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The Hungnam Evacuation:
Amphibious Landing in Reverse

 
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The Hungnam Evacuation

Authored by Lynn Montross
Reprinted from December 1951 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to the Korean War Educator


The night of 11 December 1950 was a memorable one for the Leathernecks in the warming tents at Hamhung. For the first time in two weeks they had an opportunity to renew their acquaintance with hot food, sleep, security, and a much-needed shave.

These were the men of the 1st Mar Div who had been making front-page headlines in the world press. Since 27 November, when the great Chinese Communist counteroffensive exploded in the X Corps zone, they had fought their way for 56 miles through overwhelming enemy forces.

But the end was not yet in sight. In spite of recent sub-zero temperatures, it might figuratively have been said that the Marines had jumped from the frying plan into the fire. Hamhung could offer them only a breathing spell. The entire Chosin Reservoir breakout, in fact, might prove to be a prelude to the test awaiting in the Hungnam port area.

The new overall problem was staggering. CinCFE orders called for the immediate evacuation and redeployment of the 1st Mar Div and the other four divisions of X Corps. This meant that more than 100,000 troops must be assembled and embarked under the noses of the Chinese forces. Thousands of vehicles and mountains of equipment must be outloaded from a small Korean port, and the difficulties were compounded by a host of friendly Korean civilian refugees who could scarcely be abandoned to the tender mercies of the Communists.

No such large-scale movement of combined Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine elements had been contemplated since Okinawa. The time was so short, moreover, that action could not always wait on detailed planning and organization. In any event the job had to be done.

Even without the danger of enemy interference, the swift-paced Hungnam evacuation would have caused many a headache as an administrative problem. But it could not be supposed, of course, that the enemy would neglect any military advantage. On the contrary, 1st Mar Div intelligence warned on 10 December that "sizeable" Chinese forces were gathering along the former MSR in the Marine rear. Although 1st Mar Div ground and air forces had inflicted an estimated 37,500 casualties in the past two weeks, the CCF invaders seemed to have endless reserves. Marine air observation revealed a "continued movement southward to reinforce, with the presence of a considerable amount of artillery pieces reported for the first time."

Despite the punishment taken by the enemy, his combat efficiency and morale at the finish of the Marine breakout was rated by Divisions G-2 as "good to excellent." CCF capabilities were believed to include two courses of action which might affect the Hungnam evacuation. One was the mounting of "large-scale, coordinated attacks against the Hamhung-Hungnam area at any time with an estimated six to eight CCF divisions supported by an undetermined amount of artillery and armor." The other, which held even more serious implications, was that the Communists might launch "large-scale air attacks."

Either of these threats was disturbing at a time when the roads leading to Hungnam would soon be choked with troops and vehicles. So far the Chinese had not challenged the United Nations air supremacy, but it was conceivable that this might be the next great surprise of an unpredictable conflict. After all, there was no logical reason why Soviet planes should not be made available to the enemy as well as Soviet artillery and tanks.

Nor could the morale factor be overlooked. Today, glancing back with the infallible wisdom of hindsight, it is hard to recapture the atmosphere of shock and confusion which then prevailed. In a few incredible November days a Chinese Communist counterstroke had wrecked Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur’s "end the war" offensive. The U.S. Eighth Army was hurled back in Northwest Korea after a ROK corps disintegrated on the right flank. Then the enemy struck his next surprise blow in the X Corps zone, where five divisions were strung out all the way from Wonsan to the Manchurian border.

Eight CCF divisions fell upon the 1st Mar Div, spearheading the X Corps advance in the Chosin Reservoir area, and another UN disaster appeared to be in the making. [1] Stateside newspaper readers watched the headlines in dread of the Marines being trapped and destroyed. But the Marines came out fighting. The Marines snatched the initiative from a numerically superior foe and cut a path to the sea.

