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Restoring The Balance

Chapter 11

A Rifle Company as a Covering Force

* Toward the end of April 1951, Communist forces in North Korea launched an offensive against the peninsula-wide United Nations line. Except near Kaesong, at the west end, Eighth Army troops were ten or more miles north of the 38th parallel when the enemy attack began on the 22d day of the month. Although the attack was general in both plan and scope, North Korean units fighting on the east end of the front made only scant efforts and small advances. Chinese Communist forces concentrated on the west half of the line, aiming the heavy punch at the city of Seoul, thirty-five miles south of existing lines. The Chinese called the attack the "First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive."

This enemy activity interrupted an Eighth Army limited offensive that contemplated seizing the Chorwon-Kumhwa-Pyonggang area, an important communication and supply area commonly called "The Iron Triangle." The 3d Infantry Division was attacking north toward Chorwon and Pyonggang along the road running from Seoul through these towns and then north to the eastern port city of Wonsan. Units of the 3d were within ten miles of Chorwon and about the same distance north of the Imjin River. [1]

As usual, the Chinese waited until after dark before launching their big attack. By morning on the following day (Z3 April) they had penetrated United Nations' lines at widely scattered points and, under orders, units of Eighth Army began falling back. The 3d Division gave up ten miles of territory, returned to the south bank of the Imjin River, and there, by the evening of the 23d, took up previously prepared positions on an established Eighth Army fortified defense line. The 7th Infantry (3d Division) was placed on a ridge overlooking the important Seoul-ChorwonWonsan road and the single-track railroad that parallels it. The position was especially important since it guarded the crossing site of the Imjin River. This was the same road and river crossing the North Koreans had used when they first invaded South Korean territory during the summer of 1950.

The 7th Infantry positions were not more than a thousand yards south of the 38th parallel, the former boundary between North and South Korea. The 1st Battalion occupied the east end of the regimental sector. Company B manned the bunkers and foxholes on Hill 283 and those along the ridgeline that slanted down toward the road. Company A's sector extended from Company B, southwest across a long, brush-covered saddle, then west along the top of Hill 287 a company front of 1,400 yards. Beyond Company A there was a gap of about 500 yards between its leftflank position and the right flank of the 3d Battalion, which occupied another ridgeline to the north and west.

To cover the wide Company A front, its commander (Lt. Harley F. Mooney) committed his three rifle platoons on his front line, leaving as his reserve a force of only eight men including himself, his executive officer, and his Weapons Platoon leader. Except for being thinly manned, however, Mooney's defensive positions were good. In most places the north side of the hill was too steep to permit the enemy to maneuver in front of the company.

The Weapons Platoon leader (Lt. John N. Middlemas) covered the critical areas with his weapons. He "fired-in" mortar concentrations in front of each platoon and located his mortar position near the center of the company front and only a few yards behind it so that the mortar crews would immediately be available if needed for front-line action.

Lieutenant Mooney considered his left flank the weakest section of the line since the best approach for the Chinese was at that end. In addition, the existing gap between the two battalions made that area more vulnerable. He stationed the 1st Platoon (MSgt. Joseph J. Lock) at that end. To cover the gap between the two battalions, Sergeant Lock sent his second-in-command (SFC Thomas R. Teti) with nine other men to establish an out-post on a small hill between the two battalions. Mooney then instructed Teti to make physical contact with the adjoining unit of the 3d Battalion once an hour. Company I agreed to send a patrol to contact Teti's outpost on alternate half-hour periods.

This was the position of troops when Chinese Communists renewed their attack on the morning of 24 April. Within the defensive position of the 7th Infantry, the heaviest enemy pressure was against the 3d Battalion, which was engaged throughout the day and the following night. Another enemy force struck Company B's end of the line and started a heavy fire fight that lasted from midnight until first light on 25 April. Men from Company A waited quietly and tensely between these areas of activity, watching and listening. They were not disturbed.

