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Successful patrol takes time time for planning, time for coordination with other units, time for thorough briefing....


Years of Stalemate
USMC Warfighting Overview

Aussie platoon preparing for combat patrol

Chapter 19
Combat Patrol

* North of the 38th parallel and on the east side of the Korean peninsula is a large area crowded with steep-sided hills. Most of the valleys are wide enough for only a stream, a footpath, or a narrow road, and a few tiny rice paddies terraced in the draws like stair steps. There is not much land suitable for growing rice, and the houses are few, the settlements scattered. [1]

Here, troops of the United Nations and the opposing Communist armies stabilized their lines during the Panmunjom truce talks. Among these wrinkled and half-barren hills, Noname Ridge was only an obscure finger ridge. Four or five miles straight east of Heartbreak Ridge and near the northwestern rim of a volcano-like crater called the Punchbowl, Noname Ridge was in the area between the friendly front lines and the main defensive position of a North Korean unit. The only prominent feature about it was a little fresh dirt left exposed by enemy soldiers who were constructing new bunkers and trenches there. The dirt was more noticeable because of the snow which, even in early April of 1952, still covered many of the hills, especially in the low and shaded places. Noname Ridge was about a thousand yards from the enemy's main lines, and from positions of the U.S. 35th Infantry (25th Infantry Division). It was within range of friendly patrols.

One of these patrols, scheduled for the night of 3 April 1952, fell to Company A, 35th Infantry, which at the time was manning reserve positions behind the front lines. If possible, battalion commanders assigned combat patrol missions to reserve units because they did not like to weaken their main defenses by using front-line companies for patrolling.

The regiment planned the patrol action on 28 March, naming Lt. John H. Chandler patrol leader. His mission was to conduct a combat patrol to Noname Ridge to kill or capture any enemy encountered. For the job, he was to take a force consisting of two reinforced rifle squads.

Chandler received the patrol plans on the afternoon of 2 April. He selected two squads from his 3d Platoon and several men from the other squads in order to have a total of twenty, including himself. The next afternoon (3 April) he took his nineteen men to a high point overlooking the planned route and briefed them on the patrol scheduled for that night. He pointed out the objective, one of the enemy construction sites on Noname Ridge, and explained that he hoped to surprise an enemy working party while it was digging and unarmed. If possible, the patrol would capture one or more North Koreans, or kill them if capture were impossible.

Using available maps, Lieutenant Chandler had constructed a sand model outlining the most prominent terrain features and the objective patrol. Aerial photographs were not available, and consequently, there were features of the ridges and the draws he did not include in the model. However, the model was good enough to plan the routes of advance and withdrawal and to show the known characteristics of the objective area. Just before the briefing ended, Lieutenant Chandler reminded the men of the battalion's rule concerning casualties.

"Casualties, dead or wounded," he said, "are never left by the rest of the patrol. If any man is left on the field, the entire unit will return to find him and bring him back."

When the patrol assembled after supper, Lieutenant Chandler divided the men into two sections: an assault squad of 8 men and himself, and a fire support squad of the other 11 men.

Two men of the assault squad carried automatic rifles. For mutual assistance and for protection, Chandler paired each BAR man with another man armed with a carbine. The other members of the assault squadChandler, an assistant patrol leader, the two scouts (one of whom was an ROK corporal serving with the 3d Platoon), and the radio operator also carried automatic carbines.

In the fire-support squad the leader (Cpl. David Mitchell) and the assistant squad leader (Cpl. Robert Kirschbaum) both carried Ml rifles, each with a grenade launcher and two flares. Two men carried light machine guns, two were armed with BARs, and the other five had carbines. In this squad also Chandler paired each of the automatic weapons with a carbine for mutual support.

One man in each squad carried an SCR-300 radio; a man in the support squad had a sound-powered telephone and two reels of light wire. Both

238 Combat Actions in Korea

wire and radio were tied in with communications at an observation post of Company C on the main line of resistance. From this observation post

manned by Company C's commander, a liaison officer from Company A, and a forward observer from the 64th Field Artillery Battalion there was direct communication by both radio and telephone with the 1st Battalion's command post. The battalion commander (Lt. Col. Philip G. Walker) wanted to be able to direct the actions of both the patrol and the supporting artillery if it became necessary to do so.

After satisfying himself that all details of his patrol were in order, Lieutenant Chandler a man who was both careful and thorough waved his men forward. The patrol crossed the main line of resistance at 2100. As Chandler led his men down the finger toward the stream bed, the 105-mm howitzers of the 64th Field Artillery Battalion fired their usual harassing and interdiction missions. In planning the patrol, the regimental staff had timed the departure to coincide with this evening fire, hoping it would keep the enemy under cover until the patrol was in defilade.

