Click on the map for a larger image.  This type of map emphasizing the mountains of North Korea should have been used by the G-3 in Tokyo because it reveals far more accurately the problems that would be faced by the X Corps in any planned attack to the west of the Chosin Reservoir.  Gen. Smith was understandably concerned about his left flank.  Planners at all levels failed to recognize that terrain and weather were far more important factors when making decisions at this time of year.  Roy Appleman believed that good military history cannot be written without a clear knowledge of the terrain involved in action.


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 continue the 2006 series of the Changjin Journal addressing the Chosin Campaign from the viewpoint of Maj. Gen. O.P. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division. We use his Aide-Memoire as a basis, providing the reader with copies of his memoire within which we will offer comments from various sources that relate to the topic at hand. In the last issue (CJ 03.25.07) we covered the logistic problems of his division, problems that would soon become more pronounced as the means of re-supply were severed by enemy action. In this issue we are exposed to the concern Gen. Smith has over his present situation, presenting his views to visiting Admiral Morehouse and in a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Sections () and page numbers [] will be included for reference purposes. Bold typeface will be used for emphasis, with editor's comments in [brackets]. Readers are reminded that these documents were not written at the time of the action, but finalized after Gen. Smith left Korea. His primary sources were unit reports and briefings by commanders and staff, and his own personal diary. However, they do reflect his view of what happened, as well as how he wished them to be remembered.

OPS 603-610
(232) Visit of Admiral Morehouse to the Division
On 15 November, Rear Admiral [Albert K.] Morehouse, Chief of Staff to Admiral Joy, visited me at the CP at Hungnam. For the information of Admiral Joy, I thoroughly briefed Admiral Morehouse on our situation. Since I felt that I was talking "in the family" I told him frankly my concern over the lack of realism in the plans of the Corps and the tendency of the Corps to ignore the enemy capabilities when a rapid advance was desired. I found in my dealings with the Army, particularly with the X Corps, that the mood was either one of extreme optimism or of extreme pessimism. There did not seem to be any middle ground. I have reason to believe that my concern was imparted to Admiral Joy and that he took preliminary steps to insure the rapid assembly of shipping at Hungnam, where it was to be sorely needed some two weeks later.
[As one can readily see here, the general appears to be writing from a position of hindsight (assembly of shipping) and not on the situation that existed at the time he spoke with the admiral.- GAR]

(233) Summary of Situation as of 15 November contained in Letter to Commandant of the Marine Corps
The following letter of 15 November, written by the Division Commander and addressed to General C.B. Cates, Commandant of the Marine Corps, summarized the situation of the 1st Marine Division as of that date:

Dear General:
I do not know how much information you get from official dispatches of our activities here. If you depend on ComNavFE's summary, which is sent to CNO for information, you get very little. This summary covers mainly the movement of ships. I do not know what is included in the CinCFE's [Commander in Chief, Far East/MacArthur] dispatches of the Army. Possibly they are more complete.

We are fighting two types of enemy here. To the southwest, west and northwest of Wonsan we are fighting by-passed remnants of the North Korean Army which are making their way north. There are several thousand of these. There has been time for them to get some semblance of organization. They are armed with rifles, sub-machine guns, heavy machine guns, mortars, and on occasions have produced anti-tank guns.

We have had several vicious contacts with the better organized elements of this force, which totals between 3,000 and 5,000 men. They move through the mountains and periodically cut in on our supply routes, probably for food. We have been spread so thin that it has been impossible to assemble sufficient force to go out and corner these people. Since October 27 we have had serious contacts with this force by 1/1 at Kojo, southeast of Wonsan; by 3/1 at Majon-ni, west of Wonsan; by 2/1 halfway between Wonsan and Majon-ni; and by 1/5 northwest of Chigyong, 48 air miles north of Wonsan.

There have also been attacks on trains on which we had guards and on truck convoys. In protecting installations and the MSR we have used all types of units: Shore Party, Amphtracs, Tanks, and Artillery, as well as infantry. The Shore Party and Amphtracs have had the responsibility of protecting the Wonsan Airfield. The Amphtracs have also furnished train guards. For a while I billeted the Tank Battalion at Munchon and made it responsible for patrolling the area. They did very good work as infantry. Because of the character of the roads and bridges this is not tank country, and it is difficult to use the tanks in their normal role.

With considerable engineer assistance in building by-passes we have moved two of the tank companies north, up the main road to Hamhung. One is now guarding the airfield at Yonpo, south of Hungnam. The other I will push up the road north of Hamhung to assist in guarding the MSR leading to Litzenberg, who is 40 miles north of Hamhung. The port of Hungnam is now open and I will bring the remainder of the tanks from Wonsan to this area.

