CHANGJIN JOURNAL  06.10.09   Chapter 73   

CHANGJIN JOURNAL 06.10.09  #73


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 we continue the 2006-08 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 10.15.08) we addressed the defense of Fox Hill in Toktong Pass by F 2/7 (Fox Seven).


Here Maj. Gen. Smith addresses the enemy situation from an after-the-fact point of view. He has not revealed his thoughts regarding enemy forces at the time his division moved north into the Chosin area, other than information that his regiments conducted recon as they moved forward. Throughout the movement north division units had used patrols of platoon or company size in reconnaissance roles, contributing to the enemy’s ability to conceal major forces. A key element in developing an historical analysis of a battle is information about the enemy’s movements which, when based on a study of the terrain, would reveal probable courses of action. The reason for the sudden appearance of major enemy units on the morning of 27 November is apparently left to the imagination of historians.

The tactic of withdrawing into tight perimeters during hours of darkness and leaving the remainder of the battlefield open to the enemy was not effective in the dispersed formations of the Chosin campaign. Historians may conclude this was a defensive strategy, that of somehow drawing the enemy into the firepower of friendly combat formations, eventually resulting in a defensive victory. Yet, that may work as long as you’re on the offensive and know where the enemy is located. We will continue to inquire into this possibility as the battle progresses.

Sections (…) and page numbers […] are included for reference purposes. Bold typeface is 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 Maj. 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 and how he wished them to be remembered.

Readers are advised to study this terrain map closely when considering the options available of the CCF forces listed in this memoire. The Chosin Reservoir is located north of Hungnam where the town at the south end is named “Changjin” on this map. Note the major mountain ranges to the west and southwest which in effect divide the zones of operation for US forces, X Corps on the east and Eighth Army on the west. Major CCF forces were located in the west against units of the Eighth Army. Since the primary crossings of the Yalu River are located in the west sector, we are challenged to identify routes the CCF divisions used to move to and occupy attack positions in the Chosin Reservoir area. Problems faced by the Chinese can be found in Changjin Journal 11.27.03 (#50) which contains a review of the book Mao’s Generals Remember Korea.


OPS 696-706


(248) Development of the enemy situation during the advance to the Chosin Reservoir Area


Overall Organization of the Chinese forces


         The CCF that opposed the Division during its advance to the Chosin Reservoir area included units from both the 3rd and 4th Field Armies, the former being disposed ordinarily in the Shanghai area and the latter in Manchuria. Both field armies, with a combined strength of over one million were veterans of both the fighting against the Japanese during World War II and against the Chinese Nationalists following that war. Their combat effectiveness was rated as excellent and their numbers included the best trained and equipped soldiers of the entire CCF. Especially outstanding was the commander of the 4th Field Army, General Lin Piao, who reputedly had never suffered a military defeat. Order of Battle Studies of these forces stated that their military leaders had displayed excellent leadership at all times and had manifested a thorough knowledge of military tactics. The performance of the Chinese troops in the Chosin Reservoir area tended to bear out that statement.

[The only CCF organization that opposed the division during its advance to the Chosin Reservoir area was the 124th CCF Division during the battle in the Sudong area in early November after which they withdrew and disappeared. The 1MarDiv was established in the reservoir area before the CCF launched its first major attack on the night of 27-28 November, and when they did, only the lead elements of the CCF Field Armies mentioned above participated in the attack. This was initially a piecemeal commitment by the enemy against two Marine RCTs at Yudam-ni and one Army RCT(-) east of the reservoir, after which other CCF divisions were committed piecemeal against the Marine perimeter at Hagaru-ri, in blocking positions between Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri, and on the high ground south of Koto-ri in the Funchilin Pass. Whether or not the performance of the Chinese troops displayed excellent leadership … and knowledge of military tactics will be left to military historians. – GAR]


General Plan of the Enemy


         The general plan of the enemy in employing his units within the 1st Marine Division’s zone of action was the assignment of one Army (Corps)the 42nd from the 13th Army Group of the 4th Field Army to a delaying mission south of the Chosin and Fusen Reservoirs and north of the Hamhung area [Sudong] in early November, while bringing up larger and more effective forces of the 3d field Army to launch a counteroffensive. The units used for this blocking move were the 124, 125th and 126th Divisions, only one of which was actually engaged in combat by the 1st Marine Division. It was the 124th Division which opposed the advance of the 7th Marines astride the Hamhung – Hagaru-ri route [in the Sudong area south of Chinhung-ni]. A detailed account of the performance of the 124th has already been given. At the same time, other units from the 4th Field Army had been committed in a similar capacity against U.S. 8th Army forces to the west. [Elements of the CCF 126th Division opposed units of RCT-31, 7th Infantry Division in the area of the Fusen Reservoir.]

