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Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind hearted but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoiled children; they are useless for any practical purpose.


Restoring The Balance

Chapter 12

Artillery in Perimeter Defense

* The U.S. IX Corps, near the center of the Korean peninsula, renewed an attack on 21 April 1951 to seize a line running generally from Kumhwa to Hwachon Reservoir. The corps included only two divisions at the time the U.S. 1st Marine Division and a ROK division. The attack went well. Both divisions, meeting no enemy opposition, gained about three miles. They encountered only scant resistance after they jumped off again on the morning of 22 April. [1]

Front-line units advanced two more miles on the 22d. The enemy made little effort to interfere although, late in the afternoon, artillery and air observers reported an unusual amount of enemy movement north of the line. [2]

That night the Chinese struck back with their own 1951 spring offensive, a full-scale attack, which they labeled the "First Step, Fifth Phase Offensive." The Chinese limited their offensive to the western half of the front lines, the eastern prong of which pointed directly at the IX Corps' ROK division. It appeared that the Chinese had made it easy for IX Corps troops to advance so that they, in turn, could launch their own attack when friendly forces were extended and before they had a chance to dig in securely again. By 2000 enemy soldiers were several thousand yards behind friendly lines and were firing on artillery units that had displaced forward only that afternoon. Front lines crumbled within an hour or two. Infantrymen poured back on the double. Artillery units were forced to withdraw. [3]

The liaison officer from the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion toone of the ROK regiments (Capt. Floyd C. Hines) radioed his battalion. "Someone's pushed the panic button up here," he warned.

The battalion commander (Lt.Col. Leon F. Lavoie) received this message on his jeep radio as he was on the way to Corps Artillery headquarters where he intended to seek immediate engineer help to repair and maintain the precariously narrow supply road. From other messages it was soon evident to Colonel Lavoie that the Chinese had made a serious penetration of the lines. Stopping at the first military installation he came to, he called IX Corps Artillery to report the information he had on the front-line situation, and then, because the emphasis had suddenly shifted from repairing the supply road to defending it, he turned back to his own battalion.

The 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion, reinforcing the fires of both divisions of the corps, had moved forward that afternoon to a point near the boundary between the ROKs and marines, a little less than half way from Chichon-ni to Sachang-ni. The road between these two villages, following a deep river gorge, was exceedingly narrow. By 2130, when Colonel Lavoie got back to his battalion, the road was jammed with vehicles and ROK infantrymen were moving back pell-mell along both sides of it. Putting his entire battalion on a man-battle-stations basis, Colonel Lavoie and his staff officers tried desperately to collect stragglers and stop the withdrawal, but the momentum was too great by the time the soldiers reached Colonel Lavoie's battalion and most of them continued determinedly on. [4]

When morning came on 23 April the Chinese, in possession of a threemile-deep corridor west of the 1st Marine Division, turned to attack the Marine left flank. They completely overran one ROK artillery battalion and the 2d Rocket Field Artillery Battery, both of which lost all equipment. [5] The 987th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, partially overrun, lost some. [6]

Colonel Lavoie's 92d Field Artillery Battalion (a self-propelled 155-mm howitzer unit) moved back battery by battery to a new position near the Pukhan River south of Chichon-ni. Batteries registered as soon as they were laid.

Battery C, in position north of a trail-size road through the new battalion position, placed its howitzers on the reverse slope of an incline that offered defilade. Battery A and Headquarters Battery were in a rice paddy south of the road with Battery A, 17th Field Artillery Battalion. Battery A of the 17th was an 8-inch howitzer outfit temporarily attached to the 92d Field Artillery Battalion to replace its own Battery B which, in turn, was attached to the 17th Field Artillery Battalion.

