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THE CAPTURE OF SEOUL - BATTLE OF THE BARRICADES

By Lynn Montross
Historical Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps
Reprinted from August 1951 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator


It had been a busy weekend for the Leathernecks of the 1st Marine Division, especially the hundreds of reservists who were civilians only two months before. Friday, 15 September 1950, was D-Day for the division as the X Corps landing force at Inchon. By Saturday afternoon, 24 hours after hitting the beaches, the two assault regiments and supporting troops had secured this west coast Korean seaport of 250,000 inhabitants. And at dawn on Sunday the 1st and 5th Marines were three miles east of the city, ready to jump off in an advance on Kimpo Airfield and Seoul.

If there had been time for any Monday morning quarterbacking, it might have been concluded that boldness, both of planning and execution, deserved much of the credit for this rapid progress. Further risks were assumed on D plus two by X Corps and 1st Mar Div planners who realized that a 22-mile advance to Seoul by the two assault regiments was an invitation to flank attack. They concluded, however, that this risk was preferable to the greater risk of allowing the enemy enough time to reinforce the city from his main army in the south and make it a major center of resistance. For the Inchon-Seoul operation was only one phase of a general offensive mounted by all the United Nations forces in the peninsula. While the X Corps struck at Seoul, the hub of enemy communications, the Eighth U.S. Army began an attack on 16 September against the 14 enemy divisions which had held the initiative along the Pusan Perimeter in Southeast Korea. The object of the coordinated offensive was nothing less than the destruction of the North Korean Army, and the value of Seoul as an objective was summed up by Gen Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander, in a press statement:

"The history of war proves that nine times out of ten an army has been destroyed because its supply lines have been cut off. That’s what we’re trying to do. Everything the enemy shoots, and all the additional replenishment he needs, have to come through Seoul. We are going to try to seize that distributing area."

Several intermediate objectives had to be taken, however, before an assault could be mounted by two infantry regiments against a city of a million and a half inhabitants. Kimpo Airfield and the large industrial suburb of Yongdungpo lay between Inchon and the ancient capital, and afterwards the broad tidal river Han had to be crossed. Since these subsidiary objectives were located on separate routes, the 1st Mar Div plan of maneuver called for a divergent advance of the two regiments into position for a final converging attack on Seoul. Regimental Combat Team 5 was to seize the airfield, then continue to the occupation of the left bank of the Han in preparation for a crossing. The route of RCT-1 led along the Inchon-Seoul highway toward Yongdungpo, and the troops were to seize high ground to the west in preparation for an assault. These were the objectives of Corps Phase Line C-C, placing the two regiments in position for the converging movement on the final objective.

During the advance each regiment was to have responsibility for the protection of the division flank in its zone. This problem was to be solved in part by striking before the enemy had time to recover from his initial shock and reorganize for a strong resistance. As a further solution, dependence was to be placed on naval gunfire, artillery fires, and air strikes for the protection of flanks. The planners, in short, trusted in boldness to cancel many of the risks when the two regiments jumped off at 0700 on D plus two.

It was in the same spirit that Cpl Okey J. Douglas, of D Co, RCT-5, did the planning for his bazooka team on that Sunday morning. The problem, as six T-34 tanks approached at dawn, was the supposed impossibility of knocking them out with a 2.36-inch rocket launcher. The solution, as grasped by Cpl Douglas, was to hit the enemy armor at a range suggesting boxing gloves rather than bazookas. Thus as the North Korean machines clanked around a bend in the road, Cpl Douglas held both his breath and his fire.

This was the best-organized North Korean counter attack since the landing, for about 200 infantry accompanied the tanks. Unfortunately for the enemy, the 2d Bn had been smarting for revenge ever since its narrow escape from an ambush in August during the operations of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. Now it was the enemy’s turn as the hostile tanks shouldered their way through the dawn toward the jump-off positions of the Marines.

When the counterattack was spotted, the 2d Bn already occupied defensive positions in depth which the commanding officer had selected as ideal for an ambush. The forward platoon of D Co., dug in on a height, was instructed to lay low until the enemy passed. The other two platoons were posted in waiting on opposite sides of the road, while the armor of Co A, 1st Tank Bn remained in the rear to deliver the knockout punch.

