RCT 31 Command Post (CP) at Untaek, North Korea

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 provide yet another point of view of the battle east of the Chosin reservoir, one which is especially valuable because it was written so soon after the experience. This memoir was written by Major Hugh Robbins while he was hospitalized in the Army Hospital at Osaka, Japan, following his medical evacuation from Hagaru-ri. At the time he entered the area east of the Chosin Reservoir he was adjutant (S-1) of the 31st Infantry Regiment. Additions to the original text are contained in brackets [ ]. Photographs by Master Sergeant William Donovan and Master Sergeant Ivan Long who were present in the battle east of Chosin. Maps by Melville Coolbaugh are extracts from The Chosin Chronology © George A. Rasula, 1992, 2004.


On 24 Nov 1950 the 31st Regimental Combat Team was in a defensive position east of the Fusen [Pujon] Reservoir and out of contact with enemy forces. [RCT CP was at the village of Untaek, North Korea.] The 7th Infantry Divisionís RCT 17 had the honor of being the first unit to reach the Yalu River on the Manchurian border, and without much difficulty. The weather had been an obstacle, however, with temperatures ranging to 10 below zero.

Orders came from 7th Division Headquarters to shift to the left in all zones of the X Corps. The 1st Marine Division on our left was to move its forces west of the Chosin Reservoir and be replaced by our division on the east shore. Col. Allan D. MacLean [RCT commander], following a hurried conference with Maj. Gen. [David] Barr, 7th Division commander, gave orders over the phone to move a quartering party of the regiment, less the 1st and 2d Battalions, to the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir immediately. On 25 November I had assembled the party and moved over the snow-covered trails (a road was a scarce luxury) to the south.

We halted for the night in Pukchong, site of the division rear command post. Col. MacLean met us and outlined the plan for the shift to the left. A gap was to be filled between the Eighth Army and the 1st Marine Division. The regiment was to relieve marine units of the Chosin Reservoir, then advance north to the Manchurian border. Initially we would have only our 3d Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. William Reilly, the 1st Battalion of the 32d Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Don Faith, and the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, less one battery, commanded by Lt. Col. [Ray] Embree. Division and Corps had other plans for the balance of the 31st RCT for the present.

The 1/32 had preceded us and was assembled in the vicinity of Hagaru-ri, a small village controlling the roads at the south end of the reservoir. Col. MacLean, with his S-2 [Major Carl Witte] and his S-3 [Lt. Col. Berry K. Anderson], preceded us to Hagaru to await the arrival of our quartering party and the 3d Battalion. Late in the afternoon of 26 November our quartering party passed through Hamhung, dropping off guides for the 3d Battalion following, and turned north toward Hagaru-ri. About 2130 hours we were halted on the road by a detachment of marines who controlled traffic through the steep and curving mountain pass ahead. We were able to talk by radio-telephone relay with our regimental commander already at Hagaru 30 miles away. Clearance was arranged for our little convoy and we moved north through the one-way section of the road, and to a point some six miles north of Hagaru where the CO had picked out a schoolhouse for our command post [Hudong-ni]. It was after midnight when we got into our sleeping bags on the
cold floor.

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Map 8-1a The Chosin Chronology
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5th Marines and 1/32 Inf. Positions east of Chosin. Keep in mind these positions when you later see Map 8-4a, the CCF attack routes against RCT 31 units on the night the last 5th Marines units withdrew and moved to Yudam-ni.

At 0800 hours on 27 November, the regimental commander, myself, Lt. [William] McNally, our commo officer, Major Witte [S-2] and Lt. Col. Anderson [S-3] drove north to the command post of the 1/32, a few miles away. There we had breakfast with Lt. Col. Faith and his staff. Col. MacLean was eager to get going as we heard that the marines [5th Marine Regiment] were pulling out that morning and would not wait for our troops to actually relieve them on the ground. No contact with the enemy had been reported in the area and all had been quiet. Our commanding officer was not anxious, but merely eager to get into our zone so a rapid move to the north could begin.

Along with Lt. Col. Faith we made a reconnaissance to the forward limit of the outposts vacated by the marines that morning, and saw nothing arouse suspicion of the vicious attacks that lay in wait. We did view bodies of Chinese soldiers who had been killed in front of a marine outpost a couple of nights before, but we felt they probably had been lost and wandered into the fire of the marines by mistake. The regimental commander directed that the 1/32 go into position that morning on the northeastern tip of the  reservoir; that I should establish a forward command post for the regiment about four miles south of the 1st Battalion; and that the 3/31 was to go into position about two miles south of the CP. We would then await the arrival of 2/31 before proceeding northward.

After sending Lt. McNally to bring forward our command group of about 35 men, I began laying out the command post in an area just off the road along the lake [reservoir]. There were about 15 refugees in the vicinity and I put them to work digging a site for an operations tent and also got them busy collecting equipment left behind by the departing marines. Many of the marines we had talked with the night before actually thought they were being relieved to go to Hamhung and thence back to the States! About 1400 hours, Lt. McNally came back leading our command post group. We set up our CP and got ready for business. The work was slow digging into the frozen ground and it was after dark before we were prepared to operate within the tents. The CO and the balance of the staff elected to remain at the schoolhouse [Hudong-ni] for the night; they would come up the following morning. Having checked the defenses of the area to my satisfaction with the security platoon leader, I crawled into my sack and settled down for a night's sleep.