Students of history were reminded of Xenophon and his Ten Thousand fighting their way to another sea through another host of Orientals. [2] Twenty-four centuries had gone by since then, and weapons had progressed from catapults to howitzers. Yet the principles of sound warfare had changed but little, and the Marines were not unworthy of the comparison. The Marines, too, had both command and leadership. The Marines showed a classical precision in making the most of their training and weapons. The Marines were armed with the confidence which comes from the victories of method and system over locust tactics.

It was not the first time that the 1st Mar Div had restored American public faith at a moment of doubt and bewilderment. In 1942 the outfit had the distinction of deflating a Japanese superman legend which had been blown up since Pearl Harbor. For the Leathernecks slugged it out the hard way on Guadalcanal to crush a foe with a reputation for invincibility in jungle warfare.

History repeated itself eight years later when the 1st Mar Div stormed ashore at Inchon on 15 September 1950 to puncture a legend of North Korean prowess. And on 11 December, when the Anabasis of the Leathernecks ended in the warming tents of Hamhung, the 1st Mar Div had demonstrated that the military coolies of Red China could be repeatedly beaten. Stateside radio commentators and editorial writers explained the breakout in terms of a "miracle," but the Marines knew better. The Marines knew that they had won over Communist bulk and fanaticism with nothing more miraculous than good home-made "war according to the book."

There was the danger afterwards that American public opinion might swing back to overconfidence. But before this reaction had time to develop, another crisis threatened in Northeast Korea when X Corps was ordered to begin the Hungnam evacuation.

The merest layman might have perceived that any such operation would take a great deal of doing. It was a tribute to the Navy, however, that the prompt accomplishment of its mission was assumed as a matter of course by officers of other branches.

In keeping with this tradition, the Navy had already been planning and preparing on a basis of possibilities. Radm James H. Doyle, commanding Task Force 90, was alerted for this purpose at the early date of 28 November by Vadm C. Turner Joy, ComNavFE. The Chinese counteroffensive was then only three days old, but CTF-90 commenced planning for the redeployment of ground forces by water in Korea, either as an administrative operation or an emergency measure. Units of TF-90 were issued Operations Order 19-50, providing for half of the amphibious force to operate on the east coast of Korea under Adm Doyle, while the other half had responsibility for the west coast under RAdm Lyman A. Thackrey, CTG-90.1. Overall control of all redeployment operations was to be exercised by CTF-90.

On 29 November ComNavFE advised Adm Doyle that the military outlook in Korea made it desirable for all ships of TF-90 to be on six hours’ notice, either in Korean or Japanese waters. Most of the amphibious units were then in Japan for upkeep and replenishment, and Sasebo was designated as their port of assembly.

The following day, as the military situation continued to deteriorate, all units of TF-90 were directed to deploy immediately to Korea. There was a question as to which side of the peninsula would be indicated, but the plight of the Eighth Army appeared to be the most critical. Accordingly it was ordered that two thirds of the amphibious units and half of the transports be deployed to the west coast.

Preparations were not neglected meanwhile on the other coast. The anchorage area was enlarged in the harbor at Hungnam, and minesweeping operations were initiated to provide channels for gunfire support ships.

Not until 8 December was it finally determined that the emphasis would be on Hungnam and other east coast ports for a water lift of X Corps. Navy planning and preparations had been going ahead at full blast for a week, therefore, when Adm Joy summoned a high-level conference on this same day. VAdm Arthur D. Struble, Com7thFlt, LtGen Lemuel C. Shepherd, CG FMFPAC, and Adm Doyle met with ComNavFE aboard the USS Mt. McKinley, and the following day the order to redeploy X Corps to the Pusan-Pohang area was received.

CTF-90 was assigned the missions of conducting redeployment operations in east coast embarkation ports, of controlling all air and naval gunfire support, of protecting shipping en route to debarkation ports, and of coordinating withdrawal movements with CG X Corps.

During this prelude of Navy planning, Army and Marine elements in Northeast Korea were still in process of extricating themselves from the deadly embrace of the CCF counteroffensive. Prior to 9 December, it must be remembered, no orders for a redeployment by sea had been received by MajGen Edward S. Almond, CG X Corps. He was merely directed by CinCFE to assemble his units and prepare to defend the Hungnam base of operations. X Corps also had the responsibility of providing logistical support, largely in the form of air cargo and paradrops, for the 1st Mar Div in its breakout from the Chosin Reservoir area.

