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An army of stags led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a stag.

ATTRIBUTED TO CHABRIAS (circa 410-357 B. C.)

China's Campaign Sequence

Chapter 14

Task Force Gerhardt

* Beginning on 16 May, the Chinese launched their second spring offensive, aiming the main effort at U.S. X Corps. They made impressive gains at first, especially on the east flank of the corps' sector, but the vigor of the attack slackened noticeably after several days. At the end of a week, the enemy units were overextended, short of supplies, and weakened by serious personnel losses. While his troops were absorbing this enemy thrust, General Almond (X Corps commander) successfully bargained with Eighth Army for an additional infantry division as well as for the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Having thus reinforced his corps, General Almond laid plans for a counteroffensive. [1]

On the evening of 22 May, realizing that his corps had contained the enemy force and that opportunity for exploitation was at hand, General Almond attached the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment to the 2d Infantry Division. At the same time, he ordered the division commander to send the 187th on a rapid and strong thrust north along the road running from Hongchon to Inje. [2] Attacking on 23 May with two battalions, the 187th Airborne gained four miles while, across the corps front, the initiative passed to the United Nations forces as they shifted from defensive to offensive warfare. [3] Anxious to speed up his offensive operation, General Almond at 0940, 24 May, ordered the 2d Division to send a task force from the 187th Airborne to seize the bridge site on the Soyang River and, incidentally, to kill as many Chinese as possible. He ordered the task force, not yet formed, to jump off at 1200 two hours twenty minutes later. [4]

Col. William Gerhardt (executive officer of the 187th Airborne), Colonel Brubaker turned over to Major Spann with instructions to wait for the rest of the tank battalion and guide it forward to the starting point at Puchaetul. With Major Newman, Brubaker started forward in the other jeep to meet Captain Ross at the initial point.

"I want you to organize this point," he told Newman, "and you'll probably have to go with it."

About 1230 the two officers reached Puchaetul, where the task force was forming. Colonel Gerhardt arrived soon afterward and gave his final instructions. He already had sent the engineer platoon and the I&R squad forward to search for mines on the road, and he had obtained from the 3d Infantry Division a company of tanks that would be ready to move out with the main body of the task force. After reviewing the mission, the general situation, and advising all commanders that they could get air support simply by firing white phosphorus shells at any target, he ordered the lead tanks to get under way. It was about 1300.

The four tanks started north with the platoon leader (Lt. Douglas L. Gardiner) riding in the first tank and Major Newman in the second tank. Each of the medium tanks (M4A3E8) was armed with a 76-mm cannon, a caliber .30 bow machine gun, and a caliber .50 antiaircraft machine gun. In addition to 71 rounds of ammunition for its cannon, each tank carried 49 boxes of caliber .30 ammunition and 31 boxes for its antiaircraft machine gun.

Two miles beyond the point of departure the tanks came upon the other two elements of the point the engineer platoon and the 187th Airborne's I&R Platoon. The latter unit consisted of eleven men riding in three jeeps. Each jeep mounted a caliber .30 machine gun. The engineer platoon had two 2 1/2-ton trucks. Major Newman re-formed his column in the following order: two tanks, a jeep, two tanks, a jeep, and then the two trucks, followed by the third jeep. In this order the column advanced another mile to a friendly advance outpost at Koritwi-ri, where it halted while engineer mine detector squads went forward to probe the road.

A helicopter descended and from it stepped General Almond (X Corps commander). He asked Major Newman the cause of the halt. Newman explained that the column had stopped temporarily to permit a check of the road by mine detectors, and to establish communications between the tanks and the squad from the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon. General Almond was impatient.

"I don't care about communications!" he said, emphasizing this assertion by shaking his swagger stick at Major Newman. "You get those tanks on the road and keep going until you hit a mine. I want you to keep going at twenty miles an hour."

Newman ordered the column to move forward, instructing the tank commanders to shift to fifth gear, which would be equal to about twentytwo miles an hour.

General Almond flew back to the command post of the 187th Airborne. Standing in front of the command-post tent was Major Spann (the 72d Tank Battalion's S-3) whom Colonel Brubaker had left behind to contact and guide forward the rest of the battalion. Spann reported to General Almond who, in rapid succession, asked to what outfit he belonged, why the tanks weren't moving, and the name of the commander of the 72d Tank Battalion.