Fire was to be opened by all weapons after the Marine tanks set the example. Thus the six T-34’s and accompanying infantry were trapped beyond hope of escape when the Leathernecks cut loose with everything they had. Cpl Douglas hit the first enemy tank in the right front bogie at a range of 5 yards. As it spun off the road in flames, his next 2.36 rocket struck the second tank at the base of the turret. Clouds of smoke poured from the cripple, which was speedily finished off along with the four others by friendly tanks, 3.5-inch rockets, and 75mm recoilless fire. Meanwhile the enemy infantry detachment was completely wiped out by automatic fire poured in from surrounding heights.

 

It is not often that a Leatherneck is decorated for skepticism as well as bravery. But Cpl Douglas was recommended for a Bronze Star because of "great courage," and the citation added that he "performed these actions in spite of intelligence that this type of tank could not be destroyed with his weapon."

The fight had barely ended when Gen Douglas MacArthur and staff, accompanied by LtGen Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., commanding general of FMFPAC, arrived on the scene. It was the initial trip of shore inspection for officers who had made their headquarters on the USS Mount McKinley during the landings. As General MacArthur gazed in approval at the road strewn with burning tanks and enemy dead, an accompanying staff officer broke the silence of the group: "You damn Marines," he remarked, "stage everything to your own advantage—even a visit by the Supreme Commander!"

Field reports observed dryly that the enemy counter attack delayed the jump-off of the 5th Marines by 45 minutes. Before 0800, however, both regiments were on their way.

The value of Kimpo as a first objective was obviously. Air support during the landings had been limited to carrier-based Navy and Marine planes, but seizure of the field would enable land-based Marine aircraft to take part in the attack on Seoul. Time was of the essence on 17 September, since Division G-2 reported Kimpo to be weakly defended. The 5th Marines raced ahead, therefore, to take the field before enemy reinforcements could be sent from Seoul.

The advance was made in column of battalions, the 2d leading the 1st, and the 3d in reserve. Minor pockets of resistance encountered in the village of Taejang-ni were quickly eliminated by patrol action. In the middle of the afternoon the 2d Bn swung to the left for the attack on Kimpo, while the 1st Bn drove on toward the river.

The airfield was occupied by 2/5 at 2020 and the troops dug in for the night. No opposition worth mentioning developed until 0100 the following morning. Then a platoon of E Co, holding advanced positions, beat off five counterattacks by about 50 enemy before rejoining the main body. The enemy made his chief effort in estimated company strength at 0500, only to be repulsed with heavy losses by E Co., supported by fire from other elements of the battalion. All three companies spent the rest of the day at mopping up resistance in nearby villages, and D Company with a platoon of tanks occupied a position overlooking the Han in preparation for a crossing. Meanwhile the 1st Bn closed the gap between regiments by moving to a position about two miles northwest of Yongdungpo, where it was relieved next morning by the 1st Bn of the 1st Marines.

The advantages of an early seizure of Kimpo were soon made apparent. Advance echelons of Marine Air Group 33 flew in from Japan on 18 September, followed next day by VMF-212 and VMF (N)-542 from Japan. By the 20th the first strikes were being launched by land-based Corsairs, and VMF-312 arrived from Japan on the 24th.

While RCT-5 was meeting scattered opposition on the way to Phase Line C-C, the enemy gave RCT-1 several hot fire fights along the Inchon-Seoul highway. Heavy automatic and small arms fire was encountered about three miles west of Sosa from enemy groups dug in on heights commanding the road. In order to speed the advance, the infantry of G Co mounted the tanks of B Co, 1st Tank Bn, as the spearhead for the 1st and 2nd Bns abreast. The 3d Bn, as a mobile reserve, followed in DUKWs to exploit any successes.