         Once the delaying action had been completed and the 3d Field Army troops had relieved the 42d Army (Corps) at Yudam-ni, the counteroffensive was to be staged. Utilizing, in the immediate area, the 9th Army Group. [An error in hindsight is indicated by the misleading use of “at Yudam-ni” when, at the time, the Chinese plan called for the main effort to attack south along the east side of the Chosin Reservoir – then defended by RCT-5 – to Hagaru-ri where they would then cut off RCT-7 at Yudam-ni.]


Composition of the 9th Army Group


         The 9th Army Groups probably consisted of the 20, 24, 26, 27, 30, 32 (?), and 33d Armies (Corps), with a total of 18 and perhaps 21 infantry divisions. Information indicated that the 30th Army (Corps) had been dissolved earlier and its three divisions assigned to other armies (corps). There was positive evidence to support the presence of elements of all of the above armies (corps), except the 33d, in the Chosin Reservoir – Hamhung area prior to the final withdrawal of U.N. forces from the area on 24 December 1950, although it is not presumed that the entire strength of these armies (corps) had arrived or had been committed prior to that time due to the time and space factors involved. Initially, the 20, 26 and 27th Armies (Corps) were partially committed. The composition of these armies (corps) was as follows:


20th Army (Corps)

         58th Division

         59th Division

         60th Division

         89th Division (reinforcing)


26th Army (Corps)

         76th Division

         77th Division

         78th Division

         88th Division (reinforcing)


27th Army (Corps)

         79th Division

         80th Division

         81st Division

         90th Division (reinforcing)


Strength of the CCF Division


         The strength of a CCF division was approximately 11,000 officers and men. It was organized and equipped in a manner similar to the Soviet rifle division. The organization aimed at achieving the maximum, mobility and firepower with a minimum number of troops and eliminating dispensable administrative details, all based upon the limitless availability of manpower and the expendable nature of that manpower when committed to combat. [Strength of CCF divisions in the Chosin Reservoir sector was later reported to be about 8,500 men, and not every soldier was equipped with a weapon. Ammunition and rations – a three-day supply – was carried on the backs of soldiers, placing extreme limitations on the Chinese limitless availability of manpower. During these early months of China’s participation in the war, most divisions had no artillery, and those that did used draft animals as prime movers.]


Movement of the CCF to the Objective Area


         The movement of the CCF troops before they arrived in North Korea and became engaged in combat with our troops during November revealed an early intent and plan to take part in the battle for Korea should the North Koreans fail by their own methods and strength. The advance Chinese elements which preceded the several armies (corps) that staged the counteroffensive in late November had been alerted and were on the move, according to prisoner interrogation, as early as August 15th. Of the advance elements, the 1st Marine Division was opposed in early November by the 124th Division of the 42d Army (Corps), 4th Field Army, when that Army (Corps) was apparently assigned the mission of blocking the most favorable and likely approaches to the Chosin and Fusen Reservoirs until such time as the Chinese Communist forces which was to lead the all-out offensive against the UN Forces could close in North Korea. [Only one road existed to each of the reservoirs. Access to the power plant served by the Fusen Reservoi, was through the 1MarDiv sector, while the reservoir itself was in the 7th Division sector. The Chinese selected the Sudong gorge area as their initial blocking position on the only road to the Chosin Reservoir, not taking advantage of the far better terrain suited for a delaying operation in the Funchilin Pass. – GAR]


         Those initial Chinese Communist troops, elements of which had staged sudden counterattacks against the 8th Army front before pulling out of contact, and other elements which opposed the advance of the 7th Marines toward Hagaru-ri, were out of the battle-wise CCF 4th Field Army, disposed in Manchuria both along and just to the rear of the Manchuria – North Korea border. The 42d Army (Corps) of that field army was located in the Heilung Province in June 1950, from where it was ordered in August to Tunghwa, Liaotung Province. Here an intense political training program was undertaken, apparently to condition the Chinese soldiers mentally for the expected participation in the North Korean defense. The Chinese troops were told at that point that U.S. forces were marching toward the Yalu River and planned to invade Manchuria. They were also instructed that the Chinese units would have to combat South Korean, Japanese, Chinese Nationalists and American troops, and that any Chinese soldier surrendering would be subject to immediate decapitation by his UN captors.