"You tell Brubaker," General Almond replied when Spann had answered these questions, "to get that tank column moving whether the tanks have infantry support or not."

At this moment the 187th Airborne's S-3 emerged from the tent. While General Almond was repeating his instructions to this officer, Spann left to deliver the general's message to Colonel Brubaker.

Colonel Gerhardt, in the meantime, had formed the elements of his task force in their relative positions in the column and had moved the column onto the road. Before Major Spann could relay General Almond's order through Colonel Brubaker, it had reached Colonel Gerhardt through his own staff. Gerhardt rushed up to the commander of Company B, 72d Tank Battalion, and told him to disregard the organization of Task Force Gerhardt and to get the tanks up the road to the Sovang River as fast as possible. The tank platoons, however, were intermingled with the task force column, the road was clogged with supply trucks, and it was not possible to immediately separate the tanks from the rest of the column.

After spending considerable time jockeying tanks and other vehicles around in the column, Ross succeeded in separating the tanks of the 1st Platoon which he sent along to join the leading platoon. As these tanks left the point of departure, Newman reported that he and the 3d Platoon were more than halfway to the Sovang River, having just cleared Oron-ni. He asked to have more tanks join him as quickly as possible.

When the point of the column moved out in fifth gear after encountering General Almond, the tanks reconnoitered four or five suspected enemy positions by firing at them either with the turret machine guns or the tank cannons. After advancing about a mile, the tank-platoon commander noticed two men manning a 3.5-inch bazooka near a destroyed bridge. As the tanks rolled forward, the men dropped their weapon and ran up the river bed to the northwest. Lieutenant Gardiner killed both of them with the caliber .50 machine gun. There was some enemy fire in response from rifles and from a light machine gun which fired short bursts from about seven hundred yards away.

In the second tank in the column, the mechanic had his cap knocked off by a bullet from the machine gun. SFC Roy Goff (commander of the tank) turned his caliber .50 machine gun toward the Chinese, the other tank commanders Joined him, and together they killed the enemy gunner as he attempted to change firing positions.

Since the tanks were still attracting light small-arms fire, the tankers directed the fire from all their weapons at suspected positions within a range of three hundred to five hundred yards. Eight or ten enemy soldiers then jumped out of foxholes near the bank of the Hongchon River which paralleled the road. The tankers killed 5 or 6 of them, but several escaped. The entire action lasted about five minutes.

The point of the task force column moved forward, again firing on all suspected enemy positions. (A soldier, hunting for souvenirs on the morning of 25 May, found seven dead Chinese in a cave into which the tanks had fired.) About a mile farther north, the crew of the lead tank noticed a group of 15 or 20 enemy soldiers on the road ahead. The Chinese waved their hands in a friendly manner at the tanks. Opening fire with the caliber .30 bow machine gun, the tank crew dispersed the enemy soldiers, but at the same time other groups of 4 or 5 men appeared on hills to the left of the road. These soldiers, drawing fire from all of the tanks, scampered first one way and then another as though they were uncertain about the direction in which to go.

Ahead was a mountain pass where Major Newman and the other tankers expected trouble. When Lieutenant Gardiner's lead tank reached the foot of the pass, he could see two houses at a bend commanding the road. Halting his tank, he reported this on the intertank radio. Newman told him to fire into the houses. Gardiner's fire set them ablaze, but he saw no one leave the houses.

The column continued through the pass unmolested until the last two tanks were emerging. Then two enemy machine guns, located on a fiftyfoot-high knoll on the east side of the road, opened fire on the rear of the column. The machine gunner in the jeep at the end of the column returned the fire, and the last two tanks commenced firing their machine guns and cannons. Just then a liaison plane came overhead and dropped a green smoke bomb to attract attention and then a grenade container with a message. A member of the I&R Platoon recovered the message, which said there was a large number of enemy troops on a hill east of the road, and instructed the tankers to fire several rounds of white phosphorus if they wanted an air strike placed on the enemy. Major Newman did not want to wait for an air strike. After silencing the two machine guns, the column moved forward to Oron-ni a shabby huddle of houses at the bottom of the pass where there was another brief exchange of fire between enemy automatic weapons and the tanks. Four Chinese surrendered. The tank crews motioned them to the rear of the column where they could ride on one of the trucks.

