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Marine Air Over the Chosin Reservoir

 
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Marine Air Over the Chosin Reservoir

Authors - Kenneth W. Condit and Ernest H. Giusti
Reprinted from the July 1952 issue of The Marine Corps Gazette
Reprinted with permission to The Korean War Educator


Winter comes early in North Korea. As early as November, icy blasts with a knife-like edge sweep over the mountains and through the valleys. Temperatures of 20 below zero are frequent and deep snows isolate the villages from the rest of the world. But 1950 was a year apart, and November saw hundreds of planes prowling over, under, and through the overcast while thousands of men moved over the land.

United Nations forces, after inflicting a resounding defeat upon the Communist North Korean army in the south, were marching toward the Manchurian border and what they hoped would be the finale of an extraordinarily bitter war. But they were doomed to disappointment, for Red China had already decided to win back the gauntlet wrested from the North Koreans. Even as UN soldiers approached the Yalu River, thousands upon thousands of Red China’s best troops were stealthily crossing the stream. Moving by night and making use of woods, houses, and excellent camouflage, small units infiltrated rather than maneuvered into position to strike death blows against the Eighth Army and X Corps.

They struck hard, but their onslaught was far from a death blow. Much of the credit for blunting the Communist attack goes to Marine air power. This was the supreme test for Marine doctrines of close air support, for the ferocity of the enemy assault and the hazards of winter operations in mountain country required not only maximum effort but constant improvisation.

By the end of October, 1950 the North Korean military effort was on the verge of collapse. Following the Inchon landing and capture of Seoul, enemy forces had retreated north of the 38th parallel, leaving all South Korea in the hands of the UN forces. Units of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing had served during the Inchon-Seoul campaign as the tactical air command of the U.S. X Corps, functioning under the direct operational control of the corps commander.* [*For this, see E.H. Giusti and K.W. Condit, Marine Air at Inchon-Seoul, Marine Corps Gazette, June 1952.]

Even before the Inchon-Seoul operation was concluded, the UN command was preparing further operations to complete the destruction of enemy forces and end the war. The concept for the new operations called for a pincer movement directed at the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. One arm of the pincer, composed of the Eighth Army, was to advance directly north from Seoul. The other arm, made up of X Corps, would make an amphibious assault at the east coast port of Wonsan, then advance west across the peninsula to join up with Eighth Army at Pyongyang.

The X Corps commander, MajGen Edward Almond, wished to retain the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing as tactical air for his corps. This was permitted but with one modification of the previous relationship. Under a ruling of the theater commander, all air operations north of the 38th parallel would be under operational control of 5th Air Force. Thus the 1st MAW, while its primary mission was with X Corps, was subject to orders of 5th AF and could be diverted to other missions.

Air planning was predicated on an operation similar to Inchon-Seoul—amphibious assault followed by capture and rapid exploitation of an airfield. In the first phase, two Marine fighter squadrons would participate. VMFs-214 and 323, aboard CVEs Sicily and Badoeng Strait, were assigned the air support role in the naval attack force. As soon as the airfield at Wonsan was seized, an aircraft group, MAG-12, was to be landed. Its headquarters and service squadrons and heavy equipment were to be surface-lifted from Japan, while two of its fighter squadrons, VMF-312 and VMF(N)-513, were to come in by air. VMF(N)-542, the other fighter squadron of the group, remained at Kimpo. D-day was set for 20 October.

Before that date arrived, the rapidly changing situation required extensive modifications in the plan. On 11 October, I ROK Corps, advancing up the east coast, captured Wonsan. And eight days later Pyongyang fell to the Eighth Army. MajGen Field Harris, CG 1st MAW and TAC, X Corps, flew to Wonsan on the 18th, inspected the airfield and decided to begin operations at once. VMF-312 flew in from Kimpo the next day, and Far East Air Force Combat Cargo Command began bringing in aviation gasoline. Bombs and rockets were loaded on Corsairs of VMF(N)-513 and flown to Wonsan from Kimpo.

The plan was to support VMF-312 by airlift for three days, pending the opening of the port of Wonsan and the arrival of the surface echelon. Then additional squadrons would be flown in to operate from the Wonsan field. Owing to a miscalculation, the harbor was not cleared of mines until 26 October. For 12 days flight operations had to be supported entirely by airlift. A further complication was the arrival of VMF(N)-513 on 17 October, making two squadrons dependent on airlift for all supply.