Late in the afternoon the last howitzer was laid and ready to fire. The general military situation was tense. The artillerymen, having had little sleep during the past thirty-six hours, were tired, but immediately went to work establishing their usual perimeter for the night. Colonel Lavoie, talland gentle almost to the point of shyness, insisted upon always having a well-fortified perimeter. Even when smiling, as he usually was, he had a way of being obdurately firm about the condition of the battalion perimeter, as he also was about standards of performance. Convinced that his responsibility as an artillery commander was to insure continuous artillery support to the infantry, he also reasoned that the very time when the infantrymen would most urgently need supporting artillery might well coincide with an enemy attack on his own perimeter. Colonel Lavoie had therefore developed a standard defensive perimeter that, from the outside toward the gun batteries in the center, consisted of patrols covering neighboring terrain; outposts, usually centered around a halftrack, for warning and delaying; a dug-in and fully manned main battle line just beyond grenade range of the battalion's critical installations; and a highly mobile reserve in the center. This reserve force usually was made up of two or three halftracks with 8 or 10 men for each vehicle.[7]

Colonel Lavoie's acting executive officer (Major Roy A. Tucker) set up the perimeter on the afternoon of 23 April. Because of the limited time before darkness, which came about 1745, the perimeter was not as elaborately developed as usual, nor was there time to patrol nearby terrain. However, Major Tucker did establish a complete system of security outposts with trip flares ahead of the outposts, a complete telephone communication system, and a radio net as an alternate means of communication. He had laid out the main battle line but only a few positions were dug in at darkness. There was no defensive wire, demolitions were not out, nor had the men dug in and sandbagged such critical installations as the fire direction center and the communications center. These tasks had a lower priority and usually waited until the second or third day of the process of developing the battalion perimeter. [8]

Members of outpost detachments ate chow early and went to their halftracks or ground-mounted machine-gun positions before dusk in order to be familiar with their sectors of responsibility, fields of fire, and to check their communications. Thereafter, except for relief detachments, no traffic was allowed to the outposts or beyond the battalion perimeter. Colonel Lavoie wanted security guards to heed and challenge all movement or activity. Four to eight men manned each security outpost, half of them being on duty at a time. Colonel Lavoie inspected the perimeter defenses just before dark, pointing out to his men the Marine positions on the hill to the front. [9]

That night the battalion reinforced the fires of the 1st Marine Division. Corps Artillery headquarters called about 2100 with instructions for the 92d Field Artillery Battalion to prepare to remain in its present positions for several days. Colonel Lavoie promptly called the 11th Marine Regiment (an artillery unit) he was to reinforce and asked for further instructions. Wire sections laid telephone lines to the 11th Marines, completing the jobat 2300. Midnight passed and all was quiet. At 0115 the Marine regiment telephoned asking Colonel Lavoie to report immediately to its headquarters. When Lavoie arrived there, the Marine commander outlined a new plan. The 1st Marine Division, its entire left flank exposed, planned to withdraw soon after daylight on 24 April. Colonel Lavoie was to keep his howitzers in firing position until the last moment, but to be prepared to move at 0530. Battery A, 17th Field Artillery Battalion, with its heavy, towed howitzers, was to leave at 0400.

At 0230 Colonel Lavoie returned to his command post. Although he was very tired, he could not sleep and scarcely had time for it anyway. He reviewed the displacement plan, being particularly concerned about getting the 8-inch howitzers on the road at 0400. Battery commanders were called at 0315, and Colonel Lavoie gave them the complete plan and order for the move. He instructed his commanders to serve a hot breakfast.

The heavy howitzers moved out on schedule. At the same time guards were going through the battalion area waking all personnel. Within a few minutes there was the sound of trucks moving about and the usual commotion that goes with the job of getting up, packing equipment, striking tents, and loading trucks all in the dark.

Gun sections still manned the howitzers, firing harassing and interdiction missions. The range had decreased during the night and the cannoneers were aware of increased machine-gun activity on the hill mass in front of the battalion.

Breakfast was ready at 0445. Chow lines formed in all batteries.

First sign of daylight appeared ten or fifteen minutes after 0500. Most of the men had finished breakfast. Most of the pyramidal tents, used because of cool weather, were down. In Headquarters Battery only the command post and kitchen tents were standing. In Battery A the kitchen tent was still up. The communications system was still intact but commanders had pulled in most of their outlying security installations. Equipment and personnel were just about ready for march order.

