Chinese soldiers captured in vicinity of the Treadway bridge site in 
the Funchilin Pass on 9 December 1950 during the attack south from 
Koto-ri. The previous night was extremely cold in the pass, both 
sides suffering cold casualties. Many Chinese soldiers suffered 
frozen hands and feet, and were happy to be captured. Photo shows the 
rugged terrain in the Funchilin Pass.  National Archives


The Changjin Journal is designed to disseminate and solicit information on the Chosin campaign. Comments and brief essays are invited. Subject matter will be limited to history of the Chosin campaign, as well as past or present interpretation of that history. See End Notes for distribution and other notices. Colonel George A. Rasula, USA-Ret., Chosin Historian, Byron Sims, Contributing Editor

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IN THIS ISSUE we take a brief look at the latest book related to the  Chosin campaign, a book addressing the lower ranks of the North  Korean and Chinese forces that fought the Korean War. We limit our  attention to the author's coverage of the Chinese soldier as relates  to the Chosin campaign.

FORMIDABLE ENEMIES: The North Korean and Chinese Soldier in the  Korean War, Kevin Mahoney, Presidio Press, CA, 2001.

BOOK REVIEW by George Rasula

We continue to seek more information about the enemy, especially the  individual soldier and what made him fight as he did. In the latest  book on this subject, the author divides his work into sections-the  North Korean and the Chinese soldier-providing good background on  each. After that he addresses the soldier in ground combat, covering  preliminaries, assault and defense. Our read took us immediately to  the author's sources, looking for new Chinese sources, especially  those related to the Chosin campaign. There did not appear to be  citations we had not seen before. Yet the book is a good gathering  and presentation of available information.

There has been a tendency for Korean War writers to claim victory by  limiting stories to the friendly side, leaving the enemy story to  imagination. We see this often in writings about the Chosin campaign,  stories that are heavy on aggrandizement while telling little about  the enemy. A leading example is the claim that they were "attacked by  12 Chinese divisions consisting of 120,000 troops," even though  Marine general O.P. Smith's writings state they were attacked by  "elements of six Chinese divisions." So be it; this often-used public  relations ploy is a way of getting attention.


In this book we find identification and location of armies and  divisions in Appendix 1. Here are the Chinese forces that were  committed to the Northeast Korea campaign. * 20th Army: 58th, 59th, 60th, and 89th Divisions. "The 20th Army  reached Korea in mid-November 1950 and engaged UN forces during the  second Communist offensive against X Corps in northeast Korea late  that month. It failed in an attempt to cut off the U.S. 1st Marine  Division at Yudam-ni near the Changjin Reservoir, taking many  casualties during the battle. Withdrawn from combat, it...didn't  return to combat until April 1951." The author provides no other  detail. * 26th Army: 76th, 77th, 78th, and 88th Divisions. "The 26th crossed  the Yalu River in early November 1950 and was part of the force  attacking the U.S. 1st Marine Division at the Changjin  failed to destroy the Marines and was badly mauled in the  process...refitted near Wonsan...returning to the line in March  1951." No further details are offered as to location and combat  actions. * 27th Army; 79th, 80th, 81st, and 94th Divisions. "In Korea from  early November 1950, the 27th Army fought its first action at the  Changjin Reservoir at the end of the month. The 79th Division took  part in the attack on U.S. Marines at Yudam-ni while the 80th  Division destroyed Task Force Faith...on the east side of the  reservoir. Elements of the army followed the Americans as they  withdrew to Hamhung and made small attacks on the UN defensive  perimeter around the port until it was evacuated. Suffering heavy  casualties in this campaign, the army moved into the Hamhung area for  rehabilitation, and its 94th Division was inactivated to provide  replacements for the other divisions in the army. In mid-April it  returned to combat...."

We continue to search for indicators from the Chinese point of view  to explain why the breakout was successful when opposed by such a  large force. The enemy drove X Corps out of North Korea. Both sides  claim victory because such a conclusion is based on the eye of the  beholder, he who tells the story.


"Using traditional tactics that included deception, infiltration,  concentration of force to gain numerical advantage at points of  attack, and encirclement of the enemy in night combat at close  quarters, they expected to overcome their technological inferiority  and eventually force the UN out of the Korean peninsula."

The author describes infantry combat as "one of the most confusing,  emotional, and deadly of all human endeavors." The tactics used by  the enemy, "when combined with the native characteristics of their  citizenry and good leadership, created formidable opposition for the  UN forces in Korea."

"Each Chinese regiment had a reconnaissance platoon whose members  were specialists in penetrating UN lines. They were often used to  draw the fire of the UN troops, who thereby revealed their positions,  as well as to locate boundaries between enemy units...."