By substituting human muscle for machines, flight operations were maintained. Fuel was pumped by hand from 55-gallon drums, rolled along the ground a distance of one mile from the dump to the front line. The Squadron ordnance sections, seriously hampered by lack of supporting service units, unloaded transports, assembled bombs and rockets, and loaded them on the planes. For the first two weeks the ordnance section of VMF-312 had only one jeep and eight bomb trailers to move all the ammunition. To the overworked ground crews, the refuelers, trucks, and machine shop trailers of Service Squadron 12, landed on 26 October, were a welcome sight.

Operations during this period consisted of armed reconnaissance sorties throughout the X Corps zone and support missions for I ROK Corps advancing towards Hamhung. VMF-312 attacked bodies of retreating North Korean troops attempting to escape the advancing UN forces. On 19 October, a VMF-312 flight attacked 500 enemy troops near Yangdok, killing about 100. A flight from the same squadron caught a body of 800 enemy on the road at Kansong on the 24th and attacked it, causing about 200 casualties. Night operations did not begin until 29 October, because there were no runway lights. Until that date, VMF(N)-513 flew day missions in conjunction with VMF-312. At sea, VMFs-214 and 323 maintained combat air patrols over the task force while mine sweeping operations were in progress.

An effort was made during the first two days to comply with 5th AF procedures. These required that all strikes for a given day be submitted to 5th AF headquarters by 1800 the previous day, but the distance between 5th AF headquarters in Seoul and X Corps headquarters in Wonsan created communication difficulties which made it impossible to get the clearance for strikes in time. The difficulty was resolved by a conference between MajGen Partridge, CG 5th AF, and MajGen Harris. They agreed that Gen Harris would have a free hand to conduct air operations in the X Corps zone, provided he kept 5th AF informed.

The 1st Mar Div began landing at Wonsan on 26 October. By X Corps order, the Marines began to advance north towards Hamhung, the Chosin Reservoir, and ultimately the Manchurian border. Air operations were now directed towards supporting this advance, and on 2 to 6 November came the first calls from Marines for close air support. The 7th Marines, advancing north from Hamhung towards the Chosin Reservoir, encountered the 124th CCF Div near Sudong, a village a few miles south of the precipitous rise to the Koto-ri plateau.

Troop movements spotted by Marine pilots late in October revealed the presence of a sizable enemy force. On the 30th a four-plane flight from VMF-312 attacked some 500 troops believed to be CCF hiding in houses in Hagaru, and the next day 500 more enemy were hit 10 miles west of Oro-ri by the same squadron. On 1 and 2 November Marine pilots struck at dug-in Chinese north of the advancing 7th Marines. A division from VMF(N)-513 and another from VMF-312 flew these missions.

Planes of both squadrons went to work in earnest on the third, furnishing close support for the regiment which had been heavily attacked during the night. Delivery of these strikes was complicated by the fact that the regiment was out of radio range of the tactical air direction center at Wonsan and was unable to request planes. Forward air controllers (FAC) had to work with whatever planes flew over their positions. Before a flight left the area, its leader was requested to send more planes. In spite of this difficulty there was no shortage of air support.

At one point, the FAC of the 2d Bn, 7th Marines was n particularly serious trouble. His radio had been knocked out by a stray bullet, and he was unable to communicate with the planes. Just before dark, a two-plane flight from VMF-312, on its way north on a reconnaissance mission, was contacted by the FAC of 2/7, who had finally managed to repair his radio. He pointed out to the pilots about 200 CCF troops digging in on a 100 ft. high ridge overlooking the battalion perimeter. On the first pass, the pilots made direct hits with 20mm shells. Then they came in again firing rockets and dropping 500-lb bombs. As the Chinese broke from the ridge, many of them were hit by fire from the ground troops who advanced and took the ridge without difficulty.

For the next three days Marine pilots flew close support missions for the 7th Marines, as that regiment slugged ahead against heavy enemy resistance. The column rounded a bend in the road approaching Chinhung-ni and ran into four T-34 tanks. The four planes on station overhead were called in and attacked in a matter of seconds, destroying the second tank in column with direct rocket hits. Bazookas and recoilless 75mm rifles took care of the rest. By evening of 6 November the CCF 124th Div had been crushed, and the Marine advance toward the Chosin Reservoir continued practically unopposed. During the battle with this enemy division, Marine air flew a total of 148 close support sorties.

