smith's order to withdraw, the artillerymen immediatelymade ready to go. They removed the sights and breech locks from the gunsand carried them and the aiming circles to their vehicles. [53] Smith,Perry, and the artillerymen walked back to the outskirts of Osan wherethey found the artillery trucks as they had left them, only a few beingslightly damaged by tank and machine gun fire.

Perry and Smith planned to take a road at the south edge of Osan toAnsong, assuming that the enemy tanks had gone down the main road towardP'yongt'aek. Rounding a bend in the road near the southern edge of thetown, but short of the Ansong road, Smith and Perry in the lead vehiclecame suddenly upon three enemy tanks halted just ahead of them. Some orall of the tank crew members were standing about smoking cigarettes. Thelittle column of vehicles turned around quickly, and, without a shot beingfired, drove back to the north edge of Osan. There they turned into a smalldirt road that led eastward, hoping that it would get them to Ansong.

The column soon came upon groups of infantry from Smith's battalionstruggling over the hills and through the rice paddies. Some of the menhad taken off their shoes in the rice paddies, others were without headcovering of any kind, while some had their shirts off. The trucks stoppedand waited while several of these groups came up and climbed on them. About100 infantrymen joined the artillery group in this way. Then the vehiclescontinued on unmolested, arriving at Ansong after dark. [54]

There was no pursuit. The North Korean infantry occupied the vacatedpositions, and busied themselves in gathering trophies, apparently contentto have driven off the enemy force.

The next morning, 6 July, Colonel Smith and his party went on to Ch'onan.Upon arrival there a count revealed that he had 185 men. Subsequently,Capt. Richard Dashmer, C Company commander, came in with 65 men, increasingthe total to 250. There were about 150 men killed, wounded, or missingfrom Colonel Smith's infantry force when he took a second count later inthe day. The greatest loss was in B Company. [55] Survivors straggled into American lines at P'yongt'aek, Ch'onan, Taejon, and other points insouthern Korea during the next several days. Lieutenant Bernard and twelvemen of the reserve platoon of B Company reached Ch'onan two days after the Osan fight.Five times he and his men had encountered North Korean roadblocks. Theyarrived at Ch'onan only half an hour ahead of the enemy. A few men walkedall the way from Osan to the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. One man eventuallyarrived at Pusan on a Korean sampan from the west coast. [56]

None of the 5 officers and 10 enlisted men of the artillery forwardobserver, liaison, machine gun, and bazooka group with the infantry evercame back. On 7 July 5 officers and 26 enlisted men from the artillerywere still missing. [57]

The N.K. 4th Division and attached units apparently lost approximately42 killed and 85 wounded at Osan on 5 July. [58] A diary taken from a deadNorth Korean soldier some days later carried this entry about Osan: "5Jul 50 . . . we met vehicles and American PWs. We also saw some Americandead. We found 4 of our destroyed tanks. Near Osan there was a great battle."[59]


[1] Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War, ch. III, p. 1, citing Msg CX 56978, CINCFE to CG 8th Army, 30 Jun 50.

[2] EUSAK WD, Opns Ord 2, 010315K Jul 50.

[3] Ibid., troop list accompanying Opns Ord 2; Ibid., Prologue, 25 Jun-13 Jul 50, Incl I, Rpt of G-1 Activities, 1-12 Jul 50, pp. 1-2.

[4] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ltr, Smith to author, 4 May 52.

[7]Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Emmerich, 5 Dec 51. The 24th Division War Diary, 1 July 1950, erroneously states that 24 C-54 planes were available for the airlift. Smith denies this.

[8] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[9] Ibid.; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, 25 Jun-3 Jul 50, Msg 239, msg from Gen Church to FEAF, 3 Jul 50; N. Bartlett, ed., With the Australians in Korea (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1954), p. 174.

[10] Ltr, Scott to friend, ca. 6-7 Jul 50; Interv, author with Hazlett, 11 Jun 54 (Colonel Hazlett was in the Suwon area on 3 July); Msg 239, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 25 Jun-3 Jul 50.

[11] Ltr, Col Perry to author, 25 May 52; Intervs, author with 1st Lt Edwin A. Eversole, 52d FA Bn, 1 Aug 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51.

[12] Schnabel, FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War, ch. III, pp. 4-5; Maj Gen Richard W. Stephens, MS review comments, Dec 57.

[13] Interv, author with Capt Tufts, 6 Aug 51; Capt Tufts, notes for author, 8 Aug 51 (8 typescript pages); W. F. Dean and W. L. Worden, General Dean's Story (New York: Viking Press, 1954), pp. 18-19.

[14] 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 242, 3 Jul 50; USAFIK GO 1, 4 Jul 50, and SO 1, 4 Jul 50.

[15] Church MS; Sawyer, KMAG MS; Schnabel FEC, GHQ Support and Participation in Korean War, ch. IV, pp. 8-9.

[16] Brig Gen G. B. Barth, 25th Div Unit Hist, Tropic Lightning and Taro Leaf in Korea (prepared in 1951), MS in OCMH (hereafter cited as Barth MS); Gen Barth, MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.

[17] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51; Dean and Worden, General Dean's Story, p. 20. Barth says Smith had already started his men forward when he arrived at P'yongt'aek. MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.

[18] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51; Barth MS, p. 1; Barth, MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.

[19] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[21] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51; Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51 The sixth howitzer had been left at P'yongt'aek because of trouble with the prime mover.