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Map 8-4a The Chosin Chronology
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CCF attacks east of Chosin on night of 27-28 November, just hours after the 5th Marines withdrawal. Note the main avenues of attack were against positions formerly occupied by the Marines, with one significant thrust around Hill 1456 to take Hill 1221, the anvil that provided the basis for destruction of the vehicle column carrying the wounded.

At about 0100 hours 28 November I was awakened by Lt. McNally shaking me and telling me to get dressed quickly and rouse the others. He also said the colonel had come up to our area. Grumbling that such a move was not at all to my liking and that it was probably not very important, I slowly pulled on my stiff and frozen clothes. Lt. McNally then told me the 1st and 3d battalions had received probing attacks earlier in the evening by Chinese troops, and the attacks were being stepped up as each hour wore on.

The colonel had come forward from the schoolhouse [at Hudong-ni] and had gone to the 1st Battalion. I roused the others still sleeping and put everyone on guard in foxholes for the remainder of the early morning. Reports of enemy attacks began to come in with increasing tempo from both battalions and also from the [57th] Field Artillery Battalion. These attacks were becoming more aggressive and in considerable force. Our own CP,
however, in its exposed and poorly protected area, went without detection by the Chinese. The enemy, "who wasn't there" in earlier reports, was very much there and giving our units the fight of their lives.

Col. MacLean came back from the 1st Battalion CP about dawn and reported things were pretty much under control and all units of the battalion were holding. The 57th Field Artillery reported about then that Able Battery was being over-run and that having fired all ammunition they were abandoning their guns. Their CP was also under considerable fire and partially surrounded. From our position we could hear the battles as they ranged from the north and south of us. The firing to the north had died down but Lt. Col. Reilly [3/31 Inf.] and Lt. Col. Embree [57FA Bn.] were still engaged in a continuing battle, sounds that gave no indication of a letup. The 3d Battalion reported its command post was under heavy and close-range attack. In quick succession reports came in that Reilly and Embree had both become casualties, though not killed.

Weapons Platoon L3/31. "We had pulled one of the 60 mortars out of its position because it was in enemy cross-fire. The wounded man is SFC Adams being carried by the medics. The man on the right is runner CPL Schmitt." - MSG Wm. Donovan

It was not until a few hours after daylight when the Chinese withdrew to the hills surrounding the 3d Battalion area that a view of the situation was possible. A check revealed that King Company had been routed and had lost heavily, including two fine officers. The other companies had taken heavy casualties but had not been cut off. After recapturing its howitzers, the 57th FA Battalion hastily regrouped and moved to the perimeter of the 3d Battalion. The fact that the enemy did not destroy those guns was a stroke of luck. The situation was grim indeed as the two battalions had suffered heavy casualties, including their commanders. The road south was blocked by the Chinese. From their position they determined the roadblock had been established between our position to the north and them; they were neatly blocked in. The 1st Battalion fared slightly better, not having suffered as many casualties, but was cut off on all sides in the same manner.

Our CP was immediately ordered to break camp and proceed with all haste to the north and join the protective perimeter of Lt. Col. Faith's battalion. We closed into the new area about 1500 hours 28 Nov. I reported to Lt. Col. Faith that we had 10 vehicles and about 35 men and would put them at his disposal. We could not very well operate as a regimental CP in a normal manner as every man was needed to man a weapon. Our command group would then consist of the regimental commander, myself as adjutant, Lt. McNally as the communications officer, and our radio crew. My sergeant major and his clerks along with the handful of security platoon men were sent out to one of the
companies of the 1st Battalion. The battalion command post was located in a mud farmhouse situated in a small valley surrounded by high hills occupied by the troops of the companies. The occasional crack of small arms fire and the answering sputter of our own machine guns and the deep chug of our mortars could be heard. We stood by and made plans for the coming night. Marine aircraft were strafing and bombing the Chinese just over the hill to our front. The air attacks kept up until dark, after which it was up to us. Daylight would again bring us the much-needed air support.

Wounded Chinese soldier. "First morning of the attack. The Chinese soldier had reached the edge of our position and wounded SFC Adams (Photo D-03). Our medics bandaged him. The man squatting is a ROK from my platoon who could speak Chinese. The prisoner talked freely. Unable to walk, we left him." - MSG Wm. Donovan

During the past 24 hours we had eaten on the run, just cold C rations. That evening the Heavy Weapons Company [D1/32] kitchen was in full swing and despite the nearness of enemy fire produced a hot meal we enjoyed to the utmost. Then we settled down to await developments of the night. As usual, the Chinese began probing patrol actions about midnight and we knew that night would be no exception. We also reasoned that the Chinese, having failed to dislodge the outfit the previous night, would double their efforts to destroy us. The 1st Battalion S-4, Capt. Bodray, came in to report a critical shortage of ammunition of all types was beginning to show up and resupply would have to be effected the next day by airdrop.