At 0700 on 25 April a large enemy force attacked an observation post that the 3d Battalion had established on a hill about four hundred yards south of Lieutenant Mooney's company. Since this hill was over three hundred feet higher than front-line positions of either the 1st or 3d Battalions, it afforded observation of both battalions. The enemy force, after having penetrated the lines during the night, made a sudden and strong assault against the observation-post hill, forcing the battalion commander and his group to abandon it hurriedly. In enemy hands, this hill threatened both battalions.

Sergeant Lock, in charge of the left-flank platoon, watched this enemy action and, as soon as he realized what had happened, turned his machine gun toward the Chinese to restrict their movement and help the members of the observation-post party who were escaping toward the south and the north in order to rejoin Company A. Sergeant Lock also called Mooney, who immediately had his Weapons Platoon leader (Lieutenant Middlemas) shift his 57-mm recoilless rifle to the west flank from where it could be fired more effectively against the Chinese.

Meanwhile, the S-3 of the 1st Battalion called Mooney to tell him the regiment had orders to move to a fortified Eighth Army line just north of Seoul.

"You and Baker Company are to cover the withdrawal of the 3d Battalion and then be prepared to move Able Company out at 1000."

The S-3 designated Lieutenant Mooney's company as rear guard for the move because there was a trail from the center of Company A's position that went southwest down the hill to the road to Seoul. This was the only easily accessible route by which the three companies of the 3d Battalion and the two companies of the 1st Battalion could get down with their equipment and wounded men. The plan outlined to Mooney was for the three companies of the 3d Battalion to move through Company A in column of companies. Company B then would pass through the right flank of Company A. This action was to begin immediately. Lieutenant Mooney called his platoon leaders to tell them of the orders, then walked over to the top of Hill 283 to coordinate plans with the commander of Company B (Capt. Ray W. Blandin, Jr.). The time was about 0800.

At the opposite end of the line Sergeant Lock's platoon was still busy firing at the Chinese, who were now in full possession of the 3d Battalion's OP hill. On the north side of this hill there was a trail that the Chinese followed, and near the top the trail curved around a large rock. Sergeant Lock's machine gunner (Cpl. Pedro Colon Rodriguez) zeroed his light machine gun in on that point on the trail a range of about three hundred yards-and fired cautiously, usually squeezing off one round at a time, throughout the morning. He did not fire at every Chinese who passed the point, but after hitting one, would allow one or several others to pass unmolested before firing again. Because he was not greedy the Chinese kept using the trail and Rodriguez hit a total of fifty-nine enemy soldiers during several hours of firing.

After returning from Company B's position, Lieutenant Mooney and his executive officer (Lt. Leonard Haley) briefed the platoon leaders on the plan for moving Company A after the other units had started down the trail. To better cover his route of withdrawal Mooney decided to peel off his line from the left. Sergeant Teti's outpost between the two battalions would follow the last element of the 3d Battalion. Sergeant Lock's platoon would follow Teti; next, the 2d Platoon would follow and move through the 3d which would hold the right flank until the rest of the company was on the trail; then it would move out.

By the time Mooney had thoroughly briefed his platoon leaders it was 0900. There were still heavy exchanges of fire between the Chinese on the OP hill and Lock's left-flank platoon. Mooney, believing that the next action would be against this platoon, went to the west end of his line where he could best observe that situation. He was also anxious to learn what was happening to the 3d Battalion, knowing that the commander had lost control at the time his group was forced to leave the observation post. Even though an hour and a half had gone by since the order to leave had been issued, none of the men from 3d Battalion had yet reached the outpost position manned by Sergeant Teti, who had orders to call Mooney as soon as the first men appeared. Teti could see only an increase of enemy activity in the zone of the 3d Battalion. At the same time, the volume of rifle and machine-gun fire from the OP hill had increased steadily.