Continued enemy resistance soon compelled the G Co troops to dismount and call for artillery and air strikes before the infantry could dislodge the enemy. After a hard day of slugging, all elements dug in for the night about 1,500 yards west of Sosa. At 0642, after a quiet night with occasional mortar fire, RCT-1 jumped off toward the day’s objective, Hill 123, about a mile east of Sosa. Two hours later the 3d Bn leading the 2d and 1st in column, passed through the burning town, set afire by shells of the 2d Bn, 11th Marines. Before noon the advance troops seized the height against moderate opposition and began organization of the ground in coordination with the other two battalions.

Enemy resistance increased with each mile gained along the Inchon-Seoul highway. At 1400 the troops holding Hill 123 were being pounded by mortar and artillery fire from the right flank, resulting in heavy casualties. Some of the camouflaged enemy positions could not be located for air and artillery strikes, and the firing continued throughout the day and night.

On the morning of 19 September the 1st Marines fought their way forward to designated positions two miles west of Yongdungpo, so that both regiments had now secured the objectives of Corps Phase Line C-C. If the division flanks had seemed unprotected during the two-pronged advance, the enemy learned better, to his cost, on D plus two when the 5th Marines called for naval gunfire to break up hostile concentrations on their left. The 1st Marines made extensive use of artillery and tactical air on their right for a similar purpose.

The same precision was evident in the logistical sphere. So rapidly had the Inchon tidal basin been made operative that cargo sufficient for six days of supply for the men already landed had been put ashore by the 1st Shore Party Bn and attached elements of the 2d Special Engineer Brigade. In spite of a shortage of transport vehicles, supplies and ammunition kept up so well with the rapid advance that the flow was never seriously interrupted.

On 19 September the two assault regiments were in position to take off from Phase Line C-C, for their next missions—the crossing of the Han for the 5th Marines, and the attack on Yongdungpo for the 1st Marines. The two regiments were no longer alone, for two new outfits had been attached on either flank—a Korean Marine regiment (less one battalion left behind to mop up Inchon) on the left of the 5th Marines, and the newly landed 32d Regiment of the U.S. Army 7th Inf Div on the right of the 1st Marines. These recent arrivals were placed under operational control of MajGen Oliver P. Smith, CG, 1st Mar Div.

Intelligence reports of North Korean strength, which had been remarkably accurate so far, indicated that the enemy was recovering from his first shock and summoning reinforcements from outlying posts and stations in North Korea for the defense of Yongdungpo and Seoul. Elements of the NK 18th Division and a regiment of the 9th Division were resisting the 1st Marines, and the 25th Brigade had dug in along ridges northwest of Seoul within striking distance of a river crossing by the 5th Marines. Altogether, it was estimated that as many as 20,000 troops might be available for the defense of the ancient capital and its approaches. And though most of them were recent recruits of little training, PW interrogations revealed a discipline of terror imposed by fanatical officers.

Planning of the Han crossing was assigned by corps to division, which in turn left the details up to the 5th Marines. The regimental CP attracted so many ranking officers and news writers on the night of 19 September that CO 5th Marines finally had to invite them to leave—an invitation accepted with sympathetic understanding. Plans, as finally agreed upon, contemplated a reconnaissance that night by troops of the Division Reconnaissance Co, to be followed by the crossing of a covering force in rubber boats. Then the 3d Bn was to cross at daylight in LVTs and secure the right bank for the other two battalions.

Some very complex amphibian vehicles had been perfected for Marine landings, but in the early darkness of D plus four the planners placed their trust in warfare’s oldest amphibian unit—a man swimming under cover of night to an unknown shore. Fourteen members of Recon Co. crossed the quarter-mile tidal river, using a slow breaststroke to avoid ripples. [One general officer with an observer mission and a strong sense of duty wanted to accompany this swimming party and form his conclusions at close range. Ranking officers had to fall back on their tactical authority to prevent the exposure of a general to capture by the enemy.] Their caution seemed needless when no hostile troops were discovered, and the signal was given for the remainder of the company to follow in LVTs. Unhappily, the noise of the engines warned the enemy, and the LVTs were forced to turn back by mortar and machine gun fire. An hour later the swimming patrol returned with three wounded men who managed to reach the regimental CP by their own efforts.