The Marines, as it proved, did more than save themselves from destruction. They kept the enemy so well occupied in the process that the other four widely dispersed divisions of X Corps were able to pull back with a minimum of enemy interference.

Three battalions of the 7th Inf Div had been badly cut up by the Chinese east of the Reservoir, and the survivors were placed under the operational control of MajGen Oliver P. Smith, CG 1st Mar Div. The remaining units made their way back to Hamhung without serious fighting, though the advanced positions extended nearly to the Manchurian border.

The 3d Inf Div and attached ROK Marines had even less difficulty in their withdrawal to the Wonson area for a move by land and sea to Hamhung. A task force from this division relieved a Marine battalion at Chinhung-ni so that it could keep the route open for the main Marine column during the last stages of the breakout.

This left only the two divisions of I ROK Corps, which had penetrated along the littoral within 38 miles of Manchuria. Three regiments were designated to proceed by land and sea to Hamhung, while the other three regiments withdrew to Songjin (Map 1) for a lift by sea to the Samchok area.

Intentions of a withdrawal from Northeast Korea were communicated indirectly to Gen Almond on 6 December by preliminary NAVFE and Far East Air Force operations orders directing the support of a X Corps redeployment. These were of value because of their warning nature, and three days later CG X Corps received orders from CinCFE which specified his missions for the withdrawal. After a lift from Hungnam by sea, X Corps was to assemble in the Pusan-Usan-Masan area of South Korea and report to CG Eighth Army. Only the 1 ROK Corps was excepted, and it was to be released to ROK Army upon arrival at Samchok (Map 1).

The reasons for the redeployment were apparent after a glance at the current military situation. Although the CCF counteroffensive had failed to destroy any large units of X Corps, the enemy had succeeded in overrunning Northeast Korea. Northwest Korea had meanwhile been evacuated by the retreating Eighth Army, which was regrouping far southward near the 38th parallel. This added to the desirability of pulling out X Corps while it was relatively intact and coordinating its efforts with those of the Eighth Army. Northeast Korea, in short, was not worth the fight required to hold it.

On 11 December, as soon as possible after issuing his withdrawal order, Gen Douglas A. MacArthur conferred with CG X Corps at Yongpo Airfield, four miles from Hungnam. Gen Almonds submitted his plans for defense of a Hungnam perimeter and set a date of 27 December for his divisions to pass to the control of the Eighth Army in South Korea.

This meant that scarcely two weeks were allotted for evacuating 100,000 troops and their equipment in the dead winter from beaches within striking distance of a formidable enemy.

At the outset it had been proposed by X Corps staff officers to defend a perimeter with a 15-mile radius at Hungnam and assign the 1st Mar Div to the most dangerous sector, including Yonpo Airfield. This plan was abandoned on the grounds that the Marines were the most battleworn of X Corps troops. Later the discussions narrowed down to a choice between two courses of action. The first was to hold a smaller perimeter and withdraw all units simultaneously from pie-shaped sectors until a single regiment was left with responsibility for defense. RCT-1, as the least battered of the three Marine regiments, was suggested for this duty. The other course was for major units to withdraw by side-slipping until one division was left with a mission of protecting a perimeter gradually contracted from its original seven-mile radius.

The latter alternative was adopted. A X Corps operations order provided for the ROK regiments and 1st Mar Div to embark, followed in order by the 7th and 3d Inf Divs. Thus the 3d would have a final responsibility for defense which increased daily as the operation proceeded.

Marines had been well represented on the X Corps staff ever since the planning for the Inchon-Seoul operation. [3] Col. Edward S. Forney served as deputy chief of staff, and other positions were filled by officers of Mobile Training Group Able, which reached Japan before the outbreak of Korean hostilities to instruct Army units in Marine amphibious techniques.

