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Mao's generals remember Korea
 / translated and edited by Xiaobing Li, Allan R. Millett, Bin Yu., Lawrence, Kan. : University Press of Kansas, c2001.
xii, 303 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm.


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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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

IN THIS ISSUE recognizing that this is the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, as well as the 53d anniversary of the day the Chinese attacked at the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir in Northeast Korea, we finally open the door to the enemy, so to speak, by breaking the covers of the book Mao's Generals Remember Korea (hereafter Mao's Generals), University Press of Kansas, 2001, translated by Xiaobing Li, Allan R. Millet, Bin Yu.


Historians must have wondered why the Chinese were not successful in it's second campaign against the X Corps units in the Changjin Reservoir area, yet little in-depth research has been conducted to uncover the reasons why. We now have a new entry into knowledge bank, translations of documents by high commanders of the Chinese Peoples Volunteer Force (CPVF) commonly known to Chosin survivors as the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF). We excitedly dig into this newest book Mao's Generals Remember Korea.

                        TOLAND'S RESEARCH

When John Toland was doing his research I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with him discussing the Chosin campaign, resulting in my dedication to the history of Chosin. Questions arose which have lingered to this day, the first being: what was the Chinese commander's plan of attack and why wasn't he successful? Toland took those questions to China after which his research revealed in his book In Mortal Combat p.344 "Three days earlier [30 November], Peng realized the number of enemy troops he was facing at the Chosin Reservoir was double that of the original estimate. He decided to concentrate the forces of the Ninth Army on the weakest link of the reservoir defense: Task Force MacLean. Heavy attacks resulted in MacLean's death and the crushing of Task Force Faith. Now Peng owned everything east of the reservoir and could concentrate on the other side-the Marines."


Our continuing search took us through the process of logic based on the theory that the CPVF/CCF plan of attack at the time was directed against the 5th Marine positions east of Chosin. See CJ 02.04.00 for details.

Having been on the ground at Hudong-ni where I studied the maps and later climbed the ridges during the breakout, I have always wanted to know what the Chinese did and didn't do that caused them to fail their objective-the destruction of the U.N. forces in the Chosin area. I have always suspected logistic problems were the most important factor. We have reported in the past that they had the manpower, but numbers alone do not win battles, as proved by the Finns at Suomusalmi in December 1939. We have noted that they lacked weapons, especially artillery and ammunition of all types. They lacked trucks to move troops as well as supplies in an extremely limited road net, while American control of the air prevented them from moving during daylight. These have been known facts in Chosin history. After looking at the general limitations we must look at the way he used his potential to come up with reasons why he was not successful. Let's now look at Mao's Generals to see what Chinese generals had to say, realizing  that long memories can be questioned and understanding that documents published for public consumption are often influenced by politics, as in most countries.

The significance is noted in the beginning: "This book also provides insights so important that no serious scholar could afford to neglect them. ... There can be little doubt that the official accounts attempt to glorify the Chinese intervention." From this point on we limit our search to topics related to the Chosin campaign in Northeast Korea.

                        UNDERSTANDING TERRAIN

Although we found it later in the book, the Chinese had a good understanding of the terrain in North Korea, far more than the planners in Tokyo did who ordered the X Corps to attack west from Yudam-ni on 27 November 1950.

"North Korea has many mountains and rivers. Its railroad lines were built mostly along the coastal lines with very few tracks in the central regions. the highways in North Korea wee built mostly in a north-south direction, with few east-west ones. they ran along the mountains across the rivers with many sharp curves and steep hills. Moreover, most of the highways ran parallel with the railroads. Throughout the Korean War, when one transportation point was raided, both railroad and highway systems were devastated. The road system in North Korea did not suit wartime transportation at all."

                        LISTING ADVANTAGES

We find the Chinese interpretation of advantages most interesting.
"Our army, however, had many advantages the American army could not match. First, our troops would fight in an anti aggressive war for internationalism. Second, our troops had rich combat experience. Third, our troops were mobile and flexible in combat. Fourth, our soldiers were brave and able to fight. They were not scared to shed their blood and lay down their lives on the battleground. They could bear hardships and stand hard work.
Fifth, we had our motherland right behind us while fighting in Korea. ... the American army was on a cross-oceanic expedition."

