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Inchon: How General Douglas MacArthur Surprised North Korea (And Changed History)

Inchon: How General Douglas MacArthur Surprised North Korea (And Changed History)

How the tide was turned during the Korean War.

The Indomitable “Chesty” Puller

Now came the taking of Blue Beach, and the re-emergence of one of the Marine Corps’ greatest all-time combat heroes: Colonel Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, 52. “Fierce and utterly fearless,” wrote Colonel Heinl, “entitled to almost as many battle stars as the regiment he commanded. Winner of two Navy Crosses before World War II, and of two more during the war, Puller was one of the great fighting soldiers of American history. … Puller’s mission was to land south of Inchon and seize a beachhead covering the main approach to the city proper, from which the regiment could advance directly on [a fortress called] Yongdungpo and Seoul.

During one rather gloomy G-2 report, he cut his own intelligence officer short: “We’ll find out what’s on the beach when we get there. There’s not necessarily a gun in every hole! There’s too much goddamned pessimism in this regiment. Most times, professional soldiers have to wait 25 years or more for a war, but here we are, with only five years’ wait for this one.… We’re going to work at our trade for a little while. We live by the sword and, if necessary, we’re ready to die by the sword. Good luck! I’ll see you ashore.”

Notes his biographer, Burke Davis, Puller’s first wave went in at 5:30 pm. “Puller went to his objective at Blue Beach with the third wave, in a twilight hastened by the smoke pall, and climbed a 15-foot sea wall on one of the scaling ladders improvised on the ship en route. It occurred to him that the Corps had not used ladders since [the storming of] Chapultepec [in the 1848 Mexican War].

Leaflets Dropped To Discourage Enemy Into Surrender

“He sat on the wall,” wrote Davis, “briefly watching the enemy in his front.” He settled his men in for the night, and launched his renewed attack inland the next day, Sept. 16 as planned, at dawn. “By 9 a.m., Puller had driven 4,000 yards against machinegun and mortar fire.” To the north, the fighting was sharper, with a counterattack by six Russian-made tanks against which the Americans launched aircraft. But the advance inland continued, the Marines taking care that none of their dead or wounded remained on the battlefield but were carried to the rear.

MacArthur—ever the military public relations man—had devised yet another masterstroke that paid off, a leaflet dropped some two hundred miles to the southeast, on the Red troops fighting at the Pusan Perimeter.

It read: “UNITED NATIONS FORCES HAVE LANDED AT INCHON. Officers and men of North Korea, powerful UN forces have landed at Inchon and are advancing rapidly. You can see from this map how hopeless your situation has become. Your supply lines cannot reach you, nor can you withdraw to the North. The odds against you are tremendous. Fifty-three of the 59 countries in the UN are opposing you. You are outnumbered in equipment, manpower and firepower. Come over to the UN side and you will get good food and prompt medical care.”

Onto Kimpo Airfield After Inchon Falls

 

With nine American tanks on Wolmi-Do, three with flame-throwers, three with bulldozer blades, success was in the air. MacArthur took great satisfaction when he saw the Stars and Stripes flying overhead. Six NKPAs forced their officer to strip naked and then surrender, others jumped into the water and tried to swim to Inchon, and yet still others fought to the death in their holes in the ground.

The overall casualties at Wolmi-Do were 20 Marines wounded, with about 120 North Koreans killed and another 180 captured. MacArthur’s great gamble was looking good. After the fall of Inchon came that of Kimpo Airfield on the 17th—D-Day plus two. Two hundred NKPAs with five tanks were wiped out by the Marines in a battle six miles southeast of Inchon.

 

“Attack, push and pursue without cease,” had asserted French Marshal Maurice de Saxe, and now his 20th-century counterpart—MacArthur—came ashore to do precisely that, landing on the 17th and setting out in a jeep convoy to find the hero of the hour, Chesty Puller. But the tough Marine sent back the message: “If he wants to see me, have him come up in the front lines. I’ll be waiting for him.” MacArthur did so, and awarded Puller the Silver Star on the spot. Puller said, “Thanks very much for the Star, General. Now, if you want to know where those sons of bitches are, they’re right over the next ridge!”

