|In the early hours of 28 November 1950 the thermometer dropped to 20 degrees below zero in the Yudam-ni
area, the farthest advance of the 1st Mar Div west of the Chosin Reservoir. The ground was covered with snow
and ice, and a knife-edged wind of 25 knots slashed across the bleak plain surrounded by frozen mountains.
Marine weapons were not always the same old reliable friends at this temperature. The moving parts of
carbines and BARs often failed to function. The base plates of mortars warped or cracked. The pins of
grenades stuck in an emergency. Even the howitzers no longer spoke with the same authority, for it sometimes
took the 105s several minutes to return to firing position after a discharge.
Iron and steel might balk in the paralyzing cold, but there was no respite for the flesh and blood of the
1st Mar Div. These Leathernecks, muffled to the eyes in parkas, wearing shoe pacs and mittens, were fighting
for survival against the great counterstroke of eight Chinese Communist divisions in the X Corps zone.
The isolation of the 1st Mar Div was increased by the retreat of the Eighth Army, following the failure
of the "end of the war" offensive launched by all UN forces in Korea on 24 November. Next day the Chinese
struck back by surprise, having infiltrated in large numbers through the mountains and into the wide gap
between the Eighth Army on the west and X Corps on the east. When the II ROK Corps disintegrated on the
Eighth Army's right flank, other units were forced to begin a withdrawal which left the Marines exposed to
the full fury of the new enemy blow, the counterstroke of the 28th.
But there was one consolation. If the 1st Mar Div was the most exposed of all major X Corps units, it was
also the most prepared. With the 3d Inf Div scattered over a wide area to the south, the 7th Inf Div almost
as dispersed to the north, and the I ROK Corps far away along the coast, only the Marines were relatively
This concentration was not owed to any happy coincidence. It was largely the work of MajGen Oliver P.
Smith, CG of the 1st Mar Div, and his staff. For on 26 October, at the height of the Wonsan administrative
landing, the division had been given a mission northward to the border of Manchuria simultaneously with a
mission southward to block the escape of defeated North Korean remnants. This meant that the first
objectives of the Marines in Northeast Korea were Hamhung and Kojo, 118 miles apart. High-level planners
anticipated little opposition, since G-2 reports indicated that organized NK resistance had been nearly
destroyed by the coordinated September offensive of X Corps at Inchon-Seoul and the Eighth Army in southern
Korea. And though the reports recognized the possibility of Russian or Chinese Communist intervention, the
danger was not considered imminent.
These assumptions proved to be premature, for Gen Smith soon had virtually two separate wars on his
hands. While RCT-1 dealt with formidable NK numbers in the southern sector, RCT-7 was advancing in the north
toward the first American clash with the invaders from Red China. The Marines won such smashing victories in
both encounters that by the middle of November only minor enemy contacts were reported in the X Corps zone.
Elements of the 7th Inf Div were pushing toward the Yalu River almost unopposed, while I ROK Corps advanced
up the coast nearly to the border of Manchuria.
At this time, before the 3d Inf Div took over in the south, Gen Smith had troops both at Majon-ni and
Hagaru, 149 road miles apart. Other Marine units, including tank men and artillery doubling as infantry,
were widely dispersed on a variety of blocking and protective duties.
It was fortunate for the 1st Mar Div that the commanding general viewed the situation realistically,
despite the confidence of American newspapers that some of the troops would be "home by Christmas." As early
as 15 November he was concerned about his open left flank, separated by a gap of 80 miles from the Eighth
Army on the west. Security appealed to him more than haste in the mission to the border, and he pulled his
units together until the entire division was concentrated from Chinhung-ni to Hagaru, a distance of 21
These preparations did not come a moment too soon. Infiltrating CCF divisions, marching by night and
hiding by day, were even then shunning combat while massing to deal a decisive surprise blow. When they
struck on the 25th to shatter the Eighth Army offensive, the 5th and 7th Marines were sent by X Corps orders
to attack west of Yudam-ni for the purpose of relieving the pressure. The Leathernecks gained 1,500 meters
on the 27th, but it was too late to save the Eighth Army from disaster. It might have been too late for the
Marines to save themselves if their concentration had not been completed within the past 48 hours.
With the lack of high-level enemy sources, it can only be conjectured as to why CCF generals hurled their
strength against the most concentrated and battle-hardened division of X Corps. No doubt the wide open left
flank of the 1st Mar Div invited attack from enemy forces driving a wedge between the Eighth Army and X
Corps. But it is also probable that the tenuous MSR entered into the equation.
Soon the eyes of the world would be fixed on this 56-mile stretch of dirt road twisting through the
mountains of Northeast Korea. It was not merely the main supply route, it was the only one--the lifeline for
thousands of Marines out at the end of a strategic limb. The first 35 miles, from Hamhung to Chinhung-ni,
were covered by a narrow-gauge railway as well as a road making a comparatively gradual ascent through a
broad valley. Supplies had to be trucked from the Chinhung-ni railhead onward, and the road climbed 2400
feet in the 10 miles "over the hump" to Koto-ri. Vehicles could proceed only in single file at times, along
a trail hugging the sides of the mountains, with a precipitous drop on one side and a cliff on the other.
The last 11 miles, from Koto-ri to Hagaru, were not as difficult, though flanked by mountains offering ideal
sites for road blocks or ambushes.
The necessity for maintaining this lifeline limited Gen Smith's concentration. Thus while the 5th and 7th
Marines were operating out of Hagaru, he assigned the three battalions of the 1st Marines to defensive
positions along the MSR-1/1 at the Chinhung-ni railhead, 2/1 at Koto-ri, and 3/1 at Hagaru. These moves
could not be completed until the late date of 26 November, owing to delays in the relief of the regiment.
And by that time X Corps orders made it necessary to send the other two infantry regiments forward to
Curiously enough, three CCF prisoners gave their Marine G-2 questioners an accurate preview of the plan.
Concealed CCF divisions, they asserted, would avoid battle until the main Marine column had been drawn into
a maximum forward movement. The decisive effort would be directed against the MSR for the purpose of cutting
off and enveloping the column as it reacted to pressure from the rear.
Astonishing as it may seem that CCF enlisted men should have a grasp of command decisions, the enemy
attack developed along those lines in the early hours of 28 November. While the 5th and 7th Marines were
being assailed in the Yudam-ni area, the MSR was cut in their rear between Yudam-ni and Hagaru, and between
the latter point and Koto-ri.