The enemy was estimated at battalion strength by the patrol, so that new plans had to be made immediately for an assault landing. At 0645, in accordance with the hastily revised schedule, the 3d Bn crossed in LVTs, following an artillery preparation. Small arms and automatic fire came from Hill 125, across the river to the right, which was taken at 0850 after some brilliant infantry maneuvers. The assault troops of two companies swung about like a whiplash to surprise the position from the rear, while the third company pushed inland about 1,500 yards, still in LVTs, to secure the high ground covering the Seoul-Kaesong road. Then the 2d Bn crossed to pass through the third before wheeling right and advancing down the road toward Seoul. The entire operation was completed at 1500 on 20 September when the 1st Bn crossed in reserve and went into an assembly area.

On the following day the 7th Marines landed at Inchon. Not even activated until 17 August, the third infantry regiment of the 1st Mar Div could not arrive until D plus six. It was to have the unique experience of assembling for the first time in the objective area and training as a unit in actual combat. On 21 September, a few hours after landing, the 3d Bn moved to a position east of Kimpo with a mission of providing security for the airfield, while the other two battalions went into an assembly area.

That same afternoon the dissolution of Joint Task Force 7 was announced. At 1700 control of all troops ashore passed to MajGen Edward S. Almond, CG X Corps, after he notified Commander JTF 7 of his readiness to assume command. The naval forces, however, remained in the Inchon area to support operations.

The end of the amphibious phase was no news to the 5th Marines, who had tangled with major opposition in the hills northwest of Seoul as they continued their advance. There the enemy had set up a chain of strongly-manned defensive positions based on three heights—Hill 105 at the southern end, another Hill 105 in the center, and Hill 298 in the north. The regiment deployed the 3d and 1st Bns in assault against Hills 298 and 105A respectively. But after initial rapid progress along the approaches, both battalions were slowed up by a heavy concentration of small arms and automatic fire.

The attack was continued on the morning of 22 September with the Korean battalion in line between the 1st and 3d Bns of the RCT-5. A Co led an assault on Hill 105A, only to be pinned down by automatic and small arms fire from the front and left. C Co tackled the position from the right with no better success, and late that afternoon B Co was brought up for a concerted effort. Following an intensive air and artillery preparation, the 1st Bn attacked the hill from two sides and swept up to the top at 1745. Meanwhile the 3d Bn had met lighter resistance on Hill 298, and H Co took the position with relatively few losses.

These same two days were the occasion of a savage fight on the other side of the Han as the 1st Marines seized Yongdungdo. On the 19th and 20th the regiment had plugged slowly forward along the Inchon-Seoul highway against opposition which continued to increase. Observation from captured high ground made it evident that the enemy had concentrated in and about the industrial suburb for a strongly organized defense.

Land mines slowed up the advance, depriving the Marines of tank support for hours at a stretch until engineers could clear the road. Curious as it may seem, the enemy had made little use so far of a weapon so well suited to his delaying tactics. This deficiency adds to the evidence that shock and dislocation, resulting from the rapidity of Marine penetrations, had handicapped the defense more than lack of numbers and equipment. The enemy’s potential strength, if well organized, is indicated by his losses of the first four days alone—1,023 prisoners, 24 ranks, and an estimated 2,750 casualties. Marine veterans of Pacific island campaigns could recall occasions when fewer Japanese, defending prepared positions, had sold every inch of ground dearly. But the North Korean forces were at last using tactics which might have profited them earlier, and the efforts of a reinforced company of Marine engineers were needed to clear the Inchon-Seoul highway of mines.

On 19 September the 32d Infantry relieved the 1st Marines of responsibility for the area south of the highway. Next day the Leathernecks completed their advance to the west bank of Kalchon Creek, on the western outskirts of Yongdungpo. The main assault was launched at 0630 on 21 September by all three battalions jumping off abreast from this position. The 1st and 2d Bns, on the left and right, encountered such deadly mortar and artillery fire that late in the afternoon the 2d had to be withdrawn, thinned by casualties. The break in the attack came when A Co swung around from the northwest to enter the town from the southwest. Maneuver and surprise turned the trick, and by nightfall these troops had advanced through the southern edge of Yongdungpo along a road leading to the airstrip east of town. There the Leathernecks dug in on both sides of the road to await the expected counterattack.