         Following this period of training, the 42d Army (Corps), composed of the 124, 125, and 126th Divisions, crossed the Yalu River at China, Manchuria, (Manpojin, North Korea) about 20 October 1950, on foot, encountering, according the prisoners, other 4th Field Army units moving in the same direction. They then proceeded on foot across the mountainous terrain between the Yalu River and the Chosin Reservoir, traveling for six nights. Prisoner interrogation and unit identification indicated that either at Changjin or Kyomul-li, north of the Chosin Reservoir, the 126th Division turned to the east where elements took up blocking positions in the vicinity of the Fusen Reservoir along the approaches from the south that would probably have been used if UN troops had carried out original plans for control of this general area. As the situation developed in the succeeding days, the only UN movement in the Fusen locale was by patrols and the 126th was never engaged in any organized action in that vicinity. The U.S. 7th Infantry Division [RCT-31] reported the capture of several prisoners northeast of the Fusen Reservoir who claimed to be from the 126th Division, and stragglers captured some time later by our units at Hagaru-ri identified the division as having been disposed near the Fusen Reservoir.

[Readers must keep the terrain and avenues of approach in mind as they wargame the possibilities of enemy plans and action at this time. The route used by the 126th CCF Division was from the Chosin Reservoir MSR through a low mountain pass (ox cart trail) to the north end of the Fusen Reservoir, a short distance of about 20 foot-miles. This has never been reported as the left (east) flank of Chinese forces in North Korea. – GAR]


         At the same time, late in October, the 124th Division continued directly southward, moving through Hagaru-ri, Koto-ri, Chinhung-ni and to a position just below Sudong, where it set up positions calculated to block any northward advance of UN troops toward the Chosin Reservoir and toward the power plants which were located along the road to Hagaru-ri. It would appear, from post-battle analysis of enemy movement, that the 42nd Army’s (Corps) mission was to hold up our advance as much as possible pending the arrival of the main Chinese body.


         Also moving at the same time was the 125th Division which advanced to the southwest from the Chosin Reservoir area upon arrival of the 42nd Army (Corps) at that point. Later identified against 8th Army units north of Tokchin, the 125th had, in the meantime, moved some of its elements southwest from Yudam-ni down toward Chang-ni and Sachang-ni, where blocking positions against movement up that prominent approach were assumed. Once the 124th Division was driven back toward the north and it probably became apparent that UN forces would not move along the Chang-ni–Yudam-ni route, the 125th Division moved westward to aid in the delay of the 8th Army units moving up in that sector. This move by the 125th as to be followed shortly by the remaining divisions of the 42nd Army (Corps) as it shifted south and west of the Chosin Reservoir area and was relieved of its responsibilities by the advent of the 20th Army (Corps) around 20 November 1950.


         The 7th Marines, in moving northward along the Hamhung–Hagaru-ri axis, first made contact with the 124th Division just south of Sudong, where the heaviest fighting took place, as the 124th tried determinedly to halt our advance. The division is considered to have been virtually decimated prior to its total withdrawal to the north by the morning of  7 November. The remnants of the 124th and, as was later learned, elements of the 126th Division, which had moved in to cover the withdrawal in the event of pursuit by our forces, drew back through Hagaru-ri and Yudam-ni. Yudam-ni, on the westernmost point of the Chosin Reservoir, was the important road junction town where the elements of the 42nd Army (Corps) were relieved by the 20th Army (Corps), fresh Chinese troops from the 9th Army Group of the 3rd Field Army, who had just crossed the Yalu River to launch the all-out Chinese counteroffensive. [The 124th Division delayed RCT-7 at Sudong (see CJ 01.31.06) for a period of about three days and then disappeared, leaving the route to the Chosin Reservoir and Yudam-ni unopposed until 27 November, a period of almost three weeks.]


         As previously stated, the 3rd Field Army had been stationed at Shanghai during the summer months prepared to launch an amphibious assault against Formosa. The rapidly deteriorating Communist position in Korea made obvious the need for additional reinforcements and it was unquestionably in this connection that the 9th Army Group, 3rd Field Army, began its movement from the Shanghai area around the 10th of September toward Manchuria. Prisoners stated that they were told initially that they were going to Manchuria for training. Later, on the move to North Korea, prisoners said that they were told they were crossing the Yalu River in order to defend Manchuria against UN invasion. The forward element so the 3rd Field Army arrived in Shantung Province around 13 September and initiated a training program that lasted, as far as part of the 20th Army (Corps) was concerned, for approximately one and a half months. Around 14 November movement into North Korea at Chian, Manchuria, (Manpojin, North Korea), was begun with the 60th Division, 20th Army (Corps) reportedly in the lead.