As the ground troops of X Corps advanced to the north, the air component of the corps was built up by flying in additional units of the 1st MAW. VMF-212 arrived at Wonsan on 3 November. Three days later MAG-33 was ordered to move from Japan to Yonpo Airfield in the Hamhung-Hungnam area. By 10 November, when VMF-212 was transferred to Yonpo, the group ground echelon was ready to begin operations. Five days later VMF-214, ordered ashore from the Sicily so the ship could prepare for anti-submarine operations, set up at Wonsan.

Because of a shortage of shipping in the theater, both squadrons suffered from a lack of heavy equipment. VMF-214 was particularly hard hit. The squadron maintenance and servicing gear, not needed aboard ship, had been left in Japan. MAG-12 made up most of the deficiencies, but vehicles remained critically short. The squadron had only two jeeps, one jeep trailer, and one bomb-service truck. Through the Herculean efforts of the ground crews, these difficulties were overcome and aircraft availability of 81 percent was maintained.

The augmented air strength was used for cover over the columns advancing toward the reservoir and for extensive reconnaissance. Ground troops encountered only occasional small groups of enemy, but pilots ranging north and west of the column sighted many small CCF groups, some in the open and others hiding in houses. And thousands of footprints in the snow were clear evidence of the presence of a much larger force.

By 15 November, the 7th Marines was concentrated at Hagaru at the southern tip of the Chosin Reservoir, and the 5th Marines was moving up the road behind them. Repeated reports by pilots of enemy troop activity to the north and west served to intensify the fear of Marine commanders that their units might be cut off. To strengthen the division position they moved the tactical air direction center to Hagaru, where it would be in a centralized position to control aircraft, and started construction of a C-47 airstrip there.

Under X Corps orders, the 1st Mar Div resumed the advance on 22 November towards Yudam-ni. Marine pilots flying cover over the column reported five roadblocks which were removed by engineers. And as the Marines approached Yudam-ni, they called in air to attack small CCF units attempting to delay the advance. By 27 November the 7th and 5th Marines were in Yudam-ni, and the 1st Marines were protecting the main supply route (MSR) with single battalions at Hagaru, Koto-ri, and Chinhung-ni. Thus the 1st Mar Div was relatively concentrated by comparison with other X Corps units scattered all the way to the Manchurian border.

Marine commanders had reason to be apprehensive, for the first blow of the CCF offensive fell on 25 November. Thousands of Chinese poured through the gap in north central Korea and struck the II ROK Corps on the right flank of the Eighth Army. The flank was overrun and the Eighth Army compelled to withdraw. CCF commanders now turned their attention to X Corps on the east, hurling the full weight of eight divisions, 80,000 to 100,000 men, against the 1st Mar Div in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir. Of all X Corps units, the 1st Mar Div was the only one in a posture of defense. The others were widely dispersed from Wonsan all the way to the Manchurian border, a distance of 150 miles. The wisdom of Chinese strategy in choosing to strike the Marines under these circumstances is an open question, but that they committed a serious error in underestimating the air fire and logistics support available to the division is proved by the fighting withdrawal from the reservoir.

Although the fears of Marine commanders had been aroused by increased enemy activity in the Chosin Reservoir area, they were not aware of the magnitude of the enemy build-up. Wisely, the enemy chose to march by night and to hole-up by day in small villages. As many as 50 to 60 soldiers crowded into a single hut, and a whole battalion was concealed in one settlement. Supplies were carried on the backs of troops and pack animals, so that vehicular traffic was kept at a minimum. To secure his communications, CO 7th Marines dispatched Fox Co, reinforced on the afternoon of the 27th, to protect the vital 4,000-foot pass between Yudam-ni and Hagaru. And Baker and Charlie were sent on reconnaissance patrols to the southwest.

For Marine air it was a day of routine operations. VMF-212 flew 20 sorties, 18 in close support of X Corps units and two on reconnaissance. VMF-312 carried out 27 sorties, eight in close support of Eighth Army elements, 16 in close support of X Corps, two on reconnaissance, and one photo escort. VMF-214 flew 30 sorties, all in support of the severely pressed Eighth Army. Aboard the Badoeng Strait VMF-323 was prevented from launching its Corsairs by inclement weather. The two night fighter squadrons, VMF(N)-513 and VMF(N)-542, had planes aloft during the day and night to fly a total of 28 sorties on a wide variety of missions, including night intruder, day close support, and reconnaissance.