It had been a long time since veterans of Pacific island campaigns had heard foemen screaming, "Banzai!" But once again that fanatical screech came out of the darkness as an estimated 500 North Koreans surged against the A Co positions. As a preliminary, four T-34 tanks moved up to a parallel secondary road, firing their 76mm guns and machine guns at point-blank ranges. A Marine 3.5 bazooka team disabled two of them, though they managed to creep away on their own power. Three North Korean infantry attacks followed in rapid succession, and each time the enemy was slaughtered. At daybreak some 275 corpses and about 50 automatic weapons were counted, though the A Co casualties had been light. At daybreak a welcome anticlimax awaited the 1st Marines. The remaining elements of the regiment attacked at 0800, only to find the suburb evacuated by battered defenders who had retreated across the Han under cover of darkness.

With the capture of Yongdungpo, it was possible for the division to put into operation its plan for a two-regiment drive through Seoul. Although the original concept was modified by X Corps in an order directing the 32d Infantry to cross the Han and enter Seoul from the southeast, the main burden of capturing the city still fell upon the 1st and 5th Marines. The modified plan of 23 September called for the 5th Marines to continue their assault on the enemy positions on the western edge of the city while the 1st Marines crossed the Han on the right flank of the 5th, moved southeast along the river bank, then pivoted to the northeast and attacked through the heart of the city. Meanwhile two battalions of the 7th Marines were to advance across the northern edge of the city to prevent the enemy from escaping to the north.

These moves were executed on schedule. The 7th Marines (less the 3d Bn) moved into their assigned zone on the 23d. On the following day the 1st Marines, with the 2d Bn in assault, crossed the river in LVTs and DUKWs against sporadic mortar and automatic fire. The 2d Bn swung quickly over to the right flank of the 5th Marines, and the 1st Bn passed through to seize Hill 79 at 1400.

In conjunction with the 1st Marines’ crossing of the Han, the 5th Marines made a concerted effort to smash the defenses built about Hill 105B. Not only had the enemy been heavily reinforced in this area, but his tactics were formidable. Expert use was made of cover in reverse slope positions, and smoke pots did much to conceal Marine air and artillery targets. Supplementing the usual NK automatic and mortar fire, accurate artillery fire was laid down with a high proportion of white phosophorus.

Marine close air and artillery support continued to be excellent. Nevertheless, it remained for the infantry of the 5th Marines to close with an enemy making a last-ditch stand on ground of his choosing. Some intricate maneuvers were executed in preparation for the assault of 24 September. With the landing of the 1st Marines on the west bank of the Han, 1/5 was relieved on the right flank of the 5th Marines and shifted to the left flank to support the attack of 3/5. This move freed 3/5 to attack Hill 105B from the left while 2/5 made the main assault frontally. After a 40-minute air and artillery bombardment, 2/5 clawed its way forward a few hundred yards with heavy losses, but darkness found the enemy still holding a position honeycombed with caves and foxholes. The three battalions tied in for the night with orders to continue the assault in the morning.

On 25 September the Marines were operating for the first time on a division front, with RCT-1 on the right, RCT-5 in the center, and RCT-7 on the left. The 3d Bn of the latter had been returned to its control after being relieved on the Kumpo Peninsula by elements of the 187th RCT. This Army regiment was ordered by corps to clear the peninsula while relieving the 7th Marines of responsibility for covering the corps and division left flank, the Han crossing, and Kimpo Airfield. The 32d Inf was to advance on Seoul from the eastward, following its crossing of the Han, while other 7th Div elements were to patrol southward from Suwon, captured on the 21st.

The 7th Marines had the new mission of advancing across the northern edge of the city, cutting the Pyongyang-Seoul highway, and taking up a series of blocking positions to prevent the escape of the enemy from Seoul. Meanwhile the 1st and 5th Marines were to deliver their all-out attack on the city.