Marine officers, because of their specialized training in ship-to-shore attacks, were especially well-qualified to direct a Hungnam operation which has been called an "amphibious landing in reverse." Three of the five sections were headed by Marines, therefore, when X Corps set up a control organization for the evacuation.

Col. Forney was appointed by Gen Almond as control officer responsible for the continuous operation of the Hungnam port, for the withdrawal to staging areas of designated units, for the loading of these troops on assigned shipping, for the evacuation of Korean civilian refugees, and for the removal of equipment. Maj. Bernard B. Shutt took charge of an operation section composed of representatives of all the major units of X Corps, including the 1st MAW. The loading section was headed by Maj Charles P. Weiland, and the Navy liaison section by another Marine officer, Maj Jack R. Munday. Army officers ably directed the movement and rations sections.

The X Corps Fire Support Coordination Center was a Navy and Marine organization. LtCol Jack Tabor, USMC, served as assistant coordinator, and LtCol Thomas J. Ahern of the 1st MAW headed the air section. Fifteen of the communicators were Marine enlisted men.

Other Marines had already taken a leading part in a rehearsal for the main show—the evacuation of Wonsan by 3d Inf Div troops sent to Hungnam and ROK elements sailing for Samchok. From 2 to 10 December the 1st Shore Party Bn of the 1st Mar Div had a mission of outloading while sharing the defense of the harbor area with a 3d Inf Div battalion. These Leathernecks not only operated the dock facilities to capacity but also manned the central sector of the inner defense perimeter.

Another 1st Mar Div outfit, Co A of the 1st Amphibian Truck Bn, speeded the operation by making hundreds of round trips from docks to ships with DUKWs.

On 10 December the evacuation of Wonsan was concluded after the outloading of 3,834 troops, 7,000 Korean civilians, 1,146 vehicles, and 10,013 bulk tons of cargo. Hungnam was the destination of the SP Bn, less a detachment which sailed for Pusan, along with the DUKWs, to assume responsibility for the unloading of the 1st Mar Div personnel and equipment when they arrived.

The Wonsan evacuation was instructive as a small-scale preview of the tasks awaiting at Hungnam. And without taking credit away from Army and Marine efforts, Wonsan was largely a Navy show. Effective gunfire from support ships kept North Korean forces at such a respectful distance that the perimeter defenses were never seriously threatened. Covering missions continued to be fired until the last friendly troops withdrew, and operations were completed without the necessity of destroying UN supplies and equipment.

Preparations at Hungnam were just getting into full stride as the Wonsan evacuation ended. CTF-90 assumed responsibility for all naval functions on 10 December after approving loading plans made at a conference held by Navy officers with representatives of X Corps. Meanwhile the harbor was cleared for action when loaded and partially loaded ships with cargo not needed by X Corps were sent to Pusan with orders to unload and return immediately.

CTF-90 exercised control of the Hungnam operations through a task organization set up after a study of harbor facilities and loading problems. This organization consisted of a chain of such control stations as CTF-90 operations, control vessel, beachmaster, port director, and embarkation control liaison officer. Communication was maintained by means of primary and secondary VHF voice radio circuits, so that officers could speed all operations by speaking directly to one another.

Col Forney had meanwhile established the headquarters of the X Corps control organization in a shed of the dock area. Availability of units and equipment was decided by the operation section in accordance with tactical and logistical requirements. Next, it became the responsibility of the Navy liaison section to supply the link between X Corps and TF-90 for the management of shipping within the harbor. When a unit had been alerted as to embarkation, the loading section made its preparations, the movement section directed traffic to the assigned staging area, and the rations section provided for the wants of the troops awaiting their turn in the tent city which sprang up behind the dock area.

Dockside operations were the responsibility of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade of X Corps, reinforced by the SP troops of the 1st Mar Div who had arrived from Wonsan. These duties included the providing of camp facilities as well as supervision of the technical details of loading.