That night, at Wonsan, Yonpo, and aboard Badoeng Strait, members of the 1st Wing had no inkling that at Yudam-ni fellow Marines of the 5th and 7th Marines were engaged in a struggle for survival. On the morning of the 28th the eastern sky was still dark when five flights of Corsairs roared aloft to begin a day of all-out air operations. Winging through the blackness three flights headed northwest to the reservoir area. The other two pointed almost due west, for Eighth Army units too were in urgent need of close support.

Dawn found the Corsairs over the three principal battle areas. Northeast of the reservoir VMF-323 planes supported the withdrawing I ROK Corps throughout the day. To the west, VMFs-312 and 214 concentrated their attacks in support of the Eighth Army which had difficult going in attempting to withdraw to more defensible positions. Improvised flights utilizing the Corsairs of Headquarters Squadron-12 (Hedron-12) were directed both north and west. And VMF-212 flew all its sorties in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir.

The pattern of VMF-212 operations on the 28th graphically illustrates the typical employment of Marine air in the days which followed. During the morning and early afternoon, five flights of the squadron were directed in close support attacks by the FACs of the 2d and 3d Bns, 5th Marines against enemy troops ringing the two battalions from west to northwest of Yudam-ni.

The previous night the enemy had been able to concentrate his troops under the cover of darkness and launch his assaults from close to Marine positions. But now, in the broad daylight, the Corsairs prohibited him from massing. Through the morning, targets for Marine pilots were enemy troop concentrations and automatic weapons, exclusively. Under the cover of air and ground support the 2d Bn, 5th Marines withdraw from its exposed position, and the two regiments formed an oval perimeter on the high ground surrounding Yudam-ni.

Meanwhile on the road just east of the reservoir, 1/32 of the 7th Inf Div, after repulsing a strong enemy attack on the previous night, was again beset by heavy Chinese concentrations. Five flights of VMF-212 planes were utilized during the afternoon by the 1/32 FAC to break up these concentrations. Once again the Corsairs were largely responsible for the enemy’s inability to mount a wide scale attack.

Perhaps the most spectacular use of air on the 28th was made by the 1st Bn, 7th Marines which left the Yudam-ni perimeter to rescue C Co, cut off and surrounded on high ground overlooking the MSR approximately half way to the pass. Shortly after departure, the battalion ran into stiff opposition from a ridge top to the left of the road. Corsairs of VMF-212 were called in to hit the enemy positions, while A Co was deployed in a flank assault on the hill. But before the infantry could close with the entrenched enemy troops, they broke under the napalm, rocket, and fragmentation bomb runs of the Marine planes. In their desperate attempt to escape, the Chinese Reds fled down the reverse slope of the ridge and attempted to reach the MSR beyond C Co’s position. A Co quickly occupied the ridge top and combined with C Co and air to wreak havoc on the fleeing enemy.

Meanwhile, as B Co approached its destination, it came under heavy automatic weapons fire from the slope of the ridge mass to the company’s right and across the road from C Co. By this time the sun had set. Ammo was low. The men were fatigued. And 1/7 faced the prospect of closing C co and fighting its way back to Yudam-ni—without air support. It was almost dark when the Marines looked up to find two Corsairs silhouetted against the evening sky. They were immediately contacted by the FAC, Capt Dan C. Holland, and oriented on the enemy concentration. Attacking in the dusk, the Marine pilots blasted the enemy with lethal doses of rockets, bombs, and 20mm shells. So daring were these firing runs, the FAC felt compelled to warn the pilots that they were perilously close to the almost obscured ridge mass. But persistence paid off, for again the Chinese Reds broke under air attack, and fled toward the valley floor. Now it was the turn of B Co to join with air and C Co in taking a heavy toll of the exposed and panic-stricken enemy. By this time even the light in the western sky was almost gone, so the Corsairs pointed for Yonpo. Flying home for a tricky landing on a dimly-lit strip, the pilots carried with them the thanks of the battalion and the FAC’s report, “Ordnance right on, excellent coverage.” During the engagement the team of VMF-212 and 1/7 inflicted such a resounding defeat on the enemy that the Marines returned to Yudam-ni without firing a shot.

During the day the U.S. Air Force dropped vitally needed ammunition and medical supplies at Yudam-ni, while helicopters of VMO-6 evacuated 50 seriously wounded Marines from the perimeter.

