Chosin Reservoir/Korea

By: DENNIS COLEMAN

DennisColemanThe name used for this battle is indicative of battlefield intelligence available to the U.S. Army in late November, 1950.  The maps being used were those left by the occupying Japanese in WWll, i.e. at least five years old and inaccurate. The Korean name Changjin was simply changed by the Japanese to Chosan and later Americanized to Chosin (pronou…nced chosen). It will be forever known as Chosin Reservoir.  Our military brass didn’t even have the name right.

The U.N. forces, 88% of which were the armed forces of the United States,  were coming off victories at Pusan and Inchon and mistakenly did not anticipate the the Red Chinese getting into the fray.  That incorrect assumption proved costly and deadly. There is evidence that Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung had baited Macarthur and the general took the bait. U.S. troops had rushed headlong toward the Yalu River.  This battle, taking place from November 27, 1950 to December 13, 1950, would prove to be one of the most horrific in U.S. military history.

There are several factors which add to the magnitude and difficulty of this engagement.  Not to minimize anything but probably the most significant to the outcome was the entrance into the war by the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese had traveled by night and were well camouflaged during the day to get deep into Korea.  The Red Chinese had the high ground.  The weather (temps. down to 35 degrees below zero F.) was unrelenting and about half of the casualties were caused by the weather.  Additionally,  the 30,000  U.S. troops had no knowledge of the presence of the 67,000 Red Chinese who had infiltrated across the Yalu River and were waiting to spring their trap. The Chosin Reservoir was about 150 miles above the 38th parallel and ‘roads’ were often limited to a single lane gravel trail.

When the first illumination flare was fired at about 2:30 A.M. on November 27, hundreds of Red Chinese troops could by seen coming at the American positiions. It had begun. The fire from both armies was intense and unabated. 25,474 troops from the 1st Marine Division and 3,000 from the army were completely encircled. At dawn air support from Navy F4 Corsairs helped stem the onslaught, but the overall situation would not get any better for the next three days. In the extreme cold, weapons would not work properly, batteries would fail, and engines would not start.  Soldiers suffered frostbite and some froze to death.

Even as casualties mounted the U. S. commanders on the ground were incorrectly told that the Chinese were on the run. At a time when they were at risk of being overrun it was decided to attack toward the port of Hungman. The killing and dying continued along a 70 mile strip of road finally ending at Hungman. With naval artillery and air support, what was remaining of the force were evacuated from Hungman.

There were 17 Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients at Chosin Reservoir, 15 of those were from 1st Marine Division. The total casualties for U.S. troops 1,029 KIA, 4,594 missing, 4,582 wounded and 7,338 non-battle casualties for a total 17,843. The Red Chinese admitted casualties were 19,202 battle casualties and 28,954 non-battle casualties for a total of 48,156…out of the 67,000 stated above.  Being totally surrounded, the U. S. troops did not, could not, retreat, they simply fought their way to the evacuation point of Hungman, and after reaching the safety of the waiting ships, the port of Hungman was leveled by air and naval bombardment.

The result was one of the rare times that a Pyrrhic victory was declared for the Chinese. This term is reserved for those cases when a victory is so costly that a second such victory would result in ultimate defeat.

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