The 5th Marines jumped off on the 25th with the 2d and 3d Bns in assault from right to left. Both were held up for hours by a heavy concentration of enemy mortar and automatic fire from Hill 105B. On the extreme left flank the 1st Bn was drawn into the fight along with the Recon Co and Korean Bn in an attempt to outflank the enemy. Not until 1545 was the hill finally taken after a costly frontal advance by the 2d Bn, supported by the flank attacks of the other units. The extent of enemy resistance is best described by the fact that some 1,750 enemy dead were counted on and about Hill 105B.

The 5th Marines, having cracked the enemy’s main line of resistance, pushed on before dark into the northwest outskirts of Seoul. Meanwhile the assault by the 1st Marines began with the 3d Bn passing through the 2d to tie in with the 1st on the right. This shifted the direction of attack 90 degrees to the left, so that the course of the regiment led directly through the heart of Seoul while RCT-5 drove through the northwest quarter. Stubborn resistance at a rail embankment held up the 1st Marines until noon, after mines prevented the tanks from coming to their support. Air and artillery finally dislodged the enemy, who continued the struggle by pouring in mortar and automatic fire from rooftops and road blocks. By evening the regiment had advanced 1,000 to 2,000 yards into the city, while the 7th Marines on the northern flank had occupied all their objectives without meeting resistance.

If the weary Leathernecks had counted on any rest that night they were soon disillusioned. At 2040 an X Corps flash teletyped message reported the enemy to be fleeing Seoul and ordered an immediate pursuit by the 1st Mar Div. Division G-3 questioned the accuracy of intelligence based on night air identification and concluded that the fugitives were civilian refugees. Upon contacting G-3 of Corps, however, Division G-3 was informed that the Marine advance was to begin without delay. Gen Smith then called X Corps Chief of Staff and also received an affirmative answer. At 2205 General Smith gave the attack order to the commanding officers of the 1st and 5th Marines, directing them to concentrate along streets which could be identified at night. An hour later G-3 passed on the order to the commanding officers of the 7th and 11th Marines. By that time the 3d Bn of the 5th Marines had already received a counterattack which lasted all night.

Further testimony that reports of an enemy flight were premature might have been given by Cpl Charles E. Collins of B Co, 1st Marines. Leading a patrol shortly after midnight to make contact with the 3d Bn, 5th Marines, he spaced his eight men about 10-feet apart in a little column fumbling its way up one side of the street. Suddenly the Leathernecks stumbled into enemy preparations for a large tank and infantry counterattack. All hell broke loose when the uninvited guests were identified. North Korean automatic weapons and tank guns blazed away indiscriminately, hitting nobody but making an infernal racket in the empty streets. Cpl Collins yelled for his men to get back to the CP as best they could and give warning. Meanwhile, he stuck it out under friendly as well as enemy fire until avenues of escape were closed. At 0500, with all other members of the patrol safe, Collins had been given up for dead when he returned to the CP, wearing white Korean civilian garments he had found in a house which hid him from the enemy. This exploit was worth a Bronze Star and an extra stripe when reported to division headquarters.

By that time the 3d Bn had received his warning and repulsed the counterattack. The enemy was estimated at battalion strength with 12 tanks, five of which were knocked out by mines and 3.5 rockets. Intensive artillery fires aided the Marines, and about 375 of the enemy were believed to have been killed. Altogether, it was a night of confused alarms and excursions for both regiments in the dark city of seemingly empty streets. No contact could be made between regiments, so that a coordinated advance was out of the question when the Marines attacked at 0200 in accordance with X Corps orders. Little progress was made before dawn, and two more days of savage street fighting awaited the Leathernecks as they cut a wide swath straight through the city.

It would have encouraged them to know that at 2315 on 26 September elements of the 7th Div made contact with the 1st Cav Div of the U.S. Eighth Army about five miles south of Suwon. This meant that the Eighth Army had the enemy on the run after launching a coordinated offensive the day after the Inchon landing. With the main NK supply line cut at Seoul, enemy forces in the southern part of the peninsula were rapidly falling apart at the seams. In some sectors all organized resistance had ceased, and whole NK units were melting away as the troops buried their weapons and changed to civilian clothing.