The naval control stations got into action the moment that a ship entered the outer harbor. CTF-90 operations advised the port director as to the berth to be occupied, and the ship was ordered to proceed from anchorage and wait near the breakwater for a pilot. The pilot docked the ship, after its berth became empty, with the assistance of tugs. Then the various Navy officers and X Corps sections exercised their functions in turn until the loaded ship was assigned a "chop time" for being moved out from the dock.

As compared to Inchon, with an average spring tide range of 27 feet, Hungnam was a good harbor in spite of its small size. The tidal range was less than a foot, but berths for loading only seven ships were available at the docks (Map 1). Navy officers raised the ante to 11, however, by double-banking four additional ships to be loaded from the outboard side. In addition, 11 LSTs could be handled simultaneously—seven at Beach Green One, and the others at Beach Green Two. Or as many as three LSTs could be beached bow-on at Dock Four when all space in the Green Beach area was filled.

Navy officers may have had their sleep disturbed by nightmares of a mechanical breakdown at a critical moment. Only two 390-ton diesel electric tugs were available, and their engines had more than 5,000 running hours since the last overhaul. Not only were spare parts lacking, but inexperienced personnel had to be hastily trained to provide extra crews.

Here was perhaps the most fragile link in the whole complex chain of operations, since these radio-equipped tugs were virtually needed for handling ships in winter winds up to 40 knots. But the link miraculously held throughout the evacuation. Neither tug broke down for more than three hours in all, and repairs were made with the materials on hand.

The human machinery of the operation was also put to a strain as an inevitable consequence of haste in planning and preparations. Many of the Army officers were inexperienced in amphibious techniques, and it is understandable that some of their estimates went wide of the mark. One of the these slips occurred when only an AKA, an APA, and a Victory-type ship were provided at first by CTF-90 for the sea lift of the three ROK regiments from Hungnam to Samchok. This allowance was based on initial X Corps estimates of 12,000 personnel and "a few" vehicles. Army totals had to be revised upward to 25,000 troops and civilians plus 700 vehicles, but the Navy task organization was equal to the test. Difficult as it was to find the shipping at this stage, CTF-90 committed an additional APA, two more merchantmen and an LST with the seeming ease of a magician producing rabbits from a hat.

Railroad transportation also played an important part in the operation. With the aid of Korean laborers, the route from Wonsan to Hungnam had been opened and the X Corps control organization assembled between 400 and 5000 freight cars. Some 8,900 tons of Class V ammunition were among the supplies moved to the port by rail to be loaded on ships.

A third element was utilized in the form of air transport. Thus an evacuation within an evacuation took place when 112 Air Force planes and 10 Marine planes completed the air lift of 3,600 men, 196 vehicles, 1,300 tons of cargo, and hundreds of Korean refugees from the Yonpo Airfield to Hungnam. The "flying boxcars" sometimes took off at three-minute intervals in spite of adverse weather, and the field was utilized as long as it could be defended within the receding perimeter.

The evacuation of the 1st Mar Div began as soon as the first elements reached Hamhung after the breakout from the Reservoir. It could not be said that these Leathernecks lacked experience, for this was their fourth embarkation in a period of five months. Units were assigned vehicle and cargo assembly areas in Division Embarkation Order No. 3-50, published on 11 December, and staging began at once. Owing to the impossibility of predetermining the type of shipping or time of arrival, this order did not err on the side of rigidity. Marine amphibious experience paid off, however, when embarkation officers loaded by sight, planning their loads without the aid of stowage diagrams.

Such was the speed of the outloading that most of the troops proceeded directly from bivouac areas to beaches, without pausing in the tent city behind the two Green beaches. Drivers were embarked with their vehicles, so that cargo space had to be used to billet troops on commercial ships. Between 4,500 and 5,500 men were embarked on each of the three APs. Seven commercial cargo vessels, 13 LSTs, 3 LSDs, an APA, and an AKA were also assigned.

The outloading of the division was completed at 1500 on 15 December. And as the Marines sailed for Pusan, the embarkation of the 7th Inf Div began.

Problems of defense took on an increasing importance, of course, as the perimeter shrank. X Corps intelligence reports considered it possible that 11 CCF divisions and two NK divisions might be moved within striking distance. Most of these forces did not materialize, but the enemy’s reluctance may be charged to the warm reception prepared for him by X Corps and TF-90.