The Artillery, not attached to regiments, was used initially to protect a portion of the MSR south of Munchon. They operated as infantry and did a very creditable job. The Artillery, less that attached to Puller, is now north of here (Hungnam, our CP): one battalion of 105s with Litzenberg at the Chosin Reservoir, one battalion of 105s with Murray, who is strung out along the MSR between Hamhung and Litzenberg, and a battalion of 155 Howitzers, which with tanks will provide protection for a section of the MSR north of Hamhung. So far our MSR north of Hamhung has not been molested, but there is evidence that this situation will not continue. We are making every effort to protect our MSR.

The war to the north, in Litzenberg's zone of action, is entirely different from that in the south. He moved north from Hamhung to Sudong (about 20 miles) without great difficulty except for one serious attack on his flank. About three miles further up the mountain valley, at Chinhung-ni, he ran into the Chinese Communists in force. [Action was at Sudong.- GAR] He captured a number of prisoners and definitely identified the 370th, 371st and 372d Regiments of the 124th CCF Division. Up to Chinhung-ni the road is along the floor of a tortuous mountain valley. The rise, however, is gradual. From Chinhung-ni to the north the road takes off along the side of the mountains and heads for a mountain pass. It rises about 2,600 feet in 10,000 yards. It was here that the Chinese chose to defend. Air, artillery, mortars, and infantry action were brought to bear on them and they withdrew to the north. Litzenberg estimated he had killed 1,000 of them. POW interrogations indicate that the number was nearer 1,500, with 500 desertions. The Chinese are simply not accustomed to the mortar, artillery and air concentrations we put on them. I saw the air working on this mountain and they really laid it on. Litzenberg's casualties were about 50 KIA and 200 WIA for this action.

After this engagement, Litzenberg moved on up the mountain and is now at the south end of the Chosin Reservoir. On a single mountain road that is in our zone, we can use only one RCT in the advance. We are moving the 5th up behind Litzenberg to protect the MSR. Litzenberg has kept his RCT well closed up in his advance. His depth had never exceeded 5,000 yards, usually two battalions forward and one to the rear, with the artillery, supplies, and medical installations in the middle.

Although the Chinese have withdrawn to the north, I have not pressed Litzenberg to make any rapid advance. Our orders still require us to advance to the Manchurian border. However, we are the left flank division of the Corps and our left flank is wide open. There is no unit of the 8th Army nearer than 80 miles to the southwest of Litzenberg. When it is convenient the Corps can say there I nothing on our left flank. If this were true, then there should be nothing to prevent the 8th Army from coming abreast of us. This they are not doing. I do not like the prospect of stringing out a marine division along a single mountain road for 120 air miles from Hamhung to the border. (The road mileage is nearer 200.) I now have two RCTs on this road and when Puller is relieved by the 3d Infantry Division I will close him up behind. [Smith does not address the terrain which exists between his flank and the Eighth Army, terrain that does not favor either force. - GAR]

We have reached a point now at the south end of the Chosin Reservoir where we will have to review the situation. The road in our zone continues to the north on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir. Another road, which was used by the Chinese in addition to the north road, comes in from the west. We will have to block it. At this point we plan to pass the 5th through the 7th and have the 5th continue to the north. The 7th will then take over the mission of blocking the road coming in from the west at the Chosin Reservoir and of protecting the MSR to the limit of its capabilities. Puller will be moved up behind, although at present I am directed to establish a blocking position at Huksu-ri, about 30 miles northwest of Hamhung, and I have no other troops to call on other than Puller's. This mission should be turned over to the 3d Division in view of my other commitments.

What concerns me considerably is my ability to supply two RCTs in the mountains in winter weather. Snow, followed by a thaw and freeze, will put out my road. We have a narrow gauge railway from Hamhung to the railhead at the foot of the mountain (Chinhung-ni). From this point there is a cableway to the south end of the Chosin Reservoir. [The cableway goes to the top of the pass where it becomes a narrow gauge railroad that continues north along the east side of the reservoir.] It is inoperative and its repair appears to involve engineer work far beyond our capabilities. An engineer from Tokyo is coming over to look at it. From the south end of the Chosin Reservoir to the border there is nothing but mountain road. Airdrop in winter is not a feasible means of supplying two RCTs. Moreover, it will not provide for evacuation. The answer, of course, is to build a strip for C-119s and C-47s. At the altitude in which we are operating the aviators require a 5,000-foot strip. The Corps thought it would be a fine idea if we built such a strip. With its other commitments, this is hardly a job within the capabilities of our Engineer Battalion. If we can find enough flat real estate in the vicinity of the reservoir to build a 5,000-foot strip, I will ask the Corps to give us a hand. Using PBMs on the reservoir is out of the question because of the ice. [X Corps at this time planned a forward Corps Command Post at Hagaru-ri and was already moving engineer and signal units to that location, units which eventually took part in the defense of that perimeter. At the time the general wrote this letter, 15 November, the reservoir was open water with ice beginning to form on the edges. War fighters learned that winter came suddenly at the Chosin. - GAR]

I visited Litzenberg at Koto-ri just south of the reservoir. There is considerable difference in temperature where we are and where he is. Yesterday morning at 0900 it was 18 F. here and 0 F. where he is. When I visited him the small streams were frozen. Little rivulets from springs, in spots, had spread over the road and frozen. Our engineers have hauled pipe up the mountain and are making culverts to keep this water off the road. Even though the men who are up front are young and are equipped with parkas, shoepacs and mountain sleeping bags, they are taking a beating. In a tactical situation a man cannot be in his bag. We have had a few cases of frostbite. Some of our Chinese prisoners also have frostbitten feet.