We hugged the small gasoline stove in the battalion CP and waited. Col. MacLean and Lt. Col. Faith retired to a small side room and tried to snatch a few winks of sleep, while the officers and a few of the men around the CP nodded and exchanged small talk. About 2000 hours Lt. Col. Faith came back into the room and began calling his company commanders, and was assured that no activity was stirring along our front. A few minutes later we learned the remaining communication with our supporting artillery had gone out, leaving us without their much- needed support. That blow was greeted by silence from the colonel as he realized he would now be without help from a good defensive weapon.

Probing attacks began shortly before midnight. Col. MacLean joined us in the small room to listen to the reports from the companies by phone and radio. The battalion commander must have been on edge as he ordered several of us to leave the room and aid in the close-in defense of the CP. We went out and took up positions in the shadows of the building and contemplated what would happen next. Firing increased in the company areas around us along with the crack of incoming small arms fire over our heads. One of our own heavy mortars dropped a short round about 50 yards to our left and shook the building thoroughly. We later found out the same round knocked out one of our machine guns. Such things happen and nothing was said.

About 0100 hours 29 November enemy attacks had increased: the full force was now being felt by the entire battalion. All companies were getting savage assaults from the Chinese who were attacking regardless of losses. All weapons of the battalion were apparently firing as fast as they could be operated from the din going on about us. Mortars were throwing out their rounds as fast as they could; machine guns kept up their incessant bursts.

Shadowy figures kept coming and going around the entrance of the CP as wounded were helped or carried into the relative safety of the area. Company runners made their way in and out of the building. A ghostly light pervaded the whole scene as a light snow began to fall. A faint moon tried vainly to shine. Flashes of fire from the bursting shells and flares lighted the area and added to the weird effect. There wasn't much I could do except stand in place and strain my eyes against the eerie scene before me, half expecting, I guess, some Chinese soldier to loom into view any minute. In a little while the firing seemed to die down to more sporadic bursts at different places about the perimeter. Lt. McNally had been called back into the CP but soon returned to my position. He told me in a hurried voice that the colonel [MacLean] had ordered the battalion to withdraw to the perimeter of the 3d Battalion with which we had no communication. I recall glancing at my watch; the time was 0200 hours.

Our orders were to unload the trucks of cargo and load the wounded in preparation for the move. With some reluctance I realized that our CP truck of the regiment would be no exception and that all of our field desks and contents would have to be abandoned. There were to be no fires. The move was to be under cover of complete blackout. That eliminated the possibility of destroying abandoned equipment by fire. Headquarters personnel and medics were busy moving wounded to the trucks. The snow was now coming down in earnest and the footing had become extremely slippery. Drivers of the
vehicles began the task of starting frozen engines, then driving the trucks out on the road. Since our own jeep driver was busy defending a part of the perimeter, I tackled the job of getting our jeep going. With the assistance of another soldier I managed to crank the engine to life. Lt. McNally came out of the CP and joined me as I wheeled into the column ready to move out.


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Map 8-6 The Chosin Chronology
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Withdrawal of 1/32 to the Inlet. Note the dotted line crossing the Inlet; this is the area where Col. MacLean crossed the ice and was wounded and captured by the Chinese.

Columns of troops formed on each side of the vehicles and moved to the front. All preparations had been completed by about 0430 hours and the column began to crawl forward. Many vehicles that could not be started had to be left behind, but none of the wounded were without transport. That was the important task at the moment. It was strangely quiet behind as we moved down the road towards the 3d Battalion. Our rear guard reported later the Chinese seemed content to allow us to withdraw without any extreme effort on their part to follow closely. Actually this must have been true. I believe the enemy spent time looting the area we had evacuated before organizing for an effective pursuit. Their need for supplies was as acute as ours. About daylight we had progressed to the vicinity of the former regimental CP site before the column was halted.

I walked forward along the vehicles and soon came abreast of Col. MacLean's jeep with only his driver. A few yards beyond was a bend in the road which shut out the view. I was informed the colonel was on the road making a reconnaissance of a reported roadblock that had caused the halt. A small straggling group came from the direction of the bend and told us a company of our troops was encircling the roadblock. No one seemed to know exactly where the colonel was, but I suspected at the time he was with the company going after the roadblock. That suspicion was proved wrong as I shall relate later; he was ahead of the company! As we waited for the go-ahead signal someone came down the line of vehicles yelling that vehicles were to get off the road and disperse in an open area on our left. We promptly drove into the area and dismounted. When some 60 vehicles were so placed, personnel were instructed to take up a defensive position in case the Chinese caught up with us again or tried to come in on our left flank before we could resume our road march. We waited for what seemed hours and were getting more concerned by the minute, as we knew the Chinese behind us would not fool around all day going through the abandoned area we had occupied, and would soon be hot-footing down the road toward us.

