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. 
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.  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.  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.
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
- X Corps: special report, Battle of the Soyang River, May 1951.
- X Corps: command report, May 1951.
4 2d Infantry Division: G-3 journal and file, message J37, 0938, 24 May