[22] Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51; Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[23] Interv, author with 1st Lt Percy R. Hare, 5 Aug 51. (Hare was Ammunition and Trains Officer, 52d Field Artillery Battalion, when the battalion left for Korea.)

[24] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51; Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec. 51. The official army records contain many inaccuracies with respect to Task Force Smith. To note only a few: one FEC G-2 report gives the date of the Osan action as 6 July, the 24th Division War Diary gives it as 4 July. Both are wrong. Several sources state that enemy tank fire destroyed all the American 105-mm. howitzers at Osan; only one was destroyed.

[25] Ltr, Smith to author, 4 May 52; Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51. Eversole says he looked at his watch when the request for a fire mission came in from the forward observer and noted the time as 0745, Barth thinks the time was closer to 0800. Smith told the author he first saw the enemy column about 0700 and that it was about half an hour in moving up in front of his position. In an interview with the 24th Division G-2 on 7 July 1950, two days after the action, Colonel Smith gave the time as 0745 when the tank column approached his position. See 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 6-10 Jul 50, entry 64, 071720. A telephone call from USAFIK headquarters in Taejon to GHQ in Tokyo at 1105, 5 July, gave the time of initial contact as 0818. Memo, Gen Wright, FEC C-3, for CofS ROK, 051130 Jul 50.

[26] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51; Barth, MS review comments, 28 Feb 58. Knowing the action was of historic importance, Barth looked at his watch when the artillery opened fire. He says it was 0816.

[27] Barth MS; Interv, author with Capt Ben M. Huckabay, 2 Aug 51. (Huckabay was a corporal at Osan with the 52d Field Artillery.)

[28] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51. Smith told the author that the bazooka ammunition had deteriorated because of age.

[29] Interv, author with 1st Lt Lawrence C. Powers, 2 Aug 51. Powers was Headquarters Company Communications Officer, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, at Osan, 5 July. He said he saw this action.

[30] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51, and Sgt Jack L. Ruffner, 2 Aug 51.

[31] Interv, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[32] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51; Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51.

[33] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51.

[34] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[35] Intervs, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51. Special Order 76, 20 September 1950, awarded Colonel Perry the Distinguished Service Cross.

[36] Interv, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[37] Intervs, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51. The 24th Division General Order 111, 30 August 1950, awarded Lieutenant Scott the Silver Star for action at Osan, 5 July 1950.

[38] Intervs, author with Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Perry, 13 Dec 51.

[39] Ibid.

[40] ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (Enemy Forces), p. 37.

[41] Ltr, Perry to author, 5 Dec 51; Interv, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51.

[42] Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Powers, 2 Aug 51: Ltr, Smith to author, 4 May 52.

[43] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[44] ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 45. The division's third regiment, the 5th, remained behind in Suwon.

[45] ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 9 (N.K. Forces), pp. 158-74, Interrog of Sr Col Lee Hak Ku.

[46] Senate MacArthur Hearings, pt. I, p. 231.

[47] ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 45; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, Rpt of Interrog of Col smith, 071720, entry 64; Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[48] 21st Inf Regt WD, 5 Jul 50; Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Powers, 2 Aug 51.

[49] Ltr, Perry to author, 25 May 52.

[50] Intervs. author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[51] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, Eversole, 1 Aug 51, and Powers, 2 Aug 51; Capt Carl Bernard, MS review comments, 24 Feb 58.

[52] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51.

[53] Ltr, Perry to author, 25 May 52; Intervs, author with Perry, 13 Dec 51, and Eversole, 1 Aug 51.

[54] Intervs, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51, and Huckabay, 2 Aug 51.

[55] Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51. Smith estimated his losses at 155 men. A verbal report by the 24th Division G-1, recorded in a penciled journal entry in the division G-3 Journal, entry 71, 071500, gave the total missing from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, as 148 enlisted men and 5 officers. This total included 63 enlisted men and 2 officers from B Company, and 32 enlisted men and 2 officers from C Company.

[56] Bernard, MS review comments, 24 Feb, 58; Lt. Bernard as told to Sgt. Al Mullikin, "The First Brutal Weeks in Korea," the Washington Post, June 24, 1954; Interv, author with Smith, 7 Oct 51.

[57] Ltr, Perry to author, 25 May 52; Interv, author with Huckabay, 2 Aug 51; 24th Div G-3 Jnl, Msg 67, 071935; 24th Div G-2 PW Interrog file, 6-22 Jul 50 (Paik In Soo); New York Times, July 6, 1950. One group of 36 Americans led by 2d Lt. Jansen C. Cox was captured on 6 July southeast of Osan

[58] ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (Enemy Docs), p. 3, Casualty Rpt for 16th, 17th, 18th Regts, Arty Regt and attached units, 25 Jun-10 Jul 50. A few of the enemy casualties given for Osan may have occurred at P'yongt'aek the next day, but their losses at the latter place could not have been numerous.

[59] 24th Div G-2 PW Interrog File, 6-22 Jul 50. On 11 July an enemy radio broadcast from Seoul first used PW's for propaganda purposes. Capt. Ambrose H. Nugent, of the 52d Field Artillery Battalion, read a statement of about a thousand words in English. The Seoul radio said Nugent was one of seventy-two Americans captured at Osan from the 21st Infantry and the 52d Field Artillery Battalion. See New York Times, July 6, 1950, and the New York Herald-Tribune, July 12, 1950.

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