         The general route of movement of those forces was from Manpojin via Kanggye and to either the east or west side of the Chosin Reservoir, depending on the individual units involved. The 20th Army (Corps) moved into Yudam-ni in force around 20 November. It was in that area that the large-scale, coordinated counterattack was begun on the night of 27 November. It is highly significant that numerous reports from both civilians and civilian agents were received along about this time which placed heavy enemy concentrations in the area west and south of our MSR. Civilians who had been victims of the Chinese demands for food supplies, civilians who had been forced to serve as guides for the Chinese, and line-crossing agents who traveled throughout the area west of Koto-ri and southwest of Hagaru-ri, all contributed to the picture which indicated the enemy’s strong capability and probable intention regarding action to cut our MSR and to stage counterattacks against our forces. All this was neatly summed up by information from three PWs captured by the 7th Marines at Yudam-ni late 25 November 1950 when they said that the 20th Army (Corps) had moved southwest of Yudam-ni intent on attacking our long supply lines and the forces along that route.

[Historians will continue to seek reports of command and staff action, as well as plans and orders issued resulting from reports about the Chinese. There is no simple route from Kanggye to either the east or west side of the Chosin Reservoir; there is but one major route east to the town of Changjin, then south to the north end of the reservoir where the main route goes directly south to Hagaru-ri. Or, one can take a mountain road to the west side of the reservoir and reach Yudam-ni (see map).  The route/trail directly west of Yudam-ni travels through a mountain range for 50 miles before reaching a road junction, north to Kanggye or southwest to the right flank of Eighth Army. We are reaching the point in the coverage of this Aide-Memoire when readers must study the maps so as to gain a good understanding of the environment in which the Chosin campaign was fought. – GAR]


Actual Identifications


         During the advance to the Chosin Reservoir Area up to and including 27 November, when the CCF launched their massive counteroffensive against the 1st Marine Division and elements [RCT-31] of the 7th Infantry Division on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, the following identifications had actually been made by the capture of prisoners:


42nd Army (Corps)

         124th Div     Sudong – Chinhung-ni – Koto-ri       2-12 Nov

         126th Div     Fusen Reservoir – Hagaru-ri             10-15 Nov [6 Nov]

20th Army (Corps)

         58th Div       Yudam-ni                                27 Nov

         59th Div       Yudam-ni                                27 Nov

         60th div       Yudam-ni                                26-27 Nov

         89th Div       Yudam-ni                                22-27 Nov

27th Army (Corps)

         79th Div       Yudam-ni                                27 Nov


The prisoners captured gave information of other divisions in the area, but the ones listed above are the only divisions which were actually identified by the capture of prisoners.

         The further development of the enemy situation during the onslaught of the CCF and during the course of the breakout of the 1st Marine Division will be covered later.


[RCT-31 of the 7th Infantry Division that arrived on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir on 27 November (the same day RCT-5 moved to Yudam-ni) was opposed by the CCF 80th Div, the 81st Div, later reinforced by a regiment of the 94th Div. – GAR]






Gen. Smith positioned this information in his Aide-Memoire prior to covering the first attack by the Chinese, the night of 27-28 November. Keep in mind that the above CCF Divisions are unit identifications and not statements of fact that entire units were there at that time. Since the 60th and 89th CCF Divisions were identified two or more days prior to the CCF attacks on 27 November, we continue to search for reasons why the Chinese assembly areas were not uncovered by friendly reconnaissance.


As stated in previous issues of the Changjin Journal, Marine units gathered into tight perimeters at night, a tendency that may have evolved from tactics used in the islands against the Japanese during the previous war, similar also to the defensive dispositions on the Pusan Perimeter early in the Korean War experienced by the 5th Marines. In the North Korea experience, the 1st Marine Division operated in a large land-mass in which major units – battalions and regiments – were dispersed, pointing out the reason why commanders must have a concern for what was happening between perimeters. The Chinese took advantage of darkness by marching major units at night – doing so from their crossing points on the Yalu River to their final assembly areas and attack positions east and west of the Chosin Reservoir. Being masters of cover and concealment, they had no problem avoiding daylight patrols of their enemy, often using scouts and small detachments to lure the Americans into directions favorable to the enemy. Many lessons have been learned. The question remains, was a defensive victory actually in the cards at this time. – GAR


End CJ 06.10.09




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