It was about 0915 when the first of the 3d Battalion men from Company K came through Lieutenant Mooney's area. They were tired from the activity during the previous night and day, and walked slowly along the narrow trail. They sat down if there was any delay along the single-file column. Mooney urged them to hurry. This made little impression on the weary men, however, and the column moved haltingly. It required fortyfive minutes for Company K to clear, and by the time men from the next company appeared it was after 1000. This was the hour scheduled for Company A to begin moving but Mooney, now that this was no longer possible, called his battalion headquarters again for further orders. He was told to wait until everyone else was off the ridgeline before moving his own company.

At the opposite end of the battalion front, however, Company B's commander (Captain Blandin) started his company down the trail at 1000 according to plan, unaware that the plan had broken down. Lieutenant Mooney received the information by telephone from his executive officer (Lieutenant Haley). This posed a new threat on the east flank although Mooney still believed the Chinese were most likely to strike Sergeant Lock's platoon at the west end of the line. He told Haley to send a few men to outpost the top of Hill 283, which had been Company B's left flank, and to bend the right flank of the company line south and refuse it. Haley sent a sergeant with four men to outpost Hill 283.

While these events were taking place, four planes made a strike with napalm and rockets on the OP hill causing a sudden drop in enemy fire from that area. A brief and relatively calm period followed while men from the 3d Battalion filed along the path. At 1100 the last men from Company I, still moving slowly, reached the spot where Lieutenant Mooney was waiting. Mooney urged the officers of the company to hurry, but they explained they needed litters and that the men were very tired. Mooney offered to furnish the litters, adding, "You'd better hurry or all of us will be up here and we'll be damned tired."

It had taken about two hours for two of the three companies to clear through Company A's area. In the meantime, Captain Blandin's Company B had reached the bottom of the hill where he reported to his battalion commander (Lt.Col. Fred D. Weyand). Colonel Weyand, realizing that the plans had miscarried, told him to get one platoon back on the top of the hill as quickly as possible to help Mooney hold his right flank.

Lt. Eugene C. May (a Company B officer) turned his platoon around and started back up the hill. He was near the top of the trail at 1130. When he arrived the last company of the 3d Battalion was strung out along the ridge top, and the entire company front was suddenly quiet. From the west end of the line Mooney called Lieutenant Middlemas who was now watching the east end of the line. Mooney explained that all the firing at his end of the line had stopped, and asked what was happening on the opposite flank.

"It's so quiet here," said Middlemas, "I'm just about ready to read some adventure stories for excitement."

At that instant there was the sound of scattered rifle fire from the top of Hill 283 where a sergeant and four men had been sent to outpost the right flank after Company B had vacated its sector. Hill 283 was just a large knob on the east end of the ridgeline. Between the knob and the right-flank position of Company A there was another smaller mound about forty yards beyond the last foxhole occupied by Lieutenant Mooney's men, and about seventy yards west of Hill 283.

Within a minute or two the sergeant in charge of the outpost appeared, running from the intermediate mound and yelling in a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire 3d Platoon: "They're coming! They're coming! Millions of them! They'll banzai us!"

Middlemas was near the center of the company line when he heard and saw what was happening. He took off running as hard as he could go toward the sergeant. The two men met near the right flank, and Middlemas lunged, bringing the sergeant to the ground with a football tackle. The other four members of the sergeant's outpost were following him, "just as goslings follow along after a mother goose." At the same time, three of the infantrymen at that end of the line started to abandon their holes, fearing that the right flank was crumbling.

Lieutenant Middlemas was yelling loudly and pounding several of the men on their helmets. "Get the hell back in your positions! Get up on that damned hill!"

He shoved the three men back in their holes, called to the 3d Platoon to send up one squad immediately, and then started off chasing the sergeant from the outpost and his four men back to the intermediate brush-covered knoll. They arrived there just in time to shoot one Chinese who was racing up the opposite side. There were 10 or 15 more enemy soldiers running from Hill 283 toward them. If the Chinese took this intermediate knoll they could fire down onto the top of the trail, severing the only route of withdrawal and evacuation. Lieutenant Middlemas knew he would have to hold off the Chinese for at least a half hour, or suffer heavy losses. He also knew they would probably either win or lose the battle within the next few minutes.