In spite of the difficulty of moving on the steep, snow-covered slope, the men maintained an orderly open column as they worked their way toward the draw. At 2130 Lieutenant Chandler reported to Company C's observation post that he had reached the first check point, located about halfway down the slope. After this first descent the going was easier and the patrol reported from the second check point twenty minutes later. The patrol was now about halfway to its objective. The snow, which interfered with walking part of the time, also reflected enough light to make it easier for the men to see. The moon, in its first quarter, came up at about the time the patrol left the second check point and, since the night was clear, there was good visibility thereafter.

This second check point was near the base of a draw. From this point, the fingers leading up to Noname Ridge looked quite different from the way the terrain had been shown on the map used in planning. In spite of Lieutenant Chandler's careful planning, he was still in doubt as to which of two fingers he should follow. After studying the ground for a few minutes, he chose one and decided to follow it toward Noname Ridge. If this were the correct finger ridge, he would find his objective point close to the top of it. If it were not the correct one, the added elevation would enable him to check his position against known landmarks.

When the patrol reached the crest of the finger, Chandler led his men up the slope of the ridge, through old communication trenches and close to enemy bunkers. There was no sign of the enemy either sound or movement. The infantrymen knew the enemy had maintained an outpost line of resistance on the ridge and it seemed strange to them to be so close to enemy positions and yet to find nothing to indicate that anyone else was near. After going about ninety yards, Chandler concluded that he had chosen the wrong ridge. He turned down the steep side of one ridge, crossed a sharp draw at the bottom and, with the rest of the men following in single file, started up the face of the next ridge, which he now realized was his original objective Noname Ridge.

By the time the patrol reached the crest of the second finger ridge it was almost half an hour past midnight. Chandler reported his position to the observation post, using the radio because all wire for the soundpowered telephone had been used. The patrol, after traveling out of its way, had not backtracked to recover the wire. Moreover, the telephone had not worked satisfactorily after the patrol member carrying it had spliced the two reels of wire. Perhaps the splice was faulty, or perhaps the thin wire lacked sufficient insulation when the wire lay in wet snow.

By the time the patrol reached the objective, it had been out for about three and a half hours. When Chandler reported to the observation post, it had made no contact with the enemy, nor had it found any indications that there were enemy soldiers in the area. When this report reached Colonel Walker, he instructed Chandler to continue with his original mission.

"Get a prisoner if you can," the battalion commander told the patrol leader. "If you can't, shoot 'em up. Decide upon the route you are going to take to make contact, move forward a hundred yards, then report again."

When Chandler had made his decision, he called back to give it to Colonel Walker so the battalion commander could continue to plot the patrol's course. The patrol moved forward without incident. Colonel Walker told Chandler to go another hundred yards and report again.

After the second move, the patrol members saw and heard movement in the direction of the enemy's main defensive line. It appeared that enemy soldiers, still some distance away, were coming down toward Noname Ridge. Chandler called for artillery. In a few minutes, thirty-six 105mm shells fell in the area where the enemy movement had been. The movement stopped with the incoming rounds, but Lieutenant Chandler and his men could still hear voices from the vicinity of the impact area. Though the patrol had now made some contact, it had not yet accomplished its mission of capturing a prisoner. Cautiously, Chandler led his men another hundred yards upward to a point about fifty yards from the very top of the ridge.

Here the men stopped and listened. They could hear noise above them. There were bunkers near the top of the ridge, and the men could hear North Koreans talking and laughing. There were other noises which Chandler's men identified as the sounds made by men while eating. Lieutenant Chandler called back over the radio to Company C's observation post: "We're going on radio silence from here on, so there won't be any chance that the radio will give us away before we're ready."

Then he spent some time trying to determine the outline and construction of the enemy's position.

From the patrol's location below the crest of the ridge, the men could see a large bunker that would be a little to the left of the patrol's route of approach. On each side there were other smaller bunkers.

Lieutenant Chandler formed the patrol into two lines facing the enemy's position. The assault squad was disposed with an automatic-rifle man and another man with a carbine on each flank, and the other men quite close together in the center. Chandler and Cpl. Kim Bae were out in front; Sgt. William Schell (assistant patrol leader), Pvt. Johnnie R. Banks (scout), and Cpl. Anthony Darbonne (radio operator), were close behind them. The fire-support squad, with its weapons posted in about the same pattern, stayed about twenty yards behind the assault party.

In this formation the patrol moved stealthily ahead, the men walking upright but ready to start crawling when necessary. When the patrol had covered about twenty-five of the remaining yards to the enemy's position, PFC Van D. Randon, carrying the BAR on the right flank of the assault squad, turned to PFC Charles H. Baugher, who was walking behind him.

"There's wire right in front of you," Randon muttered. "Be careful."