Colonel Lavoie, having eaten an early breakfast, had just returned to the mess tent where an attendant was pouring him a cup of coffee. Major Raymond F. Hotopp (battalion S-3) prepared to leave on reconnaissance at 0530, placed his personal belongings in his jeep and walked over to see whether the battalion commander was ready. Capt. John F. Gerrity (commanding Battery A) was getting into his jeep to join Colonel Lavoie on reconnaissance.

An unidentified artilleryman from Battery C, with a roll of toilet paper in his hand, walked toward the cemetery in front of the howitzers. As he approached the mounds in the graveyard, he saw several Chinese crawling on their bellies toward his battery. Startled, he yelled, threw the toilet paper at an enemy soldier, turned, and ran. The Chinese soldier ducked involuntarily. At that moment, someone tripped a flare outside the perimeter. Capt.Bernard G. Raftery (commanding Battery C) looked at his watch. It was 0520.

Machine guns opened fire. At first many thought someone had accidentally tripped a machine gun, since the marines were supposed to be in front of the artillery positions. But when the firing increased there was no more doubt. Men in the mess line scattered for cover. Major Hotopp dropped to the ground and dived under a halftrack. SFC Charles R. Linder (chief of section), warming his feet over the running "tank" motor, [10] jumped off and took cover behind the vehicle. Most of the men took cover wherever it was most quickly available.

Colonel Lavoie saw a bullet hole suddenly appear in the side of the mess tent. He ran outside. "Man battle stations!" he yelled, "Man battle stations!" and headed for his command post tent to get into communication with his battery commanders.

Captain Raftery looked at Lt. Joseph N. Hearin (Battery C executive). "This is it!" he said, scrambling to his feet. "Let's go!" He and Hearin got out of their command post tent at the same time.

SFC George T. Powell (Battery C chief of detail), anxious about some new men who had never seen combat, took off toward their section of the main battle line. When he arrived at the nearest halftracks, he found his men already manning the machine guns. Several others were setting up a machine gun on a ground mount. No longer anxious, Powell relaxed and began to enjoy the battle. Several other friendly machine guns were already in action.

SFC Willis V. Ruble, Jr. (Headquarters Battery motor sergeant), who at first thought the noise was caused by someone throwing wads of ammunition into the fire, ran for a halftrack and unzipped the canvas cover on a caliber .50 machine gun while several slugs whistled past, and he then looked about for a target. He saw four or five persons in the field in front of Battery A's positions. They were wearing dirty white civilian clothes and Ruble thought they were South Koreans until he saw one of them carrying a rifle. He fired three short bursts, knocked one of them down, spun another one around. Just then he noticed flashes on the hill in front. Figuring that the small-arms fire could take care of the enemy troops close in, Ruble turned his machine gun toward the distant flashes.

SFC James R. White (Battery A) remembered only being at a machine gun on a halftrack but did not know how he got there. By this time, a minute or two after the first shot had been fired, enemy fire was so intense that tracer bullets formed a thin red arch between the battalion's position and Hill 200, from which most of the enemy long-range fire came. The ammunition belt in White's machine gun was crossed. White was shaking so badly that he could not get it straightened, and he was afraid to expose himself above the ring mount. After a bit, he stood up, straightened the belt, and began firing.

The battalion executive officer (Major Tucker), who had started out to inspect the perimeter soon after the firing commenced, opened the rear door of White's halftrack and cautioned him and several other men in the vehicle to pick targets before firing. White then waited until he saw the location of the enemy machine guns before he fired. Visually following the tracers back toward the hill, White was able to locate an enemy emplacement. He opened fire again. He could see his own tracers hitting the hill, so he walked his fire in on the enemy position, then held it there until his belt gave out. White then reloaded his gun with a fresh belt (105 rounds) but did not fire at once. The man firing the caliber .30 machine gun on the same halftrack was playing it cool; he was firing in short bursts at enemy in a field across the road.

