Why the Korean War Battle of Chosin Was so Bloody

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October 11, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaPeople's Liberation ArmyKorean WarNorth KoreaU.S. Marines

Why the Korean War Battle of Chosin Was so Bloody

China's intervention was a nasty surprise.

The main body of Charlie/1/5 could not have been operating under worse conditions. Not one of the men had seen the ground in daylight, and not one knew the effect supporting fire might have on friendly troops who might be hiding or holding isolated positions indeterminate distances beyond an enemy force of unknown size. Charlie/1/5 had already taken casualties from the heavy fire that had raked the single file of men on the approaches to the summit, and the darkness had thrown the organization into a state of mild distress.

Time slipped away. Captain Jones deployed his two rifle platoons, Charlie/1/5’s 60mm mortars were sited, and firm communications were established with the 1/5 81mm mortar platoon in the valley. Word was received that friendly aircraft were on the way from Yonpo, the big coastal air base, but they would not be on station until first light. Jones opted to wait until he could see what he was doing.

Taking Back Hill 1282

Sunrise was an omen. One of the first things Marines in the valley and on the ridges saw were flights of Marine Corsair fighter-bombers and U.S. Navy carrier-based AD Skyraider attack bombers. As Charlie/1/5 waited pensively while friendly aircraft made repeated runs on the Chinese-held portions of the summit. Trapnell’s platoon of Able/1/5, which was guarding the rear approaches, was treated to an incredible display of airmanship. Lying on their stomachs a foot or two below the spur’s razor spine, Trapnell and his riflemen watched what they might have taken for a blue-painted shark’s fin whizzing by from left to right. It was the wingtip of a Marine Corsair dropping its load of napalm on Chinese soldiers on the reverse slope.

As the last of the attack aircraft pulled up and away, Jones led Charlie/1/5 against a company of the 1st Battalion, 235th PLA Regiment. Fifty Chinese armed with machine guns and hand grenades stood to receive Jones’ assault, forcing the attacking Marines to charge uphill into the face of a murderous fire.

Closing to within arm’s length of the defenders, the Marines fought a brutal hand-to-hand struggle, characteristic of the fighting that had thus far taken place on Hill 1282. The 1st Battalion, 235th PLA Regiment, had been nearly annihilated during the night. The 50 men holding the summit were all that remained, and they were overwhelmed by Charlie/1/5 and the last Easy/2/7 Marines under Staff Sgt. Murphy. The last platoon of Able/1/5 arrived up the rear slope to complete the job and pry through the rubble to sort out the dead and wounded.

Thus, the contest had been decided; Hill 1282 would remain in Marine hands.

Soon Lieutenant John Yancey emerged from the dead. He was bleeding from untreated shrapnel wounds across the bridge of his nose and in the roof of his mouth. His jaw had been shattered by a .45-caliber bullet, and one eye was whirling crazily in its socket. The former Marine Raider formally requested relief from the first Charlie/1/5 officer he could find. Then, quitting his last battle, Yancey led 35 walking wounded Marines slowly down the defile toward the valley of Yudam-ni.

Yancey recovered from his wounds and received his second Navy Cross. He returned to Little Rock to run his liquor store.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network. Originally Published November 18, 2018.

Image: Reuters.