"... the Second Campaign also revealed  more CPVF shortcomings. On the eastern front, the 150,000-strong Ninth Army Group (20th, 26th and 27th Armies) was not adequately prepared for the subzero Korean winter. It was hastily thrown into combat against the 1st Marine Division and the U.S. Seventh Infantry Division. Although the Ninth Army Group scored the CPVF's only major victory during the three-year war in Korea when it wiped out an entire regiment of the U.S. military (the 32d [sic] Regiment of the 7th Division), it suffered a terrible toll from the Korean winter. More than 30,000 officers and men, some 22 percent of the entire Ninth Army Group, were disabled by severe frostbite, and some 1,000 died. Following this experience, the entire Ninth Army Group became one giant field hospital for three months as the men recovered from frostbite, the most serious incidence in the PLA's history. The Ninth Army Group, therefore, was incapable of annihilating a much smaller enemy force, as originally planned."

Mao's Generals continues in reference to attacking the 1st Marine Division as seen from his historical point of view.

"Attacking the divided and surrounded enemy forces turned out to be extremely difficult. According to the experience of the CPVF, the 1st Marine Division was indeed the toughest fighting unit among the American forces. (The division was famous for its fierce battle with the Japanese in the battle of Guadalcanal during the Pacific War.) After being divided and surrounded, the 1st Marine Division immediately formed defense perimeters at three places with the help of 200 tanks. It also constructed a makeshift airstrip for resupply of ammunition and winter equipment, as well as for shipping out its casualties. ... With only 8 to 9 rocket launchers for each regiment, the 20th and 27th Armies were unable to finish the job, even thought they repeatedly broke some enemy positions at night."

Our attention was immediately drawn to "200 tanks." We went to the footnote for the answer (n42, p.250) which references Vol. III of the official USMC history. "The U.S. side lists one battalion of sixty tanks and three regimental tank platoons of fifteen tanks for the marines."

Knowing the number was far too large, we look at the locations and use of armor in the Chosin area, knowing the Chinese often saw AAA vehicles used east of Chosin as tanks. The presence of one tank at Yudam-ni could have been reported as more, whereas the AAA tracks of D/15th AAA at the Inlet and Tank Company/31 at Hudong-ni could have been reported as many tanks (one report being a battalion), and that multiplied when Tank Company/31 moved to Hagaru-ri and was seen by other Chinese observers and added to the marine tanks at that location. Essays in the Changjin Journal have questioned why the Chinese did not launch a major attacks against Hudong-ni and Koto-ri. The shortage of anti-tank weapons in CCF regiments as well as the extreme cold are among the reasons.


"During the first two campaigns, CPVF logistics were able to supply only one-quarter of the food needs of their front line troops; the rest was obtained by foraging."

To obtain three-quarters of their ration needs in the Chosin area was hardly possible. If they took it from the North Korean civilians, however little that would have been, was that the reason so many refugees followed the withdrawing American units?

One learns quickly that the Chinese were not prepared logistically to do battle with a major power such as the United States. Moving their field armies great distances taxed the CCF at a time when they were recovering from the Civil War.

It continues to become obvious that the logistics capability of the Chinese was the first and foremost problem during the first and second campaigns.


The Chinese generals were quick to grasp the logistics problems at a time when their commands and the logistics base of the country did not have the capability of rapidly responding to demand. The U.S. faced a similar challenge later during the buildup in Vietnam, learning that the tail could occasionally wag the dog. The Chinese problem was far greater because of weather and terrain.

"With such heavy costs and losses, our traditional ways of supporting and supplying our army, as in past domestic wars, could no longer meet the demands of this modern war in Korea. In the past, we obtained our supplies locally wherever we fought in China. Our foodstuff was provided entirely by the local Chinese people. Our munitions came from whatever we seized from  enemy troops. [Living off the land.] We never knew that our logistics service would have such enormous problems in the Korean War. Our troops were fighting in a foreign land with limited available local resources. Even though they seized some enemy supplies, most of them were quickly destroyed by enemy air strikes. Thus, the troops depended largely on supplies coming from China. These experiences fully revealed the complexity of and difficulties with our logistics. ..."

"The first group of the CPVF left for Korea in a great hurry and needed winter clothes immediately. ... During their early combat, the CPVF also encountered serious problems with its food supply. ..."

"Because we failed to transport enough foodstuff to the front, however, we had to cut two divisions from the flanking force. This deficit prevented us from achieving better results in the campaign. ..."

"Our troops on the eastern front entered Korea in a big hurry. Hardly prepared, they had many logistical problems. The soldiers did not have enough to eat; their winter clothes were too thin against the cold, so they suffered large, non battle losses. If there had not been so many great difficulties in the support and supply service and in some other aspects, our troops on the eastern front could hate annihilated the U.S. First Marine Division east of the Chosin Reservoir as we had planned. The American radio broadcast had already announced that the First Marine Division had been eliminated; in fact, however, it escaped by sea. ..."