Soon a small squad of Chinese did just that and were as surprised as we were. They had come trotting around a bend in the road not 20 feet from the nearest vehicle. In a moment of firing was going on all directions. The enemy must have thought they had run into an ambush and took to their heels. Lt. McNally and I had taken cover beside a mud house and for a few minutes I thought that a sizable force had begun an attack on our position. Then someone began and others repeated the call to cease fire, and all became quiet. Order was restored.

I made my way up the road again toward the location of the roadblock and once more came upon the colonel's jeep. This time his bodyguard and radio operator, who rarely ever left the colonel's side, were looking concerned and talking excitedly. I was told the colonel had not gone with the enveloping company toward the flank of the roadblock, but had gone boldly down the road directly toward the obstacle and had not returned. It might be explained at this time that about a mile separated our halted motor column and foot elements of the 1st Battalion from the site of the roadblock; and just in front of the roadblock was a hundred-foot-long concrete bridge over the frozen inlet of the reservoir. A scant 200 yards beyond the bridge was the encircled 3d Battalion, our goal. I moved cautiously to the bend where I had view of the bridge. With field glasses I could make out troops along the bridge supports firing at some target on the opposite side of the bridge.

About this time Lt. Col. Faith came striding up with the news that his company had cleared the roadblock. The men I observed were our own troops holding the bridge and would cover our dash over and to the safety of the 3d Battalion area. That was the plan. Start up the vehicles again, get them on the road and send them one at a time over the bridge which was still under fire from the surrounding hills, though it was held by our troops. With the Chinese at our backs there was no hesitation in anyone's mind. Drivers floor-boarded their accelerators as we ran the gauntlet. Although some of the vehicles got hit, no casualties were reported. We regrouped on the far side of the bridge. I felt quite lucky as we pulled to the halt, and after inspecting our jeep found not a single hole.

Leaving the jeep parked in the new area I set out for the 3d Battalion CP where I found Lt. Col. Reilly propped on a stretcher with a bullet hole through his leg and grenade splinters lightly sprinkled in his arms and shoulder. He was in good spirits and chatted with me about the situation in general. Lt. Col. Faith came in at this time and went into immediate conference with Reilly as they laid plans to consolidate the two infantry battalions and the field artillery battalion.

Dead Chinese soldiers. "Dead Chinese soldiers shot by Retherford and Donovan inside the perimeter near the 3/31 command post." - MSG Wm. Donovan

I cornered Capt. [Robert] McClay, 3d Battalion adjutant, and got from him the story of the hammering and slashing they had taken from the enemy the night before. One had only to look about as he told the story to confirm everything he said. Dead and wounded GIs lay in and around the Korean mud house that served as a CP, and just a few yards beyond I counted 20 dead Chinese in their now familiar quilted jackets and tennis shoes. In fact, they were strewn throughout the area giving evidence of their penetration into the foxholes of the beleaguered battalion and its command post. How the Chinese were finally pushed back as dawn came, and how those soldiers of the 3d Battalion kept firing until the Chinese retired to the protection of the hills, will be a tribute to that unit forever. Capt. McClay said simply there was nothing else to do and no place to go, so they just stayed in their holes and shot Chinese until the fanatical enemy had enough and  withdrew.

Casualties in the battalion ran high, especially among the officers. Dropping by another mud hut that served as a hospital, I found Capt. [Melville E.] Adams, S-4 of the 3d Battalion, dying of wounds as was Lt. [Paul N.] Dill [M3/31], a fine officer. Capt. Wamble of the 31st Medical Company was also in a bad way with bullet wounds through his lungs; he could hardly speak above a whisper as I chatted with him briefly. We had been good friends back in Japan and I was shocked to see Henry in such a state. He was pessimistic about our chances of getting out and showed me his .45 pistol which he dragged out from under the blanket. He told me that he would shoot himself rather than let the Chinese capture him. That was the last time I saw Henry, and though he was placed on a truck when we finally left the area, he was never reported to have made it to Hagaru-ri. How he fared we will probably never know.

When I returned to the area where Lt. Col. Faith had established his CP, I learned that Col. MacLean had been captured a short while before. It was reported he had mistaken a group of Chinese for GIs, and upon running towards the group he was fired on and wounded. He struggled to his feet, the report went on, and again started toward the group and was shot down once more. This time men in the group who were identified as Chinese dragged the colonel off with them as they withdrew. This action had taken place in the vicinity of the roadblock. The colonel was never seen again and is listed as

As the afternoon [29 November] wore on we set about digging foxholes and establishing the 1st Battalion into the defenses of the other units already there [3/31 and 57FA]. I took over Col. MacLean's jeep and crew. Together we dug into the side of a small embankment, with an overhead cover of logs. This would give us partial protection from any direct hits by mortar shells or artillery bursts overhead. Leaving the men to lay out sleeping bags inside our new home, I went to search for Lt. Col. Faith and his executive officer. He had taken over after viewing the condition of the other two battalion commanders. I was appointed the "task force S-4." I set about organizing the collection of supplies in the area so that equal distribution could be made. About 1530 hours my supplies were built up by an airdrop. Two C-119 Flying Boxcars were overhead and after two trial passes spouted their cargo of colored parachutes with much-needed ammunition and rations. One of the chutes failed to open and the heavy cargo came down like a stone. Before we could get off a warning it hit among a group of ROK soldiers about 20 feet from me, killing one of them immediately. After that, when an airdrop was pending, loud yells of warning kept everyone alert for falling cargo.