Throughout the evacuation the ground forces of the two Army divisions had only patrol actions, and remarkably few battle casualties were incurred. Again the Navy had the principal part, and the story of the Hungnam defense is told by the total of nearly 34,000 projectiles and 12,800 rockets fired by support ships. About 500 more 8-inch rounds and 12,800 more 5-inch rounds were expended at Hungnam than during the Inchon amphibious assault.

Army artillery supplied most of the interdiction fires at the outset, with the Navy giving deep support. But as the perimeter narrowed to the Hungnam area after the evacuation of Hamhung and Yonpo, the two cruisers, seven destroyers, and three rocket-firing craft covered the whole front from their assigned positions in mine-swept lanes. At the climax the battleship Missouri contributed to the final barrage with 162 of her 16-inch projectiles.

Vigorous air support by Navy, Air Force, and Marine planes also did much to discourage any hostile intentions the enemy may have had. On 11 December the responsibility for air defense passed afloat, and TAC Squadron One of TF-90 assumed control of all aircraft in the objective area, including TF-77, 1st MAW, and 5th AF units. Marine planes continued to operate until the 13th from Yonpo, when all shore-based air units were evacuated. Four days later, Marine TAC Squadron Two established a secondary TADC on board an LST.

Winter weather did not prevent the fliers from taking off the icy runways of the five carriers for reconnaissance, interdiction strikes, and close support missions beyond the bomb line. As the perimeter contracted, the air support units redoubled their efforts to detect and break up CCF concentrations threatening the beachhead.

Altogether, it was an imposing armada that Adm Doyle directed from the USS Mt. McKinley when the 7th Inf Div loaded out from 15 to 20 December. On the 19th, CG 3d Inf Div assumed responsibility for the defense of Hungnam as Gen Almond and his staff moved aboard the flagship. The main line was a perimeter about 5,000 yards from the center of the port area, with an outpost line extending about 1,000 yards beyond.

Embarkation problems at this stage were multiplied by the pitiful horde of Korean refugees. Their mass flight from Communist vengeance had begun during the 1st Mar Div breakout, when thousands of old men, women, and children followed the Leathernecks. Medical personnel brought several Korean babies into an unfriendly world on sub-zero nights, and the column of fugitives swelled until 50,000 tried to take the last train out of Hamhung.

Again CTF-90 somehow managed to find the shipping after being informed that an original Army estimate of 25,000 refugees had been nearly quadrupled. But sardines were never packed as intimately as the first installment of 50,000 Koreans jammed into three Victory ships and two LSTs. It became standard practice to embark at least 5,000 on an LST, not counting children in arms, and one ship set a record with 12,000.

During the four last days of the evacuation only the three infantry regiments of the 3d Inf Div, plus artillery units, were left as a covering force. So far the Army scheme of maneuver had been carried out with precision in spite of the relative tactical inexperience of the units employed. Both the 3d and 7th Divs had been hastily brought up to combat strength just before the Inchon-Seoul operation. Some of the battalions were mere cadres at the outset, their ranks being filled with South Korean recruits as well as green Army replacements. Nevertheless, the two outfits gave a good account of themselves at Hungnam, even though their training had been largely received in the field during the past two months.

The shore-to-ship movements of the final four days coordinated by TF-90 with the Army scheme of maneuver, was an "assault in reverse" which departed in few respects from the principles of a conventional ship-to-shore operation. It remained at this climax to embark the 3d Inf Div units, and the planning contemplated a movement in four phases, leading up to D-day on 24 December. The first two phases included the loading of bulk cargo, equipment, and service troops. Phase three consisted of the embarkation of combat forces less the final covering forces, and the fourth phase called for the withdrawal of these last platoons.