On the 28th, the 1st MAW flew 114 sorties, 62 in support of X Corps and 52 for the Eighth Army. Up to this time attacks on enemy troops had been relatively few, but on this date CCF concentrations were attacked again and again—a clear hint of things to come.

The 29th of November was to be another day of all-out air operations, but the snow which had fallen during the night and low ceilings delayed take off. At Yonpo six inches of snow covered the runways, and at sea bad weather prevented the Badoeng Strait from launching planes. It was 0845 before the first plane was airborne, but by 0900 all three of the land-based day fighter squadrons had flights heading for the embattled zone of the reservoir. Of the 125 day combat sorties flown by the 1st MAW on this date all but six were directed to the Chosin Reservoir area, for by now the grave danger to the 1st Mar Div and the Army 7th Div elements was clear. The enemy had massed his strength to strike a death blow against the strongest element of X Corps.

Winging north from Wonsan and Yonpo, Marine pilots were startled by the swarms of enemy troops flooding over the countryside. Targets all day long were enemy troops and gun positions. On the previous day enemy troop concentrations had been attacked on 29 separate occasions, but on the 29th the number jumped to 61.

In the reservoir area, the pilots had their work cut out for them, for the isolated Marine and Army forces were under heavy attack. A VMF-312 division of four planes went to the aid of the 3d Bn, 1st Marines defending the Hagaru perimeter. Three hundred enemy troops overlooking Hagaru from the east were attacked with fragmentation bombs, rockets, and 20mm shells. Approximately 75 were killed and a higher number wounded. Throughout the day 3/1 employed Marine air to help keep the enemy at bay.

A section of VMF-212 Corsairs attacked enemy troops in close support of Task Force Drysdale, moving north from Koto-ri to Hagaru with reinforcements and supplies. The convoy used air extensively during the hours of light as it moved forward against steadily increasing opposition. By dusk however, vastly superior enemy forces had succeeded in separating the task force into three parts.

The head of the column pushed through to Hagaru, and the rear segment made its way back to Koto-ri the next day, but the center was isolated about midway between the two towns.  Close support by VMF-212 planes enabled the Marine service troops, Army troops, and a few British Marines to beat off incessant CCF attacks during daylight.  But when darkness descended the Corsairs had to turn home, and the enemy made casualties or prisoners of the defenders.

Meanwhile other flights from all three land-based day fighter squadrons played an important part in the defense of the Yudam-ni perimeter.  During the day CCF forces limited themselves to assaults against the northern sector guarded by the 1st and 3d Bns, 5th Marines.  The devastating combination of assorted airborne ordnance and ground fire inflicted such heavy casualties on the attacking waves of Reds that the attacks were spent before they could close Marine positions.

A typical example was the afternoon assault against B Co.  At noon aerial observers had reported some 2000 enemy troops cautiously attempting to group north of the perimeter.  Air pounded these concentrations with such good results that when the attack was launched it had become a piecemeal venture.

Even so, about 500 enemy were able to launch an assault against B Co at 1500.  To the accompaniment of the usual cacaphony of bugles, whistles, and shouts, the Reds swept down the slope of the ridge facing the Marines.  The pilots could not hear the din, but they needed little coaching from the FAC to locate the target.  Peeling off at 5000 feet the Corsairs dived down to make "on the deck" runs.  All four napalm tanks struck the attacking wave, scoring direct hits which tore large holes in the enemy line.  As the last plane dropped its ordnance, the first was back, tailed by the others, to attack the faltering enemy with strafing runs.  The assault lost momentum, and the Reds soon had enough.  They broke into disorganized flight to escape the rain of 20mm shells.  But even these small groups were not immune to the continued strafing.  Although small arms, automatic weapons, and 4.2 mortar fire took their toll, it was the Marine planes which had broken the back of the enemy assault.  Of the 500 enemy who initiated the attack, Corsairs were credited with killing some 300.

Meanwhile, Army troops of the 31st and 32d Infantry on the east side of the reservoir were having their troubles, too.  Corsairs on station over 1/32 covered the battalion as it crossed a frozen finger of the reservoir on its way to join 3/31.  Repeated strikes kept the Red troops off balance, allowing the Army unit to make the crossing safely.