Anticipating enemy intentions, CO 7th Marines had sent Fox Co, reinforced by a HMG section and 81mm
mortar section, from Hagaru to Sinhung-ni on the afternoon of the 27th with a mission of protecting the
4,000-square foot mountain pass on the road to Yudam-ni. Capt. William E. Barber, who had reconnoitered the
position, set up a 360 degree perimeter near the summit of a hill commanding the route about a mile west of
the pass. The early hours of darkness passed quietly. Then at 0200 the Chinese launched the first of the
night attacks that were to keep Fox Co surrounded and in continual peril for five days. No attempt at
surprise was made by the enemy, who came on with automatic weapons and grenades. And though the CCF strength
was estimated at two companies, it seemed to be constantly kept up by reinforcements in spite of heavy
Fox Co had a six-hour fight for survival in the early morning hours of 28 November. Once the pattern of
enemy attack had been established, Capt Barber shifted his heavy machine guns to cover the draws which
channeled CCF efforts. Meanwhile the artillery FO called in fires from Hagaru.
The 240 Leathernecks on the hill were contending against cold as well as superior enemy numbers. Holes
could be dug only with difficulty in the frozen soil, and low temperatures caused the 3.5-inch rockets to
miss-fire due to incomplete burning of the propellant.
The Chinese came on repeatedly within 40 yards to throw concussion grenades which exploded with more sound
than fury. The Marines were also bombarded with shouted invitations in the English language: "Hello
Americans, surrender! We won't kill you! Come and get your warm gear!"
One enemy penetration endangered the CP and indeed the whole perimeter. A rifle platoon was inundated by
sheer human tonnage and one of the machine guns lost. But the Leathernecks recaptured the weapon and
restored their lines by a desperate counterattack. So hot was this fight that only four men of the platoon
came out without a scratch.
At 0800 the Chinese had enough. They withdrew to surrounding heights and contented themselves with
long-range sniping. Marine losses, as listed by 1stSgt Charles B. Dana, amounted to 20 killed, three
missing, and 54 wounded. The latter were removed to warming tents near the crest of the hill, but a
helicopter attempting to evacuate the worst cases was driven away by CCF small arms fire.
A radio message from CO 7th Marines at 1430 instructed Capt Barber to hold tight until reinforcements
could be sent. Late that afternoon an air drop of food and ammunition was 60 percent effective. And at dusk
the beleaguered Leathernecks, already reduced a third by battle and frostbite casualties, prepared for
another Chinese attack.
This was no petty local fight, affecting only the smallest of the 1st Mar Div's positions. The fortunes
of the largest were directly concerned-the position held at Yudam-ni by two reinforced regiments, the 5th
and 7th Marines plus support troops. They, too, had been in a battle for survival throughout the early hours
of the 28th. They, too, were cut off and surrounded by superior numbers, and their chances of rejoining the
rest of the division depended on Fox Co protecting the key mountain pass.
The deserted town of Yudam-ni, badly battered by air strikes, occupied a plain at the water's edge on the
west side of Chosin Reservoir. Three valleys, extending like spokes from this strategic hub, formed a
passage for roads leading to the west, southwest, and northwest through surrounding mountains.
The 2d Bn of RCT-5, after advancing on the 27th, dug in for the night on level ground astride the road in
the northwest valley. The 3d Bn was in support, a mile and a half to the rear, and the 1st Bn farther back
in reserve. Meanwhile RCT-7 (less two companies) was deployed on high ground commanding the road in the
Enemy attacks, beginning before midnight, reached their climax between 0200 and first night. The extended
lines of RCT-5 and RCT-7 beat off a succession of assaults delivered at several points simultaneously by
enemy groups ranging from company to battalion strength. Rear areas were no more immune than advanced
positions, since the enemy had infiltrated from three directions.
Thus the attack on 2/5 was soon followed by an equally determined effort against 3/5, a mile and a half
to the rear. In both instances the Chinese struck at the junction between extended companies, and service
personnel had to fight at close quarters as infantry to save the two CPs from being overrun. Counterattack
eventually restored both positions, but it was nip and tuck for several hours. Even 1/5, far back in
reserve, was under assault from Chinese who seemed to be everywhere. Some of the Charlie Co veterans were
"old China hands," and they replied to surrender invitations with insults in the enemy's own tongue. Bullets
proved to be more convincing, for RCT-5 was hard-pressed.
Meanwhile, the three battalion sectors of RCT-7 were also being overrun. How Co of 3/7, driven from Hill
1402 by vastly superior numbers, retook the position in a counterattack, only to lose it again at 0435. The
remnants of the company retired on 2/5 positions just as 2/7 came under heavy attack north of Yudam-ni.
Regimental distinctions meant so little that two platoons of 1/5 were rushed to reinforce 2/7 and take part
in the counterattack which recovered lost ground. Enemy pressure on 1/7 to the south of Yudam-ni was not as
heavy, but Charlie Co remained isolated and surrounded all day.
At first light the Corsairs had their usual discouraging effect on the enemy, but the Marines of the
Yudam-ni area knew that they had been in a fight. World War II veterans had seldom seen a higher proportion
of wounded. There were other casualties who had not stopped a bullet-men who leaped from their sleeping bags
to fight in stocking feet until crippled by frostbite. The blocked road to Hagaru prevented evacuation, and
casualties overflowed the sick bays into warming tents.
These CCF attacks were obviously the first blows of a large-scale counterstroke. For at daybreak the 2d
Bn of the 1st Marines sighted enemy groups closing in from two directions on Koto-ri, 25 miles to the rear
of Yudam-ni. Air observation reported no less than five road blocks between Koto-ri and Hagaru, all of them
strongly manned, as well as three between Hagaru and Sinhung-ni.
Eight enemy divisions, as confirmed later by PW identifications, were now massed against the 1st Mar Div.
Five of them delivered the opening attacks-the 59th, 70th and 89th in the Yudam-ni area, the 58th along the
MSR north of Hagaru, and the 60th astride the MSR between Hagaru and Koto-ri. In addition, the 80th and 81st
Divisions were approaching on both sides of the Reservoir, followed by the 90th in reserve.
The enemy, in short, had committed two armies-the 20th and 27th, of four divisions each-to the attack
along a 25-mile front. Since a CCF division included three infantry regiments and an artillery battalion,
the total of the forces massed against the 1st Marine Division could hardly have been less than 80,000
men-not soldiers in the Western sense, but Oriental coolies who were considered as expendable as cartridges
by their Communist officers.
Seldom, if ever, in 175 years of Marine Corps history had so many Leathernecks been in such danger of a
major disaster. The utmost in courage, endurance, and fighting spirit could be expected by the command from
the ranks. But even these essentials might not be enough if the command failed the ranks with a costly error
in judgment. For this was a crisis which called for mental as well as physical valor.
Among the high-level planners the Marines were ably represented by Col Edward H. Forney. One of the
leading planners of the Inchon-Seoul operation, he continued to serve as deputy chief of staff under MajGen
Edward S. Almond, CG X Corps, until the last day of the year. On 28 November, when Gen Almond was summoned
to Tokyo to confer with the supreme command, he directed Col Forney to reconnoiter the 1st Mar Div MSR as
far as Hagaru. It was largely due to this staff officer's report that X Corps had its first comprehensive
picture of the seriousness of the CCF attack and the danger to Army as well as Marine elements in the Chosin
The original X Corps plans for the combined offensive with the Eighth Army had called for a 1st Mar Div
advance west of Yudam-ni while the 3d Inf Div protected its left flank, including the Hamhung-Hagaru MSR.