About an hour after the airdrop two helicopters in the vicinity were contacted and directed to land within our perimeter. They evacuated a few of the more seriously wounded to Hagaru-ri that afternoon, but darkness prevented them from making but two trips out and back. The next day when our forward air controller (FAC) contacted them, we learned that other units in similar trouble had priority over us.

"Inside the Inlet perimeter. In center of the picture are three helicopters that landed to pick up wounded, landing about 400 yards west of the bridge/causeway. To the left is a 40mm M-19 track of D/15th AAA. In the center foreground is mortar position of L3/31. Man in the photo by the hole is squad leader SGT Luther Crump." - MSG Wm. Donovan

With a strengthened defense we stood our watches that night and set ourselves for attacks we knew would come about midnight. About 2300 hours our artillery began to fire and the cough of our mortars started up. Next the machine guns on the perimeter took up the chatter and were joined by the firing of our M-1 rifles. The crack of rifle and machine gun bullets coming in overhead told us the Chinese were coming from the hills to the south and into the defense of the newly arrived 1st Battalion. The Chinese wanted to try them out.  The reception was too hot and in about an hour the Chinese gave up trying. With a lot of bugle blowing they returned to the hills. All became quiet again. And so it went for the rest of the night and early morning with only occasional firing of our mortars on suspected enemy positions and infrequent fire from our outposts. This was surprising as we had expected the enemy to double his efforts that night.

Daylight came slowly on 30 November with ground fog persisting until after 0800 hours. About 1000 hours the skies cleared and another air- drop came in, bringing more precious supplies. We were still short of ammunition and appealed over the radio to the aircraft for more. Gen. [David] Barr, our division commander, paid us a surprise visit that morning and promised to do all he could to get us better supplied by air. He was quite worried, as I had never seen him before, and for good cause. His information was that a tank-led task force had been trying for two days to reach our surrounded garrison and had been severely mauled and turned back. We then realized the full gravity of our situation. Lt. Col. Faith decided that he would prepare to fight our way out of the trap, but wanted to get better supplied with ammunition before making the effort.

That night we went into our holes and waited for the Chinese. They didn't disappoint us. About 2000 hours they began to lob 120mm mortars and light artillery into our perimeter. We could hear the dull boom of guns followed by the swishing of projectiles singing through the air all about our emplacements. Our 105mm artillery began retaliation but their fire went unobserved and probably did the enemy batteries little damage. The Chinese fire was in preparation for an assault by foot troops and kept up for about 45 minutes. Luckily none landed close to our hole to cause more than an occasional shower of dirt. We could hear the smack of steel when fragments hit an exposed vehicle, and that was often. Some of the men weren't as lucky, as I could hear calls for a medic from several directions.

"Bodies of soldiers from 3/31 killed inside the perimeter. Most are from Company L and Battalion Headquarters Company. Burial was not possible because of frozen ground." - MSG Wm. Donovan

The aid station the 3d Battalion had set up that afternoon was directly behind our hole and had the misfortune of receiving two near hits by incoming mortars which wounded some of the medics and those already wounded.  The heavy stuff lifted and the enemy gunners began to step up their pace. The Chinese who had been creeping nearer and nearer all this time began to pour in with their burp guns and rifle fire. The snow outside our hole spurted every now and then as a slug plowed into the dirt. The air over my
head was alive with the buzz and crack of incoming bullets. We could hear the yells of our own troops mingled with those of the Chinese as the outer defenses clashed.

Our troops withheld fire until the enemy was well within range, then cut loose with everything they had. Attacks were being made on all sides. There was business for everybody.

All night waves of Chinese soldiers attacked our lines and were held off. Our machine guns were taking a terrible toll and our artillery, having lowered their guns to fire point-blank at the screaming hordes, hacked huge holes in their ranks. Very few Chinese infiltrated past the outer perimeter and those who did were killed before they could do much damage.

There was one sniper who proved troublesome all during the early morning hours by firing past our foxhole into the dirt beyond. Evidently he was causing others trouble also, as a patrol was formed and came by our hole with the mission of locating and eliminating the sniper. He could not have been more than 20 yards behind us but was so well hidden in the murky darkness that they could not find him. He kept up his firing off and on until well after daylight, then his fire suddenly ceased. Someone got him or he took off. Anyway, it became safer to come out of our holes. Although the Chinese withdrew from the edge of the perimeter, they still kept up a harassing fire and casualties among our men continued. The morning of 1 December at about 0900 hours I crawled out to our jeep and dug up a can of frozen beans. Others found the same fare and we went back to our hole and built a small fire but it wasn't enough. We ate the rations anyway. Nothing so delicious as ice crystals in your beans! That was all we had so there wasn't much bitching about the chow. No one volunteered to scout for more wood to build another fire so the topic of food came to a rapid close.