Propaganda From Moscow Paints A Different Picture Of Invasion

The Marines had first fought in Korea in 1871, and first taken Seoul in 1894. Now—after taking fortress Yongdungpo and crossing the Han River, they took it a second time, on Sept. 26, but it wasn’t completely cleared of enemy resistance, after tough street-by-street, house-to-house fighting, until the 28th.

Indeed, the Soviet newspaper Pravda likened the battle for Seoul to the epic struggle at Stalingrad against the Germans in 1942-43: “Cement, streetcar rails, beams and stones are being used to build barricades in the streets, and workers are joining soldiers in the defense. The situation is very serious. Pillboxes and tank points dot the scene. Every home must be defended as a fortress. There is firing from behind every stone.

“When a soldier is killed, his gun continues to fire. It is picked up by a worker, tradesman or office worker. … Gen. MacArthur landed the most arrant criminals at Inchon, gathered from the ends of the earth. He sends British and New Zealand adventure-seekers ahead of his own executioners, letting them drag Yankee chestnuts from the fire. American bandits are shooting every Seoul inhabitant taken prisoner.”

A Huge Number Of North Koreans Taken Prisoner

That was on the 23rd. The day before, the NKPA troops had begun surrendering, as Colonel Heinl points out: “They started coming in in numbers, all carrying their burp guns. We stripped every one as he came in—pretty hard trying to get trousers off over leggings … (which the North Koreans, like their Marine captors, also wore). Indeed, in the two weeks after Inchon, MacArthur’s forces captured a stunning 130,000 North Koreans, just as predicted.

States Leckie, “By mid-September, the 70,000 combat troops opposing Gen. Walker’s combat force of 140,000 men [in the Pusan Perimeter] were served by perhaps 50% of the tanks and heavy weapons they needed. MacArthur’s estimate of what happened to an army at the end of a long supply line was proven correct, and his faith in what happened to it when it was put to rout was borne out with grim exactitude during the last 10 days of September.

All Escape Routes In United Nations’ Hands

“By the end of the month, the North Korean Army was shattered and fleeing north with little semblance of order. Some of the enemy’s 13 divisions simply disappeared. Their men were spread all over the South Korean countryside in disorganized and demoralized small parties. All of the escape routes were in United Nations hands, the sea was hostile to them and the sky roared with the motors of planes that spat death at them or showered them with firebombs.

“The roads, rice paddies and ditches of South Korea became littered with abandoned enemy tanks, guns and vehicles. Wholesale surrenders became commonplace.”

It was at this point and this juncture only—in the heady, warm glow of total victory by UN arms—that arose the idea of the unification of the two Koreas by force, especially espoused by President Rhee, who crowed, on Sept. 30, “What is the 38th Parallel?… It is non-existent. I am going all the way to the Yalu, and the United Nations can’t stop me.”

The Extent Of North Korean Atrocities Become Apparent

On Sept. 29, MacArthur and President Rhee wept together over the liberation of Seoul, as the General and the assemblage recited The Lord’s Prayer in gratitude for the UN victory, and the President blurted out through his tears, “We admire you. We love you as the savior of our race!” He would be overthrown in 1960.

The South Korean people had welcomed the incoming Marines with open arms, and had even brought out their small cooking stoves so that their liberators could warm their cold rations before eating. It soon became apparent why, as Communist atrocities began surfacing. Murdered American POWs also cropped up in ever-increasing incidents as UN forces advanced north into enemy territory.

The reckoning of the battle was also accomplished on Sept. 30, as—in the words of Colonel Heinl—“The X Corps War Diary rounded out the number of enemy killed at 14,000, his prisoners in hand, 7,000. These figures are about as correct as any that will ever be arrived at. Some 50 Russian tanks were destroyed, 47 by Marine ground or air. … The Marine division alone destroyed or took 23 120mm mortars, two 76mm self-propelled guns, eight 76mm guns, 19 45mm antitank guns, 59 14.5mm antitank rifles, 56 heavy machineguns, and 7,543 rifles.”

"The Trinity Of Victory”