The 7th Inf Div was to protect the right flank by placing one RCT on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir.
These plans were badly scrambled by the CCF counter-strokes. The 3d Inf Div, due to dispersion and
administrative delays, was unable to carry out its assignment of protecting the MSR. Worse fortune befell
the dispersed 7th Inf Div when the enemy cut to pieces the troops in process of assembling east of the
Not all of these developments were apparent on 28 November. But it was a heavy and lonely burden of
responsibility which fell that morning upon the shoulders of Gen Smith when he flew with his staff from
Hungnam to establish his forward CP at Hagaru.
The urgency of the situation was emphasized by first reports of Marine casualties for 27 and 28 November,
nearly all of which were borne by the 5th and 7th Regiments. These losses approximated a battalion in
strength-a total of 1,094 which included 136 killed, 60 missing, 675 wounded, and 355 non-battle casualties.
[As compared to the losses for these two days, the 1st Marine Division had a total of 1,503 (not counting a
relatively small list of non-battle casualties) in the 22-day Inchon-Seoul operation.] The latter consisted
largely of frostbite cases, some of which were restored to active duty shortly. Yet it was plain that the
division would soon be bled white if attrition continued at this rate.
Marine chances of survival depended to a great extent on the lessons learned from the operations of the
past four weeks. Mountain warfare and cold weather fighting had not been considered Corps specialties. But
Marines prided themselves on adaptability, and a Marine regiment had been the first American outfit to fight
it out with a large Chinese force. A whole Chinese division was chewed up by RCT-7 in the process, but a
more far-reaching result was the evaluation of the new enemy's methods.
Col Homer L. Litzenberg, CO of RCT-7, not only studied CCF tactics but also tried out new Marine
techniques to meet them. This graduate of the National War College had enlisted as a private in 1918 and
worked his way up through the ranks. His World War II experience, divided between staff and line duty, had
convinced him that the two were inseparable in a good infantry organization. And though Col. Litzenberg
considered himself a line specialist, he frequently shifted his officers from staff to line and back again.
Throughout the four-week advance from Hamhung to Yudam-ni the 7th Marines became virtually a traveling
tactical laboratory. CCF tactics, it was observed, thrived on dispersion. One of the chief objects of enemy
night attacks was to create this condition, if it did not already exist, by penetrations aiming to cut off
an outpost, a platoon, or even a company.
Cohesion was the tactical remedy-cohesion making the most of superior firepower. Thus the 7th Marines
adopted at all times a formation able to resist a surprise attack from front, flanks, or rear. This meant
encamping in a tight perimeter and marching like a moving fortress. In either event, experience taught that
a regimental formation must have a minimum depth of 3,000 yards and a maximum depth of 5,000 yards to
provide all-around protection and mutual support. Patrols, consisting usually of a reinforced company, were
seldom sent beyond the reach of supporting artillery fires.
Perimeter defenses, of course, were not a novelty in military history. Enormous "hedgehogs," manned by as
many as 10 divisions, had been known on the Russian front in World War II. For that matter, American
pioneers of a century ago had formed their covered wagons into a perimeter to resist Indian attacks. The
theory was old, but in practice RCT-7 adapted it to mountain warfare and CCF tactics.
The results were sometimes astonishing. On one occasion when CG X Corps visited the front, he was
fascinated by an RCT-7 perimeter, enclosing 18 howitzers of the 11th Marines. Four or five patrols having
been sent out that day, the muzzles of the pieces were pointed skyward for high-angle covering fires in all
directions. Gen Almond gazed at the scene in silent wonder, and then he remarked, "It looks like an AAA
battalion gone wild!"
Altogether, the experiments of RCT-7 enabled the entire 1st Mar Div to draw upon a fund of knowledge
tested in the field against the new enemy. This knowledge was an invaluable asset on 28 November when Col
Litzenberg invited LtCol Raymond L. Murray, CO 5th Marines, to confer with him at daybreak on plans for the
Col Murray, appointed a regimental commander for the Inchon-Seoul operation, had made a distinguished
record as combat leader at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan. He and Col Litzenberg, acting in council with
their S-3s, agreed upon the necessity for a unified defense. Both regiments, they decided, were to be
immediately pulled together into a perimeter enclosing the three battalions of the 11th Marines and other
support and service units. Regimental lines meant nothing, and the spirit of unit was never better expressed
than in the words of SSgt Alec B. Gault of the 7th Marines:
"That was the time when there was no outfit…you were a Marine, you were fighting with everybody. There
was no more 5th and 7th; you were just one outfit, just fighting to get the hell out of there!"
The new perimeter measured about three miles from east to west, and a quarter of a mile less from north
to south. In the northern half, occupied by RCT-5, the 2d, 3d, and 1st Bns were deployed from east to west
in that order. RCT-7 was in position with Item and How Cos on the right or west flank, tied in with 2/5 on
the right. On the left of How Co the three companies of 1/7 were deployed. Completing the perimeter was a
provisional battalion of the 7th, composed of Easy, George, and Dog Cos. These units tied in with Baker Co
on the west and 1/5 on the north.
The redeployment was carried out in the face of CCF attacks which were still being pressed against the
northern sector of the perimeter. During the withdrawal a radio dispatch from Gen Smith cancelled previous
missions and directed the two regiments at Yudam-ni to remain on the defensive "until the present situation
At dusk, Charlie Co of 1/7 was still pinned down south of Yudam-ni by CCF machine gun fire, and Able Co
made a first unsuccessful attempt at rescue. It took a combined flanking movement by Baker Co and repeated
air strikes to dislodge the enemy, so that the reunited 1t Bn got back to the new perimeter at 2130.
Four patrols were sent out on 30 November by division orders to clear the MSR. The relief of Fox Co of
2/7 was an added mission for the two patrols which went out from Hagaru on the road to Yudam-ni. After a
reinforced 3/1 platoon was stopped, elements of the 7th Marines in company strength were able to advance
only two miles with the support of three tanks.
Another 3/1 platoon, pushing from Hagaru toward Koto-ri, was soon turned back by enemy fire. Meanwhile, a
motorized 2/1 column of company strength, preceded by four tanks, set out from Koto-ri toward Hagaru-ri.
This force fought its way northward for four miles against increasing opposition, then had to give up the
Thus the four forward positions of the 1st Mar Div were still cut off from road communication with one
another as the Leathernecks braced themselves to meet renewed attacks on the night of 28-29 November. The
5th and 7th Marines remained on the alert throughout the hours of darkness, but the ominous quiet was broken
only by sporadic mortar fire and minor enemy contacts on the northern side of the perimeter.