"Inside the perimeter. A small Chinese attack was moving in from the hill to the right and rear of the bridge. The M-16 Quad-50 machine guns are firing into the attacking Chinese." MSG Wm. Donovan

The low-hanging clouds still persisted and we began to sweat for fear that our daily fighter cover and expected airdrop would not come. Our position on the ground was obscured by the clouds. About 1100 hours, however, the sun broke through and our fighters came in to begin one of the prettiest shows I have ever seen. They dived and dived again, covering the surrounding hills with deadly rocket and machine gun fire. They dropped oblong containers of napalm that sent up terrible pillars of flame. The Chinese dreaded napalm and cleared out when it hit nearby. Lt. Col Faith came over to our hole and in a few quick sentences told me the time had come to get out of there. He told me we must get the trucks warmed up and the wounded loaded. At last we were going to try to break out of the ring of Chinese. Waiting for airdrops was futile. We set about rounding up drivers and getting the troops organized for the fight. It was within 10 minutes of my talk with Lt. Col. Faith when I was taken out of the play.

I was making my way to the 57th FA Battalion CP when an explosion knocked me sideways and down to the ground. Stunned for a moment, I did not realize that a mortar round had landed no more than three feet from me and shrapnel had hit me in the arm and leg.

Lt. McNally also became a casualty from the same burst. I looked at my
carbine which had been blown from my hand and discovered it was useless. The force of the explosion or some fragments had exploded several rounds in the clip and the slide mechanism would not work. Sgt. [John] Lynch, my sergeant major, reached me in a couple of  minutes and helped me to a slit trench nearby. He rolled up my pants, bandaged the gash in my leg and bound my arm. It wasn't bad as I could hobble around. Lynch led me to a truck and put me aboard, telling me to stay put. Other wounded were placed on the truck as preparations to leave were stepped up. I lay face down in the left front of the truck bed and watched what was going on through the slatted sides of the vehicle. Artillery gunners were dropping phosphorous grenades down the muzzles of their guns. Jeep drivers were jabbing bayonets into the tires of their abandoned vehicles and setting fire to them. Remaining records and documents that could not be risked to capture were set afire and supplies were soaked in gasoline and burned. The Chinese were well alerted to our plans and had begun to throw in more mortar fire and became bolder with their rifle fire. At last our trucks were loaded and our troops deployed beside the truck column. At a signal we moved out. Marine and Navy aircraft dove into the wall of enemy ahead and blasted with all they had. Ahead of our truck was a tracked vehicle mounting a 40mm gun, but short on ammunition. Also ahead of our truck was a jeep with a .30 caliber machine gun mounted on the front. This was our spearhead. Our troops on either side of the road moved forward but were dropping from the withering fire laid down by the Chinese as we moved forward.

Then came one of the most horrible sights I ever hope to witness. A Marine Corsair diving toward the enemy line just ahead of our troops dropped a tank of napalm that slammed into our front line of advancing GIs. A wall of flame and heat rushed out in all directions, enveloping about 15 of our soldiers in its deadly blanket. The heat and flash caused me to duck momentarily. Looking back up I could see the terrible sight of men ablaze from head to foot, staggering back or rolling on the ground screaming for someone to help them. This, coupled with the steady whack of enemy bullets into our ranks, stopped the advance. I am quite sure I recognized the helpless and blazing figure of Sgt. Dave Smith, my assistant sergeant major and one of the finest men I have every known. He wasn't more than 10 yards off the side of the road and I was powerless to do anything for him. I had to turn my head. Officers and NCOs, through superhuman effort, rallied their men and soon our line of GIs began to move forward again, filling the blackened gap that had been blasted open minutes earlier. Our truck began to move forward once more and I breathed a prayer of thanks, the first of many prayers that day. At least we were through the first ring of Chinese who had surrounded our group two days before. They were still in the hills on our left and hidden in the brush along the road, laying down a hail of lead into our troops and trucks.

"Last photo inside the perimeter. Donovan had gone back to make sure all equipment in his mortar position had been destroyed, setting this jeep on fire." - MSG Wm. Donovan

My leg began to throb and I had to keep shifting to keep a more severely wounded man from rolling on me. He was unaware of the whole ruckus and kept trying to raise up, especially when a bullet smacked into the truck. I quieted him the best I could by telling him we were going to get out, although I had my doubts. The other wounded on the truck just lay quietly and stared into nothing. Most of them had been wounded before that day and were on litters. None of them able to walk at all. As we moved forward in jerks and halts, a few frightened ROK soldiers tried to climb into the truck but were pulled off by GIs beside our vehicle. From my peephole I could see dead Chinese and American soldiers lying in little sprawling heaps on the side of the road, their blood forming pools from which steam rose into the freezing air. I remember looking at this and realizing the fight those Gis were making. Soldiers passing our truck called out encouragement and grinned as they went forward to fight more Chinese or fall themselves. The enemy was giving way now and our men sensed it, following them more closely and with greater courage.