The no man's land in reference to the space between opposing forces  during 1951-53 "really belonged to no one." However, when describing  the Chosin operation, it was different. During the move into the  Chosin area recon platoons of the enemy were hard at work keeping an  eye on the lead Marine units in all sectors, always avoiding direct  contact. During this move no man's land was on the other side of the  mountains on each flank, while at night it belonged to those who made  use of it, that being the Chinese who positioned their forces for the  initial attack. Confusion must have reigned during 26 and 27 November when Chinese  scouts saw changes taking place among units east of the reservoir and  at Yudam-ni, and observed slightly different uniforms on troops  arriving from the south. The original plan for an attack to take  place on the 26th would have resulted in one battalion of the 5th  Marines at Yudam-ni and 1/32 Infantry east of Chosin with the balance  of the 5th Marines, while the reminder of RCT 31 was still enroute  far to the south. As it was, they struck the night of 27 November  creating a no man's land belonging to the Chinese at night and to  U.S. air recon during the daylight, weather permitting. What the  Chinese commander knew at the time is still unknown, with no hints  provided in this book.


This expression existed on both sides. "It was every man for himself  at this point, because all control had been lost in the confusion of  the sudden, second attack. A hysterical, unidentified voice called  for mortar fire...just before the radio went dead."

We have mentioned the problem of communicating in previous issues. We  are reminded once again as we read "communication between units below  regimental or battalion level was primitive by Western standards and  often difficult in combat. The briefing before an attack was usually  detailed, even for enlisted men." "During this process, large amount of reliable information were given  to the lowest ranks, a circumstance that UN intelligence officers  often did not believe at the early stages of the war."


The author describes the 27 November night attack at Yudam thusly:  "The night of the attack was cold, hovering around zero degrees F.,  with six inches of snow on the ground." This is quite different from  the extreme conditions we have seen in past writings. The initial  probe at Hill 1282 was driven off, but did serve the purpose of  determining the "strength and location of the marine defenders for  the main attack that would follow shortly." Here again we see that  collection of intelligence came first in the battle plan. This action  at Yudam-ni is the only detail contained in this book about a Chinese  unit in their attacks in the Chosin area, and in this case most of it  has been seen in other publications.

"A Chinese study of battle experience in Korea said that although a  force attacking an American position should have a superiority of  three to five attackers to each defender, ROK positions did not  require as great a numerical advantage to be captured."

"The behavior of the platoon leader and his men during this attack  highlights how leadership could affect the performance of Chinese  troops. There is a sharp contrast between the fortitude shown by his  group in advancing up the hill, while taking heavy casualties, and  their inaction upon reaching the American positions. In both  instances they unquestionably followed their officer, even to the  extent of surrendering, once again demonstrating the obedience of the  Chinese soldier and the importance of his officers."


This leads to the most important problem, other than the inability to  logistically support their large armies, that of primitive  communications. "An important feature of all the ground combat action during the  Korean War was the relatively poor communications found in both the  Chinese and North Korean armies. Companies often received attack orders after such long delays that, given the late start to an  assault, they found it impossible to consolidate the newly captured  position before the onset of intense UN air and artillery bombardment at daylight. Once an attack was under way or an ambush set, there was  rarely any opportunity for a change in plan....poor communication at  the tactical level made it difficult to deviate from the attack plan  because radios were generally available only down to regimental or  battalion level for much of the war. The lack of radio equipment led to runners carrying messages as a  major means of communication between units, supplemented by the usual  variety of prearranged signals. Different bugle calls were used in  this fashion by both battalions and companies. They also became  useful psychological weapons. Bugles blown at night from different  locations around the UN position could give the impression of a  larger force than was actually present and draw the fire of UN troops  who revealed their positions. Whistles and flutes were typically use  by platoons and squads. Attacking groups were also known to use  animal sounds on occasions. What may have appeared to UN defenders as  nonsensical or incongruous noises that were intended to unnerve them  were, in fact, an important means of battlefield communications."


In the Notes section for Chapter 5, we find "The Chinese troops of  the 79th division were part of the Chinese 27th Army, one of the best  units of the Third Field Army during the Chinese civil war. These  troops were not, however, trained for fighting in mountainous terrain  under arctic conditions, nor were they properly equipped for the  subzero temperatures they encountered. One third of the troops became  frostbitten in a single month during this campaign."


After reading this book we again conclude that the Chinese were not  successful because of three reasons: 1. Inadequate logistical support  for such a large force; 2. inability to communicate to take advantage  of favorable situations; and 3. inability of the individual soldier  to cope with the extreme weather conditions experienced at Chosin.  This book is suggested reading for veterans of Chosin as well as  historians interested in the Chinese soldier. It would be helpful to  read it as a companion to The Dragon Strikes by Patrick C. Roe, a  study that contains far more depth about the enemy at Chosin.

END NOTES Our study of Chosin enters the fifty-second anniversary year of the  battle, and as such places the eighteen-year-olds who fought that  battle in their early seventies. We continue to encourage survivors  of Chosin to send their memoirs to the Changjin Journal at 500 Squire  Circle, Clemson, SC 29631. Our interest today is disseminating  historically significant information that has never before been  published. Back issues of the Changjin Journal can be found on the web at

END CJ 01.31.02