Apparently the enemy was content to keep the Marines at Yudam-ni surrounded while putting into effect the
second phase of his plan-the tightening of pressure in the rear.
As a result Fox Co of 2/7 had another fight for survival on its lonely hilltop. At 0200 the whistles and
bugles were heard again as the signal for enemy assault. Capt Barber was wounded in the leg but hobbled from
platoon to platoon, directing the defense. His lightly wounded men also returned to the firing line after
first aid. Remarkably accurate artillery fire from Hagaru enabled the perimeter to hold out until daybreak,
when the Chinese retired to nearby hills as the Corsairs took charge.
At 0900, in response to division orders, a composite battalion set out from Yudam-ni for the purpose of
relieving Fox Co. A rifle company each from 1/5, 1/7 and 3/7 composed the column, which met such heavy
resistance south of Yudam-ni that it returned at 2100 to escape encirclement. Meanwhile an unsuccessful
attempt to reinforce Fox Co from the other direction was made by elements of the 7th Marines remaining at
Hagaru-ri. About halfway to Sinhung-ni this patrol of about 200 men was stopped by enemy fire, and air drops
supplied the thinned company on the hilltop as it faced its third night of isolation.
By this time the MSR was infested with enemy as far south as the railhead at Chinhung-ni, where a patrol
of 1/1 exchanged shots with a CCF platoon, Koto-ri, occupied by 2/1 and the regimental CP, had been under
observation all day of the 29th by Chinese studying the defenses. Steep hills flanked the village on the
west, but the terrain leveled out into a valley before rising gradually into another chain of hills to the
east. The perimeter was most strongly defended west and north of the road, where Dog and Fox Cos formed a
semicircle facing the hills. On the northeast side was Easy Co and the CP, the Div Recon Co, Easy Btry of
the 11th Marines, and the 4.2 inch Mortar Co were found in that order from east to southeast. The valley on
the south was lightly held by service and anti-tank troops.
Taking charge with his usual gusto was a veteran whose career had inspired a hundred legends-Col Lewis B.
"Chesty" Puller, the recipient of half a dozen wounds and even more decorations since enlisting as a private
in 1918. Night attacks were no novelty to him, after years of campaigning in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the
Pacific, and he prepared a warm reception when the enemy struck in battalion strength at dusk.
Six mortar shells fell in the Easy Co area at 1745, followed by an assault on the northeast sector of the
perimeter. Bugles and whistles shrilled as combat groups came on in short rushes with grenades and burp
guns. A penetration was made for a few minutes in an Easy Co position, but none of the 17 Chinese ever lived
to tell the tale. All were wiped out after infiltrating within 75 yards of the CP, and the lines held firm
against further efforts. About midnight the enemy pulled back to the hills, leaving behind 150 to 175 bodies
counted in front of 2/1 positions. Marine losses were reported as six killed and 16 wounded.
This repulse seems to have convinced the enemy that Koto-ri would be a hard nut to crack, since there
were no more large-scale assaults. Probing attacks continued, however, along with frequent patrol actions in
the surrounding hills.
The major enemy effort on the night of the 29th was directed against the most vulnerable position on the
MSR-the thinly held perimeter of 3/1 at Hagaru. With the unfinished airstrip and division CP to be
protected, only two Marine rifle companies, two batteries of artillery, and miscellaneous support and
service troops were available.
Hagaru, at the southern tip of the Chosin Reservoir, lay at the junction of the roads branching off to
the east and west sides of that body of water. East of the village a long ridge dominated the general area,
while the airfield was commanded by a low elevation-high ground only in contrast to the strip itself-located
just to the west.
A perimeter enclosing these two key terrain features was large enough to be defended by at least a
reinforced regiment. LtCol Thomas L. Ridge, CO of 3/1, needed men desperately, but he did not stretch his
thin lines to the extent of remaining weak everywhere. Instead, he used most of his strength for the
protection of the two ridges, even at the risk of a breakthrough elsewhere. The defense of the airstrip was
entrusted to 3/1 (less George Co., on detached duty), while the east ridge was the responsibility of Weapons
Co of the 7th Marines plus elements of the 1st Eng Bn and other support and service troops.
Inadequate numbers could not have been better disposed, for the three all-out CCF attacks fell upon these
two positions. The enemy, departing from his usual infiltrating tactics, attempted to smash through the
perimeter by sheer weight. At 2230 the first effort was directed against the 3/1 positions on the high
ground west of the airstrip. Howitzers, mortars, and machine guns could not mow down the attackers fast
enough, and How Co was overrun. A weird scene ensued as screaming Chinese slashed at tents and sleeping
bags, searching for plunder. This disorder gave How Co the opportunity to reorganize and launch a
counterattack at 0230 which restored the broken lines.
An even more serious situation resulted from the CCF assault on the ridge east of town. So few were Col
Ridge's numbers that only a jutting nose and a portion of the reverse slope could be manned. The first enemy
onslaught swept the Marines off everywhere save for the nose at the southeastern end. Division Hqs was
stripped of all available personnel, including clerks and cooks, to be thrown in as reinforcements. And
though the Marines could not recover lost ground, their mortar and artillery fire kept the enemy from
gaining the crest of the ridge.
A final CCF effort was launched at 0300 against Item Co positions west of the airfield. Four enemy waves
were hurled back, and at daybreak the perimeter still held at every vital spot as air strikes were added to
artillery fires. Reinforcements arrived on the night of the 29th, moreover, when the remnants of two
companies fought their way through from Koto-ri.
These troops were part of the column known as Task Force Drysdale. Named after Lt Col Douglas B. Drysdale,
CO of the 41st Royal Marine Commando, the force also included George Co of 3/1 and a company of the 31st Inf
of the 7th Inf Div. The 270 British Marines and the Army company had been sent from Hamhung to Koto-ri by
Col Forney, senior X Corps officer in the area, and George Co was rejoining its battalion after detached
duty. These units, supported by two companies of the 1st Tank Bn, were deemed sufficient for a two-fold
mission-the reinforcing of the perimeter at Hagaru, and the escorting of a large truck convoy of much-needed
Task Force Drysdale, organized by Col Puller, represented the greatest effort yet made to clear part of
the MSR. On the morning of 29 November the infantry advanced two miles against small-arms fire, then halted
until mid-afternoon to await the arrival of the two tank companies. One of them was placed in front and the
other in the rear as the column continued toward Hagaru.
The halfway point had been reached when the infantry elements were held up by intense small-arms and
automatic fire from an estimated three enemy battalions. When our tanks stopped to return the fire, the
whole column ground to a halt, so that the thin-skinned vehicles became sitting ducks for enemy mortar
shells. Several trucks were set on fire and others added to the confusion by attempting to turn about in the
narrow road and withdraw.