Baugher stepped over the wire. There was an explosion that threw him to the ground, tipping him over on his right side. The other men of the patrol were not much later in hitting the ground. It was about 0210.

In the immediate silence that followed, Baugher, who had apparently stepped on a booby-trapped concussion grenade, felt for his foot and found it to be all right although numb. The rest of the patrol lay quietly, waiting for the enemy to come out of the bunkers to see what had tripped the grenade. Nothing happened. The sounds of laughing, talking, and eating continued.

After waiting several minutes to make certain the North Koreans had ignored the noise, Lieutenant Chandler crept forward with his assault squad. As Chandler and his South Korean interpreter (Cpl. Kim Bae) approached the large bunker in the center, they came upon a communication trench that joined at least the five bunkers the patrol members could see. Chandler and Kim Bae jumped into the trench. As they did so a North Korean came out of the big bunker a few feet away to their left. Chandler and Kim Bae climbed back out of the trench.

The North Korean muttered a few words in guttural Korean, apparently a challenge. Kim answered in Korean, but apparently the enemy was still suspicious. When he first spoke he had unslung the burp gun he carried on his shoulder; now he raised it to the ready position and fired. Several men from the assault squad opened fire at the same time. Kim Bae threw a grenade. The North Korean fell after he had fired about three rounds. No one there knew who had killed him. With the need for silence past, the men of the squad began shouting, breaking into a loud and profane argument about "who killed the son of a bitch."

Back on the main line of resistance, half a mile away, men of Company C saw the tracers scratch the night, and heard the sudden shouting. The fire fight was on.

Six North Koreans came streaming out of the big bunker. The assault squad killed the first five with carbine and automatic-rifle fire; the sixth ducked back into the bunker. One of Chandler's men threw two grenades into the big bunker and after that no one came out, but for several minutes there was the sound of yelling and screaming from inside.

There were other bunkers, however two on each side of the large one and North Koreans from these soon appeared in the communication trench. But the BAR men on the flanks (Private Randon and Cpl. Wilbur Harris) either killed them or drove them back into protected positions. Maintaining a heavy rate of fire, the squad managed to hold the initiative.

The North Koreans began throwing grenades. A heavy machine gun opened fire from the patrol's left, from a position above the enemy's bunkers. But the gun had to fire upward and in clearing the ridge put its bursts three or four feet too high. In spite of the ineffectiveness of the enemy's gun, Cpl. James A. Byrd, operating the light machine gun on the support squad's left flank, fired back until his gun jammed. Corporal Mitchell moved over to help him clear the piece, then continued firing until it jammed again. Lieutenant Chandler, still in front, watched the tracers from both guns disappear harmlessly into the darkness.

"Stop firing the machine gun!" Chandler shouted to Mitchell. "You can't hit them!"

Mitchell and Byrd then threw grenades over the crest in the direction of the enemy gun, and the firing stopped.

A couple of North Koreans from the left bunkers attempted to work their way along the communication trench. Harris, firing the BAR at that end of the line, killed them. Chandler's men tossed several grenades in the trench and toward the bunkers. After a few minutes three or four North Koreans tried to get around the patrol's right flank. As they appeared silhouetted against the skyline, Cpl. Kim Soo turned his light machine gun in that direction and saw three of them drop. He had placed his gun so that he had grazing fire.

The North Koreans relied mainly on grenades. There had been some ineffective small-arms fire at the beginning of the action, but Chandler's men silenced these weapons. The enemy preferred to remain in defilade beyond the crest of the hill or around the edge, and throw grenades into the patrol. The assault squad had some protection from these missiles by its nearness to the enemy. Men of this squad were so close to the trench the front of the enemy's position that the enemy apparently hesitated to toss grenades into that area. Also, because of the short range between the assault squad and the North Koreans and because of the slope of the hill behind the squad, most of the grenades passed over it, to fall behind and below in the space between the two squads.

Nevertheless, concussion grenades wounded both radio operators and put their radios out of commission. This happened early in the action Neither man was seriously wounded. There were two other casualties, both in the support squad. A grenade seriously wounded the assistant leader of the support squad (Corporal Kirschbaum). Besides wounding him in both legs, the explosion blew off part of his right foot. Grenade fragments also wounded the BAR man on the left flank (PFC Emmett Hancock). Of these four men, all but Kirschbaum were able to walk.

After thirty minutes of brisk firing, Lieutenant Chandler's men began to run low on ammunition. The volume of fire dropped noticeably. At about the same time, friendly artillery fire began falling on the enemy's main defensive line several hundred yards from the patrol action.

At about 0245 Chandler decided to withdraw, but when he asked the radio operators to send back the message that the patrol was breaking contact and withdrawing, he discovered the casualties and the destruction of the radios. He ordered the assault squad and the casualties to move through the support squad and start back toward the rallying point at the foot of the hill in front of friendly front lines. Several men improvised a litter in which to carry Corporal Kirschbaum.