All the rest of the day 1/32 moved forward under constant cover of planes from VMFs-212, 214, 312, VMF(N)-513, and Hedron-12.  Thousands of enemy troops moving south on the road and along the ridges made excellent targets.  Red guns and mortars already in position also got their share of napalm, rockets, and bombs.  In addition to the cover afforded by Marine Corsairs, much needed supplies were dropped by the Air Force Combat Cargo Command.  At times, the FAC found himself directing both air drops from cargo planes and close support strikes over the same radio net.  The air was filled with cargo planes, chutes, and agile Corsairs--and all most welcome.

Finally, 1/32 joined the casualty-ridden 3/31.  But only after 40 Marine aircraft had hit the enemy with some 225 rockets, 18 napalm tanks, 10 500-lb bombs, and 29 fragmentation bombs.  This ordnance was delivered from early morning until the last flight left its station at 1705.

The thirtieth dawned bright and clear.  Snow still covered the field at Yonpo, but a narrow strip of the runway had been blasted clear by the prop wash of planes.  It was to be another day of maximum effort in support of Marine and Army troops trapped at the Chosin Reservoir.  Beginning with a night strike launched at 0015 and ending at 2000 when the last plane returned to base, Marine pilots flew a total of 146 sorties.

Before dawn, night fighters of VMF(N)-513 and VMF(N)-542 flew three close support sorties.  A single Tigercat of VMF(N)-542 made rocket and 20mm strafing runs on enemy troops west  of the 3/1 perimeter at Hagaru at 0045.  According to the FAC these runs were "right on."  Five hours later, two Corsairs of VMF(N)-513 made a very effective pre-dawn strike in support of B Co, 1/5 at Yudam-ni.  The ground troops marked their front lines with illuminating hand grenades, permitting the planes to come in close to drop their fragmentation bombs and strafe with 20mm cannon.

At first light, Corsair day fighters began taking off from Wonsan, Yonpo, and the Badoeng Strait.  By 0650, a two-plane flight of VMF-212 was over Yudam-ni to deliver the first of 36 sorties in support of the 5th and 7th Marines as these two regiments tightened their perimeter and regrouped preparatory to breaking out towards Hagaru the next day.  A second flight of two Corsairs from VMF-212 arrived over Yudam-ni at 0730 and was called in by the FAC of 3/5 to strike attacking enemy troops.  Diving down, the pilots dropped napalm and fragmentation bombs and fired rockets.  By 0740 the attack had been repulsed.  In the afternoon, 3/5 was attacked again.  Planes of VMF-212 and VMF-312 were called in to strike the attacking enemy, and by 1600 the attack had been contained.

Meanwhile other Corsairs were coming to the aid of a 7th Marines composite battalion which was trying to open the MSR back to Hagaru.  Excellent observation was provided by an observation plane (OY) pilot who spotted large bodies of enemy dug in on the high ground on both sides of the road.  Planes from VMFs-212, 312, 323, Hedron-12, and VMF(N)-513 were called in and hit the enemy repeatedly.  But the Chinese replaced their troops as soon as they were hit, forcing the Marines to break off the attack and return to the perimeter.

The other isolated Marine units had a relatively quiet day but called in air to strike enemy troops surrounding their positions.  Fox co at Sinhung-ni received 10 sorties, 3/1 at Hagaru 18, and 2/1 at Koto-ri 10.

On the east side of the reservoir, Army troops of the 7th Inf Div had drawn into a defensive perimeter and were under heavy attack.  Capt Edward P. Stamford, USMC, their FAC, directed aircraft against the attacking Communists with devastating effect.  During the day he directed 38 sorties, making this the major effort of the 1st MAW for the day.  From 0645 until 1830 Marine planes attacked the Chinese, dropping 21 napalm tanks, 16 500-lb bombs, 21 fragmentation bombs, and firing 190 rockets.  All attacks on the perimeter were repulsed.

The remaining 34 sorties flown by Marines during the day were directed at targets throughout the X Corps zone of action.

For three days Marine pilots had played a vital role in the defense of the perimeters.  Each day had seen an increase in the number of sorties flown, and pilots and planes were beginning to feel the strain of long hours aloft.  But they knew that more, much more, was expected of them in the next few days.  The Marines were coming out and they were coming out fighting.  They were counting on their flying counterparts to help make it possible when the going got toughest, and to strike at the enemy-infested hills along the route of march when no other weapons could be brought to bear.

The Marines took their first steps back or forward, depending on your point of view, on 1 December.  The breakout from the reservoir had begun.

 

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