The tanks reported at 1615 that further movement toward Hagaru was inadvisable. But after receipt of a
message from CG 1st Mar Div that reinforcements were urgently needed, the head of the column pushed on
against stiffening opposition. Most of the British Marines and George Co of 3/1, led by a tank company,
finally managed to fight their way through to Hagaru at a cost of about 70 casualties and 17 vehicles.
The rear of the column, supported by the other tank company, had meanwhile turned back toward Koto-ri.
Enemy efforts to cut off these troops made it necessary to dig in for the night and call for artillery fires
from Koto-ri. In the morning, however, the men resumed their march and reached the 2/1 perimeter without
The separation of the forward and rear elements left the middle of the column, consisting largely of
supply vehicles, isolated nearly half-way to Hagaru at dusk on the 29th. Marine service troops, fighting
alongside soldiers of the 31st Inf and a few British Marines, took cover in a roadside ditch as the enemy
swarmed out of hills on the right of the road. Daring and effective Marine close air support enabled the
outweighed force to beat off repeated CCF attacks made with automatic and mortar fire. Then under cover of
darkness the enemy achieved several penetrations and swept around both flanks.
The hopeless struggle lasted until dawn, when defenders, thinned by losses and running out of ammunition,
had little choice but to consider CCF terms. The sufferings of the wounded, sheltered only by a frozen
ditch, hastened the reluctant decision of ranking officers to surrender. For the Chinese offered to allow
all wounded to return to their own lines or await friendly transportation. About 130 captives remained in
the enemy's hands-the largest CCF bag of prisoners during the entire Reservoir operation. [Escaped prisoners
agreed that they were not treated brutally on the whole, though forced to share the privations and squalor
of a coolie's life. Chinese moderation owed less to humanitarian motives than a belief that the Americans
could be converted to Communism. This delusion resulted in the prisoners being spared for a tiresome period
of indoctrination.] Seizures of equipment were even more impressive, since most of the supply trucks had
been in the middle of the column.
The losses of Task Force Drysdale had been heavy, yet the attempt could not be written off as a failure.
Considering the critical situation at Hagaru, it was perhaps a decisive gain to have reinforced that
perimeter with a Marine rifle company and British Marines in nearly company strength.
Col Ridge's lines were still perilously stretched, and seldom have so many diverse elements been included
in such a small force. No less than 24 separate units were represented-Army and Navy, as well as
Marine-British and South Korean, as well as American-in an assortment which fought with the cohesion of
veterans. The first Chinese attacks came in at least division strength, and enemy dead were counted or
estimated at about 1,500 up to the night of the 29th. Yet in spite of this stout resistance, the critical
ridge line extending 1,000 yards east of Hagaru was still a no-man's-land controlled largely by the enemy.
Our troops held little more than the nose of the ridge at darkness on the 29th when the weary
reinforcements of Task Force Drysdale went into action shortly after arrival. George Co of 3/1
counterattacked to regain some of the ground lost in this sector. The attempt was successful, despite
stubborn CCF resistance with grenades and machine gun fire. Thus at 2345, when the enemy attacked, the
newly-won high ground put the Leathernecks in a better position. Mortar shells and artillery fire from How
Btry, 11th Marines, helped to work another fearful slaughter on CCF troops who came up the draws where they
had been cut down the night before. This time the Chinese effort was supported by artillery as well as
mortars, but only six enemy soldiers managed to survive Marine firepower and penetrate into the perimeter,
where they were killed by small arms. An estimated 400 to 600 of their comrades died in the draws which
channeled the CCF attack.
The imperturbability of Gen Smith became an inspiring legend to headquarters and service troops taking
the part of infantry. When a CCF mortar shell struck a fence behind the CP and blew it sky-high, the
commanding general kept on writing at his table. Later that night, at the height of the Chinese attack, a
burst of enemy machine gun fire sent bullets cracking through the thin walls overhead. The tall, slender
general, gray-haired and distinguished of appearance, continued to smoke his pipe without noticing the
nervousness of staff officers who were anxious as to his safety. Not until another mortar shell removed a
large section of the roof did he relieve taut nerves by suggesting a move to a new CP. Otherwise, explained
Gen Smith gravely, everyone would run the risk of catching cold in a room so excessively ventilated.
On the last night of the month the enemy made a final effort to crack the defense at Hagaru. The attack
on the east ridge was combined with an attempt to seize the high ground dominating the airfield. Col Ridge
had few enough reserves at his disposal, but all had to be thrown into the fight. The Chinese decided their
own fate by channeling the main attacks in the same familiar draws, so that Marine supporting arms reaped
another grim harvest. Even so, the defenders lost ground temporarily at several points, though all positions
were restored before 9800 by counterattacks.
Thus ended the fourth consecutive night in which the enemy, despite his great numerical advantage, failed
to take a single critical 1st Mar Div position. All four forward perimeters had been attacked repeatedly at
an enormous cost in casualties. Yet the Chinese had nothing to show for their losses except a few temporary
penetrations which could not withstand Marine counterattacks. Even Fox Co of the 7th, cut off from the rest
of the division, was able to deal with assaults which diminished in intensity on the third and fourth
"We had the feeling at all times that we had the upper hand," Gen Smith has been quoted as saying, "and
that we were giving the enemy a beating whenever he chose to fight."
Some unorthodox methods had been adopted now and then in a pinch. Generally speaking, however, the
successful defense of the four forward perimeters was a vindication of "war according to the book."
Supporting weapons were combined and used correctly as a rule, and the resulting firepower frustrated an
enemy willing to pay a high price in blood for his gains.
Even when the Marine command introduced seemingly novel techniques, they were seldom radical departures
from the book. More often they were simply the old tested methods adapted to a new enemy and new conditions
of terrain and weather.
Paradoxically, if there was anything radical about Marine thought, it was the conservatism which led to
preparations for trouble at a time of optimism in high state and military circles. On 15 November, when two
other X Corps divisions were racing unopposed to the other border, Gen smith was concentrating his units and
thinking in sober terms of logistics. For it was not mere coincidence that four days later the first tanks
and heavy vehicles were on the way to Hagaru. This was the achievement of the 1st Eng Bn, which had been
providing drainage, widening curves, installing culverts, and building up shoulders to bear heavy traffic.
Immediately on the advice of Col Litzenberg, supplies of all kinds were trucked from the Chinhung-ni
railhead to the dumps at Koto-ri and Hagaru.
Thus if the 1st Mar Div was the only large American unit to be relatively prepared when the Chinese
counterstroke fell, much of the credit is due to the foresight of its command. Gen smith did not depend on
truck transport alone. Next, he assigned the Marine engineers the task of building a C-47 strip at Hagaru
for the purpose of making the division partially independent of the MSR.
Begun on 18 November, the runway was only 40 percent finished when the first plane landed 12 days later.
So urgent was the need for haste that on this occasion the book had to be thrown out of the window. For the
length of the strip was only 2,900 feet instead of the prescribed minimum of 6,000, and the 5 per cent grade
was exactly two and a half times as much as the maximum allowed by the manuals.