Seven landing sites were employed (Map 2). From left to right they were designated as Pink Beach, Blue Beach, Green One and Two Beaches, and Yellow One, Two, and Three Beaches. The 7th RCT, holding the left sector of the final perimeter, was to embark from Pink Beach. Blue and Green One Beaches were assigned to the 65th RCT in the center, while the 15th RCT had Green Two and the three Yellow beaches. The final stages of the evacuation were to be protected by covering forces which would embark from Pink and Yellow Beaches.

Loading operations continued through the 23d as the Engineer Special Brigade kept 5,000 Korean laborers at work. At the finish a total of 105,000 US and ROK military personnel had been embarked and 91,000 civilian refugees. The statistics of supplies and equipment were equally impressive—17,500 vehicles and 350,000 measurement tons of cargo loaded out of Hungnam on 6 APA, 6 AKA, 12 TAP, 76 time-charter ships, 81 LST, and 11 LSD loads.

The ground situation remained quiet, but at dark on the 23d the naval gunfire was stepped up to three times its previous volume as the Missouri arrived on station for barrage missions. H-hour had been set at 1100 the next morning, and seven LSTs were beached at 0800 to receive 3d Inf Div personnel. Soon the three regiments were reduced to as many battalions which acted as covering forces while the other troops fell back to assigned beaches. All withdrawals were conducted methodically along specified routes by units carrying marking panels. Then the covering forces themselves pulled out at H-plus-90, leaving only seven reinforced platoons manning a chain of strong points. And the operation drew to a close when these platoons boarded an LST after a search for stragglers. Air and naval gunfire support had made it an uneventful climax except for the accidental explosion of an Army munitions dump on Pink Beach, resulting in two killed and 21 wounded.

Although most of the Leathernecks had been recuperating for a week in the Masan area, the 1st Mar Div was represented at the finish. The 1st Anglico (air and naval gunfire liaison specialists) had controlled the fire of several destroyers. The SP Bn (less the detachment sent to Pusan) had aided in operating the beaches, and one and a half companies of the 1st Amphibian Tractor Bn had taken part throughout. Some of these Marines remained on duty until 24 December.]

Among the few supplies which had to be left behind were 400 tons of frozen dynamite and 500 thousand-pound bombs. But even these munitions were not wasted, since they added to the emphasis of the final demolitions.

All beaches were clear by 1436 on the 24th, and 20 minutes later the sortie from the harbor commenced under cover of naval air and gunfire support ships. No enemy fire was received. At 1632 the amphibious ships had cleared the anchorage area, with the gunfire support ships following shortly afterwards.

The chill, misty dawn of Christmas Day found the Mt. McKinley about to sail for Ulsan with CTF-90 and CG X Corps after an eminently successful operation. It had been pretty much the Navy’s three-ring circus, and studious ensigns were perhaps reminded of lines written by a former preceptor at Annapolis. Naval tactics were somewhat less complex in 1890, but Capt Alfred Thayer Mahan might have been summing up the Hungnam redeployment when he commented on "that noiseless pressure on the vitals… that compulsion, whose silence, once noted, becomes to the observer the most striking and awful mark of the working of Sea Power."

On this Christmas Day in 1950, however, it could not be said that TF-90 had applied its pressure noiselessly. For the echoes of the thundering naval gunfire barrage had hardly died out when naval demolitions blew the Hungnam waterfront sky-high in volcanic eruptions of flame and rubble. Then all became silent as the last ships vanished over the horizon, leaving behind them the bleak northeast Korean coast where the 1st Mar Div had landed just two months before to the day.

Endnotes:

[1] The 1st Mar Div landing at Wonsan and operations leading up to the Chosin Reservoir breakout were described in the October and November issues of the Marine Corps Gazette.

[2] For the enlightenment of readers who may have forgotten their classics, Xenophon commanded a force of Greek mercenaries in a Persian civil war of the 4th Century, B.C. The defeat of their employers leaving them stranded in hostile territory, the immortal Ten Thousand fought their way through swarming Asiatic forces to safety. Xenophon recorded the history of this breakout in his Anabasis.

[3] The story of the Inchon landing and capture of Seoul was told in the July and August [1951] issues of the Gazette.

 

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