About three miles down the road we came to a bridge which had been destroyed. Our motor column turned off the road into a wide riverbed to bypass the obstacle. Great mounds of frozen earth covered with a tough grass carpeted the riverbed. For about 100 yards we bounced and crashed up and down over those hummocks with the wounded screaming in anguish as they were jostled and slammed into one another. Luckily I still had on my steel helmet and thus was able to protect my head, although I had a bruised head for days afterward. We came to a final jolting crash and stopped. Our front wheels were down through a crust of ice in a small creek and no amount of effort on the part of our driver could move the truck forward or backward. To top it off the engine went dead and the driver departed as enemy fire began to crackle around our stalled truck. Other vehicles began to come abreast of us and with more caution were able to ford the creek. Again I began to sweat. Was this going to be the end of the road?

After what seemed to be hours (actually a short time) a tracked vehicle backed up to our truck, hooked on a tow rope and pulled us through the creek to firm ground. Our driver returned and once more we moved slowly forward. We reached the road and after a halt to allow other vehicles to cross the difficult bypass, we got under way. The hills were now on the right side of the road and on our left the ground fell sharply away to form a valley paralleling our course to the south. Heavy small arms fire was coming down at the column from the high ground on our right and the continual smack of slugs against the truck was unnerving to me, as I expected any minute to be hit by the next one. A heavy-set Korean soldier was lying next to me and once when I turned to look his way I saw his jacket sleeve jerk as a slug passed through. He just grunted and rolled his eyes. It had not hit his arm and had missed me by inches. Again our truck stopped. This time the word came back that another roadblock was holding up the column.

"On the way out on 1 December. The soldiers are from M3/31, part of the rear guard. The two men lying in the foreground are dead. The road is just over the bank (below) to the left. The trucks at this time are about 100 yards behind me. A Chinese foot column is less than 100 yards to the rear of the men pulling out. Heavy fire is coming from the hill in the background. Time was about 1530 hours." - MSG Wm. Donovan

To our left I could see ragged lines of Chinese troops forming in the valley below, even though our covering aircraft dived on them time and again. The Chinese were too far away for any effective rifle fire, but seeing them reforming for new attacks was no comfort. On our right the enemy were in the commanding spots on the ridges and were having a field day firing into our truck column and its escorting guard. Wounded men in the trucks were getting additional wounds and set up a mournful racket for someone to help them. Nothing could be done for them. Officers began forming groups to flank the roadblock ahead and also to clear the Chinese-held hillside overlooking our column. The men were reluctant to get going when they saw men on all sides of them being shot down by Chinese fire. At first a few began to inch their way up the steep hill that began abruptly at the roadside, then others joined. This action had a snowballing effect and a platoon soon took the top of the ridge and then went over the other side. This at least cleared part of the ridge, but fire was still coming from the roadblock and the ridges to
the right front.

Dozens of soldiers huddled and crouched around the trucks seeking protection and not heeding the call of their officers to charge over the hill to support the initial group of GIs. The dull boom of enemy mortars began a new tale. Out to our left the bursts began creeping closer to our column. Included in this fire were deadly and much- feared white phosphorous shells which can burn the flesh right off one's bones in seconds. About this time a wild-eyed ROK soldier jumped into the truck and flung himself on top of the wounded causing them to yell with new pain. He wasn't wounded, just out of his head, I guess. But he wasn't so far out of his head that he failed to recognize what I wanted of him when I picked up my carbine and shoved the barrel in his face, yelling at him to get the hell out of the truck. I was so mad at the s.o.b. for jumping in like that I would have gladly blown his head off. He got out pronto and lost himself in the crowd of others milling in the area.

As mortar fire continued to come closer I made up my mind, despite my aching leg, to get out somehow. We had been stalled too long and it was growing darker by the minute. No progress had been made in reducing the roadblock and the Chinese were still pouring deadly fire from positions forward and above us. I pulled myself out between the other wounded and dropped to the ground behind the truck. I had the carbine with a full clip of ammunition ready to shoot.

Lt. [Charles] Curtis [I3/31] hailed me and came up to join me in the ditch for a quick conference. We decided there was only one thing to do Ė go over the hill as had the others, even though it meant taking a chance of getting hit. To stay would lead to capture or eventually getting shot in the truck. A decision was quickly reached to get going over the hill. Rallying about 20 other men to go with us, we jumped up and scrambled up the hill firing as we went. We couldn't see the Chinese but we knew where they were and could feel their fire coming in and around us. My carbine fired two times, then failed to function. I threw it down, picked up another from a dead GI, and kept going until we reached the top and safety on the other side. We headed back toward the road on the far side [beyond] the enemy held roadblock.