The courage of the fliers who made those first landings was matched by that of the Marine engineers who
worked under floodlights, exposed to sniper fire, on nights when the Hagaru perimeter was in peril. Much of
the power of the dozers had to be expended on ground frozen as hard as concrete. Ridding the blade of the
frozen earth which adhered was almost as much of a problem as filling it. These were some of the problems
encountered by specialists who also took their part in the firefights of perimeter defense.
The afternoon of 1 December, when the first C-47 landed, dated an end to the isolation of the 1st Mar
Div. For the plane took off successfully with 24 Marine wounded-the first of those hundreds of casualties
who would owe their lives to evacuation by air.
No longer could it be said that the Leathernecks were out at the end of a strategic limb. For this date
also marks the first air drop of supplies on a large enough scale for most of a division's needs. The 1st
Mar Air Delivery Plat at Yonpo Airfield had only a few C-47s and C-119s at its disposal. Thus the brunt fell
upon the Combat Cargo Command of the 5th Air Force in Japan. Prepackaged "Baldwin" units designed to supply
a battalion for a day were dropped, but more often requests were filled for supplies not conforming to this
specification. Some idea of the amounts may be gained from the requests for ammunition alone made by Fox Co
of RCT-7 during its five days and nights of isolation:
Small arms-105,000 rounds; 60mm-800 rounds; 81mm-1,100 rounds; 105mm-500 rounds; grenades-5,850.
The defenders of the Hagaru perimeter requested 1,466,740 rounds of small-arms ammunitions, 15,168 rounds
of 60mm, 8544 rounds of 81mm, 3,160 rounds of 105mm howitzer, 10,350 grenades, 46,000 "C" rations, 11,660
gallons of gasoline, and 200 miles of wire.
Altogether, requests for 1949 tons of supplies were put in by the four forward perimeters. Breakage and
damage accounted for a high percentage of loss, especially with the heavy ammunition. But even allowing for
this debit, the breakout of the 1st Mar Div owed in large measure to a daily schedule of airborne supply and
evacuation of casualties. It also owed to a Marine command which had provided a reserve, while the MSR was
still open, of two units of fire and six days' rations at Hagaru. For this was the margin of safety which
proved to be necessary on several occasions when air drops were not sufficient.
Supply problems loomed large on the afternoon of 30 November when Gen Almond flew to Hagaru. Col Forney
had so impressed him with the seriousness of the situation that he ordered an immediate withdrawal from the
Reservoir area. CG 1st Mar Div was authorized to destroy the bulk of his equipment as a preliminary, being
promised supply by air drops along the route.
All elements of the 7th Inf Div north of Sudong in the Reservoir area were placed under operational
control of Gen Smith at this conference. A battalion each from the 31st and 32d Infantry and the 57th FA Bn
had been attacked and severely punished while in process of assembling east of the Reservoir. Col Allen D.
MacClean, Co 31st Infantry, was killed at the head of troops consisting largely of South Koreans recruited
under the "buddy system." [This was the system under which several Army divisions were brought up to combat
strength in the summer of 1950. South Korean recruits, issued a U.S. uniform and equipment, were hastily
trained by American "buddies" to fill gaps in the ranks.]
Gen Smith ordered RCT-31 elements to move to Hagaru on 1 December, but after covering 5,000 yards the
column was cut to pieces by enemy attack. Before nightfall some 300 survivors of the disaster, some of them
wounded or suffering from frostbite, drifted singly or in groups across the frozen reservoir. LtCol Olin L.
Beall and a group of Marine volunteers conducted daring first-aid operations on the ice in jeeps and sleds.
Curiously enough, the Chinese did not fire on the Army wounded, though they showed no such consideration for
Army stragglers continued to make their way to Hagaru during the next two days, and many were picked up
by a task force sent out for that purpose in company strength. After hundreds of casualties had been
evacuated by air, about 450 soldiers were issued Marine equipment and formed into a provisional battalion.
This interlude was not allowed to interfere with the event which further distinguishes 1 December as a
turning point-the seizing of the initiative by the 1st Mar Div. For four days and nights the Chinese had
been able to choose the time and place of attack. They had been able to keep the division split up into five
groups with their road blocks. But this phase ended at 2100 on 1 December when a single battalion initiated
the advance out of the Yudam-ni area. The Marines were coming out fighting, and henceforward the Chinese
would have little choice but to take the defensive!
Planning was done jointly by the two regimental commanders, Col Litzenberg and Col Muray, who agreed on a
procedure approved on 30 November by CG 1st Mar Div. The problem was stark in its simplicity-how were two
depleted Marine regiments, burdened with some 750 casualties, to fight their way through mountain country
held by an estimated five to seven CCF divisions? These regiments, moreover, must find a way to relieve Fox
Co of the 7th, holding out for the fourth day on its hilltop.
The solution was based on the agreement of the planners that the 4,000-foot pass near Shinhung-ni was the
key terrain feature. It must be held at all costs if the 5th and 7th Regts were to cut their way back to
Hagaru. Acting on this premise, the commanding officers decided to employ the ancient and potent weapon of
surprise. This was to be put into effect by sending LtCol Raymond G. Davis, CO of 1/7, to seize the mountain
pass and relieve Fox Co. In order to catch the enemy napping, the planners ordered Col Davis and his
battalion to strike out directly across trackless and snow-drifted mountains-a route which imposed too many
hardships even for Chinese guerillas.
Before 1/7 moved out from the Yudam-ni area on 1 December, a dangerous redeployment remained to be
completed by both regiments. As a preliminary to their advance toward Hagaru, both had to be pulled back
from the valley running northwest of Yudam-ni to the larger valley south of town. Not only did the position
offer more security, but it was astride the road leading toward Hagaru.
Despite the risks, the planners decided to make the attempt in daylight hours, when they had the
advantages of observation for air and artillery. The movement was executed by a unit at a time, beginning
with the artillery, the command installations, and other elements which were to be protected. As the
infantry battalions withdrew under cover of air and artillery, each was assigned to its position. The flanks
of the new perimeter were about 3,500 yards apart, each resting on high ground, and the width ranged from
2,000 to 2,500 yards. The critical moment came when 1/5, the last battalion of all, retired from a ridge
north of Yudam-ni. Swarms of CCF troops followed, and an all-out attack seemed imminent. Then the Chinese
were so diverted by heaps of rubbish that they succumbed to the lure of petty plunder.
The day's work did not end with the occupation of the new perimeter. It was further necessary to seize
the high ground south of Yudam-ni to provide artillery positions covering the fighting withdrawal. In order
to secure these objectives, Col Davis's men took part along with How Co of 3/7 in a fight which lasted most
of the day. Then the weary Leathernecks set out after darkness on their famous march across the crests of
All night the parka-clad men stumbled through drifts and climbed over boulders. At 15 degrees below zero
the wind howled through this wasteland, snatching away the very breaths of Leathernecks ready to collapse
with exhaustion. In several instances the ordeal was more than the men could endure, so that two of them
lost their minds and had to be bound. Both died within 24 hours.