                 HASTE MAKES WASTE

"Although we predicted the war and prepared to resist America and aid Korea, we had only about two weeks between deciding to intervene and actually entering Korea. We entered the war in haste and were not well prepared. Moreover, we had little combat experience with the American army outside China."

The generals address interesting points in evaluations that are similar to those of Americans who have studied the logistics problem, here simplified into five points.


1. Feeding our soldiers.
2. Clothing our soldiers during the early period of the war. Winter in North Korea was very cold.
3. Transportation.
4. Replacing equipment and weapons [Chinese were armed with various types captured weapons].
5. Medical service at the front.

Not mentioned as a major point is communication, although it was probably considered an operations problem, not logistics.


"Avoid being locked into a lengthy seesaw battle.
Take advantage of skills in close combat.
Engage the enemy quickly by surprise (keep enemy from making full use of their firepower).
Our soldiers depend on their feet in combat. Their movement cannot compete with the enemy's motorized movement, but it is hard to detect and easy to conceal. ... our weakness could become a strength. We could bring this capability into full play if we boldly penetrated and outflanked the enemy troops, thrust deep into their positions, and full use the power of our hand grenades. Isn't the enemy wildly and arrogantly marching toward the north? We could set up defensive positions and wait at our ease for the approaching exhausted enemy troops."

                  LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

The essence of what we have learned from these quotations lies in the fact that there has been too much of a tendency to write about our own units rather than the enemy.
There has been a tendency in the past to accept versions of history written by public relations specialists. That no longer holds weight because fact becomes history, hype does not.
Those who say they were attacked by 120,000 Chinese in 12 divisions are in need of correcting their statistics, for the division count was more like six and the numbers far less than half, especially since Chinese divisions did not have the capability of launching a division size attack, nor even a regimental size attack. Any outfit that must rely on whistles and bugles for control may be effective as a company if they have enough rehearsals, and even then would require detailed planning.

When the 80th CCF Division attacked the night of 27 November and found the 5th Marines were no longer in their positions, they must have had a frustrating time unraveling the confusion. And when a Chinese horde overran an artillery battery and just sat there without further instructions, they too were probably bewildered when they faced a counterattack the next morning.

The Marines at Yudam-ni were fortunate to have been coiled up for the night in tight perimeters on commanding terrain (a tactic from World War II) supported by many mortars and three battalions of artillery.

The Chinese misfortunes revealing their limitations were noted the first night when they cut the MSR between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, yet allowed Hagaru-ri to continue defensive preparations until the next night, and then being able to launch only two attacks on that perimeter, the 28th and 30th, when they weren't able to control that massive observation post known as East Hill. If the scenario were reversed and Americans attacked the Chinese at Hagaru-ri, the Americans would have taken East Hill and destroyed the enemy below with firepower. Mao's Generals have explained the problems well.

These highlight are but a few of the fortunes and misfortunes of land warfare.

                      PAST HISTORY OF CHOSIN

Let us conclude this review of Mao's Generals by correcting some erroneous statements in past history:
The Chinese attacked with elements of six identified divisions.
The Chinese did not have effective radio communications below division level, therefore did not have the capability of making rapid changes due to favorable conditions on the battlefield.
The Chinese attacked with units only large enough to be controlled by sound-making devices and voice.
The Chinese did not have a supply base on hand to replace the ammunition expended by an attacking unit; they had to replace the unit.
The Chinese could not be supported by living off the land. Their supply system delivered enough food for one out of four soldiers.
The Chinese soldier did not have adequate clothing, especially for hands and feet, and no warm shelter. By the time they got to the Funchilin pass they were freezing to death.

The conditions outlined above provide the basis for the success of the breakout by the 1st Marine Division and its attached U.S. Army and British units. Story telling writers of the press and unit public relations officers can embellish their stories with as much hype as they wish, but the facts remain. To tell stories without mentioning the problems of the enemy leads to misinformation which rapidly turns into disinformation; the intentional avoidance of fact has all the colors of aggrandizement. Let's give the enemy soldier equal time, for he too was there.


Those doing serious research on the Chosin campaign should have Mao's Generals on their bookshelves, well worn because of more than one reading. Others with lighter interest should check it out from the library. If they don't have it, ask to get it through interlibrary loan; they'll be happy to oblige.

END CJ 11.27.03