Within ten minutes or less the exchange of fire had become a noisy roar. Enemy bullets cut up the telephone wires that were strung overhead, forcing the battalion to rely on its radios.

Captain Raftery stood in the middle of Battery C's area trying to determine enemy intentions. The bulk of enemy fire against the battery appeared to be coming from Hill 200, where Raftery estimated there were six machine-gun emplacements, which the Chinese had reached by old communication trenches. As these entrenched troops acted as a base of fire, enemy riflemen took concealed positions in the cemetery while others, armed only with hand grenades, crawled toward the howitzers. Captain Raftery thought the Chinese were concentrating on his No. 5 howitzer the most vulnerable because of its forward position. Enemy fire in that area was so intense that the artillerymen could not man the machine guns on the nearest halftrack. Deciding that the enemy was trying to knock out one howitzer and blow up the powder and ammunition for psychological effect, he called the chief of No. 5 howitzer section and instructed him to pull his "tank" back into defilade and on line with Nos. 4 and 6.

Behind the No. 4 howitzer, Lieutenant Hearin tried to see what the men were shooting at. Flashes on the hill were 600 to 1,000 yards away, and it seemed unusual that the enemy would attack from so far. He looked for enemy elements coming in under the base of fire. Suddenly he noticed men of the battery running from the No. 5 to the No. 6 howitzer. Several feet behind them, grenades were bursting.

Jumping on a halftrack, Hearin swung the caliber .so machine gun around and shot a Chinese grenadier who was crawling up on the No. 5 piece. A couple of other machine-gunners swung their guns to help Hearin and, among them, they shot a half dozen enemy attempting to destroy the No. 5 howitzer.

Under cover of this fire, Sgt. Theral J. Hatley (chief of section) ran forward and backed his vehicle out of immediate reach of the enemy grenadiers, crushing one who lay concealed underneath.

After the initial scramble to their positions, Colonel Lavoie's mensettled down to returning the fire with enthusiasm. Having staged so many "dry runs," the battalion commander was pleased to see the results of the practice. The firing, however, was getting out of hand and although there was plenty of ammunition and more at Service Battery's position three miles away, Colonel Lavoie feared that they were experiencing only an initial attack calculated to pin them down while a larger force maneuvered from the west to seal the river defile and destroy the only bridge over the Pukhan. As soon as his executive officer returned from checking defensive positions, Colonel Lavoie changed places with him and set out to inspect the battle line. He wanted to see for himself the positions and the trend of the action, to be seen by the men for whatever effect that might have upon their morale, and to persuade the men to stop aimless and unnecessary firing. He sought out his three battery commanders.

"You must control and limit your fire to specific targets," Lavoie told them. "Make every bullet count."

Captain Raftery, who thought his Battery C was under the heaviest enemy fire, defended his men and their volume of fire. "Sir," he answered, "Battery C has Chinks all through its area"

"Are they dead or alive?"

"Both," said Raftery.

"Well, don't worry about the dead ones," Colonel Lavoie told him; "just take care of the live ones and make every bullet count."

Lavoie continued around the perimeter. He opened the rear doors on the halftracks and crawled up to talk with the machine gunners to ask them to cooperate in firing only at specific targets, and to tell them how successfully the battalion was holding off the Chinese.

One man told him he'd better get down. "It's dangerous up here," he explained. Others, reassured, only grinned.

On two occasions Lavoie found groups of two or three men huddled in the bed of a halftrack. He told them to get out and help: "I'm scared too. There's nothing wrong with being scared as long as you do your part." Ashamed, they promptly returned to their proper positions.

In Battery A's area, enemy fire was coming in from Hill 454 on the leftfront as well as from Hill 200. Enemy snipers behind piles of rubble and rock were also firing from the field directly in front of Battery A. There was no haze and the artillerymen could clearly see enemy soldiers on the hills a thousand yards away.

Returning to his command post, Colonel Lavoie received a radio message from the Marine regimental headquarters objecting to excessive firing and ordering the artillerymen to cease fire.

"You're firing on friendly troops," the officer complained.

"Those friendly troops," Colonel Lavoie argued, "are inflicting casualties on my battalion."