After crossing three ridges, all hands were staggering with fatigue when Col Davis called a halt at 0100
for rest. The enemy opened up with long-distance machine gun fire, but the Leathernecks lay motionless in
the snow where they had dropped with packs on their backs. Too weary to care, too weary even to recognize
their platoon leaders, the had to be roused by officers and non-coms who were scarcely in full possession of
their own faculties. Col Davis himself checked every decision with his officers, he related afterwards, in
order to ensure that his tired brain was functioning accurately.
The Marines finally got to their feet and opened fire which kept the enemy at a respectful distance. And
at daybreak the column lurched forward again, carrying out its dead and wounded while receiving CCF small
arms and automatic fire from four directions. Col Davis sent one company ahead to clear the way, while the
other three watched the flanks and rear.
Communication was established with Fox Co at dawn. It was not meant in a spirit of bravado when those
beleaguered Leathernecks offered to send out a patrol to guide their relief. But Col Davis needed no
assistance to reach the perimeter at 1125 on 2 December, and that afternoon he completed his mission by
securing the mountain pass.
Meanwhile the two regiments had moved out of Yudam-ni at 0900 with an M-26 leading the way. It was the
single tank which had managed to come by road from Hagaru, after three others failed, while the MSR was
still open. Col Litzenberg learned that it had been left at Yudam-ni, locked and deserted, when its crew was
recalled just before the CCF counterstroke. He requested that another crew be sent to him by helicopter, and
the lone tank played a prominent part in the withdrawal by attacking roadblocks.
No riders were allowed on the vehicles except wounded men and essential personnel, for the dead had been
buried before departing Yudam-ni. All able-bodied men were needed to defend the column as 3/5 led the way,
attacking astride the road, while 3/7 covered the right flank, and 1/5 had responsibility for the left.
These units swept forward to secure the high ground on both sides until the vehicles passed, then pushed
ahead to repeat the performance.
Although the planners made no pretensions to clairvoyance, Col Litzenberg and Col Murray foresaw nearly
every CCF move. They reasoned that the Chinese would also recognize the importance of the mountain pass and
strive to stop the column at this point. Acting on this premise, they prepared a trap by sending 1/7, after
it linked up with Fox Co, to ride herd on large CCF forces occupying a ridge running northwest from the
road. Three other rifle companies were posted to cut off escape on the afternoon of 2 December while Marine
artillery fires drove the enemy toward the main column. At this moment Col Litzenberg gave the word for the
slaughter by remarking to Col Murray: "Ray, notify your battalion commander that the Chinese are running
southwest into his arms!"
Progress was slow that night, but on the morning of 3 December the vehicle column started through the
pass as 1/7 became advance guard and 3/7 relieved 2/5 at the rear. "Objective Hagaru" had been the order for
a march which had no intermediate objectives, and the head of the column entered the perimeter at 1900 on
the 3d. No serious losses of equipment resulted from enemy action, but 14 of the howitzers had to be
destroyed by the Marines themselves when the tractors drawing them were disabled for lack of diesel fuel.
The leading troops had taken 59 hours and the rear element required about 20 hours longer. Thus an
average of less than a quarter of a mile an hour was maintained by men who had no rest save during intervals
when a roadblock held up progress.
Never throughout the march had the column been without artillery fires from the three battalions of the
11th Marines. This regiment also provided gunners to serve as infantry in the depleted ranks of RCT-7 rifle
companies, two of which had been reduced by casualties to fewer than a hundred men each.
Superb air support of all kinds, moreover, helped immeasurably to see the 5th an 7th through to Hagaru.
Until 2 December the 5th Air Force was nominally in control, but after that date the 1st Mar Air Wing,
commanded by MajGen Field Harris, was given responsibility for providing close air support for X Corps. The
three squadrons of MAG 12 were then operating from Wonsan, while MAG 33 had two squadrons at Yonpo and one
on a CVE carrier. Squadrons were shifted about frequently during the following week, but the 1st Mar Air
wing remained in control until 11 December.
Navy planes from carriers to Task Force 77 also took an active part in maintaining air support which was
exceptional both in quality and quantity. Between 1 and 11 December the Marines alone flew 1730 sorties,
averaging about 123 a day. Meanwhile the planes of the 5th Air Force flew interdiction missions beyond a
bomb line approximately five miles on either side of the MSR.
Staff officers at Hagaru never forgot the spectacle when the advance guard of the 5th and 7th entered the
perimeter. Bearded Leathernecks in parkas, some of them walking wounded, plodded along with fatigue-glazed
eyes. The more seriously wounded were tied to the rear seats of bullet-riddled jeeps, and stretchers had
even been lashed across the hoods. Trucks with top-heavy loads of tentage gave the column the look of a
Gypsy caravan, but the hungry and exhausted men were carrying themselves with the pride of Marines.
They had found General Witner almost as implacable an enemy as the Chinese. Men wearing shoe pacs had
been unable to change to dry socks under combat conditions, and frostbitten feet were often the result.
Hundreds of other Marines were suffering from digestive ills caused by a diet of frozen "C" rations.
Plans had been made at Hagaru to serve hot meals and guide the newcomers to warming tents in assigned
billeting areas. Evacuation of wounded and frostbite casualties began the next morning, and about 1,000 from
the 5th and 7th Marines were flown out before nightfall to base hospitals in Japan. During the past three
days some 1750 casualties-most of them Army troops straggling in after the defeats east of the Reservoir-had
already been evacuated from the unfinished air strip at Hagaru. The total was to be raised to 4675 on 9
December by C-47 and C-119 pilots who never had a fatal accident. Of this total, 3532 were Marines and the
balance U.S. Army personnel.
During these evacuations no major attacks were made on the Hagaru perimeter, though sniping continued and
the airstrip itself was only a few hundred yards from enemy outposts. This lull was typical of CCF
operations. For it had also been the experience of the 5th and 7th Marines that CCF aggressiveness wilted
after a few good beatings. Chinese combat groups, in short, were committed to a plan of repeated night
attacks allowing no options or alternatives. They persisted, regardless of losses, as long as they retained
cohesion and fighting strength. When reduced beyond this point by casualties, the remnants seemed incapable
of doing anything except withdrawing for long-distance sniping activities.
Four CCF regiments of the 58th and 59th divisions, numbering originally some 15,000 men, had been
punished at Hagaru until they ceased to be effective units. The defense of the perimeter and airstrip was
one of the decisive operations of the breakout, and Col Ridge declared that he could not "recall a single
historic military occasion where such diverse units, of which the majority were non-combat type troops,
withstood determined and almost continuous attacks by an overwhelming numerically superior enemy for such a
Planning for the attack of the entire 1st Mar Div southward from Hagaru to Koto-ri was based on the
tactics which the 5th and 7th Marines had used so effectively. Again the key terrain features on both sides
of the road were to be secured first, so that the vehicle column could proceed with flank protection. RCT-y
was to lead the advance at first light on 6 December, while RCT-5 took responsibility for the defense of
Hagaru and the rear of the departing column.