As you can imagine, visiting units is rather difficult with them dispersed as they are. I have depended a great deal on the helicopter, but we are finding it has limitations. For the past two days none have been operational because the gearbox that controls the rotors froze up. The gearboxes have been drained and thinner oil has been put in. The helicopters will be operational at sea level, but they cannot reach Litzenberg with a load because of the elevation, the wind, and the temperature. They simply lost control. We are building an OY strip south of the reservoir. The OY can get up, but, because of the altitude, the OY people want a strip 2,500-feet long instead of the normal 1,300 feet. We have fallen back on the jeep. It takes 3 and hours by jeep to reach Litzenberg, which means that it takes a day to visit one regiment. Craig is with Litzenberg today.

As I indicated to you when you were here, I have little confidence in the tactical judgment of the Corps or in the realism of their planning. My confidence has not yet been restored. Planning is done on a 1:1,000,000 map. We execute on a 1:50,000 map. There is continual splitting up of units and assignment of missions to small units that puts them out on a limb. This method of operating appears to be general in Korea. I am convinced that many of their setbacks here have been caused by this disregard for the integrity of units and of the time and space factor. Time and again I have tried to tell the Corps Commander that in a marine division he has a powerful instrument, but that it cannot help but lose its full effectiveness when dispersed. Probably I have had more luck than the other division commanders in impressing my point.

Someone in high authority will have to make up his mind as to what is our goal. My mission is still to advance to the border. The 8th Army, 80 miles to the southwest, will not attack until the 20th. I suppose their goal is the border. Manifestly we should not push on without regard to the 8th Army. We would simply get further out on a limb. If the 8th Army push does not go, then the decision will have to be made as to what to do next. I believe a winter campaign in the mountains of North Korea is too much to ask of the American soldier or marine, and I doubt the feasibility of supplying troops in this area during the winter or providing for evacuation of sick and wounded. Of course, a simple solution of all these difficulties would be for the enemy opposition to fold up.

I am enclosing a few photographs of the area in which we are now operating.

This letter may sound pessimistic, but it is not meant to be so. I feel you are entitled to know what our on-the-spot reaction is. Our people are doing a creditable job, their spirit is fine, and they will continue to do a fine job. Since we landed at Wonsan we have had approximately 700 battle casualties. Our non-battle casualties have been slightly higher. These non-battle casualties have been from a variety of causes. There has been some combat fatigue, but not much. The other causes of hospitalization run the whole gamut of the medical books. Operating in the mountains, as we are, there are a considerable number of sprains and injuries from falling rocks. Out 1st and 2d Replacement Drafts have brought us up to strength, but not in excess as was first thought.

With kindest regards,


There are different views among historians regarding this letter by Gen. Smith to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Understandably, among Chosin survivors, marines agree while soldiers have said that Smith, being a subordinate commander, should have been relieved. To each his own, although half-century's hindsight takes priority among many.

Years of study reveal personality problems between Smith and Almond, yet we find no evidence that the two faced each other to discuss differences of opinion. Smith was commanding a division subordinate to Almond who was commanding a Corps of three US divisions and some ROK units. Almond had used a direct line to his commander and staff in Tokyo; Smith had a direct line to Almond and his staff and apparently didn't take full advantage of it. Both have mentioned the problem in their memoirs.

"Many times it has been alleged that the Chinese in late November and in December 1950 took advantage of this great gap between Eighth Army and X Corps to defeat the U.N. forces in Korea. But this concept can be refuted. First, a study of CCF troop movements and deployments in November and December 1950, and the subsequent military action, will show that the Chinese forces did not use the area of this gap for extensive or decisive military operations. Instead, they operated against the Eighth Army right flank where the ROK II Corps was on line, just as they had in their First Phase Offensive in late October and early November. In short, they crushed and rolled up the Eighth Army right flank; they did not attack it from the gap, nor did they move around and behind it through the gap between Eighth Army and X Corps. Second, the unified line formed later across Korea by Eighth Army and X Corps under Eighth Army command was farther south where the terrain and communication facilities were much more favorable for a continuous line than in the area that was the scene of operations in November 1950." From Roy Appleman's South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu (1961), p.746
End CJ 05.15.07