The end of the Korean civil war was in sight, but there was no rest for the Leathernecks making a battlefield of the ancient capital. Every street barricade was a new objective, for at intervals of 400 to 600-yards the enemy had built road-blocks of sand bags, extending from one side to the other. Machine guns and antitank guns were concealed in adjacent buildings, and the approaches were sown with antitank mines.

The objective was all Seoul, and planning was left pretty much to the grimy and weary Leathernecks who fought it out from house to house, from barricade to barricade. One of these battles within a battle was waged by D Co of the 1st Marines to advance some 400 yards up a wide, tree-lined boulevard and take a sandbagged road-block. The men had just blasted their way through a similar barricade late on the morning of the 26th with air, artillery, and air support. [From an eye-witness description, "Street Fight in Seoul," by SSgt Robert W. Tallent in Leatherneck of January, 1951."] And now the whole process had to be repeated while the casualties were being evacuated.

This fight was typical of the others, whether they involved a battalion, a company, or a platoon. First the engineers probed ahead, hugging the sides of the street, to search for antitank mines. As the infantry waited, sounds of other fire fights could be heard all over a shattered city still filled with unseen civilians cowering in the wreckage. Then the earth seemed to buck as the engineers exploded enemy mines in strings of six. The tanks went into action, chopping at the new barricade with their 90mm guns. As they rumbled forward, taking plenty of enemy fire in return, the artillery laid down a barrage which sent up geysers of rubble. Three Corsairs snarled overhead, checking their positions before diving almost to the level of the roofs and hosing the barricade with streams of 50-caliber slugs. A few of the enemy made a run for it, but the BAR men cut them down before they rounded the corner.

Now the infantry moved forward single-file on both sides of the street at a crouching walk, their smudged faces wearing the curiously wooden expression of men in combat. A burning building made it so hot at the halfway point that the Leathernecks bunched up in their efforts to hasten past. "Spread out, you characters!", yelled a noncom. And already another cry could be heard, "Corpsman!"

Steel shutters were ripped from store-fronts to serve as stretchers, and as the casualties went back the infantry went forward into the haze of smoke and dust. At 40 yards the BARmen and a 60mm squad cut loose and the fire teams hugged the lee sides of the tanks as the first M-26 butted its way through all the artillery and Corsairs had left of the barricade—a low mound of burst sand bags and seeming heaps of rags which were actually enemy dead. Another objective had been taken, and the men of D Co rested a moment before plodding on toward the next road-block.

Not all the combats were so grim. Elements of the 3d Bn, 1st Marines, approached a group of school buildings, surrounded by a stone wall, which should have made a perfect strong point. But patrols could find no signs of resistance, and the only occupants proved to be a group of terrified Korean civilians—the dean of a veterinary college, several of his professors, and their wives and children. Two elderly cows completed the list of captives.

Such interludes were all too rare, and during the three principal days of street fighting the Marines had casualties of 112 killed and 543 wounded. Nevertheless, the two regiments retained enough spirit to indulge in a friendly race of flag-raising. The 2d Bn of the 1st Marines and the 3d Bn of the 5th Marines, keeping up contact between regiments, reached Changdok palace in a dead heat at 1500 on 27 September. The men of RTC-5 were first to tear down the enemy flag and fly the Stars and Stripes. Half an hour later, however, the 1st Marines were officially credited with the first flag-raising, which took place at the former residence of the U.S. Ambassador.

The sharp decrease in resistance on 28 September was indicated by casualties which dropped to 12 killed and 28 wounded. The following day the 1st Marines were given the delicate task of guarding the streets as Gen MacArthur turned the city over to President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea. While the ROK troops marched in the parade, the 1st Marines patrolled behind the scenes to prevent any such disrespectful noises as exploding enemy grenades or mortar shells. Enough pockets of resistance remained so that the danger was real to the tired troops assigned as much as 4,000 yards frontage for the battalion. But the unseen Leathernecks did their work so well that not a shot was fired at the VIPs during the liberation ceremonies.