Map_8-8a_color.gif (113688 bytes)
Map 8-8a the Chosin Chronology
Click on the map for a full-screen image; use your Back button to return to this text.
Breakout east of Chosin. The final killing ground was between Hill 1329 (just north of Hudong-ni) and the road, the hill having been occupied since the night of 27 November. The Chinese never did launch a major attack against the Hudong-ni perimeter, probably because of the presence of the 31st Tank Company. After the Tank Company and others were withdrawn to Hagaru-ri on 30 November, the Chinese obviously adjusted their strength against the units attempting the breakout from the north.

As we arrived at the road it had grown dark. We could see the burned-out hulks of American tanks. This had been the limit of advance of the task force [31st Tank Company] that tried in vain to relieve our surrounded force the day before [two days before, 29 November]. We came upon Capt. [Earl H.] Jordan, M Company [3/31] commander, who was organizing a group to knock out the roadblock from the rear. Once getting his band together, he set off and was soon banging away in a firefight. It was quite dark by then but we could see the flashes of gunfire. The group of 20 swelled to about 50 on the road and they sat around or milled about trying to decide the next move. There was no organization left. Men of all units were mixed up at this stage. Again Lt. Curtis and I came to our decision as to what to do. We were going on to Hagaru-ri where the marines were holding, or where we thought they were holding. What lay between, we could only guess. Maj. [Robert E.] Jones of the 32d Infantry [1/32] and Capt. [Ted] Goss from the 57th FA Battalion [B/57FA] came up about this time and joined us with a few men they had led out. We formed two long lines of soldiers on each side of the road and moved out quietly to the south. As we moved along the group swelled in size until there must have been a hundred or more.

Crossing another bridge that had been severely damaged, we ran into an enemy outpost which immediately opened fire. Our troops dove off the road but kept going forward. I was near the tail of the column, having dropped back as my leg began to stiffen and slow me down. I had become separated from Lt. Curtis by that time, but Capt. Goss stayed with me, which I appreciated. Being left behind was no rosy prospect. When the group hit the sides of the road after being fired on they broke into two units, one going down a narrow-gauge railroad paralleling the dirt road, the other cutting sharply to the right and hugging the frozen lakeshore [reservoir] path. I was with the latter group. We were about 30 in number and actually had a better chance to move undetected through the Chinese positions. We passed through a small logging village [Sasu-ri] expecting any minute to be ambushed, but got to the other side without incident. Another few miles and we began to feel safer. This was short-lived for we got another sharp challenge in Chinese as we approached a bend in the path. We silently ducked to the right once more and kept going. A few yards further we arrived at the ice of the reservoir and moved across an inlet. After we moved about 800 yards a string of .50 caliber tracers licked out after us. The Chinese were poor shots in the darkness and no one was hit, though a few rounds came uncomfortably close.

Walk of the Long shadows. Men crossing the ice of the reservoir, many footprints, a low sun causing long shadows, sun about to set. This same photo appears on the dust cover of Roy Appleman's book EAST OF CHOSIN. - Photo by MSG Ivan Long (the late LTC Ivan Long, USAR).

About 2230 hours we could see flashes of machine gun and artillery fire in the distance. This was, in our estimation, the site of the marines at Hagaru. Our big concern was that the Chinese would have the town cut off from the north, the direction from which we were approaching. We had no information on the marines' situation prior to our breakout and it was anybody's guess as to the real picture up ahead.

We held a council of war and decided that we would risk it and move forward and take our chances. Staying overnight in the hills would invite freezing and perhaps capture, so moving ahead seemed the best bet. With caution and with greater intervals between men, we approached the flashes of fire, noise we could hear loud and clear. About a hundred yards along the route we were startled by a loud but unmistakable American "Halt!" Boy, that was the best word I had ever heard in my life. The marines challenged us, then led us into their lines. We were safe at last and could let down a little. They had been prepared for us as the aircraft overhead had alerted them we would be coming out during the night. Hot food and medical attention followed, then a place to sleep for the rest of the night. As I drifted off to sleep that night I could say my prayers with full assurance that I had a lot of assistance from the good Lord that day.

Although Hugh Robbins has been cited as a source by historians Roy Appleman and others, we believe it important that readers interested in Chosin see his complete manuscript. It reflects the mind's eye of one person who experienced Chosin and survived to tell his story, similar to those of Herb Bryant (CJ10.30.00) and Ted Magill (CJ12.15.02). It's also important to understand the relationship between Robbins' experience and previous journals (CJ11.27.03 on Mao's Generals) which provided limited insight into the Chinese side. RCT 31 units confronted a large Chinese force that had launched its main effort down the east side of the reservoir. Not only was the enemy delayed in the mission of taking Hagaru-ri, the tenacity of the Army unitsí do-or-die defensive action for five nights and four days debilitated more than two CCF divisions to the point where they were lost from further participation in the Chosin campaign. In the west, the Chinese were no longer  capable of cutting off Marine regiments that launched their own breakout from Yudam-ni at the same time RCT 31 units were being destroyed at the east-side anvil - Hill 1221. From then on it was downhill for the Chinese as their logistics system became a dribble while most of their soldiers were "captured" by Father Winter.

END CJ 02.28.04