After reporting to Colonel Gerhardt by radio that the point of the task force column had cleared Oron-ni, Newman ordered the tanks forward again. Several small groups of Chinese appeared on a ridge west of the road, but this time the tanks did not stop although the tank commanders fired the antiaircraft machine guns at the enemy soldiers. After advancing another half mile, the lead tank crossed a culvert.

"You'd better watch the draw on the right," Gardiner radioed back to Major Newman. "There's a lot of stuff in it."

Newman had transferred from the second tank to the third in the column because the radio in the second tank had failed. Lieutenant Gardiner and Sergeant Goff (in the second tank) continued a short distance to bridge across a four-foot-wide stream where the tanks stopped again Gardiner had his tank crew fire the machine guns and the 76-mm cannon toward the front and both flanks.

In the meantime, Newman had the tank in which he was riding (the third in the column) go just beyond the culvert so that he could see the draw about which Lieutenant Gardiner had cautioned him. He noticed several log-covered dugouts and, at about the same time, saw a platoon sized group of Chinese run from the east side of the road into the culvert. Major Newman told the leader of the I&R squad to take his men into the draw and fire on any enemy positions there in order to stop the smallarms fire coming from that direction.

While the I&R squad deployed and moved on foot into the draw east of the road culvert, Newman and the bow gunner from his tank got out and walked back to the end of the culvert and motioned for the Chinese to come out. Enemy bullets whistled past the two men and struck the road nearby, stirring up small patches of dust. Thirty-seven Chinese soldiers came out of the culvert, hands over their heads, and surrendered. All enemy fire from the draw east of the road stopped suddenly. Newman sent the prisoners to the rear of the column, where they could ride with their four comrades in the custody of the engineers.

During all these events. The I&R squad was firing rifles, BARs, and a light machine gun at a rapid rate against what appeared to be a large enemy force at the head of the draw. The squad leader ran back to tell Major Newman that several hundred enemy soldiers were escaping at the east end of the draw. The first two tanks in the column were too far away to help, but the last two tanks fired 12 to 15 rounds of 76-mm high-explosive shells into the draw. Although it was impossible to determine the results, all enemy fire ceased. The I&R squad returned to its vehicles, and the column moved off, rejoining the two tanks which were waiting at the small bridge. The fire fight lasted only about twenty minutes.

After renewing the plea for the rest of Company B's tanks, the column moved forward another mile or mile and a half to Sachi-ri, where about two hundred Chinese opened fire from both sides of the road and from hills beyond the village. The tanks stopped outside of the little village and returned the fire while the I&R squad deployed again and moved into the group of houses where thirty more enemy surrendered. At this point, Newman had to decide between mounting the prisoners on the rear decks of the tanks or leaving them on the road under guard. He chose to leave them, and placed four guards selected from the engineer platoon over all the prisoners captured thus far.

A short distance beyond Sachi-ri, the tanks came upon a group of 80 to 100 enemy foot soldiers armed with rifles and burp guns marching toward foothills on the left side of the road. They were leading about twenty pack animals. As the tanks approached them, the enemy soldiers stopped and stared as though they were in doubt as to whether the tanks were friendly or enemy. The tanks also stopped and opened fire from a range of two hundred yards with machine guns and cannons. While men from the jeeps and trucks took cover from some enemy small-arms fire, the tankers fired about twenty 76-mm rounds and ten boxes of machine-gun ammunition, scattering and partly destroying the enemy group.

After ten minutes the column again moved out, this time going three quarters of a mile before meeting another group of enemy soldiers, this one about twice as large as the last one. They were marching toward the road from the northwest and were leading pack animals. After firing into this enemy column for ten or fifteen minutes and scattering it completely, the tankers believed they had killed or wounded at least half of the Chinese.

Now seven or eight miles in front of the main body, the point of Task Force Gerhardt went another mile without meeting further enemy resistance. It rounded a sharp bend in the road and approached a small hill, and minutes later, when the lead tank reached the top of the hill, Lieutenant Gardiner's men saw another enemy column marching southward toward their tank. Some of the enemy soldiers were walking in a creek bed on the west side of the road, while the others followed the road. Like the other enemy columns, this one included pack animals.