"Get to firing. Get to firing!" Middlemas shouted.

The action on this end of the line developed fast. There was considerable enemy fire coming from Hill 283 and a few Chinese crept within grenade range before they were killed. Within another minute or two, however, an eight-man squad from the 3d Platoon reached the knoll, making a total of fourteen men there, including Middlemas. All of them were firing rapidly.

A platoon leader of Company D in charge of the two heavy machine guns with Company A saw the critical situation as it developed and rushed the heavy machine gun from the 3d Platoon to the knoll. Then he sent for both the light caliber .30 and the heavy machine gun that were with the 2d Platoon. All of this action had taken place within five minutes after the sergeant in charge of the outpost signaled the alarm.

The platoon from Company B, meanwhile, reached the top of the trail soon after the shooting started and hurried into position. This platoon had one light machine gun. Then crews with two machine guns from the 2d Platoon arrived so that, in less than ten minutes, Lieutenant Middlemas had four machine guns firing and approximately forty-five riflemen in position. The firing swelled into a noisy roar and even the sound of the clips coming out of the rifles made considerable noise. The Chinese, who had been trying to wriggle around both sides of Hill 283 and reach Middlemas's knoll, backed away to the protection of the reverse slope.

At the opposite end of the company line, Lieutenant Mooney heard the storm of activity and realized he had allowed himself to be drawn away from the center of his company front. He was now more than a thousand yards away from the main action. He started east along the trail, but it as clogged with men from the 3d Battalion who had squatted there as soon as the fire fight flared up at the east end. Mooney hurried along the ail telling the men to keep going and looking for their officers, one of whom he found also sitting by the trail resting.

"For Christ's sake," he said, "get up and get these men moving."

Farther along the trail he met Lieutenant Haley whom he instructed strip all ammunition from the 3d Battalion men as they turned down the trail.

Up on the knoll the sergeant who had been in charge of the outpost ad recovered his composure and was now reassuring his men. "We're holding them! By God, we're holding them!"

Gradually, after the strength and fire power increased and the men realized they could hold the small hill, they overcame their fear and their anxiety changed to bravado. One of the men started yelling, "Come and get it!" and the other men took it up, either firing or screaming at the Chinese. Once, when their rate of fire dropped noticeably, there was a sudden increase in the amount of fire received from the Chinese. After that experience the Americans kept up a heavy volume of fire, and although Lieutenant Middlemas believed it was this sudden and heavy base of fire hat was built up in the first ten minutes of the action that saved the flank, he was now concerned with making the ammunition last until everyone was off the hill. He went back and forth across his short line cautioning he men to fire aimed shots and hold down their rate of firing. In addition to its basic load of ammunition and that taken from the 3d Battalion, Company A had 300 bandoleers of rifle ammunition that were still intact when his action commenced. Mooney had this carried up to the knoll on the right lank. Even so, there was danger of running out.

About 1145 Mooney reached the area of activity. At that time the last of the 3d Battalion was passing through Company A's area followed by Sergeant Teti's outpost, and then the rest of Sergeant Lock's platoon. Lieutenant Mooney got in touch with his battalion commander (Colonel Weyand) to tell him of the situation and that he desperately needed some artillery support. As it happened, the artillery forward observer with Company A had been shot in the leg just before this action started, and Mooney now had no map of the area. He explained to Colonel Weyand that he wanted the artillery to fall on the hill which Company B had occupied that morning.

"Put a round out somewhere," he said, "and maybe I can hear it."

Colonel Weyand had been over this terrain and was well acquainted with it. He called the artillery, gave them the general area, and asked for one round. Mooney reported that he could neither see nor hear this round, especially through the heavy firing going on where he was standing. Weyand then asked for a shift "right 200, drop 200" and within a minute this round fell squarely on the enemy, exploding on the far side of the mound where there was apparently a concentration of Chinese troops. In any event, there were loud screams from the Chinese.

Mooney yelled over the radio, "That's beautiful! That's beautiful! Fire for effect! Throw out some more!"