Division vehicles were to be organized into Trains No. 1 and 2, under control of RCT-7 and RCT-5
respectively. All personnel except drivers and a few others designated by unit commanders were to walk, thus
providing close-in protection.
Although CG X Corps had authorized the destruction of equipment, Gen Smith decided to come out with
everything needed for a fighting withdrawal, including stoves and tentage. Even the spare rifles taken from
casualties were sent out by air, along with 10 plane loads of salvaged parachutes.
All 1st Mar Div casualties had been evacuated and the remaining troops comparatively rested when RCT-7
led the way out of Hagaru on the morning of 6 December. While 2/7 advanced astride the road with a platoon
of tanks, 1/7 protected the right flank and the provisional Army battalion had responsibility for the left.
Near the end of the vehicle train, 3/7 followed to guard against rear attacks.
At 0700, on the crest of the first ridge, C Co of 1/7 surprised a CCF platoon sleeping in foxholes and
wiped it out to a man. Throughout the day the column was under almost constant automatic and mortar fire
from enemy combat groups defending roadblocks or flanking ridges in platoon to company strength. Marine
progress was slow because of the frequent halts while the infantry cleared the flanks so that the train of
about 1000 vehicles could go forward. During the night the enemy cut the column in two, and some close range
fighting resulted before infiltrating CCF troops were killed. Further delays resulted from two blown
bridges, one of which was repaired and the other by-passed.
Meanwhile RCT-5 had launched a rearguard attack at Hagaru, supported by 76 planes, to clear the enemy
from a key height east of the village. The regiment moved on that night to fight its way against stiff
resistance, despite the fact that the first column had just been over the road.
The leading elements of RCT-7 made contact with the 2d Bn of RCT-1 at 0900 on 7 December, and the last
troops of RCT-5 reached Koto-ri that night. Marine engineers, working under floodlights, lengthened the
airstrip of this perimeter until C-47s managed to land precariously the next day. Several hundred more
casualties were evacuated from Koto-ri by planes which brought ammunition to supplement air drops made by
the C-119s. Thus the 1st Mar Div moved out of Koto-ri on the morning of 8 December with two days' rations
and two units of fire, while the addition of RCT-1 vehicles brought the total in the train up to 1400.
Gen Smith and his staff retained essentially the same plan of attack. This time, however, two battalions
of RCT-1 were to hold Koto-ri until the other two regiments cleared. The 1st Bn of RCT-1 was meanwhile to
fight its way from Chinhung-ni up the "hump" to seize commanding ground about halfway to Koto-ri and hold it
until the arrival of the advance guard of RCT-7. This move was made possible when the Marines at Chinhung-ni
were relieved by elements of the 3d Division, sent from Hamhung by X Corps orders.
An estimated six CCF divisions stood in the path of the 1st Mar Div from Hagaru southward, and 3/7 met
fierce resistance immediately after the jumpoff when assaulting its first objective. The hardest fight of
all, however, fell to the lot of 1/1 in its attack up the mountain from Chinhung-ni. Clawing their way
forward through a blinding snowstorm, these Marines took such heavy losses that they were forced to dig in
for the night just short of their objective. As a further check, the enemy had destroyed a 29-foot section
of bridge about a third of the way down the mountain from Koto-ri on the shelf of a cliff which could not be
by-passed. Thus it was not certain that the vehicle column could proceed next day.
The outlook was the more gloomy because the C-119s had made a successful drop on 7 December of six
Treadway bridge sections for repairs. Enemy opposition had prevented the new span from being installed, and
on the night of the 8th there was the threat of continued snow to cut down the Marine close air support
which had been so effective.
The spirits of the Leathernecks were lifted immeasurably in the morning, therefore, when the sun shone
through the clouds upon a world of clean, glittering new snow. Soon the Corsairs were roaring back into
action again to help 1/1 secure its key objective. And it took LtCol John F. Partridge and his engineers
only three hours that afternoon to install the Treadway bridge so that the vehicles could proceed.
The precaution of placing the tanks in the rear proved to be wise when the seventh from the end ran
athwart of the road after its brakes locked. Efforts to bypass it or push it out of the way were
unsuccessful, and the last seven tanks had to be disabled when the enemy closed with mortar fire and
thermite grenades. The tankmen fought on foot in a hot action which resulted in a CCF repulse, and air
strikes completed the job of destroying the abandoned machines.
This was the only grievous loss of equipment on the last lap of the breakout. On the other hand, Col
Puller's regiment actually came out with more vehicles than it brought in, what with salvaging some
abandoned Army trucks.
On the morning of the 10th the advance troops of the 7th Marines moved out of Chinhung-ni, arriving by
truck convoy that afternoon at Hamhung, where hot food and warming tents awaited them. Not until 1300 on the
11th did the last elements of the division clear the railhead, and the final fire fight of the breakout
occurred near Sudong when Col Puller's regimental train fought off an ambush with the loss of eight men
killed, 21 wounded, and eight vehicles.
That night the men of the 1st Mar Div had their first sleep in two weeks that was completely free from
the threat of enemy attack. There remained the problem of evacuating the four divisions of X Corps and
thousands of Korean refugees from Hungnam, but it was enough for the moment that the Leathernecks had cut
their way to safety.
The thoughts of American newspaper readers and radio listeners had been fixed on these men with mingled
hope and dread. Thus the Marines at Hamhung were astonished and even embarrassed by the extravagant degree
of hero worship accorded them. For they knew that no "miracles" had brought the division through from
Yudam-ni and Hagaru. They knew that this result had been achieved by tactical system and method which gave
every PFC confidence in his command and leadership. The Marines, in short, not only outfought the enemy,
they also outthought him at every step of the way.
Not all of the Leathernecks, of course, got back to Hamhung. But those who were privileged to live could
never forget the mass burials which took place in all four main perimeters. Marine losses from 27 November
to 11 December amounted to a total of 7350-541 killed, 182 missing, 2972 wounded, and 3655 non-battle
casualties. Enemy losses for the same period were estimated at a total of 37,500-15,000 killed and 7500
wounded by Marine ground forces, plus 10,000 killed and 5000 wounded by Marine air strikes.
Some flattering tributes were paid the division by the stateside press after the "deliverance of the
survivors." It is quite likely, however, that the Leathernecks themselves would have preferred the comment
written in a letter a few days later by their commanding general.
"These men," declared Gen Smith, "were delivered through their own efforts. They came out as a fighting
division, not as 'survivors.' I do not think the thought of failure ever entered anybody's head."