A liaison plane appeared overhead and dropped a message saving that about four thousand enemy soldiers were on the road about a mile farther north, and that two flights of jet planes were on the way to make an air strike against them. The message warned the tankers to wait until the planes had finished their napalm run before continuing forward. Gardiner, who retrieved the message, took it back to Major Newman.

"What are we going to do now?" he asked.

"We're going to attack the Chinks!" Newman answered without hesitation. "If we turn back we'll run into General Almond."

Deploying off the road in a skirmish line, the tanks opened fire on the enemy column, which was not more than five hundred yards away After a few minutes (at about 1600) the jets arrived They dropped napalm bombs well to the front, then circled to strafe the enemy column, flying so low that the tankers could feel the heat from the engines.

Anxious to reach the enemy column while it was still suffering from disorganization caused by the air strike, Gardiner started forward and all tanks followed. The planes were still strafing the Chinese who, scattered now and in flight, had abandoned supplies, pack animals, and some vehicles a which they had previously captured from American forces. The point of the task force, now not more than a mile and a half from the Soyang River, moved into the confusion with the tanks firing all weapons. Several houses near the road were burning; along the road were dead animals and bodies of enemy soldiers killed either by the napalm strike or the advancing tanks. The tankers saw and fired at Chinese soldiers scrambling off the road trying to escape into the steep hills on both sides.

At about 1630 the tanks, still firing, reached an open area from which the members of the task force point could see the Soyang River. Besides scattered enemy soldiers south of the river, the tankers could see and fire upon enemy groups moving along a road that followed the north bank of the river.

The 1st and 2d Platoons of Company B, which Colonel Gerhardt had dispatched separately, joined Major Newman's force soon after it reached the river. The main body of Task Force Gerhardt arrived at 1830. It had also encountered some opposition on the way. That night the complete task force formed its defensive perimeter on the banks of the Soyang River.


Like a boxer who tries to hit his opponent when he has him off balance, the military commander times his counter-punches. When the enemy staggers, careful planning of time and space factors to insure coordination may be discarded in favor of rapid action. This narrative shows that a weak but timely jab at a faltering enemy is often

effective perhaps more so than a later, more powerful blow at a prepared opponent. "Strike while the iron is hot" refers to the blacksmith's work, but it applies equally well to the battlefield.

Strict observance of the rules of tactics in all cases is neither recommended nor advised. However, anyone who knowingly violates the rules must be ready to accept responsibility for his actions. If a deliberate violation brings about a victory, he will be a hero. If such violation results in a fiasco, he must be prepared to be the goat.

When General Almond, through the 2d Division, gave the 187th RCT a task force mission, he gave it the responsibility for carrying out a job. When he ordered the point of the task force column to move without the main body, he took upon himself the responsibility of the task force commander for the execution of his mission. Such an action is justified only when a superior commander has knowledge of the situation unknown to his task force commander and/or when time will not permit the use of regular channels apparently true in this case. The personal intercession of General Almond is an example of positive leadership at a critical point by a senior commander.

The very existence of armored units can be justified only because of their superior cross-country mobility and their greater shock effect. When an armored unit is assigned a role that takes advantage of both these characteristics, it is being properly employed. When an armored advance guard is bold and aggressive, it is working as an advance guard should.


  1. X Corps: command report, May 1951 (Annex A-1); see entry at 1415 hours. Unless otherwise noted, this narrative is based upon interviews and an account of the action prepared in Korea by Capt. John Mewha. Captain Mewha interviewed the following officers and men of the 72d Tank Battalion: Major James H. Spann, S-3; Capt. W. J. Richard, S-2; Major Charles A. Newman, executive of hcer; Major William E. Ross, CO, Company B; Lt. Edwell D. Clements, Reconnaissance Platoon leader; and SFC Michael R. Huhel and SFC Glen M. Poppler. The last two were tank commanders of Company B.
  2. X Corps: special report, Battle of the Soyang River, May 1951.
  3. X Corps: command report, May 1951.

4 2d Infantry Division: G-3 journal and file, message J37, 0938, 24 May 1951.

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