The troops around him commenced yelling with renewed enthusiasm. More shells landed in battery volleys, relieving the pressure against Lieutenant Middlemas and his crew.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Mooney revised his plan for moving his company from the hill. The 1st and 2d Platoons on the west end of his line were already moving and were not affected, but the remainder of his forcewhich now had become a mixture of the 3d Platoon, his headquarters group, and the platoon from Company B could not be moved as a unit. He ordered these men to move out one at a time, Indian fashion, with the men farthest from the trail moving first so that he would be able to keep men along the trail to protect it. This plan would also release the men in the order that they became least valuable.

The two heavy machine guns, having fired twenty-six boxes of ammunition, ran out and Mooney ordered them to leave. The other ammunition was running low and Colonel Weyand kept urging Mooney to hurry since the artillery battery firing for him was almost out of shells too. Weyand arranged for an air strike and the planes soon appeared circling overhead until called in. These could not be employed until after the artillery fire stopped, and Lieutenant Mooney asked for the artillery to continue as long as the ammunition lasted.

Shortly after 1200 Colonel Weyand again called, urging Mooney to "move fast and get down from there." Except for those men still firing at the Chinese, all men from Company A had cleared the top of the trail. Mooney asked for smoke to screen the movement of these men as they broke contact. With smoke and a mixture of explosive shells to replace the machine-gun and rifle fire, men from the last group started to leavethey needed no urging. Less than five minutes elapsed from the time the first of the forty-five left their position until the last was on the trail. As the last man left, the artillery fire stopped and the planes commenced the air strike.

The entire action on the right flank had lasted from 1130 until approximately 1215. During this time two men had been killed by enemy rifle fire. When the tail of the column had gone about seventy-five yards down the trail, a single mortar round landed on the trail, killing one man and wounding four others, including Lieutenants Middlemas and Mooney, both of whom were hit in the leg by mortar fragments. By the time this happened a few Chinese were at the top of the trail and began firing down upon the withdrawing column. The last men in the column turned to fire up at the top of the trail, backing down the hill as they did so.


Daylight withdrawals should be avoided when contact with the enemy is imminent. Only in an emergency such as faced the 7th Infantry on 25 April, should a daylight withdrawal from enemy contact be attempted. In a daylight withdrawal the normal procedure is to pull back first the front-line platoons under the cover of the support platoon; then the front-line companies under the cover of the reserve company; and finally the front-line battalions under the cover of the reserve battalion. When a company commander has no support holding a position from which it can cover with fire the withdrawal of his front-line platoons when he is faced with the problem that faced Lieutenant Mooney who had his company deployed along a 1,400-yard line he must determine which platoon can best cover the withdrawal of the rest of the company, then hope to get the covering platoon out with the help of battalion and regimental fire support. Lieutenant Mooney correctly analyzed his situation and his mission. He erred only when he decided that the enemy most likely would hit his company's left flank.

The 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, enjoyed outstanding leadership in this action. Colonel Weyand commanded the battalion but left the command of Company A to Lieutenant Mooney. Lieutenant Mooney commanded his company without usurping the duties of his platoon leaders. Lieutenant Middlemas knew his job and bent every effort to perform it. Leaders at every echelon "thought on their feet."

Colonel Weyand was quick to send a platoon from Company B back to protect Company A's right flank. He skillfully employed supporting artillery and air to help his covering force. Lieutenant Mooney saw the situation developing and urged the withdrawing troops to hurry. He thought his left flank the more vulnerable but took prompt action when Company B withdrew and exposed his right flank. Lieutenant Middlemas probably saved the day with his quick and forceful leadership and his appreciation of how to obtain and maintain fire superiority. The Company D platoon leader used initiative and did not wait for orders to employ his machine guns. The men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, responded as disciplined soldiers always will to high-caliber leadership.


1. This narrative is based upon information supplied by Capt. Harley F. Mooney, Lt. John N. Middlemas, and Lt.Col. Fred C. Weyand in an interview by the author. The author also made a careful inspection of the terrain.

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