While the 1st and 5th Marines were battling their way through Seoul and the 32d Infantry reached the eastern outskirts, the 7th Marines took their assigned objectives north of Seoul against increasingly stiff resistance. With the fall of the city, X Corps exploited its possession of the key enemy communications center. Enemy forces driven before the advancing Eighth Army were expected to try to escape into North Korea by passing through the Corps zone, either as organized units or as stragglers in civilian clothes seeking a sanctuary above the 38th parallel. In order to guard against these contingencies, X Corps set up defensive positions in a rough semi-circle, beginning at Inchon, passing through Suwon on the south, crossing the Han about 13 miles east of Seoul, then passing ten miles north of the city and back to the coast near Inchon. Along the main approaches to the perimeter from the east and south, blocking positions were to be set up at distances of five to 10 miles from the main defensive line.

The Han river, flowing across the Corps area, formed a natural boundary between the 1st Mar Div in the north and the 7th Inf Div and 187th-RCT in the south. Within Seoul the 17th ROK Regt provided security.

In their own zone the Marines set up defensive positions. This task had been completed by 30 September, with the 1st Marines on the east, the 7th Marines in the center, and 5th Marines on the west. The following day these dispositions were amended when the 1st Marines extended their lines to the left to take over the positions of the 7th Marines, relieving these troops for a new mission to the northward.

One of the marvels of the Inchon-Seoul operation had been the performance of this regiment which received its unit training in combat. Partly by design as well as circumstance, these late arrivals had acquired experience by gradual stages, so that they were behaving like veterans in their fire fights north of Seoul while the other two regiments took the city. On 1 October the 7th Marines was given the task of advancing to Uijonbu to block the main artery leading to Pyongyang, the Red Korean capital. That same day the 3d Bn of the 5th Marines pushed forward to Suyuhon, taking that town against light opposition on 2 October to close off the other main route, leading to Kaesong. Meanwhile the 7th Marines, reinforced by a battalion of artillery, a company of engineers, and a tank company, moved out in column of battalions toward its objective.

Only road mines barred the way on 1 October until the 3d Bn, followed by the 1st and 2d, entered a defile leading to Uijonbu. Here the column was stopped by an enemy rearguard estimated at 5,500, dug in along hills on either side of the road. The 1st Bn essayed a feint, simulating a flank attack, but heavy mortar and antitank fire compelled a return to the road. At the approach of darkness the Marines dug in for the night.

The next morning the regiment launched an attack on both sides of the defile with two battalions in assault, the 3d on the left and the 1st on the right. Repeated air and artillery strikes failed to knock out strong positions in the 3d Battalion zone, and the tanks were stopped by mines. The total advance for the day was 300 yards, though the 2st Bn made progress against lighter resistance and seized its ridge line. When the attack was continued on the morning of 3 October, the 3d Bn discovered that the enemy had withdrawn during the night, abandoning two mortars and a supply dump. The 2d Bn, which had been in reserve, swept forward with tanks to occupy Uijongbu that afternoon.

This was the last combat of the Inchon-Seoul operation, for only mopping-up took place during the remaining four days. The rapid progress made immediately after the landing has sometimes obscured the fact that the capture of Seoul was one of the toughest fights in Marine history. Casualties for the entire operation amounted to 417 killed or died of wounds, five missing, and 1,081 wounded, and more than two-thirds of this number were incurred in the prolonged battle for the city and its approaches. Losses inflicted on the enemy by the 1st Mar Div were estimated at a total of 4,792 prisoners and 13,666 casualties. Any veteran Leatherneck might have guessed that planning would begin for a new operation before the old one ended. On 1 October, in accordance with this Marine custom, a tentative order was published for advance planning of a lift by sea for a X Corps amphibious operation on the east coast of Korea. Further directives followed in quick succession during the next few days. And at 1200 on 7 October the division became non-operational, after being relieved by elements of the Eighth Army which were pursuing the enemy remnants across the 38th parallel. The Marines returned to Ascom City by convoy on that date, and only three days later they were boarding the troopships for their next adventure.

 

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