Throughout the fire fight Chandler's men shouted and yelled. When they started to withdraw, however, this noise and the noise of firing dwindled to such an extent it was noticeable to men watching the action from Company C's observation post on the main line of resistance. Although these observers had just discovered they had no radio contact with the patrol, they could see the fire fight moving toward them and realized the patrol had begun to withdraw. They relayed this information to Colonel Walker.

The battalion commander immediately called for artillery and mortar concentrations in the vicinity of Noname Ridge. As Chandler moved back, the commander of Company C gave Colonel Walker the patrol's position, so far as he could determine it by observing the small-arms fire from the patrol toward the enemy. By the same method, he traced the location of the North Koreans as they attempted to follow the patrol. From this information battalion headquarters plotted both friendly and enemy positions on a map showing all artillery and mortar concentrations.

As the engagement moved toward the main line of resistance, Colonel Walker moved the mortar and artillery concentrations along with it. He did not call for new concentrations closer in, but rather shifted the original concentrations to keep the impact area as close as possible to the patrol.

He telephoned his decisions to the forward observer, who relayed them to the artillery and mortar units. Colonel Walker handled the supporting fires, giving the corrections himself, because he did not wish to shift to his subordinate officers the responsibility for directing the fire at night when they had no communications with the patrol they were supporting.

Just before the patrol reached the rallying point at the foot of the hill, Lieutenant Chandler sent Corporal Mitchell and Pvt. George Wilson on ahead to bring back litters and bearers from Company C. On the slippery, snowy slope of the ridge, it took the two men more than an hour to reach the main line. Once there, they learned that Company C had already alerted a relief squad and had it ready to return with them with the required items. As Mitchell and Wilson led the squad down the ridge, an enemy mortar round landed in the group, wounding four men of Company C. Mitchell and Wilson helped take these wounded men back and waited for another squad. They finally rejoined the patrol at about 0530.

Meanwhile, after forming a defensive perimeter at the rallying point, Chandler threw an illuminating grenade in the direction of the enemy as a guide for the supporting mortars. Colonel Walker shifted the mortar fire closer to the patrol and kept it well protected from North Koreans who were following with considerable determination. Besides the artillery fire, several tanks dug in on the main line fired cannon and heavy machine guns.

By this time it had become light enough for the enemy on Noname Ridge to see the patrol perimeter. Lieutenant Chandler, using the radio the relief squad had brought down from Company C, called for smoke on Noname Ridge, south of the patrol. The bursting shells obscured the enemy's observation posts, and the smoke, drifting down the draw with a light breeze, screened the patrol after the smoke had cleared the hill.

In spite of this concealment, the enemy kept the patrol pinned down until about 0630. After this the men continued on back to their base, moving slowly.

The patrol had been out more than twelve hours. Although it had no prisoner, Chandler had most successfully raided the enemy's position. He had suffered ten casualties all from grenade fragments during the night's action, but he and his men believed they had killed at least as many North Koreans, and had wounded others.

The effective use of more than two thousand artillery rounds on known enemy positions and on the enemy troops following the friendly patrol back toward its base prevented further casualties. Patrol members gave full credit to the artillery support for their successful return. On a small scale, infantry and artillery had teamed up to make a successful operation.


Lieutenant Chandler displayed a knowledge of the psychology of leadership when he repeated to his patrol the battalion's rule that no man who became a casualty would be left. The certainty of help in the event of misfortune strengthens a man's will. Thus, it is always best to assign both training and combat missions to organized units rather than to groups of individuals. For the same reason, replacements should be given a chance to become members of squads before the squads are committed to action. Lieutenant Chandler used two squads reinforced by members of his own platoon to form this patrol. He organized a team.

The preparation before the patrol's departure was excellent. Note should be made of the time spent. Lieutenant Chandler had more than twenty-four hours to plan and organize. He was unhurried and thorough. The only possible criticism of the preparation phase might be directed at the communications plan. With wire and radio available, Lieutenant Chandler also provided illuminating grenades. When neither wire not radio communication was available, no use was made of the signal flares. The reader wonders why they were not used. Perhaps they had been assigned prearranged meanings that made them useless. Even the most detailed planning sometimes leaves eventualities unforeseen and uncovered.

Some credit for the success of the patrol goes to the enemy. He must be criticized for poor security measures and for not reacting to the alert provided by the detonation of his own booby trap.

Perhaps, as noted in the concluding paragraph of the narrative, major credit should be given to the supporting arms. Lieutenant Chandler's twenty-man patrol became a powerful adversary when backed by intelligently controlled fire from artillery, tanks and mortars.

* Note

1. The narrative of this action is based upon a study by Lt. Edgar Denton, prepared in Korea.

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