While Lavoie was explaining the situation to the Marine commander,Major Tucker, made another round of the defensive position, rallying the men. The exchange of fire was still brisk, but the artillerymen appeared to be holding their own well and had recovered from their impulse to fire just to make noise.

Having persuaded the marines that his artillerymen had not been seized by panic, Colonel Lavoie called Battery A by radio and said he wanted to talk with Captain Gerrity. When the latter reached the command post tent, Colonel Lavoie instructed him to shift his battery howitzer by howitzer several hundred yards to the east, thereby reducing the size of the perimeter. When the battery of 8-inch howitzers had pulled out at 0400 it left a gap in the perimeter and also left Gerrity's battery vulnerable to an attack from the west, from which direction the battalion commander still thought the Chinese would probably make a larger attack designed to overrun his position. Gerrity called his battery by radio and gave it the code word for "close station and march order."

While the two officers, both of them lying on the ground near the radio and in front of the tent, were still talking, Colonel Lavoie spotted two enemy machine guns that were firing a high ratio of tracer bullets into the battalion's position. Pointing them out to Captain Gerrity, he asked him to take them under direct fire with his 155-mm howitzers. Gerrity took off toward his battery position.

Bullets were still ricocheting against the "tanks" and halftracks when the close-station order reached Battery A. Captain Gerrity had given the order only to alert his men for the 300- or 400-yard shift. The artillerymen were reluctant to move and expose themselves to enemy fire while they cranked up the spades and prepared to move. Sergeant White, firing a machine gun from a halftrack, stood up, exposing himself completely, and shouted instructions at the men. Every man jumped to his job, and within a few minutes the battery was ready to move. It was about 0545 twenty-five minutes after the enemy first attacked.

Captain Gerrity, out of breath from running, returned to his battery just as the vehicles were ready to move. He shouted orders for the firing mission, the artillerymen dropped trails again and opened fire on the machine guns Colonel Lavoie had seen. The range was a thousand yards or less. After a few rounds one howitzer made a direct hit. Colonel Lavoie saw fragments of Chinese soldiers thrown twenty feet or higher in the air. Eight or ten Chinese soldiers suddenly appeared running from a trench about a hundred yards away from the last explosion. Several machine guns immediately swung toward them and killed three or four. Having destroyed the two machine guns, Battery A completed its displacement, tightening up the perimeter.

MSgt. John D. Elder appeared at the command post tent to get instructions for moving ammunition trucks from Service Battery. He wanted to know if Colonel Lavoie still planned to move.

"We were going to move," answered the Colonel, "but now we'll wait until we secure this position."

Colonel Lavoie set out to make another round of his defensive positions. His indifference to the enemy fire was a steadying influence. As he walked through the area, talking with the men and cautioning them to conserve ammunition, he noticed a great change in his troops. Over their initial scare, they now appeared to be enjoying themselves. A great deal of enemy fire continued to come into the area even though Chinese machine guns seemed subdued by this time, but the men no longer hesitated to expose themselves in order to fire their weapons effectively. Realizing that they were holding their own and winning, they had lost the fear and uneasiness Colonel Lavoie had seen on his first trip around the area. It had been replaced by a cocky sort of confidence.

A young artilleryman, usually shy, spotted a small group of Chinese crawling through weeds toward the fire direction center tent. "Look at them sons of bitches," he said. "They think they're going to make it." Standing up he aimed and fired. "I got one!" he exclaimed. Several other men began firing at the same group and soon destroyed it. [11]

Several Marine tanks rumbled down the road. No one had asked for help but the Marine commander sent them over to clean out the area in front of the battalion. Taking up positions north of the road and in front of Battery A, they blasted the hills and raked the field with machine-gun fire. Several artillerymen left their positions and set out "looking for Chinks."

Sgt. Austin E. Roberts (machine-gun sergeant) organized ten men and walked across the road toward the northwest. After they had gone only a few yards, a Chinese jumped up in front of them. One of Roberts's men fired, hitting an American Thompson submachine gun the enemy was carrying. The Chinese dropped it and held up his hand.

Roberts shouted "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" and then sent his prisoner, guarded by two artillerymen, to battalion headquarters.

The remaining eight men, working with the tanks, went on across the field examining each hole and clearing the area for four hundred yards. They found no more enemy soldiers.

In the meantime, the Marine regiment that the 92d Field Artillery Battalion was supporting called a fire mission. Colonel Lavoie assigned it to Battery C, instructing the battery to transfer its radio to the Marine channel so it could receive the mission direct.

Captain Raftery's howitzers were engaged in delivering direct fire against nearby hills. Leaving one to continue with that mission, he relaid the other five howitzers to support the marines. This was the first "live" mission that morning, although the entire battalion had been firing harassing and interdiction missions before the enemy attack. Raftery then organized about twenty men into a skirmish line to cross the battery front. Moving through the cemetery and beyond, the force killed seven Chinese and captured one who had to be pulled out of his hole. The Marine tanks killed several others who attempted to escape back to the high ground.

Capt. Albert D. Bessler (S-2), annoyed by persistent small-arms fire striking near the fire direction center tent, decided a sniper with scope must be firing from behind a pile of stones in a nearby field. He took a halftrack and investigated. Several minutes later he returned with two M1 rifles fitted with scopes. "Got two of them," he boasted.

A light aircraft overhead reported into the battalion radio net and asked if it could be of assistance. Colonel Lavoie, still apprehensive of an enemy attack from the west, requested the pilot to check the valley in that direction. The aircraft pilot reported that he saw no enemy build-up, but that two groups of 25 or 30 enemy each were in a draw near the base of the hills. Lavoie destroyed these groups with artillery fire.

By 0730 the situation permitted displacement of the batteries. The battalion suffered 4 men killed and 11 wounded during the action. It lost no equipment. Marine units later reported finding 179 enemy dead in the area around the battalion perimeter, all presumedly killed during the attack.

Colonel Lavoie was pleased with the performance of his men. The artillerymen shared a new feeling of confidence and pride. They had proved they could defend themselves.

"Artillery," the Colonel said, "if it makes up its mind, will set itself up so that it can defend itself from enemy infantry action."


There is no doubt that on 24 April 1951, the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion acquitted itself with great honor. For the military student the question is: Why? Part of the answer is found in the narrative. Good leadership is evident at all echelons leadership based on knowledge and experience that inspired confidence and promoted cooperation. With each man accepting his share of duty the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion could not be made to panic. Individuals responded with the initiative of free men who know discipline without tyranny.

Although it is not mentioned in the narrative, Colonel Lavoie had, at the time of this action, commanded the battalion for about twenty months. He had trained it, and now he would fight it. Training will make or break an organization. Only by setting and maintaining high standards of performance during training can a commander expect similar standards in combat. It should be noted when estimating the state of training of the 92d Armored Field Artillery Battalion that the narrative does not once mention a weapon's jamming.

Standing operating procedures come from training. When not carried to a mechanical extreme they save time and help to minimize oversights.

Because Colonel Lavoie had insisted in training that the 92d habitually fire from a defensive perimeter, its occupation and organization of position on 23 April went smoothly. It was not a new maneuver it was SOP.


  1. IX Corps: command report, April 1951 (narrative section).
  2. Ibid.
  3. 92d Armored FA Battalion: command report, April 1951 (narrative section).
  4. 92d Armored FA Battalion: command report, April 1951.
  5. 92d Armored FA Battalion: S-3 journal, entry 2045, 22 April 1951.
  6. Unless otherwise cited, this narrative is based upon "Artillery in Perimeter Defense," an account prepared in Korea by Capt. Martin Blumenson, on file in OCMH.
  7. Department of Training Publications and Aids, The Artillery School: Debriefing Report 52 (Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 15 March 1952).
  8. Lt.Col. Leon F. Lavoie, letter to OCMH, 12 January 1952.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Men of field artillery battalions styled their self-propelled howitzers "tanks."
